1 Timothy Chapter 3 verse 16 (NKJ)

“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:

God was manifested in the flesh,

Justified in  the Spirit,

Seen by angels,

Preached among the Gentiles,

Believed on in the world,

Received up in glory.”

In this verse we have presented to us the Gospel as it were in a nutshell. The Apostle was writing to his son in the Lord. Timothy was a young pastor, not called to a particular church, but appointed by apostolic authority, to a task of church planting; training up young believers to serve the Lord, in addition to exercise discipline amongst local churches that had, and were being formed.

In the early verses of chapter 3, Paul is dealing with various aspects of church government and administration. Sound teaching was also needed. These infant churches needed to be aware of heresy which was around because it could so easily gain a foothold in the lives of these young believers and in the life of the churches. The person and work of the Lord Jesus had to be re-asserted. Hence we have the clear and comprehensive statement in: ‘For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all...’ (chapter 2 verses 5-6). In this verse the uniqueness of the Christian faith is clearly stated.

In chapter 3 verse 16, the Apostle seems to break away from his previous thoughts and makes a statement, concisely, and of profound importance:

“Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness.” This mystery is then written down in three couplets:

              God was manifested in the flesh,            Justified in the Spirit

              Seen by angels,                                        Preached amongst the Gentiles

              Believed on in the world,                          Received up in glory;

The meaning of ‘mystery’ used in the New Testament, refers to truth which had been hidden down the ages, but was now revealed. Throughout the Old Testament God’s plan of salvation, redemption, had been as it were under a veil. But following the coming of the Lord Jesus the true Messiah of Israel, the veil was taken away, and the fullness, the greatness, the comprehensiveness of this great plan of ‘so Great Salvation’ was made known, and as individuals believed this salvation would become personal.

“God was manifested in the flesh”: This truth is fully emphasised in the four Gospel records. They are full of the life of the Lord while here on earth.

“Justified in the Spirit”: The Holy Spirit came upon Jesus after His baptism, with the voice of God from heaven exclaiming: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22, John 1:29-34). The Holy Spirit set His seal upon the ministry of the Lord Jesus while He was here on earth. This truth was proclaimed by the apostles. Peter preaching to the household of Cornelius said: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing  good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38).

“Seen by angels”: We have the record of angelic beings announcing the birth of Jesus. They ministered to Him after the period of temptation by the devil, following His baptism. The angels were at the tomb to announce His resurrection, then after our Lord’s ascension in the clouds of heaven we are told that they came and spoke to the then sad disciples saying: “This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11)

“Preached among the Gentiles” or the nations: Before the coming of the Lord Jesus, God’s future purposes for all nations was generally limited. But through the unveiling of the good news that Jesus bought, following His rejection by His own people, the Gospel was to be preached to all people. Today this great Gospel of salvation is being brought worldwide to many who are still ignorant of the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:16-20).

“Believed on in the world”: This a remarkable statement, for when we look and read the pages of Biblical history, we see the very opposite. Because sin entered the world through Adam’s disobedience, the Biblical records show that there was a departure in belief in the One True and Living God. This unbelief was also evident in the history of the people of Israel. Yet from the early days of history in the book of Acts, we know that as the Gospel of Salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ was preached, belief in Him, has and is taking place worldwide, in spite of opposition and persecution.

“Received up into glory”: This statement refers to the most dramatic event in all of the world’s history - the death of the Lord Jesus by crucifixion, His burial, His resurrection, then ascension to the right hand of God the Father in glory. God by this event accepted the work of and redemption carried out by His Son. This means that we by faith in coming to the Saviour in repentance, seeking forgiveness of our sins, are able to have the assurance that we have been accepted by God and have the wondrous gift of eternal life. The message of salvation is open to all who will believe. Unbelief has serious consequences. It is not just a choice of whether believing or not; but a deliberate rejection of the love of God, and leads to an eternity where God is not present.

In one of his books (I cannot recall which) R.C. Sproul says: “Unbelief is judged by the Lord Jesus, not as an act of intellectual error, but as a hostile act of prejudice against God Himself”. 

R. John Wheeler