Mystery in Scripture

In our day, when we can find out an answer to almost everything; - sometimes even a correct answer, we might have lost the wonder and value of mystery. There are many mysteries in the Bible, some of which God has revealed already in Christ, and some of which He has not. God did not just allow mystery into the Bible; He deliberately put it there, and he uses it.

Here is one way Paul summed things up. "Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful." 1 Cor 4:1-2. He said similar in Col 1:25-27. Are you a steward of the mysteries of God too? But exactly how are stewards of God's mysteries found faithful?

Old Testament: Full of Surprises

The Old Testament is full of surprises and mystery, from Enoch in Genesis 5:24, Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18-20, the three visitors in Genesis 18, and who was the Commander of the Lord's army in Joshua 5:13-15? Why did the men, sent on the evil task of killing David, prophesy with Samuel in 1 Samuel 19:19-21?

In Genesis 19:10-13, who exactly were these three angels? Were they God? If so, why did they say in Genesis 19:13 "the outcry against them has grown great before the face of the LORD, and the LORD has sent us to destroy it." (NKJV) The evil men could not find the door. Do you think there was anything special about the evil men, or about the door?

Likewise Dt 29:28-29 says that God will strike His disobedient people with madness, blindness, and confusion of heart. If we wonder why some leaders make some really stupid choices it is not necessarily because they are stupid; perhaps they have been struck with madness, blindness, and confusion of heart.

In Daniel 12:4,9-10, Daniel heard the prophesy but did not understand because he was not supposed to.

The Biggest Secret in the Old Testament

The Old Testament gave many hints, but did not clearly reveal its biggest secret: how the Messiah would come.

So a Jewish person reading the Old Testament, before Christ would feel grateful for the truth God gave, but still have these unfulfilled longing feeling, that God had still hidden the best part. The Old Testament gave many clues about the Messiah: where He would be born, that He would suffer, when He would die, but it did not put all of the pieces together.

What would an Old Testament Jew make of this? "See, a time is coming - declares the LORD - when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah. ... But such is the covenant I will make with the House of Israel after these days- declares the LORD: I will put My Teaching into their inmost being and inscribe it upon their hearts. Then I will be their God, and they shall be My people." Jeremiah 34:31-34 See also Isa 55:3-4; Jer 31:31-34; and Ezek 16:60; 37:26-28.

How did the Jews take this? They knew that Elijah would come before the Messiah, and when the Jews celebrate the Pesach (Passover), they leave one empty seat, - a testimony that they are awaiting the Meshiach.

Mt 13:16-17 says that in old times many prophets and righteous people desired to see and hear what the apostles experienced, and they did not. See Heb 11:40.

"Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven- things which angels desire to look into." 1 Peter 1:10-12 (NKJV) This is exciting!

The Mystery of the Gospel

Eph 6:19 what Paul preached was the mystery of the gospel. When we share the gospel, do we do so as we are revealing a secret mystery to our friend?
Col 2:2 the mystery of God, or (Col 4:3; Eph 3:3-4,9; Rom 16:25) the mystery of Christ.
The mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. Mt 13:11; Mk 4:11; Lk 8:10. But God spoke in parables so that some would hear yet not understand. Mt 13:13-15. See also Mk 4:11b-12 and Lk 8:10b.
1 Tim 3:9 The mystery of the faith
Eph 1:9-10 The mystery of God's will in Christ.

The New Testament has more Secrets Too!

1 Cor 14:2 speaking mysteries in the Spirit
Eph 5:32 husbands and wives, Christ and the church
Rom 11:25 Mystery of the blindness of Israel
1 Cor 15:51-52 The rapture
1 Tim 3:16 The mystery of godliness. At work, when people see your life, they kind of look at you as though you were mysterious?

But don't get too preoccupied with mysteries. If you understand all mysteries and knowledge, but have not love, then you are nothing (1 Cor 13:2)

...there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries (Dan 2:28a)

"Surely God does nothing Unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets." Amos 3:7 (NKJV). Of course it does not say when God reveals it, or how fully He reveals it.

"It is the Glory of God to conceal a matter: to search out a matter is the glory of kings." Proverbs 25:2 (NIV) God wants to show us some of His secrets (Ps 25:14) and give us His secret counsel (Prov 3:32f)!

Why Doesn't God Just Tell Us Everything?

God does not tell us some things because we don't ever need to know, or else we don't need to know right now. We don't know all of the reasons God might not tell us everything, but we can see many reasons.

Imagine your child saying, "Mom and Dad do you really love me? Now I understand that you don't always tell me everything, but you will tell me everything I need to know right?" Right you say. The child then says, "I really glad to know that, because I have science homework, so tell me all the answers."

Like a wise parent, God does not always directly tell us everything we need to know; some things He wants us to learn ourselves. Just like the process of doing science homework is done for the benefit of the child practicing his or her science knowledge, God wants us to exert effort to find out some things for the purpose of teaching and training us.

A second reason is similar to a take-home test. God is testing us to see if we will discover what we need to know. A third reason God might not tell us some things is because we would not be able to understand.

But besides these examples of mind, God might want us to experience the emotion, of discovering something for ourselves. Have you ever not told somebody about something, like a surprise birthday party, so that they could experience the freshness of the surprise themselves? "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him." 1 Cor 2:9 (NKJV)

Another reason for mystery might have to do with our will. It might be to see how we will decide, given the information we have.

There was a very sad video on You Tube, where a husband found out that they had the winning lottery numbers for a previous contest. As a prank, he played a video of the previous show. While his wife was watching, with the ticket, thinking it was the current show. His wife was fooled into thinking that they won, so she immediately told him she wanted a divorce.

A Theology of Secrets

Despite all of the Old Testament prophecies, the Gospel was a secret until Jesus came (Rom 16:25-26). Apparently Satan and demons were in the dark about how what Satan thought would be his greatest victory, the crucifixion of Jesus, would turn into Satan's most crushing defeat. They would not have crucified Jesus if they had known (1 Cor 2:7-8). The information was there, but it sort of reminds one of the Sodomites who could not find an ordinary door. God can keep secrets much better than you or I can.

Satan does not tell evil people the locations of all Christians who are hiding (Ps 27:5); Satan and the demons can only do what God permits them to do. They can only know what God permits them to know.

God Uses Dreams

God often reveals things to people in dreams.
Abraham had a dream in a deep sleep in Gen 15:12-21
Abimelech had a dream in Gen 20:2-8
Jacob had the dream of angels ascending and descending in Gen 28:10-16
Joseph's dreams Gen 37:5-7; 40:8-22; 41:9-32
Daniel's dream of the Four beasts Dan 7
Daniel's dream Daniel 4:4-27
Nebuchadnezzar dreams in Dan 2:31-45 and 4:1-17
Joel 2:28 says their sons and daughters would prophesy, "...your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions...."
Even today many are coming to Christ in other parts of the world due to dreams where Jesus appears to them.

Satan Uses Mystery Too

2 Th 2:7 "mystery of lawlessness is already at work"
Rev 13:3 The deadly wound that was healed
Rev 17:5-8 The harlot Babylon and the beast that was, is not, and will come

God Still Uses Mystery

What about the seven thunders in Revelation 10:2-4?
None could learn the new song except the 144,000 in Revelation 14:3. Why?


God reveals certain things when He wants, where He wants and to whom He wants. Paradoxically, God uses mystery and lack of full revelation to reveal His message too. God hides things, including His people that need to be hidden. God delights in revealing things to His people, through His word, and sometimes through dreams and visions. Sweet dreams!

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by Steven M. Morrison, PhD.