Ephesians 3:1-21: A Modern Bible Commentary

“For this cause I, Paul, am the prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles, if it is so that you have heard of the administration of that grace of God which was given me toward you, how that by revelation the mystery was made known to me, as I wrote before in few words, by which, when you read, you can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ (Eph. 3:1-4, WEB).”

At the time of Paul’s writing, He was a prisoner of Rome. His house arrest allowed him to move freely during the day, but at night, he had to be chained to a soldier. This made certain, from the Roman government’s perspective, that Paul could not escape before his trial under Caesar. However, as we know from Scripture (Acts 12:5-17), Peter was miraculously freed from prison by an angel and God could also free Paul from prison if He desired to.

Furthermore, Paul expresses his own arrest as a metaphor for being a prisoner for Christ. He knew that Jesus was the Lord of His life, not the Roman government. The world might have been able to hinder Paul’s freedom by keeping him in chains and house arrest, but they had no power over his soul. Only God has complete power, and when we allow God to control our lives, we truly become free. Paul knew this.

Finally, in this passage, Paul expresses that His arrest came as a result of reaching out to the Gentile people. He says He is a prisoner on behalf of the Gentiles–the word for behalf in the Greek is ὑπὲρ, which denotes “in behalf of” or “for”. Paul wants to be clear that God’s will is for both Jew and Gentile to be reconciled to one another. For every tribe, tongue, and nation to worship king Jesus (Rev. 7:9).

“Which in other generations was not made known to the children of men, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of his promise in Christ Jesus through the Good News, of which I was made a servant according to the gift of that grace of God which was given me according to the working of his power (Eph. 3:5-7, WEB).”

The Greek word for revealing comes from ἐγνωρίσθη, which means to make something unknown and mysterious to something that is clear and understandable. Before the Gentiles were grafted in (Rom: 11) and adopted as sons of God, only the Jews and a few outsiders were following the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

But now, through the mystery of Christ, the Son of God, who is the eternal King of kings and Lord of lords, this mystery has been revealed by the holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit to the entire world. For example, John 3:16 makes it clear that whoever believes in Jesus will not perish but have everlasting life.

God has shown, through his people, that the Gentiles are now fellow heirs and members of the body of Christ. They have the same privileges and rights as the Hebrew nation. Remember, Abraham was promised that through his offspring, all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 22:18). Since Jesus is part of this lineage, He has become the prophet, priest, and king–the awaited Messiah, who would become the redeemer for all of humanity.

Moreover, this idea of grace has been magnified in the life of Christ. While Jews knew that every year, they must make atonement for their sins on the day of Yom Kippur (Lev. 16:29) by the High Priest, they still wondered where that forgiveness ultimately pointed to. The Jews unrighteousness was known because the law of God was written on their hearts, and they knew it was impossible to perfectly keep the commands of Torah.

But now, this mystery of grace–has been made fully known through the spotless lamb of God, who is Jesus of Nazareth. He is the true atonement and sacrifice for our sins (John 1:29). He is the anticipated High Priest (Heb. 4:14-16), and King of kings (Rev. 17:14). He fulfills the credentials for the true messiah the Jews were longing for.

“To me, the very least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things through Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:8-9, WEB).”

Paul had a humble spirit about himself. He refers to himself in this passage as the very least of all the saints. You might also recall when Paul states: “I am the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15).” This type of humble attitude was also apparent in many holy prophets, such as Isaiah, who utters these words: “I am a man of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty (Isa. 6:5).”

I believe the closer we walk with God, the clearer our sin and unrighteousness becomes. Clearly Paul and Isaiah had built a strong relationship with the Lord, and yet they are the first to admit of their utter sin and unworthiness. Thus, it is clear from Scripture, that as we grow in our sanctification, we will quickly learn how distinct and separate Almighty God is. In fact, one of God’s chief attributes is holiness, which means “unlike anything else.”

Finally, Paul was called to preach to the world the unsearchable riches of Christ and to make known the mystery of God, who created all things through Jesus Christ. The word for preach in the Greek is εὐαγγελίσασθαι, which means to herald the good news. This is where term evangelism comes from–the spreading of the Christian gospel by public preaching or personal witness.

“To the intent that now through the assembly the manifold wisdom of God might be made known to the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places, 11 according to the eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him we have boldness and access in confidence through our faith in him. 13 Therefore I ask that you may not lose heart at my troubles for you, which are your glory (Eph. 3:10-13, WEB).”

It is clear here that God wants his message to be known to all of creation, including the invisible powers in the heavenly places–this would include angels and demons. In fact, when Jesus was on the earth, he had spoken directly to evil spirits and casted them out in His mighty name.

The demons were afraid and would say to the Lord: “Have you come to punish us before the appointed time (Matt. 8:29)?” This indicates that the fallen angels were aware of an impending judgment, and that this judgment will be brought to fruition in the last days (Rev. 20:11-15).”

Additionally, Paul talks about a type of confidence and boldness believers in Jesus will have. When we come to Jesus, He gives us his Holy Spirit (John 14:15-31).” The Holy Spirit is our advocate, teacher, and guides us into all truth. Since God’s Spirit dwells within our bodies as the new temple (1 Cor. 6:19-20), our boldness grows exponentially. We can confidently stand before God the Father because our redeemer, Jesus, stands before us as prophet, priest, and king.

“For this cause, I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that you may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person (Eph. 3:14-16, WEB).”

As stated before, Paul clearly indicates the Holy Spirit is working in us. Jesus gives us the boldness and confidence to enter the throne of grace. Since Jews and Gentiles have been grafted into the family of God, we can bow our knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We can be strengthened with power through the spirit in the inner person.

This is unlike the past, where you had to continuously sacrifice a lamb to atone for your sins. If you didn’t have enough money, you had the option of sacrificing two doves or two pigeons (Lev. 5:7). But now, since Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, He has given us full access to the throne of grace. Whether we are Jews or Gentile, rich or poor, it doesn’t matter. We are all one in Christ, and Christ has suffered once for sins (1 Pet. 3:18). Praise be to God, who said on the cross, “It is finished!”

“That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, to the end that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be strengthened to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and height and depth, 19 and to know Christ’s love which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:17-19, WEB).”

This passage expresses the attributes of God. For God is love (1 John 4:16), and this love is so deep and wide that it is incomprehensible. That’s why Paul tells us to be rooted and grounded in love because that is the essence of knowing Christ. For when we love, the other fruits of the spirit come out as well–joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:23).” Aren’t you glad that God has given us these positive attributes to influence our negative culture?

“Now to him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to him be the glory in the assembly and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen (Eph. 3:20-21).”

At the end of this chapter, Paul focuses on the glorification of Jesus Christ. For Jesus is our Lord, and because he has given us the mystery of his grace to both Jews and Gentiles, He ought to be magnified. Furthermore, since the Spirit has lavished upon us a love and joy that is incomprehensible, the natural response is to give glory, honor, and praise forever and ever. May we continue to praise the Lord in our hearts today. In Jesus’s mighty name, Amen!

Commentary by Chad A. Damitz (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Master of Divinity).

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