I suspect that most people like a good mystery, be it a book, a movie, or some anticipated surprise in life. At least we like them so long as the mystery is solved by the end of the book, movie, or in a short period of time. There are a number of things that make for a good mystery. Including a storyline that misdirects the reader/viewer; an occasional clue to keep the audience guessing and engaged, although the clues could be misleading; and at least a partial insight into the mystery by the end.
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Table of contents
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—
Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly.Ephesians 3:1-3 NIV
In Ephesians 3:3, Paul refered, for the second time in this letter, to a mystery. A mystery that God has now made known to us. In Ephesians 1:9-10 he did not tell us what it was, only that it had now been revealed. But in Ephesians 3:1-13 Paul goes a step further and briefly tells us what that revealed mystery is.
But before we unveil the mystery it is only proper to get the context. To know what the rest of the story has been about. So try and forget everything you know about the Bible and begin to read it from the beginning. You will find that parts of it are interesting, parts of it are downright boring; some parts seem pretty straightforward, and other parts are very confusing. But by the time you have finished the Old Testament, you may think you have started to figure out what God is doing. But you would be wrong (remember you have forgotten what happens in the New Testament).
What you may have determined is that God has, seemingly at random, picked out an individual and some portion of his descendants and has elevated them to a position of privilege. So long as they follow the rules he has given to them all will be well and ultimately they will rule the world. Assuming of course they ever get their act together. As for everyone else, oh well!
You should also have noticed that there is a class of priests. The role of the priest is to act as an intermediary between the people and God. The priests are involved in bringing the sacrifices of the people to God. They also often speak for God to the people. While there are notable exceptions, most people in the Old Testament have no direct access to God.
A Different Perspective
As you read on into the Gospels you may not find a lot that will change your assumptions, other than a modification of the expectations. God doesn’t seem as harsh and there is more emphasis on the internal life rather than external. But it is still a Jewish thing and only the occasional outsider seems to be included.
It is when you get into Acts that the picture you earlier built starts to come apart. Remember those outcasts from the Old Testament. Suddenly they are playing a big part in what God is doing. It is no longer God’s chosen few standing against the rest of the world. Now, all who believe are a part of God’s plan.
The Mystery Unveiled
In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.Ephesians 3:4-6 NIV
And then we get to Ephesians and discover what God’s intent has been all along. The mystery that has kept us guessing for 44 plus books, covering a couple of thousand years of history, is now unveiled. The unveiled mystery is that “through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” God has invited all people, Gentiles as well as Jews, to join together as the body of Christ; looking forward to a future together in Christ. Ancestry doesn’t matter. Culture doesn’t matter. Legalistic zeal doesn’t matter. What does matter is God’s grace and our faith response to his grace. This was a very radical idea and unanticipated by any of the Old Testament Jews.
But that had been God’s plan all along: “which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.” Peter, in 1 Peter 1:10-12, tells us that the clues had been there long ago. But the prophets who provided the clues to the world, try as they might, could not understand where they were pointing. And apparently, not even the angels above could grasp what God was doing with his creation. Amazing!
Paul’s Role In the Mystery
I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.Ephesians 3:7-9 NIV
When Paul is first introduced in the book of Acts, it is as Saul, the primary persecutor of the church. But God called Paul to take the gospel to the Gentile world. People that Saul would have seen as beyond the love of God. And so Paul became the apostle to the Gentiles, traveling throughout the Roman world proclaiming God’s love for them.
In some ways, Paul was like Jonah from the Old Testament. God called both of them to proclaim a message to a Gentile audience. But Paul’s response was not like Jonah’s. Jonah preached to the Gentiles in Nineveh, but he did so grudgingly. Paul preached to the Gentiles as well. But for him, it had become a privilege. It was God’s grace, given to him, that allowed him to preach to the Gentiles. And to be instrumental in the unveiling of the mystery.
The Church: A Demonstration of God’s Wisdom
His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.Ephesians 3:10-13 NIV
Paul seems to reference the angels, and other spiritual beings, in verse 10, saying, “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In the gospel of Christ, the wisdom of God is made known to those in the heavenly realms. They seem to have been in the dark concerning God’s purpose in creation and what it was leading to. But now, somehow, through the church (not as an organization but as the body of believers), the wisdom of God is demonstrated to those in the heavenly realm.
Rulers and Authorities
But just who are these in the heavenly realms that God’s wisdom was hidden from, these rulers and authorities? In Ephesians 6:12, at the beginning of the passage concerning the armor of God, Paul says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” In this passage at least, the rulers and authorities, along with the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil, are adversaries that we are struggling against. They are spiritual beings that are in conflict with God’s purpose in his creation. We are at war with them. Paul tells us little about them other than they are our enemies, and that God equips us to be able to successfully do battle against them.
