by C. Parker Thomas

(Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the January-February 1976 issue of the Midnight Cry Messenger.)

“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.” Eph. 5:30-32.

Too many think that believing in the virgin birth, blood atonement, the trinity or some other doctrine is what Christianity is all about. They believe in the Biblical record of Christ come in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth but do not understand the great mystery of Christ come in the flesh of his body, the church. They neither see nor understand this vital union.

Even as God was in Christ and the world of that day could not believe it, the world today cannot believe that Christ is come in the flesh of his body, the church. They believe he came 2000 years ago as Jesus of Nazareth. They believe he is in heaven today and will some day come back to this earth again. But they cannot believe that he is literally present now, in his body, the church. They can’t conceive of God dwelling in human flesh.

Many Aspects
There are many aspects of truth relative to Christ and his church that caused Paul to call it a “great mystery.” We must come to a knowledge of this truth if we are to manifest the life of Christ in the earth. Failure to see such truth strips the church of her power and glory in the earth.

A mystery, in the ordinary sense of the word, means something unexplained, unknown or kept secret. However the origin of the word (musterion, Gr.) had to do with a religious secret that could only be known or understood by those initiated into it. It is used 27 times in the New Testament and invariably has reference to spiritual things, or things that can only be discerned with the help of God’s Spirit.

Notice that Christ (Eph. 3:4), the kingdom of God (Mk. 4:11), the gospel (Eph. 6:19), the faith (I Tim. 3:9), and Babylon (Rev. 17:5), among other things are called mysteries. All things pertaining to the invisible realm or the realm of spirit (good or evil) are mysteries. Mysteries must be revealed by God himself. Daniel 2:22. I Cor. 2:11. No one, however brilliant or wise, can understand these mysteries. I Cor. 2:14.

Significantly, this mystery of Christ and his church was unique in that it was a “great mystery.” It was something that went beyond the ordinary in the realm of mysteries. The scope of this great mystery was something vitally important that we need to understand.

We cannot expect the unbelieving world to understand this great mystery, but the truth is, this blight of unbelief also greatly affects the church. How can we have faith to do great things when we do not really believe that God is with us?

An understanding of the many aspects of this “great mystery” will enable us to enter the realm of faith and power experienced by the early church. It takes the keys of truth to unlock the various aspects of this great mystery and to ultimately release the life of Christ through his body, the church. Daniel 11:32 says, “...But the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.”

A Union
Because of the nature of the union of man and woman in marriage, it is used as a type of the union of Christ and his body, the church. In the marriage union, man and woman forsake all others, including mother and father, to become one with each other. Taking precedence over all other relationships, the marriage union should be so complete that the two thus joined become one flesh.

Although marriage is a union of man and woman for life, it is an earthly relationship and therefore temporal. Matt. 22:30. Christ and the church is the union of God and man for eternity. Although it takes place on earth and involves our bodies and minds, it is spiritual, heavenly and eternal. I Cor. 6:17 says, “But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.”

Simultaneously with the union of God and man there comes a separation of man from those things that alienate him from God. This consists principally of having his own way, being his own lord in his own environment. The purpose of the gospel is to separate him from all this by showing him something far better than earthly treasures. Heb. 11:24-27.

There is a practical aspect to this separation that we need to see also. As long as we are a part of any society — national, racial, political, or religious — we listen to the voice of that society and reflect its belief and character. This is why the call of God involves separation from country, kindred and our father’s house. Gen. 12:1. God cannot speak to us as long as we are listening to the voice of our environment.

The purpose of the call of Abraham by Jehovah was to have a people separated from the mainstream of humanity unto himself. God wanted a people with whom he could make his covenant, people with whom he could share his eternal glory, a people to whom he could reveal himself and who would represent him in the earth. Through this separated people he would also reveal himself to others. This separation included Abraham’s country, kindred and his father’s house.

Coming over into the New Testament, we can see that the principle of separation still accompanies the call of God. “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” II Cor. 6:17-18.

A New Relationship
The call of God that separates us from the world of natural men joins us to the family of God through the new birth. Jn. 1:12-13, 3:1-16. This spiritual union that makes us one flesh with God’s family is part of the great mystery that transcends all earthly relationships.

When told that his mother and brothers desired to speak with him, Jesus answered and said, “...who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren.” Matt. 12:47-49. See also Matt. 10:34-38.

Surely it is significant that Jesus made a point of emphasizing his spiritual relationship with his disciples above that of his flesh and blood family. Ordinarily, such tender ties are not to be compared with any other relationship. To many, the most important thing on earth is their immediate family; this is their life.

Such devotion is good within certain limits. Beyond those limits, it becomes a form of idolatry that keeps men from God and works evil for all involved. This is because so very few have the grace of God to deny their own flesh and blood. Many children are spoiled and made unfit for life by over-solicitous parents who actually hinder them from developing and becoming responsible, self-reliant adults.

When God called Abraham from his country, kindred and his father’s house it was because he wanted to form a family of his own whose vision went beyond the confines of Abraham’s own selfish interests. As long as Abraham’s vision was limited to the problems, needs and desires of his own flesh and blood he could never really be interested in God, or God’s family and kingdom. This was true in Abraham’s day, in Christ’s day and it is still true today.

