All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise note.
1 For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus in behalf of you Gentiles,— 2 if so be that ye have heard of the dispensation of that grace of God which was given me to you-ward; 3 how that by revelation was made known unto me the mystery, as I wrote before in few words, 4 whereby, when ye read, ye can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ; 5 which in other generations was not made known unto the sons of men, as it hath now been revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; 6 to wit, that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs, and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, 7 whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of that grace of God which was given me according to the working of his power. 8 Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; 9 and to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery which for ages hath been hid in God who created all things; 10 to the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God, 11 according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: 12 in whom we have boldness and access in confidence through our faith in him. 13 Wherefore I ask that ye may not faint at my tribulations for you, which are your glory. 14 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that ye may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man; 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fullness of God. 20 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, 21 unto him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations forever and ever. Amen.
(Ephesians 3:3-5) 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. (ESV)
(Ephesians 3:8-11) 8 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, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, (ESV)
(Ephesians 3:21) 21 unto him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations forever and ever. Amen.
Paul reveals to us what was revealed to him, that “the mystery of Christ,” which was “hidden for ages,” which was “not made known to the sons of men in other generations,” has “now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.”
Paul reveals to us that the mystery of Christ that was hidden in the OT Scriptures, had now been made known to “his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit,” who together explain the mystery of the OT Scriptures, which is about Israel of the Old Covenant – and most importantly – about the Messiah of the OT Scriptures. The revealing of this mystery is about Christ and His message. It’s about Christ and His Church, of whom He is Head, as Paul talked about in this same book (Eph 1:22; 4:15; 5:23). What Paul is revealing in this passage is, that there is no complete understanding of the OT Scriptures apart from what was revealed to the Apostles and prophets of the New Covenant — who together were tasked with leading and establishing the Church. Together they received the revelation and the interpretation of the OT Scriptures, which we have in the NT Scriptures today — which is all about Christ and His Church and His people.
In regard to verse 10 (Eph 3:10), I believer Peter provides the correct understanding of what Paul is talking about:
(1 Peter 1:10-12) 10 As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look. (NASB)
The mystery of Christ, His message to the world, was hidden in the OT Scriptures. It was hidden from the OT prophets. It was also hidden from the angels of Heaven. Thus, what Paul refers to in verse 10, where he mentions “the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places,” is angels. But what’s significant about this is that this mystery, this “manifold wisdom of God,” is made known to them “through the Church!” Not through Israel of the OT. Not through the prophets of the OT…..but through the Church, of whom Christ is Head.
Understanding of God’s plan for the people of the world is finally understood by the angels of Heaven through the Church and the message of Christ that it proclaims — as well as through the faithful lives of each member of the Church. Christ is the truth that is hidden in the OT, and is revealed through His Church.
We must emphasize that these things are not made known through Israel of the OT. No, the Jewish Messiah is revealed to His Church, and is revealed to the world through the Church — which includes making it known to the Jews, both in the days of the Apostles and in our own day. If God still has a plan for the nation of Israel, does it not seems odd that it would be a plan separate from the Church — for whom Christ died (Eph 5:23, 25, 27; Acts 20:28)?
A parallel verse to verse 10 (Eph 3:10) is found in this same chapter:
(Ephesians 3:21) 21 unto him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations forever and ever. Amen.
God’s focus is and always will be the Church, not the nation of Israel. God is “glorified” in and through the Church, for we are in Christ and represent Christ — and this continues throughout “all generations,” indeed, “forever and ever.” Paul already revealed the nature of true Israel in chapter two (Eph 2:11-22), where he revealed that God made both groups one in Christ, that together we are a new creation in Christ — revealing that we are not merely a combination of the two groups, but that we are a whole new entity, a completely new people, a whole new creation. The two groups of believing Jews and Gentiles are “replaced” by “one new man” in Christ (“one new man in place of the two”).
Do you understand what Paul is revealing? There are no longer two groups, but only one people in Christ, where all race and ethnic distinctions are done away in Him. The Church is that new creation. Individually, we are a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17), but we are also a new creation in Christ corporately. Thus, what Paul reveals is that the true people of God are those who are in Christ, whether they be Jew or Gentile. True Israel or new Israel, is to be identified as the corporate body of believers who are in Christ, which refers to the Church, the one called-out people of God.