While I do not claim to fully understand this verse, I do find it interesting that the church is a demonstration of God’s wisdom to his enemies. That God is able to produce a people who are of one heart and mind out of the squabbling and contentious people that we are by nature and encouraged to be by the rulers and authorities, is proof to them of their doom and that God is victorious. It is somewhat reminiscent of God’s discussion with Satan concerning Job.
The Wonder of the Mystery
And the mystery is not only that the barrier that separated Jews from Gentiles has been eliminated. But also that the need for a priestly intermediary has been removed. All believers now also serve as priests, and each has direct access to the throne of God.
As I read through this passage I cannot help but note the sense of wonder and unworthiness that Paul feels, having been chosen to share this revealed mystery with the Gentiles. He has been entrusted with what to him is an exciting and earth-shattering message to deliver to people who were thought to be outside of God’s concern: God loves you!
2000 years later, we, as Christians, often take this unveiled mystery for granted. Yet I’m not sure that even yet, we fully appreciate what it really means. After all, if we really understood that God is calling everyone, not just folks like ourselves, would we not be much less selective in who we reach out to with the gospel? Would we not embrace all members of the body of Christ as brothers and sisters? Would we not be spending more time in God’s presence?
Some Questions to Consider
- Describe this mystery that Paul was privileged to proclaim.
- Does knowing this mystery change how you should read and understand the Old Testament?
- What do you think about being a demonstration of God’s wisdom to the rebellious heavenly host? Does that thought change how you might approach your life in Christ?
You are welcome to respond to these questions in the comment section below. If you do, be sure to check the “Notify me” checkbox just above the Post Comment button so you can get any feedback. Note that all comments are moderated. Only respectful comments relevant to the topic will be posted.
All Posts In This Series
- Ephesians: A Brief Introduction
- Ephesians: Spiritual Blessings (1:3-14)
- Ephesians: A Prayer for Believers (1:15-23)
- Ephesians: From Death Into Life, An Act of Grace (2:1-7)
- Ephesians: Amazing Grace (2:8-10)
- Ephesians: Tearing Down the Wall of Hostility (2:11-22)
- Ephesians: A Mystery Revealed (3:1-13)
- Ephesians: Rooted and Established In Love (3:14-21)
- Ephesians: Walking Worthy (4:1-6)
- Ephesians: Growing a Mature Church (4:11-16)
- Ephesians: Put on the New Self (4:17-32)
- Ephesians: Imitators of God (5:1-20)
- Ephesians: Life in the Family (5:21-6:9)
- Ephesians: The Bride of Christ (5:25-32)
- Ephesians: Spiritual Warfare (6:10-20)
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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9 thoughts on “Ephesians: A Mystery Revealed (3:1-13)”
This passage has mysteries we will never understand until glory. Thanks for your exposition of it Ed. I’m only beginning to learn in the discipline of Biblical Theology, and this passage certainly begs for an understanding of the Old Covenant so that we appreciate the New.
I certainly understand. It seems like every time I grasp something new, I discover two more things I need to work on. So much depth.
The Old Covenant takes on new meaning when you learn to read it in light of Jesus’ fulfillment and the New Covenant.
We are certainly on the same page in this regard it seems.
Thanks so much for this expose. It blessed and keeps blessing me everytime I read and think on it…
As we advance into the coming year, I find that this is a chapter and book we all need to dwell upon as the year 2021 starts to unfold.
Thanks for your encouraging words. All of Ephesians is worth spending a lot of time with.
This is a great parable that God teaches us in nature. Did you ever wonder why caterpillars crawl on the ground? Why don’t they run around on four legs? Because God is teaching us things in nature, if we could only see. This is a picture of life in the flesh, the natural human life. Everything that lies in a caterpillar’s path is a horrible obstacle over which it must painfully crawl. It cannot see very far, and doesn’t know which turn to take. This is an apt description of the way we live our lives as natural human beings. But God has a program for a caterpillar. He has a wonderful plan for its life. I don’t know if anyone has told The Four Spiritual Laws to a caterpillar, but it would be interesting to do so, because the first point would be, God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. What is it? That you’ll die, that you’ll come to the end, that somehow all your old life as a caterpillar will decay and you will be left lifeless and dead, in a cocoon of your own spinning, hanging on a limb, and apparently it will all be over. But it isn’t over. Right in the midst of that cocoon something happens. We don’t really know what it is. Nobody has yet ever found out what goes on inside a cocoon that transforms a caterpillar into a butterfly. But we know that one of these days, when the sun begins to shine, all these dead-looking cocoons will begin to break open, and there will emerge a beautiful creature, designed no longer for life on the lower level, crawling along over every obstacle, but able to rise above them, able to spread its wings and fly as an expression of beauty and joy throughout the world and nature. This is God’s lesson regarding what he is doing now. The cocoon is the old creation, and in the midst of it the new is taking shape. And we can live in that new creation right now. This is the great mystery.
This reminds me of the song “Bullfrogs and Butterflies” by Barry McGuire. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5q-1KMIRAo
ED I thing you are pretty much on track I enjoyed reading it.