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Galatians 5:16-23 teaches that at any moment we are either walking by the Holy Spirit or according to the sin nature. Walking by the Spirit, enjoying fellowship with God, walking in the light are virtually synonymous. During these times, the Holy Spirit is working in us to illuminate our minds to the truth of Scripture and to challenge us to apply what we learn. But when we sin, we begin to live based on the sin nature. Our works do not count for eternity. The only way to recover is to confess (admit, acknowledge) our sin to God the Father and we are instantly forgiven, cleansed, and recover our spiritual walk (1 John 1:9). Please make sure you are walking by the Spirit before you begin your Bible study, so it will be spiritually profitable.

Ephesians 1:8-10 by Robert Dean
Do you enjoy reading or watching a good mystery? Listen to this lesson to learn that “mystery” had a different meaning in ancient times than it does today. Find out that in the New Testament mystery does not refer to any form of mysticism, but that it involves knowledge that has been revealed by God. Hear the four ways we gain knowledge and which one is God’s truth. See how previously unrevealed information was shown to Peter and learn how being a Jew or a Gentile is no longer an important factor but that all believers are one in Christ.
Series:Ephesians (2018)
Duration:53 mins 8 secs

Mystery Doctrine
Ephesians 1:8–10
Ephesians Lesson #027
May 19, 2019

Opening Prayer

“Father, what a privilege it is that we have our own copies of Your Word in our language to read, to study, to meditate on, that You have revealed Yourself in such a way that we are able to come to know You more fully through that which You have revealed. No matter how much we study, no matter how much we meditate, no matter how much we probe the depths of Your Word, we still have so much more to learn and to understand. There are so many more ways in which we can grow spiritually and Your character can be manifested in our lives and in our witness.

“Father, we pray that as we study today, as we reflect on Your Word, that this would not just be an academic drill, but that it might increase our understanding of Your magnificent, abundant grace toward us and that we might come to know the purpose which You have for us in this life and that we may be able to pursue that more diligently. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”

Slide 2

Open your Bibles with me to Ephesians 1:7 where we will start the review. We are going to get into the mystery doctrine related to this revelation. This important teaching of Scripture is related to what He has revealed about the uniqueness of this Church Age, the uniqueness of our position in Christ, the uniqueness about this new entity, this new organism called the body of Christ, in which Jews and Gentiles are united in the one body of Jesus Christ for many specific purposes within this Church Age.

Slide 3

Just to review a little bit, we wrapped up this last week with Ephesians 1:7. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace, which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence” or discretion as we studied last time. This verse focuses our attention on the wealth that we are given in Christ, the super abundance of grace. This is difficult for us to probe, and it stretches our thinking because God has given us so much. Paul began this section with the statement that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies. We have been given a super abundance of grace.

To understand this, we have to go back to the beginning. We have to go back to the Creation. So important! If you have been watching the news, paying attention to the culture war that is going on not just in the United States but in the whole world, you have seen increased hostility to Christians today. Untold thousands of Christians in Nigeria have been murdered and executed by Islamic jihadists. Many Christians have been murdered, assassinated, executed in Syria, in Iraq, in the Middle East. A war against all religions is taking place in China, and untold numbers, probably hundreds of thousands, have been imprisoned and executed there. In the United States, we see a rising hostility to Christianity, to those who hold to biblical values, biblical ethics.

Just because you and I exist and we believe, well-organized, well-financed people are seeking to shut us down, to end our influence in this country and in this nation. This war is all part of a much grander war against God that we know began with the fall of Satan in eternity past.

God created us as human beings, described in Genesis 1:26–27, to play a vital role in this angelic warfare that has spilled over into all of this hostility that we see in human history and in our own times. According to Genesis 1:26–27, man was originally created in the image and likeness of God. We are a finite representation of God, not physically, but in terms of our immaterial makeup, the makeup of our soul, in our ability to think, to understand, to communicate, to create, to reflect who He is and to learn about Him. On the basis of that learning about Him, man was to rule over His creation. That was the purpose of God’s creation as described in Genesis 1:28. Man was created male and female equally in the image of God, and they were created righteous. It was an untested righteousness, but, nevertheless, it was a perfect righteousness. They were in the image of God. They were righteous. They were just in their creaturely state, and they were designed to stay that way. That was God’s purpose and intent.

