A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians. 1:15-23. 3). The greatness of his power.
If God’s ‘call’ looks back to the beginning, and God’s ‘inheritance’ looks on to the end, then surely God’s ‘power’ spans the interim period in between. It is on this that the apostle concentrates, for only God’s power can fulfil the expectation which belongs to his call and brings us safely to the riches of the glory of the final inheritance he will give us in heaven. Paul is convinced that God’s power is sufficient, and he accumulates words to convince us. He writes not only of God’s ‘power’, but also of ‘the energy of the might of his strength’ (a literal rendering of *the working of his great might*, verse 19), and he prays that we may know *the greatness* of it, indeed the *immeasurable* greatness of it *in (better ‘for’ or ‘towards’) us who believe*.
How shall we come to know the surpassing greatness of the power of God? Because he has given a public demonstration of it in the resurrection and exaltation of Christ (verses 20-23). Paul actually refers to three successive events: first, *he raised him from the dead* (verse 20a); secondly, he *made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places*, far above all competitors (verses 20b, 21), and *has put all things under his feet* (Verse 22a); and thirdly, *he has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body…* (Verses 22b, 23). These three belong together. It is because of Christ’s resurrection from the dead and enthronement over the powers of evil that he has been given headship over the church. The resurrection and ascension were a decisive demonstration of divine power. For if there are two powers which man cannot control, but which hold him in bondage, they are death and evil. Man is mortal; he cannot avoid death. Man is fallen; he cannot overcome evil. But God in Christ has conquered both, and therefore can rescue us from both.
a). Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
Death is a bitter and relentless enemy. It will come to all of us one day. A few years ago I was summoned to a London hospital to visit a parishioner who had been admitted as an emergency. I expected to find her at death’s door, but instead she was sitting up in bed and smiling. ‘When I was brought in’, she said, ‘the doctors and nurses all gathered round me as if I was going to die. But I decided I wasn’t going to die!’ It was a spirited remark, but not an entirely accurate one. That lady has, in fact, since died. For we may succeed in postponing death; we cannot escape it. And after death nothing can stop the process of decay and decomposition. Even the most sophisticated embalming techniques of modern American morticians cannot preserve the body for ever. No. We are dust, and to dust we shall inevitably return (Gn. 3:19). No human power can prevent this, let alone bring a dead person back to life.
But God has done what man cannot do. He raised Jesus Christ from the dead. First, he arrested the natural process of decay, refusing to allow his Holy One to see corruption (Acts 2:27). Then he did not just reverse the process, restoring the dead Jesus to this life, but transcended it. He raised Jesus to an altogether new life (immortal, glorious and free), which nobody had ever experienced before, and which nobody has experienced since – or not yet.
This was the first part of the public display of God’s power. He raised Jesus from the dead to a new dimension of human experience. The empty tomb and the resurrection experiences were the evidence. It would be quite impossible, therefore, to square Paul’s teaching in this passage with the attempted reconstruction of the demythologisers. Rudolph Bultmann will always be remembered for his thesis that ‘Christ has risen into the *kerygma*’. That is, he did not rise in any objective historical or physical sense, but only in the recovered faith and in the triumphant proclamation (*kerygma*) of his disciples. But what Paul sets forth here as a demonstration of divine power is what *he accomplished in Christ*, not in his followers.
Tomorrow: Ephesians 1:15-23. b). Jesus Christ’s enthronement over evil.
|The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Ephesians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.|