One of the characteristics of secret societies, and many religions, is that they are secret. Only a few select people are “in the know” about the organization. Sometimes this is to protect the activities of the organization, as with the mafia. Sometimes it is to restrict outside interference, as with, for example, the Masonic Lodge. At other times it is to protect the power or prestige of the leaders of the organization. Often that is the reason for some religions to be secretive. If everyone knew what the priests knew, the priesthood would have no power. If everyone knew how to interpret the sacred utterances, the priests could not manipulate their interpretations to keep themselves in power.
Throughout time, even to this day, there have been what are called “mystery religions.” While some of us religiously read Agatha Christie or Ngaio Marsh, that is not what is meant by a mystery religion. In these religions the higher you got in the hierarchy the more of the hidden secrets of the religion you were allowed to know. The word “mystery” has the meaning, here, of that which is hidden or secret. It is certain that the followers of Jim Jones in Guyana, David Koresh in Waco, or Marshall Applewhite of Heaven’s Gate were not granted the inside knowledge enjoyed (?) by those men. Otherwise they may not have stuck around to kill themselves.
The Gnostics of the first century were another such religion. Even their name implied that they had “knowledge” that others did not. At least five books of the New Testament were written to counter the idea that some people could have certain knowledge that was not afforded to others. Judaism and Christianity are based on the idea that everyone, even those not in the religion, may have complete knowledge. That is, the knowledge is readily available to those who will make the effort to obtain it. It is not hidden, but revealed. God says and does things, “that you may know.”
Although the most familiar phrase from the book of Ezekiel may be “son of man,” the theme of the book, repeated over twenty times, is that God does what he does “that you may know that I am the Lord.” False prophecy was to end in the land for this reason. The Babylonians would attack Judah solely for this reason. Jerusalem would be burned and the Temple destroyed “that you may know that I am the Lord your God.” Even other nations would be similarly brought down so that Judah could have this knowledge. God did not just use destruction for this purpose, either. The spiritually dead would be raised, the people would return to Jerusalem, the nation would again be blessed with prosperity “that you may know that I am the Lord.”
Why did Ezekiel have to tell the people that this was the reason God was doing what he did? After all, God had all along told his people that his purpose in everything was that they might know him.
And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. (Ex 6:7)
Even under the wicked King Ahab, God delivered the northern tribes of Israel from the Syrian army. This was done not because Ahab was righteous, but rather to try to teach him a lesson.
And there came a man of God, and spake unto the king of Israel, and said, Thus saith the Lord, Because the Syrians have said, the Lord is God of the hills, but he is not God of the valleys, therefore will I deliver all this great multitude into thine hand, and ye shall know that I am the Lord. (1 Kings 20:28)
Joel was possibly one of the earliest of the so-called “minor prophets.” (Or possibly one of the later pre-captivity prophets.) He had predicted the destruction of Israel, either through a locust swarm or through an army which he portrayed as a locust storm. He promised that, if the people would turn back to God, God would turn back to them and restore them to prosperity. “And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed. 27And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed.” (Joel 2:26-27) Not only would God show them that he was Lord, but that he dwelt among them.
In spite of all of these promises, the people ignored God’s word. They replaced God with non-gods, or at least gave the idols the same status as God. They oppressed widows and orphans and let money affect their judgements. In essence, they refused to listen to God.
Is this generation any different? The psalmist said, “The fool has said in his heart there is no God.” (Ps 14:1) Paul spoke of all generations when he said, “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” (Rom 1:21) He pinpoints the problem. When we exalt ourselves over God, when we make ourselves to be gods, when we become vain, then we refuse to hear, acknowledge, or thank God. The past couple of centuries have been characterized by humanistic movements, exalting man as the pinnacle of creation or evolution. No wonder it is hard to convince men of the truth of the Bible. They want no truth higher than themselves. The danger, though, is that God will do something like he did to Israel, so that “ye may know that I am the Lord.”
Jesus came to reveal God to man, and man to God. Therefore, he promised knowledge. Admittedly, he taught in parables so that those who chose not to understand would not do so. Even so, he said that those who would choose to listen could know the meanings of the parables. He also promised knowledge in other areas.
One such area was that we will know between good and evil that men do. Adam and Eve got in trouble for eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Jesus, on the other hand, says that we must now make a clear distinction, and tells us how. “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” (Matt 7:16, 20) This is a knowledge that is available to all, not just the disciples of Christ. Who, after all, is quicker to judge a Christian who does wrong than one who will not follow Christ? If the world judges us by our fruit, should we not also do so, both with those without and within? In fact, we probably have a greater responsibility to know between good and evil actions done by our own spiritual brothers. “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” (Rom 16:17) We will know between good and evil, and must react to that knowledge.
Jesus made a related promise about our knowledge. “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” (Jn 8:32) This promise was not just to a few special followers, but to all his disciples. Jesus promised that all could know the truth, not just the apostles, the priests, the hierarchy. That is a comfort to those of us who are not among the spiritual “upper crust.” No matter how short a time you have been following Christ, no matter who you know or don’t know, you can know all the truth. The real comfort therein is that all, not just a few, will be free. All may live with God for eternity.
Paul mentions another area in which we may have knowledge. He tells the Corinthians that they can know of his, and their, salvation.
Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobate? But I trust that ye shall know that we are not reprobate. (2 Corinthians 13:5-6; mistranslated in the King James Version with the word “reprobates.”)
Reprobate is a term from metallurgy. It means "failing to pass a test." It was originally used for metals that were not pure enough for use, like impure gold or silver. Here Paul has told the Corinthians to test their own purity of faith. They will know their faith is pure, he continues, if they “do no evil,” and do “that which is honest.”
There are religions, and even some Christian denominations, that teach that individuals can not know until after death whether they are saved or not. Since their doctrines teach that man is saved merely by a whim of God regardless of what he does on earth, they really have no hope. Paul disagrees with that doctrine. He says we can test ourselves and know for sure that we are pure, that Jesus Christ is in us. Each of us can have that knowledge, not just a few.
God has revealed himself to us. He is not hidden. He is knowable. In fact, he is eager for us to know him. God is not some “old man in the sky.” He does not live on some inaccessible mountaintop in Greece or a hall of heroes that can only be reached by crossing a rainbow. He wants to live among, even in, his people. He even sent his own and only son to be one of us so he could know us better.
Every one of God’s people can know of him, and know him. Only his priests have the important knowledge, but each of his followers is a priest. Christianity is not a classic mystery religion. The only real mystery is why so many who could know him choose not to.