Something we haven’t talked much about, but in that state of righteousness, in that state of perfection, in that state of intimate fellowship that they had with God as image bearers of His divine nature, they were not recipients of God’s grace. They benefited from God’s goodness but not from His grace. Remember how grace is defined. Grace is God’s undeserved merit, His unearned kindness. It is unearned because it can’t be earned, because the recipients of God’s grace are not worthy of His kindness or of His goodness; therefore, fallen creatures must receive grace. We are dependent on God’s grace.

Unfallen Adam and Eve were perfect, and grace and mercy from God were unnecessary because they were in a state of absolute perfection. Once they sinned, they became the objects of His grace. Their very survival depended on God’s grace and being objects of God’s grace as is true for us today. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, all of the cycles of agriculture that come every year are all under the control of God and are part of what theologians call God’s common grace.

God’s grace extends far beyond that as we are seeing in Ephesians 1. We have seen that God’s plan for recovery, a plan of redemption, was known by Him in eternity past. We see that stated several times in Ephesians 1, that it was from eternity past that He knew this plan. There wasn’t a time when He didn’t know the plan. Because of God’s omniscience, He has always known everything. Nothing comes as a surprise. Nothing happens that He hasn’t prepared for. He has designed a perfect plan, so their sin was not a surprise to Him or an impediment to His purposes.

Actually, in the way He designed everything because of the extent of His omniscience, it enabled Him to fulfill a purpose that could not have been fulfilled unless there were creatures who were the recipients of His grace. Apart from fallen creatures who would be recipients of His grace, God could not demonstrate those facets of His love, those facets of His character.

Sin is so abhorrent to God because it is contrary to everything that He is and violates every aspect of His being. He permitted sin to come into the world for a purpose. It was allowed on the basis of God’s wisdom and discernment in order to achieve His purposes and to make His manifold grace known not only to human beings but also to the angels.

We are witnesses to His grace by the way we live as Christians. In the Old Testament, they were witnesses also to His grace, but the grace is manifested differently today in terms of who we are as Church Age believers.

The solution that God designed for sin called on God to make the ultimate sacrifice. He would provide the sacrifice that would pay the penalty for sin. He would send the second person of the Trinity with whom He had had an intimate relationship that we cannot even imagine. Jesus said, “I and the Father are One.” John 10:30. Yet, God the Father designed that there would be a judicial disruption in this relationship by sending the second person of the Trinity to die on the Cross and to bear our sins. Scripture says, “He who knew no sin was made sin for us …” 2 Corinthians 5:21. In the midst of all of that physical pain on the Cross and the torture that preceded it, the only time that Jesus cried out was when the sins of the world came upon Him. That impact on that righteous, divine second person of the Trinity was more than we could imagine. Because the impact of sin extended to every atom, every molecule in the universe, God designed a plan of salvation that would extend into all of the complexities of His creation. It is not just about getting us to Heaven. It is about a redemption of all of His Creation in all of the intricate complexities of the corruption of sin.

God had to demonstrate His grace through this to His angels in the midst of that Angelic Conflict and the fall of Satan. He knew that in doing this He had to manifest His grace under a variety of conditions. That’s why we have different dispensations. God set up each one a little differently, demonstrating His grace in every category of possible scenarios. The dispensations include different responsibilities, but salvation is always the same, by grace through faith. God demonstrated His grace as history moved forward, and as history moved forward, so, too, did God’s revelation.

As we talked about a little last time, some things were not revealed in the Old Testament that are now revealed. We will get into this as we talk about the mystery that is now revealed. There are different aspects to the mystery of what God is doing in the Church Age, and we will talk about the senses of that word and its significance. Above all, the mystery was designed to take the revelation of God’s grace to a much higher level than was ever manifested before.

In grace, He provided a payment for sin, a payment for sin that was more than sufficient. It was abundant. It abounded. It provided not only redemption for all mankind in paying the sin penalty, but it also provided that which would be the basis for the spiritual life, not only in past dispensations but as it is manifested in this present dispensation. Now, we have in Christ redemption, forgiveness of sin, and salvation that are available to every human being. We also have a unique and distinct spiritual life.

Beyond that, God’s plan was to demonstrate His goodness through a new people who would be developed in this Church Age, distinct from God’s people in the Old Testament. He had one plan for Israel. He has one plan for the Church Age. All will eventually culminate in the glorification of Himself and of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Ruler over this redeemed creation in a future age. We are coming to that in Ephesians 1:10 in the administration of the fullness of time, looking forward to its resolution in the Millennial Kingdom.

As Church Age believers, we have a distinct role in Christ, our privileged position. Eventually, those who live well in obedience to the Lord and mature will have different responsibilities of ruling and reigning with the Lord Jesus Christ in that future age. That in itself is beyond anything that we can possibly imagine.

Slide 4

All of that has brought us to this critical section in Ephesians 1:9–11 in which Paul continued his thought, “having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed to Himself.” All of that reflects the inner thinking, the omniscience of God in this intricate and complex plan that He has put into effect to provide the individual, soteriological redemption of every human being. It also provided for the redemption of His creation that even today is still under the bondage of corruption.

We looked at this word briefly last week, the word translated “made known,” GNORIZO, which focuses on revelation. I went through passages from the Old Testament, its usage in the Septuagint, translating Hebrew words that indicate the giving of revelation, and on into the New Testament where it is used a number of times to indicate God’s revelation to us. That is the focal point here. God reveals objectively His will and plan and purpose to us in His Scripture. This is not some sort of mystical, internal, intuitive insight. It is a focus upon that which God specifically, objectively revealed through the apostles at the beginning of this Church Age.

Slide 5

It is described here as “the mystery” of His will. This is an important term to get into. It is a distinctive word for the revelation given in the Church Age related to what God is doing with the Gentiles and Jews. Specifically, in the context of Ephesians, it is related to the unity of Jew and Gentile together in the body of Christ.

His use of this word is also sort of an unapologetic rebuke to the mystery religions that were so popular in the Greek culture at that time. Mystery religions are built on a mystical understanding of knowledge, that somehow man is able to intuitively reach certain conclusions and come to certain insights, not on the basis of rationalism or empiricism but on the basis of irrationalism, some sort of intuitive insight.

Slide 6

When we hear the word mystery, often we think of it in terms of its most popular connotation in our society in certain kinds of movies or books. It is described in Webster’s Dictionary as a term that can refer to cloak and dagger type novels or movies. It can refer to a closed book; we don’t know what is in the book. A conundrum, an enigma, a problem, a puzzle are different synonyms of the word mystery. It can refer to a secret or something else along those lines.

Slide 7

The Oxford English Dictionary gives as a first meaning something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain. It has to do with something that is secret, something obscure. It can refer to a person or thing whose identity or nature is puzzling or unknown. That’s how we normally use that term, such as reading an Agatha Christie mystery or watching the series Mystery on PBS. It can refer in that same sense to a novel, play, or film, in terms of its genre. Thirdly, it can refer to the secret rites of an ancient or tribal religion, to which only initiates are admitted.

None of those definitions apply to the Scripture’s use of the term. That’s why it is so important at times to go back to the original languages and to look at words. We have to look at the basic ideas in the scriptural use of mystery, that this is not the same as mysticism. I’ve run into this and have had conversations about this over the years because people think that mysticism and mystery are somehow related, and they are not.

Slide 8

Mysticism, as defined in The Oxford English Dictionary, primarily the first meaning, is a belief in or experience of a reality, surpassing normal human understanding or experience. In other words, it is not based on reason. It is not based on personal, objective experience. Those who have this intuitive insight into reality believe it is essential to some aspect of life.

Slide 9

That takes us to a chart that I’ve used many times to try to explain this, that there are basically four ways that we come to know anything. When you ask somebody, “How do you know that?,” they make some statement, and you say, “Well, how do you know that?” “Well, somebody said it,” or “I read it in a book.”

There are basically only four ways, which the ancient Greeks identified as far back as 400 or 500 BC, but they’ve been there since the beginning of creation.

1.      Rationalism. The starting point is the idea that we have certain innate ideas, and just by the use of our reason alone, on the basis of logic, we can arrive at the answers to life’s most important questions. It ultimately is based on faith.

It is not reason versus faith. You will often hear that. That’s illogical because all reason, all rational systems are all predicated on faith, faith in the finite human mind to reach infinite conclusions or conclusions about infinite matters. How can that happen? Their assumption is that man is able to come to those answers without any outside information at all. In the ancient world, Plato had this thought system; in the modern world, Descartes. Rationalism failed in the ancient world, and it fails in the modern world because it can’t get outside of the finite boundaries of human thought.

