In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Ephesians 1:7-10 ESV
After the opening greeting, Paul began his letter to the church of Ephesus with a large, beautiful, and complex word of praise, doxology blessing God for the blessings that He has given us in Christ. This single-sentence doxology spans verses 3-14, and it previews the remainder of the letter by worshipfully celebrating our union with Christ. Having previously addressed being chosen and adopted in Christ, we will now study within these verses the blessings of being forgiven in Christ and knowing the mystery of God’s will.
REDEMPTION THROUGH HIS BLOOD // VERSES 7-8
Verse 7 begins with two already familiar words, in him. Since verse 6 ended by stating that God has blessed us with His glorious grace “in the Beloved”, we know that in him refers to the Beloved, to Christ. Paul next proceeds to describe more fully the glorious grace that is ours in Christ: we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses. Two terms are used here for the same event, redemption and forgiveness.
First, the apostle says that we have redemption, which primarily refers to redeeming or ransoming someone out of slavery or bondage. The greatest story of redemption in the Old Testament is the Exodus, where God rescued His people from their slavery in Egypt by His prophet, Moses. This act of redemption by the mighty hand of God became the narrative heart of the people of Israel, a foundational element of their status as God’s people. After their deliverance, the LORD commanded them to keep feasts in order to remember the faithfulness and power of God in their redemption, and the rest of the Old Testament is filled with God reminding the people of Israel again of that monumental day. The Ephesians, however, were a largely Gentile congregation, and the Exodus was not achieved through Jesus’ blood. To what redemption then does Paul refer?
The apostle is pointing toward the greater Exodus, of which the original Exodus was only a foretaste. In Luke 9:28-36, Jesus is transfigured upon the mountain in front of Peter, James, and John. During His transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appear and speak to Christ about His departure (or His exodus). Jesus did not stumble into being the Messiah; rather, He came to earth, uniting Himself to humanity, for an explicit purpose: to give His life as a ransom for many. Jesus is the prophet like Moses, who saved His people from the supreme slavery of sin.
Since the Fall, all of mankind has been in the throes of sin, of transgression against the Creator in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Our rebellion against Him is a shackle around our necks, a bondage upon us all. We do not merely incline toward sin; our hearts compel us to sin. Like a swirling vortex, it threatens constantly to drag us down into the abyss away from the Majesty who clothes Himself “with light as with a garment” (Psalm 104:2). With our eyes well-acquainted with the dark, we hated the light because it left us and our deeds exposed and naked. Such was our slavery to sin and its mastery over us. It separated from God and even made us into haters of God.
As God delivered the Israelites from Egypt through many signs and wonders by the hand of Moses, He has redeemed us from our sin through the blood of His only begotten Son. Indeed, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the sign and the wonder. By the shedding of the God-man’s blood, we are ransomed from our captivity to sin. Christ paid our ransom, the price of our freedom, by giving His own sinless life in our place, taking the wrath of God which, we rightly earned, upon Himself. By this glorious act of substitution, our sin was placed upon the back of Christ, while His righteous was credited to our account.
By this same act of atonement have our transgressions been forgiven. Just as God has redeemed us from our slavery to sin through the blood of Christ, so has He also by Christ’s death and resurrection forgiven all of our sins in His Son. As our redemption is an immediate change of status so too is our forgiveness once for all. By the singular death of Jesus, the entirety of the sins of those who believe in Christ by faith were forgiven to the uttermost. We, therefore, rightly say that in Christ we have been justified before the Father, redeemed and forgiven entirely of our sins.
Paul rightly calls this work of God according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us. Indeed, riches and lavished are the proper words to use to describe the grace of God given to us in Jesus Christ. Our redemption and forgiveness are like a pearl of great value that we should joyfully trade all that we have in order to possess it. Our God is graciously antithetical to being stingy with His gifts, and we know this to be true because Christ (who is worth more than the sum of all creation) was not withheld from us.
THE MYSTERY OF HIS WILL // VERSES 8-10
Next, Paul states that the riches of God’s grace have been lavished upon us in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will. This initially seems to be quite a puzzling phrase. We tend to view the concept of a mystery as something that remains at least partially unknown. For instance, we would rightly call the relationship between God’s sovereign election and human responsibility a mystery. We see that both are clearly presented within the Scriptures, yet their intermingling eludes our finite comprehension. Paul, however, uses the term mystery in a different sense. For the apostle, a mystery is something that was previously hidden but has presently been revealed. Therefore, one of the great spiritual blessings with which we are blessed is that we now have the wisdom and insight to know the mystery of God’s will. Through God’s wisdom (which can only begin with the fear of the Lord) and His insight (which must be given through the Spirit), the mystery of God’s will has been disclosed to us.
