Declaring the Greatness of Jesus (Ephesians 1:20-23)
(For accuracy of this transcript, please refer to the audio file)
Go into any history museum, and you’ll likely see several statues of important people from the past. You take a tour of an ancient city, you’ll see the ruins of some buildings and monuments and towers that were all constructed in honor of famous individuals. Archaeologists recently have been uncovering this ancient sixth century church that’s found in the land of Israel. And as they’ve been uncovering that they discovered on inscription carved into the stone which reads, dedicated to a glorious martyr. There had been a Christian man who had died for his faith, and this building was constructed in his name. And here we are, 1500 years later, and there’s something still declaring the greatness of that man.
Well, what about Jesus? Do we have any monuments? Do you have any statues? Do we have any towers telling us how great he was? Many have sought for such things both historically as well as in fictional accounts. Searching for artifacts like the Holy Grail. Several years ago, was found the Shroud of Turin, which some have said was the actual burial cloth that laid on top of Jesus’s body. If you were to take a tour of the Holy Land your tour guide would take you to Bethlehem, and they’d show you a sight that claims to be where Jesus was born. Later, the tour guide would take you back to Jerusalem and you’d see a hill that might be called Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified. And later they’ll take you to a tomb that possibly could be where Jesus’s body was laid. And yet we can’t prove any of these sites for certain.
You see, Jesus and first century Christians weren’t too concerned with preserving artifacts. It wasn’t important to the first Christians that they save let’s say pieces of the wooden cross upon which Jesus was crucified or that they hold on to other holy relics. The New Testament never gave importance to these sort of remembrances. So if we don’t have statues, if we don’t have monuments, if we don’t have towers, what today does declare the greatness of Jesus? We turn to the word of God, the book of Ephesians, Chapter one to find an answer for this. The second half of Ephesians Chapter one is a prayer. We began looking at this prayer last week when we studied verses 15 through 19 and saw that this prayer by the Apostle Paul is written that our spiritual eyes will be opened. And the prayer we looked at last week ended with this request that our eyes would be opened so that we would know the power that is at work within us. I’m going to read verses 15 through 19 again for us so we can remember what this prayer was. But as I remember read that prayer, notice then how the end of last week’s prayer leads right into the declaration of the greatness of Jesus in verses 20-23 this morning. Hear the word of God Ephesians 1: 19-23.
So there’s a power that’s at work in the church. There’s a power that’s at work in each of our lives as believers. And the prayer here in Ephesians is that our eyes will be opened. That we know this and to help our eyes to be opened. The last half of this prayer draws our attention to several ways that God, in his actions, has shown the power and the greatness of Jesus. I underlined four words. Maybe you noticed them the four ways that God declares the greatness of Jesus in our passage.
First of all we see the greatness of Jesus in the victory of his resurrection. Picking up from last week’s verse 19 according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead. If you will just briefly skim through the Book of Acts. Acts is the fifth book in the New Testament that tells us what happened after Jesus went back into heaven. If you just skim the book of Acts, you’ll notice that virtually every one of the sermons and there are many in the book, every one of the sermons the disciples preached has a focus on the resurrection of Jesus. He has risen, they kept saying. Believe the good news. Christ has conquered death they kept saying, for these apostles had seen him. Multiple times they had seen Jesus. And after seeing the Risen Lord, their lives were transformed. Because you remember what they were like at the crucifixion. Remember what disciples were like when Jesus was arrested; fearful, cowardly, weak. But then the resurrection changed everything. The resurrection proved that Jesus was who he said he was. That he really was the Son of God. The resurrection verified the message Jesus had spoken. That there can be salvation to all who would repent and believe it was true. The empty tomb declared it. We’re going to look at several verses in Acts 2 which is the very first sermon that Peter preached after Jesus went back into heaven. Notice this verse Acts 2: 24 God raised Jesus up losing the pangs of death because it was not possible for him to be held by it. There is no greater power than the power, the ability to defeat death. And would we hear this morning once again we saw this last week. Would we hear again today that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, this same power is at work in the lives of Christ’s people for all who are in Jesus. Meaning there’s victory that’s already been won for us over our struggles with sin, over our weaknesses. The tomb is empty. With our eyes, see God says. Look, at the greatness of Jesus. Look at the victory of his resurrection.
