What follows is an examination of the biblical basis for the belief that all creation will be united within Christ. The paper then concludes with a discussion of the implications of the tension that exists between this belief that God makes "all things new" and the doctrine of eternal punishment.
THE MYSTERY OF CHRIST: Condensed Version Audio mp3
A STUDY IN EPHESIANS
By Dean Johnson
THE MYSTERY OF CHRIST
The mystery is defined in 1:10. This secret, that has now been revealed, is that it is God's intention "to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ." God has purposed that the beginning and the end of creation are found in Christ (1:10, Colossians 1;16). Colossians declares that the mystery is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossian 1:27). Other Pauline writings reveal that "Christ in the believer" will eventually lead to "all in Christ." Romans declares that Christ in the believer will lead to the redemption of the purchased possession or the restoration to life of our mortal bodies.
This in turn will lead to the liberation of all creation which the Ephesian author declares is given to the believers as their inheritance (Romans 8:11, 23, 21, 4:13, Ephesians 1:13-14). Therefore, Christ in the church becomes the evidence that God will bring all into Christ. The church in Christ becomes the means through which Christ will be in all, and rule over all, and God will become all in all (1:18-23, 1 Cor. 15:28).
THE PLEROMA OR FULNESS
A discussion of "fulness" will be helpful in understanding the working out of the mystery as described in chapter three. Since fulness can refer to Christ or the church, and the filler can be God or Christ, "the fulness of him who fills all in all" seems to be deliberately worded in such a way that several meanings are appropriate (1:23). First, all things are brought together in Christ by God, who fills Christ, who is the fulness (1:10 Colossians 1:19). Second, the church as Christ's body is the fulness of Christ which Christ himself fills. Third, the church is the fulness of God because God fills it with the Spirit of God (2:21 - 22, 3:19).
In Ephesians the lines between church, Christ and God are deliberately fuzzy. Therefore, the church is both that which is filled and completed by Christ, and that which fills and completes Christ. Both of these views can be seen in Ephesians chapter three.
THE CHURCH IS FILLED (3:19)
The goal of the author's intercessory prayer is that the church might be filled with all the fulness of God. The fulness of God is the aggregate of the Divine attributes, virtues and powers. This fulness of God dwells in Christ (Colossians 1:19, 2:9 - 10). Therefore, the church is filled with this same fulness of God as it is filled with Christ.
CHRIST IS FILLED (EPH. 3:10. 21)
The reason the author intercedes for this fulness is so that the church will be empowered to fill up and complete Christ. This task of the church is what is described in the first half of chapter three. "According to his power that is at work within us" God is revealing and accomplishing his eternal purpose (3:21, 10-11, 1:10).
This power is first given to apostles and prophets like Paul to reveal the mystery of Christ to the church (3:5, 7). Christ has given these ministries to the church so that the church can reach to and attain to the full measure of the filling up or the completion of Christ (4:11, 13). This is done by the gathering together of all things into Christ, by God, through the church.
Now that the mystery of Christ has been made known to the church, that same power that Paul had is given to the church (3:19-20). The church now has the role of making known God's wisdom and eternal plan to the principalities and powers. God has reconciled even these things to himself (Colossian 1:16, 20). God's eternal purpose to unite them in Christ, and for them to take their place in the filling up of Christ is an accomplished reality in the mind of God (3:11).
As Christ is filled up the church grows. As the church grows Christ is filled up. In the ages to come God will include even the rebellious powers (2:7, 1:10). All begins in Christ. All ends in Christ. Given such an inspired imagination it is a wonder that the author could end his theological discourse by suggesting that God is able to do even more than has been imagined. To him be glory in the church!
