WHEN WE TAKE UP Paul's epistle to the Ephesians and
read in verse three of chapter one, that "God blesses us with every
spiritual blessing among the celestials in Christ," we realize that we
have come a long way from the message proclaimed by John the Baptist, our
Lord, and those commissioned by Him after His resurrection.
The accompanying chart has been drawn up for the purpose of helping God's
saints to see how He was unfolding His purpose relating to the celestials
during the transitional period, covered by the book of Acts.
Much of the darkness that exists among God's people today is due to the
religious background, that the vast majority of us have been educated in.
If all believers from Abel down had been in heaven for years before Paul
penned this epistle, what is new or novel about being blessed among the
celestials? It is only when we see the scriptural background to this
revelation, that we will be able to grasp and appreciate the grace as set
forth in this marvelous epistle. The celestials are not the abode of human
beings. Man is not fitted for that realm, and until Paul comes upon the
scene and begins to make known the secrets revealed to him, all
expectation, all destiny, whether for Israel or the nations, was confined
to the earth. Blessing was from heaven, but not in it.
As we open our so-called New Testament and begin to read the different
accounts, commonly called "Gospels," we are introduced to John the
Baptist, who as the forerunner of our Lord came to Israel with a message
of repentance in order to prepare them for the One Who was coming after
him. The day of Israel's long-awaited deliverance was now at hand. The One
in Whom the patriarchal promises were to be confirmed was about to appear.
How will they receive Him? We today know the answer to that question, but
at that time God's further dealings with the chosen nation depended upon
it. When we turn to Mark's account, chapter one, verse fourteen, we find
that after the giving up of John, Jesus came into Galilee, heralding the
evangel of the kingdom of God, saying, "Fulfilled is the era, and near is
the kingdom of God! Repent and believe in the evangel."
Fulfilled is the era. This is the era that Daniel had been told about by
God's messenger, the man Gabriel, as we see in chapter nine of his
prophecy, while he was still a captive, away from his native land.
Daniel and his people had been in Babylon as captives for well-nigh
seventy years, because of their failure to let their land keep its
sabbaths, for four hundred and ninety years, and as that period had just
about expired, Daniel was looking forward to the day when once again he
would sing Zion's songs in Zion. While it was true that Judah did return
to their land later, yet that long-looked-for day, when Messiah would sit
upon His throne, had been put away into the future, and instead of the
kingdom coming at the close of their seventy years of captivity, it would
take seventy sevens, or another period of four hundred and ninety years.
As we read that prophecy of Daniel nine carefully, we notice that Messiah
would come before the end of those seventy sevens of years, in other
words, after the sixty-ninth seven, He would appear, and be cut off, and
Here we have the key to Mark one, verse fifteen, "Fulfilled is the era."
Messiah is now on the scene heralding to Israel this evangel of the
nearness of the kingdom. We have only to read on in these four accounts of
our Lord's ministry to see what answer Israel, in her calloused condition
of heart, gave to His gracious invitation, "Hither to Me all who are
toiling and laden, and I will be giving you rest." If any people were in
need of rest at that time (and even yet), it was God's chosen nation. They
were toiling, they were laden, but didn't know it, and instead of opening
their hearts to the One Who alone could have taken their load and given
them rest, they spurned His offer until He had to denounce them as a
progeny of vipers. After that He cautions His disciples not to say that He
is the Messiah. The door was closed.
It is at this development that we find our Lord telling His followers for
the first time that He must be suffering at the hands of the leaders of
the nation, the elders, the chief priests and scribes. These leaders
refused to enter the door into the kingdom, which He had opened by His
call to repentance, and also sought to hinder those who would. What will
He do now? He closes and locks the door, and before another opportunity
will be given Israel to enter the kingdom, He must go to the cross.
In spite of all the bitterness and callousness of heart that Israel showed
toward Him, we find God in His mercy shedding a ray of light on this sad
and deplorable scene.
