A Sacred Secret Unfolds
“The sacred secret of this godly devotion is admittedly great.”—1 TIMOTHY 3:16.
1. What secret is described at 1 Timothy 3:16?
DO MYSTERIES intrigue you? Do you enjoy delving into secrets? Most of us do! Join us, then, as we investigate one of the grandest of all secrets—a secret that was locked up in God’s Word for thousands of years. This sacred secret vitally affects our lives, both present and future. It is ‘the sacred secret of godly devotion,’ described for us at 1 Timothy 3:16. How thankful we should be to Jehovah, “the Revealer of secrets,” for graciously making known to us this sublime secret and its interpretation!—Daniel 2:28, 29.
2. (a) When did Jehovah first speak of a sacred secret, and what did he then promise? (b) What questions require answers?
2 Jehovah first spoke of a sacred secret after the Serpent had deceived Eve, and Adam had followed her into rebellion. God then promised that the “seed,” or offspring, would crush the Serpent’s head. (Genesis 3:15) Who is this Seed? How would he conquer the Serpent? Would he vindicate God’s truthfulness and His purpose toward this earth?
3. Divine prophecies provided what clues as to the identity and activity of the Seed?
3 In time, divine prophecies revealed clues as to the identity and future activity of the Seed. He would be a descendant of Abraham, would inherit David’s kingdom, and would be called Prince of Peace. ‘To the abundance of his princely rule and to peace there would be no end.’ (Isaiah 9:6, 7; Genesis 22:15-18; Psalm 89:35-37) But as Romans 16:25 states, that sacred secret was “kept in silence for long-lasting times.”
Solving the Mystery
4. How did the sacred secret begin to unfold in 29 C.E.?
4 Finally, after four millenniums, enlightenment burst forth! In what way? In 29 C.E., John baptized Jesus of Nazareth in the Jordan River, and from heaven God’s voice declared: “This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved.” (Matthew 3:17) Ah, here at last was the Seed of promise! The sacred secret had started to unfold in all its glorious facets, including the matter of godly devotion.
5. What is “godly devotion,” and how does it affect those practicing it?
5 What do we understand by “godly devotion”? In the Christian Greek Scriptures, the expression occurs just 20 times, more than half of these in Paul’s two letters to Timothy. The publication Insight on the Scriptures defines “godly devotion” as “reverence, worship, and service to God, with loyalty to his universal sovereignty.” Reverence proceeds out of a heart that draws close to God, in awe of his majesty, his eternalness, and the multiplicity of his grand creations, with thankfulness for the spiritual and material gifts that he showers upon appreciative humans. Truly, each one of us who practices godly devotion can say, as did the psalmist at Psalm 104:1: “Bless Jehovah, O my soul. O Jehovah my God, you have proved very great. With dignity and splendor you have clothed yourself.”
6. (a) How do worshipers of Jehovah differ from Christendom’s pew sitters? (b) What did Paul say at Romans 11:33, 34, and what questions are thus raised?
6 Our devotion to God must find expression, and this it does through actions. In this regard, worshipers of the true God, Jehovah, are vastly different from the pew sitters of Christendom’s fading churches. To many people on earth, religion—if they still have a religion—is a formalism, a cloak that is put on to make them appear holy while they live a life that conforms to the corrupt world around them. They do not even know who God is. Surely, such persons need to consider Paul’s words at Acts 17:23, when he said to Athenians who venerated “an Unknown God”: “What you are unknowingly giving godly devotion to, this I am publishing to you.” Concerning that magnificent God, Paul exclaims at Romans 11:33, 34: “O the depth of God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How unsearchable his judgments are and past tracing out his ways are! For ‘who has come to know Jehovah’s mind, or who has become his counselor?’” How, then, do we come to know God’s ways? It is through learning ‘the sacred secret of godly devotion.’ But how do we do that?
7. Why can it be said that “the sacred secret of this godly devotion is admittedly great”?
7 In 1 Timothy chapter 3, the apostle Paul first outlines what is required of responsible servants in God’s household, described in 1Ti 3 verse 15 as “the congregation of the living God, a pillar and support of the truth.” Then Paul adds, in 1Ti 3 verse 16: “The sacred secret of this godly devotion is admittedly great.” Great indeed because Jehovah sent his only-begotten Son to earth to unlock this secret, to demonstrate what godly devotion really is and how it is vital, pivotal, in true worship. The sacred secret of this godly devotion is illuminated in Jesus’ life course here on earth. All lovers of Jehovah must build their faith and their lives on Christ, who exemplified godly devotion. How, then, did Jesus clarify the sacred secret of godly devotion?
