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3. The Mystery Made Known
1. The condition of the Gentiles (Ephesians 2:11-12 )
2. But now in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:13-19 )
3. The new and great relationship (Ephesians 2:19-22 )
4. The Mystery made known and Paul’s ministry (Ephesians 3:1-13 )
5. The prayer (Ephesians 3:14-19 )
6. The doxology (Ephesians 3:20-21 )
With the eleventh verse of the second chapter we reach a new division in this Epistle. The great mystery of the masterwork of God, the Church, is next revealed by the Holy Spirit. We saw in the first chapter of this wonderful Epistle how God planned His masterpiece. Then we learned in the first ten verses of the second chapter how God deals with us individually and fashions lost sinners, who trust in Christ, into His masterwork. And now we are led higher, and the fact is made known that all believers are united into one body. This truth was briefly mentioned at the close of the preceding chapter (Ephesians 1:22-23 ).
First, the condition of the Gentiles, the uncircumcision, as called by the Jews, is briefly described. They were without Christ; aliens from the commonwealth of Israel; strangers from the covenants; and without hope and without God. Such was the condition of the great Gentile world.
Well may we remember in the dreadful days of apostasy, which are upon us, that Gentiles, who have had the gospel preached unto them, are turned once more from the light, yea, from God’s best. Christendom in denying Christ is rapidly waning, and must eventually plunge into a greater darkness than the darkness of the Gentile world before the cross. Without Christ, without hope, and without God! Fearful and solemn words these are! When Christ is given up, His deity and His blood rejected, when men deliberately turn away from Him, and deny His person and His glory, they rush into the outer and eternal darkness “without hope and without God.”
But now Christ being preached and believed in, Gentiles who were once far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. The little word “now” is of importance.
This present dispensation of grace in which He makes known the mystery, which in other ages was not made known, that the Gentiles, once without Christ and without God, should be fellow-heirs and of the same body, is the “now” in which the surpassing riches of God’s grace are made known. Now, after Israel rejected the King and the Savior, now, when He is upon the Father’s throne, now, when the Holy Spirit is on earth to do His appointed work, now, during the present age, God makes fully known what He had planned before the foundation of the world. He is producing His masterwork, taking the material from Israel, and reaching out with His mighty power after the Gentiles, to put them into one body. The poor, miserable, naked beggar upon the dunghill, the Gentile, is taken up to sit among princes and inherit the throne of glory.
And all who believe are made nigh by the blood of Christ. Then we find three statements in Eph 2:14-15 : 1. He is our peace, making of both one. The parties mentioned here as made one are Jews and Gentiles. 2. Broken down the middle wall and abolished the law of commandments. Between these two there stood a middle wall of partition, which separated them. This wall is the law. God Himself had put it up. But now in the cross of Christ, God has broken down this middle wall and made an end of the enmity which existed between Jews and Gentiles. And the law of commandments and ordinances finds its end in the cross. 3. Making in Himself one new man.
Jews and Gentiles, believing, trusting in Christ, made nigh by His blood, are made both one and constitute one new man. This is what God has accomplished, taking believing Jews and believing Gentiles, gathering them into one. This is the masterwork of God, He does during this age. When the kingdom age comes the Jews will receive their place of blessing and glory in their land, and the Gentiles will be greatly blessed and enjoy righteousness and peace. Both Jews and Gentiles will be in the kingdom then, but not as one body. In the present age a body is forming “where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11 ). This new man is the church, and Christ is the Head of that new man. Grace flowing from the cross of Christ, where peace was made in the blood, takes up Jews and Gentiles and makes them one. When our Lord prayed in His high priestly prayer “that they may all be one as we are one,” He must have thought of this great truth, now fully revealed in this Epistle by the Spirit of God.
In Ephesians 2:16 we have two similar statements as in the preceding verses: 1. Both (Jews and Gentiles believing) reconciled unto God in one body. 2. The enmity slain by the cross. And furthermore He came and preached peace to both, to those afar off (Gentiles) and to those that were nigh (the Jews). Then follows the blessed result. “For through Him we both (believing Jews; and Gentiles) have access by one Spirit unto the Father.” The Jew did not know anything in Old Testament times about “access unto the Father.” He had a tabernacle and the way into the holiest was not yet made known. And the Gentile was without God altogether. But now believing Jews and Gentiles belong to the family of God, indwelt by the same Spirit, the Spirit of Sonship.
In Ephesians 2:19 we hear of the new relationship into which believing Gentiles are brought in Christ. “Now therefore, ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” In Ephesians 2:20 the Church comes into view, and we hear that Gentiles saved by grace and made nigh by blood “are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief corner stone.” The Church is compared to a building.
