Q: What Is a Biblical Mystery?
A mystery is something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain. It has a secret quality whose meaning is puzzling or unknown. A mystery is not comprehensible until its meaning is revealed.
In Scripture, mystery refers to God’s secret thoughts (Dt. 29:29; cf. Job 38—39), plans, and dispensations, hidden from human reason and comprehension.
Some secrets will never be revealed. Others are revealed when God desires through Old Testament prophets, Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:14, 18; Heb. 1:1–3), or apostles. God chose the apostle Paul to be a steward of His mysteries (1 Cor. 4:1). A mystery in the Bible does not refer to something puzzling but a truth known to God in eternity past that He has kept secret until He chooses to reveal it (2:6–16).
One mystery from the Old Testament is Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Dan. 2:1–44). God enabled the prophet Daniel to reveal the dream and its interpretation to the Babylonian king (vv. 19, 28–30).
In the New Testament, Paul wrote that it is both God the Father and Jesus Christ “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). Thus, all mysteries of divine truth are revealed by the Father through Christ, who revealed their meanings to the apostles through the Holy Spirit.
The words mystery and mysteries are mentioned 27 times in the New Testament, including 21 uses by Paul. Here are five New Testament examples of God’s mysteries:
1. The mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven, or the Kingdom of God (Mt. 13:3–50; Mk. 4:11; Lk. 8:10). These mysteries cover the time between Christ’s first ministry on Earth and His Second Coming.
2. The mystery of the church. The church is made up of saved Jews and Gentiles joined as one body of believers. It was hidden in the past but revealed through Jesus Christ and Paul during their ministries (Eph. 2:11–13; 3:1–11).
3. The mystery of godliness (1 Tim. 3:16). Righteousness, godliness, and the truths of salvation, hidden in the Old Testament, were revealed by Christ and taught by Paul. Believers in Christ who walk by faith become godly by following and applying New Testament teachings to their lives.
4. The mystery of the Rapture of Christ’s church. This mystery is an event that will occur before the Tribulation and Christ’s Second Coming (1 Cor. 15:51–52; 1 Th. 4:14, 17).
5. The mystery of lawlessness (2 Th. 2:7–10). This mystery is Satan’s evil plan of lawlessness during the Tribulation using the Antichrist and the False Prophet, whom Christ will destroy at His Second Coming.
Biblical mysteries illustrate that God is omniscient, sovereign, and has a gracious plan for man’s redemption.