God’s Eternal Purpose – Intro to Ephesians

  • 1st Missionary Journey w/Barnabas & John Mark – 47 AD – 48 AD
  • Jerusalem Council
  • 2nd Missionary Journey wSilas – fall 49 AD – spring 53 AD
  • 3rd Missionary Journey – fall 53 AD – spring 57 AD
  • 1st Imprisonment in Caesarea – spring 57 AD (immediately following Pentecost, 50 days after Passover) – 59 AD
  • Journey (incl. shipwreck) and 1st Imprisonment in Rome – 59 AD – 62 AD
  • Further missionary work
  • 2nd Imprisonment in Rome – 66 AD – 67 AD

Saul was converted sometime around 34-36 AD at about the age of 30+. He went to Arabia for approx. 3 years (Gal 1:17-18), then spent time in Damascus, Jerusalem and Tarsus. Barnabas went to Tarsus, found Saul and brought him back to Antioch where they taught for a whole year (Acts 11:25-26) 46-47 AD.

Paul’s 1st journey with Barnabas accompanied by John Mark began after they (Paul and Barnabas) were “set apart” with prayer, fasting and laying on of hands (13:1-3) sometime during 47 AD. Relatively short journey (13:4-14:28), about a year long, through Cyprus and S. Turkey – 1200 miles approx, equally divided between land and sea. Preached the length of Cyprus, then churches established, encouraged on return journey, in Perga, Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. Returned to Antioch and gave report to the sending church.

Antioch church sent Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem (15:1-34) to the council meeting addressing issue of circumcision. Carried the circular letter back to Antioch (about 600 mile round trip). Divided over issue of taking John Mark (15:36-41); Barnabas took Mark and went to Cyprus, Paul chose Silas and departed on his 2nd journey in the fall of 49 AD going first to Derbe and Lystra where Timothy joined them and still carrying the circular letter (16:4).

Continued to Iconium and Antioch, then to Troas where the Holy Spirit through a vision instructed them to go west instead of east (16:6-10). Traveled through southern Macedonia, stopped at Philippi where Lydia was completely converted (16:11-15) and Paul and Silas were jailed (16:16-34). Went to Thessalonica where they paused for three weeks (17:2), to Berea (17:10-15).

Paul went on alone Athens for personal safety reasons (17:13-14), waited there for Silas and Timothy to rejoin him (17:16). After address to Areopagus (17:22-34) he went on to Corinth where Silas and Timothy rejoined him (18:5) and they stopped 18 months (Acts 18:11) teaching. Brought before the proconsul, Gallio, charged with teaching heresy. Released, stayed “a good while longer” (18:18), then sailed for Caesarea by way of Ephesus (18:19 & 22). Paul only stayed a short itme in Ephesus, declined to linger when requested by Jews there, wanting to reach Jerusalem by spring of 53 AD for the feast (18:21).

Paul was accompanied by Aquila and Priscilla (18:18); Aquila a native of Pontus (NE Turkey, along Black Sea). Had immigrated to Rome along with wife but forced to flee during Claudius’ persecution of Jews shortly before his death (poisoned by his fourth wife!). Aquila and Priscilla taught “personally” by Paul in the off-hours from their trade.

Apollos, a Jew from Alexandria, Egypt arrived in Ephesus and began teaching (18:24-25). He was eloquent, persuasive, zealous to teach, learned in doctrine but lacking in the “latest developments”, and techable. Aquila and Priscilla furthered his instruction (18:26); spent enough time at Ephesus that the church there commended him by letter to Corinth (18:27-28).
Paul’s 3rd journey began in fall of 53 AD; we don’t know if he had a constant traveling companion, Titus was along for part of it and perhaps Timothy as well. He returned to churches of Asia Minor, encouraging and teaching following the same route as previously except he went from Antioch to Ephesus rather than Troas. He found 12 men there, disciples seemingly in a similar place to Apollos and not having heard much more than John Baptist’s testimony to Jesus as Messiah. Beginning with them Paul began a 2+ year ministry in Ephesus, 3 months in synagogue and balance “after hours” at Tyrannus’ lecture hall – early 54 AD to 56 AD.

