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The Eschatological Time Texts in Ephesians

 By:  Michael J. Sullivan
Copyright 2008 – Thank you for your Christian integrity and consideration.

 “not only in this age, but also in the one about to come. (Ephs. 1:21WUESTNT)


Once again the Pauline theme of the two ages of the old and new covenants are being contrasted with the new on the verge of “about to come.” And once again we have Mathison dodging the issues! We know that “this age” is not the new-covenant age for within this very letter Paul describes it as an “age (Grk. aion) without end” (Ephs. 3:20-21). The Bible is abundantly clear that the new covenant Kingdom/age is “without end,” is “forever,” and thus will never be “shaken,” or “destroyed” (Dan. 2, 7; Heb. 12)! This in and of itself demolishes the faulty presuppositions of Mathison and his co-author team as identifying “this age” in the new testament as the new-covenant age and allegedly ending with a delayed future second coming! Paul’s old-covenant “this age” continues to be in line with the teaching of Christ as coming to an “end” in their “this generation.” 

Paul is stating in no uncertain terms, that Christ has received power and authority over all religious and civil authorities within their old-covenant age, and likewise over all authorities in the age “about to come.” Obviously Paul is not discussing the end of time because it is assumed that there will be human authorities in the age that was imminently approaching in which Christians would be engaging in future generations. The time of fulfillment to bring things both in “heaven” and on “earth” under Christ had come 1:9-10. Puritan John Locke correctly understood “heaven” and “earth” here as discussing Jew and Gentile,

“If our Tanslators have render’d the sense of ἀναϰεϕαλαιώσασθαι, right, by “gather together into one,” it will give Countenance to those, who are inclin’d to understand, by “things in heaven and things on earth,” the Jewish and Gentile world…” “…the Apostle’s Design here, where he says in express words, that Christ makes τὰ ἀμφότερα ἕν, makes both Jews and Gentiles one, Eph. ii. 14. Now, that St. Paul should use heaven and earth, for Jews and Gentiles, will not be thought so very strange, if we consider that Daniel himself expresses the nation of the Jews by the name of heaven, Dan. viii. 10. Nor does he want an example of it, in our Saviour himself, who, Luke xxi. 26, by “powers of heaven,” plainly signifies the great men of the Jewish nation; nor is this the only place, in this epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians, which will bear this Interpretation of Heaven and Earth: he who shall read the fifteen first verses of chap. iii. and carefully weigh the Expressions, and observe the drift of the Apostle in them, will not find that he does manifest Violence to St. Paul’s sense, if he understands by “the Family in Heaven and Earth,” ver. 15, the united Body of Christians, made up of Jews and Gentiles, living still promiscuously among those two sorts of people, who continued in their unbelief.”[1]

Locke is right on target because Paul’s use of the Jew/Gentile union is described as the “mystery” in verse 9 and is a dominate theme not only here in Ephesians but in the rest of Paul’s writings. John, in the Book of Revelation describes this “mystery” and all nations coming under the authority of Christ as occurring in an imminent time frame as well in Revelation 1:1, 10:17-11:15ff. All civil and religious rulers “in the heavenly realms” of the old-covenant’s “this dark age” (Ephs. 3:10, 6:12), would likewise meet their demise within the same imminent time frame as that of the crushing of Satan (cf. Rms. 16:20).

In our study of Romans we saw how John Lightfoot (and John Gill to a certain extent) understood that it was exegetically absurd to have the literal planet involved in Paul’s argumentation of the “creation groaning” and falling into a state of “decay” in Romans 8.[2]  Similarly, Locke trying to be faithful to Paul’s flow of thought and argumentation in Ephesians, considers the idea of Paul appealing to the planet earth here in 3:9, would be to portray Paul as a “loose writer,” and “weak arguer.” Locke understood the phrase “God created all things” of Ephesians 3:9 to be the new covenant creation,

“Now if the Creation of the material World, of this visible Frame of Sun, Moon, and Stars, and heavenly Bodies, that are over us, and of the Earth we inhabit, hath no immediate Relation, as certainly it hath not to this Mystery, this Design of God’s, to call the Gentiles into the Kingdom of his Son, it is to make St. Paul a very loose Writer and weak Arguer, in the middle of a Discourse which he seems to lay much stress on, and to press earnestly on the Ephesians (for he urges it more than once) to bring in things not at all to his purpose, and of no use to the business in hand. We cannot therefore avoid taking the Creation, and things created, here to be those of the new Creation, (viz.) those of which the Kingdom of Christ, which was this new Creation, was to be made up, and in that Sense,…” “…who created all things by Jesus Christ, is a reason to shew why God kept his purpose of making the Gentiles meet to be Partakers of the Inheritance of the Saints, or as he expresseth it, ch. 2:10. that they should be his Workmanship created in Christ Jesus unot good Works…”[3]

Locke paralleled this passage to the new creation of 2 Corinthians 5:17 and Galatians 6:15.

