The Mystery of Godliness Hymn

(I Timothy4-16)

 

Gordon Franz

 

Introduction

 

            At the beginning of the second century AD, during the reign of Emperor Trajan, Christians were being persecuted for their faith.  Pliny the Younger, the imperial representative in Bithynia and Pontus (just below the Black Sea in northern Turkey) from AD 111-113, wrote a letter back to the emperor asking for advice on what to do about the number of Christians being executed for their faith.  In one of the letters he wrote that the Christians met “regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately among themselves in honour of Christ as if to be a god” (Letters 10:96:7; LCL 2:289).  Eusebius of Caesarea, an early church historian, wrote about this incident in AD 325.  He quoted Pliny as saying “they rose at dawn to sing to Christ as though a God” (Ecclesiastical History 3:33; LCL 1:277).  Pliny’s perception of Jesus was not accurate because Jesus is God manifest in human flesh!

 

            More than likely, one of the hymns that they chanted or sang in their services was I Timothy 3:16.

 

God was manifest in the flesh,

Justified in the Spirit,

Seen by angels,

Preached among the Gentiles,

Believed on in the world,

Received up in glory.

 

This hymn summarizes in six lines the earthly life and ministry of the Lord Jesus from His Incarnation to the Ascension.

 

The Context of First Timothy

 

            Paul has been released from his first imprisonment in Rome (ca. AD 62) and is on his fourth missionary journey.  He wrote his son in the faith, Timothy, from Macedonia (I Tim. 1:3) advising him to stay in Ephesus and await his arrival (2:14).  In his first epistle to Timothy, he instructs him on how to conduct himself “in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (3:15).  Paul warns Timothy about heresy that has crept into the church (1:3-11).  He also instructs him about the importance of prayer and the role of women in the church (2:1-15).  Leadership in the church was of utmost importance in dealing with these situations, so he sets forth the qualification of the only two church officers: elders and deacons (3:1-13).

 

            Paul stated that the church is the pillar and ground of the truth (3:15).  One of those truths is the “mystery of godliness” (3:16a), which Paul conveyed in the form of a hymn.

 

            In the beginning of chapter 4, Paul gives a warning from the Spirit that in the latter times “some will depart from the faith” (4:1) which involves the “mystery of godliness” concerning the life and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

The Apostle Paul penned these words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and said they were “without controversy.”  In other words, these were foundational truths that everyone should agree on.

 

What is the Mystery of Godliness?

 

            The Apostle Paul, when he described the “mystery of Christ” (Eph. 3:4), also set forth a definition of a mystery.  He wrote that it is a truth “which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (3:5).  In other words, it is a Biblical truth that is revealed for the first time by the Holy Spirit.

 

            One scholar commented: “The mystery of godliness is Christ Himself; that godliness, hidden in ages past, has now been revealed, and is seen not to be an abstract ideal, a mere attribute of a personality, but actually a person, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Massinger 1939: 481).  He went on to say that: “The mystery of godliness was manifested in the flesh, not a burning bush, not in a pillar of cloud alone, but in actual human flesh” (1939: 483).

 

This mystery is put in the form of a hymn so people can sing it and remember it.  Let us examine each of the six lines of this powerful hymn proclaiming the Person, earthly life and work of the Lord Jesus.

 

God was Manifested in the Flesh

 

The Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ is one of the foundational doctrinal truths of the Christian Church.  This song begins, “God was manifested in the flesh.”

 

There is a discussion among textual critics whether the word “God” is in the original text of I Tim. 3:16, or if it’s the Greek word “Who” or “He”.  The overwhelming testimony of the Early Church Fathers, based on the manuscripts that they had in their possession, is that the word “Theos” (God) was the word originally penned by the Apostle Paul (Miller 1979: 137).

 

Even if the word “Who” was in the original manuscript, to whom is the pronoun referring too?  In the preceding verse, there are three nouns: “the church,” “the Living God,” and “the truth.”  Which one is in grammatical agreement with the masculine pronoun “Who”?  The nouns “church” and “truth” can be ruled out because they are feminine.  Thus leaving the masculine noun “living God” to be in grammatical agreement with the masculine pronoun “Who.”  “Thus, it can be safely concluded that ‘the living God’ is the direct antecedent of the ‘who,’ and could read, ‘The living God … who was manifest in flesh’” (Rowell 1957: 76).  Either way, God was manifested in the flesh!