What was Ephesus like?

Founded in 11th century BC, was capital of province of Asia from 27 BC to 297 AD. Chief tourist attraction – Temple of Diana, one of Seven Wonders of Ancient World, funded by Croesus (king of Lydia, capital was Sardis) and completed in 560 BC, destroyed 356 BC and rebuilt. 200′ x 400′, 128 columns 60′ tall, thought to be largest building in existence and completely overshadowing other wonders by its magnificence and opulence.

Other sights – Library with nearly 12,000 scrolls, theater with seating for 25,000, marketplace surrounded by stoas (covered sidewalks), a great number of baths and gymnasiums. Population estimated 400,000-500,000 at end of 1st century.

Ephesus at intersection of major trade routes – by land into Asia, by sea to rest of world, world-class harbor accessible to largest ships. Temple of Diana (Artemis) served as museum to display statues and paintings of great artists, also because of strength of structure used as a bank. Temple was significant religious, financial and cultural center.

Ephesians also worshipped Cybele, “Mother Earth”, aka Gaia; practiced much syncretism in religion carrying elements of earth-worship over into that of Artemis. Diana (Roman) Artemis (Greek) goddess of wild animals & hunt, fertility, twin sister of Apollo.

According to Charles Hodge, “One of the most lucrative occupations of the people was the manufacture of miniature representations of the temple, wrought in silver, which being carried about by travellers, or reverenced at home, found an extensive sale, both foreign and domestic.”
Under Paul’s ministry Ephesus experienced great outpouring of the Holy Spirit’s power – speaking in tongues and prophesying by the “elders” (19:6), healing miracles by Paul (19:11-12), great repentance and revival (19:18-20). Again, according to Hodge, “[i]t appears from this, and from the subsequent account given by the sacred historian, that the effects of Paul’s preaching in Ephesus, were:

  • The conversion of a great number of the Jews and Greeks.
  • The diffusion of the knowledge of the Gospel throughout proconsular Asia.
  • Such an influence on the popular mind, that certain exorcists attempted to work miracles in the name of that Jesus, whom Paul’s preaching had proved to be so powerful; and that other magicians, convinced of the folly and wickedness of their arts, made public confession, and burnt their books of divination and mystic charms.
  • Such a marked diminution of the zeal and numbers of the worshippers of Diana, as to excite general alarm that her temple would be despised.
  • A large and flourishing church was there established.”

It appears that the seven churches of Revelation could have resulted from Paul’s efforts in Ephesus as evidenced by Acts 19:26. Caused riot among silversmith guild and populace. Christian church became influential enough that when Temple of Artemis was destroyed in 262, it was never rebuilt. Also, Ephesus location of ecumenical church council in 431 AD, confirmed Nicene Creed and stand against Pelagianism, refuted Nestorianism which denied hypostatic union and taught two separate (divine and human) persons in Christ.

Paul left Ephesus for Troas, Macedonia and Achaia, returning to Miletus in Spring, 57 AD on his way to Jerusalem. Summoned Ephesian elders, bid them farewell, warned against false teachers who would take advantage of his absence – some from within, others from outside the church – who would try to divide the flock, stealing followers for themselves. That the warning was justified seems confirmed by Revelation 2 where the church is commended for not tolerating evil but were discerning in exposing false teachers.

On Paul’s return to Jerusalem he was arrested, sent to Caesarea for safe keeping where he stayed for two years under a sort of house arrest (24:23), then sent finally by Agrippa to Rome on account of Paul’s appeal to Caesar. It was from prison in Rome 60-62 AD that Paul wrote Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon and Philippians.

Particular characteristics – no obvious controversy needing to be addressed. Mmuch less personal – salutation and benediction do not have same intimate touch of letters directed to specific places & people. Perhaps (but not necessarily) intended as a “circular letter” with several churches in mind.

