Paul’s Apocalypse of Christ

Introduction

In his letter to the Ephesian church, the Apostle Paul reveals that for millennia God had knowledge kept secret that suddenly, through Christ, had been revealed, first to Christ’s Apostles, and then to those to whom they preached.  The revelation of this secret, this μυστήριον mustḗrion, was for Paul the life- and reality-shattering apocalypse of Christ.

Paul proclaims the understanding of this mystery to his old friends in Ephesus.  He had experienced his revelation of Christ some twenty years prior to this letter.  He had lived and preached to the Ephesians for three years quite recently.  So why does he find the need to reprise this revelation to them? 

It’s quite likely that he learned that the Ephesian church had many new members that had not been given the teaching of the Apostolic revelation of Christ directly.  Paul wanted these new converts to receive his insights as to the meaning and significance of Christ “first hand”, from him.

So what was this mystery revealed to the Apostles?  Well, it was several things, and in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul unpacks all of them.

Context of the Letter to the Ephesians

Paul (v1:1) identifies himself as the author of the letter to the Ephesians.  It is one of three letters that it is assumed he wrote during his first imprisonment in Rome (the others being Colossians and Philemon – all sent by the hand of Tychicus) around 60-61 AD – the so-called “prison epistles”.

Paul had started the church in Ephesus around 52-53 AD on his second missionary journey and had stayed with them ministering until approximately 56 AD.

Structure of the Letter

Ephesians is organized into a three-chapter exposition of Paul’s revelation, followed by a three-chapter set of implications for how the Ephesians should, in light of this apocalypse, live — itself an apocalypse given the cultural norms and social structures of the first century.  From a purely literary perspective, it is a masterpiece.

In this piece, we’ll focus on what Paul’s revelation was not just for the Ephesians, but for all of us.  This he proclaims and explains in the first three chapters.  In a follow-on piece, we’ll dive into what it meant to Paul for how the Church should live and interact.

Paul’s Radical Apocalypse of Christ

We start by summarizing what this apocalypse was for Paul, and will then examine all of the dimensions of its penetration into our world and daily lives.

First, we should understand what an apocalypse is.  My Greek dictionary explains the word this way:

    1. ἀποκάλυψις apokálupsis; gen. apokalúpseōs, fem. noun from apokalúptō (601), to reveal. Revelation, uncovering, unveiling, disclosure.

We find Paul talking about his ἀποκάλυψιν – his “revelation” — in Ep 3:1-3:

[3:1] For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— [2] assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, [3] how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly.

Earlier (Ep 1:17) he had prayed that his readers receive the “Spirit of wisdom and of ἀποκάλυψις in the knowledge of him”.

 [17] that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, [18] having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,

The idea is that he’s praying that we may understand God’s purpose and plan in the same way that he, Paul, has understood it.  This purpose and plan is something that Paul says has been hidden from people but has now been revealed; uncovered; disclosed to him and the other Apostles.

And what does this revealed mystery contain?  Paul starts it off, in Ep 1:7

[7] In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, [8] which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight [9] making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ.

To Paul, Christ was the announcement of the unveiling of the mystery of God’s will.  And His will was to redeem all creation back to Himself by transforming those who chose to trust Him.  Through God’s grace-filled gift to those “in Christ” of the knowledge of Himself and His will, God would reunify Heaven with Earth.

It is crucial to understand Paul’s perception of this reality.  To Paul, Christ is both our blessing and the bless-ed of God (v3).  God sees us as “holy and blameless” because we’re “in” Christ, the holy and blameless one (v4). Christ is our adoption agent who delivers us to our adopter-God (v5).  All of the spiritual blessings we have and will receive (e.g. redemption, etc.) eminate from His faithful Christ, in whom we have taken up residence (v6-9).  And so we inherit and experience those very blessings pouring forth from Him.

