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EPHESIANS 1:20-23 THOSE CHRISTIANS are greatly the losers whose thoughts about Christ are almost confined to the manger of Bethlehem and the cross of Calvary.
While we cannot be sufficiently thankful for Christ’s death, for our salvation, and for everlasting bliss hinged thereon, we must bear in mind that His death at Golgotha was not the termination of His history.
Important instructions and spiritual advantages are derived by directing our attention to His resurrection also, for that blessed event not only bore conclusive testimony to the divinity of His mission and supplied the most solid ground for our faith in Him; it is likewise the pledge and assurance that we too shall be raised from the dead. The Word of truth goes on to inform us that, after continuing on earth for forty days, the risen Savior ascended to heaven, that He is now seated at the right hand of God, where He intercedes for His people. In the epistles our gaze is frequently directed to the glorified and exalted state of our Savior, and it is the privilege and duty of faith to follow Him into the Father’s presence, view Him within the veil, and eye Him as the King of kings.
THE SUPREMACY OF THE GOD-MAN MEDIATOR In the closing portion of the apostle’s prayer in Ephesians 1 we are reminded that the risen Redeemer has been invested with all power, authority and dominion. That was part of His reward and triumph ( Philippians 2:9). It was as the God-man Mediator that He was thus invested and given the scepter of the universe. Also, as the Head of the Church Christ passed within the veil “whither the forerunner is for us entered” ( Hebrews 6:20). How that ought to strengthen the faith and encourage the hearts of all who have put their trust in Him! No room is left for doubt or uncertainty of the value and acceptableness to God of Christ’s obedience and death. The Father has given to the very One who bore the sins and curse of His people the supreme place of honor in heaven. How that intimates the place which the salvation of His saints occupies in God’s counsels and government! The position to which the Savior has been elevated demonstrates beyond any doubt the degree of importance which God Himself attaches to the redemption of His Church. The position which Christ now occupies and the power which has been given to Him are for the sake of His blood-bought ones. “That ye may know... what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward... which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places” ( Ephesians 1:18-20).
The whole emphasis is here thrown upon the mighty and wondrous operations of the Father, and not upon the exercise of the Son’s divine attributes as in John 10:18 and Ephesians 4:8. That power of God in the raising, exalting, and glorifying of Christ was not according to or directed by the ordinary course of nature; it was special, extraordinary, supernatural — contrary to nature and beyond the power of any creature to effect. So also are the regeneration and sanctification of all the members of Christ’s mystical Body. Their faith is “of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead” ( Colossians 2:12).
Therefore, the transitive “and set,” or “caused to sit,” is here used rather than the intransitive “to sit on his throne” as in Acts 2:30, because God is seen bestowing upon the Mediator His well-earned reward as well as expressing His love for the Son.
This expression of Christ’s sitting at God’s right is not to be carnalized, as though it were a literal form of speech depicting His present posture in heaven; rather is it to be understood as a metaphor or simile, and interpreted by its use elsewhere. That Christ is not actually and permanently seated is quite clear from such statements as “the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” ( Acts 7:56) and the One “who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks” ( Revelation 2:1), and “in the midst of the elders stood a Lamb” ( Revelation 5:6).
The passages just quoted also make it plain that Christ’s being “seated” is far from importing that He is now in a state of inactivity; rather, He is constantly engaged on behalf of His Church, employing His power and honors in promoting its interests, until His work of mediation is carried forward to perfect consummation.
At least four things are connoted by Christ’s being “seated.”
First , it is emblematic of rest from a finished work. We cannot contemplate aright the present state of our Lord without calling to mind the circumstances of His being there: “When he had by himself purged our sins [He] sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” ( Hebrews 1:3).
His sacrificial service and sufferings are ended: His work of expiation is completed. “It is finished,” He cried from the cross, and proof thereof is His being seated on high. “Every priest [of Judaism] standeth, daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which cannot take away sins” ( Hebrews 10:11).
Second , it marks the beginning of a new work. This is taught us in Acts where we are told that on the day of Pentecost “there appeared unto them [i.e., the apostles of Acts 1:26, the “them” of Acts 2:1-3; cf. Acts 2:14] cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were filled with the Holy Ghost.” For three years the apostles had companied with Christ and been trained by Him, but now their apprenticeship was over, and their real mission, as the ambassadors of the King, was about to commence. To equip them for their exalted task they were anointed by the Spirit. Thus it was with Christ: His work of expiation was completed, but His enthronement on high marked the beginning of His administration of His kingdom. The life, death, and resurrection of Christ simply laid the foundation upon which His royal conquests are now being achieved. His work as the King-Priest only began when He was invested with “all power.” He is now “upholding all things by the word of his power.” ( Hebrews 1:3), wielding His scepter to good effect.
