“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles – if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that by revelation the divine secret was made known to me, as I wrote before briefly. When reading this, you will be able to understand my insight into this secret of Christ” (Ephesians 3:1-4 NET).
What is this “secret” or “mystery” (ESV) of Christ? When we read the word “mystery” various ideas may spring to mind. We might think of something “mysterious.” We might think about the mystery novels we have read, where a puzzle in the form of a series of events had to be solved.
The word means “something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain” (New Oxford Dictionary). As such, perhaps the word “secret” is a good translation. Jesus had a secret that was not widely known when Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesians. As usual, if we keep on reading, we discover what this secret was.
“Now this secret was not disclosed to people in former generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, namely, that through the gospel the Gentiles are fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 3:5-6).
Although to most of us this is not a big secret, to the Christians and especially those of a Jewish background in the first century, this was ground-breaking information. Not only could Jews be Christians, but those who were not Jews (Gentiles) could as well! The Jews regarded themselves as not only God’s chosen people but God’s only people. That anyone could become God’s people without first becoming a Jew would have been difficult for them to comprehend.
In Ephesians 2 Paul discussed that before Jesus, those who were Gentiles had no Messiah, they were alienated from being part of Israel, they had not received the covenant-promise of God, and as a result they had no hope and were without God (Ephesians 2:11-12). What a bleak picture!
But now in Jesus they who were “far away had been brought near by the blood of Christ.” In his death Jesus destroyed the “wall” that divided Jew from Gentile by removing the “law of commandments in decrees.” By doing this he created one people who could be reconciled to God through his death on the cross. We can all have access in one Spirit to the Father (read Ephesians 2:13-18).
What is the result? Non-Jews are now fellow citizens and part of God’s household along with Jews who have accepted Jesus (Ephesians 2:19-22). Everyone can be part of God’s family!
This was actually proclaimed by Peter on the Day of Pentecost. After telling those gathered and listening to him that they needed to “repent, and…be baptized” he said, “For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far away, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself” (Acts 2:38-39).
Did you notice what Peter said? This was both for those there and their children (the Jews) and for “all who are far away” (the Gentiles). It took Peter around ten more years to understand this when he went to preach to Cornelius.
All of this shows God’s mercy and love for us all. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you are saved!” (Ephesians 2:4-5).
Readings for next week:
6 June – Ephesians 5
7 June – Ephesians 6
8 June – Philippians 1
9 June – Philippians 2
10 June – Philippians 3-4