 

In one line, the Apostle Paul sets forth the great doctrinal truth of the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ – God took on human flesh.  Theologians call this the “Hypostatic Union” because perfect humanity was united with undiminished deity, and joined in one Person forever.  This is a truth our finite minds might find hard to grasp, yet it is clearly taught in the Scriptures.

 

The dual nature of Christ – fully God and fully man, is attested to in the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the New Testament.  The prophet Zechariah describes the return of the LORD (Yahweh) to the earth at the end of the Tribulation period.  In chapter 12, he predicted that the LORD would fight for Jerusalem.  In verse 10, he says, “And I [the LORD, Yahweh] will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication [the Holy Spirit]; then they will look upon Me [the LORD, Yahweh] whom they have pierced; they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.”  When was the LORD (Yahweh) pierced?  The piercing of the LORD was outside the walls of Jerusalem in AD 30 when the Lord Jesus was crucified on Calvary’s cross in order to pay for all our sins (John 19:33-37).  The Apostle John wrote at the beginning of the Revelation of Jesus Christ: “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him.  And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him.  Even so, Amen” (1:7).  John confirmed the words of Zechariah that one day, the people of Israel will recognize their Messiah when He returns to earth.

 

The Eighth century BC prophet Isaiah sets forth the dual nature of the Messiah in the “Immanuel section” of his book (Isaiah 7-12).  He predicted that Messiah, the Lord Jesus, would be born of a virgin in Isaiah 7:14.  The Gospel writer Matthew quotes this passage in the account of the birth of the Lord Jesus and said: “So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us’” (1:22, 23).  This was fulfilled when Jesus dwelt among men and walked upon the earth (John 1:14; I John 1:1-2).

 

A few chapters later, Isaiah predicted, “For unto us a Child is born [His temporal humanity], Unto us a Son is given [His eternal deity]” (9:6a).  A few lines later, Immanuel is called the Mighty God.  The Apostle John begins his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God [His deity]. … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us [His humanity], and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:1, 14).

 

The dual nature of the Lord Jesus is seen in John chapter 4.  In His deity, His omniscience knew all that the Samaritan women had done (4:16-18, 29), yet in His humanity, He thirsted for water (4:7).  In chapter 11, it was His omnipotence that raised Lazarus from the dead, yet in His humanity, He wept over the death of His friend (11:30).

 

The Book of Hebrews demonstrates the superiority of the Lord Jesus, and His sacrifice for sins, over the sacrificial system of the Temple in Jerusalem.  In chapter 1, the deity of the Lord Jesus is set forth and in chapter 2, His humanity.  In chapter 1, it is written; “But to the Son He says: ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever’” (1:8, quoting from Psalm 45:6).  Yet in chapter 2, a commentary on the humanity of the Lord Jesus from Psalm 8 is given: “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone” (2:9).

 

The Scriptures set forth at least eight reasons why God became a man in the Person of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  The first reason is to reveal God to man (John 1:1, 14, 18).  The second, is to reveal a Perfect Man as an example for believers to follow when going through persecution (I Peter. 2:21).  The third reason is to provide a sacrifice for sins (Heb. 10:1-10). The fourth reason is that He destroyed the work of Satan (John 16:11; Col. 2:13-15; Heb. 2:14; I John 3:8).  The fifth reason was to fulfill the Davidic Covenant (II Samuel 7:10-16; Luke 1:31-33; Rev. 19:16).  The sixth and sevenths reasons are so that He could be both a Prophet (Deut. 18:15-18) and High Priest (Heb. 2:16, 17; 7:1-8:1; 9:11, 12, 24).  The final reason is so that He could shed His blood for the remission of sins (Heb. 9:22).  For a full discussion of some of these points, see Thiessen 1974: 289-294.

 

The third reason (a sacrifice for sins) and last reason (shed His blood for the remission of sins) are why Christians remember the Lord Jesus at the Lord’s Supper.  Only God manifest in human flesh could be the perfect, sinless sacrifice for all our sins and offer us the free gift of eternal life when we put our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Sin-Bearer Savior (I Peter 1:18,19; John 3:16; Eph. 2:8,9; I John 5:13).  Have you trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as the One who died to pay for all your sins and rose again from the dead three days later in order to prove that sin had been paid for?

