Saturday, March 22, 2008

THE RESURRECTION AND EXALTATION OF JESUS CHRIST

Ephesians 1:15

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love [6] toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Paul prayed that the God would give the Ephesians a spirit of wisdom and revelation and that they eyes of their hearts would be enlightened. He did this so they would know three things: first, the hope to which he called them; second, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints and third, the immeasurable greatness of his power toward believers.

The first thing, then, is the hope to which he called them, and to which he calls us. The word “hope”, as used in the New Testament, is not the same as we use the word for now. We use it the same as “wish”. When we hope, we do not have any confidence the thing will happen, but we want it to. But, in the New Testament, “hope” means something that you are certain will happen, an assurance. It could also be interpreted as an “expectation”. It has to do with confidence and anticipation.

Paul has already told us in this chapter that God called us to be holy and blameless in his sight, to be adopted as his sons in Christ, and to be for the praise of his glory. Now, Paul says we are called into a hope. We hope, or expect, to be made like Christ and to be taken into heaven with him.

The second thing we are called to is the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. The Greek here apparently allows two different possible interpretations. This could mean our inheritance, our salvation and eternal life. It could also mean God’s inheritance of us, as in, we are his possession. I think it is about our inheritance, since he is praying that the Ephesians will understand what they have in Christ. There is a similar verse in Colossians 1:12, where Paul gives thanks to the Father, who qualified them to share in the inheritance of the saints. Our inheritance is our eternal life.

So, the first two requests are similar. But, the first one focuses on hope and assurance. The second focuses on “riches”, or the scope of our calling and inheritance, the scope of what we have in Christ. We have great spiritual riches in this life. We have the ability to pray, to boldly, or with confidence, approach the throne of grace. (Hebrews 4:16). We may talk to the creator of the universe because of the work of Christ. We may read God’s word that he left for us to know him. We may fellowship with other believers.

But, that is not the end of it. These riches include the greater things of eternal life. Paul said, now we see a poor reflection, but then face to face. Now we know in part, then we shall know fully. (1 Corinthians 13:12).

The third thing is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward believers. The NIV says “his incomparably great power”. I like the term “immeasurable”, because it is a great thought that the power God works toward us is so great it is immeasurable. “Incomparable” would mean his power is so great there is none with which to compare it. There is no one like him.

Using Paul’s terms, we live now between the time of our calling and the time of our inheritance. We live this life, not in our own power, but in God’s power. So we need to know this power. And, by “know”, I do not mean intellectual knowledge of it, but experiential knowledge. You should know God’s power because you have lived with it and experienced it.

To experience God’s power, you are going to have to spend a lot of time in prayer and Bible study. You have to spend time with him for him to reveal himself and his power to you. There are no spiritual giants, no people of great spiritual power, who did not get there by prayer and meditation of God’s word.

Paul then makes the most incredible statement about this power. It is the same power that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him in the heavenly places. His great power was displayed in defying death and raising Christ intact from the grave and exalting him in heaven, and he works toward us with that same great power. What a great truth to know! How can you know this and not have hope and assurance? How can you know this and not be thankful? How can you know this and not be driven to worship and praise.

F. F. Bruce wrote “God’s glorious and immeasurably great power is at work in believers, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, creating new life in us and making the hope of resurrection real for us”.

Now, beginning with verse 20, Paul transitions from speaking of God’s power in relation to our calling, to speaking of it in connection with God’s exaltation of Christ.

I used to think of Jesus exalted only at the end of time. I thought of him as being the humble man, the preacher, the healer and the guy in the stained glass window carrying the lamb. But, after his death he was “on hold” until the end times.

But, that is thinking as the world thinks. Hebrews 2:8-9 says “at present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death…” Christ is exalted now, even though the world does not see it. Paul speaks of this exaltation in 3 parts: (1) his resurrection; (2) his ascension and enthronement over spiritual authorities; and (3) his headship over the church.

His Resurrection

Jesus told his disciples in advance that he would be raised. In Mark 10:33-34, for example, he said he would rise in 3 days. The disciples never got it. It was too incredible. Only God’s great power could do this, and he did it. In doing so, he vindicated Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God, he accepted Christ’s atonement for our sin and he revealed, and Paul now explained, that believers can live triumphantly through that same power. We can be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). We can be new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). We cannot resist the flesh and the world other than by God’s power.

His ascension and enthronement over spiritual authorities

Verse 20 says God seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places. Psalm 110:1 is the prophecy of it. Peter applied it to Christ in his first sermon, in Acts 2:29-36. Paul confessed it in Romans 8:34. It was a vital concept to the early church. This is a position of honor and of power. Hebrews 2:7 says “you (the Father) crowned him with glory and honor”.

He sits next to the Father in the favored position. As Americans, we do not know much about kings other than from fairy tales, and hardly have any rules of etiquette. But, the seat at the right is the seat of honor in the Middle East and in other cultures. If I invited you to my house and wanted to honor you, I would seat you at my right. If I were the king, and you were my son and heir, I would sit you at my right at royal functions. The queen would be on my left if she were there.

The closest we would have to this is being seated at the head table at an important banquet. Those seated closest to the head guy are the most important people.

Paul goes on in verse 21 to spell out this exaltation, though. He did not leave it only to the picture of the throne. Paul said he was exalted far above all rule and authority and power and dominion. There are no earthly powers that are above Christ. Not the president of the U.S., not the secretary general of the United Nations not the leader of an oil rich third world country.

There are no angels above Christ. Hebrews 2 tells us he was for a little while made lower than the angels, but now commands them and is above them.

There are no evil powers above Christ. No demons are above him. The devil himself is not his equal or above him. Colossians 2:15 paints a graphic picture of this truth. It says “he disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him (or in the cross).”

He also is above every name that is named, not only in this age but in the age to come. No one will ever have a name more important, more glorified, than Christ. He is over all, both now and forever. Hebrews 2:8 says “now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control”.

Verse 22 tells us that God put all things under his feet. This is the picture of the conqueror. Every one conquered is at his feet. It is a picture of worship and homage. I think it is also an application by Paul of Psalm 8:6, which says “you have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet.”

Later in Ephesians, Paul will teach about spiritual warfare. But, it is important first to know that Christ has conquered and is over all spiritual forces. We do not have the confidence to fight spiritual battles because we are so spiritual, but because Christ is exalted and powerful to defeat his enemies.
His headship over the church.

The third step in his exaltation is that God made Christ the head over all things to the church, which is his body. He is ruler over spiritual authorities as conqueror and judge. He is head over the church as it rightful head. The church is his body and is his fullness. This is not to say that Christ is incomplete, but we are added to him, are given to him by the Father, to be his people, his bride. He is to be the firstborn of many brethren.

But Christ also fills the church. It is by him that the church exists and it exists for him, and he is present when it is gathered.

Today is Easter and we celebrate Christ’s resurrection. His resurrection, and the display of God’s power in doing it, is our hope and our power for living.
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