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Asbury Bible Commentary – A. The Role of Jesus Christ in the Formation of God's New Community (1:4–14)
Resources » Asbury Bible Commentary » Part III: The New Testament » EPHESIANS » Commentary » II. Formation of the New Community (1:3–3:21) » A. The Role of Jesus Christ in the Formation of God's New Community (1:4–14)
A. The Role of Jesus Christ in the Formation of God's New Community (1:4–14)

The church is God's new community. It is founded on Jesus Christ, the Mediator of every spiritual blessing. To offer praise to the God who conceived and implemented this new community is, therefore, appropriate. So Paul glorifies the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. The wording of the phrase suggests that Jesus acknowledged the God of the Hebrews as both the God he worshiped and the Father he loved and obeyed. The phrase joins sovereignty and intimacy. Jesus was both subject to God and Son of God.

Why is praise to God appropriate? It is fitting because the Father of Jesus the Messiah has given the Gospel and the “gifts and graces of the Holy Ghost . . . to prepare them for heavenly places” (Clarke, 431). The “mysteries” of the ancient world offered nothing that God has not already provided. In fact, every spiritual need has been supplied, every spiritual blessing has been provided, every grace has been given to those “in this heavenly state” (ibid.). In effect, God has poured out the blessings of heaven upon all those who have put their trust in Jesus, thus unlocking the channels of spiritual grace. Those who await an additional revelation, hope for a deeper insight into the nature of God, or anticipate fuller participation in the Godhead will be disappointed.

The phrase “in the heavenly realms” demands attention here. Although for Paul it often seems to mean heaven, sometimes it refers not to God's abode, but to the space between heaven and earth in which principalities and powers hold sway, and from which they disburse both bane and blessing. Thus the phrase may and perhaps should be translated “in the realm of spiritual activity.” Gnosticism, a heresy that may have been emerging at this time, built a theology around this “space between.” Gnostics taught that Jesus lived in this realm, subject to the whim of the fallen angels who ruled it. In using the phrase, then, the writer intends to show not only that spiritual blessings are administered in Christ, but also that Jesus has conquered the principalities and powers alleged to rule this world beyond earth (cf. 1:20-22).

Beginning with 1:4, Paul enumerates the blessings that have come through Jesus. First, God chose the saints in him before the creation of the world [lit. “cosmos”] to be holy and blameless in his sight. The work of Christ was determined prior to creation. Through the Son, the salvation of God's people was to be accomplished; through Jesus, God would constitute his people, choosing as his those who accepted Jesus as his Son and their Savior. More important, however, is the goal God had in mind for those chosen through Christ. The plan of the Father was that they should be holy and blameless in his sight, not only absolved of guilt, but sharing in the nature of the Trinity. For Wesleyan scholars, then, the emphasis here is not on the choosing so much as on the condition of the choosing. Simply put, God made the choice that those who were to be his would be his through Christ. Therefore, the true people of God in the OT were those who anticipated the Messiah, who were “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (Lk 2:25), who “fled to take hold of the hope offered” (Heb 6:18). “Living by faith when they died” without seeing the promise fulfilled, “they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth . . . longing for a better country” (Heb 11:13-16).

Moreover, in love he predestined those who would believe to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ. The destiny of believers was preestablished. They would be sons of God by adoption through faith in Christ. The new life believers have is none other than the indwelling Son of God. Through Christ, they are made children of God, having both a new relationship and a new position. The relationship gives right and title to the Father's riches; the position grants privileges associated with belonging to the Father's family.

God was not forced by either logic or social pressure to adopt believers as children. He took pleasure in willing their adoption and in planning and executing the action. This is to the praise of his grace, freely given in Christ, the One he loves. Paul saw, in other words, that God the Father had not provided minimally for believers. Rather, God had gone beyond forgiving their sins. From the beginning, God had established a plan by which sinners might be not only pardoned but parented, not only absolved but adopted. Such a plan can be attributed only to grace. In the divine plan, acquittal has been followed by adoption, and believers, as God's children, have become “heirs with Christ” (Ro 8:17).

Paul moves now from the conception of the plan to its execution (1:7-15). What God intended for believers he accomplished successfully at Calvary. There, through the blood of Christ, he redeemed from bondage those who await their release from sin's grip. The eternal plan was executed in time. In Gal 4:3-5 Paul wrote, “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” In the Incarnation, the preestablished purposes of God moved into the arena of history. The grand plan, conceived in the mind of God and anticipated in the shadows of the Old Covenant, was expressed in Jesus Christ.