that all will be brought into Christ is
clarified and explained. The mystery now revealed is that the Gentiles
being included in a completely new community in Christ that transcends
labels, barriers and divisions. The author uses three terms to explain
secret: joint heir, joint body, and joint partaker. The syn-prefix
"joint" is common within Ephesians and functions to link the ideas of
several passages to the mystery. In Christ, the Gentiles have been made
citizens together (2:19) and therefore joint heirs. They are fitted
(2:21, 4:16) and therefore joint body. They are built together (2:22)
This new community is also made alive together, raised up together, and seated together in Christ connecting the new life, resurrection, and position with fulfillment of the mystery, the filling up of Christ (2:5-6). Therefore, it is only by being delivered from death and the dominion of the prince of the power of the air (1:7, 2:1-2, 5, Colossians 1:13, 14), and by being raised up together in Christ, and by being seated in Christ in heavenly places, far above these powers of the air, that this new community is able to display the unsearchable riches of Christ (2:7), and make known the manifold wisdom of God to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, that they might take their place in the body of Christ (3:10, 1:10).
In these ways
the use of the syn-prefixes reveal much about
the manner in which the mystery (or the administration of the mystery)
worked out. As well, the three terms in 3:6 are loaded with meaning.
Joint-heirs can imply both an inheritance with
refers to the body of Christ (2:16). The author
appears to have coined this new word to express this revolutionary new
between Jews and Gentiles that is created in Christ Jesus (2:13-22). It
this body that Jews and Gentiles are reconciled to God by the cross
use of body terminology is also a reminder of the body which Christ
fills with all things (1:10, 23). As well it prepares the reader for
of metaphors in the husband and wife analogy. The author declares that
a great mystery (5:32). Christ loved the church and suffered on a
from his Father, that he might sanctify and cleanse the church by the
of the word, that he might present the church to himself in marriage.
and the church then become one perfect man. Christ is the savior of the
(5:23). This is such a great mystery, but it becomes even greater when
remembers that all things must eventually be joined in the body [ 5 ]
perfect man (4:13) who is every man perfect in Christ Jesus (Col. 1:27)
the means of sanctifying and cleansing the rest of creation in much the
way that Paul had to fill up that which was lacking in the sufferings
for the Gentiles (Col. 1:24-25). This perfect man shall leave father
Heavenly Father) and mother (the Heavenly
Joint partakers of the promise is also a loaded term. The word promise occurs several places in Ephesians each revealing the meaning of the term (1:13, 2:12, 3:6, 6:3). Chapter six verse three is a quotation of Exodus 20:12. "Honor your father and your mother so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you." In 6:3 the promise is that you may enjoy long life on the earth. The author is suggesting that the land God is giving his children is the entire earth. The Gentiles will be partakers or enjoyers of the promise that to Abraham and his descendants would be given the entire world (Rom. 4:13). This is what it will mean to share in the covenants of promise (2:12). The Holy Spirit of promise has sealed the believers guaranteeing this inheritance of the earth (1:13). The riches of our inheritance becomes all things in Christ.
This new humanity in Christ that is described by these three terms is replacing the old humanity in Adam (2:15, 4:22, 24). This new humanity makes it possible for man to rule the universe as God had designed it (1:22, Ps. 8), and for the universe to share in the glorious liberty of the sons of God (Rom. 8:21). It is in these ways that joint-heirs, joint-body, and joint-partakers of the promise explain the mystery.
This calling to make the mystery known is portrayed as a high honor. This ministry is not only given by God's grace but its effectiveness was dependant upon God's power. This calling and power is now given to the saints to accomplish more than they could ask or think (3:10, 20).
The unsearchable riches of Christ are the riches of our inheritance in Christ (1:18, 3:6). All things are included in these riches. These unsearchable riches are closely linked to the manifold wisdom of God (3;10) which is also unsearchable (Rom. 11:33). In Colossians the riches of the glory of the mystery is Christ in you (Col. 1:27). Therefore it would not be incorrect to say that Christ is both this wisdom and these riches, but that is not the emphasis of this epistle. However, given that Christ is the wisdom of God, the wisdom literature is most revealing. Wisdom says, "With me are riches and honor, enduring wealth and prosperity" (Prov. 8:18). All things came into being through Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 8:6). The works of his hands are the riches. This will be discussed more fully in the consideration of the manifold wisdom of God (3:10).
Paul's commission was to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery. This is a task that must be completed. In answer to Paul's prayer that utterance may be given to him to open his mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel (6:20), the church must now respond. Now through the church all men will see the message of Paul.
