Mustērion


9. THE MYSTERY OF “THE FULLNESS OF TIME”

Ephesians 1. 9-10


We saw at the start of this study that of the 28 instances of ‘musterion’ in the NT, 21 occur in the letters of Paul. Three of these are in the plural, without the definite article, ‘mysteries’ in general, and we will look at these instances briefly later. The remaining 18 all refer to a specific mystery, 5 of which we have studied in some detail: the mystery of godliness, already revealed in Christ, the mystery of lawlessness and the mystery of the Jews, both to be revealed before the end-times, and the mystery of the resurrection body and the mystery of marriage, which will be fully revealed only at the end of time, in our next life in eternity. Almost all the rest refer to the mystery of the gospel, 4 quite briefly, the other 8 in more detail. In the latter group there is a recurrent and recognisable word-cluster of vocabulary associated in Paul’s mind, it seems inextricably, with the gospel. At first sight, it seems that our next verse belongs to this group, since it contains several of this ‘gospel cluster’ of words; but on closer inspection it becomes apparent that this passage is not about soteriology (salvation by grace through faith in the gospel), but about eschatology - what happens at the end of time. This passage is Ephesians 1.9-10, right in the middle of one of the longest - and most magnificent - sentences that even Paul ever wrote, running from verse 3 to verse 14. To read it all aloud in a single breath, the standard guide for sentence-length, would need the lung capacity of a pearl-fisher - and, indeed, there are many precious jewels to be discovered in its depths. To enable us to come up for air from time to time, even the UBS Greek text prints full-stops after verses 6, 10 and 12, even though each is immediately followed by a relative clause depending on a noun in the previous verse, “Christ”, in each case, “in whom ---” (vv. 7,11,13). NIV even begins a new paragraph at verse 11, which seems to me to be a liberty too far. For the purpose of this study, however, I propose to dive straight in to verse 9, and provide as literal a translation as I can, before exploring its vocabulary, and so its meaning, more fully. The sentence sets out its theme at the start, saying (v.3) that “God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ”, and then going on to give us a glorious list of these blessings, reaching, at the end of verse 8 “all wisdom and understanding”, for (v.9) “he has made known to us the mystery of his will according to the loving purpose which he proposed in him (sc. Christ ? or “in himself”?) for the management of the fullness of the times, [namely,] to sum up everything in Christ, everything in heaven and everything on earth ---”.

(1) ‘sophia’, ‘gnōrizō’, ‘oikonomia’
2 Tim 3.15, 1 Corinthians 4.1

There are three words in this verse which, as we shall see, Paul regularly uses when writing about ‘the mystery of the gospel’, but which are used here in the context of the mystery of ‘the fullness of time’. The first two are closely linked, ‘wisdom’ (end of v.8), ‘sophia’ in Greek, and to ‘make known’, ‘gnōrizō’, one of the ‘gno-’ group of words from which are derived ‘agnostic’ and ‘diagnosis’, among others. Since God is all-wise, all true wisdom must come from him; by ‘making known’ to us the mystery of the gospel, God has made us wise, wise with the most important wisdom, “wise unto salvation” (2 Tim. 3.15, AV). The third word is ‘oikonomia’ (whence ‘economy’), which I translated ‘management’, but is often used elsewhere to mean ‘stewardship’, that is, management of his master’s business entrusted to a steward. In the ‘mystery of the gospel’ passages, Paul sees the making known of the gospel as a sacred trust for all who thus become wise, not to keep as a secret for their own benefit but to make known to others as well: they are “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4.1). The related personal noun ‘oikonomos’ is used here, and is regularly translated ‘steward’ in its 10 occurrences in the NT. In our verse, however, the abstract noun ‘oikonomia’ has caused translators problems. AV gives us “the dispensation of the fullness of times”, which is accurate enough, since a ‘dispensation’ is the arrangements a master makes for the management of his household (‘oikonomia’ literally means ‘household management’ ). But to translate a difficult Greek phrase into a difficult English phrase, while faithful to the original, is not helpful to the reader. NIV airbrushes the word out altogether, saying that God’s will is “to be put into effect when the times have reached their fulfilment” - following the lead, presumably, of NEB, which also offers “to be put into effect”. I have an interpretation of ‘oikonomia’ to offer in a moment, but first we need to look at the Greek originals of “the fullness of time” and to “sum up”.

