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In Ephesians 3, Paul tells us what "the mystery of Christ" is and how we are to administer it as God's "stewards."
1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles [ethnos], 2 if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you; 3 that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief.
Paul is saying that this "mystery of Christ" was given to him by revelation, no doubt while he was at Mount Sinai in Arabia shortly after his conversion.
4 And by referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;
A "mystery" is a secret or hidden thing, so Paul says that this was not known to others, at least not in the clarity and manner in which it has now been revealed to the apostles and prophets since the day of Pentecost. So what is this great revelation?
6 to be specific, that the Gentiles [ethnos] are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
The term "fellow heirs" is from the Greek word sunkleronomos, which means a co-heir or joint-heirs. Paul uses this term also in Romans 8:17, saying that we are the children of God, "and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ."
Paul uses the term again in Hebrews 11:9, speaking of Abraham, saying,
9 By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise.
So Isaac and Jacob are said to be "fellow heirs" with Abraham. This is obvious to us, of course, because they were of the same family. But when Paul describes the position of the Ephesians using the same term, we can see how the Jews of his day would strongly object. Paul had gone to Ephesus on his third missionary journey (Acts 19:1). There he had boldly testified of Christ in the synagogue for about three months (19:8), before the opposition made him withdraw.
Paul then established a teaching center in the philosophical school of Tyrannus, where he taught for two years (19:10). Both Jews and Greeks became believers, because the Word was taught with many miracles. In all, Paul spent three years in Ephesus (20:31), teaching the Word longer than in any other city on his missionary journeys. This was from 55-58 A.D., as I showed in my book, Lessons from Church History, Vol. 1, pp. 56-60.
Ephesus was also the place where Paul met a key friend named Luke, who then accompanied him on the rest of his missionary journeys and wrote the book of Acts. Thus, beginning in Acts 20:5, Luke begins to use the term "we" in the narration.
The point is that Ephesus was a very important Greek city, and the Christians there were both Jews and Greeks. Paul's statement, then, in his letter to the Ephesians shows that he had already taught them clearly and forcefully that they were one body and fellow heirs of the promises of God.
In other words, Jews did not possess special genes from God or Abraham that made them more chosen than the Greeks. Paul's clear teaching is that the dividing wall in the temple, created by the traditions of men, had been abolished in Christ (Eph. 2:14-16). As a missionary of the Gospel, it was Paul's commission to preach equality in the Kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit was the promise of the Father to Abraham. The Spirit had been given first in Jerusalem (Acts 2), but later in Samaria (Acts 8) and to the Romans in Caesarea (Acts 10). Paul was then instrumental in administering the baptism of the Spirit to the Greeks, as we see in Acts 19:6.
Thus, Paul speaks of the promise of the Father in his letter to the Ephesians in 3:7-9,
7 of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God's grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. 8 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light what is the administration [stewardship] of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things.
Paul was a steward of the mystery of Christ, defined earlier in verse 6 as the revelation that the ethnos ("nations" or ethnic groups) are fellow heirs of the promise given to Abraham. Abraham was made a father of many "nations." The Hebrew word used in Gen. 17:5 is goyim, and its Greek equivalent is ethnos. Thus, in his book of Galatians, Paul speaks of Abraham in greater detail as the father of all who have faith in Christ. In Gal. 3:29 he says,
"And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise."
This is confirmed in Ephesians 3, where he says that both Jews and Greeks are "fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise."
Because of Jewish opposition to this teaching of equality in Christ, Paul seems to have focused much time establishing this principle. He took this revelation as a heavenly mandate and strenuously fought even against the Christian Judaizers who had sided with the temple priests. The Greek proselytes to Judaism had to be circumcised, and even then they were kept far away from God by the dividing wall in the outer court of the temple. They were treated as second-class citizens who were lucky to receive a few crumbs from God's table, never able to become full sons of God, but always kept in the servants' quarters.
It is no wonder that the Jews hated Paul more than they hated Jesus, and the Christian Judaizers tried to put the Greek Christians back under the authority of the Jerusalem Church, which in turn had largely submitted to the temple priests and its system of religious bondage that Paul calls "Hagar" (Gal. 4:25).
But Paul was confident of his revelation, writing in Eph. 3:11-13,
11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. 13 Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory.
Paul was the advocate for the right of Greek Christians to have full and complete access to Christ through faith alone. It was for this reason that he suffered tribulation during his ministry. This epistle was written from Rome, where he was a prisoner, having appealed his case to Rome to avoid extradition from Caesarea to Jerusalem (Acts 25:1-11).
If Paul had been taken to Jerusalem for trial, he would have faced certain death. Hence, he appealed to Rome. So instead of going to Rome as a free man, he went as a prisoner, thanks to Jewish persecution. For this reason Paul tells the Ephesians not to lose heart at his tribulations on their behalf.
It is important to understand the historic conflict that Paul faced, not only from the Jews who rejected Jesus Christ, but also from the Christian Judaizers who would "distort the gospel of Christ" (Gal. 1:7). The revelation that the ethnos were fellow heirs and fellow partakers of the promise of God was worth the tribulation that Paul faced throughout his stewardship of this mystery of Christ.