The Great Mystery


The Great Mystery

November 7th, 1971 @ 10:50 AM

Ephesians 5:32

This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Ephesians 5: 25-31

11-7-71    10:50 a.m.


On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  The title of the message is The Great Mystery.  And it is a reading from the last part of the fifth chapter of Ephesians.  I read the text:

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it; That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the laver of water by the word.

[Ephesians 5:25-26]

And that was the sermon last Sunday, the laver, the washing, by the word.

That He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies.  He that loveth his wife loveth himself.

For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:

For we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.

For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.

This is a great mystery:  but I speak concerning Christ and the church

[Ephesians 5:27-32]

And the title of the sermon is the text, itself, The Great Mystery.  The letter of Ephesians is an encyclical.  It is actually addressed to all of the churches, and the copy, the manuscript we happen to have, when the New Testament was collected, happened to have Ephesus written in the address.  It is an encyclical to all of the churches.  And in this letter, presenting the body of Christ, the church, Paul delineates two great mysteries.  One of them is in the third chapter of the book:

If you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me . . .

How that by revelation He made known unto me the mustērion—translated here, mystery.

[Ephesians 3:2-3]

Actually, a Greek word spelled out in English:  mystery, mustērion.  To us, a mystery is an enigmatic saying or development or situation, one that baffles us; a mystery, we don’t understand.  Actually the word in the New Testament is an altogether different meaning.  A mustērion, translated here “mystery,” is a secret in the heart of God that was not revealed until God chose to disclose it [Ephesians 3:4-5].

  So Paul says here that in the dispensation of the grace of God in the time and the age that passed, when it came time, in the age that God had prepared, by revelation there was made known unto him [Ephesians 3:3], and the other apostles he names [Ephesians 3:4-5]—there was made known the mustērion, the great mystery; namely, “that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel” [Ephesians 3:6].

The mystery was—is—the secret kept in the heart of God, that there should be created a new thing, a new body, and that it should be composed of Jew and Gentile; bond, free; male, female; old, young; rich, poor—altogether in one great, created, living thing [Ephesians 3:6].  The prophets could not see that.  The church is not in the Old Testament.  Paul avows that it is a mystery [Ephesians 3:4, 9].  It is a secret kept in the heart of God until it was revealed to His holy apostles [Ephesians 3:5].

The church is a New Testament thing.  It is a new thing, period.  It is something not revealed in the Old Covenant, the Old Testament.  But the secret was revealed to the apostles when Christ used them to found the churches [Ephesians 3:5].  That’s the first mystery that Paul speaks of in this letter to Ephesus [Ephesians 3:2-12].

The second mystery concerns its nature.  “This is a great mystery:  but I speak concerning Christ and the church” [Ephesians 5:32].  Well, what is that great mystery?  Just above, in the two verses, Paul went back to the second chapter of Genesis [Genesis 2:23-24], and he quoted in verse 30 and 31 this story of the creation of Eve [Ephesians 5:30-31].  And having cited it and quoted from it, he says that is the mystery that is revealed in the creation of this new, living institution, the church of Christ [Ephesians 5:32].  So we read it: “And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept:  and God took one of his ribs . . .” [Genesis 2:21-22].

And that is one of the strangest translations I have ever seen.  The Hebrew word tsela is just the ordinary Hebrew word for side.  It’s used commonly in the Old Testament:  the side of the ark, the side of the tabernacle, the side of the temple, the side of a house.  Yet they translate it here, “and He took one of his ribs” [Genesis 2:21].  It’s not translated “rib” anywhere else in the Bible, and why they chose to translate it “rib” here, I cannot find out.  Ever since I have been introduced to a study of the Bible, I’ve tried to find some reason why they translate that “rib.”  No!  “And He took out of the side, tsela—He took out of the side of Adam, and closed up the flesh thereof” [Genesis 2:21].

And the side, which God had taken from man, made He a woman, and brought her unto the man.

And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh:  She shall be called Isha [Woman], because she was taken out of Ish [Man].

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife:  and they two shall be one flesh.