 

Justified in the Spirit

 

            The second line of the Mystery of Godliness Hymn is that He was “justified in the Spirit.”  Martin Massinger comments: “The justification referred to here is obviously not theological justification such as Paul discusses in the epistle of Romans.  The Lord Jesus Christ, the spotless Lamb of God, God Himself, needs not to be justified.  He is ‘holy, guileless, undefiled, separate from sinners’ (Heb. 7:26).  But His holiness, His absolute sinlessness, He deity needed to be vindicated” (Massinger 1939: 483).  He was vindicated by the Spirit at His baptism, temptation in the Wilderness, during His public ministry and Resurrection from the dead.

 

            At the baptism of the Lord Jesus, John the Baptizer (he was a Jew, not a Baptist!), was telling the people they need to repent (change their minds) for the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand.  When Jesus saw John baptizing in the Jordan River, probably near Jericho, He too was baptized in order to “fulfill all righteousness”, i.e. to be identified with His people Israel (Matt. 3:15).  As He was immersed into the water’s of the Jordan River, the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended in the form of a dove and a voice from Heaven said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21, 22).  The entire Triune God was present at the baptism of the Lord Jesus at the beginning of His earthly ministry and He was vindicated by the voice of the Father and the sign of the Holy Spirit.

 

            Immediately after His baptism He was led by the Holy Spirit into the Wilderness (Matt. 4:1; Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1) where He was tested for forty days by the Devil.  Theses tests were not to see if the Lord Jesus would sin, but to demonstrate that the Lord Jesus could not sin, would not sin, and did not sin, because in Him was no sin (James 1:13; Heb. 4:15; II Cor. 5:21).  During His public ministry “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).

 

            The ultimate vindication was at the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  The Apostle Paul wrote that the Lord Jesus was “born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness [the Holy Spirit], by the resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:3-4).  The entire Triune God was involved in the resurrection of Jesus: the Father (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12), the Son (John 10:17, 18), and the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:11; I Pet. 3:18).

 

Seen by Angels

 

            The third line of the Mystery of Godliness Hymn is that He was “seen by angels.”  Paul wrote to the church at Colossae that the Lord Jesus is the Head of all principalities and power, which included the angelic beings (Col. 2:10).

 

            They beheld Him even before the Incarnation.  Isaiah records that in the year that King Uzziah died, he saw the LORD sitting on His throne.  Above Him were seraphim (angelic beings) that were saying to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isa. 6:1-3).  The Apostle John comments on this event and said, “These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him [the Lord Jesus]” (John 12:41).

 

            The angelic beings worship the Lord Jesus (Rev. 5:11, 12; Heb. 1:6; Phil. 2:9-11), yet Peter points out that angels desired to look into His sufferings and glories, but they could never appropriate it for themselves (I Pet. 1:12).

 

            They are also the silent spectators in the Church as they observe the different roles of the men and women (I Cor. 11:10), yet one day believers will judge the angels (I Cor. 6:3).

 

            The book of Hebrews declared that the Lord Jesus was made a little lower than the angels while He walked among men (Heb. 2:9).  Even then, the angels observed Him.

 

            The Angel Gabriel informed Mary that she would have a Child by the Holy Spirit and He would be the Savior of the world (Luke 1:26-38).  An angel confirmed to Joseph that the Child that Mary was carrying was of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:20).  At the birth of the Lord Jesus, the angels announced the glad tidings of His birth.  The heavenly hosts praised God by saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:8-14).

 

            After the Lord Jesus was tested by the Devil for forty days, to prove that He could not sin, did not sin, and would not sin, the Devil departed from Him and the angels came and ministered to Him (Matt. 4:11).

 

            As the Lord Jesus agonized in Gethsemane, He prayed: “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.  An angel came from heaven to strengthen Him in this trying time (Matt. 22:42, 43).  Yet at the crucifixion, there were no angels to strengthen Him.  This event He had to bear alone.  Just prior to going to Golgotha, Jesus had said to the chief priests that the time had come for the power of darkness.  This seems to imply that Satan and his hoards were at the crucifixion (Luke 22:53).  Yet it was at the Cross where Jesus triumphed over them and they were defeated (Col. 2:15).

 

            An earthquake occurred at the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and an angel of the Lord rolled back the stone that covered the entrance to the tomb.  As he sat on it, the women appeared at the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus.  The angel reassured them that Jesus was not there because “He is raised as He said.  Come; see the place where the Lord lay” (Matt. 28:2-6; Luke 24:1-6).

