This quarter I have been teaching through Colossians and Ephesians in 14 sessions (1). In contrast with the verse by verse approach, (which may keep a person from seeing the forest on account of the trees), covering big sections of these powerful epistles tends to help me see the grand plan of God. Though I have read these letters of Paul dozens of times, this year several new insights leapt of the page at me. May I share just two?
The Reconciliation of All Things
Colossians and Ephesians (2) were written about the same time, to house-church Christians living in the same area of Western Turkey. The Apostle was in prison in Rome and the date seems to have been about 61 AD. Colossians contains one of the grandest and clearest statements of the deity of Jesus Christ and His supreme position in the universe. Chapter Two eloquently tells us about the full freedom and liberty afforded to us under the New Covenant. The overall theme of Colossians is our wholeness and completeness in Christ and the full empowerment we have by His indwelling life, "the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints. To us God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man mature in Christ."
There is a great theological statement in Chapter One about the work of Christ on the cross. The death of Jesus almost 2000 years ago went largely unnoticed by the world, and so also did his return from the dead three days later. Yet what Jesus did on the cross is the central and pivotal point of all that God has ever done to date in history. (3) His was a cosmic sacrifice, a judicial and legal solution to human and angelic evil which gave the Father the means and freedom to offer forgiveness to all men everywhere. But there is more: All disputations among the angels over their territory and rights and dominion and influence were fully resolved and settled once and for all. (4)
[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether [angelic] thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities --all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things [ta panta], whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20)
To say that God has "reconciled all things to Himself" in Christ does not support Universalism, which is the belief that all men will eventually be saved. But Colossians 1:20 does seem to indicate a cosmic reconciliation was included in the work of the cross. The entire universe has been gravely damaged by human and angelic evil--man historically became totally alienated and cut off from God. In general our race sees God as the Hated Enemy. Yet at the same time we are held captive by a great deceiver-destroyer angel, the former "prime minister" of the cosmos. (5) The various angels themselves are at war with one another and a large fraction of these angels war against God.
In the third book of his Scifi trilogy, "That Hideous Strength" C.S. Lewis depicts earth as the "dark planet" ruled over by a "bent-angel." Earth is seen as in desperate need of full-scale liberation. Christ's death on the cross and His resurrection and Ascension resolved all these issues, local and cosmic, and in reality we only need to wait for their guaranteed outworking in history. We are, however, called to be active participants in the liberation of Planet Earth.
"When he [Jesus] ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men." (In saying, "He ascended," what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) (Ephesians 4:8-10, cp. Philippians 2:5-11)
The death of Jesus on the cross as a judicial solution for our sins made it possible for God to extend forgiveness to all men everywhere. Therefore, on the Day of Judgment the first question Jesus may ask of the lost might well be, "Why were you unwilling to be forgiven?" It is one thing for a condemned prisoner to receive his just punishment for actual crimes and misdemeanors. It is a more serious matter if Someone else pays the full penalty for him, but still the prisoner refuses this gracious gift offered by the divine Substitute, which offer includes the subsequent full pardon for all his offenses, and a whole new (everlasting) life as well.
That fact that human sin has ALL been dealt with on the cross empowered the Apostle to beg all men to come to Jesus and be themselves reconciled to God. In the last year the following passage about this has become a favorite of mine:
For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:14-21)
The Summing up of All Things in Christ in the Coming Age
Ephesians contains a grand statement of God's purposes in history similar to the awesome announcement just described in Colossians One. In both cases the initiative and responsibility for the execution of these plans for mankind rests with God alone. This time, writing to the Ephesians, Paul says,
He [God the Father] destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us. For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, [lit: "for the administration of the fullness of times"--in the age to come which follows the age we live in now, i.e., in the Millennium] to unite all things [ta panta], in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:5-12)
To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 3:8-10)
God is fixing everything that is broken, ruined, damaged and fallen in the universe. His program is well underway, but it is not taught in our schools and universities. It is not promoted in Congress. News magazines and talk-shows are oblivious to God's quiet program for the construction of a whole new creation-which includes a whole new unity for our race across all racial, ethnic, cultural, and historical boundaries. "In Christ," (the Second or last Adam), God is building us Christians into the centerpiece of an entirely new creation soon to be unveiled before the world and the watching angelic hosts.
God is not presently directing His major efforts towards social reform, better schools, relief of the poor, nor better government (local or global). His program is proceeding one person at a time, as Paul tells us above,
"if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come."
By the way, if you are among those who still believe men are basically good, please read the first three chapters of Paul's letter to the Romans--this should help a lot to see things the way God sees them--we all start out fairly blind and deceived before we come to know Jesus the Lord. God also floods the world on a daily basis with "common grace"--out of his love for saint and sinner alike. In order to keep us from destroying ourselves until His plan is finished, He actively restrains evil all day long on every side. (6) This allows His church freedom to evangelize the world and to grow up into Christ, as explained in Chapter four of Ephesians.