The centrality to Paul of this Christ-focused view is perhaps best seen in v9-10:

“[9] making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ [10] as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

For centuries Jews had understood that Heaven, the place where God was, was extant in His Tabernacle and, later, the Temple in Jerusalem.  Paul, and his Jewish countrymen, were intimately familiar with the idea of God with us – Emmanuel.  Their culture had celebrated it for at least the first thousand years of their existence as a nation, initially, at least, treating the place of His presence with extreme reverence.  But Paul also knew that this reverence had later waned to the point that God’s presence had been removed from Earth (Ezekiel 5:11, 10:1-22).

But what Paul and his brethren also knew was that God had promised to return – specifically to Zion/Jerusalem (Zec 8:3).  Paul realized that this is what had happened in Jesus, inaugurating a New Covenant (see his affirmation in 2 Cor 3:18).

As early as Deut 30:6, God had announced (through Moses) that he would, ultimately, remake the hearts of men to love Him with all their hearts:

[6] And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

This, as we know from Ephesians and Paul’s other epistles[i], is exactly what Christ’s atonement and the provision of His Spirit to live in those who trust Him, had accomplished.

God, through his prophets, had hinted at His ultimate will and purpose, sometimes quite directly (e.g. Is 52:13Is 53:12).  But, He had never come out plainly and declared what He planned to implement on earth through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. 

Now, after Christ, He had disclosed this to His Apostles, and through them to us.  His disclosure? “I am going to transform those who hear and trust me into a new humanity(Eph 2:15).

Breaking Down the Revelation of Paul’s Apocalypse

Paul’s Prayer of Thanksgiving – Chapter 1:3-14

In Ephesians Chapter 1, Paul opens with an exclamatory prayer to God for the righteousness that He has demonstrated in Christ, and Christ’s redemptive action on both Jews and Gentiles (the plural “you” or, if you will, “you all”, in Paul’s proclamation).  Verses 3-14 are one, long, run-on sentence for Paul, who is apparently rendered inarticulate by the enormity of the truth he is expounding.

A couple of points on this exclamation.

  • To Paul, the blessing of God has been poured out on His elect who, for Paul, were and are the Jews. But now, he understands that those chosen “in Him” are those who trust in Christ as the Son of God — the Messiah.
  • Amazingly to Paul, he has learned that this blessing has not been reserved for just the Jews, those chosen/elected by God through Abraham and Jacob, but also for the Gentiles – the nations – through Christ, who he identifies in v3.
  • In addressing the Christians in Ephesus Paul says (v4-5) that “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world”[ii] to be holy (i.e. set apart for God) and blameless, and predestined “us” to be adopted by Him as sons[iii].
  • In v7 he says by grace we have been redeemed through Christ’s blood, our sins having been forgiven (thus the “blameless” of v4).
  • Notice Paul’s invocation of the Trinity in this passage: Plan of “our” election by the Father (v1-6); redemption by the Son (v7-12); sealing of the Church by the Holy Spirit (v13-14)

Paul reaches the punchline (or at least a punchline) of his apocalypse in v10:

 [10] as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Paul is going to spend much of the letter on the implications of this revelation:  what it means for the nature of humanity itself; what it means for human interrelations; what it means for “powers and principalities” that act to control societies of humanity, etc.  He has all of these things in mind in announcing that “all things” are now united in Christ.

But, of course, there are also the immediate impacts on those who now trust Christ as their Lord.  Playing off of his idea that those who trust Christ have been adopted as sons of God (v5), he says in our role as sons we have been given an “inheritance” (v11) that will lead (v12) to us glorifying God.  And, importantly, until we possess that inheritance, we will be “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (v13) as a guarantor of that inheritance (v14).

Paul’s Attempt to Represent His Apocalypse in Words – Ch 1:15-23

Paul, having learned that the Ephesians have been acting in love toward one another (v15 — as befitting “sons of God”), gives thanks to God for them, and prays that they will be given the “Spirit of wisdom and of revelation/(apokálupsis) in the knowledge of Him.” (v17)  One is left with the sense that Paul sees the development of this wisdom and knowledge as an ongoing process, not a “Zap”.  He elaborates his prayer for their ongoing revelation:

 [18] having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, [19] and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might [20] that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, [21] far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. [22] And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, [23] which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Paul sees God and what He has done in Christ as almost inexpressible.  He speaks of the “riches of his glorious inheritance” in the saints; “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe”.  We will see that Paul is struck profoundly by his apprehension of the sheer magnitude (and perhaps purity) of God’s power demonstrated in the Christ event.  And he is laser-focused on the authority that God has conferred on Christ: “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.”

