Paul, Apostle, Writer of Mysteries (Part 2)

By Gene Lawley


The Mystery of the Church

This mystery is indeed just that. At one point it is seemingly likened to an organization, with Christ at the head, then again, like the human body, having arms, legs, feet, eyes, ears, a tongue, etc. It is called “the Bride of Christ” and is honored at a “marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19). How else could it be described but as a mystery? The first mention of “church” was when Jesus announced its coming formation in reference to His identity, as voiced by Peter in Matthew 16:13-19: “When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”

So they said, "Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.“

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and what- ever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

As we can see in the passage, His identity is revealed by God, and contrary to some, His church is not built on a human foundation, such as Peter, but on that eternal foundation, the Rock who is Christ, the Son of God. Paul writes in I Corinthians 3:11, “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” And that foundation was laid there before Peter and the disciples by Jesus, Himself! And Christians are not to build their life character on the foundation of Peter, but that of Christ!

In that Matthew passage we see also that Christ was passing on some organizational authority to Peter and the disciples, and the very next mention of the church by Jesus is in Matthew 18:15-20, where He directs them how to settle differences among the believers. He really entrusts the body of believers to make binding agreements and promises to be in the midst of them, even if only two or three are together in agreement. These principles are later expanded and taught in more detail in the various letters to the churches from Paul, Peter, James, John and Jude. This deals with the physical and organizational functioning of the believers.

The mystery of the church is in its purpose and energizing motivation arising out of its foundation. Remember that Jesus said in Matthew 16, “On this Rock (of His identity as the Son of God) I will build My Church and the gates of hell (Hades) will not prevail against it”. He introduces here, then, the idea of a spiritual mission and a spiritual warfare. Its opposing counterpart in this warfare is soon identified as Satan , who owns and energizes the kingdoms of this world, later identified as the beast of Revelation 13.

Jesus had told the disciples that He would be leaving them, but He would send another Comforter to them, who was with them then, but would be in them, at that future time (John 14:16-17). And at Pentecost, at the time of that Feast, the believers were praying in one accord in an upper room when the Holy Spirit came into their lives, and there Jesus energized his church (Acts 2).

There is no mention of “church” there, but when Peter came vibrant with great energy and boldness, preaching openly that day, here is the way Luke reported it in Acts 2:41-47, “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.

In that first church we can see some of the ideal qualities of the Church Jesus intended to build on the foundation of His eternal deity, a unity and togetherness that enabled them to confront the world with a boldness that would be described as having “turned the world upsidedown” just a short time later. Perhaps the intent of Jesus’ prayer in John 17 had to do with that kind of internal fabric of His Church as He agonized earnestly for the oneness of the believers with the Father and Himself, just as those two were one: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me” (John 17:20-23).

The obvious connection of His prayer with the purpose He revealed to them just before His ascension back to heaven, later (Acts 1:8), brings into focus that this mysterious entity He called His Church is meant to be an extension of the eternal godhead into this physical world to introduce salvation to lost mankind. That line of thought seems to be confirmed in Colossians 2:9-10, “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.”

Earlier in that prayer He had said, “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (verse 18). This mysterious Church is more than stained glass windows and plush pews, or brush arbors and hardwood benches, and not even pomp and ceremony. It is more akin to that mystery of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” that was discussed in Part 1 of this article, wherein the temple with God’s presence is abiding continually in the life of the individual believer in Christ. And that, beloved, is still a great mystery!

The Mystery of the Rapture

Much has been written of the fact that the English word, rapture, is not so named in the Bible. That fact seems to be thrown out as a justifying reason to proclaim that there is no such thing as the “Rapture”. Varied linguistics aside, the descriptive words in our English translations on this topic are enough to demand our attention to this mysterious and dramatic transformation of mortal man to an immortal being, instantaneously.

Somewhat surprisingly, Jesus revealed its core principles when He told Martha at the raising of Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). (The dead are raised to meet the living in the air and be with the Lord forever.) Just as Paul later explained the matter to the Thessalonians in chapter 4, verses 16-17, of his first letter to them—the believers in Christ who have died are raised first, then believers who are alive are transformed into immortals, and all are to meet Jesus in the air, to be forever with Him!

However, the more intriguing and dramatic description of the Rapture is that which Paul laid out for the Corinthians, who seemingly were a kind of people who thrived on the dramatic and exceptional. He declares, “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall 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 incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY’” (I Corinthians 15:51-54). In the twinkling of an eye—that’s a nano-second of time, in modern scientific terminology, perhaps more quickly than “sudden”.

That incident cannot be explained or even fathomed by the human mind…well, maybe not so quickly dismissed. Remember some of the space fantasies, like “E.T.” and the familiar quote from another science fiction thriller, “beam me up, Scotty”, but only in Hollywood creations. My thoughts return to the raising of Lazarus in John 11. He had been in the tomb four days, fully wrapped in grave clothes, as was the custom. Jesus commanded, “Lazarus, come forth!” The man was dead, bound and unable to walk, but he came forth! And Jesus then said, "Loose him, and let him go." How astounding that must have been to those standing by! And how astounding it will be when that last trump is sounded and the millions of believers in Christ around the globe suddenly disappear, leaving their clothing and personal possessions that are on their bodies lying there, much like the grave clothes in the tomb where Jesus was laid, and which the two disciples noted with great wonder that morning. Those physical trappings will not be translated in the Rapture. No, we really can’t take those things with us!

When will this “mystery” take place? Most everywhere you look in the Bible, you end up at “no man knows the day or the hour, but only the Father, not even the angels” and that it will come like a thief in the night, surprisingly sudden. In Luke 21:28, Jesus says, “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.” I submit that “these things” described in the context of this verse began to happen, and have been increasing in intensity, when Israel became a recognized state again on May 14, 1948. The budding of the fig tree discussed in that context identifies that incident, and there, we are told that the generation seeing that happen will not pass away until all these things come to pass. If eighty years, according to Psalm 90:10, are the outside time frame of a generation, then sometime by the year 2028 the seven- year tribulation will have occurred and Jesus will be on hand to rule the earth from the throne of David in Jerusalem for a thousand years. This mystery of the Rapture will have been experienced by the believers in Jesus prior to that final seven years, however.

One other mystery I mentioned would be discussed in connection with this mystery of the Rapture is the “mystery of lawlessness”, which Paul writes of in II Thessalonians 2. He writes of the declining influence of Christianity in the world, the “falling away”, he calls it. We refer to it as the “apostasy”, and he projects that as that influence recedes--and it must before that end-time man of sin can appear, then lawlessness of mankind increases to fill that vacuum. If there is no resistance, evil moves in to take over and reign in defiance of God. Perhaps that is the mystery, that evilness rushes in where God is rejected, and in the context of that II Thessalonians 2 passage, and the “restrainer” is ultimately removed, that man of sin will have full control. That is the Rapture occurrence and the gigantic vacuum left by that departure of all believers in Christ around the globe will immediately be filled with lawlessness. Unredeemed man is of no resistance to the depth of that kind of evil. Only the fire of God’s judgment will conquer it.

It’s without question that a person should want to participate in the “mystery” of the Rapture, with its promise of everlasting life, rather than to fall victim to that “mystery” of lawlessness, which only leads to destruction and death. And, there is no mystery about Jesus; He is the way, the truth, and the life!