Ephesians 3:1-12 The Divine Mystery
The book we are studying presently in this series Revealing the Gospel is Paul's epistle to the Ephesians, what many commentators refer to as the Queen of the Epistles. Many scholars feel that, in this epistle, is to be found the most comprehensive statement of the Christian religion. And that is one of the reasons why we are studying this wonderful epistle of Paul.
We have already seen, in the last four studies, the first two chapters of this epistle in which Paul expounds with clarity the fundamental truth of the gospel, the essential message of salvation as it is revealed in the history of our Lord Jesus Christ. And, of course, the key phrase or statement in these first two chapters is to deal with that central theme of Paul's theology which is the "in Christ" motif."
In chapter 1, verses 3-14, he has told us that in Christ we have already been blessed with every spiritual blessing pertaining to heaven, that we have been chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we have been accepted by God in Him, that we have been adopted as sons and daughters of God through Jesus Christ. We have received redemption through His blood. And then in chapter 2, he goes on to explain how this took place by a wonderful miracle. God took the corporate life of the human race that He came to redeem and took the divine life of His Son and united these two natures, the divine and the human in the womb of Mary. And thus this qualified Christ to be our Substitute, our Representative. And by doing this Christ did not save us but He qualified to be the second Adam. And we are told that in Christ we were made alive together with Him; we were raised together with Him and we are actually sitting in heavenly places together with Christ.
And now we will turn to chapter 3 and the first twelve verses. And I have entitled our study, "The Divine Mystery." This section of Ephesians may be divided into two parts, verses 1 to 7 of chapter 3 of Ephesians may be described as the mystery revealed and, of course, verses 8 to 12 is the purpose of that mystery. Now what is this divine mystery? The divine mystery which was somewhat suppressed by the Jews in the Old Testament, is that God included the Gentiles in the plan of salvation. This was somewhat kept a secret in the Old Testament times. In fact, there was a barrier that was built by the Jews in the Sanctuary, in their temple which disallowed any Gentile to go beyond that barrier. We saw this in our previous study.
Now, of course, Paul is here is showing the Gentile world that the salvation of the Gentiles was not an afterthought. There are many statements in the Old Testament that clearly reveal that God had the Gentiles in mind when He sent His Son to save the world. In other words, in Jesus Christ, God has given all mankind, Jews and Gentiles, a new history, a new status, in which we stand justified. That is God's gift to mankind. That's the unconditional good news of salvation that we find in this wonderful gospel that Jesus asked His disciples to proclaim to all mankind.
Now, let me give you a couple of statements from the book of Romans where Paul quotes the Old Testament, clearly indicating that the Old Testament did include the Gentiles in the plan of salvation. In fact, one of the key promises that God made in the Old Testament was to Abraham. "And there God told Abraham that in you, in your seed, which is to be Christ, all nations will be blessed, all the nations of the earth will be blessed." But let me give you a couple of quotations from Romans, chapter 10, verses 19 and 20. And I am going to read this from my New King James. Listen to what Paul quotes from the Old Testament concerning the salvation of the Gentiles. Now, he is addressing this chapter 10 to the Jews but listen to what he says in verse 19: "But I say, did Israel not know. First, Moses says (he is quoting from Moses; he is quoting from Deuteronomy 32, verse 21) I will provoke you to jealousy by those who are not a nation; I will anger you by a foolish nation." In other words, the acceptance of the gospel God predicted through Moses would cause the Jews to be jealous. Then in verse 20 of Romans 10, he quotes from Isaiah 65, verse 1: "But Isaiah very boldly says, I was found by those who do not seek me; I was made manifest to those who did not ask for me." And that, of course, is the Gentiles.
But now, let's go to Ephesians, chapter 3 and look at this passage and see what Paul is trying to get across here. The first section of this passage, Ephesians 3, verses 1 to 7 is dealing with the divine mystery. Let me read the passage first and then we will look at it in more detail. "For this reason, I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you how that by revelation, he made known to me the mystery as I wrote before in a few words by which when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men as it was now being revealed by the Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets, that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs of the same body and partakers of his promise in Christ through the gospel of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of his power."