Christ’s authority isn’t temporal.  To Paul, it is over all time (the typical interpretation of the age “to come”).

And finally, Paul positions Christ “as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

The idea of “head” here is a little different than ours.  When we say someone is “head of an organization” we immediately think of his position of authority over that organization.  And that is a secondary meaning here.  But the primary meaning is more that of “source” (e.g. as we might speak of a “trailhead”, or “headwaters”).  To use Paul’s anthropomorphism of the church, Christ is its head and those in Christ are the members of that body.  The head is the member that is responsible for and the source of the proper, coordinated operation of the other members of the body.  To Paul, Christ’s role is to orchestrate us to achieve the purposes of His plan and will.

At the end of Chapter 1, then, we have learned that as trustors of Christ as Lord, we are;

  • Undifferentiated (by God) by ethnicity, faith tradition, etc. (much more on this later)
  • Sons of God
  • Redeemed by Christ – Forgiven by God
  • Inheritors of His “glorious inheritance”
  • Sealed with the Holy Spirit until the day of that inheritance
  • Members of Christ’s “body”, of which He is the head

and Christ is;

  • The “head” of all things, God’s gift to the church with His “immeasurable power”. For now, Christ’s authority is manifest within His Church (Ep 1:22-23)
  • The single authority over all things in the Universe, now and forever – all other things (“names”, rule, authority, power and dominion) are “under his feet” (in this characterization Paul no doubt is thinking about Ps 110 and perhaps Da 7:27).
  • The supreme ruler of the Cosmos (Ep 1:21-22a), and everyone else who may profess to be is not.

Now and Not Yet

A very well-known characterization of the Kingdom of God inaugurated by Christ is its nature as a present reality operating within our current, corrupt world, and its ultimate nature as the New Heavens and New Earth following Christ’s return to rule and reign.  This idea is known as “Now and Not Yet”.

One way to conceptualize the “Now and Not Yet” character of the Kingdom is depicted in the following figure[iv].

The character of the current age is its evil & sin, death, bondage of one person to another, violence between people, and the ongoing curse of those who refuse to place their faith in their God.  Punctuating the present age was Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  These events were the culmination of God’s promise to Abraham to “bless all the nations” through him, and promise to Israel to have One from the house of David on the throne for all time.

What hasn’t happened yet is the return of Christ to earth to rule and reign and eradicate all sickness and sorrow, and oversee a world in which justice and love reign among its inhabitants who are freed from sin and death, disease and evil.  Often this is, in Western thought, equated with “heaven” – the spiritual realm of God, and surely that must be true of God’s realm.  However, what God has proclaimed is that this will be true of His New Heavens and New Earth where his children live and reign with His Christ forever.

Paul understands that he finds himself in this in-between state: in the present age, but alive to the New; the age to come.  He is exhorting his Ephesian parishioners to understand that the ultimate implementation of the Kingdom is inevitable.  And, for Paul, he seemed to think it was imminent (e.g. 1 Thes 7:8, etc.). 

It had been revealed to Paul that we now live in a world that has been infused with heaven through the life, sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, through the person of Christ manifest and His Spirit indwelt in His faithful.

