Question: What is Paul talking about when he says “this is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church“?
Answer: Paul had just been speaking of the married life of Spirit-filled believers as illustrating the affection of Christ towards His church. What he is saying, however, goes deeper than any mere analogy.
“For we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5: 30-32).
We believe this is the only reference in the Book of Ephesians to the coming of Christ for His saints. Paul is reminding us, in a simple but profound way, that when Christ leaves His Father in heaven He will be joined unto His bride, the church, and then they will be “one flesh” — in other words, believers will share Christ’s physical glorification.
“For our conversation is in heaven; from whence we also look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself” (Philippians 3: 20-21).
This change will happen at Christ’s parousia, when He establishes His tribunal in the lower heavens and the events of Revelation 4-19 begin to unfold. This parousia will take place over a period of seven years, ending with the full glorification of all the saved.
Christ leaving His Father and His mother (note: the Jerusalem above is the mother of us all – Galatians 4: 26) is just another way of saying that prophecy will be literally fulfilled. Christ will physically leave the “third heaven” and descend into the “first heaven” to raise His saints and bring judgments upon the guilty world.
This parousia will be established in the “air,” i.e., the region of clouds. Satan is now the “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2: 2), but as soon as the redeemed are glorified and caught up unto His throne (see Revelation 4: 1; 12: 5), Satan will be ejected and cast down to earth.
But the redeemed will be in glory. That is the point that Paul is making. Because believers have oneness with His physical humanity, their glorification will be of the same nature as well.
When Christ leaves His Father in heaven, “we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3: 2). This hope is a real and vital one, and inseparably connected with Christ’s death on the Cross and resurrection.
Note: If Christ died FOR us, then why do believers have to die? The answer is, they DON’T! Because He died FOR us, we should be expecting His return, and this is the “next thing” that Christians need to be looking for. Those who are alive when He returns will not undergo death.
“Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15: 51-52).
Nobody wants to die, not even believers. But Paul has taught us that death is not inevitable to the Christian. Glorification only awaits Christ’s physical return from heaven, which will occur without a moment’s notice. There is a lot of deep and precious truth in these thoughts..