Paul often exhorts and explains from the deep and hidden mysteries of God. This is with relation to the nature of God, his redemption and the glory to be revealed. It is profitable for us as believers who are seeking to know the mysteries of the end of the age and the age to come to apply ourselves to understand what the scripture says about how we should approach such mysteries.
It is interesting to note that at the time of the New Testament there was a sect of the Jewish nation that devoted much of their time to studying the Jewish prophecies. They knew the scriptures so well that they could easily quote where the Anointed One of Israel would come.
When Jesus was born King Herod called this sect of the Jews to him
When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
” `But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’ “
– Matthew 2:4-6
The Pharisees didn’t need time to go and search the scriptures – their scripture knowledge was sufficient. They knew immediately that Bethlehem was the place.
Later in Jesus life, we discover the Pharisees still retained this knowledge – after all it was concerning their Messiah! This point about Bethlehem became a bone of contention, Jesus had grown up in the Galilee, most probably spoke with a broad Galilean accent, yet the Pharisees argued among themselves that Jesus could not possibly be the promised Messiah because he didn’t come from Bethlehem.
Others said, “He is the Christ.”
Still others asked, “How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” – John 7:41-42
Their scripture knowledge had puffed them up with pride, so much so that they refused to even ask about Jesus’ background. Jesus, who had been born in Bethlehem, from the line of David, was standing before them, but they assumed they knew better. The scripture had to be fulfilled, but even though the Pharisees knew the words, they refused to let the spirit of the word dwell within them. Jesus even challenged them with this deficiency in their theology.
And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
– John 5:37-40
By this we understand that our approach to scripture must not simply be a search for knowledge – knowing the words on the page, knowing and debating among themselves all the mysteries of God did not bring the Pharisees eternal life, in fact it may have brought the very opposite. Because they claimed they could see they were condemned (John 9:41), Jesus even saw them as a pit of snakes in danger of an eternity in utter darkness. (Matthew 23:33)
Therefore, what should our approach to such study of end times look like? Paul gives some very wise counsel in his letter to the Church of Corinth. Paul often prophesies in his letters – rather than saying “thus says the Lord” Paul will often explain a “mystery” of God. However in the midst of his exhortation to the Church of Corinth about pursuing spiritual gifts and especially the gift of prophecy, Paul inserts an exhortation – one of the most famous passages in the New Testament.
And now I will show you the most excellent way.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
– 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Paul was the epitome of a legalistic self righteousness Pharisee that Jesus condemned. He was a Pharisee of Pharisees, yet he was also a trophy of grace. I have imagined Jesus standing before the Pharisees, even until his final condemnation and seeing the worst of all that he condemned, purposing in his heart to take the worst of these Pharisees, redeeming them and transforming them into an apostle to the gentiles – I think he executed this plan with Paul. Undoubtedly Paul would have known the scriptures as well as any other Pharisee of his age. He looked into the very ‘mysteries’ of God, yet he admitted to the Church of Corinth – even if he had worked out all the mysteries of the end of the age, even if the miraculous powers that he operated in were more than double any one in history, even if he could commune with angels – If Paul did not operate with a spirit of love then all this meant nothing, absolutely nothing.
But what does this spirit of love look like in relation to studying the mysteries of the end of the age? We can gain much by looking at the rest of chapter 13 of the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul spells out in clear terms what this type of love looks like. However, he doesn’t really relate it to the study of end times. To find out someone who operated in this spirit, if we do a simple word study on the English word ‘mystery’, it is apparent in the English translations it only appears in the book of Daniel, in Paul’s writings and in the book of Revelation, therefore a good answer to this question is probably found in studying the life of Daniel. Daniel a man with an excellent spirit in whom the spirit of the Holy God dwelt. Here we find the answer of what the way of love looks like when lived. Daniel was a man of prayer, of fasting, a man in whom no deceit was found and the mysteries of the end of the age were revealed to him.
So as we continue our studies the stark challenge is put before us – will our study of the end times look like the study of the Pharisees or will we follow the way of love and have Daniels lifestyle of prayer and fasting.