Yet the entirety of God’s will has not been made know to us (finite as we are, we would not be able to know the depths of His mind even if it lay open before us); instead, Paul specifies which element of God’s will has been unveiled: the “plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth”, “which he set forth in Christ.” The mystery hidden for ages that is know laid before our open eyes is God’s plan to unite all things in Christ.
Again, Paul emphasizes the sovereign decreed of God by saying that set forth this plan in Christ. Although different word than predestined (Greek protithemi) in verse 5, set forth (Greek proetheto) does further describe God’s sovereignty as He is the one who sets forth or plans things before they occur. As God spoke through Isaiah, He is the One who declares “the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done” and asserts, “I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it” (Isaiah 46:10-11).
But what does it mean that God is uniting all things to Himself in Christ? We should begin by reminding ourselves of the glorious reality of creation which Paul describes in Colossians 1:15-16:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.
All things were created through him and for him. As John also notes, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (1:3). The cosmos in its entirety was formed by Christ, through Christ, and for Christ, which would imply a certain degree of harmony to within creation. Yet Paul’s statement that it was God’s plan to unite or gather all things in Christ also reveals that a fracture has occurred. What went wrong?
After creating a beautiful world teeming with life and joy, God made man in His own image. These image-bearers were distinct from both the terrestrial animals and the celestial angels. As Lewis noted, they were amphibious, both physical and spiritual. Although created less glorious than the angels, God exalted them above the animals and established them as His stewards over the earth, giving them dominion over “every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). From the Garden of Eden that God made, He gave mankind their divine task, their telos: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (1:28). God commanded them to fill the earth with His image by producing more image-bearers and to subdue the rest of the earth as the Lord patterned for them with the Garden. We were servants of the Creator-King who tasked us with ruling over the earth that He made.
But instead of exercising dominion over every living thing that moves on the earth, our ancestors were mastered by a serpent. They scorned God’s graciousness toward them by attempting to become gods themselves. Believing God was withholding wisdom and insight from them, they ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and thereby learned of evil’s effects firsthand. After pronouncing His judgment upon the serpent, God proceeded to judge the man and woman. Yet in His loving-kindness, God did not curse humanity directly (their sin did so sufficiently by bringing death into the world); instead, He cursed their tasks. For the woman, childbirth was cursed with pain, thus mingling the act of filling the earth with God’s image with grief. For the man, the earth itself, which he was meant to subdue, was cursed. Sin, therefore, did not solely damn mankind; it also fractured the created order. Consider how Paul describes this fracturing to the Romans:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.Romans 8:19-23
Being given dominion over creation, our fall into sin cast all of creation into bondage and corruption, but even as creation’s curse is bound to our rebellion against God, its restoration is also bound to our rescue by God. This gives us an even greater depth for understanding our redemption through the blood of Christ. All creation “has been groaning” and “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God,” for those that God predestined for adoption before the foundation of world to receive the fullness of their adoption, “the redemption of our bodies.” Our glorified and resurrected bodies will inhabit a new cosmos, a new heaven and a new earth. The redemption of the fractured created order is bound to our redemption, and both are solely in the work of Christ. Note how Paul also applies the blood of Christ to this uniting of all things in Colossians 1:19-20:
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Through the blood of Jesus, we are personally redeemed and forgiven of our trespasses. Amen! But we are also one piece of the marvelous plan of God to recreate the entire cosmos through Jesus Christ. Just as God created the world in six days, He has now been recreating all things for the last two thousand years. Christ’s followers are the instruments by which the new creation is even now arriving. Each time a person is delivered “from the domain of darkness and transferred” to the Kingdom of Christ, as another son or daughter of God is revealed, the fracture in the cosmos is mended a little more. As more disciples are made, the earth becomes more filled with the God’s image, and the darkness is further subdued.
Brothers and sisters, if we will meditate deeply upon them, the realities that Paul is describing here in Ephesians will not simply provide us with a Christian worldview; instead, we will be given a cosmic view of our everyday lives in the person and work of Christ. This is more than a 30,000-foot view; it is a glimpse beyond our limits of space and time. The gift of wisdom and insight to know the mystery of God’s will in Christ is God granting us a peak from His line of sight. Do not take for granted, fellow believers, that God has revealed to us the storyline of history. Of course, He alone knows the details and the times, but He has shown us the ending and even given us a glimpse at what He was doing before He ever began the beginning. To all with eyes to see and ears to hear the wonders of the gospel, God has made known the mystery of His will in Christ.
Our forgiveness of sins, daily striving for a blameless and holy life, and eventual glorified and resurrected bodies are one piece of this marvelous plan of God to unite all things in Christ. Chapters 4-6 of Ephesians, in particular, will describe how this cosmic view of reality impacts how we speak, how we parent, how we wage war against the darkness, and much more. But for now, let us content ourselves to consider anew the massive sweep of Christ’s redemptive work. Let us praise God with renewed joy that our Father is gathering all things to Himself through Christ, and we, by God’s glorious grace, are in Christ.