Home

The Place Of The Ecclesia in God's Purpose
Part 3 - Among the celestials

by John H. Essex


 
 

HAVING EXAMINED at some length the origin of the ecclesia which is the body of Christ, we now come to consider the sphere of its activities, and in this connection, one particular phrase in the Scriptures comes prominently to mind. It is the one which heads this study, among the celestials.

This is the concordant translation of en tois epouraniois, which occurs only in Paul's Ephesian epistle, where, in fact, it appears five times. What a remarkable phrase to be the peculiar property of one letter! Of course, the word translated celestial (or heavenly in other versions) occurs in other parts of Scripture; it is the particular form, en tois epouraniois, among the celestials (in heavenly places, or in the heavenlies) which is the special property of the Ephesian letter, introduced indeed so early into the epistle as to establish the setting for all that follows.

Let us then briefly note all the five occurrences of this expression before proceeding to discuss them in detail.

The first appearance of the phrase is in Ephesians 1:3, where we read, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who blesses us with every spiritual blessing among the celestials, in Christ, according as He chooses us in Him before the disruption of the world, we to be holy and flawless in His sight, in love designating us beforehand for the place of a son for Him through Christ Jesus; in accord with the delight of His will, for the laud of the glory of His grace, which graces us in the Beloved."

Among the many points of interest in this sublime introduction to this wonderful epistle, let us merely note now that we are straight away placed right in the midst of the heavens. No longer are we to think of them as something distant and unattainable; on the contrary, we are to see ourselves as being in the heavens, surrounded by celestial hosts, just as the earth itself is a sphere in the midst of a universe of heavenly bodies. As Paul puts it in Philippians, "Our realm is inherent in the heavens"—that is to say, it belongs there.

The second occurrence of the words among the celestials is in verse 21 of this same chapter, where we read, in reference to Christ Himself, that the might of God's strength is "rousing Him from among the dead and seating Him at His right hand among the celestials, up over every sovereignty and authority and power and lordship and every name that is named, not only in this eon, but also in that which is impending." Here we have a glimpse of the heights to which Christ has ascended, and which are described as being among the celestials.

Then, in the second chapter, verse 4, we read that God, "being rich in mercy, because of His vast love with which He loves us (we also being dead to the offenses and the lusts), vivifies us together in Christ (in grace are you saved!) and rouses us together and seats us together among the celestials, in Christ Jesus, that, in the oncoming eons, He should be displaying the transcendent riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus." No wonder Paul feels it necessary to repeat the expression, "In grace are you saved!" Who could possibly imagine such an exaltation, who conceive of such Divine favor, were it not so specifically set forth in this wonderful letter?

In the third chapter, from verse 8, our expression is found again in a truly inspiring passage, where we are told that to Paul, who describes himself as "less than the least of all saints, was granted this grace: to bring the evangel of the untraceable riches of Christ to the nations, and to enlighten all as to what is the administration of the secret, which has been concealed from the eons in God, Who creates all, that now may be made known to the sovereignties and the authorities among the celestials, through the ecclesia, the multifarious wisdom of God, in accord with the purpose of the eons, which He makes in Christ Jesus, our Lord." Thus the reason for our appointment to a standing among the celestials is that we may be used of God, not only to display His grace but also to make known His wisdom, even to the sovereignties and authorities among those celestials. What an honor! What a privilege! How can we fail to be amazed every time we think of the wonderful objectives of our calling!

But, lest we should form a false impression of conditions prevailing among the celestials, we are given, in the twelfth verse of the last chapter of Ephesians, a sight of the other side of the picture with the fifth and final occurrence of this phrase. There we learn that "it is not ours to wrestle with blood and flesh, but with the sovereignties, with the authorities, with the world-mights of this darkness, with the spiritual forces of wickedness among the celestials." From this it is evident that all is not at present in full harmony and reconciliation with God even among the celestials. There is wickedness among them, just as there is upon the earth, only that the wickedness in those higher circles is probably more potent and virulent that human wickedness.

THE SIGNIFICANCE LOST IN FAULTY TRANSLATIONS

It is evident from these extracts from the epistle that it takes us into realms far outside of the earth. In the Authorized (King James) Version, instead of "among the celestials," we have "in heavenly places"—at least, we have that in three occurrences out of the five. On the second occasion, referring to Christ, we have "in the heavenly places" and on the fifth occasion, we find the rendering "in high places." It would almost seem that the translators, having suggested a particular location to which our Lord had been exalted, and in which we were to be found in Him, were loth to admit the presence of spiritual wickedness in the same quarter. And so, in Ephesians 6, they modified the expression, and spoke of spiritual wickedness "in high places."

