Amillenialism

John MacArthur has unfortunately committed a rather bad blunder. He says that Amillenialism is intrinsically Arminian. I personally am stunned that he could possibly be so wrong on an issue, when the majority of Calvinists have been Amil. In view of this, it is a hot topic in the blogosphere at the moment. For those who wish to research the issue, they can do no better than to go to this enormous list of resources (from Sam Storms).

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God’s Power For Us

Ephesians 1:20-23

A little town in Texas had a school fire that killed 263 children. That tragedy did not kill the town, however, and the town rebuilt the school. The town expanded, and installed the finest sprinkler system in the world. People would come from all over to see this fine sprinkler system that would prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again. Honor students would even be chosen to give tours in this school. Then, an addition was built onto the school, and it was discovered that for all those years when the sprinkler system had been built into the school, it had never been connected to the water supply! As foolish as that seems to us, we often do the same thing when it comes to God’s power. We know that God’s power is there, and we often say that we have this power. However, we are not connected to it when it comes to our daily lives. Do we know the power of God? Do we know that God’s power is for us? That is what Paul is telling us in this portion of God’s word: God’s power is given to us.

Really, our passage is a continuation of last week’s passage. Paul has been telling the Ephesian believers that he has been praying for them. He wants the eyes of their heart to be enlightened to know about the hope of God’s calling us, the riches of the inheritance that God has among us, and immeasurable greatness of God’s power. That last item, God’s power, is something that Paul wants to dwell on, for the benefit of his readers. Remember, the Ephesians were faced with many hostile powers, both physical and spiritual. Paul wants them to know that Jesus reigns over all of these so-called powers. We saw last week just how powerful God is when we saw how Paul piled up all these words for power to describe this reality. This week, we see how it is that God’s power is working on our behalf. Power is frightening. How then do we know that God’s power is for us, rather than against us?

Well, we know that God’s power works for us because God used that very same power in raising Christ from the dead, and making Him to ascend into the heavenly places. There is a problem with many believers today, and it is that we see Christ’s resurrection as a remote event, completely unconnected to us and what God is doing in our lives. Paul here begs to differ. It is the very same power that raised Christ from the dead that is working in our lives. This is explicit in these verses: look at verse 19 which says that God’s power is “for us who believe.” Then, that very same power is, in verse 20, said to raise Christ from the dead. But it is not just that it is the same power. It is also that in some way, it is the same act of God to raise Christ from the dead as it is to raise us from the dead. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that Christ is the first-fruits. That means that the rest is of the same crop. Paul also will say in the very next chapter of Ephesians, in verse 5 that God made us alive together with Christ. So, if we see Jesus Christ risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, we can know what is in store for us: we will ascend also to be with Christ. He is merely one step ahead of where we are.

It is comforting for Paul’s readers that Christ is risen from the dead. However, that bare fact does not exhaust all the implications of God’s power in that act. We also see Christ ascended into heaven. And not only that, but given the rule of the entire universe. Christ is exalted far above all rule and authority and power and dominion. These four words refer, by the way, to evil spiritual powers, not primarily to good angels. The reason we know this is from verse 22, which says that Christ has all things under his feet. To have someone under your foot meant that you had fought with that person and conquered that person. They were on the ground, and your foot was on his neck. That is what it means to have someone or something under your foot. It implies that there had been a battle, a war. And Christ had won that war. All the hostile powers are now subject to Christ. You see, it is not just that Christ has a higher rank than these powers. Christ’s ascension into heaven also means that these powers are actually subject to Christ.

In verse 21, we see God naming the powers. God ordains every power that exists. God ordains every ruler. And God also names every power, rule, authority, and dominion on earth and in heaven. Naming something in the NT times was a way of exercising control over whatever or whoever it is that you named. So God exercises rule over the powers not only in terms of their continuing existence, but also in terms of the very constitution of their power. They have power because God has named them. As Martin Luther said, “Satan may be a devil, but he is God’s devil.” This is a further display of God’s power over the evil powers.

But again, as we have asked before, we do not yet see all things subject to him, as Paul would say in Hebrews. There seem to many things that are simply chaotic in this world, and are anything but subject to Christ. What does this mean? It means that Christ’s rule and authority have been inaugurated, but have not come to their consummation. A good biblical example can be found in David. David was crowned king of all Israel. However, he ruled in Hebron for seven years before he came to Jerusalem. His rule had been inaugurated, but he still did not have all of Israel subjected to him. The same is true of Christ. He already rules. However, not everything is completely subjected to Him yet. However, this raises a problem for us. If Christ rules, but doesn’t rule, then is God not sovereign over the world? The answer is that God is indeed sovereign. The Father is sovereign over all things. However, that sovereignty is not the same thing as having all rebellion quashed.