The idea that God still has a plan for the nation of Israel, is simply out of harmony with all that is taught in the NT, with the main emphasis being on the Church. The New Covenant is the Church in Christ. For God to revert back to a focus on the nation of Israel would be, essentially, a return to the Old Covenant, especially since that also would involve a return to “animal sacrifices in the millennial kingdom,” according to dispensational premillennialists. There simply is no harmony of truth to be found in that teaching. The only harmony to be found in the NT revelation is that Israel has its fulfillment and continuation in Christ and His Church. This is the light that shines throughout the world, even upon the nation of Israel. There is no truth apart from the Church, as Paul reveals when said that the Church is the “pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Ti 3:15 – NIV).
If God were to revert back to the nation of Israel as His primary focus in the world – whether it be in “the tribulation period” or in the “millennial kingdom” – where would Israel learn the truth about Christ? Of course it would be in the writings of the NT, where the primary focus is on the Church! That being the case, where would they see themselves in the NT? That’s a significant question, because nowhere in the NT Scriptures does it reveal any plan for the nation of Israel. On the contrary, the message of the NT is to individual Jews to receive Christ and become members of Christ’s body, which is His Church — of whom He is Head (Eph 1:22; 4:15; 5:23) and for whom He died (Eph 5:23, 25, 27; Acts 20:28).
For Israel – as a corporate people – to receive Jesus as their Messiah, they would also have to embrace His Church, which is composed of both believing Jews and believing Gentiles. But we have to remember that in Christ, as members of His Church, we are all one new creation in Him, where all people distinctions are done away with. That being the case, how would that work for ethnic Israel? For those who believe that God has a plan for Israel that is apart from the Church, how does Israel embrace Christ and become members of His Church without losing their Israel-identity, their Israel-distinction? And there’s the big reveal. As soon as we’re united to Christ’s Church, we lose our previous identification and become a new creation in Christ, both individually and corporately. That of course applies to who we are spiritually in Christ, and that is all that matters.
But one may protest, “can’t God still have a plan and purpose for Israel on earth, just as He might have a plan and purpose for the United States?” That’s a reasonable question, but the answer has to be an emphatic no! Reason being, is because Jesus Himself is Israel, true Israel. He is a nation of One. He alone fulfilled God’s will. He alone fulfilled God’s plan and purpose for Israel. He is the perfect Jew. Accordingly, His Church is spiritual Israel in Him. We are a spiritual people. We are spiritual Jews…..since Jesus did not carry on the natural lineage of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. That was never a part of God’s plan. All things that God planned for the world is fulfilled in His Son, which includes all things Israel. Paul reveals this in Galatians, Chapter 3:
(Galatians 3:7-9, 14, 16, 26-29) 7 Know therefore that they that are of faith, the same are sons of Abraham. 8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all the nations be blessed. 9 So then they that are of faith are blessed with the faithful Abraham……14 that upon the Gentiles might come the blessing of Abraham in Christ Jesus; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith…..16 Now to Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ…..26 For ye are all sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ. 28 There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for ye all are one man in Christ Jesus. 29 And if ye are Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise.
The true seed of Abraham is not physical offspring, but spiritual offspring, which is in Christ, through faith in Him — the “faith of Abraham” ( Ro 4:16). The only one who benefited from being in the natural or physical line of Abraham is Jesus, who completely fulfilled the will of God as the perfect Jew — something Israel was never able to do.
For everyone else – both Jew and Gentile – we find our benefit only in the spiritual seed of Abraham. We become spiritual descendants of Abraham through faith in Christ, in union with Christ. Just as the Jew is born into the physical line of Abraham, so are we born (new birth) into the spiritual line of Abraham, through Christ. The physical or natural seed of Abraham gives way to the spiritual seed of Abraham. Jesus is the true end of the natural seed of Abraham. The significance of the the natural lineage of Abraham has its full end with Christ. Regardless of where Israel is today, the importance of their Abrahamic lineage ended with Christ. The nation of Israel has it complete fulfillment in Him. In other words, God’s plan for Israel is already fulfilled in Christ and His Church. In Christ, the physical gives way to the spiritual.
