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“He raised Him from the dead, and made Him to sit at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and He put all things in subjection under His feet, and Him He gave—the head over all things—to the Church which is His body,—the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.”—Eph. i. 20–23.

The division that we make at verse 20, marking off at this point the commencement of the Doctrine of the epistle, may appear somewhat forced. The great doxology of the first half of the chapter is intensely theological; and the prayer which follows it, like that of the letter to the Colossians, melts into doctrine imperceptibly. The apostle teaches upon his knees. The things he has to tell his readers, and the things he has asked on their behalf from God, are to a great extent the same. Still the writer’s attitude in the second chapter is manifestly that of teaching; and his doctrine there is so directly based upon the concluding sentences of his prayer, that it is necessary for logical arrangement to place these verses within the doctrinal section of the epistle.

The resurrection of Christ made men sensible that a new force of life had come into the world, of incalculable potency. This power was in existence before. In 82 prelusive ways, it has wrought in the world from its foundation, and since the fall of man. By the incarnation of the Son of God it took possession of human flesh; by His sacrificial death it won its decisive triumph. But the virtue of these acts of Divine grace lay in their hiding of power, in the self-abnegation of the Son of God who emptied Himself and took a servant’s form, and became obedient unto death.

With what a rebound did the “energy of the might of God’s strength” put forth itself in Him, when once this sacrifice was accomplished! Even His disciples who had seen Jesus still the tempest and feed the multitude from a handful of bread and call back the spirit to its mortal frame, had not dreamed of the might of Godhead latent in Him, until they beheld Him risen from the dead. He had promised this in words; but they understood His words only when they saw the fact, when He actually stood before them “alive after His passion.” The scene of Calvary—the cruel sufferings of their Master, His helpless ignominy and abandonment by God, the malignant triumph of his enemies—gave to this revelation an effect beyond measure astonishing and profound in its impression. From the stupor of grief and despair they were raised to a boundless hope, as Jesus rose from the death of the cross to glorious life and Godhead.

Of the same nature was the effect produced by His manifestation to Paul himself. The Nazarene prophet known to Saul by report as an attractive teacher and worker of miracles, had made enormous pretensions, blasphemous if they were not true. He put Himself forward as the Messiah and the very Son of God! But when brought to the test, His power utterly failed. God disowned and forsook Him; and He 83 “was crucified of weakness.” His followers declared, indeed, that He had returned from the grave. But who could believe them, a handful of Galilean enthusiasts, desperately clinging to the name of their disgraced leader! If He has risen, why does He not show Himself to others? Who can accept a crucified Messiah? The new faith is a madness, and an insult to our common Judaism! Such were Saul’s former thoughts of the Christ. But when his challenge was met and the Risen One confronted him in the way to Damascus, when from that Form of insufferable glory there came a voice saying, “I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest!” it was enough. Instantly the conviction penetrated his soul, “He liveth by the power of God.” Saul’s previous reasonings against the Messiahship of Jesus by the same rigorous logic were now turned into arguments for Him.

It is “the Christ,” let us observe, in whom God “wrought raising Him from the dead”: the Christ of Jewish hope (ver. 12), the centre and sum of the Divine counsel for the world (ver. 10),6868   See the note upon this definite article on p. 47. the Christ whom in that moment never to be forgotten the humbled Saul recognized in the crucified Nazarene.

The demonstration of the power of Christianity Paul had found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The power which raised Him from the dead is the working energy of our faith. Let us see what this mysterious power wrought in the Redeemer Himself; and then we will consider how it bears upon us. There are two steps indicated in Christ’s exaltation: He was raised from the death of the cross to new life amongst men; and again from the world of men He was raised to the throne of God in heaven. In the enthronement of Jesus Christ 84 at the Father’s right hand, verses 22, 23 further distinguish two separate acts: there was conferred on Him a universal Lordship; and He was made specifically Head of the Church, being given to her for her Lord and Life, He who contains the fulness of the Godhead. Such is the line of thought marked out for us.

I. God raised the Christ from the dead.

This assertion is the corner-stone of St Paul’s life and doctrine, and of the existence of Christendom. Did the event really take place? There were Christians at Corinth who affirmed, “There is no resurrection of the dead.” And there are followers of Jesus now who with deep sadness confess, like the author of Obermann once more:

“Now He is dead! Far hence He lies

In the lorn Syrian town;

And on His grave, with shining eyes,

The Syrian stars look down.”

If we are driven to this surrender, compelled to think that it was an apparition, a creation of their own passionate longing and heated fancy that the disciples saw and conversed with during those forty days, an apparition sprung from his fevered remorse that arrested Saul on the Damascus road—if we no longer believe in Jesus and the resurrection, it is in vain that we still call ourselves Christians. The foundation of the Christian creed is struck away from under our feet. Its spell is broken; its energy is gone.