In the Old Testament God had a building in which He manifested His presence and His glory. The tabernacle in the wilderness and the temple of Solomon were shadows of the Church, which God is now building. The foundation upon which the Church as the house is built, we find mentioned first. One of the common mistakes concerning the foundation upon which the Church is built, is that, which claims that the foundation are the prophets of the Old Testament. According to this view the Old Testament saints belonged to the Church, and the Church itself was therefore in existence throughout the previous dispensations. This view is often based upon the words we have under consideration, that the Church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Now if the prophets were mentioned before the apostles, there might be a possibility that the prophets of the Old Testament are meant. But it says “apostles and prophets.” They are the New Testament apostles and prophets. Ephesians 3:5 gives positive evidence on this whole question. The Church is called a mystery “which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.”
“Built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” does not mean that the apostles are the foundation. The apostles are the foundation through their inspired teachings as Paul wrote, “I have laid the foundation.” But he also adds “for other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:9-11 ). The Lord Jesus Christ and the doctrine of Christ is the foundation. This the apostles taught. And the Lord Jesus Christ is the chief corner stone (Isaiah 28:16 ; Psalms 118:22 ; Matthew 21:44 ; Acts 4:11 ; 1 Peter 2:4-5 ). “In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:21 ). The building, the true Church is fitly framed together, which means that God puts it together in His own marvelous way.
Solomon’s temple gives a little illustration of this. When that temple was building, hammer, axe and tools of iron were not heard. “And the house, when it was building, was built of stone made ready before it was brought thither, so that there was neither hammer nor axe, nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was building.” Every stone was prepared beforehand and fitted into the place where it belonged. How beautifully it illustrates the fitting together of the house, His Church! He chooses and prepares the material and puts each in its proper place (1 Corinthians 12:1-31 ). What a contrast with man’s methods in trying to increase “church membership”! The divine revelation is forgotten. Christendom has departed from the faith in these revelations concerning the one Church and its architect. But all the confusion, the wrong conceptions and attending evils, cannot frustrate the purpose of the Lord. He is building His Church. He takes the material and puts it as living stones in the place where it belongs. This is the work of His Spirit.
And the Holy Spirit dwells there. He dwells in the true Church, because He indwells every individual member of the body of Christ. We are the habitation of God. As He dwelt of old in the tabernacle, so He dwells in the Church through the Spirit. God does no longer dwell in an earthly house. The conception of a church building being a “holy place” which we must call “the house of the Lord” or “a temple” is absolutely wrong. It is the Jewish idea. God does no longer dwell in an earthly house and yet He has His habitation here. Wherever two or three are gathered together in His name, there He is in the midst; that is a Church and the habitation of God through the Spirit. “Even now in the state of imperfection, by the Spirit dwelling in the hearts of believers, that God has His habitation in the Church; and then when the growth and increase of that Church shall be completed, it will be still in and by the Holy Spirit, fully penetrating and possessing the whole glorified church, that the Father will dwell in it forever.” (Dean Alford, Greek New Testament.)
In the first verse of the third chapter Paul speaks of himself as “the prisoner of the Christ, Jesus, for you Gentiles.” He became a prisoner on account of the Gentiles, when on his last visit to Jerusalem (Acts 22:21-22 ). And to him was made known the mystery which was hidden in other generations. And the mystery is “that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel.”
That Gentiles should be fellow-heirs with Jewish believers in a distinct body is a new revelation. The Old Testament abounds in promises for the Gentile nations. These promises speak of righteousness and peace, which the nations of the earth are to enjoy. But they all stand connected with the age which is yet to come. That age is introduced by the visible manifestation of the Lord. At that time the people Israel will receive the place of headship among the nations. The Gentiles will join themselves to Israel, and Israel has the promise that the nations will seek the light and glory revealed in their midst. “And the nations shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. Lift up thine eyes round about and see; all they gather themselves together, they come to thee. Thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side. Then shalt thou see, and be filled with delight; and thine heart shall thrill, and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the nations shall come unto thee” (Isaiah 60:3-5 ).
Many other passages could be quoted, but in not one of them is it said that Gentiles should be joint-heirs. in this mystery of the Church there is revealed an inheritance which is far greater than any blessing promised to earthly Israel during the coming kingdom. Both, believing Jews and Gentiles are joint-heirs of Christ, and in the coming day of glory they will reign and rule with Him.
