Parenthesis: The Mystery – Jew and Gentile in One Body
Ephesians 3

Dispensations or administrations are the various ordered dealings of God with men on the earth at different times. The Children of Israel in the Old Testament were in a different dispensation than we are in today. In the Millennium, inhabitants of the earth will live in a different dispensation than we are in today. Having an understanding of these changes in God's dealings is tremendously important. Our behavior as Christians is largely based on the principles that God has given to us in the present dispensation.

Read more… This term “dispensation” or “administration” occurs in this chapter, for a very important reason. The identity and character of the Church which Paul has been presenting in Eph. 1-2 is entirely different than Israel under the Law. Paul brings in dispensational truth to explain that God hasn’t changed, but His economy has. God has begun something new that was kept secret in past ages, but is now been revealed. However, this new dispensation does not alter God’s original purpose to glorify Christ; rather it provides further light on how He will accomplish it.
The Ephesians 3 parenthesis. We can see that Eph. 3:1 and Eph. 4:1 start out very similarly. This strengthens the fact that Eph. 3:2-21 is a parenthesis! The purpose of ch.3 is to explain the apparent contradiction between the Old Testament promises and the New Testament position as explained in Eph. 1 – 2. Some Christians don’t see the importance of this parenthesis, because they are either generally ignorant of the Word of God, or they don’t see a contradiction due to not believing that God will be faithful to His promises. They actually believe that God backs out of His promises, or provides only a twisted fulfillment of them. This is the downfall of Covenant theologians. The highest truths of God – and every truth for that matter – cannot be attained unless we justify God in every verse. When we see an apparent contradiction, we can rest in faith for God to reveal His mind.
Three reasons for this parenthesis:
  1. To define in detail the Mystery (vv.5-6); that God has brought Jews and Gentiles into a new thing (one body) with new hopes and new prospects.
  2. To establish Paul’s authority to teach the Mystery (vv.2-3, vv.7-9). Paul’s “manner” was to go into the synagogues of the Jews, to reason with them out of the scriptures, see Acts 17:1-3. the truth he was expounding then was from the Old Testament… but the Mystery was a secret hid in the heart of God, not made known in the Old Testament. He couldn’t point to the Old Testament for authority. Therefore, it was necessary for him to establish that he had a special dispensation from God to teach the Mystery.
  3. To reveal the purpose of the Mystery (vv.10-11). That it would bring glory to Christ according to God’s eternal purpose, not only in the future, but at the present time.
The Hiddenness of “The Mystery”. Old Testament prophecies spoke of Gentile blessing; but never to this extent, and always under Israel (Isa. 14:1). This is brand new! See encyclopedia entry.

What is the Mystery? (3:1-6)

The Immediate Result of Preaching the Truth: Persecution (v.1)

For this reason *I* Paul, prisoner of the Christ Jesus for you nations, v.1 Paul was in chains at the time of writing this epistle (Eph. 6:20). But he doesn’t call himself a prisoner of Nero, but of Christ Jesus. He realized that it was from the Lord. He was also motivated by love “for you Gentiles”. Paul had been on three missionary journeys bringing the gospel and the truth to the nations, but he was continually distracted by his affections for Israel (not a bad thing). The Lord allowed him to be arrested and brought to Rome where he was put under house arrest. There he began to write what we call “the prison epistles” including Ephesians and Colossians. It was from that place as a prisoner that the highest truth concerning Christ and the Church came out for the blessing of the Gentiles. This verse suggests that Paul had a sense that his imprisonment was not only the Lord’s hand, but required for the special blessing of the Gentiles.

Paul’s Special Dispensation (vv.2-5)

