Sometimes people mistake the mystery of Christ with God’s blessing upon the Gentiles. More than one student of right division has fallen captive to this error. Beware.
You can identify when this mistaken definition of the mystery is made because Cornelius in Acts 10 will be presented as a problem for Pauline right division.
The line goes like this: Cornelius was a Gentile; Peter preached his gospel to Cornelius; thus, Paul was not the only one to go to Gentiles with the gospel.
Supposedly, this diminishes the importance of Paul’s unique apostleship to the Gentiles (Rom 11:13), and gives evidence that Peter taught the mystery kept secret since the world began (contrast Rom 16:25 to what Peter taught in Acts 3:21).
Gentile Blessing Prophesied
If the Pauline mystery of Christ was merely Gentile blessing then it would not be a mystery at all since we find that sort of Gentile involvement in Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus blessed the centurion’s Gentile servant in Luke 7:1-8 and the Canaanite dog in Matthew 15:24-28.
We also find Gentile blessing in the prophets in passages such as Isaiah 49:6 where the Holy One is the Restorer of Israel and a light to the Gentiles.
The prophets speak of the Gentiles being blessed through Israel in Zechariah 8:22-23 or Micah 4:2-4 where Gentiles follow the Jewish road to Zion to receive the blessed teaching of God’s law for the whole earth.
Gentile blessing is not uniquely part of the mystery of Christ.
Gentile blessing was part of God’s prophetic purpose for the earth going back as far as the promises made to the fathers (Romans 15:8-12).
Paul explains in Romans 15 that Gentile blessing was not a mystery. Christ confirmed the promises made to the fathers which included the blessing upon Gentiles through Abraham’s seed.
Remember, Abraham’s promise was that “in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen 12:3). The Gentiles would be blessed at the glorious rise of God’s chosen people.
“And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.” – Isa 60:3
The Mystery to Gentiles
Meanwhile, Paul received grace from God to minister the unique mystery of Christ to Gentiles (Romans 5:15-16). He was the apostle of the Gentiles (Rom 11:13).
That Gentiles would be blessed was no mystery. How they would be blessed is different according to the revelation of the mystery.
Under prophecy they would be blessed through Israel and the covenants. The earthly purpose of God is to bless the world (i.e. Gentiles) through his covenanted people Israel.
Under the mystery of Christ Gentiles receive all spiritual blessings directly through Christ and his completed work on the cross. The mystery purpose of God is to bless all men today through the abundance of his grace without any covenants.
Peter and the Gentiles
Peter went one time to Gentiles with a gospel in Acts 10. So what, it was not the preaching of the cross. Israel was destined to be the channel of blessing to the Gentiles anyway (Isa 61:6).
Jesus was prophesied to be a light to the Gentiles (Isa 42:6). Yawn. Old news, there is nothing new here. The Messiah was always part of the covenant to bless the whole world. The mystery of Christ was hidden and not yet revealed in any of the prophets. The mystery is not merely Gentiles receiving blessings.
The mystery of Christ includes salvation offered to all men freely by God’s grace without a covenant in order to form a new creature (Jew and Gentile) that would reside in heavenly places.
Peter teaching a Gentile in Acts 10 provides an example of the difference in Gentile blessing according to the kingdom gospel and Gentile blessing according to the mystery gospel. Cornelius was blessed through the covenant of a law abiding Jew. Paul’s Gentiles received blessing through faith in the preaching of the cross.