The book of Colossians was written by the apostle Paul during his imprisonment in Rome around 60-62 AD. In chapter 4 verse 3, Paul requests prayer for an open door to proclaim the mystery of Christ:
and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel (Colossians 4:3 ESV)
So what exactly is this “mystery of Christ” that Paul wants to proclaim boldly? To understand this, we first need to look at some background information:
Background on the Book of Colossians
The church at Colossae was not planted directly by Paul, but likely by his coworker Epaphras (Colossians 1:7). This church was struggling with false teachings, what scholars often refer to as proto-Gnostic beliefs. These false teachings included:
- Emphasis on human wisdom, philosophy, and ascetic practices over Christ (Colossians 2:8)
- Denial of Christ’s deity and supremacy over all creation (Colossians 1:15-20)
- Focus on the worship of angels and lesser spiritual beings (Colossians 2:18)
- Strict rules about food, festivals, and Sabbath keeping (Colossians 2:16)
Paul writes this epistle to combat these dangerous false teachings and reinforce the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ for salvation. So when Paul refers to the “mystery of Christ” in chapter 4, he’s really summing up the main thrust of the entire letter.
Defining the Mystery in Colossians
The word “mystery” (Greek musterion) refers to something previously hidden or unknown but now revealed. Paul uses this term several times in Colossians to describe the good news about Jesus Christ:
“the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.” (Colossians 1:26 ESV)
Specifically, what has been revealed is that the Messiah has finally come in the person of Jesus, bringing both Jews and Gentiles into union with God through faith:
“the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:26-27 ESV)
Paul emphasizes that this incredible truth was previously unknown but is now fully disclosed through the gospel ministry.
Key Elements of the Mystery
Based on Paul’s letter to the Colossians, we can summarize the “mystery of Christ” in these key points:
- Jesus Christ is fully God. In combating proto-Gnostic beliefs that denied Christ’s divinity, Paul stresses that Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God and the creator of all things (Colossians 1:15-16).
- Jesus Christ is supreme over everything. Since Jesus is fully God, he holds the highest position of authority and honor. He is preeminent over all creation and powers (Colossians 1:18, 2:10).
- Salvation is found in Christ alone. Believers are reconciled to God and redeemed from sin through Jesus’ death on the cross. No human wisdom, philosophies, or rituals can save people (Colossians 1:22, 2:8).
- All believers are one in Christ. Jew and Gentile, slave and free—all distinction disappears when people are united to Christ through faith. He tears down all dividing walls (Colossians 3:11).
- Believers have died and risen with Christ. Those who trust in Christ spiritually participate in his death and resurrection. Their old sinful self has died, and they are reborn into new spiritual life (Colossians 2:12-13, 3:1).
- Christ lives in every believer. Not only did Christ die for sinners, but he remains present in those who have placed their faith in him. Paul describes this as “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
This is the wonderful “mystery” that has now been fully revealed and made known through the gospel of Jesus Christ!
Why It’s Called a Mystery
Why does Paul describe the message of Christ as a “mystery” in Colossians? There are several reasons:
- It was hidden from past ages. Although foreshadowed in the Old Testament, the full truth about Jesus Christ was not understood until after his death and resurrection.
- It transcends human understanding. The incarnation of God taking on flesh to redeem mankind is beyond human wisdom or philosophy (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).
- It requires divine revelation. People cannot know God personally or grasp the gospel apart from the illumination of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 16:17; 1 Corinthians 2:14).
- It initiates believers into a new reality. Those who trust in Christ enter the body of Christ and experience spiritual life and blessings they did not have before.
- It contains depths of meaning to plumb. There are always fresh angles and insights to gain about the boundless riches of Christ through ongoing study.
In summary, the “mystery of Christ” is the magnificent message of the Messiah now fully revealed in Jesus—but containing glorious truths we will never exhaust even for eternity.
Proclaiming the Mystery Boldly
Armed with this life-changing revelation, Paul longs to preach the gospel message openly and boldly. But He faces opposition and needs prayer to have doors of opportunity opened:
“At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison” (Colossians 4:3 ESV).
Paul was under house arrest when writing Colossians, with the threat of execution looming over him (Colossians 4:18). Even in such dire circumstances, he remains focused on advancing the gospel.
This serves as an inspiring example for all believers about priorities. No matter what opposition or restrictions Christians face, their chief aim should be proclaiming the good news of salvation in Christ alone. That is how more sinners get transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light (Colossians 1:13).
When believers make evangelism and bold gospel preaching their chief concern, they tap into divine empowerment beyond their natural abilities. Just as the Colossians prayed for Paul, the church today needs to pray that God would open doors and provide words to clearly communicate the mystery of Christ.
With the multitudes still lost and deceived by false philosophies, boldly preaching the superiority, sufficiency, and salvation of Christ remains as urgent in the 21st century as it was in the 1st century.
Applying the Mystery to Life
How should a proper understanding of the “mystery of Christ” impact believers’ lives and ministry?
- Trust completely in Christ. Rely on his death as the sole basis of forgiveness and right standing before God rather than human effort.
- Treasure Christ above all. Esteem knowing Jesus as supreme and dwell on his surpassing worth and beauty.
- Preach Christ from all of Scripture. See how every part of the Bible points to him so that he is central in all expository teaching.
- Walk in newness of life. Reckon the old sinful self as dead and live in the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit.
- Put on Christlike virtues. Pursue compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, thankfulness, and forgiveness.
- Guard gospel purity. Reject any modification or mixture of human philosophy that diminishes reliance on Christ.
- Engage in gospel ministry. Proclaim Christ boldly, make disciples, teach sound doctrine, and equip the saints.
The mystery of the gospel is not meant to remain hidden. As Paul says in Colossians 1:28, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”
Every local church should be engaged in the mission of gospel proclamation until the mystery of Christ is fully known throughout the earth as the waters cover the sea.
Key Verses About the Mystery
Colossians contains several other helpful verses about the content and purpose of the mystery revealed in Christ:
“Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.” (Colossians 1:25–26 ESV)
“For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:1–3 ESV)
In summary, Paul highlights that the mystery is specifically about who Jesus is and what he accomplished. And this amazing revelation was entrusted to Paul and the apostles to make known for the blessing of all nations.
The “mystery of Christ” Paul wanted to proclaim boldly in Colossians 4:3 is the wondrous good news of who Jesus is and what he achieved in redeeming sinners. This incredible message was hidden from past generations but now revealed through Christ and the apostles’ teaching.
This mystery encompasses Christ’s deity and supremacy over all things, along with the reconciliation, new life, and union with God that he provides solely by grace through faith. As the ultimate truth and highest treasure, knowing Christ should compel believers to preach the gospel, teach sound doctrine, and apply the riches of this mystery to all of life.
The mystery hidden for ages is now fully disclosed, bringing light and hope to the world. May the church continue Christ’s mission of conveying the glories of this boundless mystery to every people group until the knowledge of the Lord covers the earth as the waters cover the sea.