Colossians 3 – The True Center of Christian Life & Mystery Religions

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There is no way Paul would have been influenced by those cults or any others after his revelation with Your Son  (Acts 9:6).

I would agree that Paul used the term “mystery” in regards to the Old Testament prophecies and certainly about Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.

Back in the Old Testament they had fortune tellers and things, familiar spirits, and they are still here, but have a different name, so tomorrow we’ll look at…

Colossians 3
The True Center of Christian Life

2 The Eleusinian
The Eleusinian Mysteries were the most famous of the secret religious rites of ancient Greece.
They consisted of the Lesser Mysteries and the Greater Mysteries. These were ceremonies for the cult of Demeter and Persephone based at Eleusis in ancient Greece.

Of all the mysteries celebrated in ancient times these were held to be the ones of greatest importance.

The Lesser Mysteries were held annually and it is known that these contained rites of cleansing.
The Greater Mysteries were held every fourth year. They included a week of special rites, culminating in the Great Mystery rites that took place inside the Temple of Demeter.

These myths and mysteries later spread to Rome. The rites and cultic worships and beliefs were kept secret, and initiation rites united the worshipper with god including promises of divine power and rewards in life after death.

1 If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.

“If ye be risen” – verses 1-10 set forth what has been described as the indicative and the imperative (standing and state) of the Christian.  The indicative statements describe the believer’s position in Christ: He is dead (v. 3); he has been raised with Christ (v. 1); he is with Christ in heaven (“hid with Christ,” v. 3); he has “put off the old man” (v. 9); and he has “put on the new man” (v. 10).

The imperative statements indicate what the believers is to do as a result: He is to set his heart (or mind) on things above (vv. 1-2); he is put to death practices that belong to his earthly nature (v. 5); and he is to rid himself of practices that characterized his unregenerate self (v. 8).

In summary, he is called upon to become in daily experience what he is positionally in Christ (cf. Rom 6:1-13).

2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.

3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.

4 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.

5 Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:

6 For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience:

7 In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them.

8 But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.

9 Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;

3:9-10 – “Put off…put on” – at salvation God changes the believer’s nature, making this possible.

I can honestly tell you this is true.  Jesus did not change who I am, but He gave me a new heart.

10 And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:

11 Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.

“Scythian” – Scythians were known especially for their brutality and were considered by others as little better than wild beasts.  They came originally from what is today south Russia.  They were barbarian’s barbarian.

3 The original Rite
The original Rite of Dionysos is almost universally held to have been a “wine cult”, concerned with the cultivation of the grapevine, and a practical, understanding of its life cycle – embodying the living god – the creation and fermentation of wine – the dead god in the underworld – and the intoxicating and disinhibiting effects of the drink itself, believed to be a possession by the god’s spirit.

“Christ is all, and in all” – Christ transcends all barriers and unifies people from all cultures, races, and nations.  Such distinctions are no longer significant.  Christ alone matters.

12 Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;

13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.

14 And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.

15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.

16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

3 The Mithraic Mysteries
The Mithraic Mysteries were a mystery religion practised in the Roman Empire from about the 1st to 4th centuries A.D.
The name of the Persian god Mithra (proto-Indo-Iranian Mitra), adapted into Greek as Mithras, was linked to a new and distinctive imagery.

Writers of the Roman Empire period referred to this mystery religion by phrases which can be anglicized as Mysteries of Mithras or Mysteries of the Persians; modern historians refer to it as Mithraism, or sometimes Roman Mithraism.

The mysteries were popular in the Roman military.

17 And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

18 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.

19 Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.

20 Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.

21 Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.

22 Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eye service, as men pleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God:

3:22-4:1 – Paul neither condones slavery nor sanctions revolts against matters.  Rather, he calls on both slaves and masters to show Christian principles in their relationship and thus to attempt to change the institution from within.

The reason Paul writes more about slaves and masters than about wives, husbands, children and fathers may be that the slave Onesimus (4:9) is going along with Tychicus to deliver this Colossian letter and the letter to Philemon, Onesimus’s master, who also lived in Colosse.  Compare book of Philemon.