There’s a second way. God says, I’m not going to give you monuments. I’m not going to leave you statues and instead said, Look at what I’ve done. In my power I’ve raised Jesus from the dead. Here’s a second example of God’s work. Of the way he has declared the greatness of Jesus. It’s in the glory of Christ’s ascension. Verse 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places We read in the Gospels as well as Acts chapter one, that after Jesus’s resurrection for 40 days he was alive here on the earth and he was appearing to his disciples. And he was giving evidence that he had risen from the grave and he was giving additional teaching. Well, after 40 days after his last message to the disciples, we read in Acts 1:9-11 when Jesus had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold two men stood by them in white robes and said, Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.
How many of you come from a Christian tradition? A denomination where your church celebrates Ascension Sunday? And if you come from a church tradition where that’s been on your calendar, just like we celebrate Easter and Christmas? Many church traditions remember a specific Sunday Ascension Day. And it’s a really good tradition. We, as evangelicals don’t understand enough the significance of Christ’s ascension back into heaven. There is important theology that’s central to the gospel when Jesus went back up into heaven. The ascension was the completion of what the resurrection had declared. The resurrection declared that Jesus was victor. He had victory over sin and death and Satan. But until Jesus returns to his place of glory, that victory was incomplete.
Do you remember the day before Jesus was crucified? John’s gospel gives us a whole chapter. That was a prayer. Jesus, talking to the father the day before crucifixion and one of the things he prayed in John 17:5 And now Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. So Jesus, as the eternal Son of God, was not created at Christmas when he came to earth. He has always existed in full glory with the Father. And yet what humility. He gave up the glories of heaven. He humbled himself and became a human and much worse than that suffering and dying as a human. But at the ascension there was a return to his majesty. There was a return to his glory. There was a return to the honor that was due to him and yet even more so because now, upon his return, there’s even more glory because of what he accomplished when he was here on earth. He accomplished the father’s will.
Back in Peter’s sermon Acts 2:36. Let all the House of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him Lord and Christ this Jesus whom you crucified. The resurrection, the ascension was God’s way of declaring Jesus is King. See, while the entire universe has always been underneath the authority of God, the work of Jesus came and freed the universe and freed mankind from the power of sin. And so when Jesus returned to heaven, he was even more highly exalted because of what he’d accomplished. And that’s what we see being emphasized in our passage in verse 20. God seated Christ at his right hand in the heavenly places. The ascension, we can say, led to the coronation ceremony for Jesus as he seated at the right hand of the father.
Now, as we read that and we try to imagine the father on a throne and the son seated on the right hand of the father, let’s just remind ourselves God is spirit. God is not limited to human form. He’s not material. He’s not limited to a physical body like we as humans are. So as we try to imagine this, we shouldn’t think that God, the father is always in some physical form, sitting on a throne somewhere. That’s not the way God is limited at all. However, this sort of description is given to us to help our understanding that we would see the power and the rule that our God has that Jesus is sharing with him with his father. So when we think of Jesus at the right hand, we are misunderstanding if we think he’s just the assistant. This is like an inferior position. Not at all. It’s the opposite. No one is worthy to be on the stage with God the father except for the Son. Jesus is sharing the throne with the father. And the fact the father says, be seated here on the throne tells us the work of Christ is finished. Jesus doesn’t have to do anything else to accomplish his work. Our eternal life and happiness has been secured.
But of course we have to try to picture this, don’t we? Our physical eyes don’t see this yet. We will one day, but we wish we could see it now. And that’s why probably many of us as religious people are drawn to things like statues, like relics, things we can see and things we can touch. And yet God says no. I’m declaring the greatness of my Son with much greater things than physical objects. I know that’s hard for you. So here’s a prayer I’ll put in my word. Pray that your eyes will be opened. Pray that the spiritual sight to know this power that’s been declared through my Son’s resurrection and through his ascension. And as their eyes are open to this more than anything, this should lead us to praise. This should lead us to trust this Lord who’s on his throne. Especially when we just summarize Scripture and see a few specific ways that Jesus’s ascension and now reigning from the throne affects us.
