Studies in Ephesians #13 – He Also


Studying the Bible is one of the greatest gifts God has given His people, and within that, Paul’s letter to the church in and around the city of Ephesus is one of my favourite letters for how it has so often spoken to me. ‘Studies in Ephesians’ is my attempt to share, in written form, those lessons and promises that God has revealed to me in my studies through this magnificent book.

“Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens, so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus” — Ephesians 2:6-7

Christmas morning is, for many, a cherished day and a wonderful memory. It is a morning wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of unwrapping presents, maybe going to church, the promise of lunch with the family, and maybe more presents after that. For many children, me included, it was a long-expected, couldn’t-sleep-the-night-before haze of excitement. Underneath the tree would be presents that I had to wait ever so long to unwrap because my mother wouldn’t wake up when I wanted her to (approximately 5am, from memory – an oversight, as my mother has never nor will she ever be a morning person). I could see how many presents were mine, and how many were my little brother’s, and it was tremendously fun to tear the wrapping paper (or, in my case, carefully unwrap along the tape-lines) apart to see what was mine.

For us, however, there was this unspoken, mostly unlooked-for extra surprise that would often greet us when we went to sleep that night. With no fanfare, I would climb into bed, and feel a lump under my pillow, and discover one last present from Mum – a sort of Steve Jobsian “One More Thing” to top off the day.

In studying Ephesians, we are told that God has blessed us with a multitude of gifts, much akin to waking up on a Christmas morning and finding our tree perched precariously atop a tottering pile of presents. We are blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavens” (1:3); chosen, holy and blameless, and loved (1:4); predestined, adopted (1:5); favoured (1:6); redeemed and forgiven (1:7); made wise and understanding (1:8); made God’s inheritance (1:11); “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (1:13). In the opening verses of chapter 2, these blessings are contrasted harshly with our former way of life – “dead in your trespasses and sins” (2:1); we previously walked according to Satan’s plans (2:2); slaves to our fleshly desires (2:3). Then, out of the rubble, God acts, making “us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses” – we were “saved by grace!” (2:5)

That’s where we left it – at that critical juncture where the words “But God” sum up so much of the Gospel, the good news.

But like my Mum used to do when she would slip a little something extra under my pillow at the end of Christmas day, God has more instore for us. The words “He also” represent the focus of this study – “He also” deemed it right to not only make us alive in Christ, but also to raise us up with Christ into the heavens (2:6) so that His kindness may be seen today, tomorrow, and for all eternity (2:7).

Joined In Redemptive History

Commentators are split on exactly how many extra gifts God is here bestowing upon us, and they are similarly split on the specifics of these gifts. For our purposes, let us split these verses into three separate additional gifts God has given us: He has made spiritually alive in Christ (2:4-5, covered in our previous study); raised us up with Christ; and seated in the heavens with Christ (both in 2:6). In this way God’s work in our lives is not simply a mirror of the work God wrought in His Son’s life – making Him alive out of death, raising Him into heaven at the ascension, and seating Him at His right hand – it is the same work. In raising Christ from the dead, raising Him into heaven, and seating Him at His right hand, God did the same for us. We are, as Peter T. O’Brien puts it, “joined with Christ in the events of redemptive history.”[1] This point cannot be stressed strongly enough; there are not two acts of redemption, but one event to which we become joined when we believe in God. This is an idea that Paul is clear to outline throughout his letters:

“Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life.”Romans 6:3-4

“Having been buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”Colossians 2:12

And Jesus, praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, echoed the same idea: “I have given them the glory You have given Me. May they be one as We are one.” (John 17:22) Believing in Jesus is to be made one with Him in a sacred union reflected in the act of marriage. This union, our being “in Christ”, is of paramount importance to Paul. Throughout Paul’s writing, the phrases “in him”, “in Christ”, and “in Christ Jesus” occur a total of 164 times, and refer to a veritable wealth of gifts we receive. We are chosen “in Him, before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4); redeemed “in Him” (Ephesians 1:7); justified “in Christ” (Galatians 2:17); sanctified “in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:2); and enriched “in Him … in every way” (1 Corinthians 1:5).[2] Through Jesus Christ’s physical death, resurrection, and ascension, we were spiritually dead, before being spiritually resurrected and raised up into the heavenlies. Harold Hoehner calls this “positional resurrection”[3] (not any reference to our future physical resurrection – 1 Thessalonians 4:16, et al) and says: “As [Jesus] died physically, we were dead spiritually; so also as he was raised physically … we were raised spiritually.”[4] Our position in God’s eyes has been changed from being under His wrath (Ephesians 2:3) to being “in Christ”, and therefore “holy and blameless” in God’s sight (Ephesians 1:4). For Hoehner, “we are no longer dead in our trespasses. Rather we are alive in the heavenlies with Christ.”[5] Or, for Klyne Snodgrass: “If humanity’s plight is a living spiritual death (2:2-3), the solution is a spiritual resurrection.”[6]