Third , Christ’s being “seated” is indicative of honor and dignity. When used officially, to sit denotes dignity and exaltation: a superior raised above his inferiors, as a king upon his throne, a judge on the bench. Thus that Old Testament expression to sit in the gate ( Ruth 4:1-2; cf. Deuteronomy 16:18) signified the holding of a judicial court. Job alluded to that when he said, “When I went out to the gate through the city, when I prepared my [magisterial] seat in the street, the young men saw me... and the aged men arose, and stood up” ( Job 29:7-8).
When the Most High is pictured as holding session, the august scene is portrayed thus: “The Ancient of days did sit...: his throne was like the fiery flame...: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened” ( Daniel 7:9-10; for other examples of this third meaning, see Matthew 25:31; Revelation 20:11).
Fourth , Christ’s seating signifies a state of continuance. Christ’s humiliation was only temporary, but His exaltation and enthronement are permanent. Jacob, in speaking of Joseph’s suffering and then his glory, said, “The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at and hated him: but his bow abode in strength” ( Genesis 49:23-24).
The position of highest honor belonging to Christ is a perpetual one. He is “seated” surely and durably. “In mercy shall the throne be established: and he shall sit upon it in truth in the tabernacle of David” ( Isaiah 16:5).
To have Christ sit upon it and to have the throne established is all one. “His dominion is an everlasting dominion,... and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” ( Daniel 7:14).
CHRIST AT GOD’S RIGHT HAND Being incorporeal, God has no physical members; when mention is made of them, they are to be understood metaphorically. His seating of Christ at “his own right hand” intimates His love for Him. The first occurrence in Scripture of that figurative expression is found in the marginal rendering of Genesis 35:18. When his beloved Rachel gave birth to her second son, Jacob called him “Benjamin” which signifies “the son of the right hand” — a name of endearment. Benjamin was the last of the aged patriarch’s sons.
Jacob, in styling Benjamin the son of his right hand, was expressing his deep affection for him as inheriting the tender place which his mother had formerly possessed in his heart. We believe this is the basic idea here. As God had “spared not his own Son” ( Romans 8:32) when He was propitiating His judicial wrath, so on the completion of that work He placed Him “at his own right hand.” If the Father loved Christ because He laid down His life ( John 10:17), would not His love be prompted to stronger manifestations after He had laid it down?
Christ’s being at the right hand of God signifies His enjoyment of all blessedness. This is brought out in Psalm 16:11. It is to be carefully noted that its words are those of Messiah and spoken by Him expressly with a view to His exaltation. After saying, “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption” He went on to declare, “Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” This denotes the intimacy of His fellowship with the Father in the full light of His countenance.
Christ’s being “at God’s right hand” tells of His dignity, honor, and glory.
When kings expressed their respect for those whom they favored, they did so by setting them at their right hand. An illustration of that is found in 1 Kings 2:19, where Solomon bestowed this honor upon his mother; the same thought was in the mind of the wife of Zebedee when she made request that, in the day to come, her sons might sit one at Christ’s right hand and the other at His left ( Matthew 20:20-21). God’s placing of Christ at His right hand signified the conferring of supreme honor upon Him — the place of eminence and glory. God translated Enoch and Elijah to heaven, but they are nowhere said to sit at His right hand. “To which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand?” ( Hebrews 1:13).
That is a dignity peculiar to Christ Himself.
It signified the investing of Christ with supreme authority. He sits “on the right hand of the majesty on high” and is personally “upholding all things by the word of his power” ( Hebrews 1:3). “All power is given unto me in heaven and on earth” ( Matthew 28:18) is His own ringing averment. The throne over the whole universe is “the throne of God and of the Lamb” ( Revelation 22:3), “that all men should honor the Son even as they honor the Father” ( John 5:23).