Redemption to Christ: Unified in Him – Ephesians Chapter 2

Outline

In chapter 2 Paul’s main points are:

  • His Gentile Ephesian brothers, now joined with him in the merger of heaven and earth, were previously lost – separated from God – under the influence of powers that kept them separated that he identifies as the “prince of the power of the air” and the “spirit of disobedience” (v1-3).
  • God has rescued them from this separation and unified them in His Son who now has all authority over all things and showered those of us who are in Him with blessings (v4-10).
  • He restates his initial message; that you gentiles were once separated from God and lost (v11-13)
  • But now, through Christ, you are joined with other saints (including believing Jews) into one new humanity (Eph 2:15), and no longer estranged from Him but, with the Jews who have believed, you have access to God and comprise a Holy Temple of God (v.14-22)

Paul’s Understanding of “Powers” Acting to Separate Us from God

Paul introduces a protagonist that has, apparently, abetted his readers’ former sinful life, the “prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience”.  He seems here to be alluding to his previous statement (Eph 1:21-22) concerning those entities over which Christ has been given authority.  The combination of these statements clearly hints that Paul, like most all 1st century people, has a view of reality that incorporates both spiritual and human forces whose natures seek to pull God’s people away from Him and toward their own destruction.

In first century Israel and the Levant in general, there was a common acceptance of “powers” working unseen to either prosper or afflict the individual.  And these cultural influencers were not totally pagan.  From Genesis, Jews had been taught that, e.g., the “sun and the moon” held sway over the light and the darkness.  But as early as Deut 4:19 we see God cautioning about bestowing on these physical features of the Universe any divine agency.

But this admonition didn’t stop the ancients from conferring on the visible and invisible forces in their Universe “powers” to prosper or impoverish – as an explanation of rain or drought; sickness or health; prosperity or poverty.  The ancient dealt with a kind of day-by-day chaos which was ripe to be explained away as due to “those controlling us”, be they “heavenly” (i.e. invisible) or earthly (e.g. the forces of despotism that afflicted millions of those under their rule – to Paul “principalities” — 746. ἀρχή archḗ; gen. archḗs. Beginning. Archḗ denotes an act. Cause, and “powers” — 1849. ἐξουσία exousía; gen. exousías, fem. noun from éxesti (1832), it is permissible, allowed. Permission, authority, right, liberty, power to do something.)

What Paul is saying in Ephesians is that Christ has been established in a superior position to all of these things (they all, now, are subject to Him – Eph 1:20.  And we, as His followers, are in the same position with Him, freed from subjugation by these forces – Eph 2:6-7.  This is one of Paul’s principal messages in Ephesians.

I believe Paul, in v2:2, is referring to one and the same entity (not two, as many commentaries conclude), and that that entity identified as the “prince of the power of the air”[v] is simply the nature of fallen men to reject God, a nature that he personifies through the title prince.  Why a prince?  This was perhaps a shorthand for Paul – an allusion to a symbol well-known to his parishioners of the Satan as the cause of men’s affliction and separation from God.  But Paul says this prince is of “the power of the air”.  The “air”[v] is a reference to the “atmosphere” in which we live – “the air we breath”, as it were.  In other words, Paul sees forces at work acting to separate us from God in the very atmosphere we live in – the air we breath.

NT Wright sees the same thing.  In his commentary[vi] on these verses he says:

Second, there is the ‘ruler of the power of the air’. This seems to be a way of referring to the satan, the devil, and a way of suggesting that his deadly ideas, his schemes for defacing God’s beautiful creation and particularly his image-bearing human creatures, are, as we say, ‘in the air’. You can sense their power ‘in the atmosphere’ of a place, of a room full of certain people, of a city or college or shop. The satan is a spirit, at work among people who see no need to behave any differently.

Perhaps the most devastating thing Paul points out here is that ‘we’ – in other words, the Jews – were no different in principle from Gentiles in this respect. When he says ‘you’ in verses 1 and 2, referring to the non-Jewish world, this doesn’t mean that he’s leaving a loophole for Jews to say ‘Ah, but we’re different’. As in Ro 2:17-24, when this possibility comes up he firmly rejects it.

So what’s the answer? Well, if the problem is that the settled and habitual behaviour of the whole human race leads them on the fast road towards death – the ultimate destruction of their humanness – the answer provided by God is a way through death and out into a new sort of life entirely. This, of course, is achieved through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the king. How do these events affect other people? Because, as throughout chapter 1, Paul sees the people who belong to Jesus as being somehow ‘in’ him, so that what is true of him is true of them. He has been raised – and so have they! He has been installed in glory, in the heavenly realms – and so have they! This is the secret truth of the life of all those who belong to Jesus.