2 (if indeed ye have heard of the administration of the grace of God which has been given to me towards you, v.2 The word “dispensation” means “administration” or “stewardship”. It was that for which Paul was held responsible before God. Paul was the instrument chosen of God for bringing out the nature, calling, character, and hopes of the Church. He could say, it was “given me to you-ward” because the apostle Paul was but a channel by which the truth would flow to the saints.
3a that by revelation the mystery has been made known to me, v.3a He got the Mystery “by revelation” which likely occurred when Paul was caught up to the third heaven (2 Cor. 11). It was a special revelation to Paul, although later the Spirit of God revealed it to the other apostles as well (v.5), but not independently. It would appear that the Spirit used Paul to reveal it to the others, although it doesn’t exactly say so. Peter’s vision in Acts 10 showed him that Gentiles were no longer to be considered unclean… but that truth falls far short of the Mystery. Instead Peter points to Paul for the deeper truths of Christianity (2 Pet. 3:15-16) calling them “the wisdom given to him“.
3b (according as I have written before briefly, 4 by which, in reading it, ye can understand my intelligence in the mystery of the Christ,) vv.3b-4 Paul had “written before briefly” of the Mystery. Both W. Kelly and F.B. Hole say that Paul is alluding to what he had written in Eph. 1:19 – 2:22. When we read those truths, of Jew and Gentile brought into one new man and built up into the House of God, we are getting an “understanding” of Paul’s “intelligence” with regard to the Mystery. That is, when we read his explanation of how the Church was formed, then the “Mystery of the Christ” will make sense. He is really saying that you can’t understand ch.3 without first understanding ch.2.
5 which in other generations has not been made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets in the power of the Spirit, v.5 The expression “hid in God” does not mean that the Mystery was “only hinted at” or “badly understood” in the Old Testament. It was not revealed at all (Rom. 16:25). You can see types of the Bride of Christ in the Old Testament (see list below); however, these types do not contain the distinctive truth of Jew and Gentile in one body. That truth was hidden in God (v.9); period. Therefore, Jew and Gentile formed into “one new man” is not even hinted at in Old Testament pictures! It was given to Paul first (v.3a), but later the Spirit revealed the truth of the Mystery to all His holy [New Testament] apostles & prophets” (see Eph. 4:11). The point is that Paul was not a lone ranger with regard to this truth.
Old Testament types of Christ and His Bride. (1) Adam & Eve, (2) Isaac & Rebecca, (3) Jacob & Leah, (4) Joseph & Asenath, (5) Moses & Zipporah, (6) David & Abigail, (7) Solomon & Pharaoh’s Daughter. But none of these types incorporated the idea of Jew and Gentile in one body!

The Three Cardinal Truths of the Mystery (v.6)

6 that they who are of the nations should be (1) joint heirs, and (2) a joint body, and (3) joint partakers of his promise in Christ Jesus by the glad tidings; v.6 The Mystery is the truth that believers from among the Gentiles join believers from among the Jews, to become something brand new as:
  1. Joint heirs – having the prospect of possessing the universe (the inheritance) with Christ.
  2. Joint body – being united together by the Spirit of God to their heavenly Head, as one living organism on earth to practically display the mind of Christ.
  3. Joint partakers – enjoying the promise that God has promised in Christ, eternal life (Tit. 1:2) and the Spirit (Gal. 3:14). To have the life of Christ, be indwelt with the Spirit, to know the Father and the Son, and enjoy their thoughts. This is exclusively a New Testament blessing.

We are brought into these blessings of the Mystery by receiving “the glad tidings” and being put “in Christ”. In a sense these three cardinal truths are a summary of the doctrinal part of Ephesians:

  1. ch.1 (joint heirs), Christ will share His inheritance with us!
  2. ch.2 (joint body), Christ has made us part of His body!
  3. ch.3 (joint partakers), Christ has brought us into a sphere of blessing unknown in Old Testament. (His promise vs. Abrahamic promises).
The truth of the Mystery is that Jewish and Gentile believers have been fashioned together as one body, equally blessed, but in Christ far higher than Old Testament saints. Thus, New Testament Gentiles are more highly blessed than Old Testament Jews! This is the truth that Paul suffered for. The Jewish leaders said “If you teach that these Gentile dogs are going to have a higher place of blessing that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob… we’ll kill you.”

Paul’s Responsibility to Make Known the Mystery (3:7-9)

Two Factors that Enable the Administration of this Truth (v.7)

7 of which I am become minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me, according to the working of his power. v.7 Paul had been given the special place as the servant (“minister“) to make the Mystery known. He gives two factors that enabled him to spread this truth:
  1. The gift of the grace of God – it is God’s grace that gave Paul the privilege of making the mystery known, and it is a spirit of grace in which it must be presented.
  2. The working of God’s power – the power of God (the Spirit) enabled him to exercise the gift of grace. God’s gifts can only be used in God’s power.

