PART 2: HEAD OF ALL THINGS
In Ephesians 1:15-23 the apostle tells us what he prayed for in relation to the Ephesian believers:
1. That they might know the ministry of the Spirit of God in His capacity as the One who imparts wisdom and understanding.
Paul is not praying that they might receive the Spirit of God, for he has just written that they were sealed with the Holy Spirit when they believed, verse 13, and that sealing is effective until the day of redemption, when the Lord comes, verse 14:
1:15 Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints,
1:16 Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers;
1:17 That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him:
2. That they might know the way God had made them His inheritance:
1:18 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,
3. That they might appreciate the power that God put forward to raise Christ from the dead, and lift Him up to the place of highest honour in heaven:
1:19 And what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power- not content with speaking of God’s power, or even the greatness of God’s power, he goes further, and speaks of “the exceeding greatness of His power”. The apostle uses three different words for power in this expression to emphasise the immensity of the work that God performed when He raised and exalted Christ. “Working” means energy, involving efficient operation. “Power” means inherent power. “Mighty” means superior force. The phrase is literally “the energy of the strength of His might”, which is best understood by working backwards from the end. The might of God, His superior force, derives its effectiveness from the fact that it is what He possesses because He is God. It is not acquired power, but inherent, part of His very being. When that superior, inherent power is put forth, it is put forth with energy, for God does nothing half-heartedly.
Referring to when God created all things Job said “But how little a portion is heard of Him”, Job 26:14. But this may be rendered “what a whisper is heard of Him”. He then asked the question, “The thunder of His power, who can understand? The resurrection and ascension of Christ is the greatest display of power there ever will be, and represents the thunder of God’s power. Whereas Job wondered whether anyone could understand it, Paul prays that the believers might indeed do so, once the eyes of their understanding were enlightened by the Spirit of God.
1:20 Which He wrought in Christ, when He raised him from the dead- this is His vindication after all the treatment He received at the hands of men. He was raised “from among” the dead. The resurrection of Christ introduces a new dimension into resurrection. The Jews were familiar with the idea of a resurrection of believers, leaving unbelievers in the grave, (for they correctly interpreted Daniel 12:2 like this). As He approached the cross, the Lord Jesus moved less publicly, lest He arouse the hostility of the authorities to such a point that they moved to arrest Him before His hour had come. So it is that the Lord charges His disciples to “tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of Man were risen from the dead”, Mark 9:9. Now what puzzled the disciples was the preposition He had used in the phrase “risen from the dead”. It was the preposition “ek”, which literally means “out of”. It can either be translated like this, or as “out from among”, depending on the context. Now since the word dead is a plural noun, it means dead persons. Clearly therefore the phrase does not mean “out of dead persons”, but rather, “out from among dead persons”. This is what perplexed the disciples, for they were expecting all the just dead to rise at the same time, in accordance with their right understanding of Daniel 12:2, yet here was the resurrection of one just person, leaving other just persons in the grave.
This is a new concept, but it is one which marks God’s dealings with His people of this age, for Christ is “the first that should rise from (among) the dead”, Acts 26:23, implying that there are others who shall follow. “Who is the beginning, the firstborn from (among) the dead; that in all things He might the pre-eminence”, Colossians 1:18.
And set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places- This is His exaltation after His self-humbling to come to earth. His own words were, “whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted”, Luke 14:11. Isaiah had prophesied that “He shall be exalted, and extolled, and be very high”, Isaiah 52:13. In Hebrews 1:3 Christ sits Himself down at the right hand of God. Here He is made to sit by the power of God. The place of supreme power as the one administering for God, (for the right hand of the Father is the place of the Firstborn, the one charged with the task of administering for the Father). Not only has He been raised to the right hand of God, but “by the right hand of God”, Acts 2:33. This is the fact that gives character to the whole epistle, for the emphasis throughout is on the place Christ has in heaven, and the way in which believers are associated with Him there.