2.      Empiricism rejects the idea of innate ideas. Aristotle made the somewhat famous statement, “tabula rasa.” It is an “empty slate.” We are born that way with input from our senses, what we see, hear, taste and touch. All of these are inputs on which we build that. Again, we do have sense perceptions, but we organize and categorize them. We come to knowledge and ultimately to a faith in human ability to properly interpret what we are experiencing. It is also based on the independent use of logic and reason.

Both of those are often combined, and we call that the scientific method. In the Garden of Eden, Adam first was given the responsibility to name, to categorize, to identify all of the animals. He did so in the brilliance of his thinking. I believe he had an IQ far beyond anything that any human being has today or anyone historically that we know of. He was created perfect, and he had a mind that was untainted by corruption of sin. He was observing all the animals and naming them in light of his observations.

That is empiricism. He was using reason to do so, and he went through all of the animals that were there in the garden and classified them and named them and came to certain conclusions, one of which was, “They all seem to be paired up, but I don’t have a mate who is comparable.” That would have dawned on his consciousness as he went through that.

God told him that all of the fruit in the garden was good to eat, so he knew that, but God said one other thing. He said one tree was prohibited. He couldn’t eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The instant he did, he would die. There is no way that Adam could have discerned that on the basis of either his reason or his experience.

We can know some facts only through God’s revelation. They are the critical pieces of information that help us to understand and properly organize and interpret everything else. Without that one piece of information—if God had just put him in the Garden without telling him that he would die when he ate from the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil—he would have had no idea what was going on. His observations would have been true to a point, but without that one piece of revelatory information, his organization of the data would have been flawed.

That happens any time man tries to understand what he calls nature apart from God. He observes a lot of things that are true, but his overall understanding, organization, and interpretation is flawed because he has excluded revelation from that.

In the ancient world and in the modern world, both rationalism and empiricism have failed to provide the answers to eternal questions. “Where did we come from?” “Is there a future life?” “Ultimately, where do we get the values of right and wrong?” “Is there meaning in life?” “How do I discover meaning?” The major questions we ask cannot be found on the basis of either rationalism or empiricism alone. That comes only from revelation. Historically, when rationalism and empiricism have failed, they have been followed by skepticism. We can’t know the truth, and so we just make things up, We think that if we can’t get it objectively, it must be subjective.

3.      This is called mysticism. It comes from what I call inner light, a private experience that results in intuitive insights that become truth. It is not based on reason. In fact, it is often irrational. It is not logical. They reject logic.

That’s where we are living today. Postmodernism came into existence as a replacement to modernism. Modernism was based on rationalism and empiricism and logic, but postmodernism, which came into play in the early twentieth century but didn’t make the popular level until the post-World War II era, is based on irrationalism. Reason and logic could not provide the answers to life, so we have to find the answers on the basis of irrationalism. This is the essence of postmodernism.

We have gone even further than postmodernism. Now, we have a variety of things that are on the scene, such as identity politics where everything is described in terms of a group’s assigned value and significance. The more of a minority your group is the better you are. If you don’t have enough involvement with different minority groups, you are discredited no matter what. We may have reached another stage in irrationalism.

Many people are frustrated. How do you talk to people who reject logic itself? They make things up out of whole cloth and say, “This is true because it is true.” Even if it is a complete lie, they can’t discern truth from error anymore. This happened in the ancient world. It happens in the development of all paganism. Isaiah condemned them, saying they were calling good evil and evil good. Isaiah 5:20. They completely polarized and reversed the elements of right or wrong.

Human ability can only go so far, but we must have revelation. We must have an objective revelation in which God tells us the way things are, and then we live on the basis of that. It is not in place of logic or reason, but we use logic and reason under the authority of God. It is a dependent use of logic or reason, not an autonomous or independent use. The ancient world followed this same pattern. They had the rise of the rationalists and followers of Plato and then the rise of empiricism and the followers of Aristotle.

