The Cross According to Prophecy and Mystery

Justin Johnson

When it is heard that Paul’s mystery gospel includes the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ some properly identify the teaching of the cross before Paul by Jesus and Peter.

However, when we look closely at how the cross is foretold we see that there are different ways to talk about the cross. While there is a teaching of the cross according to prophecy, it is Paul that reveals the preaching of the cross according to the revelation of the mystery.


Jesus Teaches the Cross

During his ministry to Israel, Jesus told his disciples about what the prophets had said concerning him: that he would be put to death and raise again the third day (Luke 18:31-34).

After overthrowing the tables in the temple he declared publicly:

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” – John2 :19

When requested for a sign he said that “an evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign”, but the sign he gave them was his resurrection after three days (Mat 12:39-40).

Clearly Jesus told of his death and resurrection during his earthly ministry. However, it is important to recognize that while he mentioned the cross nobody understood it.

“And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.” – Luke 18:34

When he mentioned the raising of his “temple” in three days, not even his disciples understood what he meant until after it had happened (John 2:20-22).

Everytime Jesus spoke plainly about his death it was privately to his disciples and was not preached publicly as the gospel of salvation:

“From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples…” – Mat 16:21

“Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them…” – Luke 18:31

Jesus presented his death to his disciples as a fulfillment of the prophets, and his resurrection to the nation as a sign. Although Jesus talked about the cross, he did not speak about the hidden wisdom in the cross that he would later reveal to Paul (1 Cor 2:6-8).

Peter Preaches the Cross

After the resurrection Peter knew about the cross and even preached it at Pentecost. However, he did not preach the cross in a mystery, but the cross as it related to prophecy.

As Jesus before him, Peter taught the death of Christ as a fulfillment of prophecy:

“But those things, which God before had shewed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled.” – Acts 3:18

Since Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled the prophecies, this was proof that he was the Messiah. In speaking of his resurrection Peter quotes the prophet David:

“Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.” – Acts 2:30-31 (regarding Psalm 16:10)

Peter spoke of the cross as a fulfillment of prophecy, and yet he also preached the cross as a shame to Israel, since they purposely killed the Prince of Life:

“Him… ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:” – Acts 2:23

“But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses.” – Acts 3:14-15

Since Israel had killed their Messiah, the resurrection of Christ was necessary according to prophecy for him to sit on David’s throne and to bring in the kingdom. No king, no kingdom.

So, Peter taught the death of Christ as a shame and a fulfillment of prophecy, and the resurrection as a necessity for the kingdom to come (Acts 2:33; Acts 3:19-21; 1 Pet 1:3).

Paul’s Preaching of the Cross

So far, the preaching of the cross has been seen to be merely a fulfillment of the prophecies and necessary for the kingdom come to Israel. The death was even presented as bad news to the disciples, and a shame to Israel.

In contrast to this teaching of the cross, the Lord revealed to Paul a mystery preaching of the cross. This mystery is the glorying of that which was previously shameful (Gal 6:14). It revealed a hidden purpose to the teaching of the cross that was according to prophecy.

Paul preached the cross as good news to all men for their salvation. With Paul the preaching of the cross has changed from being taught privately to a worldwide message, not of shame, but of rejoicing.

To Paul the cross was not merely the death of the Messiah, but was our death in Him.

“Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed…” – Rom 6:6

“I am crucified with Christ:…” – Gal 2:20

“God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” – Gal 6:14

The resurrection was how sinners could receive eternal life through free justification:

“…and was raised again for our justification.” – Rom 4:25

Because Christ rose from the dead, we have a position in heavenly places in Him (Eph 1:3, Col 3:1).

Christ’s resurrection was not needed merely for an earthly kingdom, but to reconcile all things to himself which included heaven and earth (Eph 1:18-22).

It was for this reason that Paul can confidently declare:

“Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel:” – 2 Tim 2:8

Peter taught Jesus Christ’s resurrection as the seed of David to sit on David’s throne. Paul taught Christ’s resurrection to be the head over all things: heaven and earth. What a more excellent teaching and reason for Christ to resurrect, and it can only be understood in light of the heavenly mystery of Christ.


The cross of Christ according to prophecy was one more event needed in the fulfillment of God’s promises to the nation Israel to have dominion on the earth. It was all searchable in the prophets (John 5:29, Luke 24:44, Acts 3:18).

What was kept secret was the preaching of the cross as the gospel that freely saves all men. The cross of Christ according to the mystery is the channel of God’s unsearchable riches of grace:

“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:” – Eph 1:10

Listen to the audio lesson covering the same material in detail here:

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Published: August 18, 2012
Last Modified: December 27, 2017
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