Paul wrote this letter from prison in Rome about AD 62. Ephesus was an important political, educational, and commercial center. It is one of the seven churches Jesus addresses in the book of Revelation. Paul pastored there for three years, and left Timothy to pastor for a year and a half. It is written to spiritually more mature believers, but who like other congregations struggled with being unified.
Chapter 1:1 “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God (called of God), to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.” Verse 2 “Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” It is interesting that the Father and Jesus are mentioned, but not the Holy Spirit. I believe that is because the Holy Spirit is Christ’s Spirit. This next verse is used as a proof text by the LDS to support their doctrine of preexistence. Verse 3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” Paul is describing blessings as being heaven-centered and not earthly based. I don’t read into that verse a hint of there, having been a pre-mortality. Paul is simply stating that our spiritual blessings come from heaven, where Christ lives.
Now we come to a passage of scripture that is heavily debated even within Christianity. Verse 4 “According as he (the Father) hath chosen us in him (in Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy (sanctified) and without blame before him in love (because of the Father’s love for us):” The LDS will again use this verse and those following to try and prove that “predestination” is referring to a premortal life where valiant and faithful spirit children were chosen to perform particular missions and service here on earth. Verse 5 “Having predestinated (LDS call it foreordained) us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” Let me explain.
There is a large segment of the Christian population here in the United States – who believe in Reformed Theology. Another term for it is Calvinism – after John Calvin. They insist that Ephesians 1:1-12 clearly establishes the idea that God is a God of TOTAL sovereignty. That He unconditionally predestined His elect to salvation – meaning He chose who would be His before the foundation of the world. And after so doing, set His will in motion – making it so that none would come to Him and be saved who are not on the list. Admittedly these first twelve verses – taken out of the context of the rest of the Bible – could be readily interpreted to mean this. And if this is true, the Sovereign God has also – by electing some to be saved – elected MOST to suffer in hell eternally. In Reformed Theology there is no individual free will – no choice. It is obvious that Ephesians 1 puts considerable emphasis on God’s purposed will. The question remains – whether His will and purposes are directed at each individual He has elected – or is Paul talking about something else here? I suggest he was talking about something entirely different.
Predestination spoken of here by Paul is directed ONLY to the Jews as a Nation – whom God predestined to do what they would do for the salvation, reconciliation, and unity of the world with them into one. Now we read Verses 4 through 12 and discover that the terms “we” and “us” and the terms “ye” and “you” refer respectively to – the Jews (the we, and us) and then to the Gentiles (whom Paul calls ye and you). Here in this first chapter of Ephesians, Paul identifies himself with the Jews, who he calls “the first hope in Christ.” He dwells on God’s purpose for the Jews as a nation – how God chose them (whom Paul calls “us”) before the foundation of the world – how he predestined them to adoption as sons – and how he offered them the gospel of grace – first. And in this we realize that in context – all the references to predestination in Ephesians 1 are strictly speaking of the predestination of the Nation of Israel – by God – and not the predestination of individual believers.
As I read Ephesians 1:1-12, I want you to listen for the “we and us” references -which is speaking of the members of the House of Israel. “Blessed be the God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed US (Paul includes himself as a Jew) with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen (selected) US in him before the foundation of the world (God had planned it), that WE should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated US unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will. To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made US accepted in the beloved. In whom WE (that Jewish Nation) have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace, Wherein he hath abounded toward US in all wisdom and prudence (was liberally manifested), Having made known unto US the mystery of his will (what mystery?), according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That (in other words here is where Paul explains the reason God has done all of this in and through the Nation of Israel) That in the dispensation of the fulness of times (a time when all people will be offered the gospel) he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in him: In whom also WE have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That WE should be to the praise of his glory, who FIRST trust in Christ.” Paul is speaking, here, of those Jews who ardently sought God and were devoted to Him.
Now read with me the next verse where Paul deliberately shifts from talking about a – “we and us” group – to describing ANOTHER identified as the “ye or you” group. Verse 13 “In whom YE also trusted, after that YE heard the word of truth, the gospel of YOUR salvation: in whom also after that YE believed, YE were sealed with that holy spirit of promise.” Here, Paul has clearly shifted to another group – which are the Gentiles – who are outside of the first group – the Jews. And this theme continues to develop in the chapters that follow. Note that when Paul shifts to the Gentiles – who God did NOT predestine and who are not included in with the we/us group – that his description of them coming to the faith in Christ is absent of – talk about predestination. Instead, it is pretty much a passage that speaks of free will. Here in Ephesians, Paul is speaking of the elect from the house of Israel whom God predestined to do what they did and then – he speaks of the great “mystery” in which God will include all Gentiles who are true Israel – meaning those who are joined in the family of God that are genuinely His and therefore genuinely Israel. That was the “mystery” that was revealed. That is why we read in Hebrews 8:8-10 “For finding fault with them, he (God) saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For THIS is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel (both Jews and Gentiles) after those days (meaning from Paul’s day forward), saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts (we will be led – not by religion, but taught by the Holy Spirit): and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:”
Now, I want to go back and look at Ephesians 1:10 “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in him:” Mormonism teaches that it wasn’t until nearly two thousand years after Paul wrote this passage, that “the dispensation of the fulness of times” occurred with the restoration of the “Mormon gospel” through Joseph Smith. But that is completely and totally miss- interpreting the meaning of this verse. Paul is describing what God had intended to do all along – that “in the dispensation (that period of Jesus and Paul’s day) of the fulness of times (when the Law and the Prophets were fulfilled) he (God) might gather together in one all things (the Jews and the Gentile Nations) in Christ.” This was the wrapping up of everything necessary to complete the heavenly family – the Bride – which is the Body of Christ. And to launch it into the age to come – this age of the Spirit, this age of Grace, this age of faith, and this age of love – for those who are His.
That dispensation then was when God – by and through the predestined Nation of Israel – through His Son – and through the Gospel going to all men and women – established the New Heaven and the New Earth – with a New Jerusalem on high – after wiping out everything that had to do with the former Kingdom. It was the founding of His eternal Kingdom that would rule and reign over the hearts and minds of those who are truly His. This was the “fulness of times” – the complete consummation of all that had happened and come before it. And the “mystery” was unfolded to them then – that God was going to gather into one – all people of the earth into His Kingdom. Christ is all in all. God writes on the hearts who are His. And His are everywhere. We recognize them by their love which is the fruit of the Spirit.
From Verse 13 on, Paul appeals to “ye’s, you’s and yours” and drops the use of “we and us,” proving that in the rest of this first chapter that he is addressing Gentiles who came to faith. Then Paul will return to the “we’s” after this opening chapter and it seems that he will be speaking of the whole body – Jew and Gentile.
Let’s wrap this lesson up by looking at Verses 15-17 where Paul speaking to the Gentile Ephesians said, “Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers, That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit (Holy Spirit) of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.” We know when Jesus walked the earth, He said John 3:16 “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” Back to Ephesians and I’ll finish – by reading the rest of this amazing chapter. Verses 18-23 Paul continues that “The eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put ALL things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over ALL things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth ALL in ALL.” Praise God!
And this concludes our study of the first chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. Don’t’ forget, we are on YouTube, iTunes podcast, Spotify podcast.
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Until next time, God Bless!