The Mystery of God

What danger might you see in this passage of Scripture?

25 Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, 26 that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, 27 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. (Colossians 1:25-27)

The danger is assuming one biblical word is the same as what we use today. What does the word MYSTERY mean today? Often we think it is something unknown to most people, or a puzzle, or a genre of literature.

In Paul’s day, MYSTERY had to do with mystery religions that practiced secret rites and ceremonies known only to those who have been initiated. I tend to think about a fraternity handshake or Masonic rites.

In the Old Testament, MYSTERY refers to those parts of God’s plan for the future that are known only to God unless he chooses to reveal them to humans. Paul is talking about God’s plan for the Messiah, hidden in the past, but now revealed to Paul and proclaimed by him to others.

Now God was revealing his plan to include the Gentiles in his plan of redemption. They were not “recipients” of this mysterious revelation, but they WERE the mystery itself (a parallel is Ephesians 3:1-7). The mystery was not made known to people of other generations but it is now revealed to the apostles and prophets by his Spirit (Ephesians 3:5). Gentiles were to become a part of the same body of Christ (Ephesians 3:6).

  1. The riches of this glory is the focus of this divine mystery, which is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
  2. This gospel will transform people from the inside out, which people then will display God’s glory.
  3. God’s Spirit would be placed inside of people (Ezekiel 36:26-27) and they will be able to keep God’s laws.
  4. This truth is made clear in Paul’s Damascus Road experience (Acts 9:4), “why are you persecuting ME?” Persecuting the church was persecuting Christ.

People live in a fallen world, and God’s image is marred due to sin. God’s desire is found in Romans 8:29, to conform to the image of his Son (Colossians 3:10).

So, mystery is not so much information that is secret but a person who is IN you.

Let’s look at today. When does Christianity become a mystery religion? Perhaps when there is a lack of welcome to a guest, using terms and stories known only to those on the inside. Let’s understand the mystery and help others to know and understand that they can become part of God family, body, flock, fellowship, and building!

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Lessons from Primitive Figures

I started a lesson this past Sunday in the little “post card” called Jude. It’s just one chapter, and the fourth shortest letter in the New Testament, but there is a lot to consider as we strive to understand it. I was recently reading from Warren Wiersbe and will bring this up in class this weekend.

Three Illustrations from Jude (Jude 5-7)

Like Peter, Jude reached back into Old Testament history and gave three examples of God’s victory over those who had resisted his authority and turned from the truth. Peter referred to the fallen angels, Noah, and Lot (2 Peter 2:1-9), following the historical order. He also emphasized God’s deliverance of the righteous and His judgment of the ungodly. Jude, however, did not mention Noah and the Flood, but instead used the nation Israel as his example.

The point Jude was making is that God judges apostates. Therefore, the false teachers who had crept into the church would also one day be judged. Their seeming success would not last; God would have the last word.

Israel (Jude 1:5). Both Paul (1 Corinthians 10) and the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 3-4) used the experiences of Israel to illustrate important spiritual truths. The nation was delivered from Egypt by the power of God and brought to the border of the Promised Land, but the people were afraid and did not have the faith to enter and possess the land (Numbers 13-14). Moses, Joshua, and Caleb tried to encourage the people to obey God by faith, but the people refused. In fact. the leaders of the tribes even wanted to organize and go back to Egypt, their place of bondage.

This was rebellion against the will and the Word of God, and God cannot tolerate rebellion. As a result, everybody in the camp twenty years and older was destined to die at some time in the next forty years. Their unbelief led to their extermination.

Keep in mind that Jude was using a historical event as an illustration, and we must not press every detail. The entire nation was delivered from Egypt, but that does not mean that each individual was personally saved through faith in the Lord. The main point of the account is that privileges bring responsibilities, and God cannot lightly pass over the sins of His people. If any of Jude’s readers dared to follow the false teachers, they too would face the discipline of God. “Wherefore let him that think he stands, take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

The fallen angels (Jude 1:6). We studied this illustration in 2 Peter 2:4, but Jude seems to add a new dimension to it by associating the fail of the angels with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Jude 7, “since they in the same way”). Some Bible students believe that Jude was teaching not only a revolt of the angels against God, but also an invasion of earth by these fallen angels. They point to Genesis 6:1-4 and claim that “the sons of God” were fallen angels who assumed human bodies, cohabited with the daughters of men, and produced a race of giants on the earth. This was one reason that God sent the Flood.

