1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles—2 if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, 3 how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, 4 by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), 5 which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: 6 that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel, 7 of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power.
Paul has revealed to the believers at Ephesus—and to us—the same truth he made known to the Galatians: that there is neither Jew nor Greek…for all are one in Christ (Galatians 3:28). And here, in chapter 3, he lets us know that it is for that reason he bows his knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 3:14). But before he gets to that, he has to show us that what he is teaching is not some new philosophy, or some esoteric school of thought.
This peace between Jew and Gentile has been planned since before the time of David, Abraham, and even Moses. This uniting of Jew and Gentile into one house by the cross of Christ is not some idea that Paul developed from reading pagan writings. This is the truth that has been revealed to Paul, that he might pass it on to us (3:2). It had been hidden for many ages (3:3), and only now was God revealing it through the apostles and prophets (3:5). And even more astounding, it was revealed to him who was less than the least of all the saints (3:8). But now God is revealing what He has kept hidden from eternity past, so that we might know the manifold wisdom of God (3:10).
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles… what rights does a prisoner have? Can he come and go as he pleases? Can he ask the guard, “Would you please open the gates that I might have some freedom? And live as I wish?” Of course not. We do not like to think of ourselves as “prisoners.” It goes against every notion we have of freedom and liberty. We like to tell people that following Christ is not about rules and regulations. In fact, Paul said in the previous chapter that the Cross did away with the regulations of the law (2:15). So what is this idea of us being a prisoner, bound by fetters to some dictatorial magistrate?
Ah, friend, what you miss! For if we are Christ’s prisoner, we are indeed the freest of all men! Does the apostle not say in another place that he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord's freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ's slave (1st Corinthians 7:22 NASB)? What does this mean, but that we have been freed from the power of sin and death over our lives, and that we are now free to serve Christ Jesus our Lord, who loved us and gave His life for us (Galatians 2:21). You see, what we do not realize while we walk about in our flesh—being ever subject to it—is that we are bound, neck and heel, to following the dictates of this present world (Ephesians 2:2). That when our former master—Satan—beckoned us to do his bidding, we were his bondservant, and everything he called us to do we were compelled to do.
What? You think you had freedom before Christ? Yes, and did a slave in America think it a privilege to serve in the house. He may have had a bit more stature, and more comfortable accommodations—but he was still under the rule of an oppressive master. And thus are those who think they have freedom in the flesh. They don’t have to follow any commandments; they can come and go as they please; they can roam and wander and not take up their time with studies of such an ancient book. Oh, friend! If only you knew you were doing the bidding of a master who would make Stowe’s Simon Legree seem like a benefactor by comparison. For Legree—and those slave masters he came to symbolize—only tormented their people for a time. And after that time—usually, upon their death—they no longer suffered under the whip.
But, consider the fate of those who submit their flesh to Satan. He is indeed god of this world (2nd Corinthians 4:4). And he is a cruel master. But his reign and rule ends once you pass through the doors of death. Then, your eternity is in the hands of God—or, to quote Edwards, an Angry God. And if you have been Satan's slave your whole life, you will be cast off into outer darkness, where you will weep and wail and gnash your teeth (Matthew 13:42, 50). For once you have entered into death, Satan has no more power over you. So many people are deceived into thinking that Satan is some ruler over the domain of Hell. Fools! They do not know that the Lake of Fire was created for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). Satan shall have no more rule over Hell than any soul that resists God.
So, I ask you: will you be the prisoner of Jesus, or the servant of Satan? I would rather be clothed with the chains of Christ’s righteousness than to exercise any so-called “freedom” that comes from being Satan's servant. And lest you think that Jesus would be such a cruel Master as to send back one who sought Him for refuge, hear the words of the Law He Himself fulfilled. Deuteronomy 23:15-16—You shall not give back to his master the slave who has escaped from his master to you. He may dwell with you in your midst, in the place which he chooses within one of your gates, where it seems best to him; you shall not oppress him. When one does is indeed conscripted to serve Christ, He will in no wise send him back to their old master—if they have entered His temple and thrown themselves before His mercy seat, and not just hung around in the court of the Gentiles.
