“In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him” (Ephesians 1:7-10).
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, after Romans, is probably one of the most quoted of any of his works. This is probably due to the doctrinal nature of the letter, for it deals with Christian truth in a practical way. Not only does he instruct the church in the way of godliness and righteousness, but he also arms it with knowledge on how to withstand false teachers. He endeavours to build his readers up in love and holiness as he writes about the glorious work of God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The plan of God
This theme is introduced right from the opening lines of the letter. “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God” (Ephesians 1:1). This “will” is directly connected to salvation by grace, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7). This grace is given to us so that we might know “the mystery of his will” (Ephesians 1:9). We would all like to know the answer to mysteries of the world, but here is one that God reveals to us by His Holy Spirit.
The mystery that so few understood is God’s plan of salvation. The prophets of the Old Testament had some insight into this, but it was largely hidden from their view. They may have had all the details, but how it would be worked out was beyond their comprehension. “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad” (John 8:56). The New Testament fully reveals how, why, when and in whom the plan of salvation would be fulfilled. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:16-18). This salvation was to come through one person, that person being His Son who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9), therefore to resist or twist the truth about salvation can only suffer the greatest punishment. The last word on the subject of redemption is Jesus Christ. To reject Him is to reject God’s will. “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Hebrews 10:28-29 says, “He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” Sadly many both in the world and amongst the cults dismiss or explain away God’s final word on salvation. This will or final word was so important and vital that God did not entrust its full revelation to the prophets or angels, but to His Son. Therefore it cannot be taken lightly but must be received by all who need to be saved. Where much is given much is required.
The purpose of God
Amazingly God purposed that we in the Christian dispensation would have a greater understanding of the mystery of His will than did any of the prophets, psalmist or priests of the Old Testament. This revelation is not so we can gloat in our comprehension of the doctrine of salvation, but that we might live a holy life that glorifies God. Jesus offered Himself as the vicarious sacrifice on the cross not just to save us from Hell, but also to save us from sin and bondage. “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). How many have truly been utterly saved?
Paul called this part of God’s will a mystery. To the unsaved and carnal believer it remains a mystery. “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Here is a mystery that needs not be hidden from any believer in Christ, for God has not concealed it behind figures of speech or symbols, but has plainly revealed it in Christ and in His word. “Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith” (Romans 16:25-26).
A part of God’s revealed will was the salvation of the Gentiles, something the Jew would have found inconceivable. It was there in the Old Testament, but the significance of it was lost on them. “That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6). Maybe we ought not criticise them for their blindness because it was God who hid this truth from them to fulfil His purpose. “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; 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, who created all things by Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 3:8-9) … “He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them” (John 12:40).
We have been blessed with the wonderful privilege of knowing Christ as Saviour. Such knowledge is not because of any religious or educational superiority but is instead bestowed upon us by God’s grace alone. The great wonder of salvation is that it costs us nothing because it cost our Redeemer everything, for He purchased it for us with His own blood. God plan and purpose for salvation stretched from before the world ever existed until time is complete. When earth’s ages come to an end, the only people who will be found with Christ will be those who accepted Him as the only Messiah and Lord. If few understand the mysterious will of God regarding salvation, it is only because they are not willing to understand. God cannot make His will any plainer than He has done.