Commentary on Ephesians 1:3-14
Our passage at the start of this New Year begins with a blessing—“Blessed be God.” And this is a great place to begin our New Year, an appropriate focus of giving thanks to God.
This blessing of God is more specifically a blessing of the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” and we begin to see that this passage is essentially Christocentric—Christ is the focus. Here in verse 3, then “chose us in Christ” (verse 4), “adopted through Jesus Christ” (verse 5), grace bestowed … in the Beloved (verse 6), “in him” (verse 7), “the mystery of his will … set forth in Christ” (verse 9), “In Christ’ (verse 11), “set our hope on Christ (verse 12) and last but certainly not least, “in him” (verse 13).
Everything has changed with the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians is fundamentally about what it means to live together in a community of different people. So for example, the author speaks of the “dividing wall” that has been broken down (2:14). In Christ, God’s people are no longer this group or that group, even our friends or those like us, or those who agree with us. But in Christ, God’s people are a vast and beautiful array of human diversity: those like and unlike us in every possible way—race, ethnicity, gender, language, education, politics and even theological preference—as is made clear in 2:13-22.
The extraordinary and wonderful affirmation that the Father has blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly place” begins to be expounded in what was originally a long and breathless recitation of God’s goodness.
We have been chosen in Christ (verse 4) for the purpose of being “holy and blameless.” Verse 5 then explains that this chosen-ness is manifested in “adoption as his children through Jesus Christ.” Adoption was not unfamiliar to citizens of the ancient world. Those who were adopted would take on the status and name of their parent and would stand sometimes to inherit immense wealth and power.
A prime example of this, and perhaps most pertinent as we consider this passage, is adoption within the Imperial Family. Emperor Augustus had been adopted by his uncle Julius Caesar. Augustus then adopted his wife’s son, Tiberius. Tiberius subsequently adopted Germanicus, and it was Caligula, the son of Germanicus who then succeeded Tiberius. And also the infamous Nero was adopted by his stepfather Claudius.
Perhaps the author of our passage is deliberately making the point that we, by the grace of God, have been adopted into a glorious new family with a previously unimaginable high status, to share the responsibility of wielding the glorious power of God’s love in the world.
It may be worth highlighting here the phrase in verse 11, “In Christ we have obtained an inheritance.” The term in view here is difficult to translate precisely, but literally means, “to be appointed by lot.” The idea of choosing may be unfamiliar to us, but the Old and New Testament choosing by lot was common practice. The division of the land was by lot (Numbers 26:55), and the replacement apostle for Judas Iscariot —Matthias—was by lot (Acts 1:26). Moreover, the Greek text of Deuteronomy 9:29 refers to Israel as God’s lot or portion. So it may be that verse 11 should be rendered, “we have been chosen as God’s lot, or portion,” which emphasises the chosen-ness of those who have been adopted by God, and the “good pleasure” with which God carries his choosing and adopting.
Verse 7 highlights two initial gifts that are bestowed upon the adopted. First, redemption and then second, forgiveness. It seems unavoidable to consider redemption without reflecting on the deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery to their tyrannous imperial overlords in Egypt. Here is Ephesians, set in the first century context, we might suggest that the author is seeking to hint at a contemporary deliverance from the values, and ethos of the Roman Imperial world. The adopted now have a new Lord, who forgives them, completely releasing them from the power of the insidious nature of contemporary society.
God the Father has made it known that the “mystery of his will” is to gather up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth. And so we are now presented with a glorious reality that overshadows even our own redemption and forgiveness and is truly the culmination of the reconciliation of estranged people groups. God’s plan is to sum up all things, draw everything together in conclusion, in Christ. The sense here is of recapitulation: restoration, reconciliation, and salvation. Everything in creation that has been separated out, divided, ostracized and othered, will be gathered back together. And the “all things” seems to be all-inclusive, a view expressed in Colossians 1:20 and also 2 Corinthians 5:19. The entire cosmos is in view.
The believer can hold a deep confidence in the actions of God in the past and present, and the promises of God which will come to fruition in the future. The believer has been sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, a profound assurance of belonging to God and being part of his plan. And this “sealing in the Holy Spirit” can be seen as a deposit, or a first instalment of all that God will yet do in the ongoing work of salvation in the believer’s life and the life of the believing community.