We are continuing our study of the Epistle to the Ephesians. Today we begin chapter 3. In chapter 2:11-22, Paul outlined the unprecedented blessings that Yahweh has now poured out on the ethnos/nations. For 2,000 years from Abraham to the time of Christ, Yahweh's blessings were mostly restricted to the Jews. The ethnos were excluded from the nation of Israel, were strangers to God's covenants of the promise, and thus they had no hope and were without God in the world (2:12).
Then comes that glorious contrast:
But now in Christ Yeshua you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:13 NASB
Paul shows how through the Gospel Christ now has reconciled the Jews and ethnos to one another, and He has reconciled both groups in one body to Yahweh through the cross. As a result, the ethnos are no longer strangers and aliens, but they are fellow citizens of God's new people, they are members of His household, and together with the Jews, they are being built into a Holy Temple where Yahweh now dwells (2:19-22).
Paul gives us three metaphors of the Church of Yeshua the Christ: we are a new city, a new family, and a new Temple:
in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. Ephesians 2:21-22 NASB
Believers are the new and living Temple of Yahweh. We saw that Peter also uses this metaphor of a Spiritual Temple:
you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Yeshua the Christ. 1 Peter 2:5 NASB
Let me show you something interesting about these "living stones" from the temple that Solomon built for Yahweh. When Solomon built his temple on Mount Moriah we are told:
The house, while it was being built, was built of stone prepared at the quarry, and there was neither hammer nor axe nor any iron tool heard in the house while it was being built. 1 Kings 6:7 NASB
Each stone within that temple building went up without the sound and noise of a hammer or a workman. Why? Because each stone was carried up to that building already made, already fit to be put into that temple and to be part of the house of Yahweh. The workman would make that stone at the quarry, and he would bring it, already fit, already formed, already perfect to be put and planted into the temple.
Can you see the analogy? Yahweh does the work in our life, he takes dead men and gives them life in His son. He joins us to Christ, and we share all He is and has. We are righteous in Him, so like in Solomon's temple, these living stones are complete/perfect before they are put into the living Temple of Yahweh. And it is Yahweh alone who prepares these stones for His temple.
In light of these wonderful truths of Ephesians 2, Paul is about to pray for the Ephesians that God would make these truths a reality in their experience:
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Yeshua for the sake of you Gentiles— Ephesians 3:1 NASB
But, before he gets to his prayer, something diverts Paul's attention. He gets out, "For this reason, I, Paul," then something stops him. There's no verb in this first verse, because the sentence is continued in verse 14. The verb of verse 1 is in verse 14:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, Ephesians 3:14 NASB
Here he repeats,"For this reason," and then we have the verb, "I bow my knees." And he is going to pray for the believers understanding of the truths he has taught them.
So verses 1b-13 is a parenthesis. And in that parenthesis, he goes back over this whole mystery again before he prays for them. What we have in our text for today is a big, long parenthesis that consists of one long sentence in the Greek.
"For this reason"—we know from the first three words of chapter 3 that this chapter is directly related to chapter 2. "For this reason"—what reason? Because of the fact that verse 15 says you are "one new man"; because verse 16 says, "You are one body; because verse 17 says, "You who are far off are now made near"; because verse 18 says, "We both have access by one Spirit"; because verse 19 says, "We are fellow citizens and of the household of God"; because verse 20 says, "We are built on the foundation of the prophets and the apostles"; because verse 21 says, "We are a building that grows to a Holy Temple of the Lord"; because verse 22 says, "We are built together for a habitation of God through the Spirit"; and because of this reconciliation of the Jews and ethnos to one another and to Yahweh. Because of this, I, Paul, bow my knees before the Father, i. e. because you Ephesians have been brought to Yahweh, I pray for your unity and growth in grace. It seems far more elevated and more in keeping with Paul's character for him to say, "Because you are now part of God's Spiritual Temple, I pray for your confirmation and growth in grace"; rather than, "Because you are introduced into the communion of saints, I am a prisoner of Yeshua the Christ."
So Paul launches into a prayer and just gets started when something stops him, and he goes back to cover more of the truth of the mystery of the body before he prays.
"I, Paul,"—indicates a special emphasis on the few occasions it turns up in Paul's letters. Here, as in Colossians 1:23, it stresses his calling to proclaim the Gospel to the ethnos/nations.