As attractive and popular as this view is, I must confess that I have a difficult time accepting it. Here’s why:

  1. It is true that “the sons of God” is a title for angels (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7), but not for fallen angels. Would the Holy Spirit, writing through Moses, call rebellious angels “the sons of God”? I doubt it.
  2. My second problem is that angels are spirits and do not have bodies. In the Old Testament, we read of angels who appeared in human form, but this was not incarnation. How could a spirit being have a physical relationship with a woman, even if we assumed a temporary body of some kind? Our Lord taught that the angels were sexless (Matthew 22:30).
  3. Third, it appears that God sent the Flood because of what man did, not what angels did. “My Spirit shall not always strive with man.” “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth.” “And it grieved the Lord that He had made man on the earth” (Genesis 6:3, 5-6). If this “fallen angel” view is correct, God should have grieved over creating the angels.
  4. Fourth, the phrases “even as” and “in like manner” in Genesis 6:7 need not be interpreted to say that the angels did what the Sodomites did (going after strange flesh). Notice the grammatical connections in the verse, and you will get the message: “Even as Sodom and Gomorrah . . . in like manner . . . are set forth for an example.” The angels are an example of God’s judgment and so are Sodom and Gomorrah.  Furthermore, Genesis 6:4 presents a strong argument against the view that fallen angels cohabited with women and produced a race of giants. “There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that.” This would mean that a second invasion of fallen angels had to take place! We have no record of this in Scripture.
  5. Finally, both Peter and Jude state clearly that these rebellious angels are chained in darkness and reserved for judgment. They would have to have invaded the earth prior to being arrested and chained by God. We wonder why God would have permitted them to “run loose” long enough to get the women into sin and help to cause the great Flood. The whole explanation seems a bit problematic.

The supplest explanation of Genesis 6 is that the godly line of Seth (“the sons of God”) began to mingle with the ungodly line of Cain, and this broke down the walls of separation, resulting in compromise and eventually tremendous sin. Remember to keep the main lesson in mind: the angels rebelled and were punished for their rebellion.

Sodom and Gomorrah (Jude 1:7). Both Peter and Jude state that God made these cities an example to warn the ungodly that God does judge sin (2 Peter 2:6). When you combine their descriptions, you discover that the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah were: ungodly, filthy, wicked, unlawful, unjust, and given over to fornication. “They did not occasionally commit unnatural sexual sins: they indulged in them and gave themselves over to the pursuit of lust. The Greek verb is intensive, menaing “to indulge in excessive immorality.” This was their way of life—and death!

Strange flesh means “different flesh.” The bent of their life was constantly downward, indulging in unnatural acts (Romans 1:24-27). Those who hold the “fallen angel” interpretation of Genesis 6 make the “strange flesh” refer to angels in human form; but when did the angels invade Sodom and Gomorrah? If fallen angels are meant, how can their sin and the sin of the Sodomites apply to us today, for we have no fallen angels to tempt or seduce us? Indeed, the men at Lot’s door did want to engage in homosexual activity with his angelic guests, but the Sodomites did not know they were angels.

These cities were set forth by God as an example and warning to ungodly people today. The verb set forth means “to expose openly to public view” like a corpse lying in state. But the cities are not today in public view. It is generally agreed among archeologists that Sodom and Gomorrah are buried under the southern end of the Dead Sea. How, then, do they serve as an example? No one can read Genesis 18-19 without clearly seeing God’s hatred for sin and His patience and willingness to postpone judgment. This certainly ties in with Peter’s explanation for God’s seeming delay in fulfilling the promise of Christ’s return (2 Peter 3:8, 9).

The sin of Israel was rebellious unbelief (Hebrews 3:12). The sin of the angels was rebellion against the throne of God. The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was indulging in unnatural lust. Unbelief, rebellion against authority. and sensual indulgence were sins characteristic of the false teachers. The conclusion is obvious: the apostates will be judged. But, meanwhile, God’s soldiers must stay on duty and see to it that these false teachers do not creep into the ranks and start to lead people astray. “Pay close attention to yourself and your teaching” (1 Timothy 4:16).

Lessons from Present Failures

As we continue taking a look at the little post card of Jude, we find lessons that could be right out of the news today.