This was followed by skepticism and mysticism and the rise of the mystery religions, the worship of the Cybele-Attis cult and Dionysus and various other mystery religions of the ancient world that appealed to emotion and exacerbated emotion. They used various things. For example, in the Dionysian worship, the worship of the god of wine, they used wine to try to get into contact with that which is eternal. If they were really spiritual, the god would speak through them. That was glossolalia. We could go through a lot more, but you get the main idea.

Paul was talking in a completely different context than the dominant thinking of the Greco-Roman world at his time. Ephesus was a location for various popular mystery religions, including the worship of Dionysus.

4.      Revelation. When he made his statement that “God has made known,” he was talking about an objective, knowable revelation that was verbal and propositional that people can know. It has been written down. That ran completely counter to the thinking of everybody in that culture.

Slide 10

He made known to us.” Who is the “us” here? This, I think, is also important because most commentaries think that he was using “us” in Ephesians 1 and in the first part of Ephesians 2 to refer to us believers. If you carefully read through Ephesians 1 and Ephesians 2, in no place does the “us” changes its meaning. In the latter part of Ephesians 2, the “us” is clearly Jews, and in this context, he was talking about Jewish believers in contrast to the “you” second person plural, which were Gentiles. The “us” and the “you” are joined together now in one body. Paul covered that in Chapter 2.

When he said, “by making known to us,” he was talking specifically about the Jewish apostles in Acts 1 through 11. In Acts 10 and 11, God revealed information to Peter in that tremendous episode where he was praying at the house of Simon the tanner in Joppa and had a vision. He saw this big tablecloth being lowered from Heaven. On it were all manner of unclean animals, pigs, catfish, lobster, all these animals that Jews couldn’t eat under the Mosaic Law. God said, “Sit down and eat!” Peter said, “No, I’m kosher. I’ve always followed the Law. I’m not going to eat.” Three times, God took him through this. Peter kept thinking in terms of “This is treif!” Treif means non-kosher. Peter wouldn’t touch it. Then, God said, “What I have said is clean is clean.”

Right after this, messengers came from a Gentile. No Orthodox Jew, no Law-following Jew like Peter, would go to the home of a Gentile. He would become unclean if he did so. God was preparing Peter for what was going to happen next. These messengers from Cornelius, the Roman centurion, came to him to invite him to come talk to these Gentile proselytes to Judaism. God had said, “‘What I’ve declared is clean is clean.’” Peter finally got the point. When the Gentiles came, he went with them. He went to Caesarea by the Sea and proclaimed the gospel. They become believers in Jesus Christ and entered into the body of Christ.

This was that revelation “having made known to us”—Jewish apostles at the beginning of the Church Age—“the mystery”—that previously unrevealed information—“of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself.” When we look at this word mystery, the main idea to the Ephesians was related to this teaching of the joining of Jew and Gentile together in one body, so that Jewishness and Gentileness are no longer factors in relation to God.

In the Old Testament under the Torah, only Jews, only Levites, and only the High Priest could go into the Holy of Holies. Only Levites could get into the inner part of the tabernacle and then the temple, and only Jews could get past a certain point. In fact, the courtyard of the Gentiles on the outer part of the temple grounds had a low wall and a marker. Gentiles could not proceed beyond that point. Gentiles could not have as close a relationship with God under the Mosaic Law as they do now. There is a dispensational distinction.

It is not because Jews were better or Gentiles were worse, but God had a specific plan for Jews that was distinct from the plan that He had for Gentiles in the Old Testament. Now things were going to be different, and so Paul began to explain this. We see the definition of this mystery in Ephesians 3:3, 5.

He said, “how that by revelation”—the objective revelation of God to Peter, to the other apostles, and to Paul. I think that’s important. “… by revelation He made known to me the mystery.” There was a specific revelation. We see the revelation of Jesus to Paul on the road to Damascus in Acts 9, but we also know that God gave other revelations specifically to Paul. This mystery wasn’t unique to Paul. I think that’s an error some dispensationalists have made in the past, that Paul was the only one to get it. He went on to say it was made to the apostles and prophets, not just to him, although it was made specifically to him as well.

“… how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery …” Revelation discloses new information that previously was unknown, unrevealed. Some use the term secret, and in that sense, it would also have been a secret because God had not yet disclosed that to human beings. This relates to what is going on in the Church Age.

