Ephesians was written by the apostle Paul to the Church at Ephesus. Interestingly, the name Ephesus does not appear in every early manuscript we have, and some have thought this means it was actually intended as an encyclical, something to be circulated to ALL the churches, and Ephesus just got it first.
Authorship of the book is in this instance not in question. Paul is mentioned in the letter, in the opening greeting (1:1) and elsewhere (3:1), and is thought to be written from one of the times Paul was imprisoned, probably the first, because the date of writing (between AD 60 and 62) coincides with when Paul was imprisoned in Rome the first time. I’m not sure, but there is a hypothesis I have recently become aware of that Paul would have been released when Roman Emperor Trajan died, and that he would have been arrested again later, when he wrote another set of letters. This letter may have been composed around the same time as the letter to Colossae and initially sent together with it by the hands of Philemon and Tychicus.
Paul would have considered this one of “his” churches, even though he did not plant it himself. That honour likely goes to Priscilla and Aquila, who were trusted associates of Paul. That fledgling work was firmly established by Paul on his third missionary journey (Acts 19) and pastored by him for about 3 years, after which that position fell to Timothy. Timothy pastored there for at least a year and a half, and found himself having to counter false teachings from an influential few (like Hymanaeus and Alexander for example) who were likely elders in the congregation (see 1 Tim. 1:3, 20). Because of those “intelligentsia,” the church at Ephesus was plagued with what Paul called ” fables and endless genealogies” (1 Tim. 1:4) and by ascetic and unscriptural ideas of forbidding of marriage and abstaining from certain foods (1 Tim. 4:3).
Although those “false teachers” had no right understanding of scripture, and certainly had no intention toward holiness of life or being disciples of Jesus, they were certainly confident in sharing their heresies (1 Tim. 1:7), with the effect of (1 Tim. 1:4) producing “mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith” in the gathering at Ephesus. It is not a surprise then that about 30 years later, Christ communicated to them through the apostle John that they had “left their first love.” (Rev. 2:1-7 is that letter.)
Chapters 1 through 3 are theological in nature, while chapters 4 through 6 are concerned more with practical activities that should display what Christians should be doing because of their new nature in Christ. One must understand that we now live in what one pastor (Rev. David Williams from Priory Park Baptist in Guelph) has termed the “in-between times.”
Jesus clearly inaugurated the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven, which are exactly the same thing in Scripture (they are used by Jesus in the Gospels this way), represented by the top line, signifying the point at which He came into history and was crucified for our sins and rose again to prove it. In my theoretical construct, I show a “harpazo” event with that upward arrow, but it isn’t necessary to believe in a “rapture” to get the picture, this is just part of the final days of earth, approximately a 7-year period, I think. The lightning bolt is to show when Jesus actually physically returns. That means the bottom line is earth’s history, which has an end-point of Christ’s return and implementation of His kingdom on earth.
So with that explanation, His kingdom is inaugurated, but has not yet fully come. Believers may now live the life of that kingdom by faith, as we discussed in Galatians, but we are not yet physically IN that kingdom. Another name for this is “inaugurated eschatology,” which deals with how we should live until that kingdom finally and fully arrives, whatever your hermeneutical position on the “harpazo” event, which I will not deal with here, because it is NOT critical to understanding Scripture as a whole.
So again, chapters 1-3 talk about our standing in the Kingdom of God, and chapters 4-6 tell us how we should live now in this present world, even when, or maybe especially because our citizenship is in Heaven.
As you may recall, I mentioned that this letter was perhaps an encyclical, meant to be communicated to ALL believers, and that is why I believe it is critical that we study what it says and understand its implications for us today. It reminds us of what Dr. John MacArthur calls, “immeasurable blessings in Christ,” and he is not the only person I have heard use that kind of language to describe the contents of this book. I believe that is should also stir us to a response. First, we should be thankful to God for all He has done for us through Christ, but also second, that we should live in a manner worthy of these things. As Doctor MacArthur says, “Despite, and partly even because of, a Christian’s great blessings in Jesus Christ, he is sure to be tempted by Satan to self-satisfaction and complacency.” I think this is why chapter 6 talks about the armour of God and weaponry he has given us to stand for Him in a world that clearly has little desire to do so.
A major theme is the “revealing of mysteries,” where Paul talks about two things that were specifically hidden from the Old Testament saints. He first talks about the “mystery” of the church, which the Old Testament does not really disclose AT ALL. Chapter 3:6 tells us, “…that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” Second, in Chapter 5, Paul even talks about the mystery that the church is the “bride of Christ,” whereas Israel was the “spouse of the Father” in places in the Old Testament. The church is presented at Christ’s earthly body, also hidden from OT saints. The metaphor Paul uses describes the church not as a humanly made organization, but rather something God made, a living organism that is composed of related and interdependent parts. Christ is its head. The Holy Spirit is its life-blood. Each member is uniquely gifted by the Holy Spirit, and through the exercise of that gift contributes to the building and health of the whole, and also to the betterment of the world around us on occasion. Other blessings we will talk about as we go through the book line by line.
I want to say a word here about the use of reference Bibles and commentaries. Both of them are incredibly useful tools in studying the Bible for yourself. These can give you context when you get stuck on a phrase or concept that you don’t understand. I would say though, if you are going to use one, use more than one. I’m a big fan personally of reading contrasting views. You will find that you will gravitate to one and not the other, whatever your theological or hermeneutical persuasion, and I advise against that. Try to read everything and then compare it with the Biblical text, the ultimate authority on the Scriptures themselves. Remember, the Prophets are subject to the Prophets (1 Cor. 14:32). Also, the danger of reading something like a “MacArthur Study Bible” (and I used one in preparation for this set of studies) is that it is Dr. John MacArthur’s opinion sometimes. Now, he generally has good opinions, but I once heard the man publicly reject the eternal Sonship of Christ, which is heresy. Having said that, to his own credit, he later recanted that statement. My point is, he can be wrong. I can be wrong. Calvin can be wrong. I’ve shown a couple of you an error I found in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, which I might add was never meant to be a treatise of theology. It was written (and this is why you should always read the forewords and introductions in every book) to convince the King of France that Calvin and his associates were not heretics that should be burned at the stake, but that the Roman church was in fact the party in error! I’m mentioning this work in particular and that author in particular because doctrines that support Calvin in his position come out in verse 4 of chapter 1. Just because it affirms the idea of predestination does not necessarily mean the Scriptures support all 5 points of Calvinism as assembled by the Council of Dort. The great news is that it doesn’t support Arminianism at all, and in fact shows that to be cart-before-horse thinking. Back to the point, the bottom line here is that one should read everything on a subject and then use your own mind to derive or arrive at truth. If you can’t do that, you aren’t really searching for truth, you’re supporting your own (or another’s) agenda.
So let’s dig in and see what Ephesians has for us.