For the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, the church was a club for the saints. But the church that Jesus came to establish was not a club for the saints, it was a hospital for sinners. A place where they would be changed and healed. We must never forget that. Sometimes when we come to church we look around us and say, “Look at that brother or that sister.” But that is not what we are supposed to be looking at. When you go to the hospital, do you say, “Oh, no, I should not be here. Look at that man. He is sick! Look at that lady. She is sick! Everybody in this building is sick. I do not think I should be here”? Of course not! You are all there to get well. It is the same with the church. We do not go to look at each other with our faults. We go to look at Jesus, the Great Physician. Jesus wants to heal us from the sting of sin. That, Paul says, is the great mystery. “Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness. God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory.” 1 Timothy 3:16. Satan hates this verse of Scripture. The devil does not like any part of the Bible, but there are certain parts that he especially hates. 1 Timothy 3:16 is one of those verses.
In the early centuries, before the printing press was invented, the only way you could get a copy of the New Testament was if someone copied it out by hand. There were professional copyists in those days, called scribes.
There were many scribes who copied the entire New Testament. We have over five thousand ancient manuscripts of the New Testament, although not all are complete. That is more than the writings of Homer or of any of the Greek philosophers or historians. In fact, there are more copies of the New Testament than any other ancient document.
In the ancient world, after the time of the apostles, there were two places where a gigantic apostasy developed against the true Christian faith. One was in Rome and the other in Alexandria, Egypt.
In Egypt by the second and third centuries there developed a counterfeit Christianity. Because Egypt is a desert country, we have many manuscripts from the third and the fourth centuries, whereas most of the other manuscripts we have, from other parts of the Middle East, are later copies.
In all the manuscripts there are mistakes. But in the Egyptian manuscripts we find not just random mistakes, but the type of mistakes that indicate to us that there was a conscious attempt by someone to weaken the testimony of the New Testament about the divinity of Jesus Christ.
That is one of the major reasons why many conservative Bible scholars, for many years now, have said that they do not have confidence in the Egyptian manuscripts. They instead have confidence in the great majority of the manuscripts of the New Testament from different areas.
In this text, I Timothy 3:16, it says, “God was manifested in the flesh.” In the Egyptian Manuscripts the word “God” is left out. This is the way it was done. The word for “God” in the Greek language is Theos. If the first two letters (“Th” in Greek is one letter) are removed, then just os is left. “Os” is a pronoun, and this makes the verse completely nonsensical. There is no appropriate antecedent for this pronoun in the sentence. Versions translated from the Egyptian manuscripts read like this, “He was manifested in the flesh.”
The majority of the modern translations of the English Bible are translated from the Egyptian text and are, therefore, not as accurate as Bibles that are translated from the great majority of Greek manuscripts. Read 1 Timothy 3:16, in your Bible. If the word “God” is left out it means that your Bible was translated from an Egyptian text. It would be well to get a Bible that is more accurate, such as the King James or the New King James versions.
God In the Flesh
The New Testament states unequivocally that Jesus is God. He is a divine person. “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21. This is the prediction that Mary, who was a virgin, would produce a child, conceived by the Holy Spirit. His name was to be called Jesu, or in the Hebrew language Joshua, or in English Jesus. That name means a Savior, or a Deliverer.
Who is this Jesus, who is going to save us from our sins? It says in Matthew 1:23, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, God with us.” Matthew 1:23. He is God, God with us, God in the flesh.
The New Testament states this over and over again. Jesus existed before He was born of Mary. “John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, ‘This was He of Whom I said, He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ ” John 1:15.
John the Baptist was six months older than Jesus, yet, he said that Jesus was before him. How much before? “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” John 17:5. “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” John 17:24. Jesus said to His Father, “I remember the love You had for Me before the world existed.”
How long before the world was? “But you, Bethlehem Ephratah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” Micah 5:2. God the Father is saying that the one born in Bethlehem had been with Him from the days of eternity.
God has always been. In our human speech, when we go as far back as we can, we call that the beginning. The Bible says that in the beginning God already was. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning (you cannot go back beyond that) was the Word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:1–4, 14.
A person would have to be God in order to fully reveal God, because God is infinite. No created person could reveal the Father completely. Jesus could do what no angel, or created person could do. “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, Who is the Head of all principality and power.” Colossians 2:8–10.
Many Christians do not believe that verse. Yet, it is still in the Bible. “You are complete in Him Who is the Head.” That is the Chief, the One who is in control. The head is the top of the body. He is the head of all principality (rulers) and powers.
Seen by Angels
“Great is the mystery of godliness. God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels.” As being part of this great mystery Paul talks about Jesus being seen by angels. What was it that was seen by angels that was so mysterious? When Paul said Jesus was seen by angels, he was not only talking about God’s angels. He was talking about the devil’s angels, also.
The book of Revelation teaches that the devil has angels. There were angels that joined the devil in his rebellion against the government of heaven.(See Revelation 12:7–9.) Part of this great mystery is that when Jesus came down to this world, He was manifest in the flesh. The angels—the people in the heavens —saw something. What was it that they saw?
They saw what the great men of the earth saw as described in Psalm 48: “For behold the kings assembled, They passed by together. They saw it, and so they marveled; They were troubled, they hastened away. Fear took hold of them there, and pain, as of a woman in birth pangs, as when you break the ships of Tarshish with an east wind.” Psalm 48:4–7.
Jesus was crucified during the celebration of the Passover. At that time there were kings, representatives from foreign courts, nobles, princes—men who exerted a wide influence in the world, assembled from all parts of the world in Jerusalem for the Passover. These people witnessed the scenes of Christ’s death.