Let me just mention three brief ones. Because Jesus has ascended, because Jesus is sitting on his throne right now, first of all, that’s why the Holy Spirit is at work in our midst. Acts 2:33 being therefore exalted at the right hand of God and having received from the father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. From his authority on the throne, from his power the Holy Spirit is given and is at work in our lives today.
Secondly, because Jesus has ascended, because Jesus is seated on his throne, Jesus is interceding for us. Remember that word we learned last week? Intercession is when you pray on behalf of someone else. As hard as this is to believe. Jesus from the right hand of the father, prays for his people. Romans 8:34 Christ Jesus is the one who died. More than that, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God. Who indeed is interceding for us. Jesus talks to the father on our behalf. And so we come to the father in Jesus’s name. Because of the cross. Because of the resurrection. Because he’s on the throne. One more, because Jesus is ascended, because he’s seated on his throne, we know that Jesus is returning one day. Jesus was on trial before the religious leaders right before he was crucified. We read Mark 14:61-62. It’s certain that Jesus is coming back because he’s already been crowned the king.
Will our spiritual eyes be opened then. Because if this is true, if Jesus really ascended back into heaven and he is on his throne, if it’s true that he’s interceding for me, it’s true that his spirit has been given to me. If it’s true that he’s coming back, well then that’s so definitely should be leading us to live for what truly matters. Understanding this and resting in this should then lead us to live for God’s purposes. Should then lead us to lose hold of the idols and the distractions which are so easily pulling us away from the calling God has on our lives. And those idols and distractions are different for each one of us in the room today. For some of us the idol, the main distraction from God’s purpose in our life is maybe a financial portfolio. For others of us, it’s video games. For others of us, it’s our career. It’s sports. God open our eyes thst we may we see the power of Christ on his throne. And would it change our hearts and causes to live for your purposes.
Passage goes on to describe further how the greatness of Jesus is seen in his ascension. But I’m going to summarize that with a third point. God also declares the greatness of Jesus in the extent of his dominion. Dominion just means rule or sovereign power. Notice again how it’s described Jesus on his throne. Verse 20, God seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and above every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet. This is the third way God, the father declares the greatness of Jesus. He put everything under Jesus feet.
Now we’ve mentioned this before, but maybe you weren’t here that Sunday. This is a frequent metaphor in Scripture. For from an ancient tradition, when an enemy army was conquered, the enemy captain or king would be brought before the victorious general or king. And he would be forced to bow down before the conqueror. And as a symbol of the conquered’s submissiveness and servitude, the conquering king would raise his foot and place his foot on the head of the defeated one. With Christ’s ascension back to the throne, God has put everything under the foot of Jesus. Notice it says all things in verse 22. No exception to this. The entire universe bows before Jesus as king. Now we don’t fully see that now. We will one day when Jesus returns.
But notice here the rich theological significance of saying the father puts everything underneath Jesus’s feet. And for the significance we actually have to go all the way back to Genesis chapter one. After God has made Adam and Eve, we see that God brings all created things, animals, fishes, birds, plants before Adam and Eve. And God places them all under the authority of mankind. Let me remind you of the verse Genesis 1:26. And so Adam and Eve were God’s representatives. They were meant to have authority. And yet mankind failed as God’s ruler on earth. They didn’t honor him as their Lord. And so in shame they were kicked out of the garden. That’s where human sufferings began. But it’s also where the planet was affected. And ever since this point, our planet started to be infected with disease and drought and pollution and the extinction of species.