But all of God's efforts and pleadings with mankind bring only a small fraction of the world populace to the point where they are willing to be reconciled to God. This means that "the uniting of all things in Christ" must inevitably result in the forceful removal of evil men, the excision of all the deeply embedded evil in all of society, and the eviction of fallen angelic legions from the cosmos. This God will do on a grand scale beginning very shortly. Many of the Parables of Jesus vividly describe That Day:
Jesus left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field." He answered, "He who sows the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world, and the good seed means the sons of the kingdom; the weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind; when it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into vessels but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth." (Matthew 13:36-43, 47-50)
("For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.") As the disciples heard these things, Jesus proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. He said therefore, "A nobleman went into a far country to receive a kingdom and then return. Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten pounds, and said to them, `Trade with these till I come.' But his citizens hated him and sent an embassy after him, saying, `We do not want this man to reign over us.' When he returned, having received the kingdom, he commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by trading. The first came before him, saying, `Lord, your pound has made ten pounds more.' And he said to him, `Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.' And the second came, saying, `Lord, your pound has made five pounds.' And he said to him, `And you are to be over five cities.' Then another came, saying, `Lord, here is your pound, which I kept laid away in a napkin; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man; you take up what you did not lay down, and reap what you did not sow.' He said to him, `I will condemn you out of your own mouth, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money into the bank, and at my coming I should have collected it with interest?' And he said to those who stood by, `Take the pound from him, and give it to him who has the ten pounds.' (And they said to him, `Lord, he has ten pounds!') `I tell you, that to every one who has will more be given; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them before me.'" (Luke 19:10-27)
All too easily in today's apathetic, compromised, luke-warm church (7) we see Jesus only as our gentle, loving friend and Savior, our Pal who helps us get what we want in life. The real Jesus is very different man. Scripture speaks clearly of the stored up "wrath of the Lamb" and the holy anger of His Father which will soon come down upon our planet. The Apostle John says,
"I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale; the sky vanished like a scroll that is rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the generals and the rich and the strong, and every one, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand before it?'"(Revelation 6:12-17)
In vivid language, the prophet Zephaniah (c. 625 BC) wrote of "That Day:"
"I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth," says the LORD. "I will sweep away man and beast; I will sweep away the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. I will overthrow the wicked; I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth," says the LORD. The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter, the mighty man cries aloud there. A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements. I will bring distress on men, so that they shall walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the LORD; their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them on the day of the wrath of the LORD. In the fire of his jealous wrath, all the earth shall be consumed; for a full, yea, sudden end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth. (Zephaniah 1:2-3, 14-18)
It is highest imaginable privilege to be invited "into Christ" --into God's intimate family--as a honored sons and daughters in His royal household. We who follow Jesus have been made part of His Body, the true Church, which He heads Himself. We are the objects of His nurturing healing love--as a bridegroom cares for his beloved bride. We are His living temple, which He fully indwells when we meet together in community. Christ and his church are a microcosm of the New Creation, the key to God's program for fixing everything that is out of order in the cosmos. This is why the Bible urges us Christians to rise to our high calling and to cooperate fully with our Lord as He changes our hearts, our priorities, and our lifestyles to prepare us to live and rule with Jesus in a whole new universe. Joined intimately with the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armies of the Lord, we are called to do battle with our Lord against the encroaching darkness. Our warfare is not passive and defensive, it is offensive. As we pull down enemy-held strongholds in society, we help pave the way for the return of the rightful King to His home planet. (8)
God is going to invade this earth in force. But what's the good of saying you're on his side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else, something it never entered your head to conceive comes crashing in. Something so beautiful to us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left. This time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love, or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down, when it's become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realize it or not. Now, today, in this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last forever; we must take it or leave it. (C. S. Lewis)
1. For the very brave, the class tapes are available in RealAudio or cassette form. See http://ldolphin.org/audio.html.
2. Quite possibly Ephesians is the "Epistle to Laodicea" mentioned in Col. 4:16. It makes good sense to me. Paul taught at Ephesus (c. 52-55 AD) for 3 years, 5 hours a day, 6 days a week, in the rented hall of Tyrannus. His converts then evangelized Asia Minor. The Apostle died about 66 AD after his second imprisonment in Rome.
3. See "Six Hours of Eternity on the Cross," http://ldolphin.org/sixhours.html
4. Redemption and salvation are not, however, offered to the angels, Hebrews 2:16-17.
5. "The Snake in the Garden," by James Montgomery Boice, http://www.ldolphin.org/satan.html.
6. See "Common Grace", by James Montgomery Boice, http://ldolphin.org/common.html
7. "The Church at the End of the Age," http://www.ldolphin.org/church.html
8. "There's a War On, Folks: the Church and the Tribulation," http://ldolphin.org/war-on.html, and "Spiritual Warfare," http://www.ldolphin.org/spwarfare.html.
Hanukkah 2001: Scripture for the Remnant in Israel:
It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come, and say: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He [Messiah] shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken. For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever. In that day, says the LORD, I will assemble the lame and gather those who have been driven away, and those whom I have afflicted; and the lame I will make the remnant; and those who were cast off, a strong nation; and the LORD will reign over them in Mount Zion from this time forth and for evermore. And you, O tower of the flock, hill of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, the former dominion shall come, the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem. (Micah 4:1-8).