So instead of saying, "I bow my knees before the Father," he says, "The prisoner of Christ Yeshua "—Paul stated three times in this letter that he was a prisoner. It was during his imprisonment in Rome that Paul wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. For this reason, these letters are referred to as the "Prison Epistles."
Now it was a modified prison in a sense, because it was a prison in his own house. He had rented a house in Rome, he was a prisoner there, and he was chained to a Roman soldier.
Although he did not deserve to be in prison, he was joyfully grateful because he understood and submitted to God's sovereignty over his sufferings. He calls himself, "the prisoner of Christ Yeshua." If Paul had seen himself as the prisoner of the Jews, he would have been bitter at the Jews. If he had seen himself as the prisoner of the Roman government, he would have been angry about the miscarriage of justice. But he saw himself as the prisoner of Christ Yeshua.
Perspective is everything in life. It's how you view life that matters. When something comes into your life, how you view it is the issue. Like somebody has well said, "It isn't the circumstance, it's how you react to it." That's true. The apostle Paul is a prisoner, but instead of being melancholy, instead of being disheartened, instead of being discouraged, he just said, "I am a prisoner of Yeshua the Christ."
For believers, Yahweh's chosen ones, predestination does not lead to despair, but to freedom, confidence, and encouragement! We know that God's plan is being fulfilled according to His foreordination, and that His "eternal purpose" has already become a reality, accomplished in Yeshua.
Paul saw Yeshua as He who opens, and no man shuts; who shuts, and no man opens; who orders, and His will is carried out. Paul knew, therefore, that anytime the Lord Yeshua decided Paul's imprisonment would be of no further value, he would be set free; that when Yeshua spoke, Caesar acted. Therefore, he never saw himself as being the prisoner of Caesar. This is a tremendous lesson to us, who sometimes become worried and anxious about what the political powers-that-be are doing in the world today. Would that we had the faith of this mighty apostle who understood so clearly that Caesar was not in control, Yeshua is.
There's a whole lot of drivel being taught from pulpits today: That if you're walking with God, you will know health, and you will know wealth, and you will know the sun shining upon you everywhere you go. But Paul is in prison here. Was it because he was disobedient? Was he living in sin? No, Paul was in prison because that is where Yahweh wanted him. Paul saw things differently than most of us do. Look what he told the Philippians:
For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, Philippians 1:29 NASB
"It has been granted"—is the Greek verb charizomai, which comes from charis, which means: "grace." So charizomai is grace. Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says, "Charizomai primarily denotes to show favor or kindness as in Galatians 3:18; to give freely, bestow graciously." Paul says that suffering is a grace gift from God. Does that fit your theology? If not, you are out of sync with the Scriptures.
The teaching that God promises health and wealth to all of His children is a lie. But, although most of us don't buy into that error, we often think that if we walk obediently with the Lord, He will reward us with protection from trials. Or, when trials come, some teach that it is okay to get angry with God. The assumption behind this is, "I don't deserve this kind of treatment!" But Paul taught that suffering was a grace gift.
There is an error today called "open theism" that teaches that God is not sovereign over the tragic things that happen. He is just as upset as you are, but He can't do anything about it. They are trying to get God off the hook for all of the evil and suffering in the world. But, it is fundamentally unbiblical. In the Bible, God makes it clear that He is sovereign over everything, including our trials (Exod. 4:11; Isa. 45:7; Amos 3:6). Also, by denying God's sovereignty over our trials, the open theists take away the only source of comfort in our trials, namely, that our Sovereign loving Lord is working it for our good.
Paul goes on to say that he was a prisoner, "For the sake of you Gentiles"—he is saying, "The reason why I am here in prison is because I have been preaching, in the streets and in the synagogues and all around the countryside, this mystery that the Jew and the Goy can be united together in Christ.
Paul was not suffering because he denied the truth, but rather because he boldly proclaimed the truth. You can dodge a lot of hassles as a preacher if you tiptoe around difficult doctrines and just preach "nice" messages that make everyone feel good. Although I don't really know that experientially, I see it in the Church.
Paul is saying that he was a prisoner because of the very mystery he was preaching. You know what got him into prison? The fact that he preached the Jews and Goy were one in Christ. That's what made him a prisoner. He was literally the prisoner of this mystery. By the time he wrote Ephesians he had been a prisoner for about five years: two years of it in Caesarea, then while he was being transported to Rome, the rest of it in Rome. So he's been a prisoner for about five years.
Paul was preaching a law free Gospel, and lots of Jewish people got really upset. They didn't believe that a Goy could get saved unless he became a proselyte to Judaism, got circumcised, and kept all the ceremonial law of Moses. So they hated Paul and his Gospel.
So let's look at why he ended up in prison. Paul was traveling throughout Asia collecting money from every congregation to take to Jerusalem:
but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things. Romans 15:25-27 NASB
In other words, the Gentiles/nations have benefitted by the salvation that came through Israel, and so the Gentiles/nations want to return to the physical needs of Jerusalem. So he had collected this money and was taking it to Jerusalem.
that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; Romans 15:31 NASB
He also brought Gentile believers with him too. So he arrives, he has all this money for the poor saints given by the love of the Gentiles, and he has the Gentile saints with him to show them how God has saved them.
So he arrives in Jerusalem with this love offering. He wants to solidify the Jew and the Gentile as one. He thinks maybe this love gift will help. When he arrives:
After we arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. Acts 21:17 NASB
So far, so good.
After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, "You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; Acts 21:19-20 NASB
The Jewish believers in Jerusalem were zealous for the Torah. They're still pro-Mosaic Law and pro-circumcision. Was this wrong? Why?:
and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. Acts 21:21 NASB
The saints in Jerusalem were distressed by the false reports that Paul had been teaching Jewish converts to turn from the Law and from all of their Jewish practices.
What they were saying about Paul was not true. Paul never taught Jews to forsake Moses. He taught Gentiles not to think they had to become Jews. He taught Gentiles not to be circumcised. Why? Because they didn't need that. He taught Gentiles that they didn't need the ceremonies of the Law. He did not teach Jews not to be circumcised, and he did not teach Jews not to follow those traditions. In fact, in the case of Timothy, he actually had Timothy circumcised.
The Jerusalem elders knew that they needed to try to defuse this situation. This thing could blow sky-high. There were tens of thousands of Christians who had been drilled that Paul is an apostate. So it seemed like a good idea to these Godly men that Paul should prove his Jewish credentials so that such people might recognize that they were wrong about Paul after all.
So they tell Paul to pay the expenses of four young Jewish Christian men who were involved in a Nazirite vow. Paul could settle this matter once and for all by publicly worshiping in the temple, as a Jew, and as the Jerusalem Jewish Christians did. And the result would be that all Jewish Christians would recognize that Paul was truly faithful to, and approved of, the customs of the Jews with regard to the Law of Moses. So Paul does what they ask of him. Notice what happens:
When the seven days were almost over, the Jews from Asia, upon seeing him in the temple, began to stir up all the crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, "Men of Israel, come to our aid! This is the man who preaches to all men everywhere against our people and the Law and this place; and besides he has even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place." Acts 21:27-28 NASB
It was the "Asian Jews" who had come there for Pentecost. It's obvious they were from Ephesus. They knew Trophimus, who was an Ephesian. It is possible that these Jews had heard the apostle preach earlier in the city of Ephesus, and they had rejected his message. Perhaps they were among those who had even sought to kill him back then.
They accuse Paul of preaching, "against our people and the Law and this place"—that is against the Jews, the Jewish Law, and the Jewish Temple. These were all lies, but it got the crowd stirred up:
Then all the city was provoked, and the people rushed together, and taking hold of Paul they dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut. Acts 21:30 NASB
There was a mob riot. They drew him out of the temple, and slammed the door shut. They were about to kill him. And verse 31 tells us that word came to the commander of the Roman cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. So he comes and rescues Paul. While they are taking Paul away, he asks if he can speak to the crowd, and they let him. So Paul is making his defense, and they listen to him until he said, "Yahweh told me":
"And He said to me, 'Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'" They listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, "Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!" Acts 22:21-22 NASB
When he said that Yahweh had told him, "I will send you far away to the Gentiles." That is when all Hell broke loose. Paul was charged by the Jews with sedition against the emperor because they were so angry that he would carry any message from HaShem to the Gentiles. Jewish scruples and prejudices were terribly offended by the fact that Paul had the nerve to say to the Jews that the Gentiles were received by God equally as they, that the Gentiles could have equal standing before Him. So Paul was arrested and spent five years until the time of the writing Ephesians, five years he's still a prisoner. By this time he's in Rome and he's waiting for his prosecutors to come with their malicious charges against him. What got Paul in prison was preaching the mystery that Jew and Gentile are one in Christ.
if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you; Ephesians 3:2 NASB
"If indeed you have heard"—is a first class condition in the Greek, which means: "I am sure you've already heard." This construction in the Greek is very emphatic, used to make explicit the underlying assumption. Surely they had heard. Paul's imprisonment because of the Gospel was a huge news story for the early Church.