But here is the hope of the gospel. The hope of the gospel is that Jesus came as a better Adam. Jesus came as the last Adam. Jesus came and fully honored the father. He obeyed all of God’s laws. Thus Jesus fulfilled the role of ruling. He fulfilled the role of reigning, and in doing so, he rescued mankind from our rebellion against our creator. And so also in Jesus return, we’ll see him making a renewed earth. Where this planet will be rescued from all corruption. Because Jesus now has all dominion. Jesus now has the rule. All things are put under his feet.
And part of the richness of this theology is this was foretold about 1000 years before Jesus even came to earth in a psalm of David. Psalm 110:1 The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool. David is talking to the Lord in capital letters. The first Lord of the verse. And he’s giving reference how the Lord God had told him that one day a greater king than himself would be on the throne. And this greater king is the second lord of the verse. Another title for God. Here we have 1000 years before Jesus came, God foretelling one day his son is going to come. And his son is going to rescue and set mankind in the universe free from our bondage to sin. And afterwards God the father is going to give his son authority over everything. And that’s what we’re reading. In verse Ephesians 1:22 God put all things under Jesus feet. So rich theological significance to verse 22.
But what we also see that the personal relevance of this. For if God has put all things, all things without exception under the feet of Jesus, well then that certainly would include the burdens you brought with you to the worship service this morning. All things under the feet of Jesus would certainly include the concerns you have about your appearance, the concerns you have about your health. The burden you have with your marital status whether that’s single or divorced or unhappily married. Jesus is reigning. He has dominion. He has rule over all of those things. Why don’t we trust him? Why do we stubbornly resist him so often?
You remember the old kid song. At least that some of us sing back in America. He’s got the whole world in his hands. He’s got you and me, brother. He’s got you and me, sister in his hands. God has placed all things under the rule of Christ. God says I’m not going to leave statues or towers or monuments to show the greatness of my Son. Look what I’ve done. Instead, I’ve raised him from the dead. I’ve ascended him back to my right hand. I’ve given him dominion and rule over everything in the universe. Now, look at this passage. We see in verse 22 the extent of his rule in general, we just discussed. But let’s speak more specifically now with verse 21 how this rule extends over every spiritual power. Far above all rule and authority and power and dominion. We have four words here, all piling up upon each other, which is basically saying one thing. Jesus has been placed above every spiritual power; all angels, all demons, any kind of mythical god like being, any other so called deity. Jesus is over all any earthly, any heavenly power. All under his feet both in the present and in verse 21 in the future as well, and his eternal kingdom.
Now consider how relevant this would have been for the first readers. We read of the first audience for this letter. First century ancient city of Ephesus on the western coast of what is today modern Turkey. We read of Paul’s visit to this city in the Book of Acts Chapter 19. And we read reference there that in the city of Ephesus there was a keen interest in thought and people in Ephesus in the surrounding region often thought and taught that spirit beings controlled the destiny of a man or woman or child. And perhaps we see Paul even addressing this directly with the middle phrase in verse 21 when he says that Jesus is above every name that is named. Scholars and archaeologists have discovered ancient books dating back to this time in Ephesus. Scrolls that were magic books. These magic books contain spells that would use divine names, the names of deities, the names of angels, the names of demons. And it was believed that you could manipulate the spirits by invoking their name. You declare the name and the spirit has to do what you want. And yet the text so clearly proclaims, Jesus has power over every name that could ever be known.
And this is a consistent teaching of the New Testament. 1Peter3:22 Jesus Christ has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God with angels, authorities and powers having been subjected to him. Would we hear this today? Some of us come from family backgrounds where there was involvement with maybe voodoo, involvement with witchcraft, setting curses on other people. You have family members still bowing before ancestral spirits. Would we see in God’s word, the power of Christ has defeated and is reigning over any and every spirit being there is. Which means if you’re in Christ, if you’ve been joined to Jesus, then already you have all the power that you need. You don’t need to go to some special healing service. You don’t need to attend a deliverance meeting. You don’t need to go to some powerful prophet or visiting preacher who can lay his hands on you. Christ is seated above every spiritual power and if you are in him, his power has already been given to you. So by faith in him be set free. Maybe you’re bound by fear today. Fear of spirits, fear of the demonic. That was the background of many in ancient Ephesus. And so the word of God declares the greatness of Jesus over all these powers.