 

            Forty days after the resurrection, the Lord Jesus took His disciples to the backside of the Mount of Olives and there He ascended into Heaven.  As He went up, two men in white apparel (apparently angels) said: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here gazing up into heaven?  This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into Heaven” (Acts 1:9-11).  When the Lord Jesus returns to the Mount of Olives at His second advent after the seven year period of Tribulation (Zech. 14:4, 5), He will come with His saints (the Church) and the angels who will gather His elect (the believing remnant of Israel that survives the Great Tribulation) from the four corners of the earth (Matt. 24:31; 25:31; II Thess. 1:7).

 

            He was seen by angels and they had an important role in His earthy life and ministry.

 

Preached Among the Gentiles

 

            The fourth line of the Mystery of Godliness Hymn was that He was “preached among the Gentiles.”  Jesus’ primary ministry was to the “lost sheep of the House of Israel”, i.e a Jewish ministry (Matt. 10:6; Matt. 15:24).  Yet He did have a ministry to Gentiles in order to teach His kosher Jewish disciples that God loved the world and that salvation was for all, Jew and Gentile alike.

 

Over the forty days between the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and His Ascension, He gave the “Great Commission” (to go into all the world) on at least four occasions (Matt. 28:19, 20; Mark 16:15, 16; Luke 24:46-48; Acts 1:8).  After Pentecost, these kosher disciples started in Jerusalem, then over time went to Judea and Samaria, and eventually spread the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth reaching three distinctive ethnic groups: Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles.

 

            Early in Jesus’ ministry He had a visit from Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  This very learned man knew Jesus was a teacher sent from God.  Jesus explained to him how he could be “born again” (from above) and then made a very profound statement for a Jewish mind.  He said: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).  God’s love was not just for one nation, but for all people in the entire world.

 

This was true in the Hebrew Scriptures as well.  Jonah and the salvation of the people of Nineveh is a good example.  God sent Jonah to preach to the wicked people of Nineveh, but instead, Jonah went in the opposite direction in order to get as far away from God as possible (or so he thought!, cf. Ps. 139:7-9).  After being swallowed by a great fish, Jonah came to his senses and went to Nineveh.  His message was short and to the point: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4).  The king repented and issued a decree for all in the city to do the same.  Thus God relented from His planned destruction.  Jonah protested and said to God: “I know You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm” (4:2).  Jonah went outside the city to wait for the fireworks.  He wanted to see God zap the city!  But because the people repented, God relented.  Jonah could not rejoice in God’s love for those wicked people who turned to Him.

 

Israel was to be a light unto the Gentiles (Isa. 49:6), a task that they failed at many times.  From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, His heart was set on the evangelization of the world!  His strategy was to start with Israel, because they knew the Scriptures, and then go from there to the Gentiles.

 

            In His public and private ministry, the Lord Jesus came in contact with individual Gentiles.  According to Eusebius, one of the church Fathers, the women with the issue of blood twelve years was a pagan from Caesarea Philippi (Matt. 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48; Eccl. Hist.7:18; LCL 2: 175-177).  The centurion in Capernaum was a Gentile (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10).  The Syro-Phonecian woman from Tyre was also a Gentile (Matt. 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30).

 

            In the travels of the Lord Jesus, He left Jewish territory on at least three occasions in order to minister in Gentile territory.  The first recorded trip is after the rejection by the religious leaders and the (false) accusation that He did His miracles by the power of Beelzebub (Matt. 12:24; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15).  He gave the parables of the Kingdom from a boat just off shore of the Sea of Galilee to the west of Capernaum (Matt. 13; Mark 4; Luke 8).  That evening, He took His disciples to “the other side” (a code name for Gentile territory).  This is a major refocus in Jesus’s ministry.  He there institutes the Gentile phase of His ministry.  On the way over, they encounter a violent windstorm, but eventually land at the harbor of the Decapolis city of Gadera (Kibbutz Ha’on; Franz 1991:114-116).  The welcome reception was lead by two demoniacs from Gadera (Matt. 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39).  Jesus casts the demons out of these individuals and into a herd of swine.  The Gentiles of the Decapolis ask Jesus to leave their territory.  Before He does, one of the demoniacs “sits at the feet of Jesus,” in essence, asking Him if He will make him one of His disciple (Luke 8:35).  He instructs the demoniac to go tell the people in the Decapolis what great things the “Lord” (Mark 5:19) and “God” (Luke 8:39) had done for him.  The born-again demoniac had a correct Christology because He went and told everybody what great things JESUS had done for him (Mark 5:20; Luke 8:39)!  The demoniac’s ministry in the Decapolis would lay the foundation for Jesus ministry in the Decapolis later on.

