Ephesians Notes – Introduction
Unveiling the Glory of Christ in the World through the Church
1. A church that appears too small, too weak, and too fragile to survive.
Paul writes a letter of encouragement to the churches throughout Asia Minor.
The church is made up of small groups of Christians spread throughout Asia Minor worshipping in homes.
Paul, one of the key leaders, is imprisoned and will soon die.
The founder, Jesus Christ, was executed.
The whole church appears to be a temporary movement within Judaism.
2. A culture that appears too large, too confident and too powerful to be threatened.
Cult of Diana and Mystery Religions – The temple to Dinah (Artemis in Greek) in Ephesus was considered one of the wonders of the world. It contained an image of Diana that had fallen from the heavens. Diana was depicted as a multibreasted goddess. A body of eunuch priests ran the temple. There were no bloody sacrifices. She was considered the mother of all living things. Large donations flooded her temple and priests every year. Each year the city of Ephesus threw a large festival in her honor. The Ephesian Diana was worshipped more than any other deity and statues of her filled the homes of the people. Acts reveals the magical arts were practiced in relation to her.
Mystery religions were popular all through Asia Minor. These cults promised power to their adherents; power of knowing the future as well as insight into secrets. These cults were formed around a series of initiations. To enter the cult one had to be initiated and to advance up through the various levels required a variety of initiations. Mystery religions viewed life as trapped by cosmic forces. Ritual was a means of escaping the bonds of this material prison.
Imperial Cult – Minucias Felix (2nd century Christian) writes about the Romans, “their power and authority has occupied the circuit of the whole world: thus it has propagated its empire beyond the paths of the sun, and the bounds of the oceans itself. Rome is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth (Rev 17:18). “The imperial cult was a “natural response on the part of provincials to the tremendous power of the emperor, which was perceived as truly god-like, and to the benefits that the rule of the emperor brought to the provinces. The imperial cult especially focused attention on the emperor as the patron of the world. Since his gifts matched those of the deities, it was deemed only fitting that the expressions of gratitude and loyalty should take on the forms used to communicate with the patron deities themselves.” David DeSilva
Prior to Caesar Octavious brought peace to a Roman world that had been in constant turmoil. He was a master administrator and leader. He brought an empire racked with division into order. Once he achieved victory, he surrendered his power to the Senate in 27 BC. In 27 B.C., the Roman Senate granted Octavian the name Augustus, meaning “the exalted.” They also gave him the legal power to rule Rome’s religious, civil and military affairs, with the Senate as an advisory body, effectively making him Emperor.
Eventually temples were built in his honor. Although he rejected at first, eventually he realized the power the imperial cult could have for uniting the kingdom. He agreed as long as the deity Roma would also be honored alongside him.
The people looked to Augustus as ruling regent of the gods. The imperial cult continued to grow under other emperors up through Constantine. It was particularly powerful and popular in Asia Minor. The Christians in these areas would be surrounded by statues of the emperors. Many of the social events in the cities would revolve around emperor worship and Christians would feel intense pressure to participate. By refusing, Christians limited their opportunity to participate socially, economically or politically.
The cult of Diana, the mystery religions and the imperial cult all offered various forms of power. Some of it was practical social or economic power. Other parts esoteric power living one to higher states of consciousness.
3. A power that is greater than power, preceding all things and transforming all things in love.
Egyptians vs Hebrews (power of pyramids vs power of future)
two kinds of power
one is fading; the other is growing
one looks back; the other reaches forward
one relates through status/rites; the other on the basis of personal love
one sacrifices others to save itself; the other lays down its life to gain it
we behold the kingdom rule of Christ now and begin to live (embody/enflesh) the reality of that kingdom now
Paul writes a song in praise of the God of all power. He weaves prayers and songs throughout the letter to proclaim the glory of God who expresses his power not in world power but in the power of a love that transforms people. The expression of his power is love.
In the midst of a world consumed by power, Paul writes a letter to encourage the Christians through Asia Minor. In his letter he reveals the true source of power, Jesus Christ. He explains how this power is revealed on earth through his chosen vessel: the church. This power takes the form of expressed love that unites those divided by race and class and causes of to serve and care for one another. This power, though it appears weak and inconsequential, will ultimately overcome all other forms of power.
20 All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, 21 in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. 22 He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. 23 The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.
(from THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. All rights reserved.)
Christianity enters a world of chaos. The power of the gospel is moving all things from chaos to harmony: glory to glory. Christianity moves toward the future with hope. Jesus brings the kingdom of the future into the present when he raises from the dead. He interrupts time.
Living the kingdom, bringing back from the end of time and embodying some of it here and now, is the process by which man, ever since Jesus, consciously participates in his own creation.
Center of all things – a person – church (not individuals) – we are working out his kingdom – in the power of his life (spirit) – through relationships of love
Notes from Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy
“Future means novelty, surprise; it means outgrowing past habits and attainments. When a job, a movement, an institution promises nothing but treadmill repetition of a given routine in thought and action, we say correctly, ‘There is no future in it.’”
“So pagan thought almost universally pictures human life as a decline from a golden age in the past toward ultimate destruction in the future.”
Christianity…has shown ‘how man can be eternal in the moment, how he can act once for all.’”
Christian progress vs worldly progress (technological progress or temporal progress)
“Bombs get better all the time. But this improvement does not determine progress.”
“The great idea of human progress is not guaranteed by 101,000 progresses in special sciences or gadgets since they have led to the quickest and most intensive destruction of a whole civilization in our own time.”
Progress is an act of our own creative faith, breaking with the past and embracing the future that God is unveiling in Christ.
Christian progress involves embracing the cross (death) to reveal the life of God
“It would be a mistake to consider all repetition bad. Life itself rests in a certain balance between recurrent and novel processes; the former are our fixed capital investment, the latter our free range of choice, selection, change, at any given moment. Unless the achievements of the past were continually reproduced along with the fresh creations of the present, there would be mere mutation without cumulative growth of any kind.”
“But the natural tendency of life when left to itself is to relax from initiative to routine, and thereby to upset the balance between past and future, recurrence and innovation. That is why the automatic concept of progress is fallacious.
Progress is becoming what we are.
We are moving from glory to glory. Each step upward is through the death. I am crucified with Christ and I no longer live. This laying down our life, the embracing the cross, this being renewed in the love of God in Christ, renews and glorifies us and works through us to renew all things.