Exalted Like No Other

| Ephesians 1:7-10, 18:23

The Point:  Honor Jesus as Lord.

The Plan of Redemption:  Ephesians 1:7-10.

[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 [10]  as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. [11]  In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,  [ESV]

“God’s children enjoy a free access to their heavenly Father, and their confidence before Him is due to the knowledge that they have been redeemed and forgiven. Redemption means deliverance by payment of a price. Here it is equated with forgiveness, for the deliverance in question is a rescue from the just judgment of God upon our sins, and the price paid was the shedding of Christ’s blood when He died for our sins on the cross. So redemption, forgiveness and adoption all go together; redemption or forgiveness is a present privilege which we have and enjoy now. It makes possible a filial relation to God. It comes from the lavish outpouring of His grace upon us. God has done more than choose us in Christ in a past eternity and give us sonship now as a present possession, with all its attendant joys and duties. He has also made known to us the mystery of his will for the future. It concerns his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time. What, then, is this mystery which God has made known, this revealed secret, this will or purpose or plan of His? In chapter 3 the mystery is the inclusion of Gentiles in God’s new society on equal terms with Jews. But this present ethnic unity is a symbol or foretaste of a future unity that will be greater and more wonderful still. God’s plan for the fullness of time, when time merges into eternity again, is to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. The Greek verb translated unite is rich in allusion and significance. It meant ‘to sum up’, either in the sense of summing up in reflection or speech or in the sense of the gathering together of things. The only other New Testament occurrence of the verb is in Romans 13:9, where all the commandments of the law’s second table are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The context of Ephesians 1 certainly seems to suit the notion of ‘gathering together’ better than that of ‘condensing’. For a little later, in verse 22, Paul will be affirming that God has made Jesus Christ the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. So here he seems to be saying that the summing up of the totality takes place in its subjection to the Head. Already Christ is head of His body, the church, but one day all things will acknowledge His headship. At present there is still discord in the universe, but in the fullness of time the discord will cease, and that unity for which we long will come into being under the headship of Jesus Christ. This prospect prompts an important question: who and what will be included in this final unity and under this headship? Certainly the all things include the Christian living and the Christian dead, the church on earth and the church in heaven. That is, those who are in Christ now, and who in Christ have received blessing, election, adoption, grace, and redemption or forgiveness, will one day be perfectly united in Him. But all things normally means the universe, which Christ created and sustains. So Paul seems to be referring again to that cosmic renewal, that regeneration of the universe, that liberation of the groaning creation, of which he has already written to the Romans [8:18ff]. God’s plan is that all things which were created through Christ and for Christ, and which hold together in Christ, will finally be united under Christ by being subjected to His headship. For the New Testament declares Him to be the heir of all things [Heb. 1:2]. In the fullness of time, God’s two creations, His whole universe and His whole church, will be unified under the cosmic Christ who is the supreme head of both.”  [Stott, pp. 40-45].

The Supremacy of Christ:  Ephesians 1:18-23.

[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.  [ESV]

