As I sat down to write this article on The Mystery of the Will of God instantly a sense of trembling overcame me. I realized almost immediately that this subject deserves much more than a mere casual examination or passive interest. While reading Scriptures pertaining to the mystery of salvation, something arrested my spirit. To borrow the words of Art Katz, a true man of God, I was “apprehended by this message.” Knowing what this very message cost the Apostles, I would warn the viewers that you cannot simply read this article. God demands much more. This mystery isn’t solely the mystery of salvation; it is the very mystery of the purpose of our salvation. Inside this mystery is the key to Israel’s restoration and the culminating glory of God. A titillating curiosity won’t suffice. To live from and for the truths discovered inside this revelation requires an absolute abandonment to its call, a sacrifice of your very life.
The Starting Point of Israel’s Restoration – The Mystery of Gentile Salvation
During the first lesson in this series, The Plan of God, we looked into the reality that everything our Father does, He does for His glory. We further studied how He reveals a specific plan in Scripture in order to manifest Himself and His great name to every nation on the earth. His chosen nation that is at the center of His dealings with mankind is Israel. We saw how Israel’s restoration and redemption is absolutely paramount for God to be glorified in the earth. He chose it to be this way and it is beautiful.
Now that we find ourselves with an understanding of the chief goal of God’s plan we must venture into deeper waters. In this lesson we will start journeying down the path to understanding the events that must take place to set in motion the process of Israel’s restoration. Scripture details the mystery of Gentile salvation as the first step towards the full will of God manifesting in the earth. Let’s take a look at this great mystery, learn why it was a mystery, and the great cost that was required to preach this mystery.
The Mystery Revealed
Up to this point we have briefly discussed the weight of this mystery, its requirements, and its purpose. This should be a good foundation to now examine what this mystery is. While writing to the church at Ephesus, Paul starts chapter three with revealing the mystery he just spent two entire chapters writing about.
1 For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
In today’s version of Christianity this doesn’t appear to be that glorious of a revelation. The Gentiles can be saved; well of course they can! What we do not realize is that during the time of the Messiah, only Gentiles who underwent ritual conversion to Judaism could participate in certain aspects of Jewish worship. The idea that a Gentile could be fully accepted by God without any form of conversion (i.e., circumcision and immersion) was preposterous. But through Yeshua, the revelation came that God saves the uncircumcised (read: Gentile) then same way He saves the circumcised (read: Jew): faith.
In order to help us get an understanding of how amazing this mystery is, let’s look at the inheritance of the Jews and Gentiles. Biblically speaking, what are the Jews’ possessions or belongings, and what belongs to the Gentiles? In other words, if the mystery didn’t exist, what would be the Gentiles fate?
The Jew’s Inheritance
First let’s look at what rightly belongs to the Jews. This will lay the foundation for understanding why the mystery of Gentile salvation was so puzzling.
I want to make this short and sweet, so I am going to list everything the Scriptures say belongs to the Jew (Israel). Notice I said belongs (present tense) and not belonged (past tense), even after the revelation of the mystery. Nothing has changed in regards to what is rightfully theirs. Still to this very day all of these things are Israel’s inheritance.
Romans 9:1-5 tells us the following belongings are rightfully Israel’s.
- The Adoption
- The Glory
- The Covenants
- The Giving of the Torah (Law)
- The Worship
- The Promises
- The Patriarchs
- The Messiah
In addition to the astonishing list above, other advantages that belong to Israel include the following:
- The Gospel, tribulation, glory, honor and peace is to the Jew first (Romans 1:16, 2:6-11)
- Salvation is from the Jews (John 4:22)
- Stewardship of the Word of God (Romans 3:1-2)
- Elected and beloved for the sake of the forefathers (Romans 11:28-29)
Now before someone misunderstands, let me make it clear that nothing in this list means that the Jews somehow have merited or earned salvation. No way! Salvation for all is and always will be 100% an act of God’s mercy. Salvation was, is, and always will be a gift from the Father in response to faith in His Son, the Messiah Yeshua. To illustrate, John Piper details three great points that are worth mentioning. These detail the ways the Jews do not have an advantage or priority over the Gentile.
What these advantages did do is provide centuries of witnesses of the coming Messiah to Israel. Had they submitted to God’s righteousness and not tried to establish their own, they would have been the most blessed people on the earth! (Romans 10:1-4)
God will be faithful to His covenantal promises and oath to Abraham which includes a yet future restoration of Israel because of His great love for them. Deuteronomy 7:7-11
Nonetheless, take a good hard look at these lists and realize that all of these belongings were given to Israel (the Jew) almost entirely because of God’s covenant with Abraham. God has not taken these things away from Israel. In fact, Paul addresses that very issue in Romans 3:3-5 by saying that even though they were unfaithful, God will remain faithful to His promises! Also Romans 11:29 clearly states that the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable. Later in this series we will explore Israel’s great calling and purpose. For now, simply know that everything Gentile believers boast in today, all of our “blessings”, were actually given and belong to Israel. We will discuss our access to them and involvement in them in the next article.
The Gentile Inheritance
Prior to inclusion into the Body of Messiah, what inheritance did the Gentiles possess? I mentioned earlier from Ephesians chapter three how Paul details the revelation of the mystery of Gentile salvation. But throughout chapters one and two, Paul describes what the Gentiles could have expected had they not been included into Israel’s covenants. Let’s take a look at a few of these Scriptures.
11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
Let’s put the Gentiles’ expectations and inheritance into list form so we can see it a bit easier:
- Separated from the Messiah
- Alienated from the commonwealth of Israel (the ones who have all the good stuff!)