(2) ‘plērō’, ‘plērōma’
Mark 1.15, Luke 21.24, Acts 2.1, 24.27

The Greek for ‘fullness’ is ‘plērōma’, the noun derived from the very common verb ‘plērō’, to ‘fill’, which occurs 87 times in the NT, 43 of these in the gospels. It is often used of ‘fulfilling’ scriptural prophecy: 12 of Matthew’s 16 uses of the verb are in this sense. It is also used, as the noun is here, in expressions of time, mostly in Luke, but with one notable instance in Mark - Jesus’ first recorded words in that gospel: “The appointed time has fully come (‘plērō’); the kingdom of God has come near: repent!” (1.15). This is particularly relevant to our context, for the word I have translated the “appointed time”, ‘kairos’, is the word used, in the plural, in Ephesians 1.10. The idea behind this expression seems to be that the commencement of Jesus’ earthly ministry is a significant moment in time, fixed long ages before on God’s calendar; but before it can come to pass, the intervening time (‘chronos’ in Greek, ‘time’ as an unvarying, ever-moving continuum) must fully elapse. Luke uses ‘plērō’ a number of times in this context. We saw in the last section on ‘the mystery of the Jews’ that Jesus foretold that “Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the gentiles - until the allotted times (‘kairoi’, plural form) of the gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21.24). Earlier still, we saw that the birthday of the church occurred “when the day of Pentecost was fully come”, that is, when all the 49 days since Passover had been ticked off one by one, and the 50th. (‘pentecostos’ in Greek) had arrived (Acts 2.1 - Luke uses the compound ‘sumplērō’ here). Stephen, in his long address to the Sanhedrin in Acts 7, twice (vv. 27, 30) talks about a 40-year period of Moses’ life being “fully completed”, first when, at the age of 40, he visited his own people and killed an Egyptian, and then, after 40 years in Midian, when God appeared to him in the burning bush. Perhaps Stephen is implying that these events, too, were part of God’s timetable. Similarly, at the end of Acts (24.27), Luke uses ‘plērō’ to refer to the ‘completion’ of Felix’s two-year term as governor of Judea, and his succession by Festus. The noun ‘plērōma’ is much less common than the verb, occurring only 17 times, 12 of them in Paul’s letters; but this is the only instance where it refers to the ‘fullness’ or ‘completion’ of a period of time - or ‘times’, to be more accurate.

(3) ‘kairos/kairoi’, ‘chronos'
(a) God's 'seasons':
Mat 16.3, Acts 1.6, 1 Thess 5.1

The noun ‘kairos’ is also very common: by an interesting statistical coincidence it, too, is used 87 times in the NT, but the instances which are relevant to our verse are the 16 occurrences where it is used, as here, in the plural. The best known of these is Matthew 16.3, where Jesus upbraids the Pharisees and Sadducees who ask him for a sign: they can read the sky for signs of tomorrow’s weather, but “the signs of the times you cannot read”. This phrase, with its catchy assonance, has entered English idiom via the AV, which is followed by the NIV. NEB omits this verse, which is not found in all the MSS, on the grounds that it is an interpolation from Luke 12.54-6, whose substance is, indeed, much the same; but since the wording is quite different, this seems - to an amateur in textual criticism, at least, - to be a dubious argument. A more accurate translation, however, would substitute alliteration for assonance: “the signs of the seasons”. Despite all the signs that Jesus is giving them, the religious authorities lack the spiritual insight to perceive that this is God’s long-promised ‘time’, the season of their Messiah. On two occasions in the NT, ‘chronos’ and ‘kairos’, both in the plural, are linked, and in both AV translates “times and seasons”. In Acts 1.6, the disciples ask Jesus: “Lord, are you at this time (‘chronos’) restoring the kingdom to Israel?”, to which Jesus replies (v.7): “It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has set under his own authority”. Both here and, with admirable consistency, in 1 Thessalonians 5.1, NIV translates “times and dates”, which makes the point well, for in his epistle Paul is talking about “the times and dates” of the ‘parousia’ of Jesus, which, he says, he does not need to write about because “you yourselves clearly know that the day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night” (v.2). It is clear that in both these contexts the linking of ‘chronos’ and ‘kairos’ also differentiates them: ‘chronos’ is time ‘like an ever-rolling stream’, while ‘kairos’ is a dam or weir or waterfall - a significant event in the river’s course. Or, to adopt the NIV’s suggestion, ‘chronos’ is a diary, a succession of blank pages, while ‘kairos’ is a key date entered in the diary.

