7.2 Ephesians -- the Mystery of Christ
One of these blessings received by the believer is "wisdom and understanding" of the mystery of God's will (Eph 1:9). This introduces a theme that is important to Paul -- the idea that God's plan is a mystery only now made clear in Jesus Christ. He speaks of this later in Ephesians, and also in Romans (Rom 16:25) and Colossians (Col 2:2, Col 4:3). There are two significant points:
a. God's plan for man is a secret, hidden from both Jews and Gentiles, but revealed to Christians. Paul is using dangerous language, first of all in implying that Jews were outside the circle of enlightenment. This would be extremely offensive to traditional Jews, and perhaps even to Jewish converts who had confessed Jesus as the Messiah, the fulfilment of Israel's millennial hopes. If it was one thing the Jews felt they "owned," apart from custodianship of the Law, it was the knowledge of the meaning of history and the destiny of mankind. But Paul looked back on his own life, his training and worldview before Damascus, and realized that he and his fellow Jews didn't have the faintest clue about God's actions. They were totally unprepared for the radical nature of God's intervention in world history through Jesus. This is a hint to us not to overstate the continuity between the Old Testament revelation and the New, as if the only significant issue at stake was the identity of the Messiah. For Paul, Jesus Christ represented a revolution in the meaning of history itself, to the extent that anyone who was not a believer had no idea what God was really up to in the world.
The other reason the terminology of "mystery" is dangerous is because it appealed to Gentiles for the wrong reasons. A mystery? Secret wisdom? A hidden plan? O good -- another mystery religion! These sects were popular in the Roman world, and represented a syncretization of competing religious traditions. Surely Paul did not want to present Christ under this brand. Therefore it is curious that he uses this term repeatedly.
b. God's plan, as summarized by Paul, is mind-blowing in its scope: a plan to unite all things in Christ, not just all people on earth, but all inhabitants of the heavenly realms as well. He discusses this more fully in Chapter 3. Note how far his vision goes: beyond the paltry Jewish expectation of driving the Romans into the sea, beyond the later selfish Protestant hope of purely personal salvation in Christ. God's plan embraces "all things," it has universal application beyond anything in our knowledge or experience. Jesus' death and resurrection had cosmic significance, these events changed the universe!