Another way to look at it is to remember Jewish expectations about the coming ages. Paul here says “not only in this age, but also in the coming age.” Jews thought of history as being divided into two ages: the present age, and the future age. The coming of the Messiah would mark the transition from one age to the next. Paul recognized this Jewish expectation, and he held to it. However, he had to modify that scheme just a little bit, since he saw that the present age had not passed away, even though the future age had actually come with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, for Paul, there is an overlap of the ages. When Christ came the first time, the future age started. However, the present age has not ended yet. The present age will not end until Christ comes back the second time. When Christ comes back, there will only be the future age. So, we live in this time of overlap. Christ has reigned, but He does not yet fully reign; God has conquered sin in our lives, but there still remains sin; we are victorious, but we are not yet victorious. Theologians call this the “already/not yet” of salvation. Our souls are resurrected already, but our bodies are not yet resurrected.

However, this understanding of what Paul is saying does not in any way undermine the present reality of God’s power in our lives. Paul, after all, does speak of all these things as happening in the past. Furthermore, these things are for the church. The church, after all, is the body of Christ. Christ is the head, and the church is the body. This can be illustrated by an interchange that my daughter Ila had with Sarah. Sarah wanted Ila to spend some energy by playing chase. Ila wanted Sarah to put on her nightgown so that she could go to bed. Sarah didn’t want to do that, so she told Ila that she could play chase with Daddy with her dress on, and that she didn’t need the nightgown. Then Ila said that she could play chase with her feet on. Sarah then said that it would be difficult to take her feet off. Ila then said, “You can’t take them off; they’re stuck on.” Christ and His church are stuck together, much like a foot on the leg. Paul’s exact metaphor is that of head and body. Christ is the head, and the church is His body. That means that whatever happens to the head happens to the body as well. If Christ was persecuted, so will the church. If Christ had His cross, so will the church. If Christ was dead, buried, raised, and ascended on high, then so will the church be dead, buried, raised, and ascended on high.

The last phrase of this verse is rather difficult. I will just tell you what I think it means. The text says that it is the church which is the fullness of Christ. However, the idea here is not that the church completes and fills Christ, as that Christ fills and completes the church. The entire passage has been talking about the power of God. It would not really prove Paul’s point if Jesus was seen to be lacking in something. So when the church is the fullness of Christ, the text is saying that the church is like a container which Christ fills. Christ, after all, fills all in all.

The power of God as given to us in Christ means several things for us. The first is that we can be confident of salvation if we are in Christ. If we trust in Jesus Christ, then we can know the power of God, which holds in subjection all other powers. God is more powerful than all other forces in the universe. Therefore, there is no way that we can lose our salvation. Paul says that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. We can know that we are saved. We can have assurance of our salvation. We know that when we get to heaven, we will see Jesus, the God-man, seated on the throne. It is like when the brothers of Joseph get to Egypt, only to find Joseph their brother on the throne, and willing and able to do all things for them. Secondly, we can know that we have access to this incredible power. Do you need power to endure in difficult times? Here it is, ready and waiting. Thirdly, know what a great privilege the church is to us. The church is the body of Christ! Is that how you see the church? Do you see it as the greatest institution in the entire world? The world looks down on the church, because the church is not a road to worldly success. The world would certainly say that Microsoft is a greater institution than the church. And yet, the church continues on, doing the work of Jesus Christ in the world. Do you view membership in the church as the greatest privilege possible in this life? Do you see the church that way? It is only as you are connected to the body of Christ that you are connected to Christ. It is impossible for someone to be a believer and yet be separated from the body of Christ. If someone says, “Sure, I believe in God, and in Jesus Christ, and that He died for my sins,” but does not believe in the church, does not attend, views the church with contempt, then he is a liar. As John Calvin said, echoing Augustine many centuries earlier, “You cannot have God for your father, without having the church for your mother.” So, are you connected to the water supply? Are you connected to Christ’s body, the church, and thus connected to Christ Himself? Only then will you have the sprinkler system needed to put out the fires of hell, when they assail you and tell you that you do not belong in heaven. Then, you will be able to respond, “I have the power of God in me, because I belong to Christ, and to His true church.”