Last week, we wrapped up Chapter 2 of Ephesians. Paul continued to stress to the new believers in Asia Minor and to us that the difference for us as Gentiles is dramatic, before Jesus and after accepting Jesus. We also looked at the issue of whether or not the new believers had to also become Jews and obviously concluded, like Peter, Paul and the other early leaders, the answer is no.
Paul then used the analogy of a cornerstone -- that Jesus is the cornerstone of the Church which is a living structure built with Jesus as the foundation. And he said the Church is growing into a Holy Temple of the Lord. By the Greek word that Paul used, we found that he meant the inner Temple, where God and man meet. Paul said that we as believers were being built into a dwelling place for God.
Today's Lesson: The Mystery Revealed
Today we began Chapter 3 of Ephesians. This is a very famous chapter because it is the chapter where Paul explains the great Mystery. This great Mystery by definition does not appear in the Old Testament. Almost everything you can think of in the New Testament has its roots in the Old Testament. I have quoted that the
But this Mystery is one of those things that is very beneficial for us to be sensitive to. In this chapter, Paul emphasizes a mystery.
Here Paul begins a statement, but then inserts verses 2 through 14 which is a parentheses, and then he continues his statement. It's almost as if Paul gets distracted by a side issue which he brings up and puts out of the way before he continues with his primary thought. In this parentheses he digresses to discuss this mystery.
There are many people who consider this parentheses in his thought to actually be a parentheses in history -- sort of a parentheses in God's plan. Some people call this a "dispensational parentheses". This dispensational parentheses that Paul is dealing with of course is the dispensation of the Church.
Other gaps in Scripture:
It is interesting, as we study the Bible we discover that all through the Bible there are apparent gaps in the text. One of the best-known gaps that we have talked about before is in Isaiah 61:1-2:
Jesus opened his ministry in Luke 4 by reading most of Isaiah 61:1-2 in the Synagogue in Nazareth. But we notice where he stops in Luke 4 and closes the book:
He says to the audience "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing," and goes on.
Note what he did not say, what he intentionally did not include in his quote from Isaiah 61:1-2. The part that he did not read was "and the day of vengeance of our God". It is interesting that Jesus claimed the first part of those verses as his mandate for his ministry but he paused at the comma. The "day of vengeance on our Lord" is still in the future. That alludes to the events that will occur at his second coming. So the gap between the first and last part of Isaiah 61:2 were apparent to Jesus, and he had fulfilled the first part, but not yet the second part as he spoke to them in Nazareth. That in effect involved a parentheses that has now lasted almost 2000 years. It's interesting that you can find a number of places in the text of the Old and New Testament where there are gaps.
Another example is the famous 70 weeks of Daniel. The last four verses of Daniel Chapter 9 are the most fundamental foundations for any serious study of prophecy. Jesus himself pointed to that. When four disciples came to him for a confidential briefing on the second coming; in what we call the Olivet Discourse, he pointed them to Daniel 9. In the last four verses it speaks of 70 weeks of years reckoned or determined on the nation Israel. The first 69 of those have been fulfilled very literally to the day. The last week of years, the so-called 70th week of years in Daniel, is yet to come. Between the close of the 69 weeks of Daniel and the beginning of the 70th week of Daniel, there is an entire verse of Daniel that mentioned things that happen after the 69th week but before the 70th week begins; namely the execution of the Messiah and the destruction of the Temple. Those are in verse 26 of Daniel Chapter 9.
Let's take a look at this gap.
Daniel says that the Jewish people have been decreed 70 weeks. We won't try to justify it here, but most Bible scholars agree that this is 70 weeks of years or 70 groups of 7 years or 490 years.
So from the decree to rebuild the Temple, the "Jewish Dispensation" will be 490 years.
He then tells them that after the first 7 + 62 = 69 weeks of years, or 69 sevens of years which is 483 years, the Messiah will arrive. He says that by then the Temple will be rebuilt. But out of the 490 years, he has only accounted for 483 years.
The following verse, Daniel 9:26, then interrupts the description of the 490 years, and tells us things that will happen before the last 7 years. There is an implied gap while this happens.
So after the 7 + 62 "weeks" the Messiah will be killed and the Temple will be destroyed.
They occur after the end of the 69th week but before the 70th week. So we know that there are at least 38 years between those two periods. It was 38 years between the crucifixion of Jesus and the destruction of the Temple. So for both to have happened, the gap was at least 38 years. But of course we now realize that the gap is now up to nearly 2000 years.
Then Daniel continued with the 70 "week"
The gap or parenthesis between the 69th week and 70th week, is like the other gaps in the Scripture. Evident if you look for it, but easy to miss. It is a gap like this that Paul is dealing with in our verses in Ephesians today.
This is the parentheses or interval that is filled with what we call the Church or the Church Age, sometimes misnamed the age of grace. Misnamed because all of God's time has been a major grace, from the beginning to the end. But the point is that the Church Age is Paul's parenthesis, or gap.
There are a total of 24 of these identified gaps in the Bible. For those of you who have studied the book of Revelation and are familiar with the issues surrounding the 24 elders, there are many who believe that those 24 elders represent the Church and that there is a relationship between the 24 gaps in the Bible and the Church being represented as the 24 elders in Revelation. I don't have the background or intuition to know whether I agree or not, I don't even understand the arguments for and against it. But if you care to research that, there are texts that make that point and its meanings.
Now it's interesting that as Paul opens the letter, what may have triggered this digression in his mind is that in fact he is a prisoner. He starts by saying "I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ..." He is under house arrest in a house that he was allowed to rent, but he is apparently guarded by a Praetorian guard, a fact which is going to be important when he gets to Chapter 6. But the fact is that he is a prisoner because of his unique message. Not all of the Apostles were committed to this particular message. Remember that when he had the passion in the book of Acts to go back to Jerusalem, he was warned not to but he did it anyway. And as he was on the steps there in Jerusalem, he spoke to the Roman authority in Greek which startled the Roman authority, but then he gave his speech to the audience in Hebrew. And he was doing fine until he got to this issue of salvation for the Gentiles which caused a riot and the guards had to extricate him from all of that, which was covered in Acts 22, if you want to look into that. But it was his remarks about the salvation of the Gentiles that caused the riot.
You have to remember that Paul was indeed a leader of Jewish orthodoxy when Christ saved him. Up until the event on the Damascus Road, Paul was not just a Jew, but he was a leader of the Jews. He was a Pharisee who had been taught by Gamaliel and he was one of the most vigorous opponents of the Church in its early formation, until Jesus saved him. But then of course from that time on he courageously defended the unity of the Church, but specifically, his mission was to the Gentiles. The ministry to the Gentiles was announced through Peter in Acts 10 with the vision of the sheet and the animals and so forth having to do with Cornelius. But it was Paul's assignment to carry that to the world.
Just to set the stage and to get you thinking, let's read through Paul's parenthesis. I do not want to get started into it this morning and have to break, but I want you to start thinking.
Then he picks up the main thought he started in verse 1, and gets back on track.
In the next lesson, we will dive into Paul's parenthesis.