Some do not believe in dispensational understanding of Scripture, and they think that the mystery just refers to the salvation of the Gentiles. The problem with that is that numerous passages in the Old Testament speak of a future time when Gentiles will be coming to God and will be saved. That wasn’t a mystery. That was clearly revealed in the Old Testament. Paul was talking about something distinct, and that was the unity of Jew and Gentile in the body of Christ.

Ephesians 3:5, “… which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men ...” That’s a clear, bold statement. God did not reveal this to anyone in the Old Testament, this mystery that Paul was talking about. “… as it has now been revealed by the Spirit.” The “as” there makes it appear as if it was revealed in some sense but not in the same sense that it is now. I’ll point out later the direct parallel to this in Colossians, which has the word “but.” The Greek word “as” can also have the connotation of “but.” It must be exegeted that way in this passage, or else we have a complete contradiction between the Colossians parallel and Ephesians 3:5.

Slide 10

What do we know about mystery? How do we understand that? This Greek word MUSTERION was used in the Septuagint to translate Hebrew words like secret, something that has not been revealed. We see it in Daniel 2:18, 19, 27–30, 47. This is all in relation to the dream that Nebuchadnezzar had.

Slide 12

I put a couple of verses up here. Daniel 2:18 says, “that they might seek mercies from the God of heaven concerning this secret.” This mystery was the meaning of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. What did this mean? It was new revelation so that Daniel and his companions might not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. Then, “the secret”—that is, the mystery was revealed—“to Daniel in a night vision.” This tells us that this mystery was something that was revealed. It was not previously known but now was known.

Slide 13

Daniel 4:9 has a similar scenario. “ ‘Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians’ ”—Belteshazzar was the Babylonian name given to Daniel.—“ ‘chief of the magicians, because I know that the Spirit of the Holy God is in you ”—Nebuchadnezzar was speaking to Daniel— “ ‘and no secret troubles you.’ ” Nebuchadnezzar knew the dream, but he didn’t know its meaning. He was asking Daniel to go to his God to find out what this revelation meant. There, from the Old Testament, we get a clear understanding of the concept, that it was related to previously unrevealed information that was revealed through a prophet, an apostle, a writer of Scripture.

Slide 14

We read this in our Scripture reading this morning, a parallel passage that we have to understand. We are reading in Ephesians 3:1–6 as well as the reference to mystery in our passage in Ephesians 1:9. It is “the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.” Again, it doesn’t say “as;” it says, “but now.” It is a clear contrast. It hasn’t been revealed at all, not in little bits and pieces. It hasn’t been revealed at all. It is a clear statement in Colossians 1:26. “… but it has now been revealed to His saints,” not through some sort of internal, intuitive, mystical insight but through the objective revelation of God’s word.

In Colossians 1:27, Paul said, “God willed to make known …” Again, we have our word that relates to revelation. “… what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you the hope of glory.” This adds a dimension, that Gentiles have this same reality of the indwelling of Christ as do Jews.

Slide 15

Let’s go back to Ephesians 3:1–5. This section defines the core of this mystery revelation in Ephesians 1:9, where Paul first talked about it. He developed it at the end of this section. Remember, Ephesians 1–3 is talking about our wealth in Christ. He was introducing the concept in this statement. Ephesians 1:3–14. He expanded it in the last part of Ephesians 3:1–6. Ephesians 3:1–3. “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles.” Notice here he used “you” as Gentiles. We are different! First person is different from second person. The second person referred to Gentile believers in Ephesians. “We” must refer to Jews. This is missed, I think, in most commentaries I’ve studied.

If indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God.” That is the New King James Version. New American Standard, I think, translates it—they go back and forth—as either stewardship or administration. Dispensation or OIKONOMOS is used in Ephesians 1:10. There, the New American Standard translates it as administration. Here, I think, they translate it stewardship. All of these words translate the same Greek word OIKONOMOS. We will look at that in a minute.

This is going to introduce us to the importance of biblical dispensationalism, that this theology wasn’t ginned up by John Nelson Darby and then imposed on the text. We are going to see as we go through Ephesians that this comes from the text of Scripture. “If indeed you have heard of the dispensation”— the administrationof the grace of God which was given to me for you.” It is a stewardship and a responsibility. We will see the full meaning of the word in a little bit. “… how that by revelation He made known to me the mysteries”—which I have already briefly written.

