The book of Ephesians has been esteemed by scholars as the “Switzerland or Alps of the New Testament,” “the crown and climax of Pauline theology,” and “one of the divinest compositions of men.” Within the history of Christianity, only the Psalms, the Gospel of John, and Romans have been so instrumental in shaping the life and thought of Christians, but all three of these works are much longer than the few pages of this letter. The explanation of the gospel and of life with Christ provided here is powerful and profound.
POWER & IDENTITY
It helps to understand the audience that Paul was writing to and the context and background of Ephesus. Paul was writing primarily to Gentile Christians, who have been converted from pagan religions and heretical philosophies. Ephesus was heavily defined and influenced in its daily life by the occult, including belief in magic, incantations, and spirit powers, particularly as these proceeded from an animalistic worldview. This view held humans and animals to be quite connected on earth and in the world of the gods. Ephesus was also the temple guardian of Artemis, or in Latin, Diana, the Greek goddess of the moon, protector of nature and animals, the goddess of fertility. Statues of Artemis, depicted with multiple breasts, were housed in temples, the most famous being the temple in Ephesus, which was one of the “seven wonders of the world.” The influence and power of Artemis, along with the over-arching polytheism (belief in many gods), gave foundation to the pluralism of the Ephesians and of the entire Greco-Roman society. It should be noted that in Acts 19, those rioting in Ephesus against the Christians shouted repeatedly, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” This certainly seems to have been a public claim to the superiority of Artemis over other “gods.”
In our modern context, think “Disneyland” with religious, cultish intensity. A vacationer to Ephesus would very likely carry away a collection of souvenirs, such as small (or larger) statue of the goddess, made and sold in Ephesus. As you can imagine, Ephesus is steeped in spirituality and pagan worship. It is against this religious and spiritual backdrop that Paul now declares to the former pagan worshipers and now converted Gentile Christians, their new identity in Christ.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, (1:3)
Paul prays for them that they would know,
“...the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church…” (1:19-22)
He goes on to exclaim the believers’ new found position in Christ…
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus… (2:4-6)
An Emphasis on Christ’s Exaltation Rather Than His Death
Christ is portrayed in numerous ways as superior to ‘all things’. In particular, his resurrection, exaltation, and cosmic lordship are emphatically underscored. By contrast, it can be seen that Paul’s stress on Jesus’ death and his theology of the cross have receded into the background. Not that his death is no longer important. It’s like an upgrade. It’s a built on the last edition. The cross is mentioned only at 2:16, while the death of Christ is touched upon only in traditional formulations such as 1:7; 5:2, 25. The believer’s relationship to Christ is spoken of in terms of his or her being raised and seated with Christ (2:5, 6), not with reference to their dying with him.
The prominence given to Christ’s exaltation is central to Paul's intention of bringing home to his readers the significance of Christ’s lordship over the spirit-powers. The relationship of Christ to these principalities appears to have been a live issue for the Christian readers of this letter. They were living in a sociocultural context where such powers were acknowledged and feared. Through Christ’s resurrection and exaltation all his enemies have been decisively conquered (1:20, 21); God has now placed them under his feet (v. 22), and this has profound ramifications for the recipients of the letter. His supremacy over the principalities was good news indeed, for they needed no longer to fear them; instead, they were to appropriate the power of God as they engaged in their daily spiritual warfare (6:10–20)!
The Heavenly Realms
ἐπουράνιος (epouranios) : adjective heavenly, referring to the impact of heaven's influence on a particular situation or person.
The blessings that Paul told the readers God has blessed them with, are enjoyed in the heavenly realms. This expression, which is exclusive to Ephesians (1:3, 20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12), is used consistently in a local sense. It is not describing some celestial topography, for the sense conveyed by the local imagery is metaphorical rather than literal. Often we think of heaven as a place. But physical space isn't the appropriate category here. The "heavenly realms," as Paul speaks about them in Ephesians, refer to a spiritual realm and reality where spirit beings -- God, angels, demons -- and we humans exist, and which evil forces still seek to attack. It includes all of the believer’s relation to God and the church’s experience. It is a way of saying that this world is not the only reality. A larger reality exists where Christ is already exalted as Lord, where believers participate in his victory, and where spiritual forces are opposed. Though believers live physically on this earth, they receive spiritual resources and their identity from a higher plane. The spiritual blessings given to Christians are enjoyed in the present life, for they derive from what God has done in Christ in the heavenlies. We are strongly influenced by the spiritual realm whether we are aware of it or not (2:1-3). Paul is deliberately relating the term "heavenly realms," a word used by pagan religions of his time. He does this purposely in order to communicate to his Gentile readers that Christ is supreme over any kind of spirit being that their former mystery religions might point to.
