1 Timothy 3:16
"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."
This verse, although controversial for some theologians because of its wording and its grammatical structure, is nonetheless believed by most to be a first century confession of faith, a fragment of an ancient hymn recited and sung as a creed by the earliest Christians.
So, let's try to dismantle this "mystery" and reflect on it phrase by phrase:
1) "Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness":
- "we confess", because the words that follow are just that: a confession or a declaration of our faith and what we believe to be true
- a "mystery", not in the sense of an obscure and puzzling riddle that cannot be understood; but a "mystery" in the sense of an insight into reality hidden from secular wisdom and made clearer only by revelation to believing hearts
- a mystery of "godliness", or God-likeness, or wholeness and completeness
- "great indeed", because that is precisely what this mystery of godliness is: a very significant and vital revelation of truth to live by in order to live a full and whole and complete life
2) "He was manifested in the flesh":
- "He" in the original Greek can also be translated "Who" or "God", as here the exact transliteration is uncertain; but the verse does seem to refer to Jesus because of the words that follow
- "manifested in the flesh" refers to Jesus' incarnation on earth: "The Word was made flesh... full of grace and truth; we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Begotten of the Father." (John 1:14); and again, "... every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God." (1 John 4:2)
3) "vindicated by the Spirit":
- "vindicated", or as it says in other translations, justified or made righteous - that is, Jesus was justified because first He was condemned: on the cross, He chose to take upon Himself the condemnation for all the sins of the world - at His death, with payment for sin covered by His own blood, and at His glorious resurrection, He was vindicated or justified by the Holy Spirit, and seen to be acceptable to God as He had always been: "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:17)
4) "seen by angels":
- and that He was: at His conception, at His birth, during the 40-day desert temptation, in the Garden of Gethsemane, guarding His tomb, announcing His resurrection, at His ascension into heaven - throughout His earthly life, at His death and resurrection and ascension, the heavenly angels were present to celebrate Him and to minister to Him
5) "proclaimed among the nations":
- Jesus Himself told the disciples one day shortly before His death on the cross, as He was forewarning them about the signs of the end of the age, "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14) - and again, just before He ascended into heaven, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
- and so it has come to pass: whether by foot, or by horse, or by jeep, or by launch - whether parachuted down in Bibles or Bible messages - whether by radio or television or today's all-reaching internet... the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ is truly being proclaimed in all the nations of the world
6) "believed on in the world":
- and as Jesus is "proclaimed among the nations", He is also being "believed on in the world", believed on for salvation and for life in His name - one day during the first century, the Apostle Paul and his coworker Silas declared to a fearful Philippian jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved..." (Acts 16:31) - the Apostle John finished his gospel with these words of truth: "But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:31)
- of course, not everyone in the world chooses to believe in Jesus: there are those for whom Jesus is a stumbling block, and others for whom He is foolishness - but for those who believe, Christ crucified is "the power of God and the wisdom of God" - for those who "are in Christ Jesus", He is to them "wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1 Corinthians 1:22-24,30)
7) and lastly, "taken up in glory":
- as it was written by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, "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.” (1:9-11)
You and I may never know, or be able to memorize, the universally-recognized Nicene Creed or the Apostles' Creed (although these short and concise statements of the Christian faith would so definitely be worth the effort to do so), but we can surely commit 1 Timothy 3:16 to memory. This 1 Timothy 3:16 "Creed" is only 35 words long; but as we have seen, it is a significant and vital revelation of truth to believe and to live by if we want to live a full and whole and complete life!
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