When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
— Ephesians 3:4–6 —
In Ephesians 3, Paul explains how the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the church was a mystery hidden to the Old Testament people of God. In the strongest fashion he explains how Christ’s cross created “one new man” (2:15), tearing down the wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile. The result in Ephesians 3:6 is that Gentiles are “fellow heirs” (sugklēronomos) , “fellow members of the body”(sussōma), and “fellow sharers (summetoxa) of the promise in Christ Jesus”.
In these three desciptions, Paul uses the strongest terms to explain that the status of Jews and Gentiles is equal in Christ. No longer are the people of Israel advantaged over the Gentiles, as it was under the Sinai Covenant. Now in Christ Jews and Gentiles share equal statues. As Paul teaches, both are condemned for their sin and thus both redeemed by God’s free gift of grace—not by law-keeping. This makes all participants in Christ’s new covenant equals, brothers and sisters, co-heirs with their Lord.
Still, to get a handle on this newness in Christ, it is equally important to understand how the apostolic teaching was new—new to the first century believers and new to anyone today entering the church today. On that newness, Clinton Arnold gives a succinct outline of the ways in which the plan of God was previously unknown but now revealed through the gospel.
Under four points, he identifies (1) the means, (2) the Mosaic law, (3) the manner, and (4) the magnitude as constituting something different and greater than could be seen by the Old Testament saints. Here’s what Arnold writes (Ephesians, 190),
- The means by which God’s purpose would be realized was new and unexpected. The fact that the Messiah would pour out his blood (2:13, 14, 15) to accomplish God’s redemptive purposes was unanticipated. Rather than coming as a shattering stone to destroy the human kingdoms, Jesus came to demolish the dividing wall by offering his flesh on the cross. His blood was the means by which he conquered the greatest enemy of all–the power of sin (1:7; 2:1–3).
- A second unforeseen way by which God accomplished his redemptive purpose was through the abrogation of the Mosaic law. No one could have anticipated that God would lay aside the conditions imposed by the Mosaic law for entering a relationship with him and being counted as his people. Because the Mosaic code separated Gentiles from the Jews and required a Gentile essentially to become a Jew to be saved, it could not serve as the basis for a plan that gave Jew and Gentile access to God on an equal footing.
- The manner in which God’s purpose would be realized was new and unexpected. The incorporation of Jews and Gentiles into one body with equal access to God on an equal footing is entirely new (2:14–18). On the basis of OT revelation, one would not have been able to discern this way that God would create a new people for himself.
- Finally, the new covenant “entails a degree of nearness to the Lord that exceeds the expectations of the old covenant” (Sigurd Grindheim). The concept of the nearness is brought out strongly in Paul’s discussion of this new dispensation in 2:11–22, especially in the theologically central text of the passage: “but now in Christ Jesus you who once were far have become near by the blood of Christ” (2:13).
In sum, we can remember these four “gospel surprises” with four M’s—means, Mosaic law, makeup, and magnitude.
- The means of the Messiah’s death was unexpected.
- The termination of the Mosaic law covenant was surprising.
- The makeup of the people of God being Jew and Gentile—though predicted (see e.g., Isaiah 49:1–7)—was unheard of in Israel; and
- The magnitude was far better than could be imagined (hence, Ephesians 3:20–21).
Truly, what we find in the person and work of Christ comports and completes everything revealed in the Old Testament, but with the light of the New Testament it becomes clear Israel of old, and even the disciples pre-Pentecost, could not understand wasGod was doing in Christ. The Old Testament by itself gave shadowy images and predictive visions, but only in the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, and Spiration (Pentecost) could the apostles and prophets teach the church the full gospel.
Now with the full revelation of the New Testament, we can see the fullness of God’s plan. But let us not forget that as the gospel was first being proclaimed and explained, it took the church time to see these things. Something similar happens today in the church, as disciples of Christ learn how to read the Old Testament in light of the New.
With that process of growth in mind, may we continue to ponder how the mysteries of the Old Testament have come to fruition in Christ. And as we study God’s word, may we issue the same kind of patience and persistence as Paul to suffer with those who struggle to see his grace and glory. Only by grace can we see Christ, and thus for those who see him, we ought to be the most gracious.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds