Over the past several weeks in our church, we have been working through the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians. This book is lovely in so many ways. In Ephesians, we see gospel all over the place. We see the individual side of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. We also see the way that God reconciles peoples to himself, as the gospel unites Jews and gentiles into one people.
The creation of a new nation in Christ is something that Paul refers to as a mystery. What he means by this is that the truth of God’s ultimate plan was present in the Old Testament, but it was not something that people understood until God brought it to pass and explained it through his Spirit. As Paul tells us, “When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph. 3:4-5).
It was interesting to me, working through my daily reading, to run across a place where the mystery is hidden in the Old Testament. Take a look at this from Isaiah and see the mystery of God’s eternal plan.
5 And now the Lord says,
he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him;
and that Israel might be gathered to him—
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord,
and my God has become my strength—
6 he says:
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
How is this the mystery? How is the plan present but concealed here? Isaiah knew that God had created him and tasked him with communicating his word and truth to the nation of Israel. Isaiah was to watch as Judah continued to refuse to be faithful to the Lord and marched toward Babylonian captivity. But Isaiah also had a job to preach to the people the coming restoration of Israel. God would not keep Judah captive in Babylon forever. God would not leave the nation without hope. And we know that, after 70 years of captivity, God returned the people of Judah to their land.
When thinking of the mystery of God hidden in the Old Testament, peek again at verse 6: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” God says that it is too light, too small or little a thing for him to use Isaiah to preach only to the descendants of Israel. Yes, the restoration of Judah to the land will be glorious. Yes, the restoration of Jerusalem is a wonderful thing. Yes, it is glorious that God is continuing to preserve his promise to Abraham. But there is something greater. Isaiah will not merely preach to and about Israel, he will be a light to the nations. God wants Isaiah to preach things that will communicate salvation to the ends of the earth.
This is a great example of the mystery present in the Old Testament. Imagine that you were a Jew living a few hundred years after it was spoken. You would know that God had kept his promise to restore Judah to the land. You would know that Isaiah was a part of preaching the true plan of God for Israel. And you would see that last line. You would see that God says this is something about being a light to the nations. You would know that this was a true thing God would do. But you might not know how God would bring salvation to the nations. You would know Israel was involved. You would know that this is global and not local. And yet, the plan, the how, the nuts and bolts of what God is up to would have escaped you.
Paul tells us in Ephesians that he now gets to preach this mystery. The salvation for the nations that comes out of Israel is Jesus. The mystery hinted at by Isaiah but unclear to the Old Testament saints is that there is one salvation to preach to all nations. That salvation does not involve becoming a part of physical Israel. That salvation does not include getting under Old Testament temple worship. The mystery now revealed is that there is salvation by grace through faith in Jesus alone. The mystery is that the same salvation is available in exactly the same way for the Jew and for the gentile. And the mystery is that, in Christ, the Jew and the gentile become part of one new nation, one new family, one new spiritual temple of the Lord.
To Isaiah and the folks of the Old Testament, the idea of God preserving Israel and returning the Jews to the land would have been huge. In the mysterious plan of God, preaching only that is too light a thing. There is something greater, the ultimate plan of God. God was sending Christ through Israel to make for himself one new people, one nation of the redeemed, from every people on the planet. Anything less than seeing the people of God as a new people, a new nation, a new family is too small a picture of the plan of God.