Continuing his description of his call and ministry, Paul in today’s passage refers to the “mystery [that] was made known” to him “by revelation” (Eph. 3:3). Because we know that the apostle was called to serve the Gentiles (vv. 1–2), this mention of the mystery made known to Paul tells us the essence of his ministry involved taking what had been given to him by way of divine revelation and then using it for the benefit of the Gentiles. In other words, the apostle was called to declare the gospel of Jesus Christ to all the nations, which is what the Lord told Ananias shortly after Paul’s conversion to the Messiah (Acts 9:1–19).
Paul does not identify the point at which Jesus revealed the mystery to him by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It may have been immediately at his conversion, but it is more likely, given the apparent brevity of his Damascus Road experience, that Christ delivered the mystery to Paul over time. We know that the apostle spent some time in Arabia right after his conversion (Gal. 1:11–17), so it is possible that God delivered to him the content he was to declare to all the nations during that sojourn.
This mystery “was made known” to Paul (Eph. 3:3), which is simply another way of emphasizing the passivity of the apostle in his calling. In other words, God and God alone chose Paul for service, and he could not attribute this divine choice to anything in himself but only to the good pleasure of the Creator. It took revelation to understand this mystery — the Holy Spirit had to open Paul’s eyes and instruct him, and he never could have come to an understanding of the ways of God in salvation apart from this special work of grace. Being dead in sin, we likewise could never have understood the redemptive work of Christ apart from divine election and the opening of our hearts by the work of the Spirit (2:1–10).
We will look at the content of the mystery revealed to Paul next week, but let us note again that the word mystery in the New Testament does not refer to secret knowledge. Instead, mysteries are those things that were not plainly known under the old covenant but are now unveiled for all to see. There is no hidden information in God’s economy — His inscripturated revelation belongs to every believer, and no other standard but the Word of God can bind our consciences absolutely.