Ephesians Study 3: Predestined

Hello, TYM! I was looking forward to leading the discussion for Wednesday night Bible class. Unfortunately, we are unable to meet, though I believe it is wise to maintain the physical separation at this time. However, we can still stay connected. Much of the New Testament is made up of letters written by people who longed to be with other people, but could not. While I am no apostle, I follow that example and write this to you. I pray that it helps you focus on God’s Word for sometime during this time apart.

Teaching Text: Ephesians 1:3-14

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. 

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 1:1–14). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

In the second week of this study, we talked about the beginning of the book of Ephesians. As we ended our discussion, we were just getting into the topic of predestination. Have you heard of this term before? If so, have you given much thought about what this word means?

This word is one of those “church terms” that has caused lots of issues over the years. Churches have split over a difference of belief about what this means. When we read just a few words and extrapolate entire theology around that, without framing it in the entire context, we at best will preach an incomplete gospel (like Apollos in Acts 18) and at worse, spread false teaching entirely.

The complete narrative of Scripture is one of the spiritual blessings we have. So while this is a study on Ephesians, we have to see what it means in the context of the entire Word of God.

God’s Plan

Genesis chapters 1 and 2 explains God’s creation of the world and the creation of man and woman. Humans were created in God’s own image (Gen 1:26-27). Humans were to be fruitful and multiply and have dominion over the animals (Gen 1:28). Man was placed in the Garden to work it and keep it (Gen 2:15). It was also seemingly not uncommon for God to walk through the garden (Gen 3:8).

Humans were given an ideal situation. Proximity to God, all we needed and purpose. And yet, through rebellion, Adam and Eve cast that aside and the world fell. Humanity needed saving.

Man continued to rebel. In Genesis 11, we read the account of the Tower of Babel. In this story, humans have decided to build a city and tower that reaches to the heavens. To counter their excessive pride and lack of reliance on Him, God (and verse 7 indicates that he did not do it alone) confuses their language and the people are dispersed.

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” 5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth. 

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ge 11:1–9). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

You may be wondering now why I am bringing up this story in the context of Ephesians. Hold on, there’s more going on in this story that a later couple of verses in the Bible further explains in Deuteronomy 32: 8-9 (Moses speaking):

8 When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, 
when he divided mankind, 
he fixed the borders of the peoples 
according to the number of the sons of God. 
9 But the Lord’s portion is his people, 
Jacob his allotted heritage. 

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Dt 32:8–9). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Here, Moses is referring to the Tower of Babel. And out of the context of these two verses, we see that God has divided the nations over to “the sons of God” which some theologians also refer to as the divine council (see Psalm 82 for example). These “sons” have been speculated to be the other gods that were worshiped by the pagan nations. Whether they were real, lesser deities or completely imaginary, God gave these people up and his portion was a new nation that he formed through Abraham in the text that immediately follows the account of the Tower of Babel.

God’s chosen people was Israel. He formed that nation, loved them, and they were tethered to Him throughout the rest of the Old Testament. The Israelites were given the promised land and charged with wiping out the other nations that lived there. The other nations had no inheritance with God. The only hope of relationship with God, the one almighty God, was through the people of Israel.

However, God had an eventual plan that would not just save one nation, but all people.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (emphasis added)

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ge 12:1–3). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Michael S. Heiser says this:

“Even as Yahweh started his kingdom plan with this one man and his wife (Abram and Sarai), there were hints that the nations were not forgotten—in fact, God said that through Abraham all nations would be blessed (Gen 12:3). The focal point of that blessing was to be the ultimate son of Abraham, the messiah. After his resurrection, the Spirit promised by Jesus—and by the prophets of old—came at Pentecost and began the great reversal. The gospel was carried to all the nations of the known world, transforming men and women held hostage to other gods into sons and daughters of Yahweh.”

Heiser, The Unseen Realm, 2015, p307

Do you see what Heiser connects to the story of the Tower of Babel? Pentecost! Humans were divided into nations by confusing their languages. In Acts 2, God reverses this. No longer are just the Jews the chosen people, but ALL nations are now given access to God’s love and story. And the display of this is by uniting their ability to communicate. Take a look at the first 12 verses of Act 2 and compare it to Genesis 11 above.

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 

5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 2:1–12). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

The story of the Bible is much richer than what I have outlined here. There are many more threads that can be pulled on and details that can be expanded, but for brevity, I’ve focused on this “skeleton.” However, with this outlined, let’s jump back to Ephesians and take a look at what Paul is saying.

Chosen and Predestined

Now that we’ve done the review, let’s look at the following phrases out of the first chapter of Ephesians:

  • he chose us in him before the foundation of the world (v4)
  • he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ (v5)
  • In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined (v11)

It’s important to remember the audience here. Paul is writing this to the Christians at Ephesus. The Ephesians were not the chosen race of God in the Old Testament. But now Paul, a Jew, is using “us” and “we” about God having chosen and predestined them. We see a specific case of a non-Israelite nation being blessed through the offspring of Abraham—Jesus.

Paul points out the difference in verses 12 and 13. In verse 12 Paul refers to Jews as those who were “ the first to hope in Christ” and then in verse 13 says that the Ephesians heard the gospel and were sealed with the Holy Spirit.

Through His plan our being chosen and predestined means we are “holy and blameless” before him (v4) which is furthering us in our being image-bearers of God. We know the mystery of his will (v9). We have an inheritance (v11). And we are sealed with the Holy Spirit (v13).

These are all descriptions that could compare to the gifts that Adam and Eve got after the creation of the world. They were blameless (until they weren’t), they knew His will (though they defied it), they had an entire world they had dominion over (no need to wait for an inheritance) and they had the presence of God in the garden.

Through His plan and his son, we have been given these spiritual blessings. How great it is to see how “all things work together for good”in his great plan. (And yes, I purposely used that quote. It’s from Romans 8:28. You can take a look at Romans 8 on your own for more about this topic. Read that chapter with the plan outlined above in mind.)

I’m running long so I’ll stop here. I don’t know what our future holds on Earth. I don’t know if we will be back together again in class soon. Until we are, I hope we can stay in touch about this material and Jeff and I can send you encouragement in these days.

Make the most use of this time you have. Lean into the Word.

Carlin