Slide 16

“… which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men.” Here, Paul clearly made the distinction that at some time in the past, it wasn’t made known, but it is known today. There is a dispensational distinctive. During one time, some things were not known. Now is the time that they are known.

In the Dallas Theological Seminary doctrinal statement, they only identify three dispensations based on these passages in Ephesians. That doesn’t mean that they don’t believe there are others. It is just that in a minimalist sense, that’s what they had in the doctrinal statement: “A time in the past when people didn’t know certain things, the present dispensation and this future time of the fullness of times that is mentioned in Ephesians 1:10.”

“… which in other ages were not made known to the sons of men, as it is now”—it should be translated as but it has now—“been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophetsEphesians 3:6—“that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel.” The idea is that we are all one in Christ. The second half of Ephesians 2 is all about breaking down that barrier. The Cross broke down the barrier between Jew and Gentile, so that in the body of Christ there is not any distinction.

Slide 17

This slide compares Ephesians 3:5, which says, “in other ages it was not made known to the sons of men, AS it has now been revealed,” with Colossians 1:26, which says, “the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, BUT now has been revealed.” As I mentioned earlier, the Greek word HOS, which is translated “as” is usually comparative, but two or three times in the New Testament, it has a contrastive sense to it. That is the way it is used here. Paul wrote these two epistles very close together, and he was not contradicting himself. It should be translated in Ephesians 3:5 the same way. You have a different word in Colossians 1:26, so they should be translated the same as contrastive, “but it has now been revealed.” This is new information.

Slide 18

Ephesians 1:10. “… that”—purpose statement—“in the dispensation of the fullness of times”—that is future—“He might gather together in one all things in Christ.” That tells us we are in a dispensation that is preparatory for a future time called the “fullness of times,” in which things will become completely resolved in Christ. Everything will be resolved, “… both which are in heaven and which are on earth in Him.”

We are going to have to get into a discussion. We will reserve it for next time to begin a brief understanding of what dispensation refers to, what that term means, understanding this concept of dispensationalism, and also looking at this future time. “Fullness of times,” I believe, refers to the future Millennium, the reign of Christ.

There been some different views among dispensationalists. As we learned a couple of years ago at the Chafer Conference, Clarence Larkin took a different view. I’ll talk a little bit about that, and what I believe is a major weakness with that view, and why it doesn’t work scripturally. It is important to understand this because, ultimately, this leads to another concept that shows up in both Ephesians 3 and in Colossians, and that is the fact of our inheritance that we have in Christ. That is what comes in Ephesians 1:11.

Paul logically developed his thinking that we have new revelation. It was never revealed before. There is a new entity, the body of Christ. There is no distinction between Jew and Gentile. Ultimately, it is pulled together in this dispensation with a view to the ultimate resolution of the redemption of the universe in the Millennial Kingdom. It is then that we will realize our full inheritance in Christ. We will come back to that next Sunday morning.

Closing Prayer

“Father, thank You so much for what You have revealed to us. It is not easy sometimes to work our way through some of these passages. There are so many different ideas because salvation isn’t simple. It is in the sense that Christ died for our sins. He paid the penalty. All we need to do is trust in Him. A two-year-old and three-year-old can sometimes understand the simplicity of the gospel; but it is also much more complex than that because the sin problem is so complex and multifaceted and has impacted every atom, molecule, sub-atomic, sub-molecular particle in the universe. Yet, You designed such a grand salvation that all is resolved. In each dispensation, especially in this one, unique realities pertain to the believer, and the Church Age believer has been given and blessed with every spiritual blessing.

“Father, we need to understand those things. We need to apply them in our lives and realize their benefits and live on their basis. That’s our new identity, our identity in Christ.

“Father, we also pray for those who may be listening, may be here who are uncertain of their salvation. They are not sure how to get saved, what will happen when they die. The Scripture is very clear, that we live once and after that the judgment. There will be accountability. The issue is not our sin because that was paid for at the Cross. The issue is Christ. If we believe in Him, we will not be condemned, but if we don’t believe in Him, we are condemned already as John says in John 3:18. The only issue is believing on Jesus Christ, to trust in Him and Him alone, and we will have eternal life.

“Father, we pray You would make these things clear to us as we reflect on them in the coming days and as we continue to study in Ephesians.

“We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”