[Gr., my·steʹri·on, from my·eʹo, to initiate, to instruct in things unknown before; used as a technical term for the ancient mystery religions. My·steʹri·on therefore means primarily that which is known to the initiated].
In the ancient mystery religions that flourished in the time of the early Christian congregation, those who wished to take part in the mystery celebrations had to undergo initiation; the uninitiated were denied both access to the so-called sacred actions and to knowledge of them. Those initiated into them were bound by a vow of silence, not to reveal the secrets. However, there was also a secular, “everyday” use of the word, such as for a private secret, a secret between friends, family secrets, and so forth. The apostle Paul uses my·eʹo in this latter sense when he says: “I have learned the secret [literally, “I have been initiated into secrets”] of both how to be full and how to hunger, both how to have an abundance and how to suffer want.”—Phil. 4:12.
GOD’S SECRET DIFFERENT FROM MYSTERY RELIGIONS
Concerning the Greek my·steʹri·on, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, by W. E. Vine (Vol. III, p. 97), explains: “In the N.T. [New Testament] it denotes, not the mysterious (as with the Eng. word), but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by Divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, and to those only who are illumined by His Spirit. In the ordinary sense a mystery implies knowledge withheld; its Scriptural significance is truth revealed. Hence the terms especially associated with the subject are, ‘made known,’ ‘manifested,’ ‘revealed,’ ‘preached,’ ‘understand,’ ‘dispensation.’”
The sacred secrets of God, and other “mysteries” of the Bible, such as that of Babylon the Great, are therefore things, not to be kept secret forever, but to be revealed by Jehovah God in his own time to those who look to him and to whom he chooses to reveal them. The apostle Paul discusses this aspect of matters at 1 Corinthians 2:6-16. There he speaks of the “sacred secret” of God as “hidden wisdom,” revealed through God’s spirit to his Christian servants; it is something that the spirit of the world or the human wisdom of physical men cannot fathom, but that is spoken and understood by those ‘combining spiritual matters with spiritual words.’ Jesus Christ earlier pointed out to his disciples: “To you the sacred secret [Gr., my·steʹri·on] of the kingdom of God has been given, but to those outside all things occur in illustrations, in order that, though looking, they may look and yet not see, and, though hearing, they may hear and yet not get the sense of it, nor ever turn back and forgiveness be given them.”—Mark 4:11, 12; Matt. 13:11-13; Luke 8:10.
The great difference between the sacred secret of God and the secrets of mystery religions is, first of all, in content: God’s secret is good news, and not a lie or man-made deception. (John 8:31, 32, 44; Col. 1:5; 1 John 2:27) Second, those who are chosen to understand the sacred secret of God are bound, not to keep it secret, but to give it the widest possible proclamation and publication. This is revealed, as noted in the foregoing, by the Bible use of terms such as “preached,” “made known,” “manifested,” and also “declaring,” ‘speaking,’ and so forth, in connection with the “sacred secret of the good news.” The Christians exercised the greatest vigor in telling this good news containing the understanding of the sacred secret to “all creation that is under heaven.” (Eph. 6:19; Col. 1:23; 4:3) It is God that determines who is not deserving and withholds understanding from such. God is not partial when he does this; it is because of “the insensibility of their hearts” that God does not open up to them the understanding of his sacred secret.—Eph. 4:17, 18.
CENTERS AROUND CHRIST
Since “the bearing witness to Jesus is what inspires prophesying,” the “sacred secret of God” must center around Christ. (Rev. 19:10) All the “sacred secrets” of God have to do with his Messianic kingdom. The apostle Paul writes to fellow Christians: “Carefully concealed in him are all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge,” and “it is in him that all the fullness of the divine quality dwells bodily.”—Col. 2:2, 3, 9.
Paul spoke of himself as having a stewardship of “sacred secrets of God.” (1 Cor. 4:1) He speaks of “the comprehension I have in the sacred secret of the Christ.” (Eph. 3:1-4) He explains that this sacred secret is hidden wisdom foreordained by God before the systems of things. (1 Cor. 2:7) The declaration of the mystery or “sacred secret of God” began with Jehovah’s own prophecy at Genesis 3:15. For centuries men of faith looked forward to the “seed” of promise to deliver mankind from sin and death, but it was not clearly understood just who the “seed” would be and just how this “seed” would come and bring deliverance. It was not until Christ came and “shed light upon life and incorruption through the good news” that this was made clear. (2 Tim. 1:10) Then the knowledge of the mystery of the ‘seed of the woman’ began to be understood.
The Messianic kingdom
In Paul’s writings he gives a full view of the revelation of the sacred secret of the Christ. At Ephesians 1:9-11 he speaks of God’s making known the “sacred secret” of his will, and says: “It is according to his good pleasure which he purposed in himself for an administration at the full limit of the appointed times, namely, to gather all things together again in the Christ, the things in the heavens and the things on the earth. Yes, in him, in union with whom we were also assigned as heirs, in that we were foreordained according to the purpose of him who operates all things according to the way his will counsels.” This “sacred secret” is an administration, a government, the Messianic kingdom of God. Through this Messiah and his Kingdom administration come the ruling of all things in heaven and earth to the glory of God. Jesus pointed out to his disciples that the sacred secret had to do with the Kingdom when he said to them: “To you the sacred secret of the kingdom of God has been given.”—Mark 4:11.