 

After this, Jesus sends His twelve disciples “to the lost sheep of the House of Israel” (Matt. 10).  He instructs them not to go via the roads of the Gentiles, nor enter Samaritans cities.  His purpose for limiting the disciples activities to Jewish people was so He could set forth a principle that Paul would state years later in Romans 1:16.  The gospel should go “to the Jews first, and then the Gentiles.”  After this mission, the disciples returned to Capernaum before Passover and Jesus “debriefed” them in a deserted place near Bethsaida.  The crowds follow and Jesus ended up feeding 5,000 men plus women and children (Matt. 14:15-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14).

 

At this point there is another subtle refocus in Jesus ministry.  From this point on, He tried to avoid the crowds.  He knew His “hour had not yet come”, but He also knew that He had one year to train the Twelve before His death and resurrection.  He spends time with them privately in order to prepare them for their mission to the world after His ascension. 

 

His second trip to Gentile territory was sometime after Passover of AD 29. Jesus took His disciples to the region of Tyre and Sidon (Matt. 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30).  While in Tyre, a Syro-Phoenician woman begs Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter.  The conversation that follows is interesting.  At the beginning, Jesus is silent.  He wanted to see what His disciples would do.  They in turn wanted Jesus to send her away.  He finally says, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  The woman then worshiped Him.  Jesus turns to her and says, “O woman, great is your faith” (Matt. 15:28).

 

Jesus kept silent and then said what He said to this woman in order to get her to express her faith in Him in front of the disciples.  He even commends her for her faith.  Jesus deliberately does this so the disciples could see that salvation was for the Gentiles as well.  After this encounter, He immediately took His disciples back to the Decapolis region (Gentile territory) and ministered there.

 

The visit to the Decapolis is the third time Jesus visits Gentile territory.  This event, in my understanding, took place at the “Kursi church” on the east side of the Sea of Galilee and on the southern side of the Wadi Samek (Franz 1991:117-120).  During the Second Temple period, this was the border between the Decapolis to the south and Phillips territory of Gaulanitus to the north.

 

In the Decapolis, the demoniac from Gadera had faithfully proclaimed what Jesus had done for him.  When Jesus arrived, He healed many Gentiles who were lame, blind, mute, and maimed (Matt. 15:29-31; Mark 7:31-37).  Interestingly, Matthew points out that these Gentiles “glorified the God of Israel” (Matt. 15:31).  [Mark does not mention this].  Matthew wrote to a Jewish audience, demonstrating that Jesus was the fulfillment of the all that the prophets spoke and wrote about in the Hebrew Scriptures, wanting to “provoke Israel to jealousy”.  Paul had the same thought in Romans 11:11-14.  Jesus instructed the Gentiles of the Decapolis to “tell no one” of the incident, yet they proclaimed the message of the Lord Jesus widely (Mark 7:35), presumably among the Gentiles!

 

He then had compassion on the multitude after hearing Him for three days, so He fed them from seven loaves of bread and some sardines (Matt. 15:32-39; Mark 9:1-9).  The demoniac of Gadera, the first Gentile missionary to the Gentiles in the New Testament, had been a very effective evangelist.

 

Jesus may not have had an extensive ministry among the Gentiles, but He did have a ministry to them and they continued it.  He was trying to get His “kosher” disciples to see that salvation was for the entire world, including the Gentiles.

 

Believed on in the world

 

            The fifth line of the Mystery of Godliness Hymn is that He was “believed on in the world.”  God’s only condition for salvation is to “believe.”  The concept of “belief” in the New Testament is to trust in, rely upon, or depend upon the Lord Jesus Christ, as God manifest in human flesh, who died for sin and rose again from the dead three days later, all according to the Scriptures (I Cor. 15:3, 4).    During the Old Testament period, a person received salvation “with a credit card”, i.e., one would trust now and someone else would pay for it later.  In other words, a person would trust that God would provide the sacrifice that would take away their sins.  The One who eventually paid for sin completely was the Messiah, the Lord Jesus.  After the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, a person gets a “gift certificate” for salvation.  The Lord Jesus has already paid for all sin, so all a person has to do is to accept a “gift certificate” salvation, i.e., put their trust in the Lord Jesus as Savior (John 3:16; Eph. 2:8, 9; Rom. 4:5; I John 5:13).

