Bible study series: The Beginning and the End - Genesis and Revelation
The Mystery of God
by I Gordon
Mysteries. Who doesn't like a mystery? Come on... you know you do! Maybe even a murder mystery as long as it isn't real! Some like to ponder over the evidence for the Loch Ness Monster (well, those with too much time on their hands!) Others like to sit and try work out 'who did it' in an Agatha Christie story. There is something, well, mysterious about mysteries that makes the human brain want to delve deeper and uncover and solve the puzzling, perplexing, problem at hand.
But did you know that the Bible says that God is a mystery? It also say that one day this mystery will be finished. Over. Complete. In this study I want to explore this theme looking at how the book of Revelation peels back the veil on this great-granddaddy of all mysteries - the mystery of God. To do so we will start in the book of Genesis again and work our way through scripture until we come to a future day when this great mystery is finished. We will also look at the practical application for our lives today.
In the beginning... God
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Gen 1:1)
The Bible starts with God and what He created. It doesn't try to explain or build a case for His existence. It doesn't try to describe what it was like before this point or even what God Himself is like. It simply starts with the fact that God exists and He created. Many people, throughout varied cultures and times have long pondered this mystery and, to be frank, have come up with many misguided beliefs. Yet if they would simply accept the first verse of Genesis these issues would be resolved.
'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth'. Simply accepting this means:
Atheism is wrong - for there is a God who made all things
Evolution is wrong - for this God, in wisdom, knowledge and power, created this planet and the life on it
Polytheism is wrong - for there is and was ever only, one God
Pantheism is wrong - for God is separate to His creation
Materialism is wrong - for right from the beginning the spiritual came before the material
The Believers Bible Commentary states:
' These first four words of the Bible form the foundation for faith. Believe these words, and you can believe all that follows in the Bible.'
Accepting Genesis 1:1 also brings purpose and meaning to each life because God created for a reason. He had an ancient plan for our lives as seen in the previous study. So while Genesis 1:1 doesn't take any time to explain or make the case for the existence of God, even within the Hebrew of this verse He has placed His 'seal' - compelling evidence for those who desire to know!1
But for the most part, God remains a mystery to the inhabitants of planet earth. We cannot see Him or touch Him physically. The majority have not heard His still small voice (1 Kings 19:12), let alone the roar like many waters that John heard! (Rev 1:15). So while there is ample evidence of His work and care, God Himself remains, to most at least, a mystery. And yet it was not that way from the beginning nor will it be that way in the end.
Back at the beginning - God walked and talked with His creation
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (Gen 3:8)
Scripture gives us a little glimpse into what life was like back in the garden. While God had created the heavens and the earth and was separate to His creation, He was (and still is) intimately involved with it! Verse 8 above tells us He would walk in the garden with Adam and Eve. Jewish scholar Arnold Fructenbaum writes concerning this2:
'Before, apparently, on a daily basis the Shekinah glory made a manifestation, there was a daily, visible manifestation of God communicating with man, and so they had fellowship with God is a visible form... They heard Him walking in the garden. The Hebrew word literally means 'walking to and fro'. It is a hitpael stem, indicating a habitual aspect. God regularly did so in the cool of the day.'
So we see that God enjoyed His creation. He wanted to be with them. And He was not a mystery! Think about life in the garden for a moment... There was no tabernacle, no temple, no sacrifices, no set of procedures to go through to come into God's presence. The Lord simply enjoyed being with His creation, unhindered..And, as Fructenbaum states above, He made a habit of doing so! We need to remember that not only were all things made by the Lord Jesus, they were also made FOR Him! (Col 1:16). And chief among them was the pinnacle of His creation - humanity.
Yet how things would change! Though the fall of mankind, sin brought about a separation. Innocence and purity were lost and Adam and Eve hid, in fear, from God. Before long they were exiled from the garden and God walking physically with man became an extremely rare event... The mystery of God had begun!