If on the one hand it was the Father who bestowed this blessedness, honor, and authority upon the God-man Mediator, on the other hand the Son had full right to them. Things are so carried out between the Father and the Son that each is distinctly magnified. Christ’s exaltation is the Father’s gift, and therein He is owned; likewise it is the Son’s due, and so He is recognized. All power is given to Him, yet He said plainly to His apostles, “I appoint unto you a kingdom” ( Luke 22:29). As the Father raises up the dead and quickens them, even so the Son quickens whom He will ( John 5:21). There is perfect oneness of accord: Christ exercises sovereignty of will, for it is His right to do so, yet He does nothing but what pleases the Father. As the man Christ Jesus was united to the Son of God, He had the right — not simply as a reward for His work, but because of His Godhead — to all that has been bestowed on Him. As Jehovah’s “fellow” nothing less befits Him.
We don’t agree with those writers who say it was the humanity of Christ alone that was exalted. The Son of God Himself, though in our nature, was accorded the highest throne in heaven: “and set him [not ‘it’] at his own right hand.” It was a Person who was thus magnified. The whole Christ rose, and the whole Christ sits at God’s right hand. We are not able to comprehend this mystery, yet faith gladly receives it. Faith has to do with what is written, not in reasoning, nor answering the objections of the carnal mind. If we abide by what is recorded in Holy Writ we cannot err, and Scripture declares, “The LORD said unto my Lord [not simply ‘unto the Son of man’], Sit thou at my right hand” ( <19B001> Psalm 110:1).
This verse is quoted more frequently in the New Testament than any other verse. Now the foundation of Christ’s being David’s “Lord” lay in His being the Son of God, and it was the second Person in the Trinity, who had taken human nature into union with Himself, that Jehovah the Father invited to sit at His own right hand. The throne belongs to Him both as God and as man (see Psalm 45:6; John 5:27).
THE GLORIFIED HUMANITY OF CHRIST The human nature of Christ, subsisting in His divine person, has been exalted above all creatures in dignity, glory, and authority. That evinces the infinite love of the Father for Him and His ineffable delight in Him. It should greatly delight our hearts and be constantly contemplated, not by fancy and imagination but by faith and in adoring worship. As we pointed out in the preceding chapter, Christ’s change of place (from earth to heaven) was at once followed by a change of state, His human nature then being glorified and its capacity enlarged. We are strongly inclined to believe there is a reference to that in “God was manifest in the flesh, justified by the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles” ( 1 Timothy 3:16).
The position of that clause intimates as much. Nor are we alone in that view. So cautious and conservative a commentator as Ellicott interpreted it thus: “The angels now for the first time saw, gazed upon, and rejoiced in the vision of the Godhead in the glorified humanity of the Son; and what the angels gained in the beatific vision, the nations of the world obtained through the preaching of the Gospel, namely, a knowledge of the endless love of God and the surpassing glory of Christ.” “We have such a high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; a minister of the sanctuary” ( Hebrews 8:1-2).
Here an additional aspect is emphasized, namely, that Christ is exalted as our great High Priest. His is a royal priesthood: He is endowed with regal as well as sacerdotal authority. Note well this verse comes immediately after Hebrews 7, where we have Christ set forth as the antitypical Melchizedek or Priest-King. As such He ministers in the heavenly tabernacle: a “priest upon his throne” ( Zechariah 6:13), that is, a Priest in kingly state, invested with royal dominion. Christ does not await a future millennium to enter upon His kingly office; He exercises it now. “Majesty” signifies the kingly power of God, and Christ is seated at the “right hand” of that very Majesty ( Hebrews 1:3). The One who when here had not where to lay His head is now crowned with glory and honor. The One whom men spat upon and smote is now the Lord Sovereign of heaven and earth. All heaven owns His scepter and renders homage to Him. “And set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power” ( Ephesians 1:20-21).
