A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 3:10. c). Making known God’s wisdom to the cosmic powers.
The apostles perspective broadens further. He tells us that, although the gospel is addressed primarily and directly to humans, it brings a message indirectly to angels also, *to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places*. What does this mean?
The first result to be expected from the preaching of ‘Christ’s unsearchable riches’ and ‘the mystery’ would be the birth and growth of the church. Gentiles and Jews would embrace the gospel, be converted, and find themselves joint members of the family of God and the body of Christ. Indeed this had already happened, as Paul was writing. He was not theorizing. ‘The mystery’ was not an abstraction. It was taking concrete shape before people’s eyes. And in this new phenomenon, this new multi-racial humanity, the wisdom of God was being displayed. Indeed, the coming into existence of the church, as a community of saved and reconciled people, is at one and the same time a public demonstration of God’s power, grace and wisdom: first of God’s mighty resurrection power (1:19-2:6), next of his immeasurable grace and kindness (2:7), and now thirdly of his *manifold wisdom*. The word for manifold (*polupoikilos*) means ‘many coloured’, and is used to describe flowers, crowns, embroidered cloth and woven carpets. The simpler word *poikilos* was used in the LXX of the ‘coat of many colours’ (AV) or ‘richly ornamented robe (NIV) which Jacob gave to his youngest son Joseph (Gn. 37:3,23,32). The church as a multi-racial, multi-cultural community is like a beautiful tapestry. Its members come from a wide range of colourful backgrounds. No other human community resembles it. Its diversity and harmony are unique. It is God’s new society. And the many coloured fellowship of the church is a reflection of the many-coloured (or ‘many-splendoured’, to use Francis Thompson’s word) wisdom of God.
So then, as the gospel spreads throughout the world, this new and variegated Christian community develops. It is as if a great drama is being enacted. History is the theatre, the world is the stage, and church members in every land are the actors. God himself has written the play, and he directs and produces it. Act by act, scene by scene, the story continues to unfold. But who are the audience? They are the cosmic intelligences, *the principalities and powers in the heavenly places*. We are to think of them as spectators of the drama of salvation. Thus ‘the history of the Christian church becomes a graduate school for angels’.
Our knowledge of these spiritual beings is limited, and we must be careful not to go beyond what Scripture teaches into idle speculation. It is clear, however, that they are not omniscient. The apostle Peter tells us that they did not fully understand the teaching of either the Old Testament prophets or the New Testament apostles regarding the good news of salvation in Christ, for these are ‘things into which angels long to look’ (1 Pet.1:10-12). Similarly we may infer from verse 10 here that God had not revealed to them directly his master plan for the church, but intended rather to make it knownto them *through the church* itself, as it came into being and grew. It is through the old creation (the universe) that God reveals his glory to humans; it is through the new creation (the church) that he reveals his wisdom to angels. It seems legitimate to say that though we cannot see them, they can see us. They watch fascinated as they see Gentiles and Jews being incorporated into the new society as equals. Indeed, they learn from the composition of the church not only *the manifold wisdom of God* (verse 10) but also his *eternal purpose* (verse 11). This purpose *he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord*, in the arena of history, through his death and resurrection, the gift of his Spirit, the preaching of the gospel and the emergence of the church. For *in* him (Christ) and *through our faith in him* all of us, whether Jews or Gentiles, *have boldness and confidence of access* (verse 12). This universal access of all Christian people to God through Christ is what the sixteenth-century reformers termed ‘the priesthood of all believers’; it is a foundation privilege of all who are in Christ, in fact of ‘the church’, the universal Jew-Gentile community, of which Paul has just been writing.————————