Jerry C. Brewer
The revelation of the scheme of redemption to man, which God had purposed from eternity began in both foreshadowing and precept in Genesis. After Adam and Eve sinned, they clothed themselves with fig leaves and tried to hide from God.
And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons. And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden (Gen. 3:7-8).
Confronted with their sin, they were rebuked and cursed by the Lord and Genesis 3:21 says, “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins and clothed them.” They had devised their own clothing from fig leaves, but God clothed them with animal skins. That foreshadowed man’s spiritual clothing—that he was helpless to cover his own sins (Jer. 10:23). Animals had to shed their blood for man’s physical clothing, as Jesus Christ would shed His blood to clothe the obedient in righteousness (Eph. 1:7; Acts 20:28).
In pronouncing the serpent’s curse, God said, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between her seed and thy seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). Contained in this germinal promise, was God’s plan which comprehended Christ’s Virgin Birth, His struggle with the powers of hell, His death, burial, resurrection, His exaltation to the throne of David, and the salvation of Jew and Gentile in one body. Foy E. Wallace, Jr. wrote, “The Genesis record introduces ‘the seed of woman’— one who was not to be the offspring of man. Here is the germ of all prophecy. As the oak is in the acorn and the eagle in the egg, all Messianic prophecies are here in germ” (The Certified Gospel, 16).
But God’s plan—the church—existed in His eternal purpose long before the shedding of blood for salvation was foreshadowed, or a Saviour of the seed of woman was promised. Whatever God—or man—builds first exists in purpose, and the church of Christ existed as a blueprint in God’s mind from eternity. Out of God’s mind, His eternal purpose was unfolded to man in promise, prophecy, and preparation, and ultimately reached perfection on Pentecost, as recorded in Acts, chapter two. That purpose was detailed in his epistle to the church at Ephesus by the apostle Paul.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; 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 (Eph. 1:3-11).
The spiritual blessings, to which Paul refers in verse 3, are all found in Christ and enumerated in the succeeding verses, which he concludes by saying we were predestinated to those, “according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph. 1:11, emph. JCB). That eternal purpose is further defined in chapter three.
For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord (Eph. 3:1-11).
The “mystery” in verse 3 is the plan God purposed in His eternal counsel—salvation in the church. Foy E. Wallace, Jr. explained the word mystery in Ephesians 5:23 this way:
We have that same word in Romans 16:25 where the apostle said that the mystery was kept secret since the world began, but now is made known unto all nations for the obedience of faith. It is the same word mystery there, same English term, the same original term—musteerion. It means that God had a plan that was kept secret in that it had not been made known in the Old Testament. The mystery was kept secret since the world began. That means the plan of salvation existed in type and in promise and in the prophecy of the Old Testament but was in an unfulfilled, undeveloped and unfolded state, therefore it was kept secret, until the time came to make it known, to reveal it to man. That brings up again the meaning of that word, mystery. The original term signified a strategy—and it became a military word in that time. The generals of the armies did not reveal their military strategy to the enemy. The term mystery does not mean something mysterious, …It did not mean something that one could not understand—it meant something one could not know until it was revealed. The general of the army did not reveal the military mystery, the military secret, we would call it, until the time came to execute it (Wallace, Number One Gospel Sermons, 45)
Regardless of whether it is God’s or man’s—a plan is first purposed in the mind. The plan of salvation (mystery) which began in God’s eternal purpose was hidden through the ages, until God revealed it. That mystery, which Paul says was revealed through the “holy apostles and prophets,” is that, “the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ by the gospel” (Eph. 3: 5, 6). He further indicated this in Ephesians 2, contrasting the Ephesians’ former condition as, “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12), with their present condition:
…but now, in Christ Jesus, ye who sometime were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace: and came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. …Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and the household of God (Eph. 2:13-17, 19).
