HAVE you ever possessed a treasure chest? A real treasure chest? A chest with fabulous wealth inside?
We have such a chest in mind. It is a most remarkable one. It is in two almost equal parts, as though divided down the middle. From the outside it does not seem anything exceptional, but when it is opened its contents are found to be priceless. Each part has a key which is built into it - a kind of combination lock. If you know the key phrase, you can open the compartment. The first one is full of dazzling pictures in gold frames. No human being has ever seen the like of them elsewhere. The second compartment may seem, by comparison, fairly dull, as though it contained parchments rather than pictures. But when examined closely, these are found to be equally priceless, for they tell us how we should act when the pictures come into our possession.
By now you will perhaps have realized that the chest we are talking about is the epistle to the Ephesians, which is divided into two almost equal parts of three chapters each. Although the division into chapters is man-made, the two parts of the epistle are clearly marked, as each ends with the word, "Amen." This indicates that the contents of each part of the letter are genuine - there are no fakes in this chest. The word "Amen" is from the Hebrew; it means "faithful;" at the beginning of a sentence it is translated, "Verily;" when it comes at the end it is left in its Hebrew form, "Amen." Verily indeed, the whole of the contents of this epistle is a faithful declaration of a faithful God.
The first part of the letter deals with teaching, the second part with deportment or behavior. The first three chapters describe our wealth, or riches, in Christ; the second three, our walk in the Lord. And what about the keys to open each part? Well, the keys are built into the beginning of each section. The key to the part describing our wealth in Christ is the passage in the first chapter beginning, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who blesses us with every spiritual blessing among the celestials in Christ, according as He chooses us in Him before the disruption of the world, we to be holy and flawless in His sight." The key to the part outlining our true walk in the Lord is the passage at the beginning of the fourth chapter, "I am entreating you, then, I, the prisoner in the Lord, to walk worthily of the calling with which you were called."
If we can appreciate the meaning of these two keys, and turn them correctly, we shall have gone a long way toward a clearer understanding of this epistle, and indeed of God's purpose of the eons. For there, buried deeply in the inner recesses of the chest, is a phrase which occurs only once in the whole of God's Word, the purpose of the eons. It is a phrase of inestimable value, for it throws further light on the theme of our studies, the place of humanity in God's purpose. Let us read the passage where it occurs, chapter 3, from verse 9.
"...and to enlighten all as to what is the administration of the secret, which has been concealed from the eons in God, Who creates all, that now may be made known to the sovereignties and the authorities among the celestials, through the ecclesia, the multifarious wisdom of God, in accord with the purpose of the eons, which He makes in Christ Jesus, our Lord."
THE PURPOSE OF THE EONS
Only in this one epistle does this gem of a phrase occur. In the epistle to the Romans we find references to the purpose of God, but here in Ephesians it is expanded to include all the eons. It stretches from the beginning to the consummation; it embraces everything that is finite. And let us note that this unique phrase of Scripture occurs in a celestial setting. It is among the celestials that the wisdom of God is to be made known, and not merely to the lower ones in the celestial realms, but to the very highest of God's creations, the sovereignties and the authorities - those who at present have the rule and power. With the exception of the Lord Himself, there are none more lofty than these. And it is through the ecclesia, which has earlier been defined as the body of Christ, that this revelation of the multifarious wisdom of God is to be made. This is the marvel of it all that through such as us the great ones in God's universe are to learn the lessons He has to teach them. The appreciation of this great truth surely adds new luster to the treasures in our chest.
So now let us see if we can turn the two keys; the one at the beginning of the first chapter which opens the door to our understanding of the greatness of the riches that are ours in Christ, and the one at the beginning of the fourth chapter, which opens the door to a correct appreciation of our walk in the Lord. But first let us see how the chest itself came into our possession.