[Genesis 2:22-24]

Then Paul adds the word, “This is a great mustērion—this is a great mystery:  but I speak concerning Christ and the church” [Ephesians 5:32].  We shall look at it, therefore.  First, it is a mystery of origin.  “And the Lord took out of the side of Adam and made He the woman” [Genesis 2:21-22].  She was born in the wound and the scar of Adam.  She was taken out of his side.  “This is a great mystery:  but I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32].  The church was taken out of the sufferings, and the sorrows, and the sobs, and the tears, and the blood, and the cross of our Lord.  We were born in His redemptive grace, the mystery of our origin out of the suffering and death of our Christ, from the wound and the scar in His side [Ephesians 5:30-32].

As you think of that, is it not an astonishing development that out of the execution and the indescribable sufferings of Christ [Matthew 27:27-50; Ephesians 5:25-26], should be born this holy and heavenly institution, the church?  Look for just a moment at a contrast between the death of Christ and death of the other philosophers and religionists who have founded such great, lasting movements in the earth:

At eighty years of age, in 483 BC there died Gautama Siddhartha, the Buddha—quote:  “The Enlightened One.”  He was traveling northeast of Danaris, the sacred city of the Hindus on the Ganges River.  And having eaten a large meal of pork, he fell violently ill and died.  The rajas cremated his body and buried him with great honor.

Five years later, in 478 BC, at seventy-two years of age, died Confucius.  He became ill, went to his bed, lay there for seven days, and died.  Like Siddhartha, Gautama, the Buddha, without God—neither one believed in God—without prayer—neither one believed in prayer—and he was buried in Shangdong—Confucius was—with great honor and reverence.

In about 400 BC, the civil war between Sparta and Athens ended.  And there was a political reaction, and in 399 BC, also at about seventy years of age, the vote—281 against Socrates, 220 for him—and he died a beautiful and pleasant death.  Humanely he was drugged, and as he died he quietly philosophized with his friends.  His last words were, “I owe Asclepius,” the god of healing, “a cock.  Do not forget to pay it.”

In 632 AD, Mohammed became violently ill with headaches and fever.  He died unsensationally in his bed.  He was buried in Medina, the most sacred spot in the earth to the Islamic worshiper, outside of Mecca.  But in no instance, nor in any other instance, is there any redemption or grace ever attached to the death of a great philosopher or religious leader.

But the crucifixion and the agony of our Savior was in an altogether different world.  It is set apart.  It is unique.  It is the unsimilar and unduplicated.  In the death of Christ, there was born the redemption and the atonement of His people [Colossians 1:14]; and out of His sufferings, from the scar in His side, there was taken, and there was born, the church [Ephesians 5:30-31].  “This is a great mystery:  but I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32].

There is not only the mystery of origin, but there is also the mystery of nature; “for we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones” [Ephesians 5:30].  “This is a great mystery:  but I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32]—the mystery of nature, likeness, similitude.

The Lord God said, “Out of all of the creation, there is not found one like Adam.”  And the Lord said, “It is not good that the man should live alone; I will make him an help meet suitable, fitted for him” [Genesis 2:18].  And the Lord God brought before Adam all of the creation in the living world:  the fish, the fowl, the beasts of the field, and Adam named them [Genesis 2:19].  Then He adds again, “But for Adam, there was not found an help meet for him” [Genesis 2:20].  So the Lord God made for Adam an help, a companion, suitable for him, and brought her to him [Genesis 2:22].

This is an identical thing, as we are told of God in the creation of the man in the first place [Genesis 1:26-28].  As the Lord God had finished His work, the stars were shining in their sockets.  The chalice of the firmament was ablaze with His glory.  The earth was an art of beauty and wonder [Genesis 1:1-19].  And yet, in all God’s fullness of creation, in the infinitude of His glory, in their handiwork—the lacework of His hands—there was nothing that loved Him in return, that spoke to Him back again, who responded, who could think His thoughts.

An ocean cannot think God’s thoughts.  The Milky Way cannot express love to God.  They are without response.  They just glorify Him in their beauty and the wonder of their infinitude.  But for companionship, for communion, for responsive love, how could you look to an ocean, or a star, or a sidereal sphere?

