In Ephesians 1:9-12, the apostle Paul says this:
“. . . Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.”
This passage is part of the one long sentence that consists of verses 3-14 of chapter 1. Paul has just said that God’s people have redemption and forgiveness through the blood of Christ, which are according to the riches of His grace that He lavished upon them in all wisdom and insight. Then, he describes how this wisdom and insight was used — to make known to them the mystery of His will, and so on.
In this study, I want to focus on verses 11-12:
“. . . In whom [Christ] also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.”
Having just said that all things are being gathered together in one, or summed up, in Christ, now Paul moves on to how this affects those that have been given the knowledge of the mystery of God’s will.
First of all, the main blessing of this passage only comes to the children of God in Christ. What does this mean? Paul says that God’s children have obtained an inheritance in Christ. Well, as Paul is constantly saying in his letters, believers are “in Christ”, or spiritually united to Him by God, so that all that is true of Him in His human condition is true of them as well. Therefore, Paul is implying, it is only because Christ has obtained this inheritance that those in Him have obtained it as well. Why? Because God was pleased to choose these people in Christ by His own doing before the foundation of the world, and then, in the dimension of time, placed them in Him when they believed the gospel.
But what is this inheritance? And why does Paul use this word “inheritance”? Well, an inheritance is something that is passed down in a family to the next generation, but Paul is even more specific than that in his usage of the word.
He is simply following the logic of what he said in verse 5:
“. . . having foreordained us unto ADOPTION AS SONS through Jesus Christ unto himself [God the Father] . . .”
What does Paul mean by “adoption as sons”? Well, first of all, notice that this adoption is “unto himself” — that is, God the Father. So, God adopted His children into His family. But why does Paul use the word, “sons”? Why not say “children”? He is alluding to the culture of that time, in which, when a man adopted a boy into his family, that boy was given full legal status as the man’s child, and was treated, under law and in that culture, as if that child was actually the man’s child. Thus, when the child became a “son”, or adult son, he was promised an inheritance from the father, or “obtained an inheritance”, even before the father died.
That is the way it is with God’s adopted sons — they have obtained an inheritance from Him because they are His sons by virtue of being in Christ, who is the Son of God.
But what is this inheritance? We are told in Revelation 21:1-7:
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth are passed away; and the sea is no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of the throne saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall dwell with them, and they shall be his peoples, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God: and he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more: the first things are passed away. And he that sitteth on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he saith, Write: for these words are faithful and true. And he said unto me, They are come to pass. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh SHALL INHERIT THESE THINGS; and I will be his God, and HE SHALL BE MY SON.”
According to this passage, the inheritance that God’s sons will inherit, and have already obtained, is eternal life on the new earth with the Lord Jesus Christ.
But how have these people who have been given the knowledge of God’s will obtained this inheritance? Paul tells us:
“. . . being predestinated . . .”
Now, what does this mean? The word “predestinated” is just the King James version of “predestined”. It obviously has 2 parts — pre-, or “before”, and -destined, or “determined”. So, why have these people obtained an inheritance in Christ? Because God determined that it would happen beforehand. And as previously noted, Paul has already said that his audience was “predestined to adoption as sons”, so it makes sense that he would mention that concept here, in connection with obtaining an inheritance.
But why did God predestine these people to obtain this inheritance? “. . . according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will . . .”
What does this mean? First, this predestining is according to God’s purpose, or intention, or plan. He didn’t just predestine these people to obtain this inheritance at random, or arbitrarily. Their predestination is according to His perfect purpose for all things, that will accomplish the most glory for His Son.
Second, this predestining is according to the purpose of Him who works all things. What does this mean? The word “works” can also be translated “effects”, “energizes”, or “activates”. In other words, Paul is saying that the One who purposed this predestination is the very One who makes all things happen.
But not only does He work all things, but He works them after the counsel of His own will. What is this “counsel”? This word is translated from the word, boule, which was literally used as the name for the town counsels of ancient Greek towns. So, the idea is that God’s will, or decision, counsels, or informs, what He works out. He decides what happens, including the predestination of people to obtain an inheritance in Christ.
And what is the ultimate reason for these people obtaining an inheritance in Christ? “That we should be to the praise of his glory . . .”
Now, what does Paul mean by “be” here? Is he saying that these people should be predestinated to obtain the inheritance to the praise of God’s glory? Well, the predestining is something that happened before the foundation of the world, not in time, so Paul would be saying that God’s glory was praised before He even created anything. That doesn’t make sense.
The best way to understand it is to see Paul as simply saying that the ultimate end of these people obtaining this inheritance is so that they would exist, or be, for the praise of God’s glory. That is, the very fact that they exist as possessors of their inheritance in Christ brings praise to God’s glory.
And what is the praise of God’s glory? The verbal acclaim, honor, and exaltation of God’s glory. But what is His glory? All that He is, which is embodied in His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the very radiance of His glory (Hebrews 1).
But who exactly are these people who have obtained this inheritance, as well as received the knowledge of the mystery of God’s will? “. . . [those] who first trusted in Christ.”
Now, why does Paul limit the scope of this blessing of obtaining an inheritance to the first who trusted in Christ? Because that’s who first were given the knowledge of the mystery of God’s will — the gospel, and the fact that all things are being summed up in Christ.
I should note that this verse is better translated, “who first hoped in Christ”. The New Testament word for hope means “confident expectation”, so Paul is saying that these people first confidently expected that Christ, the Anointed One, would one day be the Supreme Prophet, High Priest, and King.
But who exactly are these people? They were the first to hope in Christ. And who were they? Paul contrasts them with the Ephesians in the next verse:
“In whom ye ALSO trusted . . .”
Thus, Paul must be referring to the Jewish Christians, who were the first people to receive the gospel, in contrast to the Gentiles, of whom the Ephesians were a part. The Jews were the first people to receive the knowledge of the mystery, or secret, of God’s will.
If you hope in Christ alone for your future inheritance of eternal life, then how does this passage apply to you?
- You too have obtained this inheritance that the first to hope in Christ obtained. You have the hope of eternal life with Christ on the new earth. You have everything.
- You’ve been predestined to this according to the purpose of Him who works all things after the counsel of His will. God didn’t give you this inheritance because of anything you’ve done.
- You exist for the praise of God’s glory. You ought to live so that people can see and hear God’s glory in you, and have opportunity to praise it.
If you’re not hoping in Christ alone for eternal life, nor trusting in Him alone for that, then you’re disobeying your Creator and Lord, Jesus Christ. He is commanding you to change your mind about Him, and to believe that God sent Him from heaven to become a man, to die for our disobedience to Him, to rise from the dead, and to ascend into heaven as the Lord of the universe because His Father has fixed a day on which He will judge you in righteousness through Jesus. If you don’t obey this command, He will cast you into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, and you will suffer the punishment you deserve for you disobedience to Him. If you change your mind and trust only in Christ, His death for our sins, and His resurrection as the only grounds for God’s forgiveness, He promises that He will forgive your sins and give you eternal life. I beg you on behalf of Christ to obey your Creator and Lord, and be reconciled to God.