Why is this important for us?  It’s all too comfortable for some of us to claim the shopworn “the Devil made me do it”.  We would be better served, I would argue, to acknowledge that left to our own devices, we will choose exactly what the Devil (if you will) would have us choose if we simply respond to what’s naturally “in the air” for us as humans.  In other words, we don’t really need a Satan’s help to reject God’s will for us.  We’re more than capable naturally of producing that rejection.  All we have to do is respond to the “spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience”, which is our natural spirit.

It’s important for us to realize that these influences that lead to our violation of God’s will are precisely those that Christ’s mission defeatedWe no longer are slaves to them.  This too was a foundational part of Paul’s apocalypse.

But acknowledging this natural state of affairs, Paul moves on to proclaim God’s mercy on us (v4-8).  Here his focus is on God’s merciful redemption of us through Christ, despite our former rejection of Him.  This expression of God’s mercy toward us Paul calls “grace” (Greek 5485. χάρις cháris).  He says in addition (v10) that we are his “workmanship”, the underlying Greek being: 4161. ποίημα poíēma; gen. poiḗmatos.  About this verse NT Wright comments:

Verse 10 is one of Paul’s central statements of how Christians are at the centre of God’s new creation. We are, he says, God’s workmanship. This word sometimes has an artistic ring to it. It may be hinting that what God has done to us in King Jesus is a work of art, like a poem or sculpture. Or perhaps, granted what he goes on to say, we are like a musical score; and the music, which we now have to play, is the genuine way of being human, laid out before us in God’s gracious design, so that we can follow it.

Humanity as a “work of art” of God.

Paul’s construction of his argument in chapter 2 involves his presentation of his thesis regarding God’s merciful grace and its effect for us (Eph 2:1-10), and then his confirmation of his thesis in subsequent verses (Eph 2:11-22), as outlined in the following figure[vii]:

Unity in Christ

The principal theme of Ephesians 2 is that those who place their trust in Christ, regardless of their ethnicity or race or gender or … fill in your favorite cultural distinctive, are now indistinguishable members of His body.  Their differences are measured only in the gifts they have been given by Him (preachers, prophets, evangelists… [Eph 4:11]).

Paul here offers another powerful metaphor to express the unity in Christ that Jewish and Gentile believers experience.  There is no longer a “dividing wall” between them.  Paul is referring to the Torah – the “Law of Moses”, and the Covenant.  But metaphorically he likely has in mind the construction of the Temple itself.

In the following depiction, the area on the Temple Mount accessible to the Gentiles was walled-off from the holy precincts of the Temple available only to the covenant people – the Jews.  In Eph 2:14 Paul metaphorically refers to the “dividing wall” between Jews and Gentiles. The Temple actually contained a physical dividing wall to bound those areas into which Gentiles could not pass, depicted below, called the “Soreg”.

Paul says with Christ, the Soreg had been destroyed. 

Paul concludes his doctrine of the unity in Christ between those of various cultural markers, but directed at Jews and gentiles, with this: Eph 2:18

[18] For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

This is a HUGE part of Paul’s apocalypse of Christ.  Jews, the chosen of God out of Egypt, were now on the same footing as those estranged from God throughout history: each has access to God through their faith in their common mediator, Christ.  Paul tells the Ephesians that they are “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (v19), alluding back to their adoption as sons (Eph 1:5).  Then he switches metaphors identifying them as pieces of the structure that is built on Christ; “joined together” and growing “into a holy temple in[viii] the Lord.” (v21)

Prayer for the Lord’s Knowledge and Power – Ephesians 3

As we saw in the previous chapters, Paul is struggling to put into words his understanding of the profound transformation and unification that has been carried out on “things in heaven and things on earth” through Christ (Eph 1:10).

And as he opens chapter 3 he wants to pray for the faithful in Ephesus that they too will see and understand this profound revelation of the new reality that Christ has wrought.  But as he begins, he catches himself with the thought that perhaps these new Christians in Ephesus haven’t been properly introduced to him as an Apostle of Christ, and so may question the credibility of his testimony.  So he stops his original thought and sets out (Eph 3:2-13) to defend his credibility and the authority of his message.

