A Commentary by John Stott
Secondly, the sphere within which the divine blessing is bestowed and received is the Lord Jesus Christ. In the first fourteen verses of the Ephesian letter Jesus Christ is mentioned either by name or title (‘Christ’, ‘Jesus Christ’, ‘Christ Jesus’, ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’, ‘the Beloved’) or by pronoun or possessive (‘he’, ‘him’, ‘his’) no fewer than fifteen times. And the phrase ‘in Christ’ or ‘in him’ occurs eleven times. Already in the first verse the apostle has described Christians as ‘saints’ and ‘believers’ who are ‘in Christ Jesus’. Now in the rest of the paragraph he draws out the implications of this pregnant expression which denotes a new principle in human solidarity. Formerly we were ‘in Adam’, belonging to the old fallen humanity; now we are ‘in Christ’, belonging to the new redeemed humanity. It is ‘in Christ’ that God has blessed us in time and chosen us in eternity (verses 3-4). It is ‘in the Beloved’ that he has bestowed on us his grace, so that ‘in him’ we have redemption or forgiveness (verses 6-7). It is ‘in him’ that the first Jewish believers became God’s people (verses 11-12) and ‘in him’ also that Gentile believers were sealed as belonging to God (verses 13-14). It is also ‘in Christ’ that God has set forth his plan to unite all things ‘in him’ or under his headship (verses 9-10). Once we Gentiles were ‘separated from Christ’ and therefore hopeless and godless (2:12) but now ‘in Christ’ we have been overwhelmed with blessing.
Thirdly, there is the Holy Spirit. Although in this paragraph he is mentioned by name only in verse 13 and 14, his activity is assumed throughout, and his varied work is described in later chapters. What Paul stresses here is that the blessing God gives us in Christ is *spiritual*. A contrast is probably intended with Old Testament days when God’s promised blessings were largely material. Perhaps the most striking example is to be found in Deuteronomy 28:1-14, where the blessings promised to an obedient Israel were many children, a good harvest, an abundance of cattle and sheep, and leadership among the nations. It is true Jesus also promised his followers some material blessings. For he forbade them to be anxious about food, drink and clothing and assured them that their heavenly Father would supply their needs if they put the concerns of his rule and righteousness first. Nevertheless, the distinctive blessings of the new covenant are spiritual, not material; for example, God’s law written in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, a personal knowledge of God, and the forgiveness of our sins (E.g. Je.31:31-34).
In order to put this beyond doubt Paul adds to his adjective ‘spiritual’ the clause *in the heavenly places*, or better – since no geographical location is implied – ‘in the heavenlies’ (*en tois epouraniois*). This is the first occasion on which he uses this remarkable expression, which occurs five times in Ephesians and nowhere else in his letters. What does it mean? The word ‘heaven’ is used in Scripture in several different senses. Ancient authors used to distinguish between ‘the heaven of nature’ (the sky), ‘the heaven of grace’ (eternal life already received and enjoyed by God’s people on earth) and ‘the heaven of glory’ (the final state of the redeemed). But ‘the heavenlies is to be understood differently from all these. It is neither sky, nor grace, nor glory, nor any literal spatial abode, but rather the unseen world of spiritual reality. The five uses of the expression in Ephesians indicate that ‘the heavenlies’ are the sphere in which the ‘principalities and powers’ continue to operate (3:10; 6:12), in which Christ reigns supreme and his people reign with him (1:20; 2:6), and in which therefore God blesses us with every spiritual blessing in Christ (1:3).
The teaching of verse 3 is thus seen to be extremely important. Christians are trinitarians. We believe in one God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We affirm with gratitude and joy that God has blessed us (*eulogesas*, an aorist tense) in Christ with every spiritual blessing. That is, every blessing of the Holy Spirit has been given us by the Father if we are in the Son. No blessing has been withheld from us. Of course we still have to grow into maturity in Christ, and be transformed into his image, and explore the riches of our inheritance in him. Of course, too, God may grant us many deeper and richer experiences of himself on the way. Nevertheless already, if we are in Christ, every spiritual blessing is ours. Or, as the apostle puts it in Colossians, we ‘have come to fullness of life in him’ (Col.2:10; cf. also 1 Cor.3:21-23).
Having stated the general principle, Paul moves on to the particulars. What are these blessings with which God has blessed us in Christ? In the rest of the paragraph he unfolds them. They relate to the past (*before the foundation of the world*, verse 4), the present (what *we have* in Christ now, verse 7) and the future (*the fullness of time*, verse 12). The past blessing is ‘election’, the present ‘adoption’ to be God’s children, and the future ‘unification’ when all things will be united under Christ.