[18-19]  Paul continues with his request for the readers’ spiritual understanding, for he wants them to know (1) the hope to which God has called them, (2) the rich inheritance which He possesses in them, and (3) the mighty power by which He energizes them. These are all aspects of the mighty salvation which has been won for them in Christ. Paul prays that they may have spiritual insight so as to grasp the truth of God’s purposes. At 2 Corinthians 4:6 similar language is employed to indicate that God has shone in His people’s hearts to give the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ. The corollary to the knowledge of God Himself is an understanding of His ways and His purposes. Paul now prays that they may see with the eyes of your hearts. Here heart is employed in its customary Old Testament sense to describe the seat of the physical, spiritual, and mental life of a person. The purpose of this spiritual insight is that Paul’s readers may know three things. (1) The hope to which He has called you. God’s calling finds its origin in the choice of His people in Christ before the world’s foundation [1:4] and becomes effective in their lives through the preaching of the gospel [Rom. 8:30]. Paul prays that his readers might grasp more fully the hope into which God has brought them by His call, that hope which is held out in the gospel [Col. 1:5]. Hope in Paul is oriented to what is unseen in the future, the content of which is defined in various ways: salvation [1 Thess. 5:8], righteousness [Gal. 5:5], resurrection in an incorruptible body [1 Cor. 15:52-55], eternal life [Titus 1:2; 3:7], and God’s glory [Rom. 5:2]. This hope to which God has called them is linked with the summing up of all things in Christ, which is the final purpose of God’s saving activity in His Son [1:10]. Hope is what these Gentile readers did not have before they believed [2:12]. (2) The riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. Since the text speaks of his (God’s) inheritance, it is better to understand this verse as describing the inheritance which belongs to God, namely, His own people, rather than the inheritance which He bestows. God’s people, comprising both Jews and Gentiles, are His inheritance, His own possession, in whom He will display to the universe the untold riches of His glory. Paul has prayed that His readers might know the hope to which God has called them and how greatly prized they are as His treasured possession. In his third and climactic request, which is specially emphasized by its connection with verses 20-23, the focus of his prayer is upon the amazing power of God working on behalf of believers. Paul’s petition is that the readers might understand and experience (3) the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might. The resources in Christ available to believers are enormous. Of particular significance is God’s almighty power, which will enable them to engage in an ongoing spiritual warfare and finally to share in the divine glory. God wants them to obtain their full salvation, and He has provided the means for them to do so. The notion of God’s power, which features prominently in Colossians and Ephesians, is introduced in a remarkably emphatic way. Reference is made first of all to its immeasurable greatness. Then Paul employs an additional phrase with three synonymous terms to underscore the basis or standard of this exceptional might: working … great might. The preposition according to is found elsewhere in Paul’s petitions and thanksgivings [Eph. 3:16; Phil. 4:19] as well as in other contexts where God’s power, grace, or glory is seen as the source of blessing to the recipient. In prayer contexts the supply corresponds to the riches of the divine attribute and is more than adequate for the needs. Paul wants to convince his readers that God’s power working on behalf of believers is incomparable and able to bring them to final salvation. This petition contains a significant change from the second person to the first: the mighty power of God is exercised toward us who believe rather than simply ‘for you’, the readers. By using the first person Paul includes himself and other Christians. God’s might is effective for all who believe.