Present Failures (Jude 1:8–16)
Jude next expounded the errors of the false teachers in his day to warn his readers even more strongly. Jude referred to certain Old Testament “types” (Jude 1:5–7, 11) and prophecies (Jude1:14–15, 17–18) and then interpreted them as fulfilled by the false teachers (Jude 1:8–10, 12–13, 16, 19).

He first exposed the nature of their error (Jude 1:8–9). Like dreamers living in the fancies of their own imaginations, the apostates substituted an unreal world for the real world of divine truth. Their presumption stands out boldly in comparison with Michael’s submission and reverence in dealing with another powerful angel, Satan. Michael could not reject the devil’s accusation on his own authority because he was not his judge. All he could do was ask the Lord, who alone is Judge, to condemn Satan for his slander.

Michael is the chief angel of God who especially watches over Israel (Daniel 10:13, 21, 12:1) and leads the holy angels (Revelation 12:7). Nowhere else in Scripture is this struggle over the body of Moses mentioned. Michael had to fight with Satan to do God’s will, as he did on another occasion in Daniel 10:13.

Regarding the body of Moses: Moses died on Mt. Nebo in Moab without entering the Promised Land and was secretly buried in a place not known to man (Deuteronomy 34:5, 6). It would likely be that this confrontation took place as Michael buried Moses to prevent Satan from using Moses’ body for some twisted purpose. Perhaps Satan wanted to use it as an idol, an object of worship for Israel. God sent Michael to be certain it was buried. This account was recorded in the pseudepigraphal Assumption of Moses.

Jude next explained the seriousness of the error of the false teachers (Jude 1:10–13). The things they did “not understand but reviled” probably refer to aspects of God’s revealed will that they chose to reject. What they did understand was the gratification of the flesh, and that would destroy them (Jude 1:11).

  1. Cain’s way was the way of godlessness and sensuality, violence and lust, greed and blasphemy, that led to divine judgment (Genesis 4). He rebelled against God’s way of salvation and acceptable sacrifice. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22, Ephesians 1:7). We are not able to come to God on our own terms, but on God’s terms. We cannot work to earn our salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). The way of Cain is religion without faith, righteousness based on character and good works. His is the way of pride, man establishing his own righteousness and rejecting righteousness of God that comes through faith in Christ (Romans 10:1-4, Philippians 3:3-12). Cain ended up with everything he could desire, except God.
  2. Balaam’s error was compromise with God’s enemies and teaching the Israelites they could sin without being punished (Numbers 31:16). Balaam devised a plan for Balak, king of Moab, to entice Israel into a compromising situation with idolatry and immorality which would bring God’s own judgment on His people. The way of Balaam is using one’s gifts and ministry to make money; using the spiritual to gain the material. These false teachers were in it for greedy gain. Balaam’s error was thinking that he could get away with anything for money. This true prophet prostituted his gift. The Revelation mentions the doctrine of Balaam (Revelation 2:14), the ability to violate their special position and get away with it. A little friendship with the world can’t really hurt you. But they turned the grace of God into a license to sin (Jude 1:4).
  3. Korah’s rebellion was against God and His appointed leaders, Moses and Aaron (Numbers 16:1–35). Korah, plus 250 Jewish leaders, rejected Moses and Aaron in an attempt to impose his will upon God and the people. They rebelled against God’s leader and dared God to do anything about it. How often do we speak against God’s leaders (Titus 3:1-2)? Apostates will unquestionably meet the same end as Korah—divine judgment.

Each of these three examples shows a different aspect of unbelief. Six more illustrations, this time from nature, emphasize the seriousness of the false teachers’ error (Jude 1:12–13).

