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30 July 2018

No longer a mystery: Gentiles inherit God’s kingdom.

Ephesians 3.1-12.

Paul was under house arrest when he wrote Ephesians, either before the first or second time he stood before Nero Caesar. Paul optimistically thought of these circumstances as his opportunity to share Jesus with Roman officials, with himself as Jesus’s official ambassador. Ep 6.20

But y’know, much of the reason he got in so much trouble, was because he insisted on sharing Jesus with gentiles—who were and always had been part of God’s plan, but Pharisees had blinders on about it, so this information was new to them. Because Paul was notorious for hanging out with gentiles, it’s arguably why he was arrested in the first place. Ac 22.21-29 Not that he didn’t totally take advantage of it to meet Agrippa Herod and Nero Ceasar.

This, Paul recognized, was the real reason he was in chains:

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 this mystery to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:
6 Through the gospel, the gentiles are to be
co-inheritors, co-body-parts, co-sharers in Christ Jesus’s promise.

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

Where’d they get such a genocidal idea? A rather sick interpretation of the bible. Taking the book of Joshua global. But it didn’t take into account the rest of the scriptures. Messiah 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, under him. And not all these kings are gonna be Hebrew! Messiah—we gentiles call him Christ—was always gonna be gentiles’ king of kings. Everybody’s king.

The Pharisees kinda knew this, but like everyone who wears blinders when it comes to the bible, they didn’t wanna know this. They liked their wrath-filled idea way better. Had grudges against gentiles. Some of those grudges were centuries old; some of ’em were still pissed at the Egyptians for enslaving them 1,500 years (now 3,500 years) before. They didn’t care for the Romans at all, nor their Greek, Syrian, Nabatean, and Samaritan neighbors. So they indulged their prejudices, spun the scriptures to imply God’s gonna decimate the gentiles, and though they couldn’t build physical walls like the Israelis today, built all sorts of cultural and mental blocks.

The idea the gentiles would share their inheritance from God, share their Messiah? In synagogue after synagogue, Paul discovered this gospel pissed them off. It’s like telling an Arizonan, “The feds wanna give the Mexicans free healthcare.” If they had guns back then, they’d open fire on Paul, Barnabas, Silas, and any Christian who suggested such a thing. They did try to kill Paul in temple, 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” (ESV, NASB) or “administration” (NIV). 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.

And then there are the dispensationalists, who jumped all over this verse. To them, a dispensation is a significant time-period where God chooses to save people a different way than he did other dispensations. In these last days we’re saved by God’s grace; in previous dispensations God required people to perform ritual sacrifices, or obey their patriarchs, or simply not eat off the wrong tree. That’s why Dispys can’t identify all the grace in the Old Testament: To their minds, God wasn’t doing grace yet.

Seriously. The followers of John Nelson Darby and C.I. Scofield, whom I call Darbyists, claim 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 patriarchs and 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 there were mysteries—truths about God which he hadn’t yet revealed to everyone—with wholly different plans of salvation. Because God hadn’t yet revealed all the details of his plan, Darby figured God wasn’t yet using that plan, and was using a different plan. Because why would God not tell us what he was up to? (Yeah, Darbyism is awfully self-centered.)

But Paul made clear in multiple letters God’s plan has always been grace. Demonstrated by the grace God showed Abraham: “[Abraham] trusted the LORD, and the LORD considered him righteous.” Ge 15.6 Yes God made various promises to Abraham, but what were these promises based on? God graciously choosing Abraham. Ro 4.3, Ga 3.6 Yep, even all the way back in the “dispensation of promise.”

If Darby is correct and God does have multiple systems of salvation, and keeps switching ’em as time goes on, 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 didn’t need to know about salvation by grace, Ep 3.2 ’cause these generations were under a whole different dispensation?

Darbyists can’t answer this question. 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,” which they’re not yet under.) As if God was telling the ancients, “Some day in the future, I’m just gonna forgive everyone whenever they ask. Won’t that be great? But that doesn’t apply to you at all. Now burn another one of your goats for me.”

The Law, by its very nature, proves God wasn’t saving us through it. Doesn’t matter what certain legalistic Pharisees claimed. Ga 3.11-12 God has always saved people—gentiles included!—by the very mysteries Paul wrote about. The reason your average Dispy doesn’t get this, is because they neither understand the Law nor Paul; they don’t know the scriptures as well as they imagine. All they care about is their interpretation nullifies the Law, which they appreciate ’cause some commands they don’t wanna follow. And it tells ’em how the End Times works.

God saved us by his grace. Ep 2.8-9 After we’re saved, then we do his good works. Ep 2.10 That was the point of the Law: Not to save, but as something for saved people to do, ’cause we wanna follow God, so God spelled out how. Dispensationalists don’t understand this any more than the Pharisees did. 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 I’ve heard Christians speculate it’s because Paul was a shorter-than-average man. (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 lower than average ’cause he used to persecute Christians. 1Ti 1.12-17 Yet even though he deserved to never, ever enter God’s kingdom, God granted him grace, and Jesus appointed him as his apostle to 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 this gospel’s minister by the gift of God’s grace,
which he gave me through working 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, everything’s creator.
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 God’s commands, and it’s actually okay if they don’t turn to Jesus. Whereas we 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 if they reject God’s plan for Messiah, no they’re not. Go read Romans: They quit God, so they were broken off his tree. And we gentiles were grafted in their places—a fact we ought never take for granted. Ro 11.17-24

Other Christians have adopted a view called replacement theology, which claims the Jews aren’t God’s chosen people anymore; Christians are. This is also inaccurate: Loads of Jews are Christians! Paul was, Ro 11.1 as were all the first apostles and believers. For the past 20 centuries Jews have turned to Jesus. Thing is, after one or two generations of living among Christians, they don’t resemble Jews anymore; they act like their fellow Christians who happen to be gentile. Only recently have many of ’em discovered their Jewish ancestry, after dabbling in ancestry and DNA tests. A lot of us Christians aren’t actually gentile, and don’t yet know it. But God knows who’s who… and in any event, because he’s gracious, made us all his chosen people. Which was always the plan.

Why was the 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 happen. The idea of Messiah dying, and at the same time ruling the world, confused Pharisees to no end. 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 demonstrates his love for us. 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!

Apostles.