[20-23]  God’s Mighty Strength Shown in Raising and Exalting Christ. The third request for an increased knowledge of God’s almighty power [19] leads on to a declaration that the supreme demonstration of this power took place in God’s raising Christ from the dead and exalting Him to a position of authority in the heavenly realms above all hostile spiritual powers. In verses 20-23, which are a continuation of the preceding sentence and round out the introductory thanksgiving of verses 15-19, God is praised for exercising His mighty power in raising Christ from the dead and exalting Him [20-21] to be head over all things for the church [22-23]. Verse 20 affirms that the decisive demonstration of God’s power available to believers occurred in the resurrection and exaltation of Christ, as well as in the subjection of the powers to Him and His being given as head over everything to the church. The whole paragraph [20-23], then, prepares the way for the significant affirmation about the raising and enthronement of believers with their Lord in 2:4-7. Christ’s exaltation was God’s mighty act of raising Him on high to a position of unparalleled honor and universal authority. His ascension to the right hand of God was an essential and regular element in the early apostolic preaching, finding echoes throughout the New Testament. Though intimately related to His resurrection, which is the vindication of His messiahship and sonship, Christ’s exaltation is distinguished from His resurrection in several New Testament texts, since it is related to the inauguration of His lordship. The Son’s being seated by the Father points to the completion of His God-given task; His earthly mission was accomplished. To be at someone’s right hand is to be in the position of special honor and privilege. In the Old Testament the Lord’s right hand is the position of favor, victory, and power. For Christ, then, to be seated at God’s right hand meant sharing the Father’s throne. Although Ephesians will later assert that God has seated believers with Christ in the heavenly realms [2:6], significantly there is no mention of their being placed at His right hand. Christ’s exalted status cannot be shared. So the power with which God works in the lives of believers is the same might by which He raised Christ from death to share His throne. And God’s throne is in the heavenly places, the sphere in which Christ’s people have been blessed with every spiritual blessing [1:3] in Him. Because of His enthronement at the right hand of God, Christ now possesses the full authority of the Father. His position is superior to every imaginable hostile power. Various designations of authority are specified in order to stress Christ’s supremacy: all rule and authority and power and dominion. Whatever levels of power there are in the universe, all are subordinate to Him. Finally, to emphasize the comprehensive scope of Christ’s supremacy Paul asserts that He has been enthroned above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. This comprehensive statement specifies that regardless of designation or title, every ruling power in heaven or on earth is inferior to Christ, who is at the right hand of God. The all-embracing dominion of Christ is further emphasized in a fresh way as Paul now quotes Psalm 8:6: God has put all things under his feet [22]. Christ has not only been given a position of authority, seated at the right hand of the Father; He is now able to exercise that authority in the subjection of everything under His feet. The powers are not simply inferior to Christ; they are also subject to Him. This clause continues the description begun in verse 20 as to how God’s mighty power was demonstrated in Christ. Although the complete fulfilment of these words will occur only when death is destroyed and God is all in all [1 Cor. 15:27; Heb. 2:8], Christ’s present enthronement at God’s right hand is assurance enough that this blessed consummation will come without fail. Paul ties Christ’s supremacy over the universe in closely with an assertion about God’s purpose for Christ in relation to the church. Already in verse 19 the greatness of God’s power, which was effective in the resurrection of Christ, is toward us who believe. Now, in line with this, Christ’s dominion over the cosmos is for the benefit of believers: God gave him as head over all things to the church. This statement underscores God’s grace towards the church, which is an emphasis found elsewhere in Ephesians. Head over all things denotes Christ’s supremacy over the creation, including the principalities and powers. The term head expresses His ruling authority. The term church, which in Paul frequently refers to a local congregation of Christians in a particular place [1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1,4;2:14; Gal. 1:2], or a gathering that met in a home, namely, a house church [Rom. 16:5; Col. 4:15], can on occasion have a wider reference. Here in verse 22 it is better to understand the term metaphorically of a heavenly gathering around Christ in which believers already participate [see Heb. 12:22-24]. Paul’s point in this verse is that Christ’s headship over the universe is for the benefit of His people who gather around Him in fellowship. Head has been used of Christ who rules over all things and has been given to the church. As such the head is distinct from the body. Christ as head of the church is to be understood as the ruling, guiding sustaining power, the mainspring of its activity and the center of its unity. Instead of separating Christ from His body, the head is shown to be the cohesive and enabling factor for the body. God has given Christ as head over all things for the church. His supremacy over the cosmos is seen to be for the benefit of His people. As in Colossians 1:18,24, so here in Ephesians 1:22-23 the church is said to be Christ’s body. This is not stated of the cosmos, for even though He rules all things as Lord, it is only the church that has the particular relationship with Him which is indicated by the metaphor of the body. The final clause of verse 23 makes the additional point that the church is Christ’s fullness. As head over all things Christ exercises His sovereign rule by filling the universe. But only the church is His body, and He rules it, that is, He fills it in a special way with His Spirit, grace, and gifts: it is His fullness. By speaking of the church as Christ’s body and fullness, he emphatically underlines its significance within God’s purposes. Its glorious place in the divine plan, however, provides no grounds for boasting, arrogance, or the display of a superior air, for the church is wholly dependent on Christ. In itself, it is nothing. It’s privileged position comes from its relationship to the One who as head graciously fills it with His presence.” [O’Brien, pp. 133-152].

Questions for Discussion:

1.         In verses 7-10 Paul presents past, present, and future elements of God’s plan of redemption. What are these elements and how do they impact the way Christians live in their day-to-day lives?

2.         In his prayer in 1:15-23, Paul prays for the spiritual understanding (the eyes of your hearts enlightened) of his readers. What three things does Paul pray for them to know?

3.         How does Paul describe the supremacy of Christ in 1:20-23? How does a firm belief and trust in Christ’s supremacy affect the way you live in a fallen world?

References:

Ephesians, James Boice, Baker.

The Letter to the Ephesians, Peter O’Brien, Eerdmans.

The Message of Ephesians, John Stott, Inter Varsity.