Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 3:10 Introduction
Ephesians 3:10 returns us to one of my favorite concepts, “heavenly places.” This is the God-dimension, the unseen universe, the eternal order beyond the world perceived by our five senses. “Heavenly places” is the present, at hand, home of believers. As we previously noted in other sermons, in this realm believers are blessed (1:3), Jesus sits beside the Father (1:20), and believers sit with Jesus (2:6). In the future I hope to preach on it being where spiritual warfare is waged (6:12). Our present text (3:10) tells us in “heavenly places” is made known “the manifest wisdom of God.”
As believers, a benefit of living in “heavenly places” is being able to see how God deals with His people in marvelous ways. Our text deals with another set of citizens who also share in this benefit. “Principalities and powers” depicts angels as marshalled in ranks and divisions as an army. These flaming spirits, our fellow residents in “heavenly places,” watch us, the Church, to see manifest the “manifold wisdom of God.” “Heavenly places” is a theater where angels, as spectators, gain a better appreciation for God’s “manifold wisdom” by watching the Church act out its role on stage.
Eph. 3:10a “To the intent that now unto the principalities and
powers in heavenly places might be known. . .”
Paul is still explaining the purpose of his assigned ministry. He was called to preach Christ to Gentiles (3:8). He then had to prove “the mystery” (3:9) he proclaimed would actually work. In this context, “the mystery” was the Church, the newly created entity in which Gentiles and Jews would merge as equals. Paul proved this was a workable concept by traversing the Roman world and establishing local churches to serve as labs in which a divine experiment could be performed. The experiment succeeded!
Humans were not the only ones who witnessed this effective experiment. Angels were also watching. In the successful establishment of churches throughout the world, angels “now” for the first time fully understood God’s plan for mankind. Until “the mystery” was revealed to the Apostles, even angels did not know the secret “hid in God” (3:9).
Before “the beginning” (GN 1:1), God created an order of beings totally spiritual. One-third of their number rebelled against God and were cast down out of Heaven (RV 12:4) to Hell, where “chains of darkness” (2 P 2:4) awaited them. Later, possibly to replace the fallen angels, God chose to create a new order of beings. Whereas angels had been totally spiritual, the new race would be mixed, spiritual and material, heavenly and earthly.
As God created an environment for these new beings, angels watched in awe, but did not know “the mystery,” the ultimate, secret plan “hid in God” (3:9) for these creatures. Angels marvelled when the first ray of light touched earth as a living finger and wakened it to beauty. With astonishment angels watched as stars “were turned into flames by the light of deity” (Criswell). Despite witnessing all this, the angels did not know God’s intent. “The mystery” remained a secret to them.
They watched as God placed in Eden’s paradise this new order of beings, spiritual and material, heavenly and earthly, of deity and dirt. When the first two of this new mixed breed sinned, angels probably gasped, expecting to see repeated the fate which befell the fallen angels. However, this did not happen. Instead, God came walking “in the cool of the day” (GN 3:8), and spoke of a plan, something about enmity between the seeds of the serpent and the woman (GN 3:15). The angels could understand the justice of chains and Hell, but were perplexed by this new arrangement. Angels saw no logic in this, and had to wait to see what would happen.
In Noah’s day, angels saw the mixed race obliterated, but for eight exceptions. After Babel, the whole creation went amok. All the while, angels watched, waited, wondered–what is God going to do about this? They could see no way through the dilemma of human hatred and division.
In Moses’ day, angels were still trying in vain to discern “the mystery.” God portrayed their curiosity by placing likenesses of angels on both ends of the mercy seat (EX 25:18). Two cherubim faced each other with heads bowed, as if awed by the mercy of God to sinners. Leaning over, the cherubim looked down on where blood was sprinkled, as if wanting to pry into the secret of the mercy seat. This is the image Peter refers to when he says Gospel truths are “things the angels desire to look into” (1 P 1:12). Grace confounds angels. They always had a passionate desire to stoop down and look into “the mystery,” but had to wait till the “now” of our text.