The natural man’s love for his own (Jn. 15:19) is a very poor type of God’s love for his eternal family. As Isaiah the prophet expressed it, God’s love is a love that never forgets nor forsakes its own. Isaiah 49:15-16 says, “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.” This also demonstrates why Jesus emphasized his relationship with his disciples over that of his natural mother and brethren. His vision went beyond carnal earthly relationship that is often vain and temporal. Like Abraham, he, too, was looking for that city where man’s relationship with God and his brother would be glorious and eternal. He understood that all earthly relationship ends at the grave but spiritual relationship continues on into eternity.

A New Fellowship
This new relationship also results in a new fellowship with God, the Father; his Son, Jesus Christ; and members of Christ’s body. I Jn. 1:3. Called a mystery by Paul in Eph. 3:9, truly it is a mystery to the world who cannot see nor understand such fellowship. Unbelievers feel ill at ease and out of place in the presence of true Christian fellowship; it can only be understood and appreciated by those who are a part of it.

There are many things that serve as a basis for fellowship in the world. These all vary according to the taste, culture and environmental training of the person. But when we come to Christ there is one thing which we all have in common that transcends all others: the reality of the living Christ who bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.

Regardless of our culture or geographical state, the love of God that dwells in us will bring us to the fellowship of the saints. I Jn. 5:1 says, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God; and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.”

Many Members
Another aspect of this great mystery is that membership in this body is open to every one who believes the gospel. Rom. 1:16, 10:12-13. From the entrance of sin into the world to this day, the human race has been split and divided into many divisions. Not only has man been alienated from God, but he has also been alienated from his fellow man, separated into many hostile camps. Christ, who is our peace, has broken down these walls of enmity and made us one through the cross.

The Bible still says, “For God so loved the World....” This love crosses all religious, social, economic and national barriers. When the church is moving in the power of the Holy Spirit, it crosses all barriers of prejudice and preaches the gospel to every creature. He that would have God’s power and blessings upon him must be free to move in God’s love.

I Cor. 12:13 says, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” At the coming of Christ, the principal wall of division was between Jew and Gentile. Thinking himself to be chosen of God, the natural Jew was blind to spiritual reality. Thinking themselves to be honored of God, the Jews despised the Gentile and rejected their Messiah. As natural descendants of Abraham, they had no claim on God or his covenant. Matt. 3:9.

Two Seeds
From Abraham there came forth two seeds, one natural and one spiritual. Gal. 4:22-23. Ishmael was the natural seed and Isaac was the spiritual seed. Rom. 9:7.

Unable to bear the reproach of being childless, Sarah gave her Egyptian maid, Hagar, to Abraham that she might have children by her. The result was Ishmael, a product of the flesh, a type of human effort or works. This is also a type of human religious effort in the professing church today — the results of which will never inherit the kingdom of God.

Isaac was supernaturally brought forth, according to God’s promise to Abraham. In fact, God purposely made Sarah barren and waited until Abraham was impotent to give them Isaac. He wanted them to know beyond any shadow of doubt that this son of promise, the true heir, was not a product of the law of nature. He also wanted them to know that the strength of his covenant was not dependent on human resources.

The true Jew, or seed of Abraham, was never the natural seed of Abraham any more than the natural seed of the Gentile is a Christian today. The true seed always has been and always will be spiritual. It is neither Jew nor Gentile, bond nor free. As Paul says in Gal. 3:29, “And if ye be Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

Advantage of Jew
It is true that until the coming of Christ and Israel’s rejection of him as their Messiah, the Jew had a definite advantage over the Gentiles; this was because the oracles of God were committed to them. The word “oracle” means “utterance of God.” They were favored in that they had God’s truth in the earth. Rom. 3:1-2, 9:4-5.

Until the coming of Christ, Gentile nations had no prophets and were destitute of the truth. This is why Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.” John 4:22.

However, there were individuals from among the Gentile nations that joined Israel and partook of the same covenant God made with Abraham. Examples are Rahab, the harlot, and Ruth, the Moabitess. Joshua 6:25, Hebrews 11:31 and Ruth 1:16. I might also add that the righteous line of seed that started with Adam in the garden continued through such individuals as Rahab and Ruth, showing us that Gentiles could partake of God’s righteousness as well as the Jew.

God’s purpose to have a family of his own with whom he could share his eternal glory did not start with Abraham. This was in the mind of God before the foundation of the world. Eph. 1:3-5. The elective process of redemption began with God’s provision of slain animal skins to cover Adam and Eve’s nakedness in the garden of Eden. Gen. 3:21.

A Remnant
Abraham and the nation Israel were simply part of the unfolding elective process in which God sovereignly purposed to choose from among all nations a people for his glory. Gen. 22:18. Rev. 7:9, 21:24. Actually Abraham fathered many nations (Gen. 17:4-5) in addition to natural Israel, which was not the true Israel of God.