Here is the place where Christ now dwells: in heaven itself. Acts 7:48-49 tells us that heaven is the court of the great God, where His throne is. It is there that God has appointed Jesus Christ to be honored. His advancement corresponds to His abasement: as He descended into unparalleled depths of shame and woe, so He has been elevated to surpassing heights of honor and bliss. As 1 Peter 3:22 tells us, He “is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God.” There in “the ivory palaces” ( Psalm 45:8) our Redeemer abides. Though by His Deity He is omnipresent — in the midst of every two or three who are gathered together in His name — -yet in His theanthropic person He is localized — for His humanity is not ubiquitous (everywhere). Hence when He judges the wicked, because they cannot be suffered to enter heaven, He comes down to them — though bringing heaven with Him, for He “shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels” ( Matthew 16:27). “And set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power.” That tells of the eminence of His elevation. God has not only exalted but “highly exalted” Him ( Philippians 2:9), not only “above” but “far above all principality, and power” or, as Hebrews 7:26 expresses it, “made higher than the heavens.” That One who glorified the Father so superlatively on earth has been exalted to the highest conceivable honor and glory. Christ has been raised above the celestial hosts not only as their Head but of vastly superior rank and dignity. There are ranks or grades among the angels, though precisely what those differences are, we do not know. There is “principality and power, and might and dominion,” but Christ is advanced high above them all, being set in authority over them all. This is dwelt on in Hebrews 1:4: “Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” The glory He entered into upon His ascension was proportionate and consonant to the name which is His by essential right. Ephesians 1:21 gives us a detailed account of our Lord’s supremacy.
He passed by the dignitaries of heaven when in love He descended to assume the form and name of a servant for our sakes. But when God exalted Him, He “glorified his Servant Jesus” ( Acts 3:13, R. V.) as well as openly confirmed His Son ( Hebrews 1:4-5). That supremacy of Christ is not only eminent but universal: “angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him” ( 1 Peter 3:22). “And every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” ( Ephesians 1:21), i.e., both on earth and in heaven, here and hereafter. Christ has been advanced above every other excellence and honor. Not only has supremacy of position been conferred upon Him but also supremacy of name. His name is accorded the worship due God alone, not only by the Church below but by the angels above ( Hebrews 1:6). To His name every knee shall yet bow ( Philippians 2:10). Then what is Christ due from us? Our hearts, our lives, our all.
That which is set before us in the closing verses of Ephesians 1 is purely a matter of divine revelation and therefore can be received and enjoyed only by a God-given faith. What is there made known to us by the Holy Spirit is wholly beyond the reach of physical observation and completely transcends the realm of Christian experience. That God has seated Christ at His own right hand is plainly affirmed in the Word of truth. Though it lies far above the present verification of our senses, nevertheless it is a glorious fact which faith unhesitatingly receives on divine authority. The same is equally true of the other facts here mentioned. Christ’s exaltation over the celestial hosts, all things being put under His feet, the use He is now making of His mighty power, and the relations which the Church sustains to Him transcend the sphere of our senses. They are things which can neither be seen nor felt by us, yet they are real and glorious to faith. Unless that be firmly grasped by the expositor, he is bound to err in his interpretation of the details.
CHRIST GIVEN SUPREME GOVERNMENTAL AUTHORITY The exaltation of Christ is exhibited to us under the double metaphor of God’s seating Him at his own right hand, which signifies (in brief) the investing of the Mediator with that supreme governmental authority which hitherto had been exercised by God alone: the scepter of the universe is now wielded by the God-man, Christ Jesus. What follows is an account of the distinctive honors which have been conferred on Him.
First , He has been advanced “far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” ( Ephesians 1:21).
All intelligences being reduced to one common level is certainly not the law or principle which obtains in heaven! Nor is this true of those in the kingdom over which Satan now presides, as Ephesians 6:12 makes clear. The glory of a king lies not only in his having subjects but in his having a “court” or subjects of varying ranks: commoners, knights, nobles.
Such is the glorious court of the King of kings.
Second , all creatures are set in subjection to Christ, for that is the meaning of “and hath put all things under his feet” ( Ephesians 1:22), an expression importing the highest sovereignty and power. Christ is not only elevated above all creatures but He has dominion over them. They are subordinated to Him and governed by Him. Jesus Christ has been made Lord ( Acts 2:36), “he is Lord of all” ( Acts 10:36), He is “Lord over all” ( Romans 10:12), He is “Lord both of the dead and living” ( Romans 14:9). The One who died at Calvary is now the Ruler of the universe. This very day He holds in His hand “the keys of hell and of death” ( Revelation 1:18). Since the hour of His ascension He has been “upholding all things by the word of his power” ( Hebrews 1:3). At this moment He is ruling “in the midst of... [His] enemies” ( <19B002> Psalm 110:2). “And hath put all things under his feet” is an accomplished fact and not a future prospect, though He still awaits the final subjugation of His foes.