Individual men may and do continue to believe in Christ, with no faith in the supernatural, men who are sceptics in regard to His resurrection and miracles. They believe in Himself, they say, not in His legendary wonders; in His character and teaching, in His 85 beneficent influence—in the spiritual Christ, whom no physical marvel can exalt above His intrinsic greatness. And such trust in Him, where it is sincere, He accepts for all that it is worth, from the believer’s heart. But this is not the faith that saved Paul, and built the Church. It is not the faith which will save the world. It is the faith of compromise and transition, the faith of those whose conscience and heart cling to Christ while their reason gives its verdict against Him. Such belief may hold good for the individuals who profess it; but it must die with them. No skill of reasoning or grace of sentiment will for long conceal its inconsistency. The plain, blunt sense of mankind will decide again, as it has done already, that Jesus Christ was either a blasphemer, or He was the Son of the eternal God; either He rose from the dead in very truth, or His religion is a fable. Christianity is not bound up with the infallibility of the Church, whether in Pope or Councils, nor with the inerrancy of the letter of Scripture: it stands or falls with the reality of the facts of the gospel, with the risen life of Christ and His presence in the Spirit amongst men.

The fact of Christ’s resurrection is one upon which modern science has nothing new to say. The law of death is not a recent discovery. Men were as well aware of its universality in the first century as they are in the nineteenth, and as little disposed as we are ourselves to believe in the return of the dead to bodily life. The stark reality of death makes us all sceptics. Nothing is clearer from the narratives than the utter surprise of the friends of Jesus at His reappearance, and their complete unpreparedness for the event. They were not eager, but “slow of heart to believe.” Their very love to the Master, as in the case of 86 Thomas, made them fearful of self-deception. It is a shallow and an unjust criticism that dismisses the disciples as interested witnesses and predisposed to faith in the resurrection of their dead Master. Should we be thus credulous in the case of our best-beloved dead? The instinctive feeling that meets any thought of the kind, after the fact of death is once certain, is rather that of deprecation and aversion, such as Martha expressed when Jesus went to call her brother from his grave. In all the long record of human imposture and illusion, no resurrection story has ever found general credence outside of the Biblical revelation. No system of faith except our own has ever been built on the allegation that a dead man rose from the grave.

Christ’s was not the only resurrection; but it is the only final resurrection. Lazarus of Bethany left his tomb at the word of Jesus, a living man; but he was still a mortal man, doomed to see corruption. He returned from the grave on this side, as he had entered it, “bound hand and foot with grave-clothes.” Not so with the Christ. He passed through the region of death and issued on the immortal side, escaped from the bondage of corruption. Therefore He is called the “firstfruits” and “the firstborn out of the dead.”6969    Πρωτότοκος ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν, Col. i. 18: comp. Rom. vi. 13, x. 7, for the force of the preposition. Hence the peculiar ἐξανάστασιν τὴν ἐκ νεκρῶν of Phil. iii. 10, 11,—the out-and-out resurrection, which will utterly remove us from the sphere of death. Hence the alteration manifest in the risen form of Jesus. He was “changed,” as St Paul conceives those will be who await on earth their Lord’s return (1 Cor. xv. 51). The mortal in Him was swallowed up of life. The corpse that was laid in Joseph’s tomb was there no longer. From it another body has issued, recognized for the same person by 87 look and voice and movement, but indescribably transfigured. Visible and tangible as the body of the Risen One was—“Handle me, and see,” He said—it was superior to material limitations; it belonged to a state whose laws transcend the range of our experience, in which the body is the pliant instrument of the animating spirit. From the Person of the risen Saviour the apostle formed his conception of the “spiritual body,” the “house from heaven” with which, as he teaches, each of the saints will be clothed—the wasted form that we lay down in the grave being transformed into the semblance of His “body of glory, according to the mighty working whereby He is able to subdue all things to Himself” (Phil. iii. 20, 21).

The resurrection of the Christ inaugurated a new order of things. It was like the appearance of the first living organism amidst dead matter, or of the first rational consciousness in the unconscious world. He “is,” says the apostle, the “beginning, first-begotten out of the dead” (Col. i. 18). With the harvest filling our granaries, we cease to wonder at the firstfruits; and in the new heavens and earth Christ’s resurrection will seem an entirely natural thing. Immortality will then be the normal condition of human existence.