True Israel was a very small remnant within the confines of the nation as a whole. Rom. 9:6-7, 9:27. Although God watched over and protected natural Israel, this protection was really for the sake of the true elect remnant. Were it not for this remnant, God would have destroyed the whole nation as he did Sodom and Gomorrah. Isaiah 1:9.

May I hasten to add that it is still this very small remnant in the earth today that keeps God’s wrath from destroying the world. As Israel the nation was favored and blessed because of the righteous remnant within, God has, in like manner, blessed and favored some of the Gentile nations because of the righteous remnant within them.

The fact that the righteous seed has always been a very small remnant in the earth is a revelation of no small magnitude. It is a truth that is born out in the Old and New Testaments. I Kings 19:14-18. Rom. 11:1-5, 9:27-29. It will be noticed in Rom. 9:29, where Paul is quoting from Isaiah 1:9, that it was necessary for God, by a sovereign act of election, to preserve a very small remnant of people. Otherwise, they would have all been destroyed by fire and brimstone as Sodom and Gomorrah were. In Elijah’s day, the number that God sovereignly spared out of all Israel was seven thousand.

Perhaps the greatest example of this tiny righteous remnant is the eight persons whom God delivered from death by the flood, through the ark. The earth was in such an apostate condition until only eight people believed God and fled to the ark for safety.

Coming over into the New Testament, we find it is still a very small remnant of people that had a heart for God and could recognize Jesus as their Messiah. The national rejection of Christ was almost total, and John considered it such by saying, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” John 1:11.

Jesus, himself, confirmed this principle of a small remnant of believers by saying, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Matt. 7:13-14.

The disciples themselves understood the Lord to teach this when they asked him, “...Lord are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate; for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” Luke 13:23-24.

Please note that the reason people are not going to get in is not because they don’t try. Undoubtedly, most of the religious effort put forth by mankind from the Garden of Eden to this day has failed to gain him an entrance into the kingdom of God. Like Cain, many have tried and have not been able. Jesus said, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Matt. 7:22-23.

The reason that Jesus warned us to beware of false prophets in Matthew 7:15 is because he knew they would religiously deceive most of mankind about the kingdom of God. Matt. 24:5.

Like Sarah, in order to gain converts, the church world, beginning with Constantine, has resorted to carnal methods. Instead of preaching the Word of God and depending on the Holy Ghost, the church has used proof-text salvation, evangelistic psychology and good works to gain their converts.

When Rome married the church, Constantine marched the soldiers by the thousands down into the water and had them baptized, supposedly converting them to Christianity. Rome isn’t the only one that has been guilty of making church members out of the unconverted.

Perhaps the greatest hindrance to the work of the church in our generation is the belief that great numbers, beautiful buildings and great religious works are the important things. (Is. 66:1-2). The church itself operates on the same premise as does the business world: so many contacts produces a certain number of converts. Instead of being a living organism manifesting the life of Christ, the church has become a vast organization geared to the methods and dictates of our modern business world.

Although it is rich and outwardly impressive to the world, its converts, like Hagar and Ishmael, are spiritually destitute! Christened when they are born, baptized when they are eight and confirmed at twelve, most of them go through life having never experienced the convicting power of the Holy Spirit. Once in a great while, one of them will be apprehended by the Lord and brought to the new birth through contact with God’s people. Though outwardly these sheep are numbered with the desolate group that has no head (Christ), inwardly they are one with Sarah and Isaac who are destined by God to inherit the promises. Gal. 4:22-31.

However, in spite of the futile efforts of the religious world in bringing forth far more Ishmaels than Isaacs, God is fulfilling his purpose through election. Elijah complained to God that Israel had thrown down his altars, forsaken his covenant and killed his prophets. In his despair, Elijah felt that he alone was left in the earth to champion the cause of Jehovah. The Lord’s answer to his overwrought prophet was that he had reserved seven thousand men who had not bowed the knee to Baal. I Kings 19:10-18. Romans 11:1-10.

Israel’s failure to apprehend the true righteousness of God, which is by faith, did in no wise hinder the plan of God to save his elect remnant. This remnant, foreknown of God from the foundation of the world, inherited the same promises as Isaac. These “children of promise” have never been cast away and never will be. Rom. 11:1-2.

Another marvelous thing about this remnant is that they are the true elect of God, and, in process of time, they will hear his voice. John 8:47, 10:26-27. The true church of Jesus Christ has a perfect evangelistic program. It is not dependent on advertising schemes designed to draw a crowd. Neither does it major on signs and wonders, nor does it exalt human personalities. It is dependent on the Word of God and the Holy Spirit to work in men’s hearts. And rather than produce Ishmaelites it will, if necessary, wait twenty-five years until God sends the son of promise, Isaac.

Although we are privileged to be a part of the great election process in the work of saving this remnant, God will not fail. Our weakness, our instability and human failure will not thwart the plan of our great sovereign God. Everything is moving according to God’s prophetic timetable. With strictest determinism, unwavering skill, and with irresistible authority, God is drawing us to the climax of the ages when our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will come with power and great glory to claim his remnant church.

In the meantime, let’s send the message, loud and clear. There is some lost sheep somewhere that will hear. One day, and it may not be long, the last lost sheep will hear his voice and join the heavenly throng.

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