In the Bible, a mystery is something that was hidden. It was a part of God’s revelation to us that we did not understand. At least not until he had unveiled the mystery. In Daniel, the mystery was generally contained in dreams or visions that either the king or Daniel had. And God revealed the mystery of the dreams to Daniel. In Revelation, the word is used in relation to what God has hidden, but is revealing.
The primary use of this word though is in the writings of Paul. He uses it to express the fuller revelation of God that comes through Jesus. This includes the unity of Jew and Gentile in Christ (Eph. 3:6); the union of Christ and his church (Eph. 5:32); and the resurrection of believers (1 Cor. 15:51).
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The Mystery of Christ In Us
I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:25-27 NIV)
This article is going to focus on another mystery that is revealed to us through Paul. And that is the mystery of Christ in us, the hope of glory. Until just recently I had not thought much about this. The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is something that is frequently referenced within the faith tradition that I come from. But I think I have been missing some of the significance of God’s presence within me.
The expression, Christ in us, comes from the passage quoted above. Paul has been expounding on the superiority of Christ and then the efforts Paul had been making to fulfill his commission. The commission to present the word of God in its fullness. And that included this mystery of Christ in us.
It is unclear to me if Paul was referring to the presence of Christ within the individual believer, or within the church as a whole. But I suspect he likely would have said yes to both. Since I am a part of Christ’s church, what is true of her as a whole is also true of me as a part.
The book of Exodus records God’s deliverance of Israel from Egyptian slavery. He brought them from Egypt, through the wilderness, and to Mt. Sinai. While at Sinai God entered into a covenant relationship with Israel, writing a summary of the covenant terms on stone tablets.
While Israel was camped at Sinai, God gave Moses instructions for building the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was essentially a large two-room tent surrounded by a curtained-off courtyard. The inner room of the Tabernacle contained a box called the Ark. The stone tablets with the terms of the covenant were placed within the Ark. The Ark was then covered with the Atonement Cover; essentially a lid for the Ark with a pair of cherubim on top of it.
This room was essentially off-limits to everyone. The only exception was on the annual Day of Atonement, when the High Priest would enter the Most Holy Place to sprinkle the blood of a sacrificed bull and goat, making atonement for himself and for the people.
After the Tabernacle was set up and purified, the glory of God filled the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle had essentially become God’s dwelling place among the Israelites during the wilderness wanderings and later in the land. The Tabernacle was later replaced by Solomon’s temple. A temple that was modeled on the Tabernacle.
The Promise of a New Temple
In 587 B.C. the Babylonian army destroyed Jerusalem and the temple that Solomon had built, and Israel went into exile. While in exile the people mourned the loss of their homeland as well as the temple of God. When the Persians conquered Babylon, they allowed the Jews to return home and rebuild the temple. But that temple never achieved the splendor of what Solomon had done.
During the time of the exile, the prophet Ezekiel had a vision of a restored temple and priesthood. The description of this temple, along with its courtyards, furnishings, and priesthood, is found in Ezekiel chapters 40-44. This temple is not what was built on the return from exile and updated by Herod in the years before Jesus’ birth. So many look to a future fulfillment of Ezekiel’s vision in the future. Their expectation is that someday this physical temple will be constructed and sacrifices offered on its altar.
Jesus as the Temple
In John 2:19-22, Jesus referred to his body as a temple. He told the Jewish leaders that if they destroyed this temple, he would rebuild it in three days. They understood him to refer to the temple built by Herod that had taken 46 years to build. But, as his disciples came to realize, after Jesus’ resurrection, he was actually referring to his body.
But what was Jesus’ body? Earlier John had identified Jesus as the Word, and that the Word was God (John 1:1). And, in John 1:14 he says that the Word became flesh and dwelt, or tabernacled, among us. As the Tabernacle was the dwelling of God among the Israelites during the wilderness wanderings, so Jesus was the dwelling place of God among us. But, rather than dwelling in a tent, or physical temple, Jesus himself was that temple where God dwelt.
Jesus as the Fulfillment of the Prophets
In Matthew 5:17 Jesus claimed to be the fulfillment of the prophets. This does not just mean that there were prophecies in the prophets that referred to his coming and his activity. Rather, it means that all the prophets were looking forward to was fulfilled in Jesus.
So Ezekiel’s vision of a new temple was actually a vision of Jesus as the dwelling place of God among us. And so, when we look for the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s vision in an earthly structure, we are looking through the lenses of an incomplete revelation. It is only when we look through the lenses of the more complete revelation that Jesus brought to us, that we can understand the Old Testament prophets and the mystery of Christ. And this is true for Ezekiel’s temple as well.
The Church as the Temple
This temple language in the New Testament is not just about Jesus though. It is also applied to his body, the church. In Ephesians 2:19-22, Paul describes the church, made up of both Jews and Gentiles, as rising to become a holy temple to the Lord. A dwelling where he lives through his Spirit.
And I believe that this is the mystery that Paul is referring to in Colossians 1:25-27. We are now the dwelling place for God. He lives, not in a man-made temple. But in a temple of his own making. A temple made in his own image. This was a mystery to those living under the old covenant relationship. It is only to those under the new covenant that the mystery is revealed and who can understand what God is doing.
Living as the Dwelling Place of God
I believe that all too often we are guilty of taking too lightly being the temple, or dwelling place, of God. And I think that is a mistake. While, as believers, we are no longer under the Law defined in the Old Testament, I do believe it is still instructive. The Tabernacle was declared to be a holy place. No uncleanness was allowed to be anywhere near it. Those who approached it, or entered into it, needed to be holy, separated from the common, and dedicated to God.
This adds significance to Peter’s instruction to us to be holy. God is holy. And if I am going to have him dwelling within me, then it is imperative that I also be holy. I should not expect God to dwell within me if I am not at least making the attempt to be holy, separated apart from the rest of the world. Experience the mystery of Christ, his indwelling presence, by striving for personal holiness.
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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