According to Locke, the context was addressing God’s intention to display this new covenant creation before “the rulers and authorities in heavenly realms,” which I believe he correctly understood to mean primarily the Jewish and old-covenant authorities who sought to exclude the Gentiles,

“But the knowledge spoken of here, as communicated to these Principalities and Powers, being only in consequence of St. Paul’s preaching,’ tis not easy to conceive, that the Revelation and Commission given to St. Paul, for the declaring the Mystery of God’s purpose, to take the Gentiles into the Church,…” “…The High-Priests, Scribes and Pharisees, who are the Rulers of the Jewish Nation, and alone pretend to any Authority in these Matters, deny the Converted Heathens to be the People of God, because they neglect the Law and Circumcision, and those other Rites, whereby God has appointed those who are his People to be separated from the rest of the World, and made holy to himself. And so far most of the Converted Jews agree with them, that they will not allow the Converted Gentiles to be Members and Subjects of the Kingdom of the Messiah without being circumcised, and submitting to the Laws and Ceremonies of the Jews, as the only Religion and way of Worship wherein they can be allowed to be God’s People, or be accepted by him. Now, says St. Paul, God of his special Grace has commission’d me to preach to the World this hidden Purpose of God, of taking the Gentiles into the Kingdom of his Son, that so by the Church, consisting of Members who are God’s People, without being circumcised, or observing the other Mosaical Rites, might, which the Jews could be no means conceive, now be made known, and declared to the Leaders and Chief of that Nation the manifold Wisdom of God, which is not, as the Jews imagine, tied up to their own way, but can bring about his Purposes by sundry manners, and in ways that they thought not of. This seems sutable to the Apostles Meaning here, for though the Jews were not hereby converted, yet, when urged by the Converted Gentiles, it served to stop their Mouths, and thereby to confirm the Gentiles in the Liberty of the Gospel. And thus by the Church, to whom St. Paul says, Col. 1.26. and 2.2. God would now have made it manifest by his Preaching, is this Mystery made known to Principalities and Powers, i.e. the Rulers and Teachers of the Jewish Nation, the Saints, who were apprised of it by St. Paul’s preaching, urging and manifesting it to them.”[4]

Because of this covenantal judgment and sign in A.D.70, Isaiah declared the Gentile nations would learn righteousness from observing the destruction of the old-covenant world and the establishing of the new. At the same time, this historical event would confirm and strengthen the churches mission to “show the incomparable riches of his grace” as God’s new creation in the coming age(s) “world without end” (cf. Ephs. 2:7-10, 3:20-21). 

Salvation and experiencing the heavenly realm is both a present and imminently approaching reality in this epistle. Christians through the redemptive work of Christ had been raised from the dead and seated in heavenly places with Him, and yet were still in the process of “being built up” as the new-covenant temple (Ephs. 2:19-22). According to Paul’s quotation of Isaiah 60 in 5:14 to “awake” followed by an exhortation to not get drunk in verses 15-18, Paul is following Jesus teaching in Matthew 24:49-25:13 as we saw him do in 1Thessalonians 5. This is in anticipation of the resurrection that will be attained in the age which is “about to come.” It is when the new covenant people will be “radiant” Isaiah 60:5 and they as a new covenant temple will stand matured and glorified Ephesians 2:19-22; 4:12-13/Isaiah 60:7. This is describing the new creation of Isaiah 65-66 and Revelation 21-22 which is glorified not at the end of time, but is glorified within time (i.e. in A.D.70) to further serve in its role to bring healing to the nations–as the Gentiles continue to bring their wealth/faith through its gates.   

[1] John Locke, A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistles of Paul, Vol. 2, ed. Arthur W. Wainwright (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 618. John Eadie cites others who take “heaven” as Jews and “earth” as Gentiles, “…according to Schoettgen, Baumgarten-Crusius, Ernesti, Macknight, Schleusner, and Koppe—Jews and Gentiles;…” John Eadie, A Commentary on the Greek Text of Paul’s Letters To the Ephesians, (Solid Ground Christian Books, 2005) 55.

[2] “…this vanity is improperly applied to this vanishing, changeable, dying state of the creation. For vanity, doth not so much denote the vanishing condition of the outward state, as it doth the inward vanity and emptiness of the mind.” The Romans to whom this apostle writes, knew well enough how many and how great predictions and promises it had pleased God to publish by his prophets, concerning gathering together and adopting sons to himself among the Gentiles: the manifestation and production of which sons, the whole Gentile world doth now wait for, as it were, with an out stretched neck.” And again, “The Gentile world shall in time be delivered from the bondage of their sinful corruption, that is, the bondage of their lusts and vile affections, (under which it hath lain for so long a time,) into a noble liberty, such as the sons of God enjoy.” If it be inquired how the Gentile world groaned and travailed in pain, let them who expound this of the fabric of the material world tell us how that groaneth and travaileth. They must needs own it to be a borrowed and allusive phrase. But in the sense which we have pitched upon, the very literal construction may be admitted.” (Lightfoot, ibid., pp.158-159).

[3] Locke, Ibid., 641 (bold emphasis added)

[4] Ibid., 642-643 (bold emphasis added)

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Mike Sullivan