The Proper Effect of this Truth & Responsibility on the Minister (v.8a)

8a To me, less than the least of all saints, has this grace been given, v.8 This extreme privilege that Paul was given (and which we share in a limited way) made him feel extremely humble. Note: Does knowledge always puff up (1 Cor. 8:1)? No. Only when it is held in contempt for our less-intelligent brethren. But Paul held “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) and as a result it actually humbled him.

Paul’s humility. When Paul realized that he had been leading the charge against Christ, he said he was “the chief of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). When he saw that he had persecuted the Church, he said he was “the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle” (1 Cor. 15:9). But here his own failures don’t even come in. It is the eclipsing glory of God’s grace that causes him to say, “I am less than the least of all saints.”

Paul’s Twofold Commission (vv.8b-9)

8b to (1) announce among the nations the glad tidings of the unsearchable riches of the Christ, 9 and (2) to enlighten all with the knowledge of what is the administration of the mystery hidden throughout the ages in God, who has created all things, vv.8b-9 Here we get the twofold commission of the Apostle Paul (see also Rom. 16:25, Col. 1:23-27 where we get it again):
  1. Paul’s Gospel (v.8b) – the “unsearchable riches of Christ”. The searchable riches would be the things prophesied about in the Old Testament (His coming reign, His death, etc.). The unsearchable riches are our blessings “in Christ”. The primary sphere of Paul’s labors was “among the Gentiles” (see Gal. 2:7).
  2. Paul’s Doctrine (v.9) – the “administration of the mystery”. It should read “all” not “all men” because the enlightening effect of Paul’s doctrine is broader to include angels (v.10). “The administration of the mystery” is a term that refers to the present economy in which Christ is building His Church, and to all the related subjects of order, unity, etc. (see note). It was “hidden in God”, not hidden in the Old Testament as covanentalists would like to say (see v.5). The administration of the mystery is essentially: how God wants His people to act and serve during the time of the mystery while the Church is being built.
  The Gospel The Mystery
Romans 16:25-26 v.25a "…according to my glad tidings and the preaching of Jesus Christ…" vv.25b-26 "…according to the revelation of the mystery, as to which silence has been kept in the times of the ages…"
Ephesians 3:8-9 v.8 "…that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ…" v.9 "…And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God…"
Colossians 1:23-28 v.23 "…the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature..." vv.25-26 "…according to the dispensation of God… Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations…"
The believer's standing "in Christ":
  • Forgiveness and justification (Acts 13:39; Romans 4)
  • Redemption through Christ's blood (Col. 1; Eph. 1)
  • Complete acceptance before God (Eph. 1; Rom. 8)
  • The indwelling Spirit of God (Eph. 1; Rom. 8)
The truth of Christ and the Church:
  • The formation of the Church: Jew and Gentile in one body (Eph. 1-3)
  • The practice of the Church: the Lord's supper (1 Cor. 10-11)
  • The order of the Church: assembly meetings (1 Corinthians)
  • The hopes of the Church: resurrection and rapture (1 Thess. 4)
The administration of the mystery. There are two administrations mentioned in Ephesians:
  1. Eph. 1:10 the administration of the fullness of times (future); i.e. the Millennium, in which Christ and the Church reign and possess the universal inheritance.
  2. Eph. 3:9 the administration of the mystery (present); i.e. God’s work of calling out believers from Jew and Gentile, Christ’s work of building them into His Church, and the Spirit’s work of uniting them as one body to their Head, and all the practical ramifications (order, unity, etc.) that flow from these relationships.

The Present Purpose of the Mystery (3:10-11)