Then “of the same body” joint-members. The believing Jews on the day of Pentecost were formed into one body by the Holy Spirit. They became then one spirit with the Lord, and that marvelous organism, the body of Christ, had its beginning. Gentiles are joint-members of the same body; they are united with all the saints in one body. And therefore believing Gentiles are joint-partakers of His promises in Christ by the gospel. These promises do not concern the earth, but they concern the glory to come. Israel’s promises will be fulfilled, and they will be under Christ as King, when He comes to reign. But the body of Christ has far greater promises in Christ. The body will be joined to the head, share the glory of the head and be where the head is. The Head, Christ, and the body, the Church, composed of believing Jews and Gentiles, joint-heirs, joint-members, joint-partakers--this is the mystery.
And of all this the Apostle Paul was the minister. Beautiful words, “Unto me, whom are less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” The great revelation had made him very humble.
He might have made much of his superior knowledge, of the great revelation given to him, and he might have paraded a kind of an official pride as the apostle to the Gentiles. But the high calling, the mystery made known unto him, the blessed ministry given to him, produced far different results. It humbled him into the dust before God. it could not be otherwise. Grace, such wondrous grace, as revealed through Paul, reaching down to such as we are, lifting so high with such an unspeakable calling and destiny, will ever humble us into the dust to give Him the glory. Grace necessitates this. The more we know of the blessed mystery of God’s masterpiece, the less we shall think of ourselves and delight to take the lowest place. Truth learned or knowledge gained in spiritual things, which does not humble us and make us think less and less of ourselves, is a dangerous thing. Truth, must ever break us down and lead into self-judgment and self abasement.
The purpose of preaching the mystery concerning the church (Ephesians 3:9-13 ) is twofold: 1. To make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery; to make it known among men. 2. To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God. The heavenly hosts look on (1 Corinthians 11:10 ) and behold by the Church the manifold wisdom of God.
That which no prophet ever saw, what no human being could have imagined, what no angel ever knew, what was known alone to God, took place. The Church, the body of Christ, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all, began on earth with the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. They see how this body is being built, fitly framed together, and they know the glory which awaits that body. Therefore now is made known unto angels by the Church the manifold wisdom of God.
And because the angels possess this knowledge, they rejoice over one repenting sinner (Luke 15:7 ). They know what it means to the sinner, and more so to Christ, when another member is added to His body. Nor must we lose sight of another statement. “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14 ). We do not know how they minister to our need, but we know they do minister.
The second prayer in this epistle (Ephesians 3:14-21 ) is addressed to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The petitions of the prayer are five: 1. To be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner Man 1:2 . That Christ may dwell in your heart. 3. To comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height. 4. To know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge. 5. To be filled with all the fullness of God. The Holy Spirit who gave this prayer wants God’s people to know more of Christ, to feed on Him and by knowing the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, to be filled unto all the fullness of God. Think of the dimensions of this love! We are to comprehend with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and depth and height. But who can know all this? It will take eternity to comprehend it all. Look at the outstretched arms of the blessed One on the cross! Here we behold the breadth. “Come unto Me all”--that is the breadth of His love. The length is from eternity to eternity. The first chapter told us of the fact that before the foundation of the world He thought of us. He loved us before we ever existed. His love has no beginning and no end. it is an eternal love with which He loveth us.
And the depth! How deep, oh! how deep did He go down! The manger? The boyhood days in Nazareth? The manhood when He had not where to lay His head? The life that spent and was spent? Ah! the depths are far deeper. Let the hours of darkness give the answer, when He descended into the deep, dark waters of judgment and God’s face was hidden from Him. Shall we ever know the depths of His love?
The height takes us into the heaven of heavens. Look into an opened heaven! See the glory-light! Behold there on that throne, there sits, not an angel, but a man! “We see Jesus who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor.” And into that glory He has taken us. His love could never stop short of that. Where He is there the objects of His love shall ever be with Him. “The glory Thou hast given me I have given them.” Oh! the breadth, the length, the depth, the height!
“To know the love of Christ that passeth knowledge.” We are to know something which passeth knowledge. It is a paradox. We know that love, and the more we know it the more it passeth our knowledge. Shall we ever know fully the love that passeth knowledge? This ever must be our blessed occupation to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge. And what are the consequences? “That ye may be filled unto (not with) all the fullness of God.” In the measure in which we know the love of Christ and comprehend the dimensions of this love, in the measure in which we have Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith and are rooted and grounded in love, in that measure shall we be filled unto all the fullness of God.
The blessed doxology ends this wonderful section of God’s highest revelation. “Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto Him be glory in the church, in Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end, Amen.” What assurance and what encouragement to pray. Let us ask much in spiritual things and He will do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on Ephesians 3". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30