IV. The glorified Christ in the letters of Paul (Chapters 11-15)
11. Over every principality and power and might and dominion and name
"And what the surpassing greatness of his power towards us who believe, according to the working of the might of his strength, in which he wrought in the Christ in raising him from among the dead, and he set him down at his right hand in the heavenlies, above every principality, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name named, not only in this age, but also in that to come; and has put all things under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the assembly, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all.” (Eph. 1:19-23)
The Epistle to the Ephesians allows us a very special view into heaven. It shows the glory that is connected with God's counsel. Christ is the "man of his counsel" (cf. Isa. 46:11) – in two respects:
- He has laid the foundation for God’s counsel to be fulfilled;
- He occupies the central place in God’s counsel.
The context in which Christ is seen here as sitting at the right hand of God is very revealing. Paul prayed that the Ephesians would recognize three things:
- the hope of his calling,
- the glory of the inheritance, and
- the mighty power that had been at work "in them".
What power is that?
This power (which, as we learn in Ephesians 2, has also been used towards us), has already been made visible once before. This was not in creation, but in raising Christ from the dead. No power on this earth can bring about such a thing: to take a dead person out of the grave, to make him alive and then to give him power over the whole universe. But that is exactly what happened. God raised Him up - and this raising up was, so to speak, His first step back into heaven. God then placed Him "at His right hand in the heavenly places". He is there. There we may see Him now, at the right hand of God, in His presence. He is there as a glorified man, in the place of the highest honour and the greatest power (cf. Ps 110:1; Mt 22:44).
We often feel wretched and weak and do not have the courage to be a witness. But then we may remember that our Lord is at the centre of all power and glory! Soon everyone will see it when He will exercise His dominion over the world. But we may see Him already now at the right hand of God, as the source of our power! How much strength, courage, steadfastness, and perseverance we could have if we made more use of this power of God, which Christ raised from the dead!
But the main point here is that the same force has been deployed towards us! By means of this power, we have been quickened, raised, and seated in heavenly places! This is the great point here: the power "towards us" (v. 19)! The detail of what this power has accomplished when it was deployed towards us, we will find in chapter 2. It is often called "God's masterpiece": He took completely useless material (those who were "dead in trespasses and sins" and in addition "children of wrath" (Eph. 2:1,3). God (1) gave life to those who were dead in their sins, (2) raised them up (put them into the realm or sphere of life), and (3) made them sit in the heavenly places in Christ. He has enabled us to enjoy – even today – all the spiritual blessings that exist where the Christ is. Of course, today we still struggle with a multitude of distractions and obstacles. In addition, our bodies are weak. They are not yet redeemed (Rom. 8:23). This will change one day. When we are with Christ, we will enjoy these riches without hindrance. But even now, there is no spiritual blessing that we cannot enjoy here.
- In Ephesians 1 we look into the open heavens and see the man Christ Jesus there, exalted above every(!) power that exists.
- The message to us is that the power that brought this about has also been effective in us. And: the result is that we are associated with Him.
- We have been transferred to the same place (heavenly places) and we belong to Him!
- He has been given as the "head over all things" to the assembly.
- We are allowed to be a part of that which is called His fullness: the fullness of Him who fills all in all!
How can this be understood? The statement that we are to be His fullness is so powerful that we would never have dared to say this, had not God Himself said it! The Lord will call his assembly to him. At that time it will be perfect: without "spot or wrinkle or anything like that" and "blameless". It will be the greatest and perfect proof of His love. It is the vessel that will serve to show forth His glory in a very special way. In this sense, the assembly is his completion, his fullness.
12. Sitting together - where the Christ is
"And has raised us up together, and has made us sit down together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus". (Eph. 2:6)
We have already touched on this point. In Ephesians 1, we looked up to heaven and saw Jesus Christ, who was exalted above all things.
Now we look up to heaven again and say: "Where He is, I also belong. My place is exactly where He is. And in Him I am already there now, in Him, and can enjoy this: I have eternal life ("holy and blameless"), the favour and love of God, etc. (cf. Eph. 1:3-10).
Interestingly, Ephesians does not mention at all that He will come again to take us to Himself. The reason for this we now understand very easily: in Him we are - as far as our position is concerned - already there!
13. Rooted and grounded in love
"…that the Christ may dwell, through faith, in your hearts, being rooted and founded in love, in order that you may be fully able to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height; and to know the love of the Christ which surpasses knowledge; that you may be filled even to all the fulness of God." (Eph. 3:17-19)
In his second prayer in this epistle, Paul goes a step further than in his first prayer (chapter 1). Strictly speaking, in both cases it is not a prayer recorded word for word, but rather a summary of his prayer requests for the Ephesians.
In chapter 1 he had reported of his request that the Ephesians should grasp the glory into which Christ had come – and their position as associated with a Christ so glorified.
