21 July 2016

The big mystery: Gentiles get into the kingdom.

And how dispensationalists get this so mixed up.

Ephesians 3.1-12

Paul was under house arrest when he wrote Ephesians, Ep 6.20 but since he knew how to be content in any situation, Pp 4.11 he knew how to make jokes about it. It’s why this chapter begins with a little joke about the fact he was in bonds: He was Jesus’s bondservant. Specifically for the sake of the gentiles. Y’see, had he not been so intent on preaching the gospel to gentiles too, he’d likely never have been arrested in the first place. Ac 22.21-29 Not that he wasn’t totally taking advantage of his arrest so he could meet Agrippa Herod and Nero Caesar and share Jesus with them, but still.

But you wanna know the real reason he was in chains? Well, maybe you’ve read one of his previous letters, like Galatians or Romans. (No, Paul didn’t write those letters to Ephesus—nor did he write this letter specifically to Ephesus—but churches made copies and spread ’em around.) If you hadn’t, he spilled the beans right here.

Ephesians 3.1-6 KWL
1 Here’s the reason I, Paul, became Christ Jesus’s bondservant for you gentiles—
2 unless you already heard God’s system of grace he gave me for you.
3 He made the mystery known to me through special revelation—as I previously, briefly wrote you.
4 Its readers can see my meaning about “Christ’s mystery.”
5 It wasn’t made known to previous generations of the sons of men.
He now revealed the mystery to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:
6 The gentiles are to be co-inheritors, co-body-parts, co-sharers
in the promise of Christ Jesus, through the gospel.

This was outrageous news to bigoted Pharisees who were certain God was gonna smite the gentiles, wipe them off the face of the earth, and populate his kingdom with only Jews.

Where’d they get such a genocidal idea? Wasn’t from bible. Messiah wasn’t (and isn’t) gonna wipe out the world’s kings; they’re gonna kneel before him. Ps 2.10-12 “King of kings and lord of lords” means other kings and lords are gonna exist in his administration—but under him. And not all these kings were gonna be Hebrew. He was always gonna be the gentiles’ king of kings. Everybody’s king.

The Pharisees already knew this… but some of ’em may not have put two and two together. And didn’t wanna. They held grudges against the gentiles. Some were still annoyed with the Greeks, Syrians, and Romans for conquering them. (Heck, some were still annoyed with the Egyptians for enslaving them 1,500 years before.) Some were annoyed with the gentiles who lived in their neighborhoods, for one reason or another. So they indulged their prejudices, and focused on the scriptures which imply God’s gonna severely decimate the gentiles’ numbers.

To such people, the very idea gentiles would share the Jews’ inheritance by embracing their Messiah? Oh, that pissed ’em off. It’s like telling a citizen of Arizona, “Hey, we’re gonna give these Mexicans free healthcare.” If they had guns back then, they’d open fire on you. The folks in temple did try to kill him, y’know.

The system of grace.

In the King James Version, Paul’s word oikonomían/“rules of the house” gets translated “dispensation.” I went with “system,” and other bibles go with “stewardship” or “administration.” Actually oikonomía evolved into our word “economy”—but the general idea is it refers to how God wants to run things. Specifically, how he intends to treat people in his kingdom: With grace.

But then there are dispensationalists.

To these folks, a dispensation is a significant period of time in which God’s method of saving people is different than the other dispensations. Most dispensationalists believe there are only two of these time-periods: The former days (i.e the Old Testament, the time before Jesus, BC), in which God saved people when they obeyed his commands—and if they broke his commands, they could make up for ’em with ritual sacrifices. And the latter days (i.e. the New Testament and Christian Era, up to and including today), in which God saves people by grace.

The followers of John Nelson Darby and C.I. Scofield, whom I call Darbyists, believe there are seven dispensations. (Sometimes more, or sub-dispensations within dispensations.)

  1. Innocence, where humans hadn’t sinned yet, and therefore everyone was saved.
  2. Conscience, where God hadn’t spelled out his commands yet, so do try to be moral.
  3. Human government, where kings were in charge, and God clued them in on how things should go, so obey them.
  4. Promise, where certain specially-chosen patriarchs were saved through a personal relationship with God.
  5. Law, where you’re saved by obeying the Law.
  6. Church, the present dispensation, where those who believe in Jesus are saved by God’s grace.
  7. Kingdom, the next dispensation, where again everyone is saved.

Darby basically confused the fact God hadn’t yet fully explained to humanity how salvation worked, with a wholly different plan of salvation. This, despite Paul patiently explaining God’s plan has always been grace; that “[Abraham] trusted the LORD, and the LORD considered him righteous,” Ge 15.6 means God’s always saved by grace, Ro 4.3, Ga 3.6 even all the way back during the “dispensation of promise.”