  1. Hidden reefs” can be taken as “hidden rocks” or as “stains” or “filthy spots” (Jude 1:12). These apostates were dirt spots, filth on the garment of the church; or more likely, what God intended for the church as smooth sailing, they turned into a potential shipwreck through their presence. The “love feasts” were the regular gathering of the early church to partake of the bread and cup, plus share a common meal (1 Corinthians 11:20–30).
  2. Feast” or “selfish shepherds” (Jude 1:12). The word translated feeding can also be shepherding. Instead of shepherding the flock, they only took care of themselves. Their actions were without fear, such arrogance. There is a difference between a true shepherd and a hired hand.
  3. Clouds without water” (Jude 1:12, 2 Peter 2:17). Apostates promise spiritual life but are empty clouds which bring the hope of rain, but actually deliver nothing but dryness and death (Proverbs 25:14). They preach a false gospel that leads only to destruction. They promised liberty but delivered only bondage (2 Peter 2:19).
  4. Dead trees” or “Trees without fruit” (Jude 1:12). Apostates holding out the claim of providing a spiritual feast, but instead deliver famine (Luke 13:6–9). They are not only fruitless, they are rootless. Doubly dead trees will never yield fruit and, regardless of what they say, will always be barren because they are uprooted (Matthew 7:17–20). Contrast these people with Psalm 1:1-3). True evidence of salvation is spiritual fruit (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23). Their seed did not produce fruit. They lacked spiritual life.
  5. Wild waves” (Jude 1:13). Apostates promise powerful ministry, but are quickly exposed as wreakers of havoc and workers of worthless shame (Isaiah 57:20). The ocean can be a peaceful place, but I would not want to be on the water during a noreaster. Like the swell of the sea, they make a lot of noise and churn up foam and debris.
  6. Wandering stars” (Jude 1:13). This is not a fixed star, but most likely refers to a meteor or shooting star which has an uncontrolled moment of brilliance and then fades away forever into nothing. Apostates promise enduring spiritual direction, but deliver a brief, aimless, and worthless flash. Christians are to be shining lights in a dark world (Philippians 2:15).

We can see from these descriptions, we must be diligent to recognize them and keep them out of the church. They are not interested in building up the body of Christ but satisfying their own lusts. They murmur and complain, Christians are commanded not to do this (Philippians 2:14-16). They use great words to sway the ignorant, those who don’t know any better (2 Peter 2:18). They are full of hot air and use flattery to manipulate others. There is something about fallen human nature that loves to believe a lie and even follow it, no matter where it may lead.

Jude further warned of the consequences of their error (Jude 1:14–16). He quoted loosely from these non-canonical, pseudepigraphal writings (meaning, the actual author was not the one named in its title) (Jude 1:14, 9). He does these to support his points. Was this acceptable? Since Jude was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20, 21) and included material that was accurate and true, he did nothing differently than Paul (Acts 17:28; 1 Corinthians 15:33; Titus 1:12). The point is that false teachers would be the objects of God’s judgment. Much like the former grumblers, the false teachers in Jude’s day grumbled primarily against God. They pursued their lusts for sensuality and gain (Jude 1:15, 16).

All we know about Enoch is found in Genesis 5:18-24 and Hebrews 11:5. He was the seventh from Adam to identify him as the godly Enoch from the ungodly one (Genesis 4:17) in Cain’s line. Enoch’s original message was likely about the coming Flood. False teachers mocked the prophecies of coming judgment. Enoch’s judgment had characteristics:

  1. It will be a personal judgment: God will judge the world but he will not send a famine or flood or assign an angel to take care of it, God himself will do it (James 5:9). It shows the seriousness of the event.
  2. While it is a personal judgment, God will not come alone: He will bring his holy ones (Jude 1:14), meaning the angels (Deuteronomy 33:2, Matthew 25:31) or the people of God Revelation 19:14, Colossians 3:4, 1 Thessalonians 3:13). The tables will be turned.
  3. It will be a universal judgment: It will be upon all and no one will escape. All but those in the ark died; all but Lot and his daughters died; it will be the day of judgment (2 Peter 3:7).
  4. It will be a just judgment: God will convict (convince) men of sin, declare them guilty, pass sentence and execute judgment. There will be a judge but no jury; a prosecution but no defense; a sentence but no appeal. God will have their record open; their deeds, motives and thoughts. He will recall the “hard speeches” (Jude 1:15) spoken against the Lord, words that were harsh, rough, stern and uncivil. Remember they were murmurers and complainers (Jude 1:16) unafraid to speak out against God (2 Peter 2:10) with great swelling words (2 Peter 2:18, Jude 1:16).

How long will God wait? The children ask (Psalm 94:3-4, 50:3).

The Godless without Faith

Chapter two of Second Peter brings the whole topic of false teachers. Ever since the time of Christ there have been those who twist the teachings of Jesus and the doctrines of the church. At times these differences have brought about greater understanding and clarity involving theology, like during the Reformation. Other times brought about significant deviation from the truth, which have been called heresies.