The problem that the Jews created regarding this mystery was this, that the word "Gentile" in the Old Testament had two meanings. The word "Gentile" could mean a non-Jew and the word "Gentile" was also sometimes used to refer to the unbeliever. And, you see, what the Jews did they took the Old Testament text where God said to the Jews, "Don't be unequally yoked" and so on and applied that word "Gentile" which really referred to the unbeliever to the Gentile nations. And so the Jews came up with the idea that the promise of the Messiah was only for their fellow Jews. And this was the traditional teaching of Judaism at the time of Christ. In fact, the disciples were victims to this teaching so that after Jesus gave the commission to go into all the world and preach the gospel, the disciples understood the world to mean the Jewish world and not the Gentile world. And so, God had to open the eyes of the apostles especially Peter, that the gospel was not to be limited to the Jewish world only but also must include the Gentile world.
Let me give you an example of this. In Acts, chapter 10, we have Peter sitting up in the terrace of a house, waiting for the ladies downstairs to prepare lunch. He was hungry and he fell asleep. And in verse 15, we are told that he was given a vision while he was asleep. The vision was some unclean animals in a net that came down from heaven and a voice said to Peter, "Kill these animals, you are hungry; kill these animals and eat." And Peter responded, "How can I do this? I am a Jew and these animals are unclean. I have never eaten anything unclean." And then comes the voice again in verse 28 of Acts 10: "What I have declared clean, let no man call unclean." Now, of course, the voice was not referring to the animals literally. These animals were used as a metaphor, as a symbol of the Gentiles because the Gentiles were considered as unclean, as dogs, by the Jews at the time of Christ. God was telling Peter that the gospel has redeemed, not only the Jews, but also the Gentiles. And Paul, of course, expounds this wonderfully as we saw when we studied the book of Romans.
In chapter 3 of Romans, Paul says there is no difference between Jew and Gentile; all are under sin; all have come short of the glory of God and that the gospel saves both Jews and Gentiles. Now, he is expounding this mystery to his readers in this epistle to the Ephesians.
Having said this, let us now look at what these verses we have just read are saying. First of all, in verse 1, there are two things that you must keep in mind for this reason. What reason? Well, he has verse 22 of chapter 2 in mind when he uses the words "this reason." What is the reason? Let me read you verse 22 of Ephesians 2: "In whom (that is, in Christ), you also are being built together." The "you also" is "you Gentiles also" are being built together "for a habitation of God in the Spirit." In other words, the gospel is including you Gentiles. And for this reason, because Paul proclaimed the gospel to the Gentiles, I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles. Paul was in that dungeon, in that Roman prison, because of his proclamation of the gospel to the Gentiles. Remember, as I mentioned in our introduction to this epistle, this letter is a prison letter. But what I want you to notice is that Paul does not refer to himself as the prisoner of Rome, which he is but as the prisoner of Jesus Christ. In other words, what Paul is saying here is, "I am in prison because Christ wants me there." And this is something that we need to keep in mind. Nobody can touch you if God says, "No." And if there is any reader who is going through some difficulties and some problems, please remember, God is sovereign; He is in charge. If He allows you to go through these problems, let us say you have lost a job or you have lost a loved one or whatever your problem may be, please remember, nothing happens apart from the permission of God. As Paul brought out in Romans 8, verse 28, all things work together for good to those that love God.
And so, Paul is saying, "I am in prison, but don't get discouraged. I am there because Christ wants me there. I am not a prisoner of Rome; I am a prisoner of Jesus Christ." And then, he reminds his listeners or his readers in verse 2 and 3 how God had revealed to him, "If indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you." In other words, he is reminding his readers that God set him aside to proclaim the gospel to the Gentile world. And that is what he brings out in verse 3 also, how that by revelation he made known to me the mystery as I wrote before in a few words, by which you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ." In other words, Paul is saying, "Look, God has made it very clear to me through revelation, that the Gentiles are included in the plan of salvation."
