Christ Hymn

1 Timothy 3:16

Indeed, the mystery of godliness is great:

He was revealed in the flesh, 

And vindicated by the Spirit;

He appeared to angels,

And was announced to Gentiles;

He was believed in the world,

And taken up in glory.

What a wonderful little six-line credal confession we have here. With its poetic nature, this is likely a very early Christian hymn Paul is quoting—which is kinda cool ponder.

The “mystery of godliness” he is talking about is God’s salvation plan which was in mind all along and revealed at just the right time. In a word, Jesus. Jesus is God’s plan to unite humanity and divinity.

We have the Gospel in this compact confession. So it would be good, and not terribly difficult, to memorize this song for frequent rumination.

Let’s go through the hymn line by line, hopefully giving you a little different wording or angle on the Gospel, and, therefore, perhaps a deeper appreciation of it.

Line 1

Jesus’s human life was a divine manifestation. We call this the “incarnation”. The crucifixion is to be understood as the ultimate purpose and climax of Jesus’s pre-resurrection stage of existence. “Authentic Christian existence (“godliness”) is linked to the divine unveiling of Christ ‘in flesh.’ ”

Line 2

God’s response to the crucifixion is Jesus’s vindication—God’s demonstration of his innocence. Jesus entered his second stage of human existence by means of the resurrection. This is the final stage of existence for which all believers are destined. “The humanity of Christ in its two stages is the means by which God’s salvation mystery is revealed.”

Line 3

Likely refers to Christ’s resurrection appearances before angelic powers, both holy and fallen, displaying his victory and the meaning of the resurrection to the heavenly powers.

Line 4

“Christology develops naturally into missiology.” The divine promise from the OT that all the nations would be blessed is fulfilled in the Christ-event, and also through human declaration of it. We have quite a part to play—to reach the whole world with this message of God’s salvation plan.

Line 5

The Christian mission is effective because Christ is the content of the proclamation and the one in whom belief is placed.

Line 6

The exaltation of Christ—his glorification. Jesus was and is confirmed by God and they are one. Jesus is at God’s right hand in the heavenly realm.

These thoughts come from scholar Philip Towner in his beast of a commentary on the letters to Timothy and Titus. I got so much out of it and was blown away, sharing here about one-tenth of what I read about. Wow. Deep waters. Love the boundlessness of the Holy Spirit.

I know this is a bit long, but would like to leave you with Towner’s summary of this hymn:

The hymn establishes a balance that rightly begins with the fundamental Christ-event. But the central place of human response and responsibility in mission is essential to the salvation plan of God. It is actually almost a misnomer to call this piece a “Christ Hymn,” for its solemn purpose is to reiterate in the present context the intimate connection that exists between Creator and creation—a connection that God has reestablished through the incarnation and death of his Son. It is thus a hymn about restoration and wholeness—the reconciliation of the divine and the human into a unified relationship through the human experience of Christ. At present, the church is to identify with the experience of Christ in suffering and witness, its hope made sure and purpose for doing so grounded in the fact of his resurrection, vindication, and glorious exaltation.

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