So the Lord God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness, that he might think Our thoughts, that he might love and commune with Us” [Genesis 1:26].  So God made the man in His own image [Genesis 1:27] for fellowship and companionship, for response.  It is that identical thing here in the story of Adam and the woman God made out of His side [Genesis 2:21-22].  There was not found in all of God’s creation an help meet for him [Genesis 2:20].

There was a little girl who wanted her mother to sleep with her.  And the mother said, “No, child.  Here is your teddy bear.  Now you just cuddle up with your teddy bear and go to sleep.”  And the little child replied, “But mother, it can’t cuddle back to me.  I want somebody who can cuddle back to me.”  Somehow inanimacy doesn’t respond.

I read the story of a little girl named Naomi.  She was blind—born blind—and the mother had died, and her father was rearing her.  And many times the father said he would wake up in the middle of the dark of the night, and there standing by his bed, as close as she could get, was that little girl, standing there in her little white nightgown, with her hair flowing over her shoulders—just standing there—for the day and the night were alike to her—just wanting to be close.

It is not good that the man should live alone; I will make an help meet for him.

And out of His side, God created the woman, and brought her to the man.

And he said, This is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.

[Genesis 2: 18, 22-23]

“This is a great mystery:  but I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32].  We are the same in nature [Ephesians 5:30].  He took our nature and we possess His.  In the beautiful and eloquent passage in the second chapter of Hebrews, the author writes:

For verily He took not on Him the nature—the seed—of angels; but He took upon Him the seed of Abraham.

For it behooved Him in all things to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be for us a faithful High Priest.

For in that He Himself hath suffered being tried, He is able to succor those who are tried.

[Hebrews 2:16-18]

He took our nature.  He was made one with us.  He was born of a woman [Galatians 4:4].  He had a human mother [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:27-35, 2:7-16].  He grew up in an inhospitable and inclement world.  The sun in its heat, and the rain and the cold beat upon His head.  The ground yielded for Him thorns and thistles.  He was crowned with thorns [Matthew 27:29].  The seas that tossed other little ships tossed His little boat [Luke 8:22-25].  He knew what it was to hunger [Matthew 21:18], to thirst [John 4:7], to sorrow [Matthew 26:38], to be hurt, to grieve [Mark 3:5].  He was made like one of us [Hebrews 2:16].  He took our nature [Hebrews 2:16-17], and He has given us His nature [2 Corinthians 5:17; 2 Peter 1:4].

In the eloquent chapter—the fifteenth—of 1 Corinthians, the apostle writes:  “For as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly” [1 Corinthians 15:49].  We shall be like Christ.  We shall see Him face-to-face as He is [Revelation 22:3-5].  It is buried—this house we live in.  It is buried—it is planted—in corruption; it is raised in incorruption [1 Corinthians 15:42].  It is planted in dishonor; it is raised in glory [1 Corinthians 15:43].  It is planted in weakness; it is raised in power [1 Corinthians 15:43].  It is [planted a] mortal body; it is raised a spiritual body [1 Corinthians 15:44].  We have His nature.

As the apostle Peter wrote in the second letter, the first chapter, verse 4: “For by the knowledge of Christ, in the knowledge of our Lord, there is given to us exceeding great and precious promises:  that we might be partakers of His nature” [2 Peter 1:3-4].  “This is now, bone of My bones, and flesh of My flesh” [Genesis 2:23].  “This is a great mystery:  but I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32].

Not only the mystery of origin [Ephesians 5:30], and the mystery of nature [Ephesians 5:32], but also the mustērion of vital unity: for we are members of His body, and of His flesh, and of His bones; no longer two, but one flesh [Ephesians 5:30-31].  “This is a great mystery:  but I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32], the mystery of vital unity—of oneness.

There is no relationship in life comparable to that, between the man and his wife.  In invincible and endearing bonds, they are joined together.  They share in the joys and sorrows, in the triumph and successes, and in the defeats and despairs of life.  They are one—one flesh [Ephesians 5:31].  “This is a great mystery:  but I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32].