8. (a) What are the six facets of the sacred secret Paul describes at 1 Timothy 3:16? (b) Who is the “He” who is made manifest?
8 By divine inspiration, Paul answers that question. Here at 1 Timothy 3:16, he describes six facets of this sacred secret, saying: “He  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.” Who is the “He” who is made manifest? Obviously, “He” is the promised Seed, Jesus, who came to do God’s will. He is central to the sacred secret, making it truly great.
9. What proof is there that 1 Timothy 3:16 should not read: “God was manifest in the flesh”?
9 Trinitarians try to muddy up the understanding of the sacred secret by saying that “He” at 1 Timothy 3:16 is God himself. They base this on the King James Bible, which reads, “God was manifest in the flesh.” However, what do the most reliable Greek manuscripts say? Consistently, they use the pronoun “He” instead of “God.” Textual critics now agree that the insertion of “God” in this scripture is a scribal error. Thus, more recent translations, such as the American Standard Version, The New English Bible, and the New World Translation, correctly read: ‘He [or, He who] was manifest in the flesh.’ No, it was not God himself who appeared “in the flesh.” Rather, it was his beloved Son and first creation, of whom the apostle John wrote: “So the Word became flesh and resided among us, and we had a view of his glory, a glory such as belongs to an only-begotten son from a father; and he was full of undeserved kindness and truth.”—John 1:14.
“Manifest in Flesh”
10. (a) How did the first feature of the sacred secret become apparent at Jesus’ baptism? (b) Why did Jesus become “the last Adam”?
10 At Jesus’ baptism the first feature of the sacred secret became apparent: Jesus “was made manifest in flesh” as the anointed Son of God. Jehovah God had transferred his Son’s life from heaven to the womb of Mary so that Jesus could be born in the flesh as a perfect human. Thus, as 1 Corinthians 15:45-47 shows, Jesus became a second, or “last,” Adam, a perfect human soul corresponding exactly to the first Adam. For what purpose? First Timothy 2:5, 6 refers to “the last Adam” as “a man, Christ Jesus, who gave himself a corresponding ransom for all.” On this legal basis of a perfect human sacrifice, Jesus mediates the new covenant toward the 144,000 humans who become joint heirs with him in his Kingdom.—Revelation 14:1-3.
11. To whom do the benefits of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice extend?
11 Would others also benefit from Jesus’ sacrificial death? Positively yes! First John 2:2 states that Jesus Christ “is a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins [that is, the sins of anointed Christians like John], yet not for ours only but also for the whole world’s.” The benefits of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice thus extend far beyond the 144,000 anointed Christians to the entire world of mankind. “A great crowd” who are now living and thousands of millions who will be resurrected in the Paradise earth are to receive everlasting life on the basis of their faith in Jesus’ ransom sacrifice. Already, as prophesied at Revelation 7:9, 10, the great crowd have washed their robes and made them white by exercising faith in the shed blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. They are counted righteous as to friendship with God. With joy, they learn the various facets of the sacred secret and display godly devotion in harmony with Jesus’ example!
12. How was Jesus “declared righteous in spirit”?
12 What, now, of the second feature at 1 Timothy 3:16? Jesus “was declared righteous in spirit.” But how? By Jehovah’s raising his integrity-keeping Son from the dead to spirit life. This amounted to God’s declaration that Jesus was altogether righteous and worthy of further exalted assignments. As Romans 1:4 puts it, Jesus “was declared God’s Son according to the spirit of holiness by means of resurrection from the dead.” Confirming this, Peter tells us in his first letter, 1Pe chapter 3, verse 18: “Christ died once for all time concerning sins, a righteous person for unrighteous ones, that he might lead you to God, he being put to death in the flesh, but being made alive in the spirit.” Is Jesus’ example of godly devotion leading you to God?
13. The resurrected Jesus appeared to what angels, and what kind of message did he preach to them?
13 Continuing with 1 Timothy 3:16, Paul next refers to the third feature of the sacred secret, saying that Jesus “appeared to angels.” Who might these angels be? Concerning Jesus, now “made alive in the spirit,” Peter writes at 1 Peter 3:19, 20: “In this state also he went his way and preached to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient when the patience of God was waiting in Noah’s days.” According to Jude 6, those spirits were “the angels that did not keep their original position but forsook their own proper dwelling place” in the heavens. They took on fleshly bodies in order to enjoy illicit sex relations with women. When the Deluge compelled those angels to return to the spirit realm, they were thrown into Tartarus, a condition of utter debasement. (2 Peter 2:4) The resurrected Jesus preached to them. But was that a message of salvation? Definitely not! Rather, Jesus condemned their wickedness as being the very antithesis of godly devotion. Any of God’s people who toy with sexual immorality today should take warning from the judgment pronounced upon those angels!