This union cannot simply rest in our minds as some lucky happenstance of our new life with Christ, but it instead demands a response. Hoehner says “The new resurrected life demands new values.”[7] This response must be immediate, unhindered, and total. Paul, in writing to the Colossians, says:

“So if you have been raised with the Messiah, seek what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God.”Colossians 3:1-3

Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains further: “So the difference between the sinner and the Christian, the unbeliever and the believer, is not that the believer, the Christian, has certain faculties which the other man lacks. No, what happens is that this new disposition given to the Christian directs his faculties in an entirely different way. He is not given a new brain, he is not given new intelligence, or anything else. He has always had these; they are his service, his instruments, his ‘members’ as Paul calls them in the sixth of Romans; what is new is a new bent, a new disposition. He has turned in a different direction, there is a new power working in him and guiding his faculties.”[8] James Montgomery Boice adds: “A dead person is unconscious of what is around him, inactive, and in a process of bodily decay. This was true of us spiritually. We were unconscious of God, inactive in God’s service, and decaying morally. Now we are alive to God, working for God, and growing in practical righteousness.”[9] The change in our lives is vital, for without it, nothing has changed at all. “If this change has not taken place, the person involved is not a real Christian.”[10] We must set our minds “on what is above, not on what is on the earth.” William W. Klein adds: “Their lives on earth are now infused with the life from above, and that should make all the difference in how they conduct themselves.”[11]

Seated in the Heaven

So far we have looked at a comparatively small amount of our passage – only “Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up” – the second of three gifts God has given us; being made alive, and raised up. But where were we raised to, and for what purpose? The first of these two questions is answered in the second half of verse six – “Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens” (emphasis mine). Just as God raised Jesus from the dead so that He could ascend into heaven, so too has God raised us up. But here it is important to look carefully at the parallels Paul has given us.

“He demonstrated this power in the Messiah by raising Him from the dead and seating Him at His right hand in the heavens — far above every ruler and authority, power and dominion, and every title given, not only in this age but also in the one to come.”Ephesians 1:20-21

“Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens”Ephesians 2:6

If we are to investigate Paul’s writing as closely as we have been doing, and as closely as most-all commentators do, then we must ensure we maintain the same methodology throughout. In this case, we must assume that Paul has been as careful over his word choice as we believe he has been throughout all his writing. Therefore, we see clearly that while Jesus was raised from the dead and seated at God’s “right hand in the heavens”, we are only seated “in the heavens”. The ESV shows us that the word translated “heavens” in 1:20 and 2:6 by the HCSB is actually the same word we have seen translated as “heavenly places”, “heavenlies”, rather than ‘heaven’, ie, where God dwells and His will is done (Matthew 6:10). In 1:20, Paul is not primarily referring back to gospel passages describing Jesus’ position in heaven, but is instead referring to Jesus’ authority over “every ruler and authority, power and dominion, and every title given” (1:21). So it is important to see that we are not elevated in exactly the same way Jesus is, for we are not placed at God’s right hand. Peter T. O’Brien explains:

“Not only do the readers participate in Christ’s resurrection life; they also share in his exaltation and consequent victory over the powers. The formulation of Ephesians 2:6 is parallel to the expression of 1:20, except that significantly Paul does not add ‘at his right hand’. Christ’s exalted status in the heavenly realm is not shared since his relationship to the Father is unique.”[12]

This heavenly realm is the same place from which “the believer derives every spiritual benefit”[13] – as we see in Ephesians 1:3. This idea is carried further when we look at relevant passages from the New Testament:

“Then after speaking to them, the Lord Jesus was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.”Mark 16:19

“But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the Power of God.”Luke 22:69

In an incident from earlier in Jesus’ ministry, James and John came to Jesus and asked to sit at His right and left side. Jesus replied to them: “You will drink the cup I drink, and you will be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with. But to sit at My right or left is not Mine to give; instead, it is for those it has been prepared for.” (Mark 10:39-40, cf. Matthew 20:23) In Romans, Paul explains that “Christ Jesus is the One who died, but even more, has been raised; He also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us.” (Romans 8:34, cf. Hebrews 7:25) The place at God’s right hand was for Jesus alone – for surely we cannot ascribe to ourselves the same position. Rather, as O’Brien suggests, Paul in Ephesians 2:6 is referring to our position over the ‘powers’ that Jesus was granted authority over. O’Brien adds that this interpretation “makes good sense in the light of the hostile role of the ‘powers’, presented in the wider context of Ephesians”[14] – a context which I believe is one of the primary reasons for the writing of this letter.

