Quite the Mysterion
Vol: 161 Issue: 27 Friday, February 27, 2015
Of all the things that are certain about life, the most certain thing of all is that none of us will get out of it alive. But what about the Rapture, you ask?
Those alive at the Rapture do not experience physical death, but by every standard of measure we have for physical life, they don’t arrive in heaven any more alive than do saints who died in the fifth century.
In his first letter to the Church at Corinth, Paul writes;
“Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.”
There is a lot of information packed into those few words. First, the use of the word mystery (mysterion). It means, a ‘hidden thing’ or ‘hidden purpose or counsel of God.’
Paul chose that word carefully to make an impact upon his audience. Words have a dictionary meaning but could mean something entirely different within the cultural context.
Suppose you are some future historian trying to translate ancient 21st English. How would you translate the following two sentences?
- She wore a gay smile as they danced across the ballroom.
- Everyone at the dance was gay.
In the Greek of Paul’s day, mysterion was primarily understood to mean a religious secret confided only to the initiated and withheld from ordinary mortals. Such secret religious sects were typical of the ancients, both Roman and Greek.
In English, it doesn’t carry quite the same primary meaning. We hear ‘mystery’ and we think of whodunits or unexplained events. A mysterion was a revelation – a secret revealed by God to special initiates who would ‘get’ it.
Contextually then, we would understand a mysterion as someone who had been ‘read into’ a secret, like a 33rd degree Mason or a high-level Homeland Security agent.
It is important to understand what mystery means in context, since it is only used about eighteen times in the King James Bible. It doesn’t mean it is too complicated for you to understand. It doesn’t mean that is hidden from you.
Whenever you see it, you need to recognize that you are being “read into” some top secret counsel of God — completely unintelligible to anyone other than those to whom it is intended.
“But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:” (1 Corinithians 2:7)
The mystery isn’t ‘mysterious’ at all. What is a mystery is that even today, only those that have been ‘read into’ the mystery can understand it. Unless someone has been “read into it” by the Holy Spirit, one can explain it until one is blue in the face and they can’t get it.
“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”(1 Corinthians 2:14)
If that is true, then shouldn’t it follow that as soon as someone is saved, he should be able to understand every doctrine in the Bible? Nope.
God doesn’t read every Christian into every mystery, either. That is what makes it a mysterion – a mystery is a revelation to the initiated – not everybody is initiated to the same level. We are all individual persons and our God is an individual God.
Saved individuals have a unique relationship with an individual God. My relationship with God is no more like your relationship with God than my relationship with one of my sons is like my relationship with the other.
Each of us is an individual with an individual relationship. Each of us understands the other slightly differently. Do you see what I mean?
I “get” one of them more than I do the other, but that is because we are all real individuals.
If everybody ‘got’ God the same, I’d have to question whether He was real. Even if everybody is ‘read into’ the ‘mysterion’ the same way – not everybody ‘gets’ it the same way — because it is all real.
I could say the same thing to all my kids and I’d be lucky if half of them ‘got it’ the way I meant it. And I can explain a particular doctrine to some Christians until I was blue in the face and they’d still miss the point.
“Behold, I read you into a secret; we shall not all sleep (koimao) but we shall all be changed.”
This is the second remarkable statement – we shall not all sleep. The word koimao means literally, ‘to be put to sleep’. It is a verb – metaphorically; it can mean “to die” —but in the sense of cause and effect; the cause is God did it, the effect is you died.
“Behold, I read you into a secret, we shall not all be put to sleep, but we shall all be changed.”
In English, when we read of being changed, that can mean pretty much anything from a new haircut to a new attitude.
The word “changed” as used here is from the Greek word “allasso” which primarily means “exchanged” or “transformed” into something that was not present previously. It means to ‘exchange one thing for another’.
“Behold, I read you into a secret, we shall not all be put to sleep, but we shall all exchange one thing for another.”
“In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthinans 15:51-54)
Not every Christian has been ‘read into’ every mysterion — just like not every person knows the Whole Counsel of God. It’s all there in the pages of the Bible. All of us have access to it.
But none of us are capable of being “read into” the whole Counsel of God. That’s how God made us. It doesn’t necessarily make one person wrong and the other right. It puts that person where God wants them to make the point He wants made.
“And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ;
Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: (Ephesians 4:11-13)
Not everybody is “read in” the same way.
When, exactly, DO we all come in the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, a perfect man unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ?
There is no unity of faith in the here & now. Nobody has attained that level of perfection since Christ. Who could be measured against the stature of the fullness of Christ? Nobody.
Until that Day when we are changed. At the last trump.
“For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall 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.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16)
But not everybody agrees on what the last trump means, or what it means for the Lord to descend from Heaven, or what it means for the dead in Christ to rise first or for those who are alive and remain to be caught up.
The Prophet Daniel proclaimed to Nebuchadnezzar, “But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets.” Nowhere does it say that everyone gets them the same.
There are those that are convinced that the Rapture will take place at some precise point within the Tribulation – the breaking of the Sixth Seal, or somewhere at the mid-point or even at the end.
For those folks, it seems critically important that they convince others to prepare to avoid the judgment of God that is to come upon the earth during the Tribulation. To my way of thinking, that is the most mysterious line of reasoning of all.
Avoiding God’s judgment? Is that even possible?
I believe that the Rapture must precede the Tribulation, since it is a period of judgment for sin in which the Church has no part. Either Christians are declared judicially innocent by virtue of the Blood of Christ or they are not.
If they are judicially innocent, then God cannot justly impose judgment on them. So the Church cannot be justly judged for the sins of the world after Jesus has already paid the penalty due.
That is why Paul concludes the Rapture passage in 1 Thessalonians with this note of encouragement:
“Wherefore, comfort one another with these words.”
Not everybody has been read into every secret the same way. Every person is an individual with an individual relationship with an individual God. It is by our disagreements that we demonstrate the
reality and the individuality and personality of the living God.
The Lord works in mysterious ways. That’s what makes Him God.
Originally Published: February 3, 2011
Featured Commentary: Rhyming Jewish History ~ Alf Cengia