Let’s have a look at Ephesians 2:6, because I want you to see a startling statement in conjunction with what we have just learned about "heavenly realms."
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus... (2:6)
If we are seated with Christ in the spiritual authority hierarchy, that means that we, too, are seated far above all spiritual powers. If demons and evil spirits are "under his feet" then they are under our feet, too! Grasping your spiritual place and your spiritual authority are vital to both your Christian maturity and your spiritual warfare. For our battle against the spiritual forces of evil (6:12) is not from a position of weakness, but of strength; not from a place of inferiority, but of superiority!
One night as I was preparing to go to bed, the Holy Spirit said to me, “You live on a higher plane.” And almost immediately, I felt like I was taken to an elevated plane and I began to see and operate in a level of authority that was profoundly unusual. I saw in the spirit that demonic forces were under me and I began to declare and decree things in the spirit. In an elevated position of authority with my finger pointing, I began to decree finances being released on the earth, sicknesses to disappear, and demonic forces to bow down to the name of Jesus. I cannot fully describe to you how quickly and fearfully these demonic forces began to scatter and bow to the decrees. Something dramatic and deeply supernatural took place in the heavenly places.
The following Sunday morning after teaching on Ephesians, two ladies walked up to me after class and requested for prayer. The first lady asked me to pray for her work situation. I prayed and then proceeded to pray for the second lady, Zsusi, while the first lady stood by and tuned in to the prayer. Later in the day, Zsusi messaged me and began to share with me the following testimony,
“I received a $1200 check towards my mission trip by a precious lady I had just met this morning! It felt like God orchestrated the whole thing as it happened. Yesterday I was hanging out with a very good friend of mine talking about missions & fundraising. She randomly suggested that I go to Cornelius Quek's teaching class at Bethel Church tomorrow and ask for prayer to receive financial breakthrough for my mission trip. Cornelius has amazing stories & breakthrough in this area. So I did. I went to Cornelius's class & waited to be prayed for at the end. As I was waiting, there was this precious lady before me who was wanting prayers too. We started chatting. When Cornelius prayed for my finances she stood next to me & she felt God impressed on her heart to give me the $1200 that I was desperately needing to stay on my mission team. The crazy part is that she isn't even from Redding or Bethel! She had just come for Cornelius's class! You can call it coincidence I call it divine appointment! God touched her heart through Cornelius's prayer & then the rest is history! Thank you God for being so amazing, faithful, genius & caring! To you God belongs all the praise!”
In a mysterious and divine way, I knew in my spirit it had something to do with my experience in the heavenly places where I began to decree a release of finances unto the earth. I’m not advocating a “sure-fire, get rich” gospel with a quick incantation of magical words or decrees. This is not magic. I’m not talking about a genie-in-a-bottle, self-indulgent gospel.
What I am advocating, enlightening, and emphasizing is our authority in Christ as a result of our elevated position with Him in the heavenly places.
Paul was exhorting the Gentile Christians who used to be in bondage to cosmic spiritual powers that because of who they are in Christ and what Christ has done, they now are seated with Christ in the heavenly places, and the enemies and demonic strongholds are under their feet! The same applies for us today! Every demonic stronghold or bondage that is holding you captive will have to bow to the name of Jesus! Fear, poverty, sickness, disease, depression, suicidal thoughts, unusual, unexplainable emotional stress, anxiety and panic attacks, family discord and division, intense, abnormal relationship and marital stress...they have to bow to the name of Jesus! Stomp them under your feet! You are on a higher plane and you live on a higher plane! Nothing traumatizes the devil and his armies more than a believer who knows what Christ has done for them, who they are in Christ, and the authority that they have in Christ! Identity and power!
As believers filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, we do not operate from an earthly vantage point, but a higher one. We do not battle for victory, but from victory. Release the authority and power of God over your life, circumstances and needs today! Speak down to your circumstances and decree that they line up with God’s will. You live on a higher plane!
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus... (2:6)
Victorious in Him,