23 And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;

24 Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.

25 But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.

Mystery Religions

Mystery religions were secret cults that flourished during the Greco-Roman period and involved the worship of deities from Greece, Egypt and the Near East.

4 The Imperial cult
The Imperial cult of ancient Rome identified emperors and some members of their families with the divinely sanctioned authority of the Roman State.
The framework for the Imperial cult was formulated during the early Principate of Augustus, and was rapidly established throughout the Empire and its provinces, with marked local variations in its reception and expression.

Unlike official religions (such as the imperial cult), which involved little more than pledges of loyalty, these religions offered personal salvation and a sense of belonging to a community.

Members participated in rituals and were expected to keep both the rites and the teachings secret; hence the designation “mystery religions.”

Famous examples are the Greek Eleusinian and Dionysian mysteries, the Mithras mysteries and the Egyptian cult of Isis and Osiris.

Each cult was distinct, but many mystery cults shared a motif of death and afterlife. The Eleusinian mysteries centered upon the myth of the annual descent of Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, into Hades and her subsequent return to the land of the living.

The cult of Isis and Osiris was similar. In Egyptian religion Osiris, the lord of the dead, was also believed to be a source of life and renewal.

Osiris had been murdered by his brother Set, but his wife/sister, Isis, had located his scattered remains and affected for him a kind of resurrection.

Some cults focused on cosmic power. The Mithras cult, which became popular with Roman men around the second century A.D., is widely thought to have been Persian in origin, but recent research indicates that its teachings may have been indigenous to the Greco-Roman world.

Worship was carried out in a small, cave like chamber called a Mithraeum, which contained cryptic inscriptions and symbols, the primary clues to the nature of the religion. The central motif centered around a man, Mithras, who had purportedly slain a bull.

5 From its foundation
From its foundation by Augustus Caesar in 27 B.C., the Roman Empire saw a tendency to treat the emperor as a divine being.
This phenomenon was neither completely government imposed nor entirely a spontaneous upwelling of devotion from the people of the empire.

The divinization of the emperor was only partially reversed with the conversion of the empire to Christianity.

Augustus himself built on elements in the earlier rule of his uncle Julius Caesar, who the Roman Senate declared a god posthumously with Augustus’s influence.

Like Julius, Augustus took the ancient title of pontifex maximus, chief priest of the Roman state, a title that subsequent emperors would also take as part of their office.

In the iconography Mithras is accompanied by a dog, a snake, a raven and a scorpion. All of these creatures equate to constellations (Taurus, Canis Minor, Hydra, Corvus and Scorpio, respectively), and thus the cult may have been astrological in orientation and based upon the belief that Mithras was the ruler of the cosmos.

Members of the cult ascended through a hierarchy of seven ranks, corresponding to the seven planets; solar and lunar icons are invariably found in a Mithraeum.

The cults frequently focused upon fertility, were often accompanied by erotic symbolism and included secret rituals that were sometimes either gory or orgiastic.

The Dionysian mysteries, which involved a kind of ecstatic madness, were in fact for a time outlawed by the Roman Senate. Popular fear of and fascination with the bacchanalian frenzy is reflected in ancient literary works such as The Bacchae by Euripides and the Metamorphoses by Ovid.

In many mystery religions the initiate underwent a ritual death and rebirth through either ecstatic frenzy or secret ritual. One inscription in a Mithraeum describes the initiate as having been “piously reborn.”

Some have suggested that Paul may have been influenced by these cults in his understanding of the “mystery” of the gospel of Christ. It is more likely, however, that the apostle used the term “mystery” to refer to the fact that the Old Testament prophecies, which include much that is mysterious, find their meaning and fulfillment in Christ.

Certainly nothing indicates that converts to Christianity were sworn to keep its tenets or practices a secret. In addition, Paul probably did want to communicate to his Gentile converts that the true way to rebirth and resurrection is through Christ, and the word “mystery” helped him to convey that reality.



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