We are one with Him in invisible bonds.  We are vital to Him.  He cannot be without us.  There could no Head without a body.  There can be no Savior without the saved.  There could be no King without His subjects.  There could be no Shepherd without His flock.  We are vital to Christ.  He needs us, His people; and we are one with Him [John 14:20].  We are crucified with Him [Galatians 2:20].  We are buried with Him [Romans 6:4].  We are raised with Him.  We are ascended with Him [Ephesians 2:6].  We reign with Him [2 Timothy 2:12].  If He is triumphant, we shall be triumphant.  If He is victorious, we are victorious [Romans 8:1-4].  If He inherits the kingdom, we are joint-heirs.  We also shall inherit the kingdom [Romans 8:17].

This is the deep, abiding spiritual meaning of the two ordinances of His church.  In baptism, we are buried with our Lord; we are raised with our Lord [Romans 6:3-5].  Listen to Paul, as he writes:

The cup which we bless, is it not the cup of the koinōnia, the communion, the fellowship of Christ?  And the bread which we break, is it not the communion—the koinōnia—the sharing of the body of Christ?

For we being many are one bread, and one body; for we are all partakers of that one loaf.

[1 Corinthians 10:16-17]

We are one with Him in invisible bonds [Ephesians 1:22-23].  And however it is with Christ, we also are one with Him.  If He fails, we fail.  If He is defeated, we shall be defeated.  If the victory does not belong to Him, it shall not belong to us.  But if He triumphs, we also shall triumph with Him.  “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh, one.  This is a great mystery:  but I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:31-32].

Not only mystery in origin [Ephesians 5:30], mystery in nature [Ephesians 5:30-32], mystery in vital unity [Ephesians 5:30-31], but also the mystery of an ultimate and final and enduring salvation and assurance [Ephesians 5:29-30].  We are one with Him, to care, to nurture, to cherish.

For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:

For we are the members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.

[Ephesians 5:29-30]

Even as He nourisheth and cherisheth it [Ephesians 5:29], every member of the body of Christ is treasured, and loved, and cherished, and nurtured—the least, the humblest.  Tell me, did you ever read in the Bible of the Lord saying, “Take these lepers away?  Take this flotsam and jetsam out of My sight.  Take these blind and these halt.  Take these sick and these ill.  Take them away.”  Rather, the Scriptures always say, “And He healed them all” [Luke 6:19], precious in His sight, every member of His body, loved, and cherished, and nourished, even the humblest.

John says—the apostle John says that what Jesus did and what happened to the Lord were signs.  They were similitudes.  They were deep, spiritual teachings, and he points to one:

And when they [soldiers] came to Jesus, and saw that He was already dead, they brake not His legs.  When they had come to the others [thieves], they broke the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with Him.  But when they came to Jesus, He was so manifestly dead, they brake not His legs.

[John 19:32-33]

And John says, “He that saw it bare record, and His record is true:  and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe.  For these were done, that the Scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of Him shall not be broken” [John 19:35-36]—not one!  Not one! [Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12].  There shall not be one of the least of the members of the body of Christ that is lost, or that is broken, it will not be.  It may be the humblest and the most unworthy, but we belong to Christ.  We are members of His body [Ephesians 5:30], and as such, He nourisheth and cherisheth us [Ephesians 5:29].

Look at our destiny; caring for us, loving us, cherishing us, nourishing us, that He may present us to Himself some day, a glorious church, having neither spot, nor wrinkle, but holy and without blemish [Ephesians 5:27].  This is our ultimate and final destiny.   As such, in age and in finished work; the translation of the saint of God is a “triumph” and a “glory.”

One of the dear members of our church, an aged, sainted woman, out here in one of our hospitals, in her last and terminal and final illness, died.  And the doctors took chemicals, and tubes, and medicines, and massages, and all of those apparatus, and brought her back to life.  And when she came into consciousness for just a while, she exclaimed, “Oh!  Oh!  And now I must die again.”

            What a strange persuasion, that when our life is done and our task is ended, that we should think it is so terrible yonder—it is so horrible out there—that if they can just delay by five more breaths my escape, then may all of the science of the physician and of the chemist and of the pharmacist—may it be brought to bear, that I have these five more breaths.

O Lord, no!  When the task is done, and the life is ended, and age has taken our faculties away, why is it not the comfort of the Christian that he is translated in victory, in triumph, to an upper and a more glorious world, joined to Christ in glory?  This is our coronation day.  This is the great consummation toward which all life inevitably moves.