In his second prayer (chapter 3) he goes even deeper: the Ephesians (and we) should not only realize how great the counsel of God is and how great the position into which we have been brought because we belong to Christ, but also the great motive behind it. So Paul asks that believers be strengthened in their inner man, so that Christ may dwell in their hearts. Now it is not a glory before their eyes, but a person in their hearts, namely the person through whom the whole counsel of God and His blessing has come to them.
It is striking that Paul addresses the "God of our Lord Jesus Christ" in the first prayer, while he addresses the second prayer to the "Father of our Lord Jesus Christ". The reason is obvious: the first prayer views Christ as a man and the exalted position into which He was brought as man. In the second prayer Christ is viewed as the eternal Son, the object of the Father's love.
In other words:
- In Ephesians 1, we look up to heaven and see the man to whom the universe is subject. He has glory above all things. And we are associated with Him, He has been given to the assembly as head over all things.
- In Ephesians 3 we look up to heaven and see the love that has brought this about. It is the secret of that glory!
On the one hand, it is humbling that we have been so loved and often realise it so little, being occupied with many worthless things. On the other hand, it is heartwarming to realize how great the love must be that brought about the “breadth and length, the height and depth” of God’s counsel. And yet it is God’s aim that we should be “filled even to all the fulness of God” (Eph. 3:18.19). This is the bliss of true Christian position.
14. Above all the heavens
"He that descended is the same who has also ascended up above all the heavens, that he might fill all things; and he has given some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some shepherds and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints; with a view to the work of the ministry, with a view to the edifying of the body of Christ." (Eph. 4:10-12)
In Ephesians 4 we look again to heaven, and here we see Christ not only as the One who is in heaven, but as the one who has ascended above all the heavens. The goal is that He "fulfills all in all"- that one day all will speak of His glory.
But this passage also tells us what preceded (and had to precede) this: He descended into the lower parts of the earth. And none other than this One, who was so humbled and is now so exalted, loves the Church, cares for her and looks after her. He gives gifts. He gives everything necessary to build up this body.
Some might wonder why the list of gifts in Ephesians 4 is so short, especially compared to the list of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12. But the reason is obvious. The first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12, shows that the Spirit of God can work and manifest Himself in many different ways. Ephesians 4, on the other hand, deals with the love of Christ for the Church and gives everything that is needed for her spiritual edification. Only relatively few gifts are essential for this: only apostles and prophets (who laid the foundation by completing the New Testament – and we still benefit from this today) and evangelists, shepherds and teachers – and these He gives still today.
At the beginning of the time of the Church the whole potential, the whole variety of the work of the Holy Spirit became visible. This especially included "miracle gifts" like healings. But until the end of this time, until the rapture, the Lord will give all the gifts that are necessary to build up the body. Perhaps some people have already asked themselves the question: Will this ever end? Will the assembly one day be without edification? But then we look into the open heaven and see Christ there. He is still there, and He is still the One who gives the gifts. He so loved the assembly that He descended into the lower parts of the earth. Therefore, the ministry (which the gifts carry out) cannot stop while Christ is there!
At the same time, this look into the opened heaven brings home to us the folly of seeking to interfere in what is done by Christ. He is the Head, He gives the gifts. Between Christ and the gifts that are given, there is no man, no committee, no human authority. Of course, the gifts (which are seen in Ephesians 4 as persons, not spiritual abilities) are members of the body of Christ and, as such, should be directed by the Head in their ministry and work, in harmony with believers and assemblies. But it is, and remains, the exalted Christ who gives gifts, directs and uses them. “He is Saviour of the body” (Eph. 5:23).
15. With Christ - far better!
"But I am pressed by both, having the desire for departure and being with Christ, for it is very much better." (Phil. 1:23)
Paul makes a statement that is astonishing, indeed: "I am pressed by both" – and by this he means the two options of living or dying. Instead of saying "I would do anything to prevent dying", he says: both are excellent! Both are so good that I am having a hard time deciding which happiness to go for: that of staying alive, or that of leaving!
Actually, he goes even further. He says: when I think of myself, the choice is clear: I would go – "I have a desire to leave", because being with Christ it is "far better" than anything else. But in an unselfish way he considers the good of the Philippians (and therefore of other believers). Therefore, he is ready to "stay" and fill the place the Lord wants to give him (cf. v. 24).
How does a person on earth come to reach such a conclusion? The answer leads us back to the gaze of the glorified Christ. To be with Him would be far better than anything that exists on earth. Faced with death, he looks up to heaven and says: "Death is only a servant who transports me into the presence of Christ, who enables me to be with Him at last”.
This passage helps us to understand a little of Stephen's rest during the stoning. He had the same look. So this man not only knew to look into the open heavens to live on earth for God, but this look made him realize that death is only the door to eternal joy. He prayed: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit". He knew to whom he would go. He could say: the worst thing that can happen to me, the worst thing that these stones can do to me is to take me to Him – and that is "far better" than anything else!
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