By Mere Agency / Dec 23
We come to the conclusion of a four-part series on “Our Gifts in Christ.” We began with the gift of Christ himself, how everything we receive from God the Father is received through Christ. We looked at the gift of being specially chosen by God to receive these gifts. And then we considered the specific gift of salvation as described through adoption, redemption, and forgiveness. In conclusion, verses 9-10 present how far reaching the gifts in Christ are, or how all-encompassing the gift of Christ really is.
Up to now, we have been thinking of our gifts as those given to each of us individually. The Christ gift is my gift that God has given me. God the Father has chosen me before the foundation of the world to receive the gift of salvation. I have been adopted, redeemed, and forgiven. All of this is true, but the apostle Paul is now taking us beyond ourselves to the big picture of what God the Father is leading everything to in Christ, God the Son.
9making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ
We need to back up just a phrase to “in all wisdom and insight,” in verse 8. The line of thought then is this: God has given us the wisdom and insight to know the mystery of his will. The mystery is not that of a riddle which we had to be given the cleverness to figure out. Rather, it is the plan, the purpose of God which he had not fully revealed until Jesus Christ came and fulfilled his atoning work, and even then, not until the Holy Spirit gave the understanding for the apostles and early church to discern what all was taking place in Christ.
What then is the mystery of God’s will? Verse 10 supplies the answer.
10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Here is an instance in which the explanation of the mystery is a mystery. What fullness of time? What things – everything that exists? What exactly is meant by “unite.” The Greek word is rare, only being used one other time in the New Testament in Romans 13:9 where the commandments of the law are said to be summed up in the command to love one’s neighbor. The word can also mean to gather together.
To get to an understanding of this mysterious explanation of the mystery of God, we are going to explore how the Scriptures move along this thought of uniting, as translating in our version. We will begin with the epistle of Ephesians.
Go down further in the chapter, beginning with verse 15:
For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (1:19-23).
Paul has been celebrating with his readers the blessings of the salvation that they have in Christ. He is saying now to his fellow saints that his prayer for them is to really know what their hope in the future entails, how truly wondrous in riches is their inheritance. It encompasses more than being individually saved from condemnation, even more than getting to go to heaven when one dies. Christ’s work involves more than a rescue operation. He did not merely go into enemy territory, bring out prisoners, and then return to whatever he was doing before.
When God the Father raised Christ from the dead, he then lifted him up to and seated his Son at his right hand. That was not merely a show of affection, but a positioning of authority and power. He is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” Here we see Christ’s greatness and power. But there is more. God the Father “put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things.” Christ is not only the greatest, he is ruler; he is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is ruler over all things.
Neither the Father nor the Son were content with rescue; they determined that is was time to overthrow the rebellion of Satan and his legions altogether. The cross was the beginning of that overthrow. But it is not complete, as we well know through experience. The enemy is as active as ever with his legions. Where are the forces of Christ? Where is his army?
Now the wonder truly begins. God the Father gave Christ “as head over all things to the church” (v. 22), the church which is “his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (v. 23). This is a complex passage, to be sure, but I think one point that we can take away from it is that the church is Christ’s army. It is through the church that Christ wages battle against the enemy, at least the battle that involves this world.
This seems incredulous to us, if only because we look at ourselves and one another, and think, “Me – a warrior?” If we use ourselves as the starting point, we should scoff. But Paul is not spurring us on to look within ourselves at the power we possess; rather, his prayer is that we will have the eyes of faith to see the power of God at work in us through our Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. What should we be seeing?
See what God has already done. Individually, we walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air (2:2); now we are actually walking in the good works that God prepared us to do (2:10). How did that happen? Because God “raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (2:6). That is God’s power at work. We have changed and are changing.
But now go further. In Christ’s saving us he has caused the salvation act to include more than individual reconciliation with God; it is a reconciliation that brings together two divided groups of mankind. There are many divisions, of course, among the human race, but there is the one great divide when it comes to a relationship with God. There is the Jewish nation, and there is everybody else classified as the Gentiles. Paul is frank about the division. He tells the Ephesian Gentiles if 2:12 that as Gentiles they were “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”
He says of his Jewish kinsmen in Romans 9:4-5: “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.”
What? Were we second-class citizens? Yes, we were, until Christ came.
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (2:14-19).
There is now no division in our relationship to God – we who are in Christ are one. We are not a collection of saved individuals, some of whom are nearer to God than others; many of whom remain disconnected with one another. We are fellow citizens, fellow members of God’s household, fellow members of Christ’s one body.
Paul describes this inclusion, this reconciliation as the mystery of Christ that was imparted to him and which established his own ministry to the Gentiles. As he goes on to explain in chapter 3:
This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
So for the early church, the great mystery to comprehend was that the church went beyond just including the Jewish covenant people, but involved a uniting, a gathering in, of Gentiles from all nations.