- Strangers to the covenants of promise
- Having no hope
- Without God
Are you starting to see it? Gentiles had nothing in and of themselves to even give us a hope of finding God. We don’t even have a godly heritage! Gentile history is literally the history of paganism. Isaiah, speaking of the Gentiles, says that “God was found by those who did not seek Him; And He showed Himself to those who did not ask for Him.”
What Yeshua had to do on that tree was make a way for Gentiles to be included in the covenants of promise. He did that! Ephesians 3:13-22 details these events. What Yeshua had to abolish was not His laws, as some people teach. But instead He had to remove the hostility by which most Jews approached pagan Gentiles. As we end this article I want to look at the relationship between religious Jews and pagan Gentiles to show you why the possibility of Gentiles being saved was such an incredible mystery.
Salvation Comes to the Gentiles! But Some Aren’t so Happy…
Let’s start by looking at an encounter involving Peter and the circumcision party. This story details the cost the Apostles paid to make known the mystery of Gentile salvation.
In Acts 10, the Bible records Cornelius, a Gentile who fears God, receiving a vision from God telling him to send for Peter immediately. Cornelius obeys and sends his servants to tell Peter everything he has seen (Acts 10:1-8). Meanwhile, Peter receives visions from God that are so scandalous in Peter’s mind that He literally tells God “No!” on three separate occasions (Acts 10:9-16). While Peter remains perplexed and ponders the meaning of these visions, the servants of Cornelius arrive at his lodging place. The Spirit tells Peter to go with them. The next day Peter leaves with six of his fellow brothers. Let’s read together what transpires when Peter gets to Cornelius’ house:
25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. 28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”
Nothing in the Torah, the teaching of Yahweh, forbids a Jew from associating with or visiting a Gentile.
Now let me make this abundantly clear. Nothing in the Torah, the teaching of Yahweh, forbids a Jew from associating with or visiting a Gentile. Absolutely nothing. This forbiddance is 100% the work of man, a tradition passed down in Judaism. The reason it is passed down has to do with purity laws. Certain things that Gentiles do can cause a Jew to become unclean. So to prevent themselves from even the possibility of becoming unclean, Judaism simply made it a law and custom that Jews could not eat or have fellowship with Gentiles. But let me reiterate, this was not God’s design nor law.
So let’s keep going. The house of Cornelius eagerly receives the gospel from Peter. Instantly, Peter realizes that the Gentiles can, and have, received the same gift as the Jews. Salvation has come to the Gentiles! Amen!
34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
You need to realize that this event is absolutely monumental. Nothing like this had ever happened before! Quite frankly, nothing like this existed in the imagination of a Jew outside of the prophets of God. Truly incredible, utterly unfathomable. Nonetheless, for Peter to witness and experience this event cost him dearly. For as soon as the members of the circumcision party caught wind that Peter violated their traditions and customs, they began preparing to confront Peter.
As soon as chapter 11 begins, we pick up reading about the confrontation that was awaiting Peter.
1 Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3 “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
English fails to emphasize what just transpired. Let’s add some context.
- In that day, being saved without being circumcised wasn’t even a possibility in people’s minds. It was the very seal of your right-standing with God. So this party isn’t some foreign group who Peter can merely shrug off. No, this party had “made” the rules that governed 2nd temple Judaism. If the circumcision party made the decision to ostracize Peter, he becomes shut out from everything and everyone inside Judaism.
- The word criticized here in Greek is diakrinō. By looking at other places this word is used and how it is translated there, you can see that this word implies more than just a disagreement. In fact, this word gives the idea of a separation, a dividing between two incompatible ideas. Think about what how a judgement from a judge operates: it places a line in the sand and renders you as the guilty on the wrong side awaiting punishment. Or how faith and doubt are opposites. This is the connotation of this word.
- We know that the weight of the pressure from this group was so immense that Peter later relapses into the man-made traditions of considering the Gentiles unclean. He transgresses the revelation of God out of fear of these men (Galatians 2:11-14). This is the fruit of the spirits of intimidation and manipulation on display.
I hope that as we have gone through the story of Cornelius you can see how unbelievable the mystery of Gentile salvation was. Frankly, in the Jewish mind, it was impossible for a uncircumcised person to be saved, period. And yet through our Messiah, and Him pouring out His gift on the Gentiles, we have become fellow heirs with the Jew. If this doesn’t sink into your hearts and cause an overflow of gratitude and worship, then you still do not get it! May the revelation of the mystery of our salvation be given to each one of us even now.
There is More to this Mystery
I sincerely hope that this article has roused in you a fresh thankfulness and praise for the work that Yeshua did on the tree to give Gentiles access to His covenants! While saying that, I am also keenly aware of my personal inability to express every nuance of the beauty of this mystery. It truly is something that cannot merely be an academic pursuit. So I encourage and challenge you to go spend time digging into the Word. Learn the depths of our Father’s love being poured out upon a people wholly undeserving.
Has your heart gotten lifted up? Somewhere along the way have you somehow started to think that your salvation was merited in some way, or that you deserved it? Do you have the sobering mentality that literally everything you have in God was given to you? Our Father doesn’t owe us anything. He gives it all out of His great love and mercy. Worship Him in the beauty of His holiness.
As we end this study you must understand that there is more to this mystery! In the next article we will look into the very purpose that God made Gentile salvation a mystery. Do you realize that as a corporate body of Gentile believers we have a specific and unique calling within the plan of God? Have you ever struggled to find purpose? To find your calling? Well, join me next article to learn why we were even saved. I can assure you that you will discover the real biblical purpose behind your salvation and how it can be the key to walking in your God-given calling on this earth.