Peter had just confessed, in answer to the question asked by our Lord,
that He was the Messiah, Son of the Living God, and in return, Jesus told
him that this was the foundation upon which He would build His future
ecclesia, and that He would give him the keys of the kingdom of the
As we close the so-called gospels, and see our Lord once more alive in
resurrection, we open the book of Acts, and find Him among His disciples
once again. The question uppermost in their minds at this time is still
the kingdom. Is it going to be restored now, seeing that Peter had been
given authority to once again throw open its door to Israel? His answer to
their question is neither yes nor no. It is simply, "Not yours is it to
know." They must wait to see how the rulers will treat those whom He is
about to send, as they a second time herald the kingdom as near.
Then once again, in the early chapters of Acts, we find the door into
the kingdom thrown open to Israel, and the evangel is proclaimed in the
power of the holy spirit, accompanied by gifts, which were the powerful
deeds of that impending eon (Heb.6:5). How will Israel respond to His
call out of the heavens (Heb.12:25)? We don't get far in that book before
we discover that Israel's heart has not softened toward God and His Son.
Thousands of the rank and file accept the message, but the rulers are as
bitter as ever, and again their cry is, "We will not have this Man to rule
over us." Away with Him, away with Him. Let Him be crucified (afresh
As we trace this kingdom message through the book of Acts, we find the
powers of the impending eon at work, both in blessing and cursing, but
when we reach chapter nine, something startling meets our gaze. The rulers
at Jerusalem have employed one man, Saul by name, to stamp out of the land
this heresy, that is beginning to gain ground among the common people.
They give him authority, as he is a fit man for the job. And off he goes
on this errand of murder.
He is on his way to Damascus to bring to trial those who have renounced
the faith of their fathers. But suddenly, at mid-day, there is a light,
above the brightness of the sun, and this ringleader of that murderous
gang is struck to the earth, blind. Then he hears a voice. He has never
beard this voice before, and he asks, "Who art Thou, Lord?" "I am Jesus
Whom you are persecuting."
Yes, he had heard of that One. But that was in Jerusalem, and now He
speaks from heaven! Has God forgotten Himself, has he forgotten the
sufferings of His Son at the hands of such as this man Saul? Is He not
going to strike him dead, seeing he has committed sin worthy of death?
Saul no doubt had heard of the judgment that had fallen on a man and his
wife just a short time previous, for having lied about the offering they
made to further the kingdom. Such could not enjoy an allotment in this
kingdom. And is this man, the foremost of sinners, to go free?
Here is Messiah's worst enemy. How is He going to treat him? Listen to His
words of grace. "He is My chosen vessel." Such grace had never been heard
of before. No man who meets his enemy will let him go free (1 Sam.24:19).
But God is no man, and in Saul of Tarsus He finds a pattern of those He is
about to deal with, not on kingdom grounds, but on the ground of grace.
On that Damascus road Saul got a glimpse of the glory of Christ, of which
he was to be the herald in later years. Messiah does not wait for the
tardy kingdom in order to get glory. God had already crowned Him with
celestial honors, and only those whose apprehensions have been blinded by
the god of this eon, fail to revel in this evangel. This man would not
make a proper representative of the kingdom. He is too bad, just as
Barnabas was too good to show forth this grace lavished on Saul.
God is about to begin to work differently in and through this chosen
vessel, and we next see him, in Acts thirteen, severed from the other
teachers by the holy spirit, and, along with Barnabas, sent on a
missionary journey. This mission occupies chapters thirteen and fourteen
of the Acts, and here again we find God at work, not in accord with
kingdom principles, but on the ground of grace. It was shown this time to
those of the nations, rather than to the sons of Israel.
In the early chapters of Acts we saw how God had once more opened the
door of the kingdom to Israel, through Peter to whom Messiah had given
the keys, but now we hear of God having opened another door for the
nations through this chosen vessel, Paul.
At this point we might well ask the question, Had not that door of faith
been open for the nations all along? Had not Peter preached faith to
Cornelius? Did not the Ethiopian believe the evangel of Jesus that Philip
preached? Surely they did. Then what is so startling about the nations
believing through Paul, that he has to make mention of it on his return to
Antioch? If we carefully compare what Peter declared to Cornelius, with
Paul's sermon at Antioch in Pisidia, we will find a hint (which is
lacking in Peter's message to Cornelius) of the subject that he later
develops in his Roman letter, when he speaks to, and about the nations
regarding their condition before God, as righteous and as justified.