God purposed all spiritual blessings in Christ (Eph. 1:3), and that means in the church, for one cannot be in Christ without being in His church. Paul said those blessings are, salvation (Eph. 1:4), being a child of God (Eph. 1:5), God’s acceptance of us (Eph. 1:6), redemption from sins through Christ’s blood (Eph. 1:7), and an eternal inheritance (Eph. 1:11). God purposed to choose those who are in Christ to partake of these blessings. In His eternal purpose, God determined (predestined) that the eternally saved would be only those in Christ. That is Biblical predestination, which has no connection to that set forth by John Calvin. Divesting man of free will and perverting the Biblical concept of grace with its twisted theories of predestination and election, Calvin’s theology renders man a mindless entity in the hands of a sadistic God.
Calvinistic election is attributed to God’s arbitrary predestination of individuals. While the Bible teaches the children of God are the elect (1 Pet. 2:9), it speaks of a class of persons, not individuals. Calvinism says the elect are those who were individually selected to salvation (“a certain number”) and the non-elect are those eternally condemned individuals, both of whom were predestined to those ends before the world began. Predestination and election are Biblical terms, but Calvin perverted them in formulating his doctrine. According to Calvin, electing individuals to salvation, before the world began, God thereby predestined certain persons to salvation and others to damnation.
Holding that God’s grace is only for the elect, Calvinism says certain individuals were arbitrarily chosen as recipients of it. Biblical predestination is concerned not with individuals, but the locus of salvation for election of a certain class of persons. That’s the thrust of Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 1:3-11.
As God predestined creatures with gills to life in water, so those in Christ were predestined to eternal life in Him. God does not choose individuals to enter Christ, but says that all who do are classified as His elect. A creature of free will, man chooses to obey or disobey God and when he chooses God, he is thereby elected to salvation in Christ Jesus. God’s elect is constituted of all who elect to enter Christ through obedience to the gospel, (Rom. 6:3-6) (Brewer, p. 3).
Those who choose God are then His chosen people, but He chooses only those in Christ, and the only way to be His chosen people is to enter into Christ through baptism (Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27). Since the church is the fullness of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23), it is impossible to be in Christ without being in His church.
Thus, the church, which God purposed from eternity, promised to the Patriarchs, foretold through His prophets, prepared by John and Jesus, and established in Acts 2, is the locus of salvation and is His divine scheme of redemption. The “kingdom,” “the church,” “the body of Christ,” the “one new man” are all terms applied to the same institution (Matt. 16:13-19; Eph. 1:22-23; Eph. 2:15) and all refer to God’s eternal purpose.
In Ephesians 1:9 the apostle called this plan the mystery of his will, and in chapter 6:19 he called it the mystery of godliness—referring to the scheme of redemption. There are not less than fifteen passages in the New Testament where this word mystery refers to the gospel plan of salvation. Now, with that word mystery in your mind, we return to our text in the last verse of Ephesians 5 where Paul said, “This is a great mystery. but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” It means that this is the great plan God has revealed concerning Christ and the church. I once said that the church is a part of God’s plan of salvation—I do not put it that way now—I put it this way: The church is God’s plan of salvation. Everything connected with salvation is encompassed within the divine institution of the church, for which Jesus died, for which he shed his blood, and by which he purchased our salvation with his blood. The church encompasses and encircles everything that is connected with the salvation of man. The church is the divine plan (Wallace, ibid., p. 47).
One cannot be in Christ without being in his church and one who is in the church is in Christ. It is instrument of salvation for which Christ was the lamb foreordained to be slain before the foundation of the world (1 Pet. 1:18-19), and within the kingdom are all the spiritual blessings of heaven, (Eph. 1:3). It was purposed from eternity and is destined for eternity.
1. Wallace, Foy E., Jr., The Certified Gospel, Oklahoma City, OK, 1951, Foy E. Wallace, Jr. Publications.
2. Wallace, Foy E., Jr., Number One Gospel Sermons, Nashville, TN, 1967, Foy E. Wallace, Jr. Publications.
3. Brewer, Jerry C., The Kingdom Of God, El Reno, OK, 1969, Brewer Publications.
Editor’s Note: This article is from The Church, Bellview church of Christ Lectureship, 2018, pp. 1-4, Ed. Michael Hatcher.