A Bit More on “Principalities and Powers”

In doing so he explains that his unveiling of this message to the church will make known “the manifold wisdom of God…to the rulers (“principalities” – KJV) and authorities (“powers” – KJV) in the heavenly places.”

In making this statement he seems to be saying that his message, spread through the church and on out to the world will, through the demonstration of lives lived in the Kingdom of God by the Church, teach these rulers and authorities what life with God is, in all its glory.  He locates these entities as “in the heavenly places”.  Here we have to recall that the common model of “the heavenlies” in the first century was as a vertically layered set of domains inhabited by increasingly holy beings as you proceeded vertically until ultimately you arrived at the top — in God’s domain.

The first “heaven”[ix] was simply the air we breathe.  All creatures on earth were its inhabitants.  So Paul here could simply be referring to earthly rulers and authorities.  But, if that was his meaning, why bother locating them “in heavenly places”?  Why not just end the sentence after “authorities”?

No, Paul seems to be appropriating some 1st-century cultural imagery involving spiritual entities inhabiting the first heaven – and perhaps some of these being the ones involved in trying to sow discord among people and keep them from knowing, and away from, God.  The people in Ephesus would have been intimately familiar with the Greek culture’s belief in which the sun, moon and visible planets were gods who exerted influence on the affairs of men.

Whoever these rulers and authorities were in Paul’s mind, his key teaching here is that the Church is going to teach them God’s wisdom and God’s plan, enacted by Christ.

Prayer for the Spirit and Spiritual Strength

Finally, with his credibility defended, Paul returns to his prayer for the Ephesians in v14.  The “reason” he has in mind in figuratively bowing in prayer I believe is the enormity of the revelation – the apocalypse – he has been sharing with the Ephesians.

Ephesians 3:16-19

[16] that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, [17] so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, [18] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, [19] and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

There are so many fascinating features of this short prayer.  The first, as mentioned, is that Paul is virtually stammering in trying to articulate the profound beauty and power and depth of God’s plan revealed to him.

The second is that Paul is praying for a kind of spiritual strength with power for the Ephesians.  There’s no allusion here to attacks for which they will need such strength (although he’ll get to that in Chapter 6 where he instructs them to put on the armor of God).  However, we need to remember that Paul is writing this from jail.  So the idea of needing strength to endure persecution couldn’t have been far from his mind.  And surely, as the founder of their Church, Paul feels a certain amount of responsibility and empathy for the sufferings they will inevitably experience as followers of Christ in a secular, pagan world.

But it’s not just persecution-enduring power he’s praying for them.  He wants them to have the spiritual strength “to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth…”.  Paul’s trying to open up the Ephesians’ understanding of the beauty and power of God’s love shown through Christ, and here he just tails off, unable to finish the thought (v18).  But he comes back to this notion of what the power he’s praying for them is needed for in v19.  They need the spiritual power/strength “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge”.

This is a kind of reprise of what he was saying in Eph 1:17-20:

[17] that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, [18] having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, [19] and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might [20] that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,

They’re going to need strength to withstand this knowledge.  Today we might use the vernacular to paraphrase the thought something like this: “Make sure you’re grounded and ready for this, because when you truly know the love of Christ it’s going to blow your mind!” 

It’s hard not to hear echos of Jeremiah’s New Covenant prophecy here in Paul’s prayer (Jer 31:34)

[34] And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

He wraps up the chapter by praying that they be “filled with all the fullness of God”, which seems to tie back to v16 where Paul identifies the purveyor of the spiritual strength and power as the indwelt Holy Spirit, “in our inner being”.  We’re filled with the fullness of God when we’re filled with His Spirit.

Conclusion

Twenty years before writing this letter, Paul had been knocked off his donkey and blinded on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians, and given a revelation by Christ Himself.  Twenty years on we see that he still can’t adequately articulate the power and magnitude and beauty of what he learned that day.

