What Are Mysteries?



The Greek word shown above is musterion, as it is spelled in our alphabet.  It is the word that is the basis for our English word “mystery.” 

Yeah, you are probably saying, “It’s all Greek to me!” 

However, Jesus’ teaching relates that mysteries are secrets that God wishes to make known to His people.  God wants you to know His secrets, but His wisdom may only be revealed to those who are earnestly seeking His wisdom through the Holy Spirit, having been given new life through Christ Jesus.

After telling the gathered crowd His parable of the “Sower” (see Mark 4), Jesus relates the following to His disciples, “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables.”  What does Jesus mean?

First, the most basic understanding of Jesus’  parable is not to be found by taking the story literally.  So often we are told that the Scriptures must be interpreted literally, according to their most basic meanings.  At the literal level, the story tells how a farmer sows seeds to obtain a future crop, and unless we are interested in the history of horticulture or farming, the story gives us little we don’t already know.  Therefore, Jesus’  purpose was not to instruct farmers on growing crops or planting in good soil as opposed to hard, rocky ground that may be filled with weeds.

Instead, by applying this story in a deeper sense and finding the underlying “mystery,” we may find what godly wisdom is, knowing the plans and purposes of God.

Jesus gives us an interpretation of His parable because even his disciples were unable to comprehend the story’s meaning.  He asks them, “Do you not understand this parable?  How will you understand all the parables?” (4:13).  Clearly, understanding how this parable functions will enlighten us in terms of how all of Jesus’ parables function and much more.


Reading in the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (1:18-2:16), we find a remarkable statement that reveals some of the principles of biblical interpretation:

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  • We cannot rely on human wisdom to understand the wisdom of God.  In fact, God has made the wisdom of the world to be foolish (1:20), and neither the “signs” of the Jews, nor the “wisdom” of the Greeks revealed to humans that Jesus Christ is both the wisdom and the power of God.
  • The Apostle Paul spoke to the Corinthians not with clever speech or worldly wisdom.  Instead, Paul says he spoke God’s wisdom in a “mystery,” the “hidden wisdom” which God predestined  before the ages to our glory.  Merely reading the Bible like we would a daily newspaper, therefore, will inadequately reveal God’s wisdom to us.
  • The wisdom of God is received not through the spirit of the world but through the Spirit of God (2:12) so that we may know the things God has freely given us (2:13).  Paul says that he speaks not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught in the Spirit, “combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (2:13).  Therefore, we cannot use “common sense” or what “seems right” to determine what the Holy Spirit wants to reveal to us.
  • Only a spiritual person, one inspired and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, can understand God’s wisdom and insights because they are spiritually understood (2:14).  Therefore, discernment is necessary to know whether the interpretations we are hearing or receiving ourselves are God-given.
  • God’s mysteries are spiritually discerned and understood, Paul says, because “We have the mind of Christ” (2:16).  In addition, we have the Holy Spirit as our teacher, the one imparted to us by Jesus himself!  Speaking to his disciples, He said, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  But when He, the Spirit of truth,comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.  He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and disclose it to you” (John 16:12-14).  Therefore, since Jesus related that “My sheep hear my voice and another they will not follow,” we may confidently respond to the wisdom revealed to us by the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s teaching in these verses should help us all understand more fully how to hear from God, read the Scriptures, listen to sermons, and read Christian literature.  The Word of God is unfathomable, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (Romans 11:33).  Therefore, merely looking for simplistic meanings (literal only) is meaningless.


  • The Apostle Paul counseled Timothy, his disciple, to work diligently (or study) to show himself approved by God, accurately handling the Word of Truth (II Timothy 2:15).  Therefore, we need to be wise, not foolish.  We need to seek the counsel of wise teachers who evidence to “Fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23) and are recognized as Pastors and Teachers in the Body of Christ.  We cannot fall into the trap of thinking, “I have no need of you” (I Corinthians 12:23), for we are all part of the Body of Christ.
  • We must avoid what I call “Bible Roulette,” merely opening the Bible with our eyes closed and pointing with our fingers to a passage.  What if a person were to point first to where Judas went out and hanged himself after betraying Christ, then pointed again to another passage that says “Go and do likewise”!
  • Realize that God will not contradict Himself since He is the Lord who will never lie or deceive.  All interpretations of the Scriptures must find agreement with what the Bible says elsewhere, while we must understand that His ultimate purposes and will were not always apparent at first.  Prophecies, for example, may speak of times in the future, even hundreds of years distant.

Please be aware that the terms “mystical”  or “mysticism,” as they are commonly used today are not to be confused with what I mean in these blog posts.  In no way am I condoning the following:  “Belief characterized by self-delusion or dreamy confusion of thought, especially when based on the assumption of occult qualities or mysterious agencies.”  Nor am I alluding to the kinds of stories Arthur Conan Doyle relates about Sherlock Holmes!


  • By Nate Hosley, June 5, 2014 @ 4:22 pm

    Charles…This blog is a wonderful idea and you made my day today. This discernment that you speak of is a gift that I pray for often. It seems that it would be so easy to ignore the spiritual and lean toward the literal in so many biblical readings…but, to do so cheats us of the absolute beauty and richness of scripture. My best to you and I will be a regular visitor to your site. Nate

  • By Timothy Dobos, June 6, 2014 @ 10:37 am

    Chuck, I have finished reading each of your posts.
    Thank you for taking the time to analyze the Scripture. Many people do not even read it, let alone analyze or meditate on it.
    The book of Revelation speaks of a blessing its readers. I believe that blessings come to those who read and meditate on other Scriptures as well. You are blessing others by sharing your insight, while receiving blessings yourself.

  • By Patrick Kennedy, July 8, 2014 @ 11:39 am

    I’ve always thought that Jesus spoke in parables so those who really ‘wanted it’ could figure it out but not so plainly spoken that it was automatically understood.

    It’s the character of God to make things plain enough to those who really seek, but hidden enough that it doesn’t make it obvious. If the meanings were obvious (along with miracles, and his presence in general) then how could anyone have free will? We’d all be fans of the cosmic vending machine.

    This way, he gives you enough that if you really want to know, it’s there, but if you put zero effort into figuring things out, then you won’t learn.

    He who has ears, let him hear. At first I thought that was silly, because we all have ears, but I now believe it’s more about HEARING than LISTENING. There is a difference.

  • By Patrick Kennedy, July 8, 2014 @ 11:40 am

    I can’t edit the above post, so I’ll clarify. I mean that it’s one thing to hear someone talking, but quite another to actually listen to what is being said and apply it.

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