 

            The Apostle John tells us why he wrote his gospel.  And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these [signs] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (20:30, 31).  The purpose was to bring people to faith in the Lord Jesus.  John does that by recording a number of miracles that Jesus did and the reaction of the people who saw these signs.

 

Jesus’s disciples (students) believed on Him after they saw Him turn the water into wine (or grape juice, depending on your theology!) at a wedding in Cana of Galilee (John 2:11).  Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, apparently came to faith when he met Jesus at night in Jerusalem (John 3:1-21), but keeps it a secret until after the death of the Lord Jesus (7:50-52; 19:39).

 

A Samaritan woman from the village of Sychar came to faith near a well dug by the Patriarch Jacob, and then she went to tell all her friends in the village about Jesus.  Many of them trusted Christ as the Savior of the world (John 4:5-45).  A nobleman’s son was sick in Capernaum.  He traveled to Cana of Galilee to seek the help of the Lord Jesus.  He believed as well (John 4:46-54).

 

Gentiles also came to faith.  One could tell of the centurion who built the synagogue of Capernaum for the people of the city (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10) and the Syro-Phonecian woman (Matt. 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30).

 

Many people believed on Him in the Temple during the Feast of Succoth (Tabernacles) in AD 29 (John 8:30).  Many people who saw and heard of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, believed (John 11:45).  Secretly, some rulers of the Jewish people trusted Jesus as their Messiah (John 14:42).

 

The purpose of God being manifest in human flesh was so that He could “give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45) and bring many to faith in Himself.  He was believed on in the world.

 

Received up in Glory

 

            The final line of the Mystery of Godliness Hymn is that he was “received up in glory.”  The Lord Jesus left the glories and splendors of Heaven and lived among sinful human beings in a corrupt and fallen world.  After His death on the Cross in order to pay for the sins of all humanity, He returned to Heaven.  His being “received up in glory” refers to His ascension into Heaven.

 

            Dr. Luke records that “when the time had come for Him to be received up, that he steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).  Dr. David Gooding, a noted Septuagint scholar, commented on this verse.  “We should at once notice carefully what the goal of the journey is said to be.  It is sometimes stated on the basis of 9:51 that our Lord’s goal on this journey was Jerusalem.  But that is not so.  Our Lord’s journey certainly lay via Jerusalem; but the goal of the journey was what Luke here describes as ‘being received up’.  The phrase has the sense as that given it by the early Christians hymn quoted by Paul (I Tim. 3:16) which says that Christ ‘was believed on in the world, received up in glory’.  In other words by ‘being received up’ Luke is referring to Christ’s ascension into heaven.  That and no less was the goal of the journey” (1987:179).

 

The Ascension of the Lord Jesus from the back side of the Mount of Olives, near Bethany, is recorded by John Mark and Dr. Luke (Mark 16:19, 20; Luke 24:49-53; Acts 1:6-11).  This was the grand seal to His work of redemption.

 

The ascension was important because the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus, gave gifted individuals to the Church, His Body.  The book of Ephesians arrived in Ephesus a year or so before Paul’s first epistle to Timothy, so he and the church at Ephesus were well familiar with the practical importance of this doctrinal truth.   But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  Therefore He says: ‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men[a quotation from Ps. 68:18].  (Now this, ‘He ascended’ - what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth?  He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)  And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying [building up, spiritually and numerically] of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:7-12).

 

            A psalm that has been attributed to the ascension of the Lord Jesus to Heaven is Psalm 24.  The last few verses state: “Lift up your heads, O you gates!  And be lifted up, you everlasting doors!  And the King of glory shall come in.  Who is the King of glory?  The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.  Lift up your heads, O you gates!  Lift up, you everlasting doors!  And the King of glory shall come in.  Who is the King of glory?  The LORD of hosts, He is the King of glory.  Selah” (24: 7-10).

 

            At His ascension, the Lord Jesus returned to the glories of Heaven as the Conquering King of Glory and the LORD of Hosts because of His death on the Cross.  There on the Cross, He paid for all sin, vanquished death and defeated Satan.

