What is a “Mystery” in the Bible?

Scripture says that God had some secrets. The Bible uses the Greek word “musterion” that comes from muo which means 'to shut the mouth.' The Bible uses the term, “mystery” to refer to a sacred secret. It is something that had been hidden in the past but was eventually revealed as seen here below.

25 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery [secret], which was kept secret since the world began, 26 But now is made manifest [revealed], and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: Romans 16:25-26 (KJV)

Musterion is translated as “mystery,” or the plural mysteries, 27 times in the Bible.

  • It is found in the Gospels when Jesus talks about the mysteries of the Kingdom (Matthew 13:11; Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10). And it is also seen in the Book of Revelation. Revelation 1:20 talks about the 'Mystery of the Seven Stars.'
  • In Revelation 10:7 John talks about the mystery of God that is to be finished. This is discussing the time of the final consummation of all things as God destroys unbelieving sinners and establishes His righteous Kingdom on the earth.
  • Revelation 17:5 and 17:7 talk about “Mystery Babylon” and the harlot. Mystery Babylon refers to the entire worldwide political, economic and religious kingdom of the Anti-Christ which will arise in the Tribulation. The harlot is a metaphor for how this one world religious system works.

However, without question, the most use of the word “mystery” by far can be seen in the writings of the Apostle Paul. This mystery is what Paul three times refers to as "my gospel" in order to set it apart as unique from what had been revealed to Jesus’ 12 Apostles and to the world up until it was revealed to Paul (cf. Romans 16:25; I Corinthians 3:10; II Timothy 2:8).

And just what is the 'mystery' that was revealed to the Apostle Paul?

In order to get the full picture of this we need to examine the books that Paul wrote. Some have looked at Paul and have concluded that there are 7 mysteries that he talks about. And Paul does call himself and his fellow ministers stewards of the mysteries of God in I Corinthians 4:1.

However, I would contend that rather than being 7 different mysteries, rather they are all different aspects of the same mystery that was hidden in God since before the foundation of the world until it was revealed by and through Paul “the apostle to the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:13)

Let us look at these various aspects of the mystery and find out how they affect and apply to us today during this age of “the dispensation of the grace of God.”

I. They Mystery of the Incarnation (I Timothy 3:16)

The first secret that we can see which Paul tells us about is 'the mystery of the incarnation' or as it is stated in I Timothy, 'the mystery of godliness.' This mystery reveals the full gospel in a nutshell. The term 'godliness' refers to truths of salvation and righteousness found only in Christ.

If we look in I Timothy 3:16 the Apostle tells us: " 16 And without controversy great is the mystery 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) “God” here is clearly referring to Christ who came to earth from heaven to manifest God to men. And there are lots of other places in Scripture that clearly show Jesus to be the infinite God-man. This was a mystery to the Old Testament saints and wasn't even clearly understood by the Twelve Apostles prior to Christ's death and resurrection. However, with the coming of Paul, this truth was seen in its totality.

II. The Mystery of the Blindness of Israel (Romans 11:25-26)

The next mystery that we can look at in the Pauline writings is the 'mystery of the blindness of Israel.' Israel was God's chosen people through whom the whole world was to be blessed. They failed in this task and, as a nation, rejected their Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, Paul says that Israel has now been temporarily set aside so that God may have mercy on all nations [Gk. ethnos, ethnicities], both Jew and Gentile alike. In Romans 11:25-26 he tells us:

"For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, 'The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”

We are now living during, what Paul calls, “the Dispensation of the Grace of God” (Eph. 3:2). This leads us to another aspect of the 'Mystery.'

III. They Mystery of the Church (Ephesians 3:1-10)

The mystery of “the Church, which is His Body” (Eph. 1:22b-23a) might be considered the central teaching of all that was revealed to the Apostle Paul. We find him talking about it in Ephesians 3:1-10. He writes this to the Ephesians:

"For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of “the dispensation of the grace of God” which was given to me for you, how that by revelation He [Christ] made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel, of which I [Paul] became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power. To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the [heretofore] unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places."

Before this time God was dealing with the one nation of Israel. Now He is dealing with all nations (including individual Israelites) and placing them into one Body and all are one in Christ Jesus. They all are saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9).

God the Father, made Christ the Son who knew no sin to be sin for us. Our sin was placed upon Christ. And His righteousness was placed upon us. (cf. II Corinthians 5:17). Now when God looks at us, He doesn't see our sin. He sees Christ's righteousness (cf. Rom. 4:5-8. We now have fellowship with the triune God and by His grace we have fellowship with other members of the Body of Christ, also known as the Church.

Now, as Paul tells us:

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28).

And we will spend eternity connected to Christ and to the other members of Christ's Body. Indeed, we have much to look forward to.

IV. The Mystery of the Indwelling Christ (Colossians 1:25-28)

And not only are we members of “the Church, the Body of Christ,” every believer in the Lord is indwelt by Jesus Christ through the person of His Holy Spirit (cf. Ephesians 2:22, Rom 8:2). That is the mystery of the indwelling Christ.