10 in order that now to the principalities and authorities in the heavenlies might be made known through the assembly the all-various wisdom of God, v.10 The ultimate purpose of the Mystery is to bring glory to Christ from the nations in the Millennial dispensation (Eph. 1:10)… but God has also determined the Mystery to accomplish another purpose “now” at the present time. This purpose is to manifest the wisdom of God to the angels “through the assembly”… by their witnessing its formation and order, and above all the love of God (see note). Compare 1 Cor. 11 and 1 Peter 1.
11 according to the purpose of the ages, which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord, v.11 This “present purpose” does not in any way contradict God’s overarching purpose (Eph. 1:10), here called the purpose of the ages. It fits in perfectly as it all brings glory to God in Christ.
Manifestation of the all-various wisdom of God. God is now, while the members of the Church are being called out on earth, making known a new kind of wisdom to the angels above. They are looking at the Church from the eternal viewpoint, seeing what God has done in spite of man’s failure. The angels have seen God’s ways in creation, in the flood, and with Israel. But the mystery is a new thing. God has pulled out all the stops, taken those who were dead in sins and offenses, and put them in the highest place.  Such infinite grace at such infinite cost has resulted in the formation of a vessel that is the “Abigail”, the joy of the father, and the “Eve”, the perfect satisfaction of Christ’s heart, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all, and ultimately the very vessel by which Christ’s glory will be displayed to the whole world. Man will utterly fail, the gates of hell will batter away, and Satan will unleash all his power. But with the unchanging love of God underneath us, the Spirit of God within us, and the truth of our place and destiny being unfolded before us, the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church of God! Paul’s prayer at the end of Eph. 3 is that we might have a sense of these very things.

The Practical Effect of Enjoying the Truth of the Mystery (3:12-13)

12 in whom we have boldness and access in confidence by the faith of him. v.12 Paul links with the highest counsels of God with the very simplest of the fundamental truths on which we rest: full & free access into God’s presence (in prayer). Access into God’s presence is by “the faith of him”, the faith which has Christ as its object. We also have “boldness”. We are so confident in God’s love that we can say anything to Him.
The correlation between high truth and deep truth. Paul has been expounding the highest counsels of God. These truths are something to wonder at… but that isn’t all they are for.
The highest attainment of the knowledge of God’s purposes in Christ is intimately linked with the confidence of our souls in His love.
When we do grasp in any measure the counsels of God, the character of the Church, or the astonishing privileges into which we have been brought, then we develop a deeper appreciation for the most basic elements of truth, and we realize the amazing stability of the foundations on which our souls are privileged to stand. We come down from the enjoyment of our position with renewed understanding and deeper enjoyment of the rock solid foundation of God’s grace and love to us in Christ. (For a better explanation of this phenomena, see W. Kelly’s exposition).
13 Wherefore I beseech you not to faint through my tribulations for you, which is your glory. v.13 There will be opposition or reproach if we even enjoy these truths. Paul was suffering for these truths, and if we enjoy and promote these truths we will suffer too. Paul prayed that ye faint not” because it is possible to see the cost of this truth, and to faint, or give up. He is saying, “don’t throw in the towel on me.” Paul’s humbling circumstances were really “your glory” because it was from an imprisoned apostle that God was bringing out the glorious calling of the Church.

2nd Prayer: That We would See the Love of Christ Under it All (3:14-21)

Two Prayers. The prayer in Eph. 1:15-23 is that we might know the power of Christ’s resurrection and glorification, that God’s power on Christ’s behalf (and ours) is infinite and unstoppable, that we would look down from God’s viewpoint and see the inheritance, all under Christ’s feet, and Him head over all things to the Church. But none of these things (the possession of the universe, the putting down of evil, etc.) can satisfy the human heart. The 2nd prayer explains that above all the power and glory of God is the Father’s love. Love is the secret of the glory! In the 2nd prayer we are looking up in enjoyment of the love of God in Christ. The glory is not an end in itself. Rather, we are directed to the Father’s love. It is the “glory of his grace” (Eph. 1:6). In John 17:22-23 we find that the purpose of glory is the knowledge of the Father’s love!
Objective vs. Subjective truth.
  1. Knowledge. The 1st prayer is that we would know the objective truth of God’s power resulting in the glorification of Christ.
  2. Enjoyment. The 2nd prayer is that we would know the subjective truth of God’s love and of Christ which is the motive of it all, and that His love would be the glass through which we enjoy the Mystery.
The objective truth: 
… in thine own house. There love divine
Fills the bright courts with cloudless joy;
The subjective truth:
But ’tis the love that made us Thine,
Fills all that house without alloy.

Introduction (vv.14-15)

14 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christv.14 The 1st prayer is to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, viewing Christ as a glorified Man, all things under His feet by the power of God. This 2nd prayer is to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ because He is viewed as Son, the object of the Father’s love (see table). It is the enjoyment of relationship. How wonderful that we have been brought into the very same relationships that Christ enjoys. He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and He is our Father too in that same way by association (John 20:17).
15 of whom every family in the heavens and on earth is named, v.15 If v.14 brings out the Eternal Fatherhood of God as an intra-trinitarian relationship, v.15 brings out the wider aspect of His paternity in relation to every family”. He is not merely Jehovah of the family of Israel, or Father to the Church, but He is the creator and sustainer of every intelligent creature in the universe, whether men or angels (see W. Kelly’s comments). Paul addresses the Father in both the highest aspect of His Person (v.14) and the widest extent of His influence (v.15) in praying for the Ephesians.