One day word spread like wildfire through the streets of Heaven. God the Son was leaving Paradise to move to Bethlehem. I fancy an angel asking, “Which suburb of Heaven is Bethlehem?” No, dear seraph, Bethlehem is no suburb of heaven, but a village of earth. God who is spirit partook of flesh. He fused Himself with the mixed breed. I wonder how the angels felt when He who could not be contained by all “the heaven of heavens” (2 CH 6:18) was compressed into the small body of a baby. I wonder how angels felt when they saw their Creator working as a carpenter. He who created Jupiter with a wish had to sweat, and labor with hammer and chisel, to make a simple wooden chair. We know angels were mystified when Jesus died, for God had never died before. They could have never conceived such a plan, for who would ever suggest to God He should die?
Their Master triumphed over death and returned to the center of their praise, but still they did not fully understand the plan, the scheme, “the mystery.” How was all that had happened going to serve as a solution to man’s problems? Angels finally began to understand in the “now” of our text, when they observed the labs Paul established around the Roman world.
Eph. 3:10b “. . .by the church. . .”
Only when the Church was begun and functioning did angels fully understand “the mystery.” The ultimate solution to the world’s troubles was profound, conceivable only by God. He sent His Son to die, and based on His shed blood, instituted the Church to deal with the wrongs among man.
From before “the beginning” (GN 1:1), angels had been heavenly students, trying to figure the plan of God. They saw the power of God in creation, the wrath of God in Hell’s flame, the love of God at Calvary, but to see the “wisdom of God” fully, they had to wait until they saw the Church. Amazing! The Church is teaching the angels. We beings of clay are a source of wonder and amazement to heavenly spirits.
“By the sea of crystal, where at last all things become crystal-clear” (Hendriksen), angels have to look at us to understand the plan of God. Through the old creation God reveals His glory to humans; through the new creation God reveals His wisdom to angels (Stott).
To angels who are trying to fathom the “wisdom of God,” the Church is the most astonishing phenomenon in the Universe. The Church is more wonderful than anything in nature. The Swiss Alps and the Grand Canyon evoke awe, but are insignificant when put next to the Christian Church.
The Bible yields no clue as to anywhere else angels look to measure the “wisdom of God,” other than to the Church. Our existence and actions enlarge the understanding of these celestial, august beings. We are speaking of creatures who live in the presence of God and enjoy the beatific vision. In awe and reverence they worship before the throne of the eternal, crying, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” They stand, as it were, in the sun, yet when they want to ponder the “wisdom of God,” they focus their attention on us. Angels are amazed “by the Church.” They marvel at what God does for the world through us. All along, God had harbored a strategy to handle the chaos and disorder of man. God’s secret plan was to create the Church.
No wonder “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth” (LK 15:10). Every repentant sinner is a victim of darkness rescued into the only organization ordained of God to give them permanent help for their problems. In every conversion, another lost sheep is brought into this wonderful fold, into God’s perfect plan, the Church.
Angels are watching us, focusing their attention on us, because we bear in our testimonies Jesus, the Hope of the world. This helps explain their eagerness to be our “ministering spirits” (HB 1:14). Quick to help believers in time of need, angels watch the face of God in Heaven to see His reaction to how His children are treated (MT 18:10). Angels are ready in an instant to carry out God’s designs in our behalf. They saw everything fall apart in Eden, watched mankind drown, witnessed Babel’s dispersal. Angels gladly help those whom God appointed to rectify the mess of earth.
If angels prize the Church, shouldn’t we? They only see it, yet value it. How much more should we who taste of it adore it? Angels can only admire the veins which made the fountain possible, but we wash in it.
If the Church captures the fascination and awe of angels in Heaven, God forgive us for taking His Church for granted. I am deeply convicted about this. I have not realized how significant the Church truly is, despite the fact it is all I have ever known. Born a preacher’s son, I began attending a church within days. Dad baptized me in the presence of a church. My every Lord’s Supper has been taken with a local congregation. I first laid eyes on Ruth in the midst of God’s people. My children have been raised by God, Ruth, me, our extended families, and local churches. Despite all this, I have not appreciated the Church enough. I have underestimated her value, but Paul is bringing into focus for me a vision of Her glory. She is the dazzling, ravishing, resplendent bride of Christ–His chosen consort, the ordained means by which God intends to accomplish all things ultimate.