There is mystery in the story of Revelation.
In the vision of the risen Christ given to John at the beginning of the story, the Son of man told him to
Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter; The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks (Rev. 1:19-20).
All of that which was given to Jesus Christ to show to his servants is clothed in mystery, but as the name, Revelation, implies it is to be a disclosure.
In another vision witnessed by John, he saw a “mighty angel come down from heaven . . . And he had in his hand a little book . . .” (Rev. 10 1-2). John saw and heard as the angel
lifted up his hand to heaven . . . And sware by him that liveth forever and ever . . . that there should be time no longer . . . But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets (Rev. 10:5-7).
According to this angel, there would be a space of time when the mystery of God would unfold in the working of the Spirit in the seven churches.
Finally, when John was carried, in the spirit, into the wilderness near the end of the visions, he
saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast . . . having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus (Rev. 17:3-6).
John gazed upon and marveled at the great harlot “drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.” As we will see, the risen Christ would reveal the mystery of “the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth” who drank from “a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication.” She, mysteriously, was able to caused those “inhabiting the earth [to become] dunk from the wine of her fornication” (Rev. 17:2).
Mystery of the Kingdom of God Revealed.
In the profound parable of the sower of seeds, Jesus told his early followers, “Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God . . .” (Mark 4:9). There is mystery, not only in Revelation but even more profoundly in the living of life. He who knows all secrets, however, has promised to reveal those mysteries:
And he [Jesus] said unto them, Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick? For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was anything kept secret, but that it should come abroad. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear (Mark 4:21-23).
It is Paul who wrote of the mystery of the kingdom of God more than any other of the early followers of Jesus. He is the only writer of the New Testament, other than the one reference given by Mark and the four references of mystery in Revelation, to use the term mystery in his writings. Of the seventeen times he referred to mystery, it is perhaps his reference in his letter to the Corinthians that best reveal the secrets of the mystery of the kingdom of God.
Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed (1 Cor. 15:51-52).
The essence of this profound mystery is the subject of the entire content of Chapter 15 of Paul’s first letter to Corinth. It begins with an insightful proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ which includes how Christ died, was buried, was raised, and was seen by over five-hundred people. This first section of chapter 15 ends with the admonition that “if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (15:1-19).
The second section in Paul’s description of the gospel continues with the topic of the resurrection of Christ. Through Christ being raised from the dead by the heavenly Father, he would reign “till he hath put all enemies under his feet” and “the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death (1 Cor. 15:20-34). Then, Paul revealed how resurrection occurs in the physical world: a higher form of life always comes forth out of the death of its lower form (1 Cor. 15:35-50). Finally, he closed the chapter with what resurrection, through the coming of Christ, means to the believer (1 Cor. 15:51-58).
In the “Behold, I show you a mystery” statement of Chapter 15, Paul introduced that announcement with
And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly (1 Cor. 15:45-49).
Paul then added, “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.” Something has to occur before “the image of the earthy” can be changed into “the image of the heavenly.” The something that has to occur is an apocalyptic event where the dying of the image of the earthly dependency brings forth the life of the image of the heavenly reliance.
In every apocalyptic event, there will come a moment of time when the last reverberation of the violent struggle ends. When the individual has been brought to the end of his attempted control and becomes as a corpse, the coming of Christ into the circumstance brings overcoming power and the victory is won: “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump [original is “quavering or reverberation”]: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead [original is “a corpse”] shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:52). The control of the decaying, perishing earthly influence of the materialistic world is conquered by the control of the never dying, eternal heavenly influence of the spiritual One, Jesus Christ.
In every apocalyptic event, change will always occur within the participant who is going through this opportunity to grow episode. Paul simply stated, “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all [emphasis added] be changed.” If the response is appropriate (manifesting the “patience of Jesus Christ”), what will come forth out of the apocalyptic event is “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17). Or, as Paul previously stated to the Corinthians,
we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh (2 Cor. 4:7-11).
Paul would add,
For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
In every apocalyptic event, the participant will be changed. Unfortunately, those who do not respond appropriately (slumbering spiritually, “sleep”) their lives will become more overwhelmed with stress, despair, or a sense of being forsaken and destroyed (2 Cor. 4:8-9). As illustrated in the following diagram, Paul simply stated, “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed:” the image of the heavenly will come forth or the image of the earthly will be enhanced.
If the believer in Jesus Christ can have the “patience of Jesus Christ,” he will experience the corruption of the evil deeds, “the prison of devils” (Rev. 2:10), being changed. He will be made differently. He will experience the “corruptible . . . [putting] on incorruption, and this mortal . . . [putting] on immortality (1 Cor. 15:53). Amazingly, marvelously, “when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality,” the miracle of all miracles occurs. The resurrection of the human soul is experienced being raised out of the natural tendency of gloom, despair, and agony to “rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” in the nearness of Christ (1 Pet. 1:7-8).
Mystery of Death Being Swallowed Up in Victory Revealed.
Is it any wonder in this glorious experience of the appearing of Jesus Christ into our struggle, it would be “brought to pass the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory . . . O death, where is thy sting . . . O grave, where is thy victory?” When we find ourselves in situations where we do not see the way out (original meaning for the word, grave) and we feel as if we are dying, experiencing death, that we can say with Paul, “thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57). In Jesus Christ, we have the victory over sin, which is the sting of death, and live in the power of grace destroying the “strength of sin . . . [that is in] the law” (1 Cor. 15:56).
