How to Understand Mysteries
This week, we’ll take a look at 1 Timothy 3:16.
16And most certainly, the mystery of godliness is great:
He was manifested in the flesh,
justified in the Spirit,
seen by angels,
preached among the Gentiles,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.— 1 Timothy 3:16 (HCSB)
Paul wrote this to Timothy after going over the qualifications for pastors and deacons (1 Timothy 3:1-13). The standards Paul laid out are not easily attained. Paul completes the discussion, though, by telling Timothy that he has written these things so that he will know how people in the family of God should behave, and then writes the verse above. This last verse gives us insight into Jesus’ life, which Paul believes will help us live up to the standards that God has set out.
First, Paul says that “He was manifested in the flesh.” Jesus came to earth as one of us - a human being Who encountered all the temptations we will ever encounter, yet He remained without sin. He eventually gave up His life on a cross, so that through His sacrifice, we can escape Hell and obtain Heaven. However, He did not stay dead - three days later, He resurrected! Just this part is a great “mystery,” but it should inspire us to do what we can to make sure that His sacrifice is as effectual as it can be. Whenever one person accepts His finished work as payment for their sins, it does not diminish the grace remaining for everyone else; just like the old hymn “There’s Room at the Cross” says, “Though millions have come, there’s still room for one.”
Second, Paul writes that He was “justified in the Spirit.” During the three days that Jesus’ body was in the tomb, He was in the Spirit, taking our punishment. He was separated from God (the only time that has ever happened or will ever happen), being tormented for our sin. Through this, He was justified, and we can be justified as well. This payment is complete.
Third, Paul writes that Jesus was “seen by angels.” Wouldn’t that have been great to see - how the angels must have welcomed Him! I’m not sure if this is talking about the angels that stayed behind in the now-empty tomb, or if this was the host of angels in Heaven who saw Him. But, either way, I’m sure they must have been excited to see Him alive again. He had done what had been promised more than 4,000 years prior, and through it defeated Satan for good.
Fourth, Paul says that He was “preached among the Gentiles.” This was important for Timothy, as it is for most of us reading this. As John wrote…
11He came to His own,
and His own people did not receive Him.— John 1:11 (HCSB)
The Jews of that day, for the most part, rejected Him. But, He still came to earth to not only save the Jews, but to extend that salvation to the rest of us (Gentiles) as well. He Himself preached among Gentiles, and after He ascended back to Heaven, He continued to be preached to Gentiles.
Fifth, Paul says that He was “believed on in the world.” This shows that, even though Paul was writing to Timothy early in the life of the church, many had already believed on Jesus, and accepted His payment for their sins. It’s always encouraging to have an example, someone who has come before you and accomplished the same thing you want to accomplish. Paul is encouraging Timothy and the believers at his church, letting them know that others have believed on Him, and already obtained the forgiveness they desired.
Finally, Paul says that He was “taken up in glory.” Jesus did not stay on earth once He had resurrected - He returned to Heaven. This is important, and it ties in both with what Jesus said, and with what Paul had written to others. Jesus said…
2In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you. 3If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also.— John 14:2-3 (HCSB)
And Paul, writing to the church at Thessolonica…
16For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will always be with the Lord.— 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (HCSB)
So, how do you understand mysteries? I don’t know. :) There are still things about what Paul has written that I don’t understand. But, what I do know is that we can understand the parts of this mystery that Paul wrote to Timothy. Each of these parts points back to a central theme - Jesus’ finished work of salvation. Because we have received this salvation, we should live as those who have been forgiven, and encourage others to accept this gift as well.