The Book of Ephesians clearly leaves its mark among other Bible books by displaying the powerful impact of the Gospel of Christ Jesus in the individual and corporate life of believers.
Ephesians chapters 1-3 wonderfully expound the Gospel while Ephesians chapters 4-6 provide a clear picture of how those doctrines change our lives. For example, in chapters 1-3 Paul depicts the birth and purpose of the church while in the later section, we get a picture of what the church is to look and function like. Although Colossians is similar to Ephesians, it is brief while the Book of Ephesians is much more articulate and extensive.
Introduction to the Book of Ephesians
One cannot step over the threshold of this letter into the Book of Ephesians without being inundated with thoughts of God’s mercy and grace. Paul’s first statement, verses 1:3-11, consists of a long extended praise introduces a wonderful flavor to the whole epistle. So does his three prayers, excluding this praise. This epistle is well loved by believers by its vividly clear description of salvation in 2:1-10, his multifaceted picture of the church and the Gospel Armor in chapter 6.
As is typical with Pauline authorship, his allusions to the Old Testament are numerous and help provide theological continuity between the two testaments. Familiarity with the Old Testament greatly enhances the glory found in the Gospel of the New Testament. The temple is just one example. The Old Testament had a physical temple that only the priests could enter while here we find the Holy Spirit makes God’s people the actual temple. The ramifications of this thought alone are wide sweeping. A few of the many allusions include the idea of holiness (saints), inheritance, covenant and calling, service, gifts, marriage and the armor.
Paul was writing to the church at Ephesus and most likely the other churches in Asia Minor. This is assumed from the absence of the word ‘Ephesians’ (Ephesians 1:1) in some Greek manuscripts. If this is so, then the book was written to the churches in that reason. In any case, we can be sure that Paul was clarifying the teaching of Christ, the church, salvation and sanctification for these saints.
The Setting of the Book of Ephesians
If we are going to properly understand the Book of Ephesians, we need to understand its immediate context. We will not be extensive here, but reading and meditation on Acts 19-20 and Revelation 2:1-7 (the Church in Ephesus) is essential. Ephesus was a big, prosperous harbor city in Asia Minor. The harbor has long been filled up and unusable. The famous Silk Road from Asia ended at this point. The church in Ephesus also lived in a community thronging about its most prized mother idol of Diana.
One of the seven wonders of the world was right there in Ephesus. It was the huge temple dedicated to this goddess named Diana (Artemis). People from all around flocked to that great temple. The goddess, after all, is noted for having fallen down from the sky. Although her origins were probably just the remains of a meteorite, there was much ado over her supposed powers. Note how this contrasts with Christ who not only came from God but ascended back to heaven (see Ephesians 4:8-10)!
The temple and streets were strewn with immoral goddess prostitutes. People could experience more of the goddess’ power by sexually intimacies with her priests and priestesses. It was a wicked city. Immorality flourished and flooded over into the society and families. The disciples of Jesus, however, were not set apart to this temple or Diana, but instead set apart for God. They would belong to God and serve Him. I know we often use the word ‘serve’ for just full-time ministers of God’s Word, but we must even by this usage of saint realize that every disciple must dedicate him or herself to Christ’s service (more in chapter 4).
Paul cleverly uses these concepts of holiness, service and temple to reveal the power of the Gospel in how it creates a new people born of God dedicated to His holy purposes.
Chronology of Book of Ephesians
In 50-52 AD Paul wrote his first epistles. They were to the Thessalonians and chiefly centered on Jesus’ return. During his third missionary journey in 55-56 AD, he wrote Corinthians, Galatians and Romans which all clearly defined the meaning and purpose of the cross. It was in 60-62 AD during Paul’s Roman imprisonment that he wrote what we call the prison epistles: Colossians, Philemon, Philippians and Ephesians. This was where the Book of Acts left us off. He was on house arrest, free to talk but not free to go. Paul during this imprisonment wrote a letter to the church at Ephesus and the surrounding areas.
During the prison stage (first of two) of his ministry, the attack on the church was primarily over what it believed about Christ. Paul wonderfully presented the glory of Christ in these epistles. Paul would later be released, but only for a short time before he would again be imprisoned and then put to death.