And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. (1 Tim. 3:16)
The “mystery of godliness” is not the incarnation of Christ as is commonly taught. Paul did not say, “great is the mystery of God being manifest in the flesh.“ The incarnation of Christ was prophesied, and therefore it was no secret (e.g. Isa. 9:6).
The context is godliness. The qualifications for the offices of bishop and deacon provide a good description of godliness (vs.1-13). In v.15 Paul talks about how we are to BEHAVE ourselves in the church. That the first word in v.16 is “And” shows that v.16 is an expansion of the thought in v.15. In chapter 4 he shows that we are not made godly by the efforts of the flesh and continues to teach about godliness. Those who teach that we can be made godly by things like abstaining from meats have departed from “the faith” which was stated in 3:16. Sinners cannot be made godly without Christ being baptized into our humanity and us being baptized into His Body and thereby being made one with Him.
If 1 Tim. 3:16 was only a statement about Jesus Christ, why would Paul list things out of order? Christ was not preached unto the Gentiles and believed on in the world before He was received up into glory. Since Christ and His church are one (Eph. 5:22-33), what is said in v.16 applies to both Christ and His spiritual Body.
How it applies to Christ:
- God was manifest in the flesh – Jn. 1:1-3, 14
- Justified in the Spirit – Lk. 7:29
- Seen of angels – Matt. 4:11
- Preached unto the Gentiles – Acts 28:28
- Believed on in the world – Col. 1:6
- Received up into glory – Mk. 16:19
How it applies to the Church:
- God was manifest in the flesh – 2 Cor. 4:10-11; Gal. 2:20
- Justified in the Spirit – 1 Cor. 6:11
- Seen of angels – Eph. 3:10
- Preached unto the Gentiles – Rom. 16:25-27
- Believed on in the world – Rom. 16:26
- Received up into glory – Col. 3:1-4
Notice Three Sets of Contrasts
- flesh vs. Spirit
- angels vs. Gentiles
- world vs. glory
Satan always opposes what God is doing (please read 1 Tim. 4:1-6). The Spirit warned us about the departure (apostasy) from the faith in the latter times (which began before Paul’s death). The faith in the context is not the whole Bible in general, but the “mystery of the faith” that Christ revealed through the apostle Paul in particular (1 Tim. 3:9, 15-16). Just as it was apostasy for Israel to depart from what God revealed to them through Moses, so it is apostasy today for professing Christians to depart from what God revealed to us through Paul (2 Tim. 1:15).
The main point in the context (1 Tim. 3:14-4:11) is that true godliness is produced by our spiritual union with Christ, and not by the religion of the flesh. It is not enough to be biblical; we must also be dispensational. God Himself commanded His people to abstain from meats in times past, but to require that today is to teach a doctrine of devils!
For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. (2 Thess. 2:7)
The mystery of iniquity that has been working in this world for a long time will culminate after the rapture of the Body of Christ with Satan being manifest in the flesh (the Antichrist). The mystery of iniquity hinders many people from ever seeing the great mystery of the Body of Christ. It is clear from the context in which it is mentioned that the mystery of iniquity has to do with spiritual deception (please read 2 Thess. 2:1-12).
The mystery of iniquity is not open and blatant “lawlessness” (as the modern versions translate it). It is iniquity in the form of RELIGION. It has to do with Satan’s religious system that began with Cain and will climax with the Antichrist of whom Cain was a type. It goes all the way back to Babylon, the fountainhead of all idolatry (Rev. 17:5). Throughout the ages, it shows up in different forms and is always in opposition to what God is doing.
Iniquity and Iniquities are Used 334 times in the King James Bible
Iniquity is related to sin and unrighteousness (Heb. 8:12) and is the opposite of truth (1 Cor. 13:6). We have a tendency to think of sin only in the realm of the flesh (2 Cor. 7:1), but false doctrine is also iniquity (Matt. 7:22-23; 2 Tim. 2:15-26). The mystery of iniquity opposes the mystery of godliness by offering a FORM of godliness while denying the power thereof (2 Tim. 3:1-5).
When Christ was on the earth doing great signs and wonders, Satan was also working in a visible way. God’s work in this age is spiritual, and so Satan is using spiritual deception to oppose God’s work (2 Cor. 10:3-5; Eph. 6:10-13). Paul warned us about Satan’s devices, wiles, and snares. It is possible for believers to be deceived, beguiled, and bewitched.
God’s Will for Us
It is the will of God for “all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). Satan is working to the blind the lost the gospel and the saved to the truth of who they are in Christ. He uses counterfeits to blind people to the truth:
- The Gospel (Gal. 1:6-12; 2 Cor. 4:3-4)
- The Bible (2 Cor. 2:17)
- The Church (2 Cor. 11:1-4, 13-15)
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