Skeptics of the special revelation given to Paul are quick to point out that there were people “in Christ” before Paul.
“Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” – Romans 16:7
Out of the 78 times in the Bible the phrase “in Christ” shows up, Paul uses the phrase 75 times. It is clear that the phrase is distinctively Pauline.
Afterall, to Paul was revealed the mystery of God’s will that…
“in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:” – Ephesians 1:10
The all things in Christ consist of the prophesied earthly things, but also the heavenly things revealed as the mystery of Christ kept secret since the world began.
It is evident that God’s purpose has always been for all things to be in Christ.
So, when Paul describes Junia and Andronicus as being “in Christ before me”, this is seen as an admission that those before Paul taught the same thing as him. Yet, this would be an hasty conclusion since merely being in Christ is not the mystery of Christ kept secret since the world began (Rom 16:25). Both the prophets and the Lord in his ministry to Israel talked about being in him.
We can read in the prophets that Israel would be justified in the Lord:
“In the LORD shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.” – Isa 45:25
Throughout the prophetic writings finding refuge in the Lord was a common theme. Being glad, rejoicing, and resting in the Lord were common admonitions.
That salvation was found in the Lord, and subsequently in the Lord Jesus Christ was no mystery.
Peter and the twelve, along with Adronicus and Junia, had to be in Christ according to God’s earthly prophetic purpose.
The phrase “In him”, found at the end of Ephesians 1:10, is the phrase used more often by John in his writings about being in Christ.
“And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him.” – 1 John 3:24
Jesus taught his disciples to abide in him (John 15:4) as the true vine. If they did not abide, by keeping his commandments, they were cut off and cast forth.
Fortunately, your position in Christ is not that of a branch but a body member (Eph 5:30). God does not cut off body parts. You and I are in Christ according to the revelation of the mystery of Christ. Our position in Christ is without the commandments of the law, and is apart from Israel’s covenants.
Being in Christ was always part of God’s plan for heaven and earth. That Israel needed to be found in the Lord was nothing new. When Christ came, he taught they needed to be in Him, and that they would be one with the Father (John 17:21). Those in Christ according to prophecy were part of Israel’s kingdom covenants (John 15:5).
Those that are in Christ according to the mystery dispensation of Christ are part of a new creature, without Jew or Gentile (2 Cor 5:17, Col 3:10-11). Out of two, Jew and Gentile, God made one new man in Christ in this dispensation (Eph 2:15-16).
The difference between prophecy and mystery is not that one would be in Christ and the other would not. The dispensational difference is how we come to be in Christ. This has always been the difference.
The mystery of Christ explains how ungodly Gentiles could be in Christ without the law and access to the covenants. This mystery was not known by any of the prophets in time past until the Lord chose to reveal it to the apostle Paul.