A Bible Study exploring all the 3:16s in the Bible as they illuminate
- the Human Condition
- God’s Revelation of His Plan
- God’s Fulfillment of His Plan (Current location of study)
- Our Response
“Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” – 1 Timothy 3:16
As we continue our look at God’s fulfillment of His plan, we’ve been looking at the transition from the ministry of John the Baptist to Jesus. Now, from a letter the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy during the rapid growth of the early church amid the preaching of the gospel, we find a succinct description of the fundamentals of the gospel.
In 1 Timothy 3:14-16, Paul takes a moment to remind Timothy why he is writing this particular letter. He says, in verse 15, “[that[ you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” His desire is to emphasize how Christians should be living among one another. But then he says, in the first phrase of this week’s 3:16 verse, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:” At this point, according to the literary form in the Greek language, he writes in poetry. Likely he is quoting a known hymn of the day.
It is not unusual for Paul to quote hymns. He did so in Philippians 2:5-11:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.“
He also quoted what was probably a hymn in Colossians 1:15-20:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.“
In both of these instances, Paul espouses some quite detailed theology. I’m not going to spend time unpacking these here, but just read them again carefully and reflect on them (by they way, that is what the term “selah” means when you encounter it in a Pslam). I’m also not going to embark on a long dissertation about modern worship music. Suffice it to say that I feel that many of the modern worship songs are shallow on theology and long on repetition of shallow phrases. Many of the older multi-versed hymns had some very nice theology packed in there!
Now regarding the rest of 1 Timothy 3:16:
“He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” – 1 Timothy 3:16
Let’s examine each phrase individually.
- He was manifested in the flesh – John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Also, 1 Peter 1:20 says, “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you.” A foundational truth about Jesus is that He is God in the flesh – God Incarnate. As Paul said above in the Philippians passage, “He emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Though he was fully God, he was also simultaneously fully human and willingly subjected himself to death for our benefit – to pay the price demanded of sin on our behalf.
- vindicated by the Spirit – The sufficiency of Jesus’ death on the cross was proven by His resurrection. According to Romans 8:11, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” Also, 1 Peter 3:18 says, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” Both of these passages indicate the role that the Holy Spirit played in Jesus’ resurrection. His resurrection was a physical, bodily resurrection (as opposed to being spiritual only). The fact that he was raised, and that His Spirit was given to believers provided evidence (vindication) of the deity of Jesus.
- seen by angels – Jesus’ arrival on earth as a human, and his ascension into heaven after his resurrection was heralded by angels. Luke 2:13 says, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!‘” Later Luke tells us in Acts 1:9-11, “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’“
- proclaimed among the nations – The spread of the gospel after Jesus’ ascension followed Jesus’ command in Acts 1:8 to be his “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts tells us of this spread and Paul reiterated is own personal call by God to take the gospel to the Gentiles when he met with the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. Paul relates this conversation in Galatians 2:2, “I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.“
- believed on in the world – The hymn that Paul is quoting here continues with the statement that the gospel not only was preached in the world, but it bore fruit by being believed. Regarding End Times Judgment, Paul told the church in Thessalonica (2 Thess. 1:9-10) that, “they will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.” The ultimate fruit of the gospel is the promise of eternity in Jesus’ presence for those who have believed him.
- taken up in glory – Not only did Acts 1:9-11 tell us that Jesus ascended to heaven, but we hear the testimony from the first Christian martyr, Stephen, as he was dying that he witnessed (Acts 7:56) “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Hebrews 10:12 confirms that, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,” Jesus resides in heaven now making intercession for us before God the Father and will one day return!
Next week we’ll begin looking at how God’s plan for the church began to unfold in Mark 3:16.