Key text: “And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (Ephesians 1:9-10).
Lesson objective: To understand that God’s ultimate purpose is to unite all things alienated in the universe into one harmonious whole through the one cosmic event of the reconciling work of Christ from which all blessings flow.
Introduction: Ancient epistles typically had a prescript and blessing at the beginning; Ephesians 1:1-14 is in this literary format. Of all the letters of the apostle Paul, this particular prescript is the most enigmatic.
The prescript is the salutation or greeting at the beginning of most ancient letters. In the letter to the Ephesians, it consists of the first two verses, where the author of the letter identifies both himself and those to whom the letter is addressed. And although the prescript identifies Paul and the saints (believers) he is writing to, the words “in Ephesus” are missing in the best ancient manuscripts. To whom, then, was this letter originally addressed?
Paul was in prison (3:1), most likely in Rome, when he wrote this letter. Several scholars believe that Paul wrote this letter as a follow-up to the letter he sent the Colossians. However, instead of sending it to any specific local church, he sent it as a circular letter, to be read by all the churches under his apostolic jurisdiction. Sometime after Paul’s death, when his letters were all collected, this circular letter somehow became associated with the church at Ephesus. Perhaps their copy, with “in Ephesus” inserted, was one of the surviving copies used among the early collections.
In any case, scholars have viewed Ephesians as the “Queen of the Pauline epistles” for its all-encompassing presentation of Christ’s unique relationship to the universal church and his purpose for it. In the blessing section (vv. 3-14), which in the Greek is a single sentence, are presented golden nuggets of blessings from God to his people in Christ. Also, we find the praises or blessings from believers to God in response to those spiritual benefits. The unveiling of God’s mystery is that from all eternity God has known the solution to humanity’s predicament with its cosmic consequences on account of sin. God’s remedy is not something new or novel — it has always existed! What is new is only its disclosure in time, space and history.
The heavenly disclosure is the “good news” that salvation is the gift of God in and through Christ alone. Jesus Christ is at the very center of God’s divine purpose in bringing universal reconciliation in every sphere of life in heaven and earth. In him alone we have been chosen, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, sealed and consequently glorified. Halleluiah!
Questions for Bible Study
Read the following verses and respond to the questions:
1. Ephesians 1:1-2
a. Who is the author of this letter? v. 1a. Do you think it could have been someone else using Paul’s name, as some scholars suppose? Consult the General Introduction.
b. What is meant by the word “apostle” in this context? v. 1b. If the word “apostle” simply means “one who is sent,” then are we not all apostles with the same authority as Paul? Explain.
c. What other authority does the author invoke? v. 1b. How and when was Paul willed to be an “apostle”? Recall Paul’s heavenly calling and see Acts 22:3-16.
d. What two descriptions does Paul use to identify the addressees? v. 1c. Are they exceptionally holy persons who through their sincere efforts have attained sainthood? See Hebrews 10:10, 14.
e. In what place or city are the addressees located? v. 1c. See the lesson’s Introduction.
f. In his greeting, is the word “grace” just a way of saying “cheers everyone”? v. 2. Explain the theological depth of Paul’s meaning.
g. What about Paul’s use of the word “peace”? v. 2. Do you know the equivalent greeting in Hebrew? What does it mean for Paul?
2. Ephesians 1:3-6
a. Who is the One being praised or blessed? v. 3a. Why is it necessary to mention Jesus when defining who God is?
b. What reasons are given for God being praised? v. 3b. Who all has he blessed and where? What does Paul mean by the “heavenly realms”?
c. In whom are all spiritual blessings contained? v. 3b. What does “in Christ” mean? See the Introduction.
d. In whom was this group of people chosen? v. 4. Why? When did God plan to elect this body of people (the church) onto himself? With what ultimate purpose did God do this?
e. What was God’s motive for the predestination of everyone who believes? v. 5a. To what is everyone who believes predestined?
f. What was the significance of “adoption” in ancient Roman times? Consult a Bible dictionary. Through whom does this adoption take place?
g. Why is it that such wonderful spiritual benefits should take place for repentant sinners in Christ? v. 5b.
h. What is the basis or bottom line of how we obtain such spiritual benefits such as being chosen (election) and made heirs (adoption) of God’s provisions? v. 6.
3. Ephesians 1:7-10
a. What is the first benefit of two more spiritual benefits mentioned here? v. 7a. Explain the meaning of “redemption in his blood.”
b. What is the second spiritual benefit mentioned? v. 7b. In accordance with what are these blessing bestowed? v. 7c. Explain the meaning of the “riches of God’s grace.”
c. What two other blessings does God confer on believers? v. 8. Why do you think these latter two are important?
d. What does God make known to us? v. 9a. What does “will” mean?
e. What is meant by: “which he purposed in Christ”? v. 9b.
f. When is God’s divine purpose in Christ to be completed? v. 10a.
g. What is the mystery of his will (God’s divine purpose)? v. 10b.
4. Ephesians 1:11-14
a. Where do God’s people (the church) fit into his eternal plans? v. 11.
b. How do the believing Jews fit in to his plan? v. 12.
c. How do believing Gentiles fit into his plan? v. 13. With what seal have we been marked? Explain.
d. What does it mean to have the Holy Spirit abide in believers? v. 14. Explain the meaning of the term “deposit of guarantee” as applied to the Holy Spirit.
Respond to the following questions:
1. If someone were to offer you 40 years of extraordinary wealth in return for your soul, would you take it? Does that sound like a good deal? Why or why not? What are God’s riches and promises in Christ?
2. What plans or purposes have you made for yourself: personal goals, education, vocation, family, church and material goods? What plans has God made for you in Christ?
God is to be constantly praised for the richness of his grace and manifold blessings bestowed to us freely in Christ. His eternal divine purpose cannot be frustrated, but will give fruit at the appointed time and be fully realized to the glory of Christ!