And so, brother and sister, would you hear this morning. If Jesus is your lord, there’s no need for charms. There’s no need for astrology. There’s no need to try to contact the dead. When you do any of those activities, you’re dishonoring Jesus. Jesus has already conquered all of those powers. Which means you don’t need the influence of an angel or a spirit to get victory in your life. All you need is Christ. And in Jesus, we already have received every spiritual blessings.
Now, if you don’t know Christ, if you’re not joined to Jesus, then the spiritual realm is dangerous. And we’re going to come back to this in our study of Ephesians, especially when we come to chapter six. But Satan and evil spirits are real. And apart from Christ, a true and living relationship with Jesus, you have no protection from evil spirits. But would you see the greatness and the power of Jesus. For this, we go all the way back to Eden, back to Genesis. After Adam and Eve failed to be the representative that God called them to be in Genesis chapter 3, they were banished from the garden. We see God speaking directly to Satan. Satan who had taken the form of a serpent to tempt Adam. And Satan probably thought he had been victorious there. He got him to fall. Satan probably thought he was victorious when Jesus gave his last breath on the cross. It looked like Satan had won again. And yet, way back at the start of Scripture, Genesis 3:15 we see God give this first prophecy. This first promise of the gospel. He speaks of a coming messiah one day that is the descendant of Adam and Eve. It acknowledges that Satan is going to bruise the heel of this coming leader. But then the prophecy says, this coming leader will crush the head of Satan. And that’s exactly what Jesus did through his resurrection and ascension back to his throne. Satan was defeated. He was dealt a death blow. Colossians 2:15 God disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame by triumphing over them in the cross.
I would urge those of you who don’t know Jesus, turning in fear of spiritual powers, to turn from your fears and trust in the greater power of Christ crucified, risen and reigning from his throne. This passage is declaring for us the greatness of Jesus. God, through his acts, is showing us Jesus’s greatness in his resurrection, in his ascension, in his dominion and one more in his rule over the church. Verse 22, God put all things under Christ feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him, who fills all in all. Now, maybe this fourth act of God is a bit unexpected, right? We’ve just been talking about the other worldly, spiritually realm. Jesus over demons dominion over evil. Well, get this. As strange as it might sound to our modern years, the main way that Jesus is reigning on planet earth right now is through his church. Jesus is called here in verse 22 the head. The head meaning authority, the decision maker.
Now we’ve already seen how he’s head over the universe. The verse says he’s head over all things. But now specifically we see he’s the head over the church and in this verse church is speaking of the one universal people of God. The one church of which all believers belong. If Jesus is the head, we are the body. We belong to him. We only exist in him if we are connected to him. And how is this church described? It’s his body, verse 23 the fullness of Christ who fills all in all. I think we can grasp the general idea of the terminology of filling. I take an object you have. A bowl that’s filled with water. You have a basket that’s filled with bread. Back in our sermon series on the Holy Spirit, we came to Ephesians, chapter five. We talked about being filled with the spirit and said a helpful analogy would be like a balloon. The air filling and controlling the movement of that balloon. We see a further idea here. Then, when it says at the end of verse 23 that Jesus fills all in all. It’s a further description of this sovereign control of everything in the universe.
But how is it that the church the phrase right before that in verse 23, how is it that the church is the fullness of Christ? It’s a pretty hard phrase to interpret, and some of you who like to use study Bibles or Bible commentaries will find there’s lots of discussion of what exactly it means that the church is the fullness of Christ. Let me just share with you what I think most likely is the meaning of this phrase. Help us understand how the church is the fullness of Christ. I think it’s helpful to see that throughout Ephesians as well as Colossians, we see several references to the idea of fullness in connection with Jesus himself. And even this connection with Jesus as we’ll see in a moment in Colossians has a connection then to the Old Testament.
