Study Guide Prepared by: John McVay
Key Texts: Eph 1:15-23
- In the age of hyperconnectivity and social media, what “powers” attract our allegiance today, threatening to compete with Christ for our loyalty and worship? Read back through Ephesians 1:19-23, praying that the exaltation of Jesus may occur in your heart and mind.
- In what ways do you most need the power of Christ’s resurrection and exaltation to be expressed in your life?
- How might we live if we truly believed that Jesus is exalted at the heart of the cosmos?
- Isn’t the exaltation of Jesus more a matter of Evangelical faith? Is it really significant to Seventh-day Adventist theology?
What setting informs our study of Ephesians 1:15-23? The believers in Ephesus are at low ebb, in danger of “losing heart” (Eph 3:13). They recall the grand days when Paul was in town, working miracles and grabbing the headlines. But now, they are grinding away through tougher times. Paul is in prison. The miracles have vanished. The worship of Artemis is again ascendant. All the deities and powers worshipped in Ephesus seem more powerful and influential than ever, while Jesus seems sidelined. Difficult times!
What is Paul’s answer for tough times in Ephesians 1:15-23? Our lesson focuses on Ephesians 1:15-23, Paul’s answer to those tough times. The segment illustrates a significant feature of Ephesians—Worship, prayer, and praise passages. Whereas Eph 1:1-14 is a lengthy praise benediction, blessing God for the blessings offered to believers, Eph 1:15-23 is a “prayer report.” In it, Paul reports to the believers in Ephesus his prayers for them, asking the Father to give them the Spirit, who actualizes in their lives the power of the risen and exalted Jesus. If believers get drawn back into the worship of the numerous deities and powers on offer in Ephesus, they will miss out on experiencing this supreme reality: Jesus sits on the throne of the cosmos and dispenses the Spirit who conveys inestimable power to believers. [Note a crucial correction on p. 23 of the quarterly where a sentence should read: “Here is Paul’s transforming secret for prayer: pray in the key of praise and thanksgiving.”]
What three grand realities are important for believers to know? Paul prays that the Spirit might be active in bringing believers intellectual and experiential insight into three grand spiritual realities: (1) The hope of God’s call (Eph 1: 18); (2) The riches of the glory of God’s inheritance in the saints (also Eph 1:18); (3) The exceeding greatness of His power exercised on behalf of believers (Eph 1:19).
How is the power of the Spirit related to four specific salvation history events? Paul spills the most ink on the third grand reality, the exceeding greatness of God’s power exercised on behalf of believers, which he unpacks in Eph 1:19-23. For Paul, the dynamic, effective power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers has its source in four important, salvation history events that have already occurred, each of which is something God the Father did for His Son, Jesus Christ. The Father:
- Raised Jesus from the dead (Eph 1:20a)
- Seated Him at His right hand (Eph 1:20b-21)
- Put all things under His feet (Eph 1:22a)
- Gave Him, as head over all things, to the church (Eph 1:22b-23)
How does Paul portray the resurrection/exaltation/coronation of Jesus in Ephesians 1:20-23? Paul’s answer to the ever- present temptation to worship other powers is to hone in on the resurrection/exaltation/coronation of Jesus (Eph 1:20-23). He invites believers to replay every step, to celebrate afresh the grand reality of Christ’s status as Ruler of the cosmos.
- As I write this study guide, the coronation of King Charles III of England is underway, following a tradition-based string of events: the Recognition, the Coronation Oath, the Anointing, the Investiture (in which Charles is given the royal robe, the orb, the coronation ring, the sceptre and the rod of his position, and St. Edward’s Crown is placed on his head), the Enthronement and the offering of Homage.
- In the grand coronation that Paul envisions, it is not the Archbishop of Canterbury who presides, but God the Father. The venue is not some earthly structure, but the courts of heaven itself, “the heavenly places” (Eph 1:20).
What is the sequence of events in Christ’s exaltation? While echoing ancient coronations, the sequence of events in Ephesians 1:5-23 is dramatically different from an earthbound coronation:
- It begins with a resurrection! Jesus, who is now about to be crowned King of the cosmos, had died. The sequence of His exaltation begins when the Father raises Him from death, with His conquest of death (Eph 1:20a)
- Then comes a central and recognizable element of every coronation ceremony—the enthronement. The father “seated him [Christ] at his right hand in the heavenly places” (vv. 20b-21). The new position of the enthroned Jesus places him not just “above” but “far above” every real or imagined power for all time: “. . . 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” (Eph 1:21).
- The next event might be labelled the subjugation. The scope of Christ’s domain is celebrated by a ritual act of subjugating that domain to Him. In the case of King Charles III, the domain is constrained—the U.K. and the Commonwealth countries. In the case of King Jesus, the scope of His domain is boundless. It encompasses “all things”: “And he [God the Father] put all things under his [Jesus’s] feet” (Eph 1:22a).
- The coronation of Jesus culminates in the presentation. After King Charles was crowned, he was driven back to Buckingham Palace in a gold-encrusted coach, and appeared on the palace balcony to the homage of the assembled throngs. With the enthronement and subjugation complete, the Father conducts the final act of the heavenly coronation, presenting Jesus to His people: “. . . and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:22b-23). Note carefully an important nuance: Jesus is not given to the church as its head (though He is the head of the church, Eph 5:23). Rather, having been crowned/installed as head of all things, He is given to the church. The church is superintended by the One who rules everything.
How does Paul rely on the Psalms in portraying the exaltation of Jesus? Paul is not inventing these scenes but reflecting what he sees in the Psalms, reading Psalm 110 and Psalm 8 through a christological lens:
- Psalm 110: 1-3a: The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”1 2 The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies!23 Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments.”
- Psalm 8:3-8: When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,34 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?45 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.56 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet,67 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.