This message has been hidden for ages and from the ages (aeons). It was completely hidden in God. The close proximity in the text of aeons to principalities and powers in 3:10 suggests that these aeons are also celestials. The designation of God as the one who. "created all things by Jesus Christ" suggests that God is powerful and able to fulfill his plan of salvation for all creation which includes the rebellious powers (see also Col. 1:16, 20).
"Through the church" suggests that by viewing the unity created amongst Jews and Gentiles the celestials will see in germ God's plan of ultimate reconciliation. The church becomes an object lesson of the wisdom of God. "Through the church" also implies that the church will be the means through which the ultimate reconciliation and universal lordship of Christ is brought about.
These principalities and powers which are also mentioned in 6:12 will be defeated and brought into submission by truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, and by salvation. The church will accomplish this through the word of God and prayer for all the holy ones (6:12-18).
That these celestials participate in salvation rather than a mere domination by Christ is clear. The display of kindness, grace, and salvation rather than mere domination is evident throughout Ephesians (1:3, 2:7, 3:10, 6:11, 12). This can be seen especially well in the churches' battle with these forces. What does it mean for the church to subdue these forces with the gospel and by salvation [ 8 ]? Therefore given the declared reconciliation of all things, and the uniting of all in Christ, submission must also involve salvation.
The "Wisdom of Solomon" prepares the reader for God's plan of salvation for the powers. The author of Wisdom explains that God created all things that they might exist and the creative forces of the earth are good. There is no destructive poison in them, nor in the kingdom of hell on earth (Wisdom 1:14). Nevertheless through the envy of the devil, death came into the world; the shameful death of the Son of God (Wisdom 2:18-20, 24). Explaining this, Paul declares that the princes of this world would not have crucified the Lord of glory had they understood God's secret wisdom and understood what God had prepared for them (1 Cor. 2:8-9). Nevertheless, those who served the devil in crucifying the Lord of glory experience death (Wisdom 2:25). That is the bad news. The good news is that God has a plan of salvation.
This salvation is brought out more clearly by a simple study of the multi- faceted wisdom of God which is described in Wisdom 7:22. For in Wisdom is "an understanding spirit, holy. manifold, subtile, lively, active, undefiled, plain, not subject to hurt, loving the thing that is good, quick, irresistable, ready to do good, kind to man, stedfast, sure, free from care, having all power. overseeing all things, and containing all spirits, intelligable, pure and perceptive" (Wisdom 7:22).
The writer of Wisdom asks "who is there among men who can know the counsel of God, or who can think what the will of the Lord is?" (Wisdom 9:13). Wisdom declares of God, "You can show your great strength at all times, and who will withstand the power of your arm, for the whole world before you is as a little grain...but you have mercy on all the things that are made, for never would you have made any thing if you hated it. And how could anything have endured if it had not been your will? Or been preserved if not called by you. But you spare all for they are yours. Oh Lord (Wisdom 11:22-27).
This wisdom which the Ephesian author interprets to be Christ [ 9 ] is described within Wisdom as the "unspotted mirror of the power of God and the image of his goodness... she can do all things...she makes all things new: and in all ages entering into holy souls, and makes them friends of God" (Wisdom 7:26-27). In Colossians Christ is the image of the invisible God through whom all powers are created and reconciled (Colossian 1:15-16, 20).
What is this manifold wisdom that the church declares to the principalities and powers? It is that Christ the wisdom of God is overseeing all things. He has reconciled all to God and is all powerful and irresistable. He makes all things new and will make them the friends of God. He would not have made them if that had not been His will. God intends to and will spare them by uniting them in Christ, by including them in His body.
God has also ordained through wisdom that humankind should have dominion over all the creatures that were made and that humankind should order the world according to equity (Wisdom 9:2). It is the church's duty to inform the principalities of this wisdom. All of this is according to the eternal purpose of God which He accomplished in Christ Jesus (3:11).
The purpose of the ages" suggests that God is working out his purpose throughout the ages to bring his plan to fulfillment in the fulness of time (1:10). This purpose though yet to be fully worked out has been already accomplished in the mind of God through Jesus Christ and his death on the cross (1:7, 11, 14, Colossians 1:13-14, 22, 20) [ 10 ].
