Considering the book of Ephesians a chapter at a time is a little bit like taking pictures of the Rocky Mountains from outer space. There is no hope of covering everything; there is perhaps some hope of stirring up a desire in you to give yourself to a lifetime of meditating on the themes of this book. As we learn later in this epistle, the Church is the bride of Christ. As she is gloriously adorned for her husband on her wedding day, she wears a golden crown, made up of all the Scriptures. If that image be allowed, the book of Ephesians should be understood as one of the central jewels in it.
“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ . . .” (Eph. 1:1-23).
Ephesus the Great
Ephesus was a harbor city on the west coast of modern Turkey It was the capital city for Proconsular Asia, and contained one of the seven wonders of the ancient world—the temple of Artemis (or Diana). It is a ruin today because the harbor silted up. But in Paul’s day, a street called the Arcadian Way ran about half a mile east from the harbor, where it connected with the cross street called Theater Street. The theater itself—where the riot occurred (Acts 19:29) was straight across the street at the intersection. The city had a population of roughly 250,000. The city was a center of great learning, as well as of great superstitions (Acts 19:19). Paul lived there from A.D. 52-54, and this letter is written about ten years later from prison in Rome.
Summary of the Text
Paul identifies himself as an apostle by the will of God, and salutes the Ephesian saints as being faithful in Christ Jesus (v. 1). He blesses them with grace and peace from the Father and the Son (v. 2). The Spirit is not mentioned by name because He is that grace and peace. A blessing is pronounced upon the Father of Jesus Christ, who is Himself the source of all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ (v. 3). The first mentioned blessing is the fact that we were chosen in Christ to be holy before the foundation of the world (v. 4). We were chosen to be holy, not because we were holy. He predestined us in love to be adopted by Jesus Christ and brought to God, and He did this because it was what He wanted (v. 5). The result of this is so that the glory of His grace would be praised, not vilified (v. 6). We have redemption through His blood, which means forgiveness for sin, according to His riches of grace (v. 7). This is a mountain of grace, but He did not just dump it on us; He showered with grace in all wisdom and prudence (v. 8). He lavishes with precision. God intended this within His own counsels for a long time past, from before when the world was made, but has now unveiled the mystery to us (v. 9). That mystery was that, when the time was finally right, God would gather everything in heaven and earth up into Christ (v. 10). In Christ, absolutely everything is recapitulated or summed up. God does everything as He wishes, and His wishes included making us His heirs (v. 11). Paul is describing himself here as inundated by the first wave of this grace (v. 12). But Gentile Ephesians not fear that this grace will run out—they also heard and believed and were sealed (v. 13). They were sealed by the Spirit, who is the earnest payment or first installment of their final inheritance (v. 14).
Ever since Paul heard of their faith in Jesus and love for the saints (v. 15), he has not stopped giving thanks for them (v. 16). His prayer for them included some remarkable requests—that the Father of glory would give them the spirit of wisdom and revelation in their knowledge of Christ (v. 17). He asks further that the eyes of their understanding would be enlightened to the extent that they would really “get” the hope of His calling, and the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints (v. 18)—a real down-is-up truth. Another thing was the greatness of His power for believers (v. 19), the kind of power that was evidenced in the resurrection and ascension (v. 20). That ascension placed Christ far above all current and future authorities (v. 21). Everything was placed under His feet (v. 22), and He was made head over everything for the Church. That Church is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything (v. 23).
The True Nature of Paul’s Prayer
We are told here that Jesus was exalted to the highest imaginable place—it says that He was raised far above every other authority in the cosmos (v. 21). But this is not why Paul asks for the eyes of their hearts to be enlightened. That is not the thing that staggers us; everyone expects God to be “far above” everything. The thing that would require a special anointing from the Spirit to “get” is the coupling of this exaltation of Christ with the honoring of His bride. Consider what Paul is actually saying here. First, before the foundation of the world, God chose us (v. 4), loved us (vv. 4-5), predestined us (v. 5), blessed us (v. 6), lavished grace upon us (v. 8), and so on. Second, Paul specifically says that he is asking that the Spirit would open their eyes so that they might understand how great and glorious Christ’s inheritance is in the saints (v. 18). And third, we are told that Christ fills absolutely everything (v. 23), but in the same breath we are told that we in the Church are His fullness (v. 23). So the issue is not the exaltation of Christ; the issue is the corresponding exaltation of the Church in Christ. If we get just a portion of what Paul is talking about here, we will buckle at the knees. If we are to learn this without collapsing, God will have to do it. Your condition before conversion and your condition now can only be compared to Christ in the tomb and Christ at the right hand of Almighty God.
There are two great themes in Ephesians—the reconciliation of all things in creation to Christ, and the reconciliation of all nations in Christ. All the practical teaching is simply learning how to live as if these two great themes are true.