That resurrection, nevertheless, did homage to the fundamental law of science and of reason, that every occurrence, ordinary or extraordinary, shall have an adequate cause. The event was not more singular and unique than the nature of Him to whom it befell. Looking back over the Divine life and deeds of Jesus, St Peter said: “It was not possible that He should be holden of death.” How unfitting and repugnant to thought, that the common death of all men should come upon Jesus Christ! There was that in 88 His Person, in its absolute purity and godlikeness, which repelled the touch of corruption. He was “marked out,” writes our apostle, “as Son of God, according to His spirit of holiness, by His resurrection from the dead” (Rom. i. 4). These two signs of Godhead agree in Jesus; and the second is no more superhuman than the first. For Him the supernatural was natural. There was a mighty working of the being of God latent in Him, which transcended and subdued to itself the laws of our physical frame, even more completely than they do the laws and conditions of the lower realms of nature.

II. The power which raised Jesus our Lord from the dead could not leave Him in the world of sin and death. Lifting Him from hades to earth, by another step it exalted the risen Saviour above the clouds, and seated Him at God’s right hand in the heavens.

The forty days were a halt by the way, a condescending pause in the operation of the almighty power that raised Him. “I ascend,” He said to the first that saw Him,—“I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” He must see His own in the world again; He must “show Himself alive after His passion by infallible proofs,” that their hearts may be comforted and knit together in the assurance of faith, that they may be prepared to receive His Spirit and to bear their witness to the world. Then He will ascend up where He was before, returning to the Father’s bosom. It was impossible that a spiritual body should tarry in a mortal dwelling; impossible that the familiar relations of discipleship should be resumed. No new follower can now ask of Him, “Rabbi, where dwellest Thou,” under what roof amid the homes of men? For He dwells with those that love Him always 89 and everywhere, like the Father (John xiv. 23). From this time Christ will not be known after the flesh, but as the “Lord of the Spirit” (2 Cor. iii. 18).

“In the heavenlies” now abides the Risen One. This expression, so frequent in the epistle as to be characteristic of it,7070   Ver. 3, ch. ii. 6, iii. 10, vi. 12; nowhere else in the New Testament. Comp., however, 1 Cor. xv. 40, 48; Phil. ii. 10; Heb. viii. 5, ix. 23, xi. 16, xii. 22, where the adjective has the same kind of use. denotes not locality so much as condition and sphere. It speaks of the bright and deathless world of God and the angels, of which the sky has always been to men the symbol. Thither Christ ascended in the eyes of His apostles on the fortieth day from His rising. Once before His death its brightness for a moment had irradiated His form upon the Mount of Transfiguration. Clad in the like celestial splendour He showed Himself to His future apostle Paul, as to one born out of due time, to make him His minister and witness. Since then, of all the multitudes that have loved His appearing, no other has looked upon Him with bodily eyes. He dwells with the Father in light unapproachable.

But rest and felicity are not enough for Him. Christ sits at the right hand of power, that He may rule. In those heavenly places, it seems, there are thrones higher and lower, names more or less eminent, but His stands clear above them all. In the realms of space, in the epochs of eternity there is none to rival our Lord Jesus, no power that does not owe Him tribute. God “hath put all things under His feet.” The Christ, who died on the cross, who rose in human form from the grave, is exalted to share the Father’s glory and dominion, is filled with God’s own fulness, and made without limitation or exception “Head over all things.”

90 In his enumeration of the angelic orders in verse 21, the apostle follows the phraseology current at the time, without giving any precise dogmatic sanction to it. The epistle to the Colossians furnishes a somewhat different list (ch. i. 16); and in 1 Corinthians xv. 24 we find the “principality, dominion, and power” without the “lordship.” As Lightfoot says,7171   Note on Col. i. 16. St Paul “brushes away all these speculations” about the ranks and titles of the angels, “without inquiring how much or how little truth there may be in them.... His language shows a spirit of impatience with this elaborate angelology.” There is, perhaps, a passing reproof conveyed by this sentence to the “worshipping of the angels” inculcated at the present time in Colossæ, to which other Asian Churches may have been drawn. “Paul’s faith saw the Risen and Rising One passing through and beyond and above successive ranks of angelic powers, until there was in heaven no grandeur which He had not left behind. Then, after naming heavenly powers known to him, he uses a universal phrase covering ‘not only’ those known by men living on earth ‘in the’ present ‘age, but also’ those names which will be needed and used to describe men and angels throughout the eternal future” (Beet).

The apostle appropriates here two sentences of Messianic prophecy, from Psalms cx. and viii. The former was addressed to the Lord’s Anointed, the King-Priest enthroned in Zion: “Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool!” The latter text describes man in his pristine glory, as God formed him after His likeness and set him in command over His creation. This saying St Paul applies, with an 91 unbounded scope, to the God-man raised from the dead, Founder of the new creation: “Thou madest Him to have dominion over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under His feet.” To the former of these passages St Paul repeatedly alludes; indeed, since our Lord quoted it in this sense, it became the standing designation of His heavenly dignity.7272   Matt. xxii. 41–46, also in Mark and Luke; Acts ii. 34, 35; Rom. viii. 34; Col. iii. 1; Heb. i. 13; 1 Peter iii. 22, etc. The words of Psalm viii. are brought in evidence again in Hebrews ii. 5–10, and expounded from a somewhat different standpoint. As the writer of the other epistle shows, this coronation belongs to the human race, and it falls to the Son of man to win it. St Paul in quoting the same Psalm is not insensible of its human reference. It was a prophecy for Jesus and His brethren, for Christ and the Church. So it forms a natural transition from the thought of Christ’s dominion over the universe (ver. 21) to that of His union with the Church (ver. 22b).