Although told in much more descriptive word pictures of rich symbolism and metaphors, Paul’s explanation of the mystery of how believers are changed is the story of the Disclosure, “the Revelation of Jesus Christ.” For example, the essence of the entire message of Revelation is encapsulated by John in his record of the message of the Son of man to the church in Smyrna. He closed that record to Smyrna with “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death” (Rev. 2:11).
After everyone born into this world experiences the first death of his existence (the fall from the high plane of spirituality to experience life in the lower base arena of fleshly sensations), he must be born again (original is “born from above”), which means his perceived control of his life must die. This second death, however, as Paul implied “is swallowed up in victory.” Through Jesus Christ, the believer can experience victory over the sting of death (sin) and the strength of sin (the law). Again, John wrote to the believers in Smyrna, “He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.”
The message to Smyrna began with “And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive.” As previously stated, “the first and the last” is the reference that implies that Jesus, the Son of man, has experienced life as the first man Adam: he was born of a woman as all men. In addition, he was raised from the dead as the quickening Spirit of all men: he could enable all men to live as Adam was intended to live, the last Adam. Moreover, it is significant to point out that this reference also declares that the Son of man was he “which was dead, and is alive.” This Son of man, “the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive,” would be the means by which the believers in Smyrna could overcome the struggles that they were currently facing in life.
John recorded the words of the risen Christ to the believers in Smyrna, “I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty . . . .” He added, “and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9). With the word blasphemy meaning, “vilification,” these particular Jews were speaking evil, abusive things against the belief of the Smyrna saints and against Christ in whom they believed. Whatever they were saying it placed them in such an adversarial role that they would be called “the synagogue of Satan.”
To understand the phrase “which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan,” a brief examination is needed in how the majority of Israel missed their Messiah when he came. First, Paul would say that “God hath not cast away his people [Israel]” (Rom. 11:2). He illustrated the point by using an example out of the life of the prophet Elijah. The prophet was an Israelites, but he was being greatly persecuted by others of the nation of Israel. In desperation, he cried out to God, “Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life” (Rom. 11:3). Paul then raised the question, “but what saith the answer of God unto him?” Paul gave the answer that Elijah received, “I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.” The implication is that all of Israel, except the seven thousand, were no longer worshiping the true and living God. Paul, then, concluded, “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant [of the nation of Israel] according to the election of grace” (11:4-5).
Paul had previously stated “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (Rom. 9:6). Being a biological descendant of Abraham did not necessarily make the individual a member of Israel. Using the example of how Isaac and Ishmael were born, Paul would add, “that is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed” (Rom. 9:8-9). In the Elijah example, he said, “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” He would then add, “and if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work” (Rom. 11:6).
What Paul is stating is that the people of God are not the people of God because of the people, whomever they may be, but they are the people of God because of how they became and how they remain the people of God. In other words, it is how grace is working in, by, and through the people that makes the people the people of God, as opposed to the people themselves being the people of God. Thus, the people of God can ceased to be the people of God and the people who are not the people of God can become the people of God (Rom. 9:25-26). The people of God or being not the people of God depends solely upon grace: is it flowing or is it not flowing in their lives.
Paul simply stated,
Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham (Gal. 3:7-9).
With the name Israel coming from a compound word consisting of God and to prevail meaning, “he will rule as God” or “God prevails,” the true Jew as well as true believers of all nations are those who solely trust Christ as their redeemer:
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature [original is “new formation”]. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God (Gal. 6:15-16).
Paul is profoundly stating that the new nation of God would not be based upon being a natural descendant of Abraham or the natural descendant of any other nation or nations, but a new creation consisting of all people of every nation in whom God prevails.
Believers in this new spiritual nation in Smyrna were being persecuted by a particular group of Jews that had failed to be matriculated to “bear the image of the heavenly” (the kingdom of God). They had remained in the image of the earthly (the kingdom of Israel). They were, as John recorded, “which say they are Jews, and are not” (Rev. 2:9). Although there has been many of the physical nation of Israel, at least a remnant, that have obtained that of which they have always sought, “the righteousness of God . . . For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth” (Rom. 10:3-4), there are many, including some of those in Smyrna, who remain in the old way.
Paul stated to the Galatians, “But as then he [Ishmael] that was born after the flesh persecuted him [Isaac] that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now” (Gal. 4:29). It is likely that some of the believers in Smyrna were of the Jewish heritage. Thus, it could even be, as Paul implied to the Galatians, that it was certain Jews of the earthly image persecuting other Jews of the heavenly image. The flesh has always been the adversary to the Spirit (Gal. 5:17).
Mystery of the Second Death Not Hurting the Believer Revealed.
John recorded where the “one like unto the Son of man” had warned the believers in Smyrna that they would face “tribulation ten days.” Whether it is a reference that the tribulation would actually be ten days in duration or that the tribulation would be complete in running its course (the number 10 is often a symbol for completeness), the implication is that some of the believers in Smyrna would be cast into prison by these Jews who were not Jews. Accusations would be thrown at them (literal meaning of the word that is translated devil) that would caused them to lose their freedom of experiencing life as it was meant to be.
This test or trial in their lives, which was meant to destroy, would actual expose the real source of their existence. The tribulation or pressure would reveal in their lives the image of the earthly or the image of the heavenly.
They were encouraged to “be thou faithful unto death.” If they would not resist the taking down of the earthly and let it run its course, the “one like unto the Son of man” would give them “a crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). They could rejoice in the unspeakable joy of the fulness of glory in the nearness of Christ in their lives.
If they could but hear what the Spirit was saying to them, they could overcome and “not be hurt of the second death” (Rev. 2:11). The outward man might perish, but the inner man would be renewed. It is the mystery of life and the mystery of Revelation.