A Commentary by John Stott
God has done more than ‘choose’ us in Christ in a past eternity and give us ‘sonship’ now as a present possession, with all its attendant joys and duties. He has also *made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will* for the future. It concerns *his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time* (verses 9-10). For history is neither meaningless nor purposeless. It is moving towards a glorious goal. What, then is this ‘mystery’ which God has ‘made known’, this revealed secret, this ‘will’ or ‘purpose’ or ‘plan’ of his? In chapter 3 the ‘mystery’ is the inclusion of Gentiles in God’s new society on equal terms with Jews. But this present ethnic unity is a symbol or foretaste of a future unity that will be greater and more wonderful still.
God’s plan ‘for the fullness of the times’ , when time merges into eternity again, is *to unite all things in him (Christ), things in heaven and things on earth* (verse 10). The Greek verb translated ‘unite’ (*anakephalaioo*) ‘is rich in allusion and significance’. It was rare in secular Greek. According to Moulton and Milligan, although unknown in non-literary documents because too sophisticated for them, yet ‘the commonness of *kephalaion* (“sum”, “total”) would make the meaning obvious even to ordinary readers’. Thus the verb *anakephalaioo* meant ‘to bring something to a *kephalaion*’ ‘to sum up’, either in the sense of ‘summing up in reflection or speech’ (‘to condense into a summary’ – Thayer) or in the sense of ‘the gathering together of things’. The only other New Testament occurrences of the verb is in Romans 13:9, where all the commandments of the law’s second table ‘are summed up in this sentence. “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”’
The context of Ephesians 1 certainly seems to suit the notion of ‘gathering together’ better than that of ‘condensing’. For a little later, in verse 22, Paul will be affirming that God has made Jesus Christ ‘the head (*kephale*) over all things for the church’. So here he seems to be saying that ‘the summing up of the totality takes place in its subjection to the Head’. Already Christ is head of his body, the church, but one day ‘all things’ will acknowledge his headship. At present there is still discord in the universe, but in the fullness of time the discord will cease, and that unity for which we long will come into being under the headship of Jesus Christ.
This prospect prompts an important question: who and what will be included in this final unity and under this headship? A number of theologians both ancient and modern have seized on the expression ‘all things’ as a basis on which to build universalistic dreams. That is, they speculate that everybody is going to be saved in the end, that those who die impenitent will one day be brought to penitence, and that even demons will finally be redeemed, since literally ‘all things, things in heaven and things on earth’ are going to be gathered together into one under Christ’s saving rule. One eloquent contemporary advocate of universalism is Markus Barth. True, he seems in one or two places to deny it, saying that we must not forget Christ’s teaching about the unforgivable sin. Yet the general impression he gives is plain. ‘The church…is Christ’s living and growing body. The church includes by this definition virtually all who are still unbelievers…Jesus Christ is not only “head of the Church”. He is as much…head also of every man, whether that man believes in Christ or not.’ It is simply that all people do not yet know and acknowledge Christ, as the church does. ‘Therefore we may call the Church the firstfruits, the beginning, the example, the sign or the manifestation of that dominion and praise which are to be known universally and enjoyed consciously by all men. The Church is but a preliminary, transitory and serving institution. For the time being she is the only community on earth that consciously serves Jesus Christ.’ A little later, when commenting on the middle wall of partition which Jesus Christ has broken down, he declares: ‘There is no wall between the Church and the world!’ Yet many Christians meet behind the walls of church buildings and ecclesiastical traditions. ‘A church that secures herself against the world…can only learn from Ephesians that the world is right in treating it or bypassing it with the pity or contempt fit for the hypocrite’. Markus Barth rejects such a ‘wall-church’. ‘In conclusion’, he writes, ‘there is according to the gospel of peace *no* wall between the near and the far, between the church and the world!’