Is this then all that the mystery entails – that anyone – Jew or Gentile – who comes to Christ will be saved? No, there is more. God’s plans to not involve only human beings whom he has elected to be saved. His grand work of redemption is not limited to snatching his chosen people out of the world but of transforming the world itself. This is the God who “created all things” (3:9). The plan of our verse 10 is to unite “all things in Christ.” In verse 11, we are told that God works “all things according to the counsel of his will.” And verse 22 reminds us that God has placed “all things under Christ’s feet.”
So what does this mean? Does God intend to save all people? Are all things that have been evil going to be turned to good? It is an inviting thought. But the Scripture is not there. Scripture does not present a scene where all who are wicked – be they human or spirit – will be transformed and reconciled to God. Rather, they will be cast out, thrown into the lake of fire, shut out from the heavenly city gates.
There will be someday a restoration of all things in the sense of peace, harmony, and justice prevailing in God’s kingdom. But that restoration takes place, not because evil is transformed but because evil is banished along with all creatures who remain under its influence.
This restoration includes creation.
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now (Romans 8:19-22).
What is creation looking forward to? The day of the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21:1). Creation is looking to the same thing we are for ourselves in which our perishable bodies will be changed to imperishable bodies. Creation is looking to the end of decay, as our own bodies are. Death still infects creation, as it infects our bodies. But the day will come when death will be no more. The day will come when the former things have passed away and all things remaining will be united, things in heaven and on earth.
There will be a day in which there is no division between heaven and earth. There will be no longing for a heavenly home. This world will not be a place that we are passing through. This world will be a heavenly abode in that paradise will be restored.
And we will not believe in heaven by faith. There will be no contrast between the things that are seen and the things that are unseen, for everything will be seen. All things will be united. There will not be the things to be believed by faith and the things we can see clearly. We will see all things clearly. For all things – all of creation, all that is of the spiritual world, all that is a part of our existence – will be united, gathered together, summed up in Christ who is over all.
Listen to this glorious exposition in Colossians 1:15-20:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
This is the glorious future – a world described in Revelation when the bride is joined with her husband. On that day “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (21:4).
Yes, that is our hope, there lies the riches of our glorious inheritance. What then does this mean for us now. We long for such a day precisely because it is not the world we live in now. There seems to be no uniting or gathering in Christ. Divisions seem to be multiplying and the division between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world only growing further apart. The church seems to be a far cry from being a conquering army. The forces of evil seem to be far greater in number and power.
But what seems to be is not what truly is. Our glory is veiled, but our glory exists, nevertheless. What we see and believe by faith is nevertheless more real, more lasting than what we see with our eyes. But one thing we need to be doing is a better job of seeing with our eyes.
We see the church declining in number and influence, but that is only because we equate the church with the western church. Great strides are being made in Africa and Asia, enough so that the majority of the Christian church will soon be in what used to be considered unfertile land. As exasperated as we may feel with what is happening in our territory, be assured that the enemy is exasperated with the ground lost in land he once had sealed.
We see estrangement and division within families and personal relationships. Jesus warned us that such divisions would result in following him. But for all the division, everyone of us can attest to how Christ has united us or others we know with people who formerly were enemies. The gospel goes forth because so many former enemies have become reconciled in Christ. Its power has been displayed, not in the vanquishing of foes, but in the reconciling of foes to one another. It has been displayed in the power of forgiveness. We know that. We can attest to it, whether it is in being forgiven or possessing the will to forgive.
Reconciliation is happening. It has happened throughout the centuries as the church grew and dominated western culture. And even as the church’s influence seems to be declining, yet there is peace among the nations precisely because they have adapted Christian values. The post-modern, atheistic western society does not realize how much indebted it is to the principles of Scripture and of the gospel.
Do not let the clothing of the church’s meekness lead you to underestimate the power of God at work. We know through Scripture that God’s power is most shown in our weakness. We know that he delights in the salvation of those not considered wise or mighty by the world. We know – that he has entrusted the gospel in jars of clay. Jesus taught us that the kingdom of God is like the seed planted in the soil and grows we know not how.
The world is not out of control. History is not a never-ending circle going nowhere. It is moving forward under the sovereign control of God, who has placed all things under Christ, who is our head. We are on the side of the Lord of Hosts who is subjecting evil forces according to his plan and time table. It will be in the fullness of time – when all has come about as God has determined – that what is now known by faith will be made reality to everyone – friend and foe of God, regenerate and unregenerate. The day will come will all will bow the knee before Jesus Christ – whether out of willing obedience or out of coercion. The day will come when evil will be doomed, not reconciled, but condemned and cast away. Then the world and the heavens will be united in glory and peace and joy.
There may be some of you who refuse to accept this prospect. Is that because you have thoroughly studied the scriptures and examined your own heart in light of God’s Word? Or is it because you have merely accepted what a society that has rejected God propounds and it seems the easiest thing to believe? You are here on the earth but a brief spell. We are speaking of what takes place for eternity. Is it not worth the effort to search out? Is there anything more important than what takes place forever? God is the God of all things, including you. Will you deny him? Ignore him? When the fullness of time arrives, you will not be able to do either. Why not now join with the choirs of angels and sing blessing to his name?