Paul was a prisoner of Christ—but for what cause? …the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you… The word “dispensation” means “management of a household, oversight, stewardship.” It was given to Paul to make known the mysteries of Christ. To let it be know to Jew and Gentile that all are one flesh in Christ Jesus. How flippantly do many who are given insight into His word take such a calling. So many who profess to be called to the pulpit do more damage than they do good. They simply see the office as a way to earn a living and obtain a good name in their community—or state, or nation. They consider the pulpit to be an occupation, like that of an accountant or fry-cook. No, friend. The pulpit is not an office to be treated with lightness. Do you not know that you are handling God’s very own Word? The word that He has given us that we may know Him? And even more important, that we may be known by Him? Do you not know that God seeks those who tremble—tremble!!—at His word? (Isaiah 66:2). This is not some book of man’s writings, meant to entertain us and fill our time. This is to be the most cherished of all books, even above all other books! To treat it as though it is simply an employee handbook to be skimmed over and forgotten is to risk incurring the wrath of the very One who gave it!
But Paul knew Who gave him the stewardship. He knew Who gave him the duty of making known the grace of God. Because it was not something Paul came up with on his own. It was not the result of mixing God with pagan cultures, as so many think today. The stewardship of the grace of God was revealed to him by God Himself. Verses 3-4— …by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)… How can one know the hidden things of God? How can one search out His height, width, depth? Job 38:33—"Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you set their dominion over the earth?" One can never know—though he be the wisest of men among men—the hidden things of God. Unless they are revealed to him by God.
But, alas, some will say they have some new idea about this verse or this passage, or that every man who has been a faithful student of the Word has totally missed the deeper meaning and hidden wisdom of some portion of the Bible. Do not be mistaken: no man is a perfect student of the Word. And do not buy into the lie of the Romish church that they alone have the keys of the kingdom of God. We are men, and as such we are prone to mistakes, and will make some when studying the Word of God. However, to come up with some new belief system that is completely opposite of the clear teachings of Scripture; to develop some new theology that declares certain sins to be “contextualized”—that is, to say that “Well, that was only a sin at that time. It’s OK now”—is utter fallacy, fraud, and quite possibly heresy. For these are the beliefs of man, that want to allow sin to be not sin, and partial obedience—which is fully disobedience—to be called “loving your neighbor” or some such nonsense. These are man’s interpretations, totally devoid from any input by God the Holy Spirit.
Paul is saying as much here. He is confessing his inability to comprehend the mysteries of God. Though this man knew the Law better than almost anybody else. He could quote the Torah forwards, backwards, inside out and upside down. But he was sorely lacking in knowing the deeper meanings—thus his utter and total dependence on God to show him the hidden things which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets… I may be wrong, but I do believe there should not be a comma after “sons of men.” The word for “as” can either be used as an adverb or a conjunctive adverb. In other words, it either modifies a verb, or leads to a modifier of that verb. In this case, the Greek word os (hos) leads to the phrase “it has now been revealed &c”. Thus, it should take on the form “like”, or “in the same way,” and rendered which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men like it has now been revealed… For it was not known “in other ages” as it is now. Without the comma, it says that the mystery—Christ—was not revealed in the former times in the same way as it has been revealed to Paul. This is a truth. In the Old Testament, Christ was revealed piece-by-piece, a little here and a little there, giving the people glimpses of the coming Messiah, but never the whole picture at the same time.
Isaiah said in one place that He would be born of a virgin. In another that He would be smitten, stricken, abandoned, bruised, wounded, led like a lamb to slaughter. Micah said He would be born in Bethlehem. Zechariah said that He would be sold for 30 pieces of silver. The Psalmist said He would be betrayed by a friend. Yet if you were to put all these together, and bind them in one volume, it would not give us so complete a picture as we have now. For we have the Fulfillment of all these in one Person, Jesus Christ. He was pierced, He was bruised, He was tried, condemned, slain—and raised again, to the glory of God! This Truth which was revealed to Paul as he traveled to Damascus—a journey cut short by the appearance of the Fulfillment.
Likewise, the Jews of the Old Testament believed that they alone would be the recipients of God’s kingdom. But they did cut themselves off from it by crucifying the Lord of Glory. Not that the nation Israel is necessarily cut off in full—do not let anyone tell you that the entire of the Jewish nation is condemned because they led Christ to slaughter, else Paul could have never been His witness. However, once He came to His own and His own received Him not (John 1:11), He then went and offered the kingdom to the Gentiles. Not that this surprised our Lord—He knew this long before it happened. "I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, 'Behold me, behold me,' unto a nation that was not called by my name. I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way [that was] not good, after their own thoughts" (Isaiah 65:1-2). But they did not believe Him, that (Ephesians 3:6-7) the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel, of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power.
We are one nation, and prisoners of Christ Jesus, whether Jew or Gentile, all who believe have been baptized into one body (1st Corinthians 12:13), the wall of separation is torn down, and we are fellow heirs with those who are Jewish by birth in the body of Christ according to the grace of God.