To establish the new community, God provided forgiveness of sin and redemption from the powers of bondage. If the divine scheme can be attributed to grace, then certainly the actual act of redemption is accomplished as a result of God's grace lavishly poured out. Although grace cannot be measured, Paul says that God was extravagant in dispensing it. In effect, God gave more than anyone knew how to ask for in order to bring to fruition the divine plan for his people. Paul believed that he, and every believer, had benefited from God's decision to pour out abundant grace.

The NIV rendering of v. 8, unlike the RSV and slightly different from the KJV, includes the phrase with all wisdom and understanding as a part of the display of grace. This rendering suggests that God, fully aware of both human need and the divine plan, wisely extended grace beyond human measure. The initiative was divine, not human. God did not act in response to a human call for help, but in line with his own design, when he graciously put the plan into action.

In addition, in Jesus, God revealed the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure. In the Son, God showed the grand plan for the formation of the new Israel. In Galatians and Romans Paul wrote of his revelation that faith was the most justifiable means of salvation because it was fair to all, Jews and Gentiles alike. That God had anticipated the salvation of Gentiles was only hinted at in the OT. The full vision did not come until after Pentecost, when the significance of the work of Jesus was slowly but finally grasped. Since the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and his sending of the Holy Spirit, the plan of God has been totally revealed. The mystery, hidden through the ages, has been uncovered, not by human effort or intelligence, but by divine pleasure. God chose to reveal to all the magnificent panorama of human salvation conceived prior to creation, that through Christ he would adopt into sonship these fallen creatures who, by free choice, separated themselves from God. If the plan to bring together sinful Jews and Gentiles into a new community was wonderful, how much more wonderful is the revelation of the plan.

God intended to accomplish this plan in Christ when the times will have reached their fulfillment. The phrase is reminiscent of Gal 4:4, although use of the future tense here suggests that the consummation of the eternal plan awaits some final historical condition. On the other hand, had not the divine idea already been enacted? Is not the point of this epistle to show that God has already seated Christ at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come (vv. 20-21)? And has not God already placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything (vv. 22-23)? Fulfillment of God's plan is not postponed to some future time.

On the other hand, it is true that there remains a yet unfulfilled dimension of the marvelous divine plan, a universal worship of Jesus and a universal recognition of his lordship (Php 2:10). That Jesus is Head of all things is a current fact; that his lordship will be universally acknowledged remains a promise in the divine agenda of grace.

Returning to the facts of grace previously noted, summarizing as a literary transition, Paul reminds his readers that they have been chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of God. This he has already mentioned to them. Why does he repeat himself here? The answer may be in the single word also (kai). Here the emphasis turns not toward the great plan of redemption, but toward its purpose. That is, believers have been predestined not only as an act of divine grace, but as a living testimony to that grace. The salvation of Jewish believers, the first to hope in Christ, brings praise to God's glory.

Up to this point the apostle has spoken primarily about Jewish believers. After all, the history of redemption is, up to the time of the apostle himself, a story of God's dealings with Israel. Observe, therefore, the use of the pronoun we, by which Paul means those Jews who, as he, have believed the Gospel and have accepted Jesus as Savior.

In v. 13, however, the mystery begins to unfold as Paul calls attention to the true significance of the work of God in Christ: “And you [Gentiles] also were included in Christ.” The work of Jesus the Christ was not for the Jews alone but for Gentiles as well. Why this is so astonishing is demonstrated in ch. 2. For now, though, Paul simply reminds those persons whose roots are in gentile paganism that they, along with the remnant of faith of the old community of Israel, have been included in God's new community. Once excluded because of blood line, they have now been included because of faith.

Having believed, they have been marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. Having met the condition for their salvation, they have been marked by God, who now lays claim to them. The presence of the Holy Spirit serves to identify them as God's people. Several times in Acts the Holy Spirit came upon a group of people as a way of convincing the apostolic community that God accepted those who did not meet Jewish standards for inclusion (Ac 8:14-17; 10:44-46; 15:8; 19:6). That they belong to God has been established by a formal seal certifying the legality of the adoption. As one would file in a county courthouse a wedding certificate or a deed, so God has recorded the adoption of Gentiles, not by noting the date of their circumcision, but by sending the Holy Spirit into their hearts. To exercise the rights of adoption rests with them, but God has already marked them as his own.

For Jew and Gentile alike, the Holy Spirit, by way of analogy, is a deposit guaranteeing [their] inheritance until God redeems his possession. At a time in the future when the full benefits of belonging to God are realized, when the inheritance of the saints is actualized, the seal of the resident Holy Spirit will be the condition by which the inheritance is effected. Until that day, believers are kept by the Spirit, to the praise of [God's] glory.