  1. Why do people follow false teachers?
  2. What are some false teachers they have been aware of in the last few years.
  3. What motivates false teachers to work their way into churches? (Several of Paul’s letters are written to refute false teaching and false teachers (2 Corinthians 11:3–15, Galatians 2:1–5; 1 Timothy 6:3–5).
  4. What kind of tactics do false teachers use to gain followers?
  5. Why will there be certain punishment for those who turn others away from God?

Jesus was warning the people of His day to be on the lookout for gifted leaders who would take advantage of them and lead them astray. They would be men who looked good on the outside but were corrupt on the inside. They would perform well. To put it bluntly, great preachers are not necessarily great Christians.The people can be fooled and led astray.

The best picture of what a Spirit-filled man looks like is Christ. His life was characterized by the Fruit of the Spirit in the midst of a world characterized by just the opposite of those characteristics.

  1. Jesus stood up to His opponents when it was appropriate, but He also knew when to be silent.
  2. He had the courage and wit to take on the intellectuals of His day on their turf according to their terms.
  3. He spoke with authority.
  4. People, especially children, were attracted to Him. Even sinners loved to be with Him.
  5. He was a very secure man. There was nothing pretentious or intimidating about Him.
  6. He didn’t need those props.
  7. At the end of His life He tackled the toughest account of all—death. And He won!

Questions to Consider:

  1. What makes false teachers popular today?
  2. How can we recognize false teaching?
  3. There are times when we need to confront and expose sin in the life of other believers. What are some guidelines for deciding when that is appropriate?

Commentary:

Peter warned his readers of the false teachers who presented a message contradictory to that of the apostles. He wrote of the characteristics of false teachers, the consequences of their teaching, their conduct, and their condemnation.

The Characteristics of False Teachers (2 Peter 2:1–3)
False prophets in Old Testament times sought to lead God’s people away from the revelations of the true prophets, and false teachers in Peter’s time tried to lead God’s people away from the teaching of the apostles. The heretics added some of their own false teaching to the orthodox faith, thereby denying the One they professed to submit to as Christians. Their judgment would be sudden. Reckless and hardened immorality would accompany their doctrinal error. False teachers typically desire to satisfy themselves rather than God, which leads them to take advantage of their audiences. God is never late or asleep in executing justice, though He is patient (see 2 Peter 3:9).

The Consequences of False Teaching (2 Peter 2:4–10a)
Peter next described the consequences that follow false teaching to help his readers see the importance of avoiding it. He gave three examples of apostates in the past.

  1. His first example is the angels who sinned (2 Peter 2:4), an example of how the devil works.
  2. His second example is the unbelievers of Noah’s day (2 Peter 2:5), an example of the world.
  3. The third example (2:6) is the turning of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, an example of the flesh.

All three examples show that God will not only punish the wicked, but will also rescue the righteous from the judgment He will send on the ungodly who surround them.

The Conduct of False Teachers (2 Peter 2:10b–19)
Peter emphasized the conduct of false teachers in order to motivate his readers to turn away from them. Rather than behaving as good angels do, the false teachers acted like animals. Peter believed the false teachers therefore deserved treatment similar to that of animals. God will give them punishment in keeping with their crimes. Their practices were similar to stains on the clean fabric of the church, blemishes on its countenance, since the practitioners claimed to be Christians. The false teachers sinned without restraint and lured people not firmly committed to Jesus Christ to join them. They were also trying to get the Christians to participate in idolatry and immoral practices. Like the springs and mists Peter described (2 Peter 2:17), the false teachers failed to deliver what they promised and so were hypocrites. They appealed to their audiences with boastful words, promising more than they could deliver. They appealed to people who were only just escaping from those who live in error, probably new Christians and/or older carnal ones who were still in the process of making a final break with their pagan practices.

The Condemnation of False Teachers (2 Peter 2:20–22)
Peter focused in these verses on the false teachers’ final doom to warn his readers of the serious results of following their instruction. The false teachers in view had evidently heard the gospel preached and fully understood the apostles’ teaching that Jesus Christ is both Lord and Savior but had rejected it. They only escaped the defilements of the world in the sense that they had understood the gospel, which liberates sinners. But they had thrown away their key to deliverance and had thereby become entangled and overcome again by the defilements of the world. Their first state was also eternal damnation without having heard the gospel, but their final state was eternal damnation for having rejected the gospel.

It would have been better for the false teachers never to have gained full knowledge of God’s commandment regarding holy behavior than having gained it to reject it. Dogs return to corruption that comes from within themselves, and pigs return to filth they find outside themselves. False teachers do both things.