Many Jews read the inscription on the cross, and it caused such a stir that the chief priests went to Pilate and said, “Please change what you wrote, because it is having such an effect on the people.” It was at that time, when the kings, nobles, and so many important peoples were watching, that Jehovah struck a blow that was felt and has been felt all over the world. The tidings of Christ’s trial and crucifixion were taken by these people to all parts of the world.
This was by divine foreknowledge and decree, because God wanted all the people of the world to focus their attention on the meaning of what happened when Jesus died on the cross. That is to be the all absorbing theme. Everyone in the world is invited to look, to study, and to understand. That is to be the great center of attraction in our world.
The angels of heaven want to understand what happened. Peter, when writing to the Christians later in his life, said the angels desire to understand this great mystery.
What was seen on Calvary? One of the things seen was that God’s throne is a throne of justice. Many today have forgotten all about God’s justice. But the cross proves that our God is a God of justice. When His law is broken, the price has to be paid. It cannot be overlooked. The sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross paid the price for our sin. It also restored honor to God’s government which had been under attack.
Satan said to God, “You cannot be just and forgive the human race of their sins.” God said, “Yes, I can.” The cross is an unanswerable argument. At the end of the world the result of the cross upon the heavenly universe, upon satanic agencies, and upon everyone in this world will be, as the Bible predicts—every mouth will be stopped. In making this infinite sacrifice, Christ exalted and honored the law.
Many things are revealed at the cross besides God’s justice. God could have been just and destroyed the whole world. When man rebelled against God, God could have been just and righteous and destroyed every sinner in the world. God is just, but His character is infinite, it involves more than justice. It is merciful. Even though the devil claimed that God could not be just and merciful, the cross proved this also.
The cross proved that God is right, and the devil wrong. Was the penalty paid, terrible? Jesus exhausted the wrath of God against a broken law. He exhausted the penalty so that you and I would not have to pay it.
The cross shows that God is just and shows at the same time that He is merciful. It shows that His hatred against sin is as strong as death, but it shows that His love for sinners is even stronger than death. When it is all done, and God presents to the entire inhabitants of the world a panoramic view of the life and death of Christ, every mouth will be stopped, every rebellious voice silenced. God will have done everything that He could do to save each one. No one will be able to say to the Lord, “Lord, I had a bad inheritance, I had a poor marriage partner, I had bad health, or I had trouble on my job.” Every mouth will be silenced. God will say, “I did everything possible to save you. There were abundant opportunities for you to be saved. All you had to do was accept, all you had to do was commit your life to Me and I would have helped you. The plan of salvation would have worked out in your life.” What are you going to say when the Lord presents to you millions of other people that were just as weak as you were?
He will be able to show you people who had just as bad a marriage as you had, just as bad health as you had, just as much trouble on their job as you had, and all the kinds of trouble you had. Yet they committed their lives to Christ and He saved them, why didn’t you? What will you say? The Bible says every mouth will be stopped. It is the cross that will stop the great controversy.
The cross of Jesus has a dark side and a light side. The light side is how much God loves you and me. God loves you enough that He would rather die than leave you lost.
The dark side is this: God’s Son was permitted to endure the enmity of an apostate, called Satan, against the commander of all heaven. It was demonstrated what Satan was like.
This was predicted in the Bible. “Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, behold, this child is destined for the rise and fall of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes a sword will pierce through your own soul also) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Luke 2:34, 35. What does it mean that the thoughts of many hearts are going to be revealed?
When Jesus came, the character of God was revealed to the whole universe. His justice, His mercy, His love for the lost, His kindness, His tact, His courtesy, His cheerfulness, His helpfulness, and His tender compassion. The character of God was perfectly reflected to us through the life of Christ.
The thoughts of God are revealed through the life of Jesus. God loves you so much that He would rather His Son die on the cross than you be lost. This is impossible to explain. We cannot understand the love of God, but it is real. The life of Christ revealed the thoughts of God’s heart.
The heart of the devil was also revealed. The heart of the devil had never been revealed before like it was when Jesus was on earth. It was the devil who inspired the men who crucified Christ. It was the devil who stimulated the people to taunt Christ, and the Roman soldiers to mock Him. He persuaded Pilate to condemn Jesus to crucifixion, even after Pilate said three times in the most emphatic language, “I find in Him no fault at all.”
The thoughts of the devil were revealed. But that is not all. In the life and death of Christ your heart is revealed. When you read the story you will take one side or the other. Either you accept Christ, or you deny Him and become His enemy. You cannot be neutral. When you read the story of Christ, especially about His crucifixion, you have to go one way or the other.
When you see that the devil has no mercy, but is only cruel, do you want to follow him any more? “Oh,” somebody says, “I have never been following the devil.” Oh? I wish I could say that.
Who is following the devil and who is not following the devil? “He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” 1 John 3:8. Jesus wants to destroy the works of the devil. He was manifested to deliver us from sin.
The people who are given eternal life will be people in whom the Lord Jesus has destroyed the works of the devil, delivered them from sin. Do you want to be part of that group? Do you want Jesus to deliver you?
Sin is cruel. Sin is not something that anyone would want to have anything to do with. We see when we study the cross, it would be better for us to lose our lives than to be involved in sin.
“Great is the mystery of godliness. God was manifested in the flesh . . . seen by angels.” Is this mystery going to change your life? Are you studying about it, thinking about it, praying about it? Are you saying, “Lord, I want this salvation that was worked out for me in the life of Jesus on the cross. I want this salvation to change my life. I do not want to follow the devil any more. I do not want to live a life of sin any more.”
Has this been your experience? It is a great mystery. It is beyond our understanding. But we serve a God of mysteries, a God of miracles, a God that wants to work a miracle in your life and mine.