Then in verse 5, he tells us that this truth was kept hidden in the ages gone by, that is, during the Old Testament times. Please notice, the salvation of the Gentiles was not an afterthought. The salvation of the Gentiles was there right from the beginning when God gave the promise to Adam after the Fall, when He said that the seed of Adam would crush the serpent's head, He was referring to salvation to all mankind. That is why if you look at the genealogy of Christ as recorded in the gospel of Luke, Luke takes the Genealogy of Christ right up to Adam. Now, remember, Luke was a Gentile himself and he is saying that Jesus came to save the whole human race that was ruined by Adam. And so, in verse 5 of Ephesians 3, Paul is saying this truth, unfortunately, was kept a secret but this divine mystery which was kept a secret by the misunderstanding of the plan of salvation by the Jews is now revealed. First, it was revealed through Peter and now it was especially (Paul says) revealed to me because I was chosen to be an apostle for the Gentiles. And that is what he says in verse 6 of Ephesians 3, that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs of the same body and partakers of his promise in Christ through the gospel.
You know, in chapter 3 of Galatians, Paul makes this wonderful statement. He says that anyone who has been baptized into Christ, you will find this in verses 27 to 29 of Galatians 3, anyone who is baptized into Christ has put on Christ, has become one with Christ and such a person has become part of the body of Christ in which there is no Jew; there is no Gentile; there is no male; there is no female; there is no rich; there is no poor; there is no educated or there is no uneducated; we are all one in Christ and therefore, we are joint heirs with Abraham of the promise. You see, when God sent Jesus Christ, He sent Him to save the whole human race. God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son. The gift of God is for all men. And Paul is saying in verse 7 of Ephesians 3 that he was chosen to be a minister according to the gift of the grace of God "given to me by the effective working of his power." God had called Paul out, given him a special power of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the gospel, the good news of salvation, the unconditional good news of salvation, to the Gentile world, just like He had called Peter to preach the gospel to the Jews. And so he goes on in the second phase of this chapter 3, verses 8 to 12 where Paul discusses the purpose of the mystery. Let me read this passage and then we will go to it again as we did the first section and see what Paul is saying. Chapter 3 of Ephesians, verses 8 to 12: "To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given (this privilege was given) that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ and to make all people (not just the Jews, all people, all mankind) see what is the fellowship of the mystery which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places according to the eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in him." Oh, what a tremendous passage this is.
What is Paul saying here? First of all, he is saying that to him, the least of the apostles, and he calls himself the least of the apostles because he persecuted the Christian church and you will find this in 1 Corinthians, chapter 15, verse 9 where he calls himself the least of the apostles because he persecuted the Christian church. But he is saying, "To me, the one that deserves the very opposite but to me, Paul, I have been given this wonderful privilege to preach to the Gentile world the unsearchable riches of Christ." You know, in Corinthians, Paul tells us eye has not seen, ear has not heard, neither has it entered into our gray matter, the wonderful things that God has prepared for us in Jesus Christ but He has now revealed this to the unbelievers. You know, in Christ, we are, become, sons and daughters of God. We shall reign with Him; we are joint heirs with Christ, Paul says in Romans 8:17. Oh, what a wonderful privilege God has given us sinners in Jesus Christ. And it is Paul's great privilege to expound this wonderful truth and that is why we are studying this book so that we, who are Gentiles, may understand this great divine mystery that we were included in the plan of salvation. That's what verse 9 is saying, to make known to all people what is the fellowship of the mystery which has been from the beginning of the ages hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ.
Now, what is Paul saying here? Paul is saying here that God's plan from the very beginning was to save all mankind. But unfortunately this was hidden only in God. Does it mean that He did not reveal it before? Yes, as we saw earlier, He revealed the plan of salvation to include the Gentiles in the Old Testament. There are too many texts there. But unfortunately, the word "Gentiles" was interpreted by the Jews to mean not the unbeliever but the non-Jew and therefore, the Jews, in the time of Christ and all through the Old Testament, looked at the Gentile world as being outside of the Covenant of God. But now, the secret that was kept hidden, is brought into the open through the proclamation of the gospel to the Gentile world. And this is the message, verse 10 of Ephesians 3, the intent that now the manifold wisdom, and the word "wisdom" in the Greek means "special knowledge", the special knowledge might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. Now who are these principalities and powers in heavenly places? This phrase in the New Testament applies to Satan and his angels. Let me quickly explain what this is all about.