Thus, in Christ, the ethnic nation of Israel gives way to spiritual Israel. Or more precisely, Israel continues in Christ and His Church as a spiritual nation — as Peter reveals in 1 Peter 2:5-9. Many incorrectly refer to this as “replacement theology,” but that idea reveals a lack of understanding. Israel and Christ and His Church are all part of the same plan. They are intricately connected. Each are part of an unfolding plan. The OT Scriptures always had Christ in view. Jesus is the total fulfillment of the promises and prophecies regarding Israel. As both Head and King, His Church and His Kingdom are a part of that fulfillment. To be clear, His Kingdom is a spiritual kingdom (Col 1:13), which is His Church. Thus, Jesus is both Head and King of the same, for the Church and Christ’s Kingdom are one and the same.
God used Israel as a means of revealing Himself to the world. He used Israel to reveal His truth. He used Israel as a means of carrying out His plan for the world. That plan is the Lord Jesus Christ. God used Israel as a vehicle to bring the Savior into the world. Israel’s purpose has been completed, because it has its completion in Christ, which occurred at the cross and on Pentecost — which was the beginning of the Church.
The whole tenor of the NT is that true Israel has its identification in Christ and His Church — as a spiritual people and a spiritual nation (1 Pe 2:5, 9). The Church is even identified as the temple of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 6:16; 1 Pe 2:5, 9). Thus, we are a spiritual temple. The counterpart to that is the physical temple of the physical nation of Israel. The Church is a spiritual temple because we are spiritual people — thus, Israel being revealed as a spiritual nation in Christ. The land promises to Israel – by the way – are fulfilled in the eternal kingdom of the “new heaven and new earth” (Rev 21:1-3).
The NT is the fulfillment of the OT. It’s not a separate plan, but rather, they work together as one revelation about the same plan of God for His people and for the world. The Israel of the OT carries on as identified in the NT. Jesus and the message of the NT is the fulfillment of the Messiah and message of the OT. God only has one people, and has never had but one people. The people of God who are identified as Israel under the Old Covenant, continue under the New Covenant as the Church. The OT Scriptures regarding Israel serve as a type and shadow of Christ’s Church. The one people of God are those who are in Christ and members of His Church — of whom He is Head and for whom He died. Our identification and union with Christ is what makes us the people of God.
Lastly, I want to briefly address the subject of the Kingdom of Christ, because it’s closely related to what we’ve been talking about in this study. Paul and Peter were Apostles. They were Jews. They knew the OT Scriptures, especially Paul. They were given understanding about the Messiah of the OT Scriptures, who was formally hidden in those Scriptures. Nowhere do they give any indication whatsoever that God has a separate plan for the nation and people of Israel apart from Christ’s Church. Nor do they give any indication whatsoever that they were looking for an earthly kingdom. If they were, if that’s the way they understood the kingdom of Christ, doesn’t it make sense that they would make clear references to it? Wouldn’t that be something so major in the plan of God for His people, that we would find it as a central teaching in the NT Scriptures? The silence of the NT writers on this subject is very telling. What is actually revealed in the NT is, that they were looking for Heaven, which has its ultimate fulfillment in the eternal kingdom of the “new heaven and new earth” (Phil 3:12-14; 20-21; 2 Pe 1:11; He 11:10, 16; He 12 22-28; 2 Pe 3:10-13; Rev 21:1-3).
The NT teaches that Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual kingdom (Col 1:13) — necessarily so, for a spiritual people requires a spiritual kingdom. Accordingly, Christ’s Church is His Kingdom, and He reigns as its King now, not at some point in the future. What we look forward to now, as God’s people, is our resurrection upon the return of Christ (Phil 3:10-21; 1 Jn 3:2), at which time we are ushered into the eternal kingdom of Revelation 21 and 22 (2 Pe 1:11).
Side Note: No distinction should be made between the eternal kingdom and Heaven. I believe they are one and the same, except that Heaven continues on into the “new heaven and new earth” (Rev 21:1; 2 Pe 3:13).
What the Kingdom of Christ is not, is a future, Jewish, earthly kingdom where there is a return to animal sacrifices. There is no sense to that, even if one views those sacrifices as a “memorial.” As in the days of the Apostles, the Jews today are looking for an earthly kingdom, because that is how they understand the OT Scriptures. Likewise, that is how dispensationalists and premillennialists interpret the OT. Interesting that they see basically the same type of kingdom as unbelieving Jews. One would think that that would serve as a red flag to them. But alas, their position on Israel is so major in their theology, that the light of NT revelation has been eclipsed by it.
I encourage you to read my series on the Kingdom of Christ, titled “Kingdom Now.”