 

In the Upper Room Discourse (John 12-14), the Lord Jesus said to His disciples: “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out” (John 12:31).  Later, on the Temple Mount, He said that the Spirit was going to “convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment.  … Of judgment because the ruler of this world is judged” (John 16: 8, 11).

 

On the Cross, He made His last triumphant cry: “It is finished” (John 19:30).  The cry was actually one word in Greek and it was a legal term for a bill, or debt that had been fully paid.  All the sin of the entire world had been laid upon Him and paid in full (I John 2:2).  The death of the Lord Jesus satisfied the justice of a holy God so any and all who put their trust in the Lord Jesus would be given God’s righteousness, the forgiveness of sins, a home in Heaven and the free gift of eternal life (Romans 3:25; I John 2:2).

 

The Apostle John wrote: “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the Devil” (I John 3:8), which He did on the Cross.  To the Colossian believers, Paul wrote: “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it” (2:15).  Satan and his dominion were defeated at the Cross.  In Hebrews chapter 2, it is stated: “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the Devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (2:14, 15).  Thus the Lord, mighty in battle, could enter the gates of Heaven a Conquering Victor because sin, death and Satan were defeated.

 

            The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, some of whom questioned the importance of the resurrection, that “the last enemy that will be destroyed is death” (I Cor. 15:26).  Because of His death and resurrection, the believer in the Lord Jesus has the same hope of ultimate victory over death and this should motive believers to faithful service.  Paul continued: “So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’  [A quotation from Isa. 25:8].  ‘O Death, where is your sting?  O Hades, where is your victory?’  [A quotation of Hosea 13:14].  The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (I Cor. 15: 54-58).

 

Applications

 

            Why does Paul include this hymn in his epistle to Timothy?  I believe he included it for three reasons.  The first reason is directed at unbelievers who have not trusted the Lord Jesus as Savior.  The second reason is so that believers can be conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus.  The final reason is to encourage the church to sing Christo-centric hymns.

 

            First, the church, the pillar and ground of the truth, was entrusted with the hymn of the mystery of godliness which describes the Person, life, and work of the Lord Jesus.  This hymn gave the purpose of His coming to earth.  He was manifested in the flesh so that He could die and pay for sin and then be believed on in the world.  The church was to share with a lost and dying world how they can be certain that their sins were forgiven, they could receive the righteousness of God, a home in Heaven and the free gift of eternal life.  If a person would believe in (put their trust in) the Lord Jesus Christ as the one who died for their sins and rose again from the dead, God would be faithful to His promise to save that person and make them a child of God and Christ would dwell in them.

 

            The second reason he included this hymn is to make the mystery of godliness practical in the life of the believer.  The mystery of godliness is the Lord Jesus Himself.  When a person comes to faith in the Lord Jesus, that individual is indwelt by the Godhead, including the Lord Jesus.  Paul wrote to the Philippian believers, “For me to live is Christ” (1:21).  To the Colossian believers he stated, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (1:27).

 

            One person observed: “Godliness is not being like God, or following our Great Example, or observing the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount.  Godliness is Christ in the life of a believer; or, to present a different angle, it is the Holy Spirit working His blessed fruit” (Massinger 1939: 485).  Sometimes the manifestation of that godliness is hindered in the life of the believer because of the sin nature that causes believers to sin.  Fortunately, we have an Advocate with the Father, the Lord Jesus, and we can confess our sins to Him and he will forgive us our sins (I John 1:5-2:2).

 

            The believer has the indwelling Spirit of God that enables him/her to live a godly life, but Massinger goes on to observe, “Insofar as [the] gracious work of the Spirit is permitted to go unhindered by sin, the mystery of godliness is reveled in the experience of the believer.  But this manifestation is never perfect, and the process is never complete in this life because of the presence and the opposition of the sinful nature” (1939: 489).

 

            One day, at the redemption of our bodies, the believer in the Lord Jesus will be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:23, 29).  This will occur when the Lord Jesus reveals Himself the second time, but until then, the hope of His return should led to godly living.  The Apostle John wrote: “Beloved, now are we the children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.  And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (I John 3:2, 3). 