If Darby is correct—if God had multiple systems of salvation, and kept switching ’em up as time went on—then none of Ephesians 3 so far makes any sense. Why would there be any mystery which “wasn’t made known to previous generations” Ep 3.5 if previous generations were under a whole different dispensation? Why would this mystery, which so clearly applies to salvation by grace, Ep 3.2 need to be revealed to generations which were saved by other methods? Darbyists can’t answer these questions, and when they bother to try, they claim it has to do with God dropping hints to the ancients about future dispensations—just like they know about the future dispensation of “kingdom.” As if to tell ’em, “Some day, in the future, I’m just gonna forgive everyone whenever they ask me. Won’t that be great? But that doesn’t apply to you. You go cook me another goat.”

But the Law, by its very nature, proved God wasn’t saving us through that route, no matter what certain legalistic Pharisees claimed. Ga 3.11-12 How God does save people, gentiles included, are the very mysteries Paul was writing about. The problem with your average dispensationalist is they neither understand the Law, nor Paul. All they know is their interpretation means they needn’t follow the Law—which they really appreciate, ’cause some commands they don’t wanna follow.

God saved us by his grace, Ep 2.8-9 and once saved, then we do good works. Ep 2.10 The Law doesn’t save anyone; it’s for people who’ve already been saved, who wanna know how to follow God. Dispensationalists don’t understand that any more than the Pharisees did, and for this reason they’re always gonna read oikonomía wrong. Including every passage which uses it, like verse 2.

Revealed by grace.

Paul liked to knock himself as “the very lowest of all saints.” Ep 3.8 Some Christians speculate that’s because Paul was shorter than average. (His Greek name Pávlos means “rest[ful],” but loads of people have stretched the definition to claim it means “short.” More than likely it was Paul’s name because it rhymed with the Greek form, Sávlos, of his Hebrew name Ša’ul/“Saul.”) But as Paul revealed elsewhere, he felt this way ’cause he used to persecute Christians. 1Ti 1.12-17 Even though he deserved far worse, God granted him grace, and Jesus made him his apostle to the gentiles. Ac 22.21 And that’s what made him “Christ Jesus’s bondservant for you gentiles”. Ep 3.1

Ephesians 3.7-12 KWL
7 I became a minister of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace,
which he gave me through the working of his power.
8 This grace was given to me, the very lowest of all saints,
to evangelize the gentiles with Christ’s untraceable riches,
9 to enlighten everyone on this mysterious system,
hidden from the ages by God, the Creator of all.
10 Thus he could now make the multicolored wisdom of God known
to princes and heavenly powers, through the church—
11 by eternally displaying what he’s done in Christ Jesus our Lord.
12 In Christ, through our faith in him, we have boldness and confident freedom.

Not just Paul, but Christ Jesus’s whole church now has the duty to tell everyone what God’s plan is: Save the world, Jew and gentile alike, and make us all one people in one kingdom. Ep 2.14-16

Back to the Darbyists: Loads of ’em don’t understand this, either. Many of them actually teach and believe the Jews are still under the dispensation of Law; that all Jews need do to be saved is keep following the commands, and they don’t have to turn to Jesus. Whereas gentiles have a whole separate dispensation, and are saved by grace. This way, they can claim Jews who deny their Messiah are still God’s chosen people… even though Paul taught otherwise. He made it clear in Romans only Jews who turn to Jesus remain chosen. Ro 11.1-5 The rest: Swapped for gentiles who abandoned their paganism and likewise turn to Jesus. Ro 11.17-24

Other Christians have adopted a view called replacement theology, which claims the Jews stopped being God’s chosen people, for God replaced them with Christians. Which is also wrong. Loads of Jews are Christians! For that matter, for the past 20 centuries Jews have turned to Jesus… but after a couple generations of living among Christians, they don’t resemble Jews anymore. They act more like gentile Christians. Loads of ’em think they are gentile Christians, and only discover their Jewish ancestry after they dabble in genealogy. A number of us Christians aren’t actually gentile, and don’t know it. But God knows who’s who… and in any event, because he’s gracious, treats us all as his chosen people. ’Cause we are.

Why was this plan “hidden from the ages by God”? Ep 3.9 Just like the prophecies in Revelation, they’re not gonna entirely make sense till they actually happen. The idea of Messiah dying, and at the same time ruling the world, confused Pharisees to no end. ’Cause even though the prophecies were there, they simply couldn’t imagine God raising Jesus from the dead before the last-day resurrection. Even Jesus’s students were confused by it. They had to see it happen for themselves. Then it made sense. Same with a lot of things the scriptures teach: They’re hard to fathom till we get off our lazy, unbelieving heineys and go do ’em.

Hence those of us who are gentile no longer have to worry that maybe God doesn’t love us as much as he loves the Jews: God demonstrated his love for us. Still demonstrates it. Gave us the Holy Spirit and empowers us to produce fruit and miracles and good works. Made us his chosen people and royal priesthood. Rv 1.6  

Now go tell everyone!