Paul reminds his readers that the gospel is a mystery and he also tells them what a mystery is. It is something that was kept secret in the past, but which is now revealed. So he does not mean by the word mystery something that is complicated or hidden, which we may have thought because of the way we use the word in everyday life. Instead the gospel is now straightforward and open for all to see.
There are several mysteries mentioned in the New Testament, such as the mystery of the relationship between Christ and his church in Ephesians 5 or the mystery of the resurrection body in 1 Corinthians 15 or the mystery of Israel’s spiritual blindness in Romans 11 or the mystery of what will happen on the day of Jesus’ return as described in 1 Thessalonians 4. Regarding each of them, Paul reveals details about them, which means that their meanings are not hidden.
Secondly, at the time Paul wrote, the information about the gospel was contained in the prophetic writings, which is another way of describing the Old Testament (by extension of divine inspiration, the same can be said about the New Testament). Paul’s words are a reminder that the Old Testament is mainly about Jesus, the promised Messiah. He is the key that enables us to open all the doors, as the two disciples on the way to Emmaus discovered from the risen Jesus himself (Luke 24:25-27).
It is hard for us to appreciate that God’s people before the cross and resurrection did not always grasp what was said in the Old Testament. But Peter tells us this was the case: ‘Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look’ (1 Pet. 1:10-12). Yet as far as we are concerned, we can see Jesus in all the scriptures because of the illumination of the Holy Spirit. We can see the gospel in the types connected to the Levitical religious system and in the prophecies of the Messiah, such as Isaiah 53.
Thirdly, the gospel was intended to bring spiritual blessings to all nations. Paul here reminds us of the covenant that God made with Abraham, which included gospel blessings on a worldwide scale. Isaiah prophecies that the nations would come to Zion to be taught by the Messiah. In Psalm 67, the author asks God to fulfil the promises of blessing going to the nations. And in Psalm 87, the picture there is that even hostile nations will be brought into the kingdom. No doubt, Paul in saying this was reminding the Jewish believers about God’s predicted intention to bring Gentiles into the Messiah’s domain.
Fourthly, the making known of the gospel was in obedience to the eternal God, the one who reigns forever. Paul here obviously is affirming the sovereignty of God who had determined when the spread of the kingdom into the Gentile world would occur. It was his sovereign will that this should happen once Jesus had risen from the dead. In addition to stressing the sovereignty of God, Paul’s description of God also indicates that it was not an afterthought of his to do this. Nor was it an indication that somehow he had changed his mind. He is still the eternal God, the only God that exists. But it is good to remind ourselves that the sovereign God wants the gospel to spread everywhere.
Fifthly, Paul mentions what the response to the gospel should be – it is the obedience of faith. This description reminds us that genuine faith has several elements. There is trust in Jesus because there is recognition of who Jesus is as well as regarding what he did. The gospel includes the important assertion of his Lordship, that he possesses all power in heaven and on earth. Therefore, real faith is trust in him as the One who now reigns from God’s throne, having previously been the crucified Saviour who bore divine judgement on the cross because of our sins.
It is the gospel that brings all this about and since the message is all about what God has done, it is fitting therefore that he should be praised, and praise is what Paul declares in his doxology, ‘to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.’