And when we see fullness in the Old Testament, we see most often that describes when the presence of God was with his people when the glory filled the temple. And when the temple was filled with the glory of God, that said, God’s presence and his power is with his people. So in Old Testament times, the fullness of God was revealed in the temple. Jesus comes on the scene and now we see the fullness of God is present in his son, Jesus, who’s taken on human flesh. Notice how we see this in Colossians 1:19, Colossians 2:9. So the fullness of God was revealed in Jesus. But then, after Jesus went to heaven, now it’s the Holy Spirit filling believers and the church as the next verse in Colossians 2:10.
Come back to Ephesians we see the same reading in description of Christian maturity when we grow in our Christian walk. It’s described as a fullness. Ephesians 3:19 that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 4:13 until we all attained to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. And so with these other passages in mind, I think we find that the best way to interpret this phrase in Ephesians 1:23 that the church is the fullness of Christ isn’t disregarded. It refers to how Jesus is filling his church. He’s giving us grace. He’s giving us every spiritual blessing. And in that sense we have been made full. We are the fullness of Christ. And through us then, the presence of Jesus is now known on earth. The church represents Christ to the world. The fullness of Christ is made known through his people, through the church. Now, certainly that’s a huge responsibility. And in future weeks, as we move through Ephesians, we’re going to talk about the responsibility we have of proclaiming Christ to the world, since we are now the representatives of Jesus. But I think the emphasis here in our passage this morning is primarily on the honor that’s been given to the church. Notice verse 22 says that the father gave Jesus to the church. He gave his son as head for the benefit of the church. And we could just go down a list of the ways Jesus is such a gift to us today. He’s our savior. He’s our shepherd. He’s our friend. Jesus has been given to us as our head.
Now, how should that affect ICMK as a local church? Well, let’s pull all of this passage together as I close with that application. Second half of Ephesians 1 is a prayer that our spiritual eyes will be opened. That we will see, that we will know, that we will value, that we will live based on this power that God has given to us according to the working of his great might that 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 rule and authority and power and dominion and above every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him, who fills all in all. So we’ve been called to see the greatness of Jesus on display and certainly that should lead us to worship him. Certainly that should lead us to trust him.
And now let’s focus with this final application. Understanding the greatness of Jesus should lead us to love his church. The same Jesus who rose from the dead and ascended on high and reigns from his throne, he is filling his church with grace and power. And the church universal over which Jesus is head, is expressed throughout the globe in local churches like ICMK and through local churches like us this morning this is how Jesus is reigning on planet earth from his throne. Now we read that or we hear that and sometimes we scratch our heads and we think, couldn’t God have found a better way to work on earth than through weak and imperfect churches, than through weak and imperfect Christians like us? Why is this the primary way that Jesus is at work today when we fail so often? And perhaps the best answer to that question is because when we are weak, that just keeps highlighting the strength and the grace of Christ as he is changing us and making us more like himself. Pastor Brian Chapel writes, the church can be intolerant, stubborn, tradition bound, blind to her duty and a pain to endure. She can be an ugly bride, but she is the beloved of Christ and the only instrument that will ultimately fulfill his purposes on this earth. That is why she is worth the effort and worth the dedication of our lives.
God has chosen to continually declare the greatness of Jesus and the Gospel not through physical buildings, not through statues, not through monuments. He’s chosen to continually declare the greatness of Jesus through a saved people that is called together to be his own. So love the church and be committed to the church. I just want to say with love this morning if you attend ICMK some Sundays of the month and another church other Sundays of the month, you’re not honoring the biblical meaning of belonging to a body of believers. I’d encourage you prayerfully commit to one local church. And here at ICMK, we are convinced that covenant membership reflects the biblical description of a local church. And so if ICMK is where you worship regularly, I exhort you this morning, commit to our body and be held accountable by the rest of the covenant membership. Love the church. Commit to the church and submit to the head of the church who is Jesus. We’re coming into our AGM two weeks from now. Would you pray with us that this church be always honored as the authority of ICMK. Because this church doesn’t belong to us. This church is His. And so, because of this great power that is at work in us, may we be a congregation that is increasingly declaring the greatness of Jesus.