This investing of the Mediator with universal dominion was the subject of Old Testament prophecy. “And I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with [in] the clouds of heaven [i.e., in manifested majesty],... to [not from] the Ancient of days, and they [His celestial attendants] brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” ( Daniel 7:13-14).
The words “one like the Son of man” (cf. Revelation 1:13; 14:14) need cause no difficulty. It is the selfsame Person who is so frequently designated “the Son of man” in the first three Gospels but in an altered state — then in abasement and humiliation, now exalted and glorified. “The Ancient of days” signifies the Father: from Him Christ came to this earth ( John 16:28), to Him He returned ( John 20:17), by Him He was then rewarded and enthroned. The verb “hath put” assures us that this prediction has been fulfilled. “And hath put all things under his feet” is another metaphor, but its meaning is plain, namely, that God has exalted Christ to such dignity and dominion that everything is under His power, in subjection to Him. This is clear from the first passage in which the expression occurs: “Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet” ( Psalm 8:6).
The one clause defines the other. The scope of the “all things” is amplified in the words that follow: “all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea” ( Psalm 8:7-8). Hebrews 2:8 still further points out, “For in that he put [not ‘will put’ in some future era] all in subjection under him, he left nothing... not put under Him,” nothing visible or invisible, in heaven or earth, friend or foe. “But now we see not [with our natural eyes] yet all things put under him,” though we shall one day behold that too. Meanwhile, “we see Jesus [with the eyes of faith]... crowned with glory and honor” ( Hebrews 2:8-9) as exhibited in the closing verses of Ephesians 1. “And hath put all things under his feet.” As is so often the case, many of the commentators have unjustifiably restricted the scope of these words, limiting them to the subjugation of His enemies. Undoubtedly that is part of their meaning, yet their primary significance and extent is the subjection of all — friends and foes alike. “All the people that follow thee” (Pharaoh, Exodus 11:8) and “all the people that follow me” (Benhadad, Kings 20:10) are rightly rendered in the margin “at thy feet” and “at my feet.” Thus it is all one to say, “All the people that are ‘thy subjects’ or ‘at thy feet.’” As we have seen, “Thou hast put all things under his feet” ( Psalm 8:6) is interpreted in “Thou hast put all things in subjection under him”; “nothing” is excepted ( Hebrews 2:8). Bowing one’s head to another indicates reverence, but falling down at his feet expresses the utmost subjection.
CHRIST THE HEAD OF ALL PRINCIPALITY AND POWER There should be no difficulty in perceiving that this expression is applicable and appropriate to the holy angels: their subjection to Christ is voluntary and joyous. The same is true of the Church, for Christ is her Head, and each of her members is “made willing in the day of his power” to submit to His rule. That is exactly what is meant by “Take my yoke upon you”: “Yield to My Lordship, give Me the throne of your hearts, surrender your will to My governance.” When the Church is spoken of as the Body of Christ, that sets forth her dignity. Yet when Christ is spoken of as the “head of the Church” ( Ephesians 5:23), that expresses His superior dignity. The king’s consort sustains a double relation to him: she is a subject of the monarch, but she is a queen as his wife. Hence, while Psalm 45:9-11 states of Christ, “Upon thy right hand did stand the queen,” adding, “So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty,” yet she is at once told, “He is thy Lord; and worship [be subject to and adore] thou him.”
But the expression also refers to Christ’s triumph over His enemies. After Joshua had gained that remarkable victory over the combined armies of the Canaanites, he said, “Open the mouth of the cave, and bring out those five kings unto me out of the cave.” And they did so. And he said to his captains, “Come near, put your feet upon the necks of these kings.” And they did so. And Joshua said to them, “Fear not, nor be dismayed, be strong and of good courage: for thus shall the LORD do to all your enemies” ( Joshua 10:22-25; cf. Isaiah 51:22-23). <19B001> Psalm 110:1 alludes to such passages: “until I make thine enemies thy footstool,” i.e., crushed and destroyed. The Church is under Christ’s feet by way of subjection, but she is not His footstool by way of subjugation and degradation.
PROVIDENCE DIRECTED BY THE MEDIATOR Yet we believe that “hath put all things under his feet” includes even more: not only all friends by ways of voluntary submission and all foes by forced subjugation, but all events by way of His immediate operation. It is not simply “all creatures” but “all things.” Providence itself is now directed by the Mediator: all history is shaped by His imperial hand. Every movement, every occurrence, both in heaven and in earth is ordered by the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is clothed with all authority and invested with universal dominion, and He is now actually engaged in exercising the same.