THE PRISONER OF CHRIST JESUS
Many years ago, a traveler, worn and prematurely aged by hardship and affliction, occupied a room in Rome with a warden soldier continually at his side. He had done no wrong, yet he was under perpetual guard. His life had been one of immense activity and peril. In Asia and Europe, as an apostle of Christ, he had carried His message from city to city, proclaiming it zealously wherever he went. His privations and sufferings had been more than enough to break the spirit of any ordinary man. The brutal marks of thrice inflicted Roman rods would never leave his back; five times he had been unjustly and cruelly flogged by his own countrymen; once he had even been stoned, and had miraculously survived. In weariness, in jails, in blows, in death - such had been his experiences in a life more than ordinarily energetic. And now his movements were curtailed and his ministry apparently constricted by four walls and a chain. To so restless a soul, such restraint would normally be doubly irksome. Yet from that place of confinement, and from that body scarred and battered and bearing all the marks of unparalleled tribulation, there burst forth with startling suddenness like an eruption from a dormant volcano, a message, the like of which neither earth nor heaven had ever heard before. And both earth and heaven, did they but know it, had an interest in it and were affected by it.
THE FIRST KEY
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who blesses us with every spiritual blessing among the celestials, in Christ, according as He chooses us in Him before the disruption of the world, we to be holy and flawless in His sight, in love designating us beforehand for the place of a son for Him through Christ Jesus; in accord with the delight of His will, for the laud of the glory of His grace, which graces us in the Beloved."
What a message to come out of a prison, and from one who had been so terribly and persistently ill-treated! And what vistas of splendor do these first few treasures in the chest present!
As we read on through the first chapter of this wonderful letter, we see more and more of the marvelous spiritual eonian riches that, through grace, are ours in God's Son. We have "the deliverance through His blood, the forgiveness of offenses in accord with the riches of His grace, which He lavishes on us;" we are made aware of "the secret of His will...to have an administration of the complement of the eras, to head up all in the Christ;" and we find that we have a special place in this, for we are told that our lot was cast in Him, "that we should be for the laud of His [God's] glory, who are pre-expectant in the Christ." That is, we come into our expectation before others can expect to do so.
We notice that in presenting these grand truths to us, the apostle's first thought is one of praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, it can be truly said that the whole of the passage from verse 3 to verse 14 of this first chapter is one long impassioned outpouring of praise - the longest sustained outflowing of praise anywhere in Paul's writings, as J. Sidlow Baxter points out in his work, EXPLORE THE BOOK (vol.6, p.165). Above everything, the treasures in our chest redound to the glory of God, and God is to be praised for them. At first, in verse 6, it is a praise for the glory of His grace, but later, in verses 12 and 14, this develops into a praise for the glory of God Himself.
A PRAYER FOR PERCEPTION
With so many riches in our possession, do we need anything else? Yes, certainly we do. Riches are valueless unless one knows their value. With possession must be coupled perception; and so, while the first part of this opening chapter is a praise to God for spiritual possession - we are in possession, by God's grace, of all spiritual blessing - the prayer is for spiritual perception - "for you to perceive what is the expectation of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of the enjoyment of His allotment among the saints, and what the transcendent greatness of His power for us who are believing," and so on, to the end of the chapter, a wonderful outpouring of prayer to follow the earlier out-pouring of praise. PRAISE and PRAYER. The two ever go together. Truly we can laud our heavenly Father for all the vast riches with which He has blessed us, but we should never fail to add our supplications for a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the realization of Him - a spirit that will enable us to grasp, in some measure at least, the immense value of the treasures that are ours.
Now this wonderful first chapter of Ephesians opens with two peculiar phrases. We say peculiar because of the way they are used. The first is the expression "among the celestials" en tois epouraniois. This occurs five times in the book of Ephesians, but nowhere else in the whole of Scripture. In contrast to this, we have a second phrase, "disruption of [the] world" katabole kosmou, which occurs altogether ten times in the Greek Scriptures, but only this once in the whole of the writings of Paul. So here, then, we have a peculiar situation - the use of two expressions, one of which is the special property of the Ephesian letter, a treasure not to be found outside of our treasure chest, while the other is, in the main, the property of Scriptures outside of the Pauline writings, but used just this once by Paul for a special reason. Whatever is to be understood by the disruption of the world (and we will return to this presently), the only reason why Paul introduces it into his Ephesian epistle is to place the origin of the ecclesia before it. We are chosen in Christ "before the disruption of the world," and the spiritual blessings that we receive are in accord with this fact.
