Ephesians 3 presents a slight shift of focus. It begins with Paul preparing to launch – once again, like in 1:15 – into prayer for his readers. Instead, he shifts into telling a bit of his own story. After spending two chapters laying out the glorious and weighty truths of the gospel, he now seeks to encourage and motivate his readers by pointing to his own example. And he begins – in verses 1-5 – with the incredible news that the mystery of Christ with regard to the Gentiles has been revealed – highlighting God’s glorious plan. After centuries and centuries of predicting and promising and foreshadowing, God has finally made known His purpose for this world in its fullness. Interestingly, Paul does not actually reveal the content of the mystery until verse 6. In these earlier verses, he is focusing on the nature and revelation of the mystery itself. This may seem unimportant, but it actually tells us a great deal about how to read the Bible as well as how God has ordained history.
We see from the beginning that Paul seemingly gets sidetracked as he writes, “For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles – assuming that you heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you…” (3:1-2). He will return to his “For this reason…” in verse 14, but beginning in verse 2, he speaks of what he has received. And we should take note of it.
First, Paul writes: “the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly” (v. 3). No doubt, this is a reference to the many times God spoke to Paul early in his Christian life – particularly at his conversion on the road to Damascus – regarding his mission of taking the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 22:21; 26:16-18). God gave the Apostle Paul a special revelation. This means Paul’s message was not a human message but a divine message. It did not come from Paul but from God! And God gave it to him as a “stewardship”. Paul’s job was not to change the message or improve the message but simply be a caretaker of the message – preaching it faithfully. And we know from Scripture and history that is what he did.
But Paul goes further. He writes, “When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (3:4-5). Here is an even larger claim: not only has the mystery been revealed to him but also to the “apostles and prophets”. The “sons of men in other generations” who did not have the mystery made known to them are those in the Old Testament who lived prior to the coming of Jesus. Even though there were “hints” and “shadows” and “types” and “promises”, the Bible is clear that even many of the Old Testament writers wrote without fully realizing what they were doing or writing (1 Pet. 1:10-12). Though the Old Testament saints knew much, they did not know the fullness of God’s mystery. But now that has changed. A new day has come, and according to Paul, it is a day of fulfillment and revelation. The “apostles” were those who saw and walked with Christ. And the “prophets” were those specially gifted by the Spirit to speak God’s words to God’s people. With the coming of Christ, the revelation of God changed drastically. Instead of mysteries and shadows, there were answers and substance. Many things which had not been clear were now perfectly evident. The Old Testament pointed forward to the New, and the New is the fulfillment of the Old.
But why do we care? Shouldn’t we focus our attention on the content of the mystery (given in v. 6) rather than how it was revealed? If that is our thought, then we will miss some important points. Obviously, we care about the content, but we also care about the revelation of the content because the way truth has been revealed is as important as the truth itself.
First, these verses help us understand how we should read Paul. Assuming the Bible is breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16) and has no error, then Paul’s words are directly from God. That means they are trustworthy and carry great authority. They should be treated not simply as the words of a man but as the words of God – with appropriate weight and reverence. Paul’s words are true – in the most ultimate sense.
Second, this helps us understand how we should read the Old and New Testaments. Because the true mystery of Christ was not made known in the Old Testament, we must be sure to read the Old Testament in light of the New Testament. The Old Testament was meant to prepare for the coming of Christ which means that it is incomplete without the New. This does not mean it is “bad” or “wrong” – simply that it was never intended to be the end of the story. We read the Old Testament wrongly if we do not connect it with the New.
Third, this helps us understand the period of salvation history in which we live. In a very real sense, we live at the climax of the revelation concerning the mystery of Christ. The things “into which angels long to look” have been revealed, and now we can know the “unsearchable riches of Christ.” We should appreciate the era in which we live and realize the incredible blessing that has been given to us in having the mystery of Christ revealed. We get to know Christ and the power of His resurrection. We get to see the light of the glory of the gospel of Jesus in all of its beauty. It is a privilege and a gift.
And we should recognize that even though we are not apostles like Paul, we have been entrusted with this good news. We are “stewards” and “ambassadors” like him (2 Cor. 5:20). And our job is not to change the message or improve the message but simply proclaim it. The mystery has been revealed, and we have the privilege – as God’s people – of proclaiming that revelation to the world. May we be faithful.