Now it is quite apparent that identical Greek words in the same letter should be translated into identical English expressions; it is inconceivable that the apostle would give so important a phrase two different meanings. By ignoring this point, translators not only do damage to the truth which the apostle was trying to bring out, but also conceal the significance of the fivefold occurrence of the same words. Difficulties are made when we insert our own ideas into translations; in the Authorized Version, the word place is in italics, thus indicating that it is not in the original Greek.

We are not submitting that spiritual wickedness is to be found where Christ is seated at God's right hand, but we are convinced that much spiritual wickedness is to be found among the celestials. When considering this phrase, we should not think so much of a particular location—a place to which we may be going (which is the popular conception of heaven)—but rather of a condition, a state of existence among beings and things which are outside and utterly beyond the confines of earth. To us, the phrase among the celestials seems to cover all those beings and bodies that inhabit the universe, even extending to the right hand of God Himself. And the reason for our exaltation to a position among them is that we may be used of God to further the fulfillment of His purpose among those who occupy the celestial realms. And it is in conformity with this that we are even today being "blessed with every spiritual blessing among the celestials."

In a beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. By far the greater part of the Scriptures deals with the earth and God's relations with humanity. In the prison letters of Paul, commencing with Ephesians, we find God taking up the story of the heavens, with their celestial inhabitants, and telling us how He purposes to include them in the ultimate reconciliation of all to Himself.

THE PHRASE EXAMINED WITHIN EACH OF ITS CONTEXTS

As we come to examine the significance of the expression among the celestials in all its five contexts, we find that each occurrence throws light on a different aspect of the status, experiences or function of the ecclesia as determined by God. Again we take them in order.

The first occurrence connects the ecclesia (under the pronoun us) with the source of all its blessings, namely, God Himself. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who blesses us with every spiritual blessing among the celestials, in Christ." In the verses that follow, it is made quite clear that God is not merely the origin of the ecclesia, but the One Who determines its composition (according as He chooses us in Him), its quality (we to be holy and flawless in His sight), its designation (in love designating us beforehand for the place of a son for Him), the motive behind its conception (the delight of His will) and the reason for its existence (for the laud of the glory of His grace). In all this, God is seen to be Supreme—the sole Planner, the sole Purposer, as is indeed indicated later in the chapter (according to the purpose of the One Who is operating all in accord with the counsel of His will). And the glory and the honor and the thanks are to be given to Him (Blessed be the God), to Whom will be glory in the ecclesia and in Christ Jesus for all the generations of the eon of the eons! Amen!

This first usage of our phrase also connects us with our Lord, for it is "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ Who blesses us," and our blessings are declared to be "in Christ." Thus an unbreakable bond is immediately established—a bond between Christ and the ecclesia, which is maintained all the way through the succeeding verses. And yet it is not until the last verse of this first chapter that we come across the word ecclesia in this epistle, and this is in connection with the second appearance of the phrase among the celestials. Let us now note this and see how the relationship between Christ and the ecclesia is suddenly and dramatically enhanced.

The second part (from verse 15) of this first chapter of Ephesians is an impassioned outpouring of prayer on behalf of the apostle for our spiritual perception. He wants us "to perceive what is the expectation of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of the enjoyment of His allotment among the saints, and what the transcendent greatness of His power for us who are believing, in accord with the operation of the might of His strength, which is operative in the Christ, rousing Him from among the dead and seating Him at His right hand among the celestials, up over every sovereignty and authority and power and lordship, and every name that is named, not only in this eon, but also in that which is impending: and subjects all under His feet...."

Here the exaltation of Christ, following upon His rousing from among the dead, is detailed; it is in conformity with Philippians 2:9-11 and Colossians 1:18. Brought about by the might of God's strength, His exaltation is complete. Seated as He is at God's right hand, among the celestials, all is made subject to Him. And then comes a remarkable phrase. God "gives him, as Head over all, to the ecclesia which is His body, the complement of the One completing the all in all."

The status of Christ is now above all (excluding only God Himself), and it is in this rank that He is given to the ecclesia which is His body. O that we might realize the grandeur of this gift! For it raises the ecclesia to His own rank. Christ remains "Head of the body, the ecclesia" (Col.1:18), but the body, to be His body, must also be exalted to conform to the status of its Head. This is why we read in Philippians 3:20,21, "For our realm is inherent in the heavens, out of which we are awaiting a Saviour also, the Lord, Jesus Christ, Who will transfigure the body of our humiliation, to conform it to the body of His glory, in accord with the operation which enables Him even to subject all to Himself."

These are tremendous facts, as is also the truth of "the transcendent greatness of God's power for us who are believing," for this is "in accord with the operation of the might of His strength" which has exalted Christ to the position of Head over all, and overcome for all time the opposition of "every sovereignty and authority and power and lordship, and every name that is named," not only those that exist at the moment but also any that may arise during this eon or the next. We exclaim again, O that we might realize the nature of the power that is operating on our behalf!

