The Epistle to the Ephesians
1. Recipient, Author, and Time of Origin
Ephesus was a famous trade city of Asia Minor near the coast of the Aegean Sea. It had a temple of the Greek goddess Artemis, in which an image of this goddess had been erected. This had supposedly fallen from heaven (Acts 19:24, 35). In New Testament times, Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia. There were many Jews living in Ephesus.
Paul stayed briefly in Ephesus after returning from his second missionary journey (around 51 - 54 AD; compare Acts 18:19 - 21). But on his third missionary journey (around 54 - 58 AD) he soon arrived there again and stayed there for three years (Acts 19:1 - 20:1; cf. Acts 20:31). Initially Paul preached the gospel in the synagogue, but when the resistance of the Jews became too great, he separated himself from them and taught in the school of Tyrannus (Acts 19:8.9).
Towards the end of this stay in Ephesus, Paul wrote the first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 16:8), in which he probably alludes to the difficulties with the Jews in Ephesus, when he speaks of a fight with wild animals (1 Cor. 15:32; cf. 2 Cor 1:8). Finally, Paul left Ephesus after the tumult of the silversmiths and souvenir sellers.
During this relatively long time, many people in Ephesus and the surrounding area (Acts 19:10) were able to hear the gospel, so that there arose an assembly, which seems to have been very solid at the time of his departure.
On his return from Greece, Paul made another stop in Miletus near Ephesus, had the elders or overseers of the Ephesian assembly come over, and, anticipating his imminent imprisonment, gave them a serious and moving farewell address (Acts 20:17 - 38).
It is to this assembly that the Epistle to the Ephesians is addressed. The words “in Ephesus” in the greeting of chapter 1:1 are missing in some important old manuscripts of the NT (P46; in the Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus subsequently inserted). This has given rise to various speculations among theologians about author, the recipients, the purpose, and the time of the writing of this epistle. Today the most widespread opinion is that the Epistle to the Ephesians is an epistle addressed to various assemblies of Asia Minor (cf. Col 4:16: "... that you also read the one from Laodicea"). This view could not be proven until today. For most of the Greek manuscripts and old translations confirm the disputed words; all Greek manuscripts contain the heading "To the Ephesians," and several church fathers are of the opinion that the epistle is addressed to the Ephesians - such as Irenaeus (app. 140 - 202), Clement of Alexandria (app. 150 - 215), and Tertullian (app. 160 - 220). These are weighty arguments that the epistle, as its name indicates, is addressed to the Ephesians.
It is clear from various passages in the epistle that the author Paul, mentioning his name twice (Eph. 1:1; 3:1), was in captivity (Eph. 3:1; 4:1; 6:20). The epistle to the Ephesians, like the epistles addressed to the Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, belongs to the so-called "captivity epistles". That this refers to the time of the two-year Roman imprisonment of the apostle (Acts 28; Phil. 1,13; 4,22), was considered an established fact since earliest times. Only in more recent times, however, the two years of his imprisonment in Caesarea have been considered as a possible alternative – but also without conclusive reasons. The epistle was, therefore, probably written in the years 61 - 62 AD.
2. Subject and Purpose of the Epistle
A concrete outward occasion for this letter is not apparent. The assembly in Ephesus was apparently in such a good spiritual condition (cf. Eph. 1:15) that the apostle was able to give them, without any outward occasion, an exposition of the most sublime and profound thoughts of God that had been revealed to him. The Epistle to the Ephesians is the only epistle in the NT that describes the heavenly position and the spiritual blessings of the believers in such a detailed way. These divine thoughts, both for the individual believer as well as for the whole assembly (church), are based solely on the work and person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This might explain why the title "Christ" occurs 42 times in this letter (of which 8 times "in Christ Jesus").
In this epistle, as in no other, the eternal counsel of God for Christ and for those who believe in Him is explained. The starting point of God acting in grace is not the plight of the lost sinner (as, for example, in the epistle to the Romans and Colossians), but God's own counsel and will before all eternity. It is the plan of God the Father in Christ Jesus, that all who believe in Him, even now, while still on earth, shall receive all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. The way to this, however, is only through the redemptive work of Christ on the cross (Eph. 1:7). These blessings are: being a child of God, sonship, eternal life, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. All these are blessings that have nothing to do with this earth but are purely spiritual and heavenly.
