God already had the work of redemption prepared and available at the right time for us
By Dr. Donald Whitchard
The letter to the church at Ephesus, written by the apostle Paul from Rome while he was under house arrest (Acts 28), was the first of what are known as the “Prison Epistles”, which also included letters to the churches at Philippi, Colossae, and to a fellow believer by the name of Philemon. Each of these letters reflected not just a treasure trove of sound doctrine but were also guides on how to live as a follower of Jesus Christ in whatever circumstance they happened to be experiencing at the time. Although the veteran preacher, teacher, and missionary found himself in a less than ideal situation where he was locked within the confines of a Roman cell and chained to a rotation of Roman soldiers who kept watch on him nonstop as if he were a terrorist, insurrectionist, or anyone charged with a heinous crime against the rule of Caesar and the people of the Empire.
Paul’s crime was that he was preaching about Jesus, whom he and his fellow apostles were declaring to be the true and eternal King that brought redemption to all who would follow Him. Talk like this did not sit well with the Emperor Nero or his court who saw him as the eternal deity-king to whom all should give worship. Nero, who had assumed the throne after the death of his uncle Claudius in A.D. 54 (due to being poisoned by Nero’s mother) was beginning to show everyone his cruel and insane nature that would grow worse over his time as Emperor. He would initiate the first great persecution and elimination of Christians within the city limits of Rome in A.D. 64 by accusing them of starting a fire that ended with all of Rome being reduced to ashes. It is said that Nero did the deed to clear the way for a new palace and gardens that would reflect his enormous ego and absolute power. The citizens started to complain that his hand was behind the tragedy, and he needed someone or some group to blame. The Christians seemed the easiest ones to accuse due to their allegiance to Christ as Lord and not Caesar.
The persecutions included Christians being thrown to the wild beasts in the arenas to be devoured, set on fire as torches for Nero’s gardens, killed as gladiators, being skinned alive, crucified, dismembered, and a host of ghastly means that ended up drawing sympathy from the Romans for the abject cruelty in which Nero treated them. After over a decade of his insanity and debauchery, Nero had lost all support from both the population, Senate, and his guards. He ended his life by stabbing himself in the neck in A.D. 68, ending the lineage of the descendants of Augustus Caesar, the first emperor (27 B.C. -A.D.14).
Both Paul and Peter met their deaths while prisoners of Nero. Paul was beheaded in A.D 67 (2 Timothy 4:6-8) and Peter was according to tradition crucified upside down because he did not think himself worthy to die in the same manner of the Lord Jesus (John 21:18-19; 2 Peter 1:13-15). Each of the apostles were killed for their testimony of Jesus except John who died of old age in A.D. 96 shortly after writing his Gospel, letters, and the book of Revelation.
Paul’s history with the city of Ephesus and the church he founded is first mentioned in Acts, Chapters 19 and 20. He had stayed in Ephesus while on his third missionary journey. The city was the capital of the Roman province of Asia, laying between the eastern and western halves of the Roman Empire. Because of its location and prominence, the city became important in the spread of the Christian faith. Paul’s evangelistic work affected the entirety of Western Asia Minor, now known as the nation of Turkey. The major source of conflict that Paul and his companions faced was the pagan worship of the goddess Diana, or Artemis, whose temple was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world along with being a prime source of prostitution and deviancy in the form of worship. It was this idolatry that provoked Paul to write about the “spiritual darkness” and “hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (6:12).
One item worth noting is that unlike some of his other letters (Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians), Paul does not have to deal with difficulties or controversies with the Ephesians, therefore he had more time to devote to issues that he believed were of importance and for their benefit. Ephesus is a community where the power of God is clearly shown in the reconciliation of humanity to Himself through Jesus Christ. This letter shows that the church is the new temple of God, a place of power and authority based on the work and redemptive authority of Jesus Christ and Is an outpost of light in a spiritually darkened world where even amid it all, the bride (the church) is awaiting the coming of the Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus. This letter abounds with joy, encouragement, and a continuous glorification of Jesus, the Author and finisher of our faith and the eternal King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Chapter 1 of Ephesians begins with Paul’s identification as an “apostle of Jesus Christ” to the “saints in Ephesus”, which is the pattern that he uses in all his letters as a greeting in the name of Jesus Christ (vv.1, 2). He opens with praise to God the Father, for He has given us all spiritual blessings in and through the Lord Jesus Christ (v.3). The first blessing (v.4) is that God the Father chose (elected) to have us be holy and blameless through the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus instead of letting us receive justice for our sins. This is evidence that salvation is totally of the LORD (Psalm 3:8). The second blessing (v.5) was that He predestined (determined and allowed to occur and manifested for His glory) that we would be adopted as His children by Jesus Christ and be reconciled to Him. The plan of salvation was established before the creation came into being, set and secure.
Our fall into sin (Genesis 3) did not catch the Sovereign LORD of all creation off guard or by surprise. The Godhead (Trinity) had already set events into motion that not only saw the adverse consequences of our free will but that He already had the work of redemption prepared and available at the right time in history (Galatians 4:4; 1 Timothy 2:6; Hebrews 9:26; 1 Peter 1:20). The third blessing (v.6) was that the foreordained work of redemption brings salvation and true freedom for us through Christ and gives Him glory in that His crown jewel of creation (us) need not perish in the flames of hell.
This is what is meant by the doctrine of election. It is God’s choice to save us from the just condemnation we deserve because of our rebellion and sin. He has chosen to redeem us through the sinless blood and character of the Lord Jesus Christ, who took our sins upon Himself willingly so that death and hell does not have to be our destination at the time of our death. His resurrection completed this predestined plan and nothing else needs to be done nor added. When He proclaimed from the cross, “IT IS FINISHED,” it meant that the work of Christ in the saving of our souls was done. If we had to pay off our sin debt ourselves, there would be no end to it because we would be paying it off in eternal hell. Jesus took this debt upon Himself and for this we owe Him our love, devotion, thanksgiving, and gratitude.
Paul has much more to present just in this first chapter, so rich with praise and instruction, and we will continue looking at what he is teaching not just to them but to us as well in our next set of comments.
Donald was born and reared in the authentic Cajun country of south Louisiana. He is a 1978 graduate of LaGrange High School in Lake Charles. He is also a graduate of Louisiana College (B.A. in History Education, 1984), New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1994) and Andersonville Theological Seminary (Doctor of Ministry, 2000). He is an ACPE Certified Chaplain with training in Trauma/ER, NICU, and Psychiatric Pastoral Care from the McFarland Institute in New Orleans (2003). He has over thirty years of ministry service, which concluded when he was called to serve as pastor of Meadowbrook Baptist Church in Muskogee, Oklahoma from 2017-2018. Due to health concerns, he retired from public ministry in 2020 and now devotes his time to internet evangelism through the writing of Bible studies, sermons, and articles on current issues for varied Christian webpages and ministries. He is a regular contributor to sites such as Rapture Ready and Sermon Central as well as Inspirational Christian Blogs. He and his wife Cathy are both active members of Eastern Heights Baptist Church in Muskogee. Don will often serve as a panel member of the Gospel Rescue Mission Pastor’s Round Table Broadcast, shown monthly on the mission’s Facebook page as his health allows. He has a personal evangelistic blog as well and can be contacted at his Email address.