14. How was it that Jesus began to be “preached about among nations”?
14 The fourth feature of 1 Timothy 3:16 is that Jesus “was preached about among nations.” How has this been fulfilled? Just before his arrest, Jesus told the apostles: “Most truly I say to you, He that exercises faith in me, that one also will do the works that I do; and he will do works greater than these, because I am going my way to the Father.” (John 14:12) Shortly thereafter, at Pentecost 33 C.E., Jesus poured out holy spirit on his disciples, and the startling news that “this Jesus God resurrected” began to be preached to the Jews. Later, Samaritans also accepted the word of God and began to receive holy spirit. (Acts 2:32; 8:14-17) Then, in 36 C.E., Peter preached to Cornelius and other Gentiles assembled in his house. Thus, the good news regarding Jesus began to be “preached about among nations,” that is, among non-Jews, who were also anointed with holy spirit.
15. What proves that first-century Christians had learned well the sacred secret of godly devotion?
15 As reported at Acts 12:24, “the word of Jehovah went on growing and spreading.” Acts 17:6 relates that in northern Greece opposers cried out, as they do there to this day: “These men that have overturned the inhabited earth are present here also.” Within 30 years, Paul could write from Rome that the good news had been “preached in all creation that is under heaven.” (Colossians 1:23) Christians of that time had learned well the sacred secret of godly devotion. How zealously they were applying it! And may we likewise learn and apply it in this climactic day of Kingdom preaching!
16. What was the fifth feature of the sacred secret, and what activity made it apparent?
16 In response to that first-century preaching, the fifth feature of the sacred secret of 1 Timothy 3:16 became notably apparent. Jesus now “was believed upon in the world.” This was a result of the Christlike godly devotion of zealous missionaries, including Paul and Timothy. They carried the good news into Asia Minor and Europe, perhaps as far as Spain, and into East Africa by the mouth of the baptized Ethiopian, while Peter served in Babylon.
17. Why is Jesus believed upon throughout the modern world?
17 What of our day? Since 1919 the anointed remnant have been exhibiting exemplary godly devotion. These anointed ones have built solidly on the foundation of faith laid by Jesus. Especially since 1935, they have proceeded to gather a great crowd, who rejoice in the prospect of passing through “the great tribulation” and enjoying everlasting life in a paradise earth. (Revelation 7:9, 14) Thus, the good news focusing on Jesus is believed upon throughout the modern world. In godly devotion, over 3,700,000 Witnesses of Jehovah are now preaching and prospering around the globe!
18. How was Jesus “received up in glory”?
18 One more facet of that sacred secret remains, the sixth: Jesus “was received up in glory.” During the 40 days after being made alive in the spirit, Jesus materialized fleshly bodies, appearing to his disciples and telling them “the things about the kingdom of God.” Then he ascended to heaven. (Acts 1:3, 6-9) His prayer, recorded at John 17:1-5, was thus answered: “Father, . . . glorify your son, that your son may glorify you . . . I have glorified you on the earth . . . So now you, Father, glorify me alongside yourself with the glory that I had alongside you before the world was.”
19. What must have attended Jesus’ return to heaven?
19 What great rejoicing must have attended Jesus’ return to heaven! Much earlier, when Jehovah founded the earth, “all the sons of God began shouting in applause.” (Job 38:7) Even more so must those angelic hosts have been overjoyed to receive again into their midst the loyal Champion of Jehovah’s sovereignty!
20. Why has Jesus inherited such an excellent name, and what did he do while on earth?
20 At Hebrews 1:3, 4, Paul says of the victorious Jesus: “After he had made a purification for our sins he sat down on the right hand of the Majesty in lofty places. So he has become better than the angels, to the extent that he has inherited a name more excellent than theirs.” Christ received that name because of his triumph over unrighteousness. This Son of God had indeed blazed the trail of godly devotion here on earth. He had also set a pattern for all others who will attain to everlasting life. With Jesus’ exaltation to God’s right hand in heaven, the sacred secret of this godly devotion was revealed in all its features.
How Would You Respond?
□ What is “godly devotion”?
□ How was Jesus “made manifest in flesh” and thereafter “declared righteous in spirit”?
□ To what angels did Jesus appear, and with what message?
□ How has Christ been “preached about among nations” and “believed upon in the world”?
□ When was Jesus “received up in glory,” and after doing what regarding godly devotion?