The mystery of God in the Old Testament
Looking down through the ages of the Old Testament, we see the mystery continue. There were certainly specific individuals that encountered God visibly and audibly. Many of these cases came through an appearance of 'the angel of the Lord'.3 But for the whole, God remained, predominantly, a mystery. For example, with both the Tabernacle of Moses and the Jewish Temple, the Holy Place contained the Ark of the Covenant and the very presence of God. Yet it was accessible to only one person, the High Priest, and then only once a year, on their holiest of days, the Day of Atonement - Yom Kippur. Even when God lead the children of Israel out of Egypt and through the wilderness, His appearance was veiled. We read:
And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people. (Exo 13:21-22)
An In Touch magazine article comments on this saying: 'God... both reveals and conceals Himself. He is present to Israel, but they cannot see His face. He has a name, but one that is cryptic - I Am Who I Am. He is visible as a cloud by day and fire by night, but His actual substance, His essence, and even His dwelling place all belong to this category of 'secret things.'
The mystery of God revealed (though still veiled!)
Yet in the fullness of time the virgin, in accordance with the prophecy of Isaiah, gave birth and brought forth the Messiah, Jesus. The mystery of God was revealed! Yet not as we expected. With His full glory veiled, he came in humility, as a carpenter from Nazareth. Many missed Him. He didn't come as they had expected Him to come. As the prophet Isaiah had announced nearly 800 years before - 'He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. (Isa 53:2) Yet for those with eyes to see, God was a mystery no more!
Can you remember how the New Testament describes 'a mystery'? It is something 'hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known' (Rom 16:25-27) There are many mysteries revealed in the New Testament concerning many truths hidden through the ages, but none were as important as this one - God, Jesus Christ, would appear in a body and walk amongst us!
Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory. (1Ti 3:16)
The mystery of godliness... was a person! In every act and every word, Jesus Christ displayed the nature and character of God. Finally, that great question of the common man could be answered - 'what is God actually like?' He was here... but how would He react? Would He be angry with us? Short tempered at our failures and weaknesses? For the first time since the garden of Eden mankind could personally see how God reacted, what He likes, what He dislikes. Whether He was gracious and kind or harsh and unforgiving. Mankind could see and touch... God! A mystery no more! 30 years after Jesus had ascended to the Father, this thought was still amazing the disciple John. He had personally experienced, touched and cared for... God... in the flesh. The One who is both the source and sustainer of all life had come and dwelt with us! That's why John begins his letter 30 years later writing:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched --this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. (1Jn 1:1-2)
And yet many still didn't see or comprehend this mystery. For all the poor, sick and desperate that sought out Jesus, there were the proud and self-satisfied who had no time for the Son of Glory. In fact He was rejected, even crucified, by the leaders who felt threatened by Him. And so the mystery of God that had appeared in a body and dwelt among men (as He had in the Garden) returned to His place. He was taken up in glory to await another time, hopefully soon, when finally, and completely, the mystery of God would be over once and for all! (Hos 5:15-6:3)
Revelation - Awaiting the 7th trumpet and the completion of the mystery of God
So how does this theme find it's fulfillment in the book of Revelation you ask? There is an important day and an important announcement coming! It's timing is at the end of the trumpet judgments.
Rev 10:5-7 Then the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land lifted up his right hand to heaven, and swore by Him who lives forever and ever, WHO CREATED HEAVEN AND THE THINGS IN IT, AND THE EARTH AND THE THINGS IN IT, AND THE SEA AND THE THINGS IN IT, that there will be delay no longer, but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, then the mystery of God is finished, as He preached to His servants the prophets.
The prophets had declared that one day the mystery of God would be over. They saw, and announced, that He would literally come and reveal Himself to all on this planet.4 And not just as a humble servant but as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! One such prophet was Daniel. He was given visions of this event and wrote what he saw:
"I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming , And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. " And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him . His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed. (Dan 7:13-14)
For so long God has been a mystery to so many. One day soon that will be finished. He will be a mystery no more. Every eye will see Him! (Rev 1:6) For some that will mean rescue and the realization of all their hopes. To others, who hate Him, it will mean the greatest dread and fear! (Rev 6:14-17) But one way or another, the mystery will be finished for He will be revealed!