III. The second clause of verse 22 begins with an emphasis upon the object which the English Version fails to recognize: “and Him He gave”—the Christ exalted to universal authority—“Him God gave, Head over all things [as He is], to the Church which is His body,—the fulness of Him who fills all things in all.”

At the topmost height of His glory, with thrones and princedoms beneath His feet, Christ is given to the Church! The Head over all things, the Lord of the created universe, He—and none less or lower—is the Head of redeemed humanity. For the Church “is His body” (this clause is interjected by way of explanation): she is the vessel of His Spirit, the organic instrument of His Divine-human life. As the spirit belongs to its 92 body, by the like fitness the Christ in His surpassing glory is the possession of the community of believing men. The body claims its head, the wife her husband. No matter where Christ is, however high in heaven, He belongs to us. Though the Bride is lowly and of poor estate, He is hers! and she knows it, and holds fast His heart. She recks little of the people’s ignorance and scorn, if their Master is her affianced Lord, and she the best-beloved in His eyes.

How rich is this gift of the Father to the Church in the Son of His love, the concluding words of the paragraph declare: “Him He gave ... to the Church ... [gave] the fulness of Him that fills all in all.” In the risen and enthroned Christ God bestowed on men a gift in which the Divine plenitude that fills creation is embraced. For this last clause, it is clear to us, does not qualify “the Church which is His body,” and expositors have needlessly taxed their ingenuity with the incongruous apposition of “body” and “fulness”; it belongs to the grand Object of the foregoing description, to “the Christ” whom God raised from the dead and invested with His own prerogatives. The two separate designations, “Head over all things” and “Fulness of the All-filler,” are parallel, and alike point back to Him who stands with a weight of gathered emphasis—heaped up from verse 19 onwards—at the front of this last sentence (ver. 22b). There has been nothing to prepare the reader to ascribe the august title of the pleroma, the Divine fulness, to the Church—enough for her, surely, if she is His body and He God’s gift to her—but there has been everything to prepare us to crown the Lord Jesus with this glory. To that which God had wrought in Him and bestowed on Him, as previously related, verse 23 adds something more 93 and greater still; for it shows what God makes the Christ to be, not to the creatures, to the angels, to the Church, but to God Himself!7373   The reader of the Old Testament, unless otherwise advertized, must inevitably have referred the words who filleth all things in all to the Supreme God. See Jer. xxiii. 24; Isai. vi. 1, 3; Hag. ii. 7; Ps. xxxiii. 5, etc.; Exod. xxxi. 3. “That filleth all in all” is an attribute belonging to “the same God, that worketh all in all” (1 Cor. xii. 6). Comp. iv. 6.

Our text is in strict agreement with the sayings about “the fulness” in Colossians i. 15–20 and ii. 9, 10; as well as with the later references of this epistle, in chapter iii. 19, iv. 13; and with John i. 16. This title belongs to Christ as God is in Him and communicates to Him all Divine powers. It was, in the apostle’s view, a new and distinct act by which the Father bestowed on the incarnate Son, raised by His power from the dead, the functions of Deity. Of this glory Christ had of His own accord “emptied Himself” in becoming man for our salvation (Phil. ii. 6, 7). Therefore when the sacrifice was effected and the time of humiliation past, it “was the Father’s pleasure that all the fulness should make its dwelling in Him” (Col. i. 19). At no point did Christ exalt Himself, or arrogate the glory once renounced. He prayed, when the hour was come: “Now, Father, glorify Thou me with Thine own self, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was.” It was for the Father to say, as He raised and enthroned Him: “Thou art my Son; I to-day have begotten Thee!” (Acts xiii. 33).

Again there was poured into the empty, humbled and impoverished form of the Son of God the brightness of the Father’s glory and the infinitude of the Father’s authority and power. The majesty that He had foregone was restored to Him in undiminished measure. 94 But how great a change meanwhile in Him who received it! This plenitude devolves not now on the eternal Son in His pure Godhead, but on the Christ, the Head and Redeemer of mankind. God who fills the universe with His presence, with His cherishing love and sustaining power, has conferred the fulness of all that He is upon our Christ. He has given Him, so replenished and perfected, to the body of His saints, that He may dwell and work in them for ever.

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