God’s Eternal Purpose for Man

This post is part of the Series "The Church, The Wisdom of God and Heavenly Rulers"

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11This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. (Ephesians 3:11–12 ESV)

God’s plan to make His wisdom known through the church is according to His eternal purpose. It was not a secondary plan, and the rulers and authorities, though they have filled the earth with darkness, have unwittingly cooperated with God’s plan. From the beginning, God decided to make His wisdom known through humanity. God wanted His wisdom known and He wanted it known in partnership. He wanted to share the most pleasurable thing in the universe – the revelation of Himself – with another creature. That is His eternal purpose for man. This is why it is such a great disaster that the vast majority of mankind does not have vision for this calling let alone enter into it.

After the fall of man, that purpose seemed to be hopelessly lost, but God’s eternal purposes has now been realized through Jesus. In Jesus man is restored to His calling and God’s purpose for man becomes possible. Through the church God is restoring man into his calling to reveal and make known the wisdom and nature of God. Go wants His wisdom known, but what is more staggering is who God wants His wisdom made known to. God wants the church to make His wisdom known to the powers and principalities.

We are in a great conflict with the powers of this age because most of humanity remains under the captivity of the powers of darkness even though man is actually intended to instruct the powers of darkness. The rulers of this age have so deceived human beings that the student has become the teacher. The rulers are to learn divine wisdom from man, but somehow they have deceived human beings and instead most of mankind learns wickedness from them.

Ephesians tells us that there is going to be a divine reversal because God is fully committed to His eternal purpose. The extravagant sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is God’s ultimate statement of how committed He is to secure and redeem man’s calling. If God willingly submitted His Son to death to secure His eternal purpose, we can be sure that He remains fully committed to it (Romans 8:32).

Boldness and Access

In verse 12, Paul gives the church the key to functioning according to her divine calling. The church that is going to demonstrate the wisdom of God to the rulers and authorities is the church that embraces and walks in the full expression of verse 12.

12in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. (Ephesians 3:12 ESV)

Being “in Him,” in Jesus, is what makes verse 12 possible. It is what establishes our identity and gives us security in our calling. It is what gives us boldness, and access with confidence. In Zechariah 3, Zechariah addresses the insecurity of Joshua the High Priest by prophesying the same reality over Joshua.

1Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. 2And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” 3Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. 4And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” 5And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord was standing by. 6And the angel of the Lord solemnly assured Joshua, 7“Thus says the Lord of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here. (Zechariah 3:1–7 ESV)

In both Zechariah 3 and Ephesians 3, it is confidence in our position before God that enables us to walk in the calling of God. Zechariah’s vision gave Joshua confidence, but his vision did not just reflect Joshua’s condition. His vision reflects the condition of all believers and every believer can now stand in complete confidence because we are in Jesus. This is why the author of Hebrews tells us to approach God’s throne with confidence and boldness.

16Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16 ESV)

Because of Jesus we can approach the throne of God – the center of His power and authority – with confidence. This is an incredible privilege, and one that we rarely ever take full advantage of. Because we are fallen human beings, we are naturally born with deep insecurity in our identity and our standing before God and others. Like Adam and Eve, we know that we are “naked” and we compensate for that in various ways.

The reality is that, as believers, we are invited to approach the throne of God in confidence and boldness. Like Joshua, our sin has been covered and we are in clean garments. We have been invited to stand before God. That was our calling in the beginning and in Jesus it has been recovered. As believers we are to have boldness before God. The rulers and authorities will remind us of our sin and our shame. They speak accusations about the nature of God and our standing before them, just as Satan accused God in the garden.

When those accusations lodge in our minds and hearts we become distracted and are not useful for the kingdom of God. This is precisely why Paul tells us to recognize that we are in Jesus and to stand in boldness. When believers stand in boldness against the lies and accusations of the rulers, it challenges and confronts the power of the rulers of this age because their power is in the realm of deception and lies. The only way to dislodge their power is to live in truth and walking in truth begins by living boldly according to who God is and who He says that we are.

The reason we have boldness in Jesus is because we have access. The Bible begins with the fall of man in which man lost access. We lost access to the garden. We lost access to God’s physical presence in our midst. Man has been wandering ever since – a pilgrim on a planet living in insecurity and fear born out of the wound in our souls from the lack of access to God.

The resurrection and ascension of Jesus restored our access. When He ascended and walked boldly into the throne room of God, He walked in as a man and when He said down at the right hand of power as a man, it suddenly shifted man’s position in the cosmos. Man had access again because a specific man had a place of authority on the throne. This set into motion the restoration of man’s access to the presence of God, and we now have access through the indwelling Spirit. We have access through intercession. For believers the throne of God is now a “throne of grace” meaning we have favor with God.

A process of restoration has been set into motion that will end with God’s presence on the earth again. God will dwell among us again. Man’s access to God and to His presence is being restored. This is why Paul tells that we have access with confidence. Access is one thing, but access with confidence is another thing. You could be given access to the President and offered the opportunity to speak to Him. However, if you did not have confidence you would not ask big things of the President. You would relate to him very differently if you were not certain about his posture towards you because there is a strict protocol in place when we stand before a one with great authority because it is presumptuous to approach a person of authority unless we are invited and even more presumptuous to make a significant request unless we have relationship.

By contrast, the president’s daughter approaches him very differently. She also has access, but she has access with confidence. She makes big requests. She trusts his heart. She is secure in his posture towards her. She knows that she is approaching a “throne of grace” – meaning she has favor when she stands before him – and she asks big things in confidence that he will give them to her. This is what it means to approach the throne of grace. This is what it means to have access with confidence, and we have a great King who asks us to approach in confidence. He assures us that, regardless of what we feel, we have access to him.