The ultimate purpose fulfilled
God's plan, from the beginning of time (and even before!) was that He would dwell with His creation. Simply put, we were created for Him. We saw that in the Garden at the start of Genesis. We also see that fulfilled in the book of Revelation. And what a day that will be! There is a reason why this pronouncement will be done with 'a loud voice'!
And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, " Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them , and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them. Rev 21:3
Three times (just in case we would miss the impact of it!) in one short announcement it says this important fact: Finally... finally, God will be with and dwell among His creation once more! You probably know that the name 'Jesus' or 'Yeshua' means 'Savior' and emphasizes his key role in His first coming. But His second coming and the events to follow will be emphasized by the name given in the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 - "Immanuel'! And what does Immanuel mean? It is 'God with us'. The Lord will dwell among His people and be a mystery no more! Ok... I've said that a few times now. It's just because I like that thought! Scripture also tells us that in that day:
I saw no temple in it (the New Jerusalem, the home of believers), for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. (Rev 21:22)
In the days of old, God's presence and glory was in the temple in Jerusalem. But as we saw at the start, in the days of the garden of Eden, there was no temple. Just God and His creation together... unhindered. So it is not surprising that in the days to come there is no temple for God's presence is everywhere. All of the New Jerusalem will manifest the shekinah glory and presence of God. That is the future for the believer! Amazing!
Application for today
Just thinking about these mysteries, and the mystery of God in particular, there are a few applications that come to mind...
- God doesn't want to be a mystery to believers now.
There will always be a mysterious aspect to God in this age for we do not see Him physically yet (1 Pet 1:8). But in a spiritual sense God doesn't want to be a mystery to us. As we have seen, God has always desired to fellowship with His creation. He has given us His word and His Spirit so that we can know Him. He wants us to spend time with Him as Joshua desired in days of old:
The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent. (Exo 33:11)
- God's ways are still full of mysteries today, many being unanswered until the ultimate mystery of God is finished
There are times of hardship, difficulty and times when God seems hidden or far away. Are you experiencing any of that now? We won't have all the answers as life unfolds. Unexplained things happen. That is normal!5 We have to keep trusting. We walk by faith, not sight. Maybe you can relate to this word of Isaiah:
' O people in Zion, inhabitant in Jerusalem, you will weep no longer. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when He hears it, He will answer you. Although the Lord has given you bread of privation (affliction) and water of oppression, He, your Teacher will no longer hide Himself, but your eyes will behold your Teacher. Your ears will hear a word behind you, "This is the way, walk in it," whenever you turn to the right or to the left. (Isa 30:19-21)
- God has revealed many mysteries already so we can teach others.
Many mysteries have already been revealed6 and, as believers, we have been entrusted with these so that others can know about them. Are you helping others know these mysteries (especially the mystery of Christ and the Gospel)? Two of the examples below speak of prayer. We should all pray for opportunities and the Lord's blessing on our time with others so that we can share the truth!
1Co 4:1 Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.
Eph 6:19 and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel
Col 4:2-3 Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned;
- Godliness is a mystery - 'It' is actually a person!
We saw above that the mystery of Godliness is actually a person. It is Jesus Christ. Godliness is not your efforts to try and be like Jesus. Only God is Godly! But we have this wonderful mystery that is revealed which is 'Christ in you, the hope of glory'.
'...the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me. (Col 1:26-29)
We'll talk more about this in an upcoming study concerning man, the image of God. But for now just think on this thought that godliness is a mystery as well. It is not your ability and effort to act like Him but His power and presence working through you!
As it was in the beginning, so it shall be. In fact it shall be even better. God will dwell among all His saints. His very being and presence with believers. As mentioned above, that is the future that we, as believers in Jesus Christ, have to look forward to. The mystery of God will be finished. The King will take up His reign over this planet and all its inhabitants. But God is not to be a mystery to believers today. While we don't see Him face to face yet, let us press on and have that desire to know Him. We were created for Him and He doesn't want to be a mystery to those that have come into His family!