1:21 Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion- He is even set, as a man, over angels, whatever their high rank:
All principality refers to all those angels that had first place in the administering of God’s affairs previously. Now it is Christ who has the pre-eminence, Colossians 1:18.
Powers are those with right to act, who must now defer to Christ. He has been given all authority in heaven and earth.
Might refers to those who have been given immense ability to act, but are now subservient to the one who was crucified through weakness, 2 Corithians 13:4. He was made lower than angels, (who are greater in power and might than men, 2 Peter 2:11), yet now, as man, is elevated higher that the greatest of them.
Every angel given dominion must recognise that He is Lord of all, and must now bow to Him. Not that they did not do this before He came to earth, but now they do it when He is a man.
And every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come- not only is He set over angels, but He is set over men too, whatever their reputation, (for name = reputation). Those who have reputation as sinners among sinners in this world, (the word is “age”), or those who will have reputation as saints among saints in the age to come, all must defer to Him, for His name (reputation) is above every name.
1:22 And hath put all things under His feet- there is no higher place that Christ can go, so all things must be under Him; He is in total control, whatever men might think. Adam’s dominion only extended to sheep, oxen, etc, Psalm 8:7,8, but there is no limit to Christ’s control. Even death itself shall give way to Him at last, 1 Corinthians 15:24-27, (notice the quotation from Psalm 8 in that passage).
And gave Him to be the head over all things to the church- as Head, He is in the place of authority, with none to contradict Him. The idea of headship first comes in reference to God, when David said, “Thou art exalted as head above all”, 1 Chronicles 29:11. Here, as man, Christ is given the title that belongs to God, a testimony to His Deity. Notice that the headship is over all things, and it is the church that recognises it. The world will know this in the age to come, but it is only believers who acknowledge Christ as head at the present time. That He is head of the body, the church, is told us both in Ephesians 5:23, and Colossians 1:18. He has been given to be head, for it is an honour bestowed upon Him by God the Father as recompense for the trials of earth, and in response to His self-humbling.
1:23 Which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all- so His headship is not merely one of administration, as when we speak of “the head of a corporation”, who might be detached and inaccessible. Christ’s headship is like that which the head of the human body exercises over the rest of the body. As head, He in every way and in every particular is the one who makes things complete. And yet, such is the high dignity granted to the saints, they are said here to be His fulness. It is as if He who makes all things complete, is not complete without the church. Just as it was not good for man to be alone, so God made Adam a help, meet or suitable for him, so here, Christ would not be complete unless He had His people with Him and part of Him.
So the headship of Christ is exercised from His place at God’s right hand. The question is, how is that relevant to believers? The answer is found in the next verses, as the apostle traces, not the exaltation of Christ now, but that of believers in association with Him. He had hinted at this in verse 19 when he wrote that the power that God used to raise Christ is “to usward who believe”. In other words, the same power that lifted Christ, lifts believers. Now this is not a reference to the future, for when it happened to Christ, in God’s mind and purpose it happened to believers. So it is that in 2:5-6 we are said to be quickened together with Christ; raised up together; seated together.
And who is it that are thus raised? The answer is found in 2:1-4:
2:1 And you hath He quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins- so Christ was found dead in a grave; Gentile sinners were dead in trespasses and sins. He was dead because of our trespasses and sins, for He had none of His own. Trespasses are false steps, blunders. Adam had trespassed when he advanced towards the forbidden tree. Sins involve the missing of a mark or target, in this context, the glory of God, and Adam sinned when he deliberately took the fruit and ate it, thus rebelling against God, and falling short of the standard of perfection that God required. We were dead in trespasses and sins, cut off from the life of God through ignorance, Ephesians 4:18, and immersed in a life of disobedience to God. The river of humanity had been poisoned at its source, even Adam, and we were part of that humanity.