(b) the seasons of the year
:
Matthew 21.41, Acts 13.15,17, 17.24,26, Gen 8.22

At its simplest, ‘kairoi’ (plural form) refers to the seasons of the year. We have visited the parable of the tenants and the vineyard once or twice already. At the end, in Matthew’s version, Jesus asks his listeners what the vineyard-owner will do in response to the maltreatment of his servants and the murder of his son. They reply: “He will bring those evil people to an evil end, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give back to him its fruits in their proper seasons” - or “at harvest time” (NIV, 21.41). This sense of ‘kairoi’ is used twice by Paul, as recorded by Luke in Acts, both in sermons addressed to entirely gentile audiences, where he has to start from Genesis 1, rather than in Exodus, as in his lengthy address in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch (13.16ff.). The first example is in his mini-sermon at Lystra , where he is desperately trying to stop his hearers worshipping him and Barnabas as gods after the healing of the cripple. He urges them to turn to the real God, “who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them --- giving evidence of his goodness by giving you rain from heaven and seasons of harvest” (14. 15,17). His sermon before the Areopagus in Athens, as it were a university audience, is longer and, presumably, rather better prepared. The ‘unknown god’, an altar to whom he had seen in the city, is in fact, he says, “the God who made the world and everything in it --- and who made from one [blood] all the people of the world to dwell over the face of all the earth, fixing for them both the regular seasons of the year and the boundaries of the lands where they lived” (17.24, 26). NEB provides a ringing translation of this last passage: “he fixed the epochs of their history and the limits of their territory”. ‘Epochs’ is, in itself, a plausible reading of ‘kairoi’, but in view of the parallelism with Acts 14 and the context here, it seems more likely that Paul is talking about the orderly creation of the natural world, with its alternating balances of seedtime and harvest, land and sea, mountain and plain, desert and fertile fields. If time (‘chronos’) was God’s first creation (“In the beginning God created ---”), it was quickly subdivided into seasons of day and night (Gen. 1.5); and after the flood God re-established and elaborated this order in his promise to Noah: “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, heat and cold, summer and winter, day and night will never cease” (Gen.8.22). This, surely, is Paul’s point in both these sermons.

(4) ‘kairos’ and ‘idios’
1 Tim 2.5-6, Titus 1.2-3, 1 Tim 6.14-15

In his letters, however, particularly in his pastoral epistles, Paul uses the plural ‘kairoi’ in a different sense, referring not to the orderly annual calendar of creation, but to the Creator’s own special timetable. There are 5 occurrences of ‘kairoi’ in these three letters (2 to Timothy, 1 to Titus), and 3 of them are accompanied by the adjective ‘idios’, which means ‘one’s own’, or ‘personal’ - giving us ‘idiom’, one’s own personal turn of phrase. So these 3 occurrences of the phrase refer to God’s own special moments in history, the key dates on his own calendar. The first of these refers to the most important event in human history, and in God’s timetable, the cross: “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom on behalf of all ---” (1 Tim. 2.5-6). There follows a difficult phrase, literally: “the witness at the proper times” (‘idios’ + ‘kairos’, both plural). NEB, I believe, gets closest to the meaning here: “so providing, at the fitting time, proof of the divine purpose”. I would adapt this slightly by making it clear that ‘the fitting time’ was in fact ‘God’s appointed time’. In the next passage, ‘God’s appointed time’ seems to refer not just to the crucifixion itself, but to the gospel era as a whole, from incarnation, perhaps, to ascension. Paul begins his letter to Titus with one of his special sentences, an elaborate greeting which keeps us waiting till verse 4 to tell us who he is actually writing to. We will just extract the filling from the ‘from Paul --- to Titus’ sandwich: “ ---eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised at the beginning of time (‘chronos’, plural), but has now revealed at his own appointed season (‘idios’ + ‘kairos’, plural) - the word of the gospel” (vv.2-3). This contrast between previous ages, when God’s plan was just a promise, and the present ‘gospel age’, when all has been revealed, is characteristic of Paul’s expressions of ‘the mystery of the gospel’ in several other passages which we will look at before long: all that is missing here is the actual word ‘mystery’. The only other date on God’s timetable which is as important as the first coming of Christ is his second coming, the ‘parousia’, and that date is referred to at the end of Paul’s first letter to Timothy. “I urge you”, Paul tells him, “to keep the commandment you have been given without blemish or blame until the appearance (‘epiphany’ here, not ‘parousia’) of our Lord Jesus Christ which [almighty God] will reveal at his own appointed season” (6.14-15). The other two instances of ‘kairoi’ refer to the “last times, when some will apostasise” (1 Tim. 4.1), and “the last days, when hard times will come upon you” (2 Tim.3.1). This reminds us of our study of ‘the mystery of lawlessness’ in 2 Thessalonians, where Paul says that before the ‘parousia’ there will be “the apostasy” when “the man of lawlessness” will be revealed “at his own appointed time” (‘kairos’, singular - 2 Thess 2.6).

(5) “The fullness of time”

We are now, I believe, in a better position to understand what Paul means in Ephesians 1.10 by the phrase “the fullness of time”, a phrase that has entered the language, presumably from this verse, but which needs ‘unpacking’ if we are to understand it fully. Literally, it means, as we saw earlier, “the fullness of the special times”, or “of the appointed seasons”. I suggest the following rather fuller paraphrase: “the end of time, when God’s whole timetable of special events, purposed from all eternity and promised in scripture, has been fulfilled, each in its appointed season”. This may not be as memorable as ‘the fullness of time’, but it is, I believe, what Paul means here. And, as we have seen, there are at least two such ‘kairoi’ still to be ‘fulfilled’ before Christ can return: the coming of the antichrist, ‘the man of lawlessness’, and the conversion of the Jews. We cannot tell when these special events will happen, for, as Jesus told his disciples, “it is not for you to know the times and seasons which the Father has placed in his own personal (‘idios’) authority” (Acts 1.7).

(6) ‘anakephalaiō’
Romans 13.9, Lev 6.5, Acts 22.28, Hebrews 8.1, Revelation 1.8

We now come to the verb at the centre of this difficult verse (Eph. 1.10) which has caused most of the problems of interpretation, and so of translation. This verb is ‘anakephalaiō’, and is found in the NT only here and in Romans 13.9, where its meaning is straightforward and undisputed: [8] “Do not be in debt to any one, except the debt of love you owe to each other. The one who loves has fulfilled (‘plērō’) the rest of the law, [9] for the commandments ‘You shall not commit adultery’, ‘You shall not murder’, ‘You shall not steal’, You shall not covet’ - and any other commandment there may be - are all summed up (‘anakephalaiō’) in this verse: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’”. The key word at the heart of this compound verb is ‘kephalē’, which means ‘head’; from this comes the adjective ‘kephalaios’, ‘belonging to the head’, or, more simply, ‘capital’ (from Latin ‘caput’), which, as in English, easily becomes another noun. This noun has two distinct meanings, each occurring once in the NT. In its financial sense, it refers to a ‘capital’ sum of money, as opposed to the interest on it. In Leviticus 6.5 and Numbers 5.7, the law decrees that any one who has, wittingly or unwittingly, defrauded someone or occasioned him financial loss, shall restore to him both the ‘kephalaion’ (LXX) and in addition 20% interest. This usage is found in the NT in Acts 22.28, where the Roman officer (Claudius Lysias) who is about to have Paul scourged hears that he is a Roman citizen, and tells him that he himself bought his citizenship “with a large sum of money” (‘kephalaion’). The word ‘sum’ is helpful here because it leads us towards the other meaning. At the end of Hebrews chapter 6, the writer says that Jesus was our forerunner, able to enter inside the veil in the tabernacle, or temple, into the very presence of God, the Holy of Holies. He was able to do so, the writer argues, because he was “a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek”, not just for a year but “for all time” (6.20). He then develops this idea through the whole of chapter 7; chapter 8 then begins: “Now of the things we have spoken, this is the sum” (‘kephalaion’, AV), or “this is the main point” (NEB). From this we can see that ‘anakephalaiō’ means to ‘sum up’ a lot of disparate material under a single ‘heading’, just as (to take a local example) all these different word-studies appear under the single heading ‘Mystery’. In one sense, then, Paul seems to be saying that, in the fullness of time, when the history of the created order has run its ( or rather, God’s) course, and all the key events in his timetable have been duly fulfilled, both man’s story and God’s story (‘history’!) will be ‘summed up’ in Jesus: he was “known before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1.20), the “firstborn of every creature” (Col. 1.15), and his ‘parousia’ brings the whole story to an end - he is indeed the “alpha and the omega”, as he proclaims three times in Revelation (1.8, 21.6, 22.13).

(7)
‘kephalē'
Psalm 118.22, 1 Corinthians 11.3, Ephesians 1.22, 5.23, Col 1.8, 2.9-10

It is hard to believe, however, that ‘summing up’ is all that Paul has in mind here. This drily academic metaphor, taken from the world of essay-writing or speech-making - or even of sermonising - does not seem consistent in tone with the gloriously exalted language Paul uses throughout this magnificent sentence. To speak of Christ as the final paragraph of history is an interesting idea, but not a particularly stirring image. Surely the resonance of ‘anakephalaiō’ which rang the loudest bell for Paul was the idea of ‘headship’ at its heart. The noun ‘kephalē’, the ‘head’, is, as one would expect, common in the NT, occurring 75 times in all. Of these, 32 are in the gospels and 5 in Acts; all these are literal, referring to physical heads (including, alas, the head of John the Baptist, Matt. 4.8, 11 etc.), with the exception of the 4 which are quotations from Psalm 118.22: “The stone which was rejected by the builders has become the head of the corner” ( three synoptic occurrences, plus Acts 4.11, Peter’s address to the Sanhedrin - he also quotes it in his first letter, 2.7). This prophecy was clearly central to the Christology of the early church, the church of which Christ was ‘the headstone of the corner’, uniting Jewish and gentile believers in one building - or ‘body’, as Paul put it. He uses ‘kephalē’ 18 times in his letters, one of them the “coals of fire” quotation from Proverbs (25.22, in Rom. 12. 20); 5 more uses, also literal, come in 1 Corinthians 11, in the passage on ‘head-covering’. The remainder, however, are all metaphorical, and most of these refer to Christ. He begins his teaching on head-covering by telling the Corinthians that “the head of every man (i.e. male) is Christ”. Three times Paul tells us that Jesus is “head of the church” (Eph. 1.22, 5.23, Col. 1.18), and it is on this great truth that his extended metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12 of the church as a body, with individual Christians as its parts, is predicated. But Christ’s headship is not limited to the church. In what is, perhaps, the fullest statement of Christ’s deity in the NT, Paul writes: “In Christ the complete fullness (‘plērōma’) of the Godhead dwells in bodily form, and you are complete (‘plērō’) in him, who is the head of every rule and authority” (Col. 2.9-10). It was this idea, surely, that was central to Paul’s thinking when he chose the unusual word ‘anakephalaiō’ in Ephesians 1.10. It was not just that Jesus would ‘sum up’ everything under one heading, but, even more, that he would ‘subject everything under his headship’.

(8) ‘oikonomia’ (contd.)
Luke 16.2, 1 Corinthians 9.17, Ephesians 3.2, Col 1.25-6

There is one more point about Paul’s use of ‘anakephalaiō’ here, a point to which Thayer helpfully draws attention in his lexicon: the verb appears in the middle voice. Greek is unique, so far as I know, in having not just an active and a passive voice for verbs, but also, in many instances, a middle voice. This concept is hard both for students to grasp and for teachers to explain. Often, as here, a verb in the middle takes a direct object, and in such instances the middle usually implies that the subject is performing the action ‘for himself’: it is an action in which he or she is personally involved or has a personal interest. A good example is the verb ‘apodidōmi’: in the active it means to ‘give away’, but in the middle it means to ‘give away to my own advantage’, that is, to ‘sell’. In our verse, God’s plan is to ‘sum up for himself’ everything in Christ; or, as we have just seen, ‘to bring together for his own glory’ all creatures on heaven and earth ‘under the headship of Christ’: this is “the mystery of his will”. This brings us back at last to the word ‘oikonomia’, discussed briefly at the beginning of this section, but left rather in abeyance since then. This word occurs 9 times in the NT (if the reading in the MSS of 1 Tim.1.4 is the correct one), 3 of them in Luke’s telling of the parable of the ‘unjust steward’, whose master tells him to “give an account of your stewardship” (16.2). That is the essential meaning of the word: the responsibility of looking after a household (‘oikos’) on behalf of its master. The other 6 uses are all Pauline, 5 of them, directly or indirectly, related to ‘the mystery of the gospel’. The first is the most helpful for an understanding of what the word means for Paul. In 1 Corinthians 9.17 he writes that “if I do this [preach the gospel] because I have made a career choice to be an evangelist, I have a reward for my work; but I do not preach the gospel by choice, but because I have been entrusted with a stewardship”. For Paul, the gospel was an ‘oikonomia’, a sacred trust held for the benefit of others, “for your sakes”, as he tells the Ephesians (3.2): “You have heard of the sacred trust (‘oikonomia’) given to me for your sakes --- the mystery [of the gospel]”. He repeats and emphasises the point a few verses later: “To me was given this grace, to preach the gospel to the gentiles --- and to reveal to everyone this sacred trust ---” (vv.8-9). In a parallel passage, he tells the Colossians that “I became a servant (‘deacon’) of the church through the sacred trust (‘oikonomia’) given to me by God for your sakes, to declare fully (‘plērō’) the word, the mystery [of the gospel] ---” (1.25-6). It seems reasonable to suppose, then, that in Ephesians 1.10 ‘oikonomia’ means much the same, a ‘stewardship’ entrusted by God , not here to Paul, but to Christ himself: he is the agent ‘in whom’ and ‘under whose headship’ he will ‘sum up’ the history of all his creatures.

(9) Jesus the judge: the parable of the sheep and the goats
Gen 18.25, John 5, 22,27,30, Hebrews4.15, Matthew 25.31-33

One important question remains: what will be the nature of Christ’s ‘stewardship’? What will his ‘summing up’ or his ‘headship’ entail? The general view of translators and commentators would seem to be, as expressed by NEB, “that the universe --- might be brought into a unity in Christ”, or, in AV, to “gather together in one all things in Christ”. NIV wins the prize here for attaching the idea of unity not to ‘all things’ but to Christ: “to bring all things --- together under one head, even Christ”. This (almost) removes the suggestion of universalism which the other two versions at first sight seem to encourage, and which John Stott in his commentary is at pains, not surprisingly, to argue against. Taking my courage in both hands, I dare to suggest that this argument is unnecessary, and that the stewardship entrusted to Jesus by his Father in this verse is not that of the Good Shepherd uniting all mankind in one sheepfold, but rather that of the ‘Judge of all the earth’, as Abraham entitles God (Gen. 18.25), and God now delegates to his Son. This is consistent, first of all, with Jesus’ own words in John 5: “The Father does not judge any one himself, but has given all judgement to the Son (v.22), --- and has given authority to his Son to exercise judgement, because he is the Son of Man (v.27); and my judgement is just, because I do not seek my own will, but the will of him who sent me (v.30)”. It is worth noting, firstly, that Jesus’ humanity, as “the Son of Man”, qualifies him uniquely to judge his fellow men on behalf of his Father, for he can “sympathise with us, having been tempted just as we are” (Hebrews4.15); and secondly that the repeated “will” in John 5.30 is ‘thelēma’ in Greek, just as in “the mystery of his will” in our verse (Eph. 1.9): it is God’s will and purpose that Jesus should act as judge at the end of time. This same truth is expressed in pictorial form in the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory (i.e.‘in the fullness of time’), and all the angels with him (cf. ‘all creatures in the heavens’), then he will sit on his throne of glory (exercising his ‘headship’), and all nations (cf. ‘all creatures on earth’) will be gathered together before him” - so as to “bring all things together under one Head” , not to unite them in one sheepfold, but to “separate them from each other as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (vv. 31-2). This is not “the Good Shepherd laying down his life for his sheep” (John 10.11), but the Shepherd King, as the next verse makes clear (“then the King shall say ---”), exercising as vicegerent the judgement entrusted to him by his Father - his ‘oikonomia’.

(10) universalism ?
Philippians 2.9-11, 1 Corinthians 15.23-5

This picture of the end-times is reflected in two other passages in Paul’s letters. The magnificent Christology of Philippians 2, after tracing the course of Christ’s journey from heaven to earth, from Godhead to manhood, from eternity to death on a cross, ends with the return journey to heaven: “For this reason also God raised him to even greater heights, and graciously gave him the name which is above every other name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of every creature in the heavens, and on earth, and beneath the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (vv.9-11). Here again we see every creature brought together under the headship of Christ and bending the knee before him, those who have acknowledged his Lordship while on earth in joyful worship, those who have rejected his claim on their lives now, too late, compelled to submit to his Kingship. This last truth is, I believe, implicit here, but is explicit in our next passage, 1 Corinthians 15. 23-5. We looked at this passage earlier when exploring the mystery of the resurrection body. Paul triumphantly asserts that “in Christ all will be made alive”; just as Christ himself, the ‘aparchē’, or ‘first-fruits’, has risen from the dead, so will those who belong to Christ be raised “at his ‘parousia’”. Then, Paul says, comes “the end”, i.e. ‘the fullness of time’, when after he has “brought to nothing every rule and power and authority he will hand over to God his Father the kingship (that has been entrusted to him, cf. the parable); for he must rule as king until he has subdued all his enemies beneath his feet”. Universalism is a recurrent motif in these passages: “all nations”, “every knee”, “every tongue”, “every creature in heaven and earth” - “and beneath the earth”. But the universalism which Jesus pictured and Paul here prophesies is universal submission, not universal salvation: all will submit, willingly or unwillingly, to Christ’s headship and lordship and kingship, but not all will be saved by his sacrifice. A writer or speaker may try to ‘sum up’ the thesis of a paragraph in a crisp final sentence, but often that thesis may, in fact, be an antithesis. So it will be when Jesus conducts his universal ‘summing up’: all will be “gathered together” before his throne and under his headship, but only so that they may be separated again, into two categories, the sheep and the goats, the saved and the lost. And Christ is not only the judge but also the touchstone, the criterion for judgement. One of Paul’s favourite phrases is “in Christ” - he uses it 4 times in our short passage. So judgement can be ‘summed up’ in Christ: whoever is “in Christ” will be saved, whoever is not will be lost.

(11) Ephesians 1. 9-10

Having begun this study by offering as literal a translation of Ephesians 1. 9-10 as I could, I will conclude it by trying to ‘sum up’ “the mystery of the fullness of time” with a paraphrase which will, I hope, reflect all - or most - of the points I have made. [9] “God has made known to us the mystery of his will, his gracious purpose planned long ago, [10] to entrust to Christ the oversight of the events at the end of time, when history, God’s story, has run its full allotted course. His purpose was that Christ, on his Father’s behalf, should bring together for judgement under his headship and lordship and kingship all created beings in heaven and on earth, to determine who belong to him and who do not.” Perhaps Paul would have written something like this had he not been desperately trying to keep this sentence as short as possible!

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