For those outside of the Lord, it is a blackness.  It is a despair.  It is a defeat.  It is an awesome prospect!  It is death!  But for the child of God, joined to the body of Christ [1 Corinthians 12:13], it is a triumph!  It is our ultimate victory that someday all of us shall enjoy, shall experience.  Someday.  Someday.

And we cannot be lost.  We belong to His body.  We are members of His body [Ephesians 5:30].  The Lord said, “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never—ever—perish” [John 10:28].  If a man’s head is above water, his feet cannot be drowned.  If our Lord is in heaven, we cannot be lost—though we are the very sole of His feet, and the humblest and most unworthy of the household of faith.  If He is saved—and if He lives—we also shall be saved and shall live.  I think that is the reason that the apostle Peter wrote in his second letter, in the first chapter, and the fourth verse:

For in the knowledge of Christ, in the revelation of God’s grace and mercy in Him, we have exceeding great and precious promises:  whereby we are made partakers of the divine nature.

[2 Peter 1:3-4]

We cannot be lost.  Christ does not lose part of His members.  We are joined to Him.  This is now, “bone of My bones, and flesh of My flesh” [Genesis 2:23; Ephesians 5:30].  “This is a great mystery:  but I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32].

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,

Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!

What more can He say than to you He hath said

You who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,

My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply.

The flames shall not hurt thee; I only design

Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose

I’ll never, no, never devote to its foes;

That soul, though all hell shall endeavor to shake,

I’ll never, no never, no never, forsake!

[“How Firm a Foundation,” John Rippon, 1787]

“This is a great mustērion:  but I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32].

In this moment now when we sing our hymn of appeal, a family you, a couple you, or just a one somebody you, in faith giving yourself to our Lord [Ephesians 2:8-9], or coming into the sweet fellowship of the church; in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming.  Make the decision now in your heart, and when you stand, down one of these stairways, into the aisle, and, here, to the front, “Here I come and here I am.  I make that decision now, and here I am.”  Take that first step.  Trust God to see you through.  He never lost a case, nor will He ever lose one of His members.  His body shall be full and complete, and we shall be a part of it; bone of His bones, flesh of His flesh [Ephesians 5:30].  “Here I come to join myself to God.  Here I am.”  Make that choice and decision now in your heart, and when we stand to sing in just a moment, you stand coming.  God-blessed angels attend your way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.


Dr. W.
A. Criswell



I.          Introduction

A.  Musterion,
“mystery” – a secret kept in the heart of God until God revealed it to His

B.  In
presenting the body of Christ, Paul delineates two great mysteries

1.  That
there should be created a new thing, a new body, composed of Jew and Gentile –
the church(Ephesians 3:2-3)

2.  Quoting
the creation of Eve, he says that is the mystery revealed in the creation of
this new living institution, the church(Genesis 2:21-25,
Ephesians 5:32)


II.         Mystery of origin

A.  As
Eve was taken out of the side of Adam, so the church was taken out of the side
of our Lord

B.  Contrast
between death of Christ and death of other philosophers and religionists


III.        Mystery of nature

A.  Out of whole
creation there was none found like Adam(Genesis

      1.  God created
Eve; brought her to Adam (Genesis 2:21-22)

      2.  God created us
for fellowship(Genesis 1:26, 2:18, 22-23)

B.  He
took our nature, and we possess His(Hebrews
2:16-18, 1 Corinthians 15:42-44, , 2 Peter 1:4)


IV.       Mystery of vital unity(Ephesians 5:31-32, 1 Corinthians 12:12-20)

A.  Man and his wife
joined together with bonds invincible and enduring

B.  We are vital to Him

C.  We are one with Him(Romans 6:3-4, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17)


V.        Mystery of eternal security(Ephesians 5:29-30)

A.  We
are members of His body – members of Christ are never broken or lost (Exodus 12:46, John 19:32-36, 1 Corinthians 12:13,
Matthew 11:5)

B.  The
ultimate destiny of His people(Ephesians 5:27, John
10:28, 2 Peter 1:4)

Hymn, “How Firm a Foundation”