The Second Advent
Mr. Andrew Borland, M.A., is the Editor of The Believer’s Magazine, published by John Ritchie Company, Kilmarnock, Scotland. We strongly recommend that you give earnest attention to this article, the fourth of a series by this capable writer on the Second Advent of Christ.
The second of the great periods in divine activity may be styled as Time Past. Paul wrote: “By revelation He (God) make known unto me the mystery (as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men” (Eph.3:3-5). Again, he wrote that he had been called of God “to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God” (Eph. 3:8-9).
The expression “from the beginning of the world” covers all human history from the very beginning up to the commencement of the Christian dispensation, and the calling out of the Church. That long period, the length of whose duration it is almost impossible to assess, has been divided into “other ages;” that is, distinct times with their own characteristics. Paul may have been thinking of the age of innocence before the Fall, the age of conscience after the Fall, and the age of Law after the Decalogue was promulgated from Mount Sinai. During those ages there was silence from God regarding that part of His purpose which it was not His will to reveal. That purpose is wrapped up in the words “the mystery of Christ.” It is a common-place of knowledge now that a “mystery,” the New Testament sense of the word, does not imply something mysterious or magical, but is used to disclose the fact that there are truths which can be understood only by those who have the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. It is the disclosure of a secret which has been kept hidden until the time was ripe for its revealing. The mystery to which Paul refers in the passage quoted is called “the mystery of Christ,” a new teaching associated with the revelation which God had given in Christ That was something which could not be understood in “other ages,” not even by those who were most enlightened in the “ages” of preparation for the unfolding of the purpose of God “when the fulness of the time had come” (Gal. 4:4). The Revised Version translates Ephesians 3:9, “To make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery which from all ages hath been hid in God.”
The expression “the mystery of Christ” occurs again in Colossians 4:3, but in that Epistle the Apostle is dealing with “the fact that the indwelling Christ is, for Gentiles as well as for Jewish believers, the hope of glory; the aspect on which the Apostle dwells here is the fact that in Christ Gentiles are fellow-heirs with Jewish believers” (F. F. Bruce). Besides being “fellow-heirs” with their Jewish brethren, Gentile believers were “fellow-members of the Body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph. 3:6). The mystery was concerning the Church, the One New Man of which Christ in glory is the Head, and all who believe are members of His Body, the mystical term for the Church.
Gentiles as “fellow-heirs” are joint-heirs with Christ who is heir of all things. They are, equally with believing Jews, sharers in the inheritance, “made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.” Moreover, they are “of the same Body,” for there is only “one Body.” All, whether Jews or Gentiles, are united to the same glorified Head, deriving life from Him as the common source of all spiritual blessings. Further, Gentiles are “fellow-partakers of the promise,” made fit by divine grace to enjoy the blessings of the New Covenant, although they had been excluded from “the covenants of promise” under the former dispensation.
Such divine purpose was not disclosed in Old Testament times, and in vain do we look for direct teaching about the Church, “the mystery of Christ,” in the Old Testament writings. Consequently, there is considerable danger in spiritualizing features contained therein to find information about the Church. True, many scholars have found illustrative material there, but such material has significance only in the light of what has been revealed in the New Testament. Fanciful flights of imagination are to be deplored.
In a slightly different aspect of “Time Past” we have been considering, are the references to the past of those who by grace have been incorporated into the “One New Man.” With regard to Gentile believers certain statements are made:
They were “in time past Gentiles in the flesh,… called Uncircumcision” (Eph. 2:11).
“At that time ye were without Christ … having no hope, and without God” (Eph. 2:12). They did not have the promise of the coming Messiah, they did not have the knowledge of the living and true God, and they had no hope, such as the Jews had, of a Deliverer who was to come. They “were afar off,” reckoned to be “strangers and foreigners” (Eph. 2:17-19). So far as the national status of those Gentile believers was concerned, they were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise” (Eph. 2:12). Paul thought it was spiritually good for them to be reminded of what they had been “in time past.”
Nor should any of us forget that we, too, had a past, a time when in nature’s darkness we walked in our own way, serving our own will. It may serve a useful purpose if, instead of the familiar Authorized Version, quotation is made from one less familiar, but most suggestive: “To you, who were spiritually dead all the time that you drifted along on the stream of this world’s ideas of living, and obeyed its unseen ruler (who is still operating in those who do not respond to the truth of God), to you Christ has given life! We all lived like that in the past and followed the impulses and imaginations of our evil nature, being in fact under the wrath of God by nature, like everyone else” (J. B. Phillips).
That was the kind of material God had to work upon when the purpose, which was in existence before the foundation of the world and kept hidden during the long ages of human history, was about to be put into execution, and “the mystery of Christ” was about to be revealed.