He does identify some of the features of his revelation; that redemption of Creation to God through Christ had always been His plan (Eph 1:9-10, Eph 3:9); that Christ’s death and resurrection had redeemed those who believe (Eph 1:3-5); that all those, no matter ethnicity or “religion”, who trusted Christ would be unified in Him (no longer at enmity with one another or with God) (Eph 3:6); that God’s Spirit would indwell and strengthen his faithful with power (Eph 1:13) (as the fulfillment of the New Covenant prophecies – Deut 30:6, Jer 31:31-34, Eze 36:25-27, Joel 2:28).

And perhaps this was simply the way it had to be.  Something unfathomable is difficult to explain in human terms.

Next we’ll have a look at what this Apocalypse of Christ meant to Paul for how his followers should live.


[i] It is worth your time to do a study on Paul’s description of the role of the Spirit in his various epistles; e.g. Ro 5:5, 7:6, 8:2, 8:9-11, 8:13-16, 14:17, 1 Cor 2:12-13, 3:16, 6:19, 12:3-13, 2 Cor 1:22, 3:3, 3:17-18, 5:5, Gal 3:2-5, 3:14, 4:6, 5:16-18, 5:22-23, 6:8, Ep 1:13,17, 2:18, 22, 3:16, 4:30, Phl 3:3, 1 Th 4:8, 2 Th 2:13, 2 Tim 1:7, 14, Tit 3:5-7.

[ii] It’s not clear who the “us” are Paul is referring to in v4-5.  Since he later addresses the Ephesians specifically as “you also” (v13), it is entirely possible that here he is speaking exclusively of those who first received the revelation of Christ – the Apostles – those who are now charged with spreading their apocalypse/revelation to the world.

[iii] It’s not the purpose of this note to get into doctrinal debate.  However, this issue of predestination/choosing begs the question “who or what was predestined/chosen?”.  My bias lies with Christ as the chosen One and I agree with Ben Witherington when in “The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles”, 233-235 he says that: ‘The concept here is explicitly developed from the story of Israel’s election: if someone was “in Israel” one was part of God’s chosen people.  Individual persons within Israel could opt out by means of apostasy, and others, even non-Israelites could be grafted in by faith in Israel’s God (see the story of Ruth).  In Ephesians 1:3-14 these biblical concepts of election are focused on Christ…who can incorporate into Himself those who trust in Him.  Christ has become the focal point of Israel’s election and salvation, because in Paul’s thinking the identity of the people of God has been whittled down to the story of Jesus the Anointed One and then built back up in the risen Christ thereafter.   When Paul later speaks of how someone gets “into Christ” he does not speak of God’s predestination, as though a person is programmed to be disposed towards faith.  Rather, he says “in Chirst, when you heard the word of truth, the good news…you believed and were sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph 1:13).’

[iv] Thanks to Tim Mackie for this figure and much of the penetrating insight into Ephesians he provided in his Bible Project online course: Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians.

[v] The word rendered “prince” here is simply:  758. ἀˊρχων árchōn; gen. árchontos, masc. part. of árchō (757), to rule. A ruler, chief, prince, magistrate.  “air” is 109. ἀήρ aḗr; gen. aéros, masc. noun from áō (n.f.), to blow. Air, the celestial air surrounding the earth. The Greeks believed it to be the substance that filled the space between the earth and moon. They considered it to be thick and misty in contrast to the very pure, higher substance which they called aithḗr, ether.

[vi] NT Wright, “The New Testament for Everyone”, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2002, 36 Causton Street London SW1P 4ST

[vii] From Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, an online course offered by the Bible Project, led by Tim Mackie.

[viii] “temple ‘in’ the Lord” is an unconventional metaphor.  The Temple was the place where God’s presence was.  Here, as regards the new Christians, Paul says the temple is “in” the Lord. He may be falling back on one of his favorite phrases/images of the believer as “in Christ”.  Yes, they are the new temple inasmuch as the Spirit of God lives in them.  But they are positionally now “in Christ”, as members of His body.

[ix] Of a total of three or seven, depending on your tradition.

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