For all the reassurances and certainties of our faith, there is still much we struggle to understand about it. But that’s hardly cause for despair. The gospel invites us to plumb the depths of “God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:2-3). What does it mean to say Jesus is a mystery? It’s not that He’s cryptic and reclusive, waiting to be found, for He is the God who’s come to find us. It speaks rather to the incomprehensible majesty of His nature: that He is the one by whom we’ve been created, through whom we live and move and have our being, and in whom we are redeemed.
Paul uses the word mystery (mustérion) 21 times in his epistles to speak of the blessings and hope God has revealed to us in Christ. And when he wants to describe “the mystery of godliness,” the apostle summarizes the story of our Savior Himself, using this early church confession: “[Jesus] was revealed in the flesh, was vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (1 Tim. 3:16).
Jesus is the goal of history. Like a spouse excitedly organizing your 40th birthday bash, God’s been orchestrating something delightful for the human race, a plan “which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Eph. 1:9-10 NIV). Unity: God’s undercover goal is to bring the world together.
When I think of unity, I think of marriage—of two becoming one. Weddings celebrate this alliance, and the biblical story ends with a wedding, where God and His people are united forever in Christ (Revelation 21:1-27; Revelation 22:1-21). God’s goal is to forever join with the human race, to set things right again, to reconcile the world and be with us forever—in Jesus. This is the mystery revealed.
The Secret of Kingdom Come
The Old Testament foreshadows this great truth. In the book of Daniel, for example, the king of Babylon had a strange and troubling dream no one was able to interpret, until “the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a night vision” (Dan. 2:19). The young Jewish exile explained the secret of the dream’s imagery to the king: God is sovereign over all that happens in the world and over the powerhouses of the world. Though empires like Babylon seemed to dominate the earth, the reality is that God was sovereignly accomplishing His purposes through them and would ultimately replace them with His unconquerable eternal kingdom.
So here’s the mystery that was brought out into the light: “The God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed” (Dan. 2:44). Putting his hand to the king’s royal ear, the prophet whispered this glorious secret, and we are let in on it: God’s kingdom is coming.
Until Jesus arrived on the scene, however, the full nature of this coming kingdom remained ambiguous. Then the Lord appeared, letting us in on “the mystery of the kingdom of God” (Mark 4:11)—but rather than pulling out a whiteboard to draw straightforward charts and diagrams, He spoke in the enigmatic language of parables.
These parables illuminate the character of the kingdom: It is a place of reversals where the greatest are the least and the last are first, a place of service where those seeking to save their life lose it and those willing to give their life away find it. The kingdom does not impatiently dominate society from above but grows slowly and patiently from within.
Jesus is God made flesh, the Word of Life who gives weight and life to our words. Each of His parables leads us deeper into the search for the fullness of God’s promise. For the hard-hearted and rebellious, their imagery is obscure and off-putting, but for those of childlike faith, those to whom “it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 13:11), they illuminate the path that leads to the ultimate treasure.
The Treasure That Is Christ
The Lord’s teaching helps us penetrate the heart of the mystery. However, when we get there, we find not an abstract idea or concept, but rather the person and work of Jesus Himself. Paul refers to “Jesus Christ and him crucified” as the wisdom of God, that puts to shame the foolishness of the world, “a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began” (1 Corinthians 2:2; 1 Corinthians 2:7 NIV).
Jesus’ crucifixion made it possible for mankind to be reconciled to the Father, a plan set in motion before time began. Angels have longed to look in on these mysteries, and now you who’ve set your sights on Jesus have been let in on the greatest secret ever known, a secret “which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy [ones] in the Spirit” (Eph. 3:5).
Jesus is the center of world history, the desire of the nations, the one through whom God shall raise the dead and set all things right. The gospel proclaims that in Christ Himself the reality of the kingdom has come: The mystery has been revealed.
Illustrations by Adam Cruft