 

            The third reason he includes this hymn is to give the church an example of a Christo-centric hymn that they may pattern their singing after in the worship meeting.  Paul admonishes the believers in Ephesus to be filled with the Spirit.  The fruit of that is “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (5:19).  To the Colossian church he said: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one anther in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (3:16).  Are the hymns we sing in church “Christo-centric” or are they human-centered?  Are they honoring to the Lord or glorifying human achievements?  Are they doctrinally based or are they the touchy-feely, make me feel good kind of songs?  A beautiful example of a Christo-centric hymn was composed by a publisher and book seller (not a theologian), Josiah Conder (1789-1855):

 

Thou art the Everlasting Word,

The Father’s only Son;

God manifestly seen and heard,

And heaven’s beloved One:

 

Worthy, O Lamb of God, art Thou

That every knee to Thee should bow,

 

 

In Thee most perfectly expressed

The Father’s glories shine;

Of the full Deity possessed,

Eternally divine:

 

Worthy, O Lamb of God, art Thou

That every knee to Thee should bow.

 

 

True image of the Infinite,

Whose essence is concealed;

Brightness of uncreated light;

The heart of God revealed:

 

Worthy, O Lamb of God, art Thou

That every knee to Thee should bow.

 

 

But the high mysteries of Thy Name

An angel’s grasp transcend;

The Father only – glorious claim! –

The son can comprehend:

 

Worthy, O Lamb of God, art Thou

That every knee to Thee should bow.

 

 

Throughout the universe of bliss,

The center Thou, and sun;

Th’ eternal theme of praise of this,

To Heav’n’s beloved one:

 

Worthy, O Lamb of God, art Thou

That every knee to Thee should bow.

 

 

Bibliography

 

Eusebius

1980a Ecclesiastical History.  Vol. 1.  Trans. by K. Lake.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.  Loeb Classical Library 153.

 

1980b Ecclesiastical History.  Vol. 2.  Trans. by J. E. L. Oulton.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.  Loeb Classical Library 265.

 

Fowl, Stephen E.

1990    The Story of Christ in the Ethics of Paul.  An Analysis of the Function of the Hymnic Material in the Pauline Corpus.  Sheffield: Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Sup. Series 36.

 

Franz, Gordon

1991    Ancient Harbors of the Sea of Galilee.  Archaeology and Biblical Research 4/4: 111-121.

 

Gooding, David

1987    According to Luke.  A New Exposition of the Third Gospel.  Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity and Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.

 

Gundry, Robert H.

1970    The Form, Meaning and Background of the Hymn Quoted in I Timothy 3:16.  Pp. 203-222 in Apostolic History and the Gospel.  Edited by W. W. Gasque and R. Martin.  Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.

 

Hanson, Anthony T.

1968    Studies in the Pastoral Epistles.  London: SPCK.

 

Marshall, I. Howard

1999    A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles.  Edinburgh: T & T Clark.

 

Massinger, Martin O.

1939    The Mystery of Godliness.  Bibliotheca Sacra 96: 479-489.

 

Micou, R. W.

1892    On ‘seen by angels’, I Tim. 3:16.  Journal of Biblical Literature 11/2: 201-205.

 

Miller, Edward

1979    A Guide to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament.  Collingswood, NJ: Dean Burgon Society.  Reprint of 1886 edition.

 

Mounce, William D.

2000    Word Biblical Commentary.  Pastoral Epistles.  Vol. 46.  Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

 

Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome

1984    Redactional Angels in I Tim. 3:16.  Revue Biblique 91: 178-187.

 

Pliny, the Younger

1969    Letters, Books 8-10.  Panegyricus.  Vol. 2.  Trans. by B. Radice.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.  Loeb Classical Library 59.

 

Rowell, J. B.

1957    The Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ Vindicated.  Bibliotheca Sacra 114: 70-77.

 

Sanders, Jack T.

1971   The New Testament Christological Hymns.  Their Historical Religious Background.  Cambridge: At the University.

 

Schweizer, Eduard

1962    Faith and Order in the New Testament.  Two New Testament Creeds Compared.  I Corinthians 15:3-5 and I Timothy 3:16.  Pp. 166-177 in Current Issues in New Testament Interpretation.  Edited by W. Klassen and G. F. Snyder.

 

Sterrett, T. Norton

1938    The Mystery of God, Even Christ.  Bibliotheca Sacra 95: 157-171.

 

Thiessen, Henry

1974    Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology.  Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.

 

Wilson, T. Ernest

1975    God’s Sacred Secrets.  Mystery Doctrines of the New Testament.  Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers.