BOOKS: BIBLICAL STUDIES (1500BC-AD70) / EARLY CHRISTIAN PRETERISM (AD50-1000) / FREE ONLINE BOOKS (AD1000-2008)
THE PAROUSIA IN THE APOSTLOTIC EPISTLES
THE PAROUSIA IN THE EPISTLE TO THE EPHESIANS.
THE ECONOMY OF THE FULNESS OF THE TIMES.
Though this passage does not affirm anything directly respecting the nearness of the Parousia, yet it has a very distinct bearing upon the event itself. The field of investigation which it opens is indeed far too wide for us now to explore, yet we cannot wholly pass it by. The theme is one on which the apostle loves to expatiate, and nowhere does he dwell upon it more rapturously than in this epistle. It may be presumed therefore that, however obscure it may seem to us in some respects, it was not unintelligible to the Christians of Ephesus, or those to whom this epistle was sent, for, as Paley well observes, no man write unintelligibly on purpose. We may also expect to find allusions to the same subject in other parts of the apostle’s writings, which may serve to elucidate dark sayings in this.
There are two questions which are raised by the passage before us: (1) What is meant by the ‘gathering together in one of all things in Christ?’ (2) What is the period designated ‘the economy of the fulness of the times,’ in which this ‘gathering together in one’ is to take place?
1. With regard to the first point we are greatly assisted in determination by the expression which the apostle employs in relation to it, viz. ‘the mystery of his will.’ This is a favourite word of St. Paul in speaking of that new and wonderful discovery which never failed to fill his soul with adoring gratitude and praise,---the admission of the Gentiles into all the privileges of the covenant nation. It is difficult for us to form a conception of the shock of surprise and incredulity which the announcement of such a revolution in the divine administration excited in the Jewish mind. We know that even the apostles themselves were unprepared for it, and that it was with something like hesitation and suspicion that they at length yielded to the overpowering evidence of facts,---‘Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life’ (Acts xi. 18). But to the apostle of the Gentiles this was the glorious charter of universal emancipation. Of all men he saw its divine beauty and glory, its transcendent mystery and marvelousness, most clearly. He saw the barriers of separation between Jew and Gentile, the antipathies of races, ‘the middle wall of partition,’ broken down by Christ, and one great family of brotherhood formed out of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues, under the all-reconciling and uniting power of the atoning blood. We cannot be mistaken, then, in understanding this mystery of the ‘gathering together in one all things in Christ’ as the same which is more fully explained in chap. iii. 5,6, ‘the mystery which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel.’ This is the unification, ‘the summing up,’ or consummation , to which the apostle makes such frequent reference in this epistle: ‘the making of both one,’ ‘the making of twain one new man;’ ‘reconciling both unto God in one body’ (Ephes. ii. 14, 15, 16). This was the grand secret of God, which had been hidden from past generations, but was now disclosed to the admiration and gratitude of heaven and earth.
But it may be said, How can the reception of the Gentiles into the privileges of Israel be called the comprehension of all things, both which are in the heavens, and in the earth?
Some very able critics have supposed that the words heaven and earth in this, and in several other passages, are to be understood in a limited and, so to speak, technical sense. To the Jewish mind, the covenant nation, the peculiar people of God might fitly be styled ‘heavenly,’ while the degraded and uncovenanted Gentiles belonged to an inferior, an earthly, condition. This is the view taken by Locke in his note on this passage:---
It is in favour of such an interpretation of ‘heaven and earth’ that these expressions must apparently be taken in a similar restricted sense in other passages where they occur. For example, ‘Till heaven and earth pass’ (Matt. v. 18); ‘Heaven and earth shall pass away’ (Luke xxi. 33). In the first of these passages the context shows that it cannot possibly refer to the final dissolution of the material creation, for that would assert the perpetuity of every jot and tittle of that which has long ago been abrogated and annulled. We must, therefore, understand the ‘passing away of heaven and earth’ in a tropical sense. A judicious expositor makes the following observations on this passage:---
There seems, therefore, to be Scripture warrant for understanding ‘things in heaven and things in earth’ in the sense indicated by Locke, as meaning Jew and Gentiles. It is possible, however, that the words point to a still wider comprehension and a more glorious consummation. They may imply that the human race, separated from God and all holy beings, and divided by mutual enmity and alienation, was destined by the gracious purpose of God to be reclaimed, restored, and reunited under one common Head, the Lord Jesus Christ, to the one God and Father of mankind, and to all holy and happy beings in heaven. The whole intelligent universe, according to this view, was to be brought under one dominion, the dominion of God the Father, through His Son, Jesus Christ. This is the great consummation presented to us in so many forms in the New Testament. It is the ‘regeneration’  of Matt. xix. 28; the ‘times of refreshing’ [ ]; and the ‘times of restoration of all things’ [ ] of Acts. iii. 19, 21; the ‘subjection of all things to Christ’ of 1 Cor. xv. 28; the ‘reconciliation of all things to God’  of Col. i. 20; the ‘time of reformation’ [ ] of Heb. ix. 10; the ‘ ’---‘the new age’---of Ephes. i. 21. All these are only different forms and expressions of the same thing, and all point to the same great coming era; and to this category we may unhesitatingly assign the phrase, ‘the economy of the fulness of the times,’ and ‘the gathering together in one of all things in Christ.’
Before this universal dominion of the Father could be publicly assumed and proclaimed, it was necessary that the exclusive and limited relation of God to a single nation should be superseded and abolished. The Theocracy had therefore to be set aside, in order to make way for the universal Fatherhood of God: ‘that God might be All in all.’
2. The next question for consideration is, Have we any indication of the period at which this consummation was to take place?
We have the most explicit statements on this point; for almost every on of those equivalent designations of the event enables us to fix the time. The regeneration is ‘when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory;’ the times of ‘restitution of all thing’ are when ‘God shall send Jesus Christ;’ the ‘subjection of all things to Christ’ is ‘at his coming’ and ‘the end.’ In other words, all these events coincide with the Parousia; and this, therefore, is the period of ‘the reuniting of all things’ under Christ.
We arrive at the same conclusion from the consideration of the phrase, ‘the economy of the fulness of the times.’ An economy is an arrangement or order of things, and appears to be equivalent to the phrase , or covenant. The Mosaic dispensation or economy is designated the ‘old covenant’ (2 Cor. iii. 14), in contrast to the ‘new covenant,’ or the ‘Gospel dispensation.’ The ‘old covenant’ or economy is represented as ‘decaying, waxing old, and ready to vanish away,’---that is to say, the Mosaic dispensation was about to be abolished, and to be superseded by the Christian dispensation’ (Heb. viii. 13). Sometimes the old, or Jewish, economy is spoken of as this aeon, the present aeon [ , ]; and the Christian, or Gospel, dispensation as ‘the coming aeon,’ and the ‘world to come’ [ , ] (Ephes. i. 21; Heb. ii. 5). The close of the Jewish age or economy is called ‘the end of the age’ [ ], and it is reasonable to conclude that the end of the old is the beginning of the new. It follows, therefore, that the economy of the fulness of the times is that state or order of things which immediately succeeds and supersedes the old Jewish economy. The economy of the fulness of the times is the final and crowning dispensation; the ‘kingdom which cannot be moved;’ ‘the better covenant, established upon better promises.’ Since, then, the old economy was finally set aside and abrogated at the destruction of Jerusalem, we conclude that the new aeon, or ‘economy of the fulness of times,’ received its solemn and public inauguration at the same period, which coincides with the Parousa.
THE DAY OF REDEMPTION.
These two passages obviously point to the same act and the same period. What is the redemption here referred to---the redemption of the purchased possession? Ancient Israel is called the Lord’s inheritance (Deut. xxxii. 9); and the people of God are said to be His inheritance (Ephes. i. 11, Alford’s translation). Here, however, it is not God’s inheritance, but our inheritance, that is referred to; and that inheritance is not yet in possession, but in prospect; the pledge or earnest of it only (viz. the Holy Spirit) having been received. We are therefore compelled to understand by the inheritance the future glory and felicity awaiting the Christian in heaven. This, then, is the inheritance, and also the purchased possession, for they both refer to the same thing. Obviously it is something future, yet not distant, for it is already purchased, though not yet possessed. It stood in the same relation to the Ephesian Christians as the land of Canaan to the ancient Israelites in the wilderness. It was the promised rest, into which they hoped to live to enter. The day when the Lord Jesus should be revealed from heaven was the day of redemption to which the apostolic churches were looking forward. Our Lord had foretold the tokens of that day’s approach. ‘When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh.’ He had also declared that the existing generation should not pass away till all was fulfilled’ (Luke xxi. 28, 32). The day of redemption, therefore, was in their view drawing nigh.
In the same manner St. Paul, writing to the Christians in Rome, speaks of the eager longing with which they were ‘waiting for the adoption, or redemption of their body from the bondage of corruption’ (Rom. viii. 23). This passage is precisely parallel with Ephes. i. 14 and iv. 30. There is the same inheritance, the same earnest of it, the same full redemption in prospect. The change of the material and mortal body into an incorruptible and spiritual body was an important part of the inheritance. This was what the apostle and their converts expected at the Parousia. The day of redemption, therefore, is coincident with the Parousia.
THE PRESENT AEON AND THAT WHICH IS COMING.
We have often had occasion to remark upon the true sense of the word , so often mistranslated ‘world,’ Locke observes: ‘It may be worth while to consider whether hath not ordinarily a more natural signification of the New Testament by standing for a considerable length of time, passing under some one remarkable dispensation.’ There were in the apostle’s view at least two great periods or aeons: the one present, but drawing to a close; the other future, and just about to open. The former was the present order of things under the Mosaic law; the latter was the new and glorious epoch which was to be inaugurated by the Parousia.
‘THE AGES [AEONS] TO COME.’
On this passage the following observation is made by Conybeare and Howson:---
It would be perhaps be more proper to say that it refers to the approaching salvation of these Gentile believers, and their glorification with Christ; for this is the consummation always contemplated in the New Testament as near at hand (Rom. xiii. 11).
Email PreteristArchive.com's Sole Developer and Curator, Todd Dennis
(todd @ preteristarchive.com)
Opened in 1996