INCLUDES THE CONGREGATION
There are many features in the knowledge of the sacred secret. The apostle gave further details when he explained that the sacred secret includes the congregation, of which Christ is Head. (Eph. 5:32; Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:20) These are his joint heirs, with whom he shares the Kingdom. (Luke 22:29, 30) They are taken from among both Jews and Gentiles. (Rom. 11:25; Eph. 3:3-6; Col. 1:26, 27) This feature of the “sacred secret” could not be made clearly known until Peter was directed to visit the Gentile Cornelius and saw this Gentile household receive the gifts of the holy spirit, in 36 C.E. (Acts 10:34, 44-48) In writing to Gentile Christians, Paul told them: “You were . . . without Christ, . . . strangers to the covenants of the promise, and you had no hope and were without God in the world. But now in union with Christ Jesus you who were once far off have come to be near by the blood of the Christ.” (Eph. 2:11-13) Through God’s dealings with the congregation the “governments and the authorities in the heavenly places” would come to know “the greatly diversified wisdom of God.”—Eph. 3:10.
This congregation is shown in vision in the Revelation to John to be comprised of 144,000 persons “bought from among mankind as a first fruits to God and to the Lamb.” They are standing with the Lamb, Jesus Christ, on Mount Zion, the place where the “city of the living God, heavenly Jerusalem,” is located. In ancient earthly Jerusalem was situated “Jehovah’s throne,” with kings of the line of David seated on it; also the temple of Jehovah was there. In heavenly Jerusalem Jesus Christ is enthroned, and those of his temple, made up of ‘living stones,’ share his Kingdom rule. (Rev. 14:1, 4; Heb. 12:22; 1 Chron. 29:23; 1 Pet. 2:4-6) The resurrection of such ones to immortality and incorruption during the time of Christ’s second presence is one of the features of God’s dealings with the congregation, a “sacred secret” in itself.—1 Cor. 15:51-54.
THE SACRED SECRET OF GODLY DEVOTION
Paul wrote to Timothy: “I am writing you these things, . . . that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in God’s household, which is the congregation of the living God, a pillar and support of the truth. Indeed, the sacred secret of this godly devotion is admittedly great: ‘He [Jesus Christ] was made manifest in flesh, was declared righteous in spirit, appeared to angels, was preached about among nations, was believed upon in the world, was received up in glory.’”—1 Tim. 3:14-16.
“The congregation of the living God” had the truth, and it knew accurately the mystery or “sacred secret” of the true godly devotion, and the congregation had not only the form but also the power of such godly devotion. (Contrast 2 Timothy 3:5.) Hence, it could be the “pillar and support of the truth” in the midst of a world of error and false religion, the ‘mysteries’ sacred to Satan and those he has blinded. (2 Cor. 4:4) Jesus Christ himself is the One whose godly devotion was foretold and described in the inspired Hebrew Scriptures. For centuries, ever since the challenge was launched against God’s sovereignty, with the integrity of man being brought into question, it was a mystery or “sacred secret” as to whether complete, unswerving, unblemished godly devotion could be fully maintained by anyone upon whom the Devil could bring pressure. Who, if anyone, would be able to hold up under the test and come through wholly clean, without sin, and untarnished in exclusive devotion to Jehovah? Related to this was the question as to who would be the ‘seed of the woman’ that would bruise the serpent’s head. This would be fully revealed when Christ “was made manifest in flesh, was declared righteous in spirit, appeared to angels, was preached about among nations, was believed upon in the world, was received up in glory.” (1 Tim. 3:16; 6:16) This was admittedly a great thing. The great question of godly devotion centered around the one person, Jesus Christ. What greatness there was to Christ’s course of godly devotion! How it benefits mankind and vindicates and exalts Jehovah’s name!—See GODLY DEVOTION.
COMES TO A FINISH
In the apostle John’s vision, he was told: “In the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, when he is about to blow his trumpet, the sacred secret of God according to the good news which he declared to his own slaves the prophets is indeed brought to a finish.” (Rev. 10:7) This finishing of the sacred secret is closely connected to the seventh angel’s blowing of his trumpet, upon the blowing of which the announcement is made in heaven: “The kingdom of the world did become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will rule as king forever and ever.” (Rev. 11:15, NW, 1970 ed.) Accordingly, the sacred secret of God is finished at the time that Jehovah begins his kingdom by means of his Messiah or Christ. Jesus Christ spoke much to his disciples, God’s “slaves,” about the kingdom of God and said that the “good news of the kingdom” would continue to be preached right up to the end (teʹlos, Greek) of “the system of things.” After ‘the sacred secret of God is brought to a finish,’ the “good news” to be preached would therefore include what the voices in heaven announced: “The kingdom of the world did become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.”—Matt. 24:3, 14, NW, 1970 ed.