Ephesians 1:20-23 Christ and the Church at God’s Right Hand

Ruins of Celsus Library in Ephesus

(Eph 1:20-23 ESV)  20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,  21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Vv. 20 Christ Co-Regent

The might of God, described in the last post, works for us, but it especially works through the resurrection of Jesus. And it’s not just that God defeated death through Jesus. It’s not just that we are saved from damnation. Rather, as Paul will explain, the fate of Jesus after his resurrection is also our fate.

God not only raised Jesus, he “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.” God here is pictured as the king, seated on his throne, with Jesus, his Son, at his right hand — making him co-regent. The language is a reference to —

(Psa 110:1-4 ESV) A Psalm of David. The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”  2 The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies!  3 Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours.  4 The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

Echoed in —

(Luk 22:69 ESV)  69 “But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.”

In ancient times, where someone sat in relation to the host or king signified one’s relationship. And the place of greatest honor was at the right hand. Indeed, in the case of a co-regency, the co-regent would sit at the king’s right hand.

In the Roman world, and in empires before, the son of a king was often appointed co-regent, to reign with the king while the older king was still alive, as a means of training and spreading the work. The father had the greater power, but the co-regent was often given power over the entire kingdom — other than his father. And the co-regent was said to sit at the right hand of his father.

And so, Paul follows David in picturing Jesus’ being seated in his rightful place, as the Father’s co-regent.

v. 21 “Far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come”

Thus, Jesus is pictured above all other powers (besides the Father), even over the angels and the heavenly host. For the sake of Paul’s audience, Paul makes explicit that Lord Jesus is over even the emperor, who pretends to be a god, and over the gods of the Roman Empire. Jesus is above all powers of any kind.

And Jesus’ reign is both in this age and in the future age. After the Second Coming, Christ will continue to rule, although those who rebel against him will be destroyed.

v. 22 Jesus and the Church

(Eph 1:22-23 ESV)  22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,  23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Of course, in ancient times, the image of being under a king’s feet was representative of utter dominion and authority. Paul borrows his imagery from Psalm 8 —

(Psa 8:1-9 ESV) The Gittith. A Psalm of David. O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.

2 Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.

3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,  4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.

6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet,  7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,  8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

9 O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Notice that David is speaking of mankind, not the Messiah. “Man” and the “son of man” in v. 3 is, in v. 4, “lower than the heavenly beings.” But Jesus is the ultimate man, indeed, the man in whom all men become truly men, that is, truly what they were created to be — in the image of God.

Verse 6 is a reference to the “dominion” that God gave mankind in Genesis 1 —

(Gen 1:26 ESV) Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

But man fell from his rightful dominion, and will only return to his throne through Jesus — as Paul will explain. Therefore, the scriptures sometimes apply this Psalm to the Messiah. Jesus is the man who is truly in God’s image and through whom the rest of us attain to our original purpose and nature.


The meaning of “head” or kephale is much controverted. Many immediately leap to the conclusion that “head” means boss, because in the West, “head” is idiomatic for boss. (“Idiomatic” refers to a metaphor so common that no context is needed to interpret it.) But in the First Century, kephale was not idiomatic for boss. Oddly enough, in Hebrew it, with ??????
or ro’sh meaning either the physical head or ruler. Oddly enough, with only one exception, when ro’sh means “ruler,” the Septuagint translators use archon (meaning ruler) instead of kephale (meaning head). Therefore, we can’t just leap to the conclusion that kephale = ruler or boss when the Septuagint translators rejected this interpretation.

What does Paul actually say?

“[The Father] gave [Christ] as head over all things to the church,  23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

We first notice that Paul is using “head” in the physical sense of the top of the body. The church is the body of Christ, and Christ is sitting on a throne at the right hand of God. The church is sitting on the throne, and if we are to be true to First Century thought, the person who is ruling is Christ with the church. Both are on the throne.

We have to skip a little ahead, just to show that I’m not crazy —

(Eph 2:6 ESV)  6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

“We” are “seated … with him in the heavenly places.” “Seated … with” means that we’re sitting on the throne, too! That’s what it says. And it makes sense. Remember, in Christ, we are restored to what we were always meant to be, to the originally created order of things. We are restored to dominion “over all the earth.” But we know have our dominion in Christ.

We are rulers! We are kings! After all, we are the body of Christ, and Christ is a ruler and king. But Christ is ruler and king of the world, and we sit on his throne with him, indeed, as part of him. He doesn’t rule over us. He rules over the world “with his saints to reign.”

(Rev 22:3-5 ESV)  3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.  4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

We reign. We are the servants, and it’s the servants who “reign.” This is all according to Daniel’s prophecy —

(Dan 7:27 ESV) And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them.

“He lives forever with his saints to reign!”


Now, the hard part of this, of course, imagining how it’s possible for the church to be on the throne today. We’ll get to that when we get to 2:6. For now, we’re just trying to figure out what “head” means. And head means that Jesus’ relationship to us as in some sense the same as the body’s head is to the body.

To Westerners, this is obviously about the brain, but First Century men had little concept of the nervous system and such. You don’t find in scriptures a reference to the “brain” as being where the mind and control are. That’s just not how people thought 2,000 years ago.

Rather, we see the image expanded by Paul in —

(Eph 4:15-16 ESV) 5 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

The “head” is something into which the church is to grow. And the body is attached to and held together by the head. And the head “makes the body grow” in love. Paul’s image of “head” is that the head is the source of nutrition and sustenance that builds the body up and gives it growth, and the head holds the body together in a whole.

There is nothing here or Eph 1:22 that declares the head the ruler. Rather, the head is part of the body — the first part — and the head and body sit on a throne from which they rule all else.

None of this is to deny that Jesus is indeed our Lord and we are his servants. The point is simply that the word “head” has a different meaning, and when we get the word wrong, we get the lesson wrong. This is about the church as rulers, not as ruled.


In v. 23, Paul describes the body, the church, as “the fullness of him who fills all in all.” Some translations emphasize that Jesus fills all and others interpret that the body fills all. After a technical analysis of the grammar, Lenski concludes,

The … “fulness” [should] be taken in the active sense: we are “that which fills” him who “fills” all the things.

In other words, the church fills Christ and Christ fills all. And this is not far removed from the image of the church as the body of Christ. We are within in, and we participate with him as he fulfills his mission throughout the universe. We are part of who he is and participate in what he does.

To borrow from Randy Harris and Rubel Shelly, we are the second incarnation. We are Christ on earth — his body — doing his will because we are part of him. It’s not because he commands us, but because we share a common will. We want what we want, because we’ve been transformed. Thus, being in Christ becomes freedom, because we are transformed into his image and we get to do what we really want to do.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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One Response to Ephesians 1:20-23 Christ and the Church at God’s Right Hand

  1. Henry Wu says:

    Thanks Jay, I was given a word in Heb 10:13 and searched the web for confirmation and read your aticle on this and I fully agree with you. We are in Christ, the church is to disciple the whole world and put everything under ‘ Christ’s feet’ which when He returns will be a victorious church not a defeatedone!

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