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Sixth Edition, 1915
By Dr. John Thomas (first edition written 1861)



Chapter 1

Section 2

The Mystery of Godliness Apocalypsed In Symbol



"I am the First and the Last, and the Living One; and I was dead, and behold I am living for the Aions of the Aions; Amen."


The Apocalypse being a revelation of the mystery hidden in the prophetic writings, it is to be presumed that it would certainly not omit to exhibit that cardinal element thereof, styled by Paul "the mystery of godliness," which he says is "great." We find it, therefore, introduced to the attention of the reader in such terms and phrases as God, Jesus Christ, "He who is, and who was, and who is coming," "the Seven Spirits which is before his throne," "the Father of Jesus Christ," "the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and ending, the Lord, who is, and who was, and who is coming, the Almighty," "I am the First and the Last, and the Living One, and was dead, and behold I am living for the Aions of the Aions." These are very remarkable, and, apart from revelation, very mysterious and impenetrable sayings. There is One who speaks of Himself in them as "I;" and he saith of this "I" that he was "the First," "the Alpha," "the Beginning," "the Lord the Almighty." This is intelligible enough, and we readily comprehend that the Deity, the self-existing, and first cause of all things, is meant. We also recognize in the terms the epithets bestowed by the Deity upon himself in the prophets, and with a claim to them as his exclusively. But when we come to read the Apocalypse, we find the same terms applied to one who saith, "I am the First who was dead." This would very naturally suggest the inquiries, "Did the Deity, who is the creator and upholder of the universe, ever die? and while he was dead, how was that universe sustained? And, seeing that death is an utter destitution of all power, how was life restored to the dead creator of all things?" These are questions which obtrude themselves upon the thoughtful in view of these apocalyptic sayings. Apart from revelation they are unanswerable, for "the world by wisdom knows not the Deity;" and none by searching can find him out. Philosophy, then, cannot help us; for philosophy is the system of speculation elaborated by the thinking of the flesh, independently of revelation. A brain destitute of God's thoughts is unenlightened, and, of necessity, incapable of thinking, speaking, and writing correctly concerning Deity, either in relation to his essence, mode of existence, system of manifestation, purposes, or requirements. We are compelled, therefore, from very helplessness, to accept God's own account of these things, which is revelation, or to remain in hopeless ignorance of the truth.

There is then a mystery in the premises, which, as the apostle saith, "without controversy is great." By "mystery" is meant a secret - a secret which the Deity only could reveal. He has made it known, yet the revealed secret continues to be styled a mystery, in reference to what it was originally. Paul terms it "the Mystery of Godliness." In particularizing it, he shows that by "godliness" he means, a visible manifestation of Deity, testified and believed by men. In specifying it, he saith of the mystery, that it consisted, when revealed, of "Deity manifested in flesh, perfected in spirit, seen of messengers, preached unto the nations, believed on in the world, received up in glory" (1 Tim. 3:16). Here is Deity set forth by implication in two states - Deity before manifestation, and Deity in manifestation. Does the fact of manifestation transform Deity into that which is not Deity? Certainly not. Or, is not Deity in manifestation as much Deity as before he made himself visible? Certainly he is. The nature of the medium through which the manifestation is made does not change the nature of that which is manifested. Deity is Deity though He manifest his wisdom and power through mortal flesh. The mortality of the flesh does not necessitate nor imply the mortality of the Deity; nevertheless, Deity becoming flesh, and constituting a manifested individual, if that individual die, and be raised again to life, and Deity again enter into combination with the resurrected body, so as to transform it into substance like the divine essence; in other words, to make that spirit which was before flesh, and so exalt it to the Father, Deity may say, with the strictest propriety, "I am the First who was dead;" and yet, abstractly from the medium of manifestation, did never die.

The mystery of godliness is practically exhibited in the incarnation of the Word in the conception and anointing of Jesus; in the perfecting of his body at its resurrection, when Deity in Spirit was as visible to the apostles as Deity in Flesh had been to them before the crucifixion. They preached Deity in Spirit seen of men as a testimony to be believed: it was believed, and that extensively, producing, through the teaching predicated upon it, the most remarkable moral effects. "Believed on in the world," saith Paul, "received up in glory." Deity in Spirit having sojourned on earth with the sons of men for forty days, "received up in glory," where he has been, for the past eighteen hundred years, awaiting the appointed time to reappear in the world, not as Deity in Spirit manifested in one man only, but in "a multitude which no man can number" - a multitude, whose symbol is exhibited in the Son of man in the midst of the Seven Lightstands, the Head of whom is Jesus (Apoc. 1:11-18).

The Apocalypse, like the prophecy of Ezekiel, contains !hebrew! mareoth Elohim, "VISIONS OF ELOHIM;" that is, of Deity in Spirit multitudinously manifested. Ezekiel saw this in symbol, but did not understand the mystery of their development from the sons of Adam; for the great exemplar, Jesus, had not then solved the problem in his own person. The revelation of the mystery through him and the apostles has explained the principles, and shown how flesh may become spirit, or how a dark-minded pagan may be transformed into a manifestation of Deity in spirit. These principles in manifestation are individualized; and being so exhibited, they are symbolized, or indicated by signs, and graphically described in the imagery and writing of the Apocalypse. Hence, the mystery of godliness being so intimately blended with the visions of John, its signs and descriptions can not be intelligibly expounded apart from, or independently of, the scripture teaching concerning Deity. I shall therefore devote this section of my exposition to such an explanation as will, I think, enable the reader to comprehend the remarkable terms and phrases of the Apocalypse chosen by the Spirit for the communication of his ideas upon this deeply interesting and highly important subject. First, then, I propose to consider it under the aspect of

1. Deity before manifestation in Flesh;

2. Deity manifested in Flesh; and,

3. Deity manifested in Spirit.




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