That access is a real place of authority and that is why the rulers and authorities primarily fight their war in accusation. They accuse God to us and they accuse us as individuals all so that we will not take advantage of the great place of privilege we have before the throne of God. They know that when we step into that place of authority it will ultimately mean the end of their lies and therefore the end of their power over men. This is why they accuse the people of God incessantly. Night and day they try to convince God’s people that we do not have access to God or confidence before Him (Revelation 12:10).

Jesus’ Ascension

To this day the primary mystery of Christianity is how God could become a man and remain both fully God and fully man. The incarnation, the event in which God becomes a man, remains the most controversial thing God has done. While the mystery and majesty of the incarnation is recognized by most believers, what is typically not recognized is that Jesus’ ascension is just as majestic and just as shocking because in the ascension a man ascends to God as a man. The fact that a man could ascend to God as a man and sit down at the right hand of power is just as shocking an event as God descending to become a man.

4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, (Ephesians 2:4–6 ESV)

When Paul says we are raised with Christ, he is not speaking only of the resurrection. The resurrection was the beginning of Jesus’ ascension, but Paul has more in mind than just the resurrection Ephesians 2. Paul clearly has the result of the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus in mind because he is thinking of Jesus’ exaltation to heavenly places. This is the result of both His resurrection and His ascension.

What is even more shocking than Jesus’ own ascension is that Paul tells us that we have been raised up with Him. In other words, when Jesus’ ascended, we ascended. Paul describes this reality by using the past tense. We have ascended. It has already been accomplished. Paul is describing a governmental reality, not a metaphysical one. He is not simply saying that we are raised up in our spirit. He is telling us that Jesus, as a man, has taken a governmental position and in doing so recovered the governmental position of man for all those who are in Jesus. We will be raised from the dead in the future, but we have already been raised positionally with Jesus. What man lost and forfeited in the garden in terms of his position and authority before God has been reclaimed.

Paul’s next phrase is crucial for the church – Paul says that God has seated us with Jesus. This is an important phrase because this is a governmental statement. Jesus did not just ascend, He sat down at the right hand of power. The fact that He sat down in the presence of God means He shares God’s authority. He is seated in the court of heaven as the sovereign One over creation. He does not simply stand before God as an intercessor, He sits on the throne as the Lord of all.

When Paul says we are seated with Him, he is making a monumental statement because being seated is a position of authority. When you come before a judge you stand and the judge sits. When ancient men approached a king they stood and the king sat. The one with power and authority sits – the one without it stands. Jesus is seated because He has the position of power and authority and, in Him, we share that place of government and authority.

When Paul says we are seated in heavenly places, he is not making a metaphysical point. He is not saying that we are exalted in some spiritual, ethereal way that is separate from our physical existence. He is emphasizing our governmental position in the cosmos. In biblical thinking the heavens are the place of ultimate authority and government. God dwells in the heavens. He is seated in the highest heavens. While we tend to think of the heavens as a spiritual reality, that is not the emphasis of the Bible when it describes the heavens. The Bible’s emphasis when it refers to the heavens is governmental.

Things that are above have authority over things that are below. This is why God’s dwelling always has height attached to it. He is above everything else. He is the highest because He is the ultimate authority. If Jesus is seated in the heavens it means He is in the place of ultimate authority. If we are seated with Him, it means we have been given access to His place of authority even before we are resurrected from the dead.

This is why Paul tells us that our primary conflict is with powers and principalities, not human beings (Ephesians 6:12). Jesus has been seated far above the powers of this age (Ephesians 1:12) and we have been seated with Him. That means we have been put in place governmentally to exercise God’s authority over the powers. The reason the powers retain their authority is that human beings, to whom God delegated authority, continue to empower them through agreement with them. In that agreement, human beings have become subject to the powers and the result is that the earth lies under the influence and control of the evil one (1 John 5:19).

In the ascension of Jesus, mankind was put positionally over the powers of this age. This is why we are now in a great wrestle – not with men – but with the powers. Our position in Jesus threatens them. Redeemed humanity is their greatest enemy because the only thing that empowers them is fallen humanity’s submission to the powers and agreement with them is what has enabled them to stay in their place of authority. In Jesus, man is able to resist them by exercising his God ordained authority over them, and this is the beginning of the end of their rule of terror.

They know this very well which is why they do everything they can to keep believers from recognizing who they are, their position in Jesus, and the power of their words. So long as we speak words that do not challenge the powers we keep them empowered. Right now the primary way we exercise our government is through our words. It is why prayer is part of a great conflict with the powers. Intercession is not just about asking God to do something, it is about declaring and agreeing with what God says.

This is why praying biblical prayers is so powerful. When we speak what the Bible says in agreement with God it has far more power than we realize. It is why the church is to be a singing people (Romans 15:9; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). Songs that declare the truth about who God is move the heart and challenge the powers. This is why preaching is about far more than the human audience we stand before. Preaching is a declaration of what is true to men and rulers and authorities. That declaration is a challenge to the powers of this age and that is why anointed preaching can suddenly transform the hearts of its human hearers. Anointed preaching challenges the lies of this age and breaks the grip of those lies on human hearts. This power is not limited to public preaching. Every conversation, no matter how small, has a bigger effect than we realize. Even one on one conversations have power when we declare the truth of who God is and who we are to each other.

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