AMONG THE CELESTIALS
The first of our two phrases establishes the setting for all that follows. We are no longer to regard the heavens as something distant and unattainable, but the Ephesian epistle places us right in the very midst of the heavens. The Concordant rendering, "among the celestials," gives the phrase a distinctive character, which is in keeping with its use in this epistle. We are to see ourselves as being in the heavens, surrounded by celestial hosts, just as the earth itself is a sphere in the midst of a universe of heavenly bodies. As Paul puts it in Philippians 3:20, "Our realm is inherent in the heavens" - that is to say, it belongs there. Cephas was inherently a Jew - he had never been anything else, and could not be anything else (Gal.2:14). The man at the gate of the temple was inherently lame from birth - he had never known any other condition (Acts 3:2). Our realm is inherent in the heavens - it has never been anywhere else; in the sight of God, the ecclesia, which is the body of Christ, has always enjoyed celestial status; even while its members are sojourning in temporary tabernacles of flesh, its celestial citizenship has never been in doubt. That is why there is nothing at all out of place in our being blessed "with every spiritual blessing among the celestials." The blessings are appropriate to our state and to our status.
These lines are being written in England. If we in England were offered something in Australia, we might not appreciate it, and look rather askance at the giver. What use would it be to us here? In a wider field, if we, as mere citizens of earth, were offered spiritual blessings among the celestials, they would be even more useless, for we would have no means of attaining to them. They would be beyond our reach. But as citizens of the heavens, from the time that we were chosen in Christ before the disruption of the world, they are entirely appropriate, for they can be appreciated and enjoyed. Our treasures are worth having!
BEFORE THE DISRUPTION OF THE WORLD
It is in accord with the fact that we, the ecclesia, are chosen in Christ before the disruption of the world that we have this celestial status and these celestial blessings, because before the disruption of the world there was no human in existence. Adam was not created until after the disruption.
What, then, was the disruption? Let us remind ourselves that the disruption of the world is that event which occurred at the end of the first eon, when the earth became waste and barren, and darkness covered the face of the deep. In the Authorized (King James) Version, the word in Ephesians 1:4 is "foundation," but this is a mistranslation. The Greek word is katabole. Kata means "down;" it comes through into English in such words as "cataclysm" and "catastrophe." Bole means "casting" or "throwing." The whole means "down-casting;" in fact, the whole expression is brought through into English in the word "catabolism," which the dictionary defines as "the breaking down of complex bodies." By no stretch of imagination can we bring into it the thought of "foundation," yet this is what the translators of the Authorized Version have regrettably done.
Here in Ephesians it is the casting down, the disruption, of the world that is being spoken of; and let it be noted that it is the casting down, or disruption, of the world, not of the earth. The world is the kosmos, or order of things, at that time; the society which included the heavens as well as the earth. Yes, there was a disruption of the heavens too. How do we know? Well, if there had been no disruption of the heavens - if they were still in their state of pristine purity - there would be no need for a new heavens as well as a new earth. Yet prophecy on this point is quite clear (Isa.65:17; Rev.21:1).
In earlier studies in this series, we have been stressing the point that the first rebellion against God was among His original creatures, those in the celestial realms before humanity was created. This rebellion could only have been against the headship and authority of the One Whom God had purposed to be first - the Son of His love. This rebellion brought about a disruption of the celestial society of that time, with the consequent establishment of sovereignties and authorities and powers and lordships. Though these would originally be ordained of God, they must, by their very nature, and like their later earthly counterparts, move into a state of antagonism to God, Who wills to vest all sovereignty in His own Son. Hence the need for the future administration of the complement of the eras to restore the position by heading up all in the Christ.
BEFORE THE DISRUPTION OF THE WORLD.
Three features in God's purpose are described in His Word as dating from "before the disruption of the world," and they are interrelated.
1. The love of God for His Son ( John 17:28).
2. God's foreknowledge of the sacrifice of Christ ( 1 Peter
3. God's choice of the ecclesia, in Christ ( Eph.1:4).
These three features are expanded in the prison letters of Paul.
Colossians deals with the love of God for His Son, here specifically termed "the Son of His love," by emphasizing that all is for Him, and that in all He is to be becoming first. In this we have the motive behind God's purpose, namely, the glorification of His Son, which finds its ultimate in the reconciling of all to Himself through Him.
Philippians stresses the immensity of the sacrifice of Christ, by showing how He first emptied Himself of all His pristine glory to take up the form of humanity, and then humbled Himself to become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, on account of which ("wherefore") God highly exalts Him. The cross is the means by which reconciliation is effected.
Ephesians associates the ecclesia with Christ, as His complement. The ecclesia is thus the medium through which reconciliation is to be completed.