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A ‘GREAT’ AND ‘GREATER’ MYSTERY – Ephesians 5:30-33

Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on August 2, 2017 under AM Bible Study |

AM Bible Study Group; August 2, 2017 from Ephesians Ephesians 5:30-33

Theme: The distinct marital roles are sacred because of the mystery that marriage symbolizes.

(All Scripture is taken from The New King James Version, unless otherwise indicated).

We have been studying together from Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 5 about marriage. And if we sometimes find things to be a bit hard to grasp in his teaching, we shouldn’t be too surprised; because whether we knew it or not, we have been—all along—seeking to explore a ‘mystery’.

“Mystery” is a word that Paul has used in this marvelous epistle to describe something very important. In 1:9, Paul speaks of God having made known to us “the mystery of His will” through Christ. In 3:3-4, Paul says that God made known to him “the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)”. In 3:9, he speaks of his calling to “make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ.” And in 6:19, he asks his readers to pray for him, “that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel”. This “mystery”, then, is the gospel of Jesus Christ—that God unites Jews and Gentiles together into one new people, with Jesus Christ as their Head, and they as His body (see 1:22-23). It’s called a “mystery” because it is a spiritual truth that is not discovered by mankind through investigation and reasoning; but is that “which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (3:5; see also Colossians 1:26).

Paul speaks once again of a great “mystery” in Ephesians 5:30-33 with respect to marriage. But we shouldn’t take it to be with regard to a completely different “mystery” than the one Paul had been speaking of all the way through the rest of this letter. It’s the same “mystery” of Jesus’ union with the church by faith as is declared openly to us in the gospel. But here, we discover remarkable fact that earthly marriage is meant to be a picture of this great mystery now revealed through the preaching of Paul.

And that makes ‘marriage’ a truly wonderful symbol of this great and glorious mystery. It is a ‘great’ mystery that symbolizes a ‘greater’ mystery of Jesus’ love for the church.

Note how Paul speaks of …


He had been writing of the relationships between the wife and the husband—showing how the wife is to be submitted to her own husband as the church is to Christ (vv. 22-24), and how the husband is to love his own wife as Christ loves His church (vv. 25-29). Paul had written of how husbands “ought to love their own wives as their own bodies”; saying that “he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church” (vv. 28-29). And then Paul adds this remarkable affirmation: “For we are members of His body …” (Note that some ancient manuscripts of the Book of Ephesians here add “of His flesh and of His bones”, which is represented in some translations of the Bible).

Think of the wonder of this! The Son of God does not simply enter into a warm and friendly relationship with us as His people. He doesn’t simply welcome us as dear friends. He goes much further than we could imagine! In His great love for us, in the incarnation, He became one of us—a full member of the human race; and then unites us to Himself so that we are counted as permanent members of His own body! We are the body, of which He is the Head (see 1:22-23); so that now, He will never consider Himself to be complete without us. It would be impossible to think of a greater act of love for us poor sinners than this!—that Jesus would actually make us members together of Himself so that we will be united with Him throughout eternity! When He loves us, He is loving His own body! (And remember—as verses 28-29 tell us, this is to be the level of love with which the husband is to love his own wife!)

Paul goes on to take his readers back to the book of beginnings to show them …


Paul quotes a very familiar passage from the creation story in Genesis 2:24. After telling the story of how God formed the woman Eve from out of the rib of the man Adam; and of how Adam declared that she was now ‘bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh’; the Holy Spirit declares, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (v. 31).

In these words, we have the basic design of what constitutes ‘marriage’ in the sight of God. First, we note that it is the union of two distinct types—”man” and “wife” (only male and female). Second, it is the union of only two in number. Third, this union is based on the story of God’s creative work of making the woman from the man—taken from his side, so that she is part of him. And fourth, we note that, to be a marriage in the sight of God, these essential actions must have been taken: (1) the man making a complete separation by leaving father and mother (in a mutual agreement by which he steps out from under their parental home and jurisdiction), (2) that man then making a new union by ‘cleaving’ to his wife (in a legal and civilly recognized joining together that is so permanent that they cannot be separated from each other again without doing damage to both individually), and (3) becoming “one flesh” (not just in the sense of physical union, but also in the sense that a brand new ‘kinship’ is formed and recognized).

God’s marvelous design of marriage is truly a wonder all its own. It is—in a sense—a ‘mystery’. It is itself a thing that the Bible describes as too wonderful to understand (Proverbs 30:18-19). But here, Paul relates this great mystery to the greatest of all mysteries when he says of marriage, “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” In other words, this figurative ‘mystery’ that is earthly marriage is intended by God to be a picture to us of the literal spiritual ‘mystery’ that is revealed to us in the gospel: That Jesus Christ so unites Himself to His redeemed people—the church—that He becomes one flesh with His spiritual bride!

After contemplating this great and glorious mystery of Christ and the church, Paul brings it all back to bear upon earthly marriage and shows us …


You get a sense that Paul would like to go on talking about Jesus’ love for the church. But he returns to his purpose and then writes, “Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” And in writing this, he not only summarizes his instructions in verses 22-29; but makes it clear that the place to start in keeping these instructions is not with the earthly marriage itself, but with what it is that earthly marriage is meant to picture—the great love of Jesus for His church. If we are utterly overcome by the love Jesus has for us as His bride, and by how much He unites us to Himself—if we are enabled by the Holy Spirit, as Paul wrote elsewhere, to comprehend the unfathomable dimensions of this love for us (see 3:18-19)—then we will be motivated by His love for us to love our spouses as we should. The wife would then gladly submit to her husband as to the Lord; and her husband would then gladly give himself in love to her as Jesus does to the church.

* * * * * * * * * *

Marriage—as God designed it in Genesis—is something very sacred and worthy of protecting and honoring. It becomes a picture in this world of something very glorious, and that communicates the saving grace of God to a fallen world. May we, as our Lord’s people, bear witness of His gospel love through a faithful representation of it in our own marriages; for that is what the mystery marriage is meant to symbolize!

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