“If our interpretation of the circumstances, composition and destination of Ephesians be right, we are now in a position to look beneath the surface and ask why the apostle wrote it. To understand its central theme we must remember that Paul, the prisoner of the Lord, is writing in the calm of his imprisonment, far from the noise and turmoil, the conflict and strife, that marked his earlier life. He is now able to look out on the church and get a view of it in its wholeness, to see the part it is to play in God’s scheme for the restoration of the human race, to see God’s purpose in it and for it and its relation to Him. With this stand-point he can write to the churches about Ephesus on the occasion of Tychicus’ return to Colosse, not to correct false views on some special point, but to emphasize the great central truth which he had put in the very forefront of his letter. God’s eternal purpose is to gather into one the whole created universe, to restore harmony among His creatures and between them and Himself. [Some hints of this are present in Romans 8:18-21, written in 57 AD at the end of his 3rd journey. The idea was fleshed out further in Ephesians written 4 years later. Ed.] The apostle’s whole prayer is for this end, his whole effort and desire is toward this goal: that they may have full, clear knowledge of this purpose of God which He is working out through Christ Jesus, who is the head of the church, the very fullness of Him who is being fulfilled all over the world. Everything, for the apostle, as he looks forth upon the empire, centers in the purpose of God. The discord between the elements in the church, the distinction between Jew and Gentile , all these must yield to that greater purpose. The vision is of a great oneness in Christ and through Him in God, a oneness of birth and faith and life and love, as men, touched with the fire of that Divine purpose, seek to fulfil, each in himself, the part that God has given him to play in the world, and, fighting against the foes of God, to overcome at last.

It is a noble purpose to set before men this great mystery of the church as God’s means by which, in Christ, He may restore all men to union with Himself. It is an impossible vision except to one who, as Paul was at the time, is in a situation where the strife and turmoil of outside life can enter but little, but a situation where he can look out with a calm vision and, in the midst of the world’s discord, discern what God is accomplishing among men.

This teaching about God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is no abstract theorizing. It is all intensely practical, having at its heart the purpose of God from the ages, which, as we saw above, is to restore again the unity of all things in Him (Eph_1:9, Eph_1:10); to heal the breach between man and God (Eph_2:16, Eph_2:17); to break down the separation between Jew and Gentile , and to abolish the enmity not only between them, but between them and God. This purpose of God is to be accomplished in a visible society, the one church, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph_2:20), of which Jesus Christ is the head of the corner, into which men are to be admitted by holy baptism, where they own one Lord, hold to one faith, in one God and Father of all who is above all and through all (Eph_4:4-7).

The teaching as to the church is one of the most striking elements of the epistle. In the first place we have the absolute use of the term, which has been already discussed. The apostle sees the whole Christian community throughout the world bound together into a unity, one fellowship, one body. He has risen to a higher vision than man had ever had before. But there is a further teaching in the epistle. Not only is the church throughout the world one body, but it is the body of Christ who is its Head (Eph_1:21 f). He has, as Lightfoot suggests, the same relation to the church which in Eph_1:10 He has to the universe. He is its Head, “the inspiring, ruling, guiding, combining, sustaining power, the mainspring of its activity, the center of its unity, and the seat of its life.” But the relation is still closer. If, as the evidence adduced would necessitate, one accepts J. Armitage Robinson’s explanation of ple¯´ro¯ma, as that without which a thing is incomplete (Eph, 255 f), then the church, in some wonderful mystery, is the complement of Christ, apart from which He Himself, as the Christ, lacks fullness. We are needed by Him, that so He may become all in all. He, the Head of restored humanity, the Second Adam, needs His church, to fulfill the unity which He came upon earth to accomplish (compare Stone, Christian Church, 85, 86). Charles Smith Lewis, Professor of NT, Western Theological Seminary

Stated succinctly: God’s eternal purpose is to gather into one the whole created universe by reconciling His creatures to Himself and to each other, a purpose He is working out through Christ in the church and ultimately to the praise of His glory.

Preached 08.13.06


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