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The Amazing thing called “the Church” in the New Testament

Updated: May 11, 2020

8 “To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles [the nations] the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; 10 so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord”

Ephesians 3:8-11

In seeking to understand Ephesians 3:10 and the role of the local church in preaching the gospel to all the nations (Ephesians 3:8), and that it says it is through the church that God makes His great wisdom known to the rulers and powers in the heavenly places (both good angels and evil spirits, so the Lord is rebuking the evil spirits through the church!), the context about the church takes us down to Ephesians 3:20-21 and the church “throughout all generations” and that also forces us to think about the universal church among all the nations (Revelation 5:9; 7:9; Christ died for the Church-Ephesians 5:25) and also the church throughout history.  It also forces us to look at the other references to the church in Ephesians and the rest of the New Testament.  

Ephesians 1:22-23 is a most amazing statement:

“And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”  Ephesians 1:22-23

Sam Storms writes:

“Most often in Paul the Greek word ekklesia, translated “church”, referes to actual concrete gatherings of Christians in a local setting (see 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1, 4; 2:14; Galatians 1:2; Romans 16:5; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 2).  But on occasion, especially in Ephesians, it appears to refer to an entity that is much broader than any one congregation.  Such texts as Galatians 1:13; 1 Corinthians 10:32; 12:28; 15:9; Philippians 3:6; Colossians 1:18, 24; and especially Ephesians 3:10, 21; 5:23, 24, 25, 27, 29, 32, as well as here in Ephesians 1:22, seem to have in view the universal Church, the “body of all believers”.  Not everyone accepts this view.  O’Brien, for example, believes it better to understand the term “metaphorically of a heavenly gathering around Christ in which believers already participate (cf. Hebrews 12:22-24) . . . Local gatherings, whether in a congregation or house church are earthly manifestations of heavenly gatherings around the risen Christ (cf. Hebrews 10:25) (Peter O’Brien, Commentary on Ephesians, pp. 146-147).”  

See Sam Storms article on Ephesians 1:15-23.

See Tim Challies summary of the best commentaries on Ephesians, which he puts O’Brien’s at the top.

I would add that Ephesians 3:10, 3:20-21, 1:22-23 also forces us to think about what Jesus said about the Church and that He is building His Church in Matthew 16:16-18.  It has to be universal in that passage, among all nations and throughout all time (Ephesians 3:20-21), but it had to start as a visible local body of believers.  (Matthew 18:15-18; Acts 1:4, 12-15; Acts 2:37-46), and it has been growing and spreading to all nations ever since!

The “rock” that Jesus is building His Church on seems to be the rock of the truth of Peter’s confession of faith – “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” (Matthew 16:16) Every true and Biblical local church must have a strong doctrine of Jesus as the Messiah, the one who fulfills the OT prophesies of the coming Messiah, from the seed of Abraham and David, and that Jesus is the eternal Son of the Living God, which points to the Deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity.  (pointing to the Father and the Son, and this would then point us to other Scriptures concerning the Holy Spirit.)

What does Ephesians 1:22-23 mean?

What does the phrase “the fulness of Him” point to?

What does “who fills all in all” mean?  “all places in all ways” ? “all nations in all places” ?  “all kinds of areas or realms everywhere in the world or universe”?  It is an expression that any serious person has to stop and wonder and meditate on deeply, and it forces us to study the Scriptures deeper in what these phrases could mean.

Sam Storms further elaborates, at the end of his article on Ephesians 1:15-23 (linked above):

*         ” The church is the fullness of Christ, i.e., the church is filled by him, he himself being the one who is filled by all things. But Christ is already the fullness of God (Col. 1:192:9) and it would be improper to speak of him as dependent on all things; indeed, he himself is head over all things!

* The church is the fullness of Christ, i.e., the church is filled by him (his fullness having been imparted to it), he himself being the one who fills all things. The last option is the most likely one. Be it noted, also, that only the church, not the cosmos, is said to be Christ’s body. Although Christ rules over the cosmos, he sustains a relationship of loving and leading intimacy only with his church, filling it with his Spirit, grace, and gifts. As for the idea that Christ ‘fills all in all, i.e., fills all things in all respects, O’Brien explains:

“Christ is the one who completely fills everything, that is, the whole of creation, the earthly and the heavenly, comprising all of humanity as well as the entire angelic realm, especially the rebellious powers. The nature of this filling is not to be explained in a physical or spatial sense: Christ pervades all things with his sovereign rule, directing all things to their appointed end (cf. Heb. 1:3), and this entails his functioning as the powerful ruler over against the principalities (1:21), and giving grace and strength to His people, the church. (Ephesians 4:13, 15-16).  (Peter O’Brien, Ephesians, p. 151)

John Piper has an excellent sermon on this passage (Ephesians 1:22-23) here. 

Piper points out the link between Jesus and Saul’s (Paul’s) persecution of the church was persecution of Christ in Acts 9:4, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”

“When the Son of God spoke, he said, “Why do you persecute me?” So not only is this crucified criminal alive, but he is so identified with his followers that to persecute them is to persecute him.  This is the link between suffering and the body of Christ.”  John Piper

 Ephesians 3:10, it also an amazing principle to see that the church makes known the manifold wisdom of God to the angels; but also that through the church, the evil spirits are rebuked.

It seems that as the church is spreading more and more among the nations, the Lord is using the church to rebuke the evil spirits.  Christ is showing His power through His people going to other nations and being weak and learning languages, and through weakness (2 Corinthians 12:10-12), suffering (Colossians 1:24), evangelism, discipleship, church planting, and as people are brought out of darkness into the light, the evil spirits (demons) are rebuked.

The Lord Jesus Christ is sovereignly ruling over the nations, He is ruling even over His enemies and making them a footstool for His feet (Psalm 110; I Cor. 15:25-27; Matthew 22:44) and He will save some out from all the nations as the church goes in evangelism, discipleship, and church planting; and He will destroy those who won’t repent in hell.  (Psalm 2:1-12; Revelation 20:10-15)

“Picture him as the king over many territories that are not fully subdued to him. This text is declaring that Christ is indeed the king of the universe. He is “above ALL rule” (v. 21). He is over “EVERY name” (v. 21). God put “ALL THINGS” under his feet (v. 22). He is head over “ALL THINGS” (v. 22). And by this authority he will sovereignly fill all his territories with absolute sway. He will accomplish his purpose in every sphere. He will make himself unmistakably known in every place. He will be preeminent in every nook and cranny of the universe. Even the outer darkness of hell will be filled with his authority and his power and his wrath and the knowledge of his wisdom.”  John Piper (sermon linked to above on Ephesians 1:22-23)

“The other thing going on here in 3:10 is that this revelation that fills the habitation of demons happens “through the church”—”that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.” I think this is an illustration of our third observation from 1:23, namely, that the church, the