2:2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience- not only were we drifting down the river of humanity, but we were hemmed in by its banks, following the course of the river wherever it went. Worst still, the position of those banks, or, in other words, the course we were forced to go, was determined by Satan himself, who is the god of this world, 2 Corinthians 4:4, and who sees to it that men live their lives according to his dictates. Thus he perpetuates in the children of disobedience the attitude that marked Adam when he fell.
2:3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past- the apostle, having described the behaviour of the Gentiles, now turns his attention to the nation of Israel, of which he was a part. Are they any better? Has the special relationship they had with God ensured that they were as they should have been? The lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind- So he and his fellow-Israelites had sinful lusts, and took every opportunity to gratify those lusts, whether they were physical or mental lusts. And were by nature the children of wrath, even as others- by their very constitution as people, the Israelites were children destined to suffer the eternal wrath of God. And in this they were like the others, meaning the Gentiles.
Summing up these verses, we can say we were:
Dead in trespasses and sins.
Deceived by the prince of the power of the air.
Disobedient because of our link with Adam who disobeyed God, Romans 5:19.
Depraved because of our lusts.
Doomed to endure the wrath of God for all eternity.
2:4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us- God changes everything. His great love, (for God is love and God is great), caused Him to be rich in mercy, giving to us what we did not deserve, and withholding from us what we did deserve.
2:5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)- our state of being dead was no obstacle to God, for He was determined to bless. Christ was quickened from the dead; believers were quickened together with Him. Only God’s love could motivate Him to do this; only His mercy would activate Him to do it. Only on the ground of God’s grace (His unmerited favour), is this available- we have no merit of our own to plead.
2:6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus- not only quickened together with Christ, but raised up as well, lifted up from the grave of trespasses and sins we were in, and made to stand; given a footing before God, possessing life from God. But there is more to being raised than this, for He was raised up to heaven, and so are believers, in the mind of God, and in association with Him. But there is still more, for He has been seated at God’s right hand, and this position is shared by believers, too. We are seated in Him now, (that is, His position is representative of our position), and we shall be seated with Him in a day to come.
2:7 That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus- the eternal ages will all be needed to fully tell how rich His unmerited favour has been. And this is the reason why he has dealt with us in grace, so that His grace might be magnified through all eternity. That grace has manifested itself in kindness, the practical outworking of His heart of love towards us.
2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God- the apostle needs to reinforce this lesson about grace, because man proudly thinks that he has some merit before God. The apostle feels the need to make it very clear, before the ages to come start their course, that the position the believer will occupy in heaven is entirely of God’s grace and kindness, and not at all of our effort. Faith is indeed necessary, but in itself has no value- its value lays in the one believed. The position of being saved by grace on the principle of faith is totally of God’s doing, and the blessing of being saved in this way is God’s gift to those who believe.
2:9 Not of works, lest any man should boast- not only is salvation not of us, in that we are not worthy in ourselves to gain it, but it cannot be worked for, even by those who own up to the fact that as persons they are not worthy. Heaven will indeed be filled with those who boast, but it is a boasting or glorying in God that they are occupied with, not self-congratulation.
2:10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them- far from being self-made, believers are God’s product. As those who are part of the new creation, (which new creation comes about because of the work of Christ at the cross and His subsequent resurrection), believers are to be occupied with good works, for that will ensure that in eternity, God will be the more praised. He works through our works, so that His work may be magnified and His name glorified.
In subsequent passages in the epistle, the apostle will speak of walking worthy of the calling, 4:1; walking unlike the Gentiles, 4:17; walking in love, 5:2; walking as children of the light, 5:8; and walking circumspectly, 5:16. These kinds of behaviour will result in works done for God’s glory in eternity to come, remembering that they were foreordained in eternity past, for it was God’s purpose that they should be engaged in. How noble a task it is to walk and work in harmony with Divine and eternal purpose! No wonder the apostle needed to pray that the believers might understand these things better, for they are so immense that it is impossible to take them in, or work them out in practice, apart from Divine help.