Both sermons mention the pardon of sins, but we can gather from the hint,
in Acts 13:39, that Paul had something for the nations, apart from the
kingdom. For this ministry he was chosen, and as an enemy of God and His
Son. He was a pattern of those who enjoy reconciliation with God.
So now we have two open doors in Acts, and as we trace these through
that book, we will detect that one is beginning to close. The kingdom
expectation is gradually fading out of the picture, Peter passes from view
in chapter twelve, and has a brief word to say in chapter fifteen at the
conference in Jerusalem, and then is gone from that book, to appear again
in the future to open the door to the kingdom through his epistles, when
God once more begins to deal with Israel, to prepare them for their
promised destiny on the earth. When we reach the end of that transitional
period, covered by Acts, we find the door into the kingdom closed, while
the door of faith to the nations, is wide open.
Paul's earlier epistles have been gradually pushing ajar that door of
faith, until Israel is finally out of the picture, their religious
supremacy has gone, and the nations can approach God without having to
come through Israel's mediary. As we read Paul's earlier epistles in their
chronological order, we discover that the world has been conciliated, that
the saints to whom Paul ministered are already in spirit in the new
creation. We skip the kingdom with its earthly expectation. We leave to
Peter and those who believed his evangel of pardon which they will enjoy
on the earth, while we of the nations who have believed, who have peace
with God because of our reconciliation will be among the celestials with
Him Who is our peace, along with those of Israel who have believed Paul's
message in this administration of transcendent grace.
At this point it might be well to say a few words regarding the chart.
During the time covered by the book of Acts, or from the Ministry of Peter
and the twelve until Paul writes his Ephesian epistle, we have a
readjustment from earth to heaven, and from flesh to spirit. The
door that had been opened by John the Baptist and our Lord through their
heralding of the nearness of the kingdom, and later had been closed by
Him, when He told His disciples to say no more that He was the Messiah,
and quoted the sixth of Isaiah, was once more opened by Peter in chapter
two of the book of Acts, to the same people whose standing was in flesh.
They were the Circumcision in flesh and as such had not learned that in
the flesh dwelleth no good thing.
This truth will not be realized by them, nor by the rest of mankind, until
the eons have finished their course. Then and only then will man know
himself, and see how weak the flesh is. As we trace the doings of the
flesh in the book of Acts, we see this great truth demonstrated time and
time again. And as the flesh fades into the background, we see spirit
gradually coming to the forefront in all of Paul's epistles, until we
reach Ephesians, where we have believers of this administration blessed
with every spiritual blessing, and that among the celestials. We are not
only rid of flesh, but we have left the earth for the heavens, where
Peter and those with him will never enter, being destined for a place in
the kingdom on earth. Paul, in his earlier epistles, is leading up to
the point where the flesh is wholly set aside during this present
administration of grace. We have attained in spirit, what will be
literally experienced at the consummations of the eons. We confess that
those who are in the flesh cannot please God, and base no blessing upon it
When we reach the end of Acts, we have Paul quoting from the sixth of
Isaiah, the solemn words which closed the kingdom door once more to
Israel. The only door now open is the door of faith that God had
opened to the nations through Paul in Acts 13 and 14. If a Jew today
desires to come to God, he must come through this door of faith, and not
one iota of work or suffering dare show its face through the portals. It
is of faith that it may accord with grace.
When the present conciliation has been withdrawn, and God begins once more
to deal with Israel as a nation, the flesh will again come to the front,
during the two oncoming eons, but in a lesser degree, than it did in the
past. In the kingdom there will be more and more of spirit, as God imparts
His laws to their comprehension and inscribes them on their hearts. The
door into the kingdom will once again be thrown open, the epistles of
Peter, James, John, Jude and the Unveiling will then become present truth.
In our study of this installment period, covered in time by the book of
Acts, we have seen that the flesh always hinders rather than helps in
mankind's approach to God. In the present administration of grace, the
body of the flesh has been stripped off, in the circumcision of Christ.
(Col.2:11), and all worship or service acceptable to Him must be
motivated by spirit.
As we meditate on the grace, the riches of grace, the glorious
grace, the grace lavished upon us, as set forth in this epistle to the
Ephesians, we bow before Him and worship Him, as we exclaim with that
great defender of grace, Paul, "Not of works, lest anyone should be