Just as we have looked at our being raised up in Christ in the context Paul had written it, so too must we take this authority over the powers in the same context Paul has written, a context given its full detail at the end of this letter, in Ephesians 6:10-18. Though we will eventually arrive at a full examination of these verses, the one takeaway for now should be the words Paul uses to describe our role: We should “be strengthened by the Lord and by His vast strength” (6:10); we must “Put on the full armour of God so that you can stand” against the spiritual warfare coming our way – and this idea of ‘standing’ is repeated; “This is why you must take up the full armour of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand. Stand, therefore…” (Ephesians 6:13-14a, emphasis mine) We are not called to engage, win, charge, execute, but rather simply to ‘stand’, or ‘resist’. We do so with the knowledge that “every ruler and authority, power and dominion” (1:21), that “the rulers … authorities … world powers of this darkness … the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens” (6:12), do not have any authority over us, but rather that we have been raised into the heavenlies, into their battlefield, in Christ, who has been given all authority over them.

His Immeasurable Grace

We have one last question to answer, namely, for what purpose have we been made alive, raised up, and seated in the heavens? Namely, “so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:7) “He” is God, and as we have already seen throughout the first chapter, many of God’s blessings on us are given so His name will be glorified.

The word translated here as ‘ages’ is a tricky one in a letter and a theology which is heavily reliant upon a two-age structure: the now/not yet aspect of mortal life and eternity. “Ages” throws a bit of a spanner into the works, because if Paul had wanted to stick to this now/not yet two-age structure he would have written “so that in the coming age”, no plural. So are there to be multiple ages following? Or is this a typo, something carried through by an uncareful editor? Unlikely. Rather, it is likely a loose phrase simply meaning the 1st century, subsequent centuries through to the end of time, and then through into eternity. O’Brien says that this word implies “one age supervening upon another like successive waves of the sea, as far into the future as thought can reach.”[15] Hoehner agrees, saying that “The present tense of the participle supports the notion of continuous successive ages, including the present and future messianic ages.”[16]

This further clarifies to whom God is displaying “the immeasurable riches of His grace”, for it must refer to whomever is watching those of us who have been made alive – both in the heavens and on earth. Though the immediate context gives more truth to the idea that we will be living examples of God’s kindness in the heavenlies, John Stott, I think rightly, says “For as living evidences of his kindness we shall point people away and beyond ourselves to him to whom we owe our salvation.”[17] Stepping away from an earthly demonstration, Hoehner notes that God “simply wants to show to the cosmic audience his gracious generosity.”[18] But there need not necessarily be a separation between the two. We can look at God’s display of power in Exodus, when he rained down plagues upon Egypt in just such a way as to very clearly demonstrate His authority over the gods of Egypt. In his wonderful book How to Read Exodus, Tremper Longman explains that the plagues “are not just plagues against Egypt, or even plagues against Pharaoh alone, they are attacks on the Egyptian gods.”[19] This idea of God acting against the gods of Egypt is first identified in Exodus 12;

“For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord.” — Exodus 12:12

We know for certain that God’s authority was seen not only by the Egyptians and the Israelites. In Joshua, Rahab the prostitute of Jericho (Joshua 2:10) and the Gibeonites (9:9) were well aware of all that God had done in Egypt – some 40 years earlier. Similarly, the gods of Egypt – residents of the heavenly places – were shown God’s power as he systematically acted against their reign (for example, the plague of darkness showed that Yahweh was more powerful than the Egyptian sun-god Ra). So we need not assume that, as Paul outlines God’s intentions for us as displays of the “immeasurable riches of His grace”, God is not showing us off to both earth and heavens.

Throughout the opening 7 verses of Ephesians 2, there has been one important concept which I have failed to tackle – the idea of God’s ‘grace’. That Paul is here decrying the vital importance of “the immeasurable riches of His grace” is undeniable. This is the second of three references to grace throughout the first 10 verses of this chapter, paralleling three references to our being “in Christ”. Several words have been used by commentators and translators instead of immeasurable – “incomparable”, “surpassing” – each revealing the wealth and unending supply of God’s grace, as well as its greatness over any other riches we might imagine. God’s generosity in bestowing on us His grace is the only reason phrases like “But God” and “He also” have any meaning to us. All of this to say, however, that I haven’t forgotten or bypassed dealing with the concept of God’s grace, but rather am simply saving it for our next study, when we tackle verses 8 to 10.

[1] The Letter to the Ephesians, Peter T. O’Brien, p. 171 (The Pillar New Testament Commentary)
[2] Abridged from Ephesians, James Montgomery Boice, p. 58-9
[3] Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, Harold. W. Hoehner, p. 334
[4] ibid
[5] Hoehner, p. 336
[6] Ephesians, Klyne Snodgrass, p. 101 (The NIV Application Commentary)
[7] Hoehner, p. 334
[8] God’s Way of Reconciliation, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, p. 79 (Studies in Ephesians 2)
[9] Boice, p. 60
[10] ibid
[11] Ephesians, William W. Klein, p. 68 (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, eds Tremper Longman III & David E. Garland)
[12] O’Brien, p. 171
[13] Hoehner, p. 334
[14] O’Brien, p. 171
[15] O’Brien, p. 173
[16] Hoehner, p. 338
[17] The Message of Ephesians, John Stott, p. 82 (The Bible Speaks Today)
[18] Hoehner, p. 337
[19] How to Read Exodus, Tremper Longman III, p. 107