Step #1: Our Souls would be Continually Strengthened by the Spirit (v.16)

16 in order that he may give you according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power by his Spirit in the inner man; v.16 The first thing we need is to tap into the power reserve expounded on in the 1st prayer in Eph. 1. The Spirit of God is the great interpreter of the Word of God; but also, He is the power by which God carries out His counsels. The greatest of our blessings (Eph. 1:13b) is to have God the Holy Spirit indwelling us. This verse refers to a practical strengthening that comes from walking in the Spirit, which gives Him liberty to act. The “inner man” refers to our souls, which is what the Spirit strengthens. We are not talking about getting super-human physical strength.

Step #2: With a Deep sense of His Love, We would be Occupied with Christ (v.17)

17 that the Christ may dwell, through faith, in your hearts, being rooted and founded in love, v.17 The KJV inserts “that ye” in the middle of this verse which would make Christ dwelling in the heart a prerequisite to being rooted in love. But really, being rooted and grounded in love is the prerequisite to Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith. We need to have a deep sense of His love to us. Christ dwells in us by our continual occupation with Him (by faith). This is not talking about bodily indwelling, like the Spirit who indwells our bodies physically. Compare with Col. 1:27 where “Christ in you” is the practical realization of the union of Christ and the Church, such that Christ is displayed in the Church collectively by the Spirit of God. Romans 8:10 presents a similar thought connected with the individual; Christ displayed in the believer’s life. But here in Ephesians it refers to holding Christ in our affections.

Step #3: We would get a Thorough Understanding of the Mystery of God (v.18)

18 in order that ye may be fully able to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height; v.18 The word “comprehend” (fully grasp it by encompassing) should be “fully apprehend” (fully grasp it piece-wise). We are never going to wrap our minds around the Mystery, but we can get a thorough grasp of it. Having a foundation in love (v.17) precedes this “grasping”. What are we to grasp? … the truth of this epistle thus far: the boundless sphere of glory where Christ is the center, our portion in it, and God’s power & wisdom in the whole scope of the Mystery. Note: dimensions are given, but it is still measureless because there are four dimensions! We can only grasp a kernel.

Step #4: We would see the Deeper Theme of Christ’s Surpassing Love Behind it (v.19a)

19a and to know the love of the Christ which surpasses knowledge; v.19a Glorious as all these prospects are, what can compare with His love? The best wine is kept to the last. No dimensions are given… it surpasses all.
Glory supreme is there,
Glory that shines through all,
More precious still that love to share
As those that love did call.

Step #5: Every Need & Desire of Our Hearts will be Filled to Overflowing (v.19b)

19b that ye may be filled even to all the fulness of God. v.19b We are filled, not with the fullness of Deity (it would be blasphemy) which is only reserved to Christ (Col. 1:19, 2:9), but with the very thoughts of God Himself (true communion). So, we lose ourselves in the whole extent of God’s glory!

Doxology (vv.20-21)

20 But to him that is able to do far exceedingly above all which we ask or think, according to the power which works in us, v.20 This doxology is a fitting conclusion to the prayer and the first three chapters. Often this verses is quoted in connection  with prayer requests… but rather, it is an expression of appreciation for our place of blessing. The thing that is “far exceedingly above all which we ask or think” is the accomplishment of God’s purpose to glorify Christ, form the Church, and give us the status of sons. We would never have conceived of such blessing in our wildest dreams! L.F. #330. God alone “is able” to accomplish that purpose. What is the measure of His power? The power of divine love working in us by the Spirit!
21 to him be glory in the assembly in Christ Jesus unto all generations of the age of ages. Amen). v.21 This verse takes us the furthest point into eternity… to “all generations of the age of ages.” There will never be a time when the Church will cease to have its own peculiar place as the vessel that is both the transmitter and the collector of the glory of God. See Rev. 21:2-3.
O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
The saints’ eternal song.

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