During last week’s sermon, I made reference to Ephesians 2:6 and Paul’s statement about how we have been raised up with Jesus in the heavenly realm, and how I didn’t quite understand what that meant for us as Christians. It seems like an important verse in the passage, and so I decided to a bit more research to see if I could make some more sense of what Paul was saying. I’m glad I did because understanding who we are in Jesus will inform how we live out our roles as members of the body of Christ in the world.
Remembering New Life in Christ
In this passage, Paul is reminding his readers about the new reality we live in having put our faith in Jesus. He is using a customary way of speaking for his day by is building his case for his readers about how they ought to live, by basing it on the already established understanding of reality.1 In other words, because this is true for us as Christians, then we ought to be living accordingly.
So what is Paul reminding his audience? That when we put our faith in Jesus, when we believe that that crucified Jesus is the risen Lord, that we share in the resurrection and therefore experience new life instead of death. In some real sense we have been moved from our old way of existing to a new way of existing that is connected to the fact that Jesus himself has been resurrected and is the first person of the new age.2
That alone ought to be worth considering for a moment.
Raised up and seated
When we put our faith in Jesus, when we declare our belief that he is actually Lord of all that is, we cease to be the old person we used to be, and instead become a person who has a brand new life. Somehow, we have participated in Jesus’ death and resurrection and therefore we are the beginning of God’s work to make all things new in the world.
The head-scratcher in verse six, however, comes in Paul’s statement that we have been raised up with Jesus and seated with him in the heavenly realms. We often thing about being in heaven with God some day, after we die, or experiencing God’s new heaven and earth when Jesus returns, but for now we are living in this world, and the glorious presence of God’s throne room can seem far off in the day to day grind of life. This is as true for Paul as any of us, given the trials and difficulties he often faced during his ministry. So what is Paul trying to say?
The key comes from understanding how Paul views the cosmos and recognizing that we often screen these things out of our own lives. For Paul there are many powers and authorities, both in the spiritual realm and the earthly realm, who claim lordship for themselves rather than ascribing lordship to Jesus, the one true Lord. These rulers, powers, and authorities undermine Christ’s own authority, and chief among them is Satan himself. For Paul, especially the forces in the spiritual realm, are acting in ways that effect and destroy God’s creation every day, and impact human life.3
The amazing reality is that for the Christian, we are not only given a share in the resurrected life to come while being left to muck around in this world as best we can. What Paul wants his readers to get is the Jesus has been victorious over all the powers of the world who seek to rebel against God, including the great Enemy himself, and that when we share in his resurrected life, we share in this victory. We can live holy lives today because Jesus is Lord and we are a part of his kingdom now!
For the Christian then, Paul wants us to know that “the devil made me do it” is no longer a reasonable defense for our actions. We have been raised with Jesus to a place of authority over these evil powers, and by the power of the Spirit who raised us we are no longer held under the enemy’s sway.
This will be an important thing to remember as we go forward in Ephesians and as we look to be the church God has called us to be. There are many powers and authorities in the world who will scoff and mock our attempts to proclaim that Jesus is Lord in word and deed, and when those challenges arise it will be important for us to not only remember that we are new people in Jesus, but that being new people in Jesus means that we don’t have to listen to those old, dead voices anymore. Not only that, but we have the task before us to invite people to know that they needn’t listen to these voices either, but instead can listen for the call of the one created them, who loves them, and who seeks to redeem them by the power of the Spirit at work in Christ Jesus our Lord.
1. [Ben Witherington III, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians : A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), 250.]↩
2. [Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 171.]↩
3. [Witherington III, 253.), 171.]↩