"the stewardship of God's grace"—the Greek word "stewardship" is oikonomia, this word has to do with the oversight and administration of another's property. A steward was a servant to whom a certain responsibility was committed, certain goods were given, that he might dispense them, might give them out to other people.
What does Paul have stewardship over? "Of God's grace of, which was given to me for you." Paul had stewardship over the Gospel, God's grace to the nations:
that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. Ephesians 3:3 NASB
What is interesting is that the word "mystery," in Paul's writings, occurs in close proximity to the word "stewardship" that Paul used in verse 2. Paul associates the two words in seven out of its ten appearances in his own letters. His stewardship, therefore, is seen to be tied up with the deliverance of the mystery. We could almost say that it's the sum total of what's been committed into his hands.
"That by revelation there was made known to me the mystery"—Paul was not indebted for his knowledge of the Gospel to the instructions of others, it was given to him by revelation.
"Mystery"—is the Greek word musterion. The Greek word occurs twenty-seven times in the New Testament, three of which are in the Gospels (where it's used in the same context in Matthew, Mark and Luke) and four in Revelation. The remaining twenty occurrences are all in Paul's letters where he uses this word with different shades of meaning in different contexts. But the basic meaning is that it refers to God's revelation or disclosure of something that formerly was hidden.
A mystery is something undiscoverable by human reason, the knowledge of which could only be attained by revelation. This is a truth that has never been known before, it's a secret that is now being made open. The key idea in the mystery centers on God's eternal plan of bringing all things together in the person of Christ.
"As I wrote before in brief"—where did they read about this in brief? Is there another letter to the Ephesians out there somewhere? He could be referring to a short portion of Colossians, 1:25-27, where he spells out much of what he does here. Remember, both Colossians and Ephesians were likely circular letters, written to be passed from church to church. But, I think he is likely referring to earlier portions of this letter, specifically 2:11-22, where we see the joining together of Jew and Gentile into one new man.
Paul is encouraging his readers to re-read chapter 2:
By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, Ephesians 3:4 NASB
Paul stated here that through reading his words, the mystery of the Gentiles and Jews being one body could be understood. What a privilege it is today to have God's Word in our own language. Six hundred years ago there was no English translation of the whole Bible. Thanks to the efforts of John Wycliffe and William Tyndale, we now can read and understand the writings of Paul for ourselves. People gave their lives to bring us God's Word. We should take advantage of this wonderful privilege.
The word "insight" is the word sunesis, which means: "mental comprehension." He says, "My purpose is to pass on my insight." His ministry appeals to the mind. Its thrust is intellectual. The main thrust of a biblical ministry is always to convey biblical teachings to the mind. He writes that it was made known to him "by revelation," but by reading this letter, the people would "be able to understand" the insight that he has received from Yahweh.
which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; Ephesians 3:5 NASB
This mystery was not previously known. "Which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men"—it was not understood that in Christ Jews and Gentiles would become one, and that all racial distinctions would be nullified in the Church.
The form in which the calling of the Gentiles was predicted in the Tanakh led to the general impression that they were to partake of the blessings of the Messiah's reign by becoming Jews, by being as proselytes merged into the old theocracy, which was to remain in all Its peculiarities. It never entered into any human mind in the Old Covenant that the theocracy itself was to be abolished, and a New Jerusalem was to be introduced, designed, and adapted equally for all mankind, under which the distinction between Jew and Gentile was to be done away.
The reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles in Christ and in His church was a mystery which no Old Covenant saint (including the prophets) understood. It was a reconciliation accomplished by our Lord on the cross of Calvary, and the message of the apostles and prophets (including Paul), who proclaimed it. It was a message which self-righteous Jews hated intensely, and this is why the Apostle Paul found himself writing to his readers from a prison cell.
"As it has now been revealed"—there are two views about how to interpret the adverbial conjunction "hos" (as); some take this comparative conjunction as restrictive, which means that the mystery was partially revealed in the Tanakh, but has now been fully revealed. But other scholars consider this comparative conjunction "hos" to be descriptive, which means that no revelation of this mystery was given in the Tanakh, but that it was revealed for the first time in the New Testament.