Another main theme of this epistle is the especially privileged position of the assembly (church) of God. She is also viewed in this epistle according to the counsel of God in connection with the Lord Jesus Christ, her glorified head at the right hand of God in heaven, and in her unity on earth.
The first part of the letter (Eph.1 - 3) begins with the praise of God Father, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (or: realms). We possess these blessings as redeemed by Christ's blood, chosen before the foundation of the world who will be co-heirs with Christ in the Millennium and have already received the Holy Spirit as a pledge of the future possession.
In a subsequent first prayer to God, Paul prays for wisdom and understanding for the Ephesians for the wealth of these revelations, but especially for the power of God, through which Christ was raised and glorified at His right hand. This glorious place of Christ in the heavenly places is also the position of the believers who have been raised with Him and are already transferred in Him to the heavenly places. This is the Christian position or standing (Eph. 1:3 - 2:10).
Following the description of the personal blessings of Christians, their corporate blessings are described. Through faith in Christ, the nations (Gentiles) who were once without God and without hope, as well as the Jews, who knew God through the law, have been joined into o n e body, the assembly of God and they now form His dwelling place in the Spirit. This hidden fact is a mystery that was only revealed to the apostle Paul: an unsearchable treasure! In a second prayer Paul pleads that Christ, the centre of all the Father's thoughts, through faith may dwell in the hearts of believers (Eph. 2:11 - 3:21).
Although the second part of the letter (Eph. 4 - 6) also contains important teachings and communications, it mainly contains practical exhortations. First, the keeping of the unity of the Spirit according to the thoughts of God in the assembly is dealt with, then the various gifts for the building up of the one body of Christ (Eph. 4:1 - 16).
The apostle then considers the old and the new creation and their implications for life in the Christian fellowship and in the earthly relationships of marriage, the family and secular work (Eph. 4:17 - 6:9).
The believer's struggle against the satanic powers wanting to rob him of the enjoyment of all spiritual blessings requires the knowledge and use of the whole armour of God (Eph. 6:10 - 20).
The epistle to the Ephesians can be compared to the book of Joshua in the OT. In the book of Joshua, it is described how God introduces His earthly people Israel in Canaan, a land of rich, material blessings, which they must defend against human enemies. In Ephesians, the redeemed heavenly people of God are introduced to all the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places and, to enjoy them, must fight against spiritual enemies.
a) The Assembly (ecclesia) of God
The main theme of Ephesians is the assembly of God. In no other epistle of the NT are the thoughts of God about the assembly treated in such detail and depth as here. According to the thoughts of God, the assembly is such an elevated and complex structure that it is presented in three different pictures in the NT. Only in Ephesians do we find all three united:
- as the body of Christ, of which Christ is the head in heaven; here the main idea is unity (Eph. 1:22.23; 2:16; 3:6; 4:4.11 - 16; 5:23.29.30)
- as the temple or house of God; here the main idea is the holiness of the dwelling place of the holy God (Eph. 2:19 - 22)
- as the wife or bride of Christ; here the emphasis is on Christ’s love for His assembly (Eph. 5:22 - 33).
b) The Heavenly Places
This expression, characteristic for the Epistle to the Ephesians, is used only here as a designation for heaven. If occurs five times. Only the adjective "heavenly" is found in the text, the word "places" (or: realms) is supplied by translators to aid understanding. Other translations have “heavenly world”, “heavenly regions”, “heavenlies” or simply “heaven”.
In the heavenly places, believers are blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph. 1:3), for there their glorified Lord is also as head over all things (Eph. 1:20). There God, the Father, allows them to be seated in Him already now – for Christ's position as the glorified Son of Man is also their position (Eph. 2:6). The manifold and eternal wisdom of God shall now be proclaimed to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places (i.e. the angelic worlds) through the unity of the assembly (Eph. 3:10). Finally, the Christian's fight is against the spiritual powers of evil in the heavenly places, i.e., Satan and his demons (Eph. 6:12). These cannot rob him of the possession of the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places (for these are secured “in Christ"), but they can deprive him of the enjoyment of them. Therefore, the Christian needs the "whole armour of God" to be able to fight against Satan.
