Few books in the corpus of Paul’s writing, not to mention the entire biblical canon, are able to equal the robust theology and exquisite Christology on display in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Throughout, the apostle advances an almost “cosmic christology,” to use C. E. Arnold’s expression.1 Christ is seen as the One who reigns “far above every ruler and authority, power and dominion.” (Eph 1:21) He’s the One “who fills all things in every way.” (Eph 1:23) No other sovereign can hold a candle to the blazingly righteous lordship with which Christ Jesus occupies his magisterial office. Everything is subjected “under his feet.” (Eph 1:22) The enthronement of Christ in the heavens embodies untold ecclesiological and theological ramifications. Here, briefly, are three.
The King is here.
The exaltation of Christ reveals that the true and better King of Israel is none other than Jesus of Nazareth. Requisite to Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians is the unequivocal eschatological rule of King Jesus, whose exaltation as the the Beloved of God is the fulfillment of the Godhead’s mysterious will of redemption. (Eph 1:9–10) This divine undertaking to acquit the guilty by divinity subsuming it in its entirety not only occupied the majority of apostolic rhetoric, but also integral to the apostles’ (and especially Paul’s) discourse was the fact that it was Jesus of Nazareth who himself subsumed sin in his passion and resurrection. (Acts 2:22–24; 4:8–12; 13:23, 32–33) Paul writes unblushingly to the Ephesian church regarding the kingship and messiahship of a Galilean carpenter’s Son precisely because he had seen him. (Acts 9:1–8; 22:6–21; 26:12–23) Paul’s Damascus road “encounter with the exalted Lord,” writes J. F. Maile, “formed the dynamic center of his understanding, the starting point of his christology.”2 Paul’s willingness to suffer for the sake Jesus’s name and endure such spiritual torment, physical torture, and emotional trauma, therefore, springs from a conviction of Jesus’s true identity as the exalted and enthroned Lord of glory. Maile continues:
It is clear that for Paul the Jesus who was born, lived a human life and died on a cross, is the one who now sits at the right hand of God and who will return in glory, and this identity forms the basis of Paul’s understanding of the future transformation of the believer.3
The King bleeds.
Likewise, though, the exaltation of Christ reinforces the weightiness of the cross. It is through his cross that covenantal citizens and strangers are made one. (Eph 2:11–22) Jesus’s reconciliatory death ushers foreigners into the kingdom of God. But it is specifically the blood which should be observed. “In Christ Jesus,” Paul writes, “you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Eph 2:13) There is no narrative of salvation apart from the shedding of blood. “The story of redemption is written in blood,” writes Scottish divine Thomas Guthrie.4 And therein lies another layer to the divine mystery which God unfolds in the pages of Scripture: the blood that redeems and reconciles is no less than the blood of God. (Eph 1:6–8) And within that divine-yet-human plasma that co-mingles with Jewish earth lies the remission of sins for all who believe. Jesus’s veins coursed with blood that was not only royal, it was divine. Such is what intensifies Golgotha’s already gory scene. The blood of the cross that washes sin-stained scoundrels and strangers whiter than snow is nothing less than the blood of God. The King bleeds, and because of that, his subjects are safe.
Long live the King.
Lastly, the exaltation of Christ ratifies the basis of all evangelical hope. This bleeding, dying King did not stay dead. Rather, he put Death to death as he marched to his rightful place enthroned in the heavens. (Eph 2:20–22) And with King Christ, we, too, are made alive — we, too, will be raised up with him and seated “with him in the heavens.” (Eph 2:5–6) Jesus’s exaltation as the Beloved of God is what gives the church boldness, wisdom, and confidence. (Eph 3:10–12; 4:16) His enthronement in the heavenlies is the mooring which steadies one’s faith from being “tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching.” (Eph 4:14–15) “For Paul and those to whom he wrote,” Maile writes, “the Jesus in whom they trusted, whom they worshipped and above all whom they experienced, was the exalted Lord.”5 The cruciform coronation of Christ Jesus is only rightly perceived with a concurrent apprehension of his eternal enthronement. The Lord Jesus has not abdicated his throne. And he never will.
C. E. Arnold, “Letter to the Ephesians,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 246.
J. F. Maile, “Exaltation and Enthronement,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 276.
Thomas Guthrie, The Parables: Read in the Light of Present Day (London: Alexander Strahan, 1867), 70.