This is a prayer for Gentile Christians to understand the entire revelation of God. Strength is needed so that the inner being can be stretched to comprehend the full dimensions of Christ's love and salvation. The author's prayer is that we might comprehend the beginning and the end of the universe given the love of Christ. All was created in him. All will be united in him.
The wisdom literature seems to have provided the vocabulary for this phrasing. Wisdom is described as higher than heaven..., deeper than sheol..., its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea" (Job 11:8-9). The depth refers to sheol and the fulness of Christ bringing salvation to this realm (4:9-10). The height refers to the dominion of Christ in the heavens (1:20-21), and of his filling also this realm (4:9-10). To understand the sea to which the breadth refers, a closer examination of an apocalyptic text will be useful. Revelation twenty-one includes ideas about the sea, the bride of Christ, the dwelling of God, all things made new, the inheritance, the apostles, angels, the temple, and the nations. Since all these ideas are also found in Ephesians it is reasonable to look here to understand the meaning of the sea. In Revelation 21:1 "there was no longer any sea" when the new Jerusalem came down out of heaven prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Christ). This sea appears to refer to the lake of fire or the people of the realm of the dead where confusion reigns (mentioned in the previous verses, Rev. 20:13-15). The sea is an interesting part of this mystery. The sea or lake of fire is emptied of its dead and there is no more sea ( Revelation 21:1 ). There is a new creation. There is no more confusion in people but rather wisdom. They are brought into Christ who is the wisdom of God. All things are made new ( Revelation 21:3-5). Christ and the church shall be one flesh. This is a great secret (5:32).
The length of
the earth is a reference to the rest of the
nations as well as
For the church to be rooted and grounded and grasp this love is necessary if it is to know this love experientially.
The culminating purpose behind all these prayers is so that the saints "might be filled with ALL THE FULNESS OF GOD." All the fulness of God already dwells in Christ establishing his divinity (Col. 2:9). This fulness is now prayed to be in the saints. When this prayer is fulfilled "the Lord God almighty and the Lamb are the temple" (Rev. 21:22). This could, I write with fear and trembling, be the divinization of the church.
This fulness of God is first in Christ (Col. 1:19, 2:9), then in the church, (1:23, 4:13 - 16), and finally in all the cosmos which unites in the church (4:10, 1:23). God then becomes all in all (1 Cor. 15:28).
Try to imagine all of this. And yet God is able to do even more than this by the power that is at work within us.
words sum up the entire theological discovery.
They could be restated as: To Christ be brought the glory of the
which is all things united in the church and in Christ Jesus to all the
generations of the age of the ages. The
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PASSAGE
Today's church system to a large extent appears oblivious to the plan of God. Yet Paul suffered so dearly to make it known to the saints and prayed for the saints that they would understand it. How brightly could the body of Christ burn if she is empowered to understand the full extent of Christ's love? Where are the saints who will pray as Paul prayed? Finally, where are the saints who will suffer the loss of all things to see the church experience the fulness?
Christ died to reconcile all things to himself. However, how is this doctrine of ultimate reconcilation to be reconciled with the doctrine of eternal punishment?
What are the possibilities?
1. Given the progressive nature of revelation, are we to assume that this epistle takes precedence over earlier revelations that seem to proclaim eternal separation from God?
2. Are we to assume an annihilation of the wicked so that only that which remains is united in Christ?
3. Perhaps those passages which have often been interpreted to teach eternal punishment should rather be understood as referring to limited ages of punishment and discipline.
4. Or maybe eternal punishment is a serious threat of which God will repent himself at the repentance of mankind.
5. Or refusing all these possibilities should we attempt to hold two obviously contradictory doctrines together in tension, choosing to deny neither one?
Perhaps this tension is the very thing that prevents the widespread acceptance of this great mystery. However, the church desperately needs to hear this message. For the sake of the church an answer needs to be found. If the mystery is going to be proclaimed then it must be proclaimed boldly.