Key text: “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 3:6).
Lesson objective:To understand that Paul, the commissioned apostle to the Gentiles, now imprisoned in Rome on their account, is God’s chosen instrument to disclose God’s divine plan of the hidden mystery in Christ through the message of the gospel given to him by revelation.
Introduction: The apostle Paul had an enormous missionary vision that began with humble beginnings. It was at Antioch in Syria where prayer was made to send Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey to Asia Minor (Acts 13:1-3). Within a few years Paul was to make a second and a third journey, moving from Asia Minor into Greece. His mission to the Gentiles flourished with churches being established in nearly all the major cities of the time (Acts 17:6). He hastened to reach Rome itself, the capitol of the world-ruling Roman Empire, with one focus in mind: to preach the gospel!
Paul’s Gentile mission field was fertile and ready for the harvest. The Holy Spirit worked in Paul in a mighty way. Paul’s plan was to establish himself in the west in Rome as he had done in the east in Antioch (Romans 15:14-32). He would blaze a trail from Rome all the way across the Western Empire to Spain – and planting churches in every place he would stay along the way. However, God had other plans for Paul. Paul was to go to prison on account of his preaching to the Gentile world; and eventually die a martyr’s death for the glory of God. Paul did arrive at Rome, but in chains awaiting trial (Acts 28:16-30). This is how the inspired book of Acts ends.
Nevertheless, that the power of God might be manifest even while his greatest apostle is in chains, Paul penned what are termed the “prison epistles.” Our letter to the Ephesians stands among them. To the glory of Christ and future missionary endeavors to come across the ages, the divine mystery in Christ is fully disclosed and preserved in the written Word of the new covenant Scriptures. This mystery was not fully unveiled in the past, even though glimpses of it are present in the old covenant Scriptures. However, the full implications of Christ’s death and resurrection were made known only through direct revelation from God to the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 3:1-5).
The chosen champion of the Gentile mission is the apostle Paul (vv. 7-12). It is through his pen that we learn of the amazing grace of Christ’s law-free gospel to the Gentiles. The mystery was this: How could law-observing Jews ever be reconciled with law-free Gentiles? Would the Gentiles have to accept circumcision as a sign of entrance into the covenant and submit themselves to Moses? Paul’s answer is emphatically: NO!
The divine mystery in Christ has revealed that believing Gentiles are on the very same footing as Jewish believers: First, Gentiles as well as Jews are free from the law; the old covenant law is no longer binding on believers in Christ (2:14-15). Second, Gentiles are co-heirs with believing Jews (3:6a). Third, through Christ both are made into one body (v. 6b). And finally, believing Jews and Gentiles do not exist in two different covenants, but share equally in the one and same new covenant promise in Christ (v. 6c). Amen.
Questions for Bible Study
Read the following verses and respond to the questions:
1. Acts 21:17-36
a. What happens when Paul arrives in Jerusalem? v. 17.
b. What do Paul and his companions do the next day? v. 18.
c. What report does Paul give? v. 19.
d. What was the positive reaction of those who heard Paul’s report? v. 20a. What mixed reaction did they then display? v. 20b. Why? v. 21.
e. What was their true concern? v. 22. What remedy did they propose? vv. 23-24. Do you think this was a good idea? Why do you think that Paul went along with it? See 1 Corinthians 9:19-20.
f. In regard to the Gentiles, why does James quote the Jerusalem Council’s decree? v. 25. Note: The Jerusalem Council decreed, in effect, that the Mosaic law as a covenant is not binding on Gentile believers. Gentile believers are free from the law with all of its restrictions (Sabbath-observance, dietary laws, feast days, etc.) except those few listed by the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-29; Galatians 2:1-10).
g. What does Paul do the next day in an attempt to satisfy the elders’ concerns? v. 26.
h. Who all recognized Paul, and what scandal and accusation did they provoke? vv. 27-29. Why?
i. What was the immediate reaction of the crowd? v. 30. Why such a violent reaction against Paul?
j. What was the crowd trying to do to Paul? v. 31a. Who intervened to save his life? v. 31b-32. What did the commander do then? v. 33. What was the overall reaction of the crowd against Paul? vv. 34-36. Note: Paul for his own safety was eventually moved to the prison in Caesarea, and after having appealed his case to Caesar, he was sent to Rome to await trial. There, he was placed under house arrest, and from there, he wrote Ephesians.
2. Ephesians 3:1-6
a. What is Paul moved to do on account of “For this reason”? v. 1a. Consult Paul’s restart after a long digression. See v. 14.
b. What does Paul call himself? v. 1b. Why?
c. What had they heard concerning Paul and the administration of God’s grace, mystery, and revelation given to him? vv. 2-3. See Galatians 1:11-17.
d. What does Paul mean about this mystery not being made known in the past but is now revealed? vv. 4-5. See Romans 16:25-27; Colossians 1:25-27.
e. What is this multi-facet mystery in Christ as Paul explains it here? v. 6. What threefold disclosure does he give? Why the need to emphasize these particular points?
3. Ephesians 3:7-12
a. What event in his life is Paul referring to? vv. 7-9. Consult Acts 9:1-19.
b. What is God’s purpose in forming the church? v. 10. Who are the rulers and authorities Paul mentions?
c. Through whom was this eternal purpose accomplished? v. 11. With what results? v. 12.
Respond to the following questions:
1. Have you ever been accused of a wrong that you did not commit? How did you feel? Angry? Prayerful? Both? Can a person really pray when angry?
2. Have you ever been thrown in jail for preaching the gospel? Have you been persecuted and ridiculed? Does ridicule depress you, or are you thankful for the opportunity to serve the Lord?
3. Although the mystery of the gospel in Christ has been fully revealed for nearly 2000 years, why do so many still misunderstand and obscure the gospel? What about Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons and Seventh-Day groups?
The apostle Paul is God’s evangelist par excellence and defender of the faith. Praise Jesus for having commissioned, to the Gentiles, one as Spirit-filled as Paul. May we imitate Paul in his gospel-zeal to the glory of Christ. Amen.
Author: Lorenzo Arroyo