Establishing Context and Identity
Let this paper be a lesson in “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2Tim 2:15)
We often see cases of mistaken identity when men read Paul’s words such as in I Timothy 3:16:
“And without controversy great is the mystery [Gk., musterion, secret) of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. 1 Timothy 3:16 (KJV)
Most commentaries insist that in this verse above that the “mystery” referred to was him speaking about the Jesus of Nazareth, and it’s true Jesus was God “manifest” in the flesh (John1:14), but it was not a “mystery (secret)” that God would be manifest in the flesh of Jesus, for it had been prophesied as the coming Israel’s Messiah.
“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel [name meaning “God with us”].” (Isaiah 7:14 (KJV)
“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” (Matthew 1:23 (KJV)
In 1 Timothy 3:16 Paul is actually talking about Christ manifested in the flesh of the members of “the church, which is His Body” (Eph. 1:22-23). Today God is manifest in the flesh of all believers (2 Cor. 4:1-11). This was the “great mystery” (Eph. 5:32), hence “great is the mystery of godliness!” The word “godly” means ‘God-like,’ and we know that Jesus of Nazareth was not like God… Jesus of Nazareth was God!
So, we of “the church, which is His body” (Eph. 1:22b-23a) are supposed to be the godly [God-like] ones!
This understanding also fits the context better, for Paul had been talking about “the church, the body of Christ” in the preceding verses of I Tim. 3:1-14, not the earthly life of Jesus of Nazareth Himself.
Those who believe Paul is here in 1Tim 3:16 speaking about Christ say that God was “justified in the Spirit” in Matthew 3:16. But the Lord’s water baptism by John the Baptist did not justify God, rather it “identified” Jesus as the “Christ!” (read John 1:31-34). The water baptism of the members of Jesus’ “little flock (Luke 11:32) as those of Israel who came out of apostate Israel.
God was justified in us. You see, for thousands of years men thought God was unjust in saving adulterers and murderers like David. But our Apostle Paul explained how God could be “Just, and the Justifier of him which believeth” when Paul explained how that Christ paid for our sins by becoming our “propitiation” – the propitiatory sacrifice for our sins (Rom. 3:26).
It’s true that Jesus Christ was “seen of angels” (Matt.4:11; Luke 22:43; Acts 1:9-10) but this was no mystery (secret) either (Ps. 91:11 cf. Mt. 4:6-7).
It was a “mystery (a secret of God)”, however, that the Gentile “Body of Christ” would even ‘exist’ (Eph. 3:1-9) let alone be seen of angels (v. 10).
In addition, God was definitely not “preached unto the Gentiles” when Christ was here on earth, just read Mt. 10:5,6; 15:24; Rom. 15:8. But the resurrected Christ was preached to the Gentiles by Paul (Rom. 15:16; Eph. 3:8, etc.), and then by the members of the Body of Christ ever since.
“These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: 6 But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 10:5-6 (KJV)
“But he [Jesus] answered and said, I am not sent but [except] unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24 (KJV)
Finally, God was not “believed on in the world” when Christ preached Him, but He was believed on in the world through Paul. “Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth:” (Col. 1:6 (KJV)
And while God was “received up into glory” in Christ (Mark 16:19), the Lord’s ascension was no mystery “Thou [the Lord Jesus] hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them.” (Psalm 68:18 (KJV)
But it was a mystery (secret) that we as the members of “the body of Christ” will be received up into glory (I Cor. 15:51-52). I know Paul says God “was” received up into glory, and we haven’t yet been raptured, but Paul was both our Apostle and a prophet who saw future things so clearly, that he often spoke of them in the past tense (cf. Isa. 53:5-12).
There are plenty of verses that teach the deity of Christ (Isa. 9:6; John 1:14; 10:30; Col. 2:9), but don’t try to force that precious doctrine on this verse!
Instead, remember that during today’s “the dispensation of the grace of God,” if God is not manifest in your flesh and mine, He’s not manifest in anyone’s flesh. So, we are to live our life in such a way that others will question their … disbelief in God.
- As Adapted from Ricky Kurth -