In Colossians 1:24-28 the Apostle tells us:

"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions. Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ IN YOU, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ."

Paul calls each person who places their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ 'temples of the Holy Spirit' (I Corinthians 6:19,20). And now we have the power of the Spirit who gives us the ability to live a life that is pleasing to Him.

This brings us to the next mystery. That is the 'mystery of the headship of Christ.'

V. The Mystery of the ‘Headship’ of Christ (Ephesians 5:22-32)

Paul uses the illustration of the husband and wife to demonstrate the headship of Christ over “the church, which is His body” (Ephesians 5:22b-23a). He tells wives to be subject to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church (22-23). Husbands, for their part are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her (25). As we know, Jesus gave Himself up by dying for His Church.

He goes on to tell the husband to love his wife as he loves himself.

"For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of His body." (29).

In verse 32 the Apostle tells us: "This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the Church."

Just as a wife submits to her husband who loves her and cares for her needs, we are to submit to our Lord who loves us in the very same way.

VI. The Mystery of the Translation of the Church (I Corinthians 15:50-58)

The next mystery that is associated with the Body of Christ is the translation of the Church from earth to “the heaven of Heavens,”Far above all heavens,” where we will dwell with the Lord Jesus Christ forever [2Cor 5:1b]. The fact of this is a mystery is found in I Corinthians 15:50-58.

Paul tells the Corinthians:

Now, I say this brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed...." (50-52).

Although he doesn't call it a mystery in I Thessalonians 4, Paul is talking about the same thing when speaking to the Thessalonians who were worried about their loved ones who had died. In verses 13-18 he tells them:

"But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Therefore, comfort one another with these words."

This mystery of the translation of the Church to meet the Lord in the air has come to be known as the Rapture. The term rapture comes from the Latin word rapio which means to seize, snatch or catch-up. This rapture, or catching-up of the dead and living members of the Church was never before talked about except by the Apostle Paul just as the Church itself was never prophesied in the past. This is a wonderful mystery that all true believers should be looking forward to (cf. Philippian 3:20-21) and it truly should be a comfort to all who have lost loved ones in Christ.

Then after this wonderful occasion comes the final mystery spoken of by the Apostle Paul.

VII. The Mystery of Lawlessness (II Thessalonians 2:1-9)

Mystery number 7 is found in II Thessalonians 2:1-9. It is the mystery of lawlessness or the mystery of iniquity (7). The website ‘Got questions.org’ has this to say about these verses:

"Paul’s intent in this passage is to correct a false teaching that was being propagated, namely, that the Day of the Lord (the end times’ Tribulation judgment) had already come and the Christians of Thessalonica had been left behind to endure it. Paul wants to set the record straight about Christ’s return and our gathering together to Him—the rapture. Paul states that the two events that go before the Day of the Lord are the apostasy (or “the rebellion”) and the revelation of the man of lawlessness (the Antichrist). The “mystery of iniquity” that will one day culminate in the appearance of the Antichrist is already at work in the world, but it is being restrained for now so that the world is not as evil as it could be (but will be, once the Restrainer is removed from the world)."

Paul doesn't tell who the Restrainer is, but it makes sense that the only Person who could hold back the evil that leads to the Antichrist is the Holy Spirit who Indwells the members of the Body of Christ. The Holy Spirit doesn't leave the world when the Body of Christ is taken in the Rapture. For, He, being God, is everywhere. However, he steps aside in His restraint and allows Satan to fulfill his desire to imitate God by indwelling a man, (the Antichrist), who will perform his will as Jesus did God the Father's will.

Thank God that the church will be delivered from this time by the Rapture. For this is a time of God's poured put “wrath” upon this evil world and Paul tells us in I Thessalonians 1:10 the Jesus has delivered us from the wrath to come.

“And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come. 1 Thessalonians 1:10 (KJV)

VIII. The Fellowship of the Mystery (Ephesians 3:9)

“That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:” Ephesians 3:6 (KJV)

“And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:" Ephesians 3:9 (KJV)


So there we have them. The eight mysteries revealed to the Apostle Paul, which taken together, make up “the revelation of the Mystery” that had never been revealed before the Lord revealed them to this great Apostle. To understand these is to understand what God is doing in the world today and what He will do in the future unto the consummation of the ages and dispensations.

God's Word is understood completely only as we “rightly divide the Word of truth” as we come to fully understand “the Mystery” revealed to Paul as found in His writings.

We owe our gratitude to God for the grace of the Mystery and for the apostle to whom they were revealed. May we spend the rest of our lives learning these truths, teaching them to others and living out our time on this earth knowing that God has everything completely under His control. He planned it from the beginning of time and is carrying it out until its fulfillment. Praise God for the Mystery!!

  • Slightly Adapted from Jeff Shirley by Arthur J Licursi -