When God created Adam and Eve, He gave them dominion over all this earth, over the beasts, over the fowls, over the fishes, over the vegetation, God gave mankind dominion over this whole earth. But unfortunately, when Adam sinned, He passed on this dominion to Satan so that Satan became the prince of this world. In fact, if you look at the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, especially Luke, chapter 4, verses 5 and 6, where the devil took Him to a high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of this world, the devil said to Christ, "All this I will give You because it was delivered unto me. All you have to do is simply bow down to me." Now, Jesus did not contradict or disagree with Satan's statement. He did not fall for the temptation, but He did not disagree with Satan when he said, "All this was delivered to me." In fact, in John 14, verse 13, Jesus refers to Satan as the prince of this world. But, on the cross, Jesus paid the price for our sins. He bought us back as John 12, verse 31 to 33 says: "Now is the time when this world is judged and the prince of this world is cast out."
At the cross, as Peter tells us, we were bought and therefore, we no longer belong to Satan but belong to God. And if we look at 1 John, chapter 5, verse 19, we read this wonderful truth that all believers no longer belong to Satan, they belong to God. Yes, the unbelieving world still is under the evil one but we belong to God. And Paul is saying that, at the cross, Satan no longer became the legal, rightful owner of this world. Isn't it wonderful that God has bought us back. And so this is the good news that we are to proclaim as a church to the principalities and powers, "Satan, you have no longer authority over us. We are God's children. We have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ."" And this is the eternal purpose which God has accomplished in Christ Jesus, our Lord. And that is verse 11 of Ephesians 3. You and I have a wonderful hope. In Jesus Christ, we no longer are under the evil one. We no longer are under the curse. Since Christ came and obtained salvation full and complete for mankind, salvation is no longer a promise; it is a reality; it is a truth that Satan has been defeated and we have been bought back.
You know, there is a wonderful statement in Hebrews, chapter 2, verses 14 and 15 where it talks about Jesus taking on humanity and by His death destroying the one that is the cause of death, the devil and his angels and liberating us who out of fear or slavery to the fear of death, have been in bondage all our lifetime.
Every human being is born a slave to the fear of death but in Jesus Christ, we have victory over the grave. The grave has been conquered by our Savior, Jesus Christ. And this victory has been offered, not only to the Jews, but to the Gentiles. Oh, what a wonderful truth this is. I am excited about it and I hope you are, dear reader.
Listen to verse 12, the last verse we will read and study in this section of today's study. "In whom (that is, in Christ), we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in him." You know, when Adam sinned, he plunged the whole human race in darkness. He built a wall between a holy God and sinful man. As Isaiah 59, verse 2 says: "Your sins, your iniquities, have separated you from me." That is why in the Sanctuary service in the Old Testament, there was a curtain between a holy God who dwelt in the Most Holy Place and the priest, who was a sinner himself and representing sinners, who functioned in the Holy Place. There was a curtain that separated the two. But, my dear reader, on the cross, when Jesus cried, "It is finished" that curtain was ripped by God's hand from top to bottom implying that there is now no barrier between a holy God and sinful men who come to Him through Jesus Christ. Listen to this statement in Hebrews, chapter 10, verse 19 to 23. Oh, I wish every Christian would be clear about this statement so that they will be able to stand the wiles of the devil. Hebrews, chapter 10 and I'm reading verses 19 to 23. Listen to this from the pen of inspiration. "Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he consecrated for us through the veil, that is, his flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near, that is, near to God, with a true heart in full assurance of faith having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water." What is the writer of Hebrews telling us? He is telling us this, that when Satan knocks us down and tries to discourage us from coming to God, we do not have to listen to his lies. We can come to God boldly with full assurance, not because of our performance, but because in Jesus Christ, we stand perfect; we stand complete; we stand justified. And my dear people, this unconditional good news of salvation is for you, whether you are a Jew or a Gentile; it doesn't matter. The mystery that is now revealed is that all men have been redeemed in Jesus Christ. All men have been given a new history, a new status in Jesus Christ and the moment you accept that gift, Jesus Himself said in John 5:24, you have passed from death to life, from condemnation to justification and the divine mystery is that the Gentile world has been included in this unconditional good news of salvation. In other words, there is no excuse for any to be lost because Jesus has obtained salvation for all men.
And it is my prayer that you shall know this truth and this truth will make you free. Amen.
The Divine Mystery