The third mention of the phrase among the celestials (Eph.2:6) shows how the ecclesia is to be used by God in the oncoming eons. For having been vivified together in Christ, and roused together and seated together among the celestials, in Christ Jesus, we find that it is in order that "in the oncoming eons, He should be displaying the transcendent riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus." Notice how it is emphasized in this context that it is in grace that we are saved, and that we are God's achievement; it is His grace that is to be displayed, and the celestials will be made to see that the grace which has been bestowed on us to make us God's achievement, is available for them too, and will indeed be used on their behalf to a similar end.

THE ECCLESIA AND GOD'S PURPOSE

The fourth mention of our phrase (in Eph.3:10) is a very important one, for it connects the ecclesia fundamentally and irrevocably with the purpose of God, which is here described, for the one and only time in Scripture, as the purpose of the eons. Thus the purpose of God is unmistakably placed in a celestial setting, and we should cease to think of it as something primarily concerning the earth and mankind, though men, as God's instruments, play an important part in its outworking, and are included in the ultimate reconciliation of all. In the Pauline letters written prior to Ephesians (and these include the first letter to Timothy), revelation is confined to the salvation and conciliation of all mankind (see Rom.5:12-21;1 Cor.15:22;2 Cor.5:18-21;1 Tim.2:4 and 4:9,10). In the prison letters, however, the revelation is expanded to embrace the heavens, which are, in fact, seen to be the major feature, for they are nearly always placed before the earth (see Eph.1:10;3:15;Phil.2:10; Col. 1:16). The earth is placed first in Colossians 1:20; this is perhaps to emphasize the special need of reconciliation for those on earth, the sons of humanity, who first betrayed and then crucified the Lord of Glory.

The purpose of God is made in Christ Jesus. As Colossians has it, "all is created through Him and for Him, and He is before all, and all has its cohesion in Him" (1:17). "In Him the entire complement of the Deity is dwelling bodily. And you are complete in Him, Who is the Head of every sovereignty and authority" (2:9,10).

In Ephesians 1:10, it is revealed that God purposed in Christ "to have an administration of the complement of the eras, to head up all in the Christ—both that in the heavens and that on the earth." But then comes a very significant phrase, "—in Him, in Whom our lot was cast also, being designated beforehand according to the purpose of the One Who is operating all, in accord with the counsel of His will, that we should be for the laud of His glory, who are pre-expectant in the Christ."

From this passage we see that, when God first conceived His purpose for the universe, He built it upon the basic unity of Christ and the ecclesia, and the calling with which He now calls us is "in accord with His own purpose and the grace which is given to us in Christ Jesus before times eonian" (2 Tim.1:9). The place of the ecclesia in God's purpose is intrinsic and inherent; without the ecclesia, as without Christ, the fulfillment of His purpose cannot be entertained; both are essential, Christ as the Head and the ecclesia as His body, the complement of the One completing the all in all. In Him our lot is cast, and we are complete in Him. O that we could grasp the intensity and vitality of our union with Christ as an essential basic fact of God's purpose!

THE OPPONENTS OF THE ECCLESIA

The last occurrence of our phrase is in the second half of the letter, the part that deals with the deportment or conduct of the saints. There it is declared that "it is not ours to wrestle with blood and flesh, but with the sovereignties, with the authorities, with the world-mights of this darkness, with the spiritual forces of wickedness among the celestials" (Eph.6:12). Though this passage is advising us regarding our behavior while still in the flesh, it nevertheless informs us who our real opponents are, and no doubt there will be considerable opposition to our ministry even in the eons to come, for those most in need of God's grace are often those most opposed to its bestowal upon themselves.

This last usage of the words among the celestials is in sharp contrast to their first appearance. Then it was a case of our being blessed "with every spiritual blessing among the celestials, in Christ." Here it is concerned with "spiritual forces of wickedness among the celestials." We cannot have the blessings without the opposition. When Abraham was given the land of Canaan, he was given the original inhabitants with it. We read in Genesis 12:6 that the Canaanite was then dwelling in the land, and succeeding generations of Canaanites opposed the descendants of Abraham for centuries. Our realm is inherent in the heavens, but to many of the present inhabitants of the celestial realms, we shall be regarded as interlopers, especially as we come to be exalted above them. Yet our ministry is to be one of conciliation—of displaying the grace of God—until even the most implacable is reconciled to Him.

When Abraham entered the land that had been promised to him, it was not long before he found a famine there. He fled temporarily to Egypt to escape it. There are no famines awaiting the ecclesia, for we are blessed with every spiritual blessing, and that includes all the spiritual food that we may require. May we even now recognize that it is there for the taking, and have the grace and the desire to assimilate it, for in this way we may truly perceive "what is the expectation of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His allotment among the saints, and what the transcendent greatness of His power for us who are believing."


Have you found a word or expression you want to read more about, fill it in below....




© A. Maclarty - Grace and Truth Magazine