There are several reasons to see this conjunction as descriptive rather than restrictive. First, the verb "revealed" is from apokalupto, which means: "to uncover, unveil" something that has previously been completely covered or hidden. Secondly, the emphatic position of the temporal adverb "nyn" (now). It wasn't revealed before, but it is now. Thirdly, the parallel passage:
that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, Colossians 1:26 NASB
Paul doesn't use the adverbial conjunction "hos" (as), but rather the adversative conjunction "de" (but). This corresponds with Romans 16:25-26:
Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Yeshua Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; Romans 16:25-26 NASB
Paul tells us here that the mystery was kept secret for ages, but "now" has been manifest. So it seems best to interpret the adverbial conjunction "hos" as descriptive, meaning that no revelation of this mystery was given in the Tanakh, but that it was revealed for the first time in the New Testament.
The point to apply is that the truth about the centrality of Yeshua and the Gospel is not something that anyone can arrive at by human logic, intuition, or study. It must be revealed to them by Yahweh.
"To His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit"—just as in 2:20, we see two New Testament roles that played a large part in giving shape to the Church in her early days—apostles and prophets. Both were guided and given revelation by the Holy Spirit. And today, just as 2000 years ago, we are guided by that same revelation by the Spirit to the holy apostles and prophets, deposited to us as the Word of God.
There is a line of teaching called "Ultradispensationalism" in which some teach that only the Apostle Paul knew this secret, that to him was given the privilege of unveiling it for the first time to human minds and hearts. But, Paul himself says here, it was made known to all the apostles and prophets, i.e., the writers of the Scriptures, such as Luke and James and others who were not apostles, but who were prophets.
All divine revelation comes through the agency of the Spirit:
for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. 2 Peter 1:21 NASB
The Spirit is the agency of revelation:
to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Yeshua through the gospel, Ephesians 3:6 NASB
In the Greek this verse begins with the present infinitive eime, which is an epexegetic infinitive (an epexegetic infinitive explains) that tells us the content of the mystery mentioned first back in verse 3. It could be translated: "namely," but in the NASB: "to be specific" seems to be a good translation.
And as he explains this "mystery," in Greek he takes three nouns, and he puts the little preposition "with" with them, and coins— doesn't coin in the sense of making up new words entirely—but rather puts these words together so that you get the overwhelming idea of the sameness of relationship between Jew and Gentile in the Church of Yeshua the Christ.
That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs and of the same body and partakers of his promise in Christ, the Gospel. Now you and I may not really see how revolutionary this is, but it's just incredible.
"To be specific, that the Gentiles are"—the mystery very simply is that Jew and Gentile are brought together now in one body called the Church. The Tanakh spoke about Gentile salvation. The Tanakh spoke about Jewish salvation. The Tanakh never fully revealed that these two would be brought together in one body, the body of Christ, the Church. Gentiles are seen experiencing salvation in the Tanakh. It is always in the context of Israel. Now here we find God is going to bring Gentile and Jews together in a relationship of oneness in the body.
"Fellow heirs"—this is "co-inheritors." Paul said in Gal. 3:29:
And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise. Galatians 3:29 NASB
We have inheritance along with the Hebrews, as Paul said in 1:14, that the Holy Spirit is the guarantee of their inheritance until they acquire their possession of it. There is not one inheritance for Israel (the land and blessings of the Old Covenant), and a different one for the Church as Hagee and others teach. We are co-inheritors.
"Fellow members of the body"—this is "co-members" of the body. Paul actually makes this word up. We've seen Paul in the previous chapter use three metaphors to describe the Church: fellow-citizens, members of the household of God, and a building being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Now he uses the metaphor of the body, bringing out the unity of Gentiles with Jews as the members/parts of the body. We are all parts of the same body.
"Fellow partakers of the promise"—we share the same spiritual blessings and riches that are promised to Israel and the covenant of Abraham, because we are in union with Christ, who is the seed of Abraham:
Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, "And to seeds," as referring to many, but rather to one, "And to your seed," that is, Christ. Galatians 3:16 NASB
And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise. Galatians 3:29 NASB
"In Christ Yeshua through the gospel"—each of these designations of togetherness are all ours "in Christ Yeshua through the gospel."
So the Gentiles/ethnos are fellow heirs, they are fellow members of the one body, they are fellow partakers of the promise in Christ by the Gospel. That's the mystery. That's the secret. That's the relationship that did not exist in Tanakh. That's the content of the mystery. As Paul said in 2:15, "so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man." Not two groups, not two destinies, but one new man in Christ.
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