(Eph 1:11-12 ESV) 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.
As will become clearer in the next couple of verses, Paul changes voices here. “We” shifts from “we Christians” to “we Jewish Christians.” It is Jew Christians who were the first to hope in Christ. Of course, most of Israel rejected the Messiah, but it remains true that those who accepted him first were the Jews — all according to God’s plan.
I remind the readers of the series on Election from several months ago, sorting through Rom 8 – 11, which is Paul’s most comprehensive discussion of the doctrine of election. And in those chapters, Paul works his readers through a series of Old Testament prophecies showing that all is going according to God’s plan. The Jews are first invited into the Kingdom, many reject it but a remnant are preserved by God, and God invites the nations into the Kingdom, thus honoring his promise to Abraham to bless all nations through Israel.
Therefore, I take “works all things according to the counsel of his will” to mean something like “in accordance with his plan.” I don’t think the phrase should be taken out of the Old Testament context to mean something like “no one chooses anything, but God makes him choose.” God certainly has the power to force any of us to make choices, and he certainly exercises influence on people from time to time — as the scriptures plainly teach. But Paul’s subject isn’t free will. It’s God working his redemptive plan.
“We have obtained an inheritance” refers to the Jews obtaining an inheritance — which is intentionally ironic. The Jews, of course, were in possession of Judea at the time Paul wrote. They thought they already had their inheritance! But Paul says they gained their inheritance by their “hope in Christ.”
Hope is a major theme of Jeremiah —
(Jer 17:13-14 ESV) 13 O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you shall be put to shame; those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living water. 14 Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise.
(Jer 29:11-14 ESV) 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
(Jer 50:5-7 ESV) 5 They shall ask the way to Zion, with faces turned toward it, saying, ‘Come, let us join ourselves to the LORD in an everlasting covenant that will never be forgotten.’ 6 “My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray, turning them away on the mountains. From mountain to hill they have gone. They have forgotten their fold. 7 All who found them have devoured them, and their enemies have said, ‘We are not guilty, for they have sinned against the LORD, their habitation of righteousness, the LORD, the hope of their fathers.’
“Hope” to Jeremiah means a return from exile and the restoration of the kingdom. Paul, therefore, is declaring that the kingdom was not restored by Ezra and Nehemiah but by Jesus of Nazareth. He is the true hope. And the true inheritance isn’t Palestine but the new heavens and new earth — the world cleansed and transformed. The meek shall inherit the earth.
“So that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory” seems to me, therefore, to mean that Jews bring praise to God by their hope in Jesus — all as God planned from before the foundations of the earth.
I think this language is a paraphrase of —
(Jer 33:7-9 ESV) 7 I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel, and rebuild them as they were at first. 8 I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me. 9 And this city shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and a glory before all the nations of the earth who shall hear of all the good that I do for them. They shall fear and tremble because of all the good and all the prosperity I provide for it.
“This city” — meaning Jerusalem, of course — is taken by Paul as a reference to the Jews generally. God’s plan is to forgive their sins so that they will be a praise and glory “before all the nations.” The forgiveness of the Jews, through Jesus, is a first step toward the sending of the message of “all the good” — the good news — that God is doing.
It’s, of course, quite unprovable that Paul has this particular passage in mind, but he certainly has this flow of prophetic thought in mind. God is working his plan, and the salvation of the Jews is a step toward the salvation of the Gentiles. The forgiveness of the Jews is a necessary step before the inclusion of the Gentiles into the Kingdom.
(Eph 1:13-14 ESV) 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
“Word of truth” means the gospel, just as in Colossians. The steps toward receipt of the Holy Spirit here are “hear the gospel” and “believe in him.” Now, notice the emphasis on believing in Jesus, rather than believing in the gospel. Yes, we of course must believe the gospel, but we believe in Jesus. We are saved by a person, not by having the right positions. Our confidence is in the kindness and faithfulness of Jesus, not our expertise on kingdom theology.
“You also” is a reference to the Gentiles. They, too, having been saved, received the Holy Spirit. To Paul, this has profound implications in terms of God’s story and eschatology. It’s the fulfillment of prophecies, such as —
(Joe 2:28 ESV) 28 “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.
The seal and the engagement ring
Now, we need to pause here and consider two powerful images Paul uses for the presence of the Spirit in believers: “seal” and “guarantee.”
In ancient times, a seal was generally made of wax, with an impression made in it by a signet ring or stamp. The seal showed origin, ownership, or authenticity. A letter might be sealed by the sender’s seal to confirm who really sent it. A jug of wine might be sealed to show who owns the wine. A king’s decree might be sealed to show that the sender has the authority of the king.
When a Christian receives the Spirit, the Spirit shows that we belong to God. And it shows that our salvation comes from God. It’s authentic. It’s real. And the Spirit in us shows the world that our message is truly from the King.
But, of course, the seal was not so much for the benefit of the jug of wine as for others, right? The thing that makes a seal a seal is its visibility. The whole point of the seal is that others should see it and recognize it and who impressed it. Just as in the photo, the seal has the name or initials of the owner of the seal. A seal doesn’t say “owned”; it says “owned by Jesus.”
Therefore, Paul expects that the presence of the Spirit should be as plain and obvious as a seal. People who meet a Christian should see — and see quickly — that this person has been transformed by Jesus. This person should bear the mark of Christ. It should be unmistakable.
The Greek word for “guarantee” is arrabon, which in modern Greek means “engagement ring.” The word is variously translated as “earnest,” “pledge,” or “deposit.” A good modern translation would be “down payment.” When you buy a car, you normally sign a note, promising to pay the price, and you make a down payment. Now, imagine this conversation —
* Seller: To buy this car, you must make a down payment of $1,000 and sign this note for another $9,000.
* Buyer: I’m very glad to do so. Here’s my signature on the note, and I hereby promise to pay $1,000.
* Seller: You misunderstood. A said “down payment.”
* Buyer: No, I was quite clear. I very honestly and sincerely promise to pay you $1,000. Ask anyone. I’m good for my word. I never, ever break my promises. My credit is excellent.
* Seller: I need cash in hand so you have something at risk when you take the car off the lot.
* Buyer: My word is my bond. I really, really, really promise! I’ll put it in writing. I’ll sign a note before 20 bishops and a notary public! Why can’t you take the promise of a trustworthy man?
Seller: Sorry that we can’t do business.
It’s pretty silly, right? But the theory that God works only through his word is just as unrealistic. While God is indeed trustworthy and honest, his written word is much like a promissory note from a man with excellent credit. It’s a promise that will be honored, but it’s not a down payment. It’s like the note we sign when we buy a car.
No, a down payment must be real and immediate — more than a promise. It’s something received “in hand.”
The Spirit is an arrabon. A man asks a woman to marry him. She says yes, and the man gives her an engagement ring. Although she knows he’ll keep his promise to marry her, because he loves her and she loves him, every few minutes, she looks at the ring and feels assured. His promise is so certain that he’s given me this very beautiful, very valuable gift to remind me and assure me of his promises. And because she has the ring, she feels the certainty of his promise.
These are the images that Paul chose to give us — in a general epistle written to many different churches across the Empire. Paul says very little in Ephesians about miraculous powers, and the context is clearly about the Spirit given to “all flesh.”
He’s not saying you are assured of your salvation because you worked hard and finally received the gift of tongues. No, he’s speaking of the Spirit received when we believe. But this Spirit — common to all believers — should change us in ways that are as obvious to others as a seal or an engagement ring. It should be as immediate and real as cash in hand.