I. Ephesians 1 - 3: God's Counsel in Christ for the Believers and the Assembly (Teaching Part)
Chapter 1 The counsel of God in Christ
Verses 1 - 2 Greetings
Verses 3 – 14 God’s blessing for His own
Verses 3 – 5 Chosen and predestined to sonship
Verses 6 – 8 Pardoned in the Beloved
Verses 9 - 10 Christ as Head in the millennium
Verses 11 - 12 Our inheritance in Him
Verses 13 - 14 the Holy Spirit as a pledge
Verses 15 - 23 the first prayer of Paul
Verses 15 - 16 Thanksgiving
Verses 17 - 18a Request for enlightenment
Verses 18b -19 Three petitions
Verse 20 God's power in the resurrection of Christ
Verses 21 - 22a Christ's position as head over all
Verses 22b - 23 the Assembly
Chapter 2 The realization of the Counsel through Christ
Verses 1 – 10 the Grace of God
Verses 1 – 3 People dead to God
Verses 4 - 7 God's mercy brings about Life
Verses 8 – 10 All from God
Verses 11 - 22 God's work in us
Verses 11 – 12 the nations without God
Verses 13 – 16 In Christ, believers from Jews and the Nations are one
Verses 17 - 18 Drawing near to God through the Spirit
Verses 19 – 22 A holy temple in the Lord
Chapter 3 The communication of the counsel through the apostle Paul
Verse 1 Prisoner of Christ
Verses 2 – 13 Insertion: The Mystery of the Christ
Verses 2 – 4 Its administration
Verse 5 Its revelation
Verses 6 – 7 the Unity
Verses 8 – 11 the unfathomable riches of the Christ
Verses 12 – 13 Confidence
Verses 14 – 21 the second prayer of Paul
Verses 14 – 16 Request for spiritual strength
Verses 17 - 19 Christ and His love
Verses 20 – 21 Praise
II. Ephesians 4 - 6: The Practice of the Assembly and the Life of the Believers (Exhortative Part)
Chapter 4:1 – 16 Building up the body of Christ
Verses 1 – 2 Bearing with one another in love
Verses 3 – 6 Keeping the unity of the Spirit
Verses 7 – 10 the Head cares for the body
Verses 11 - 12 Gifts for the edification of the body
Verses 13 - 14 the Goal of Ministry
Verse 15 Spiritual adulthood ("holding fast the truth in love")
Verse 16 Growth of the body
Chapter 4:17 – 24 Old and New Life
Verses 17 - 19 the old has passed away
Verses 20 – 24 the old and the new man
Chapter 4:25 - 5:21 The Christian Fellowship
Verses 25 – 29 Spiritual togetherness
Verse 30 the Holy Spirit
Verses 31 – 5:2 Imitators of God and Christ (v. 1.2: " Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love, even as the Christ loved us, and delivered himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour”).
Verses 3 – 7 Putting away of fornication, impurity, and covetousness
Verses 8 – 14 Once darkness, now light (v. 8: "Walk as children of light")
Verses 15 - 21 Careful walk
Chapter 5:22 - 6:9: Marriage, Family and Work
Verses 22 – 24 the Wife and the Husband - the Assembly and Christ
Verses 25 – 31 the Husband and the Wife – Christ and the Assembly (verse 25: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her”)
Verses 1 - 2 Children and parents
Verse 3 Fathers and children
Verses 4 - 8 Slaves and masters
Verse 9 Masters and slaves
Chapter 6:10 - 24: The spiritual battle
Verses 10 - 12 strong in the Lord against Satan
Verses 13 - 17 the armour of God
Verses 18 – 20 Prayer for all and for Paul
Verses 21 – 22 Final messages
Verses 23 – 24 Conclusion and wish for blessing