But let it not be overlooked that the exaltation and sovereignty of Christ are revealed in Scripture as something more than a historical reality: the very fact this truth is here brought in at the close of the apostle’s prayer intimates it is a grand verity which ought to affect our hearts and lives. Do we conduct ourselves as those in complete subjection to Him? As we view those who oppose us, do we realize the force of His “Fear not, little flock”? As we contemplate the troubled waters of this world, do we recognize that our mighty Captain is at the helm? “And gave him to be the head over all things to the church” ( Ephesians 1:22).
That means far more than that Christ is the Church’s Head. In those words and the ones which follow, the Holy Spirit reveals some of the distinctive blessings which accrue to the redeemed as the result of the exaltation of the Redeemer. Not only for the sake of His Son did God place Him upon the throne but also for the benefit of the Church. “Thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him” ( John 17:2) is a parallel statement — though not quite as broad in its terms. Christ has been given universal and absolute rule over the whole of creation, that He might bestow eternal life on the elect. The fact that all power is given to Christ in heaven and in earth gives force to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations” ( Matthew 28:18-19). No weapon formed against His servants shall or can prosper.
Absolute lordship has been conferred upon the Mediator with the particular design of advantage for His blood-bought people. Christ’s universal headship and power are being employed in the service of His beloved. “Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior.”
Christ has been elevated so high that He may disburse the gifts of salvation to those who belong to the spiritual Israel — “the Israel of God” ( Galatians 6:16). He has not only gone into heaven to “prepare a place” for His own ( John 14:2); He is also active on their behalf while they are on earth. Upon His ascension we are told that “they [His ambassadors] went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following” ( Mark 16:20).
THE CHURCH AND THE MEDIATOR It is important that we should consider and apprehend God’s object in subjecting all things to the Redeemer: not only as illustrating the principles of His moral government (“He who humbleth himself shall be exalted”; “Them that honor me I will honor”) and the good which results to us from them, but also the bearing which it should have upon our character and conduct. The salvation of the Church was the direct design of the whole of Christ’s mediation. For her He voluntarily suffered humiliation and death; for the promotion of her interests God exalted Christ and now employs for her benefit the powers which have been bestowed on Him. Though raised so high, He has neither lost His love for His sheep nor relinquished His purpose concerning them. All hearts are now in His hand: by Him kings reign, and princes decree justice ( Proverbs 8:15), yet He is exercising His dominion in subservience to His purpose of grace, disposing all the affairs of the universe for the good of His Church. To the accomplishment of that the whole series of events which form the history of individuals and nations is directed and subordinated.
Yet how faintly that is realized by any of us: that Christ is over men and angels, demons and Satan himself. This world is under the control of the One whose hands were nailed to the cross. Christ rules and overrules for the good of His Church the deliberations of the senate, the conflict of armies, the history of the nations. The Neros, the Charlemagnes, the Napoleons, the Hitlers, who for a brief season proudly strut upon the stage of this world’s drama, are but puppets in the hand of the enthroned Christ and are made to accomplish His purpose and serve the highest and ultimate interests of His people. Even when the nations are convulsed like the angry sea and things appear to be quite out of control, “the LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm” ( Nahum 1:3).
Then there is nothing for us to be alarmed at. The ark of the covenant is in no danger! “And gave him to be the head over all things to the church.” To the angels, Christ is a “head” by virtue of sovereignty and power ( Colossians 2:10), but He is the Church’s “head” by mystical union as well. The angels are but His servants; the Church is His Spouse. He is the Church’s “head” First by way of distinction, as her King and Lord, for in all things He must have the preeminence ( Colossians 1:18).
Third , in a way of influence: the Church receives her life, strength, and grace from Him “from which all the body... [has] nourishment ministered” ( Colossians 2:19; cf. Ephesians 4:16). All her springs are in Him: from His fullness she receives. Christ is not only a commanding but a compassionate Head, therefore is touched with the feeling of her infirmities. “The church, which is his body.” Christ has a natural body, by virtue of His incarnation. He has a sacramental body, which is seen in the Lord’s Supper. He has a ministerial body, the local church or assembly ( Corinthians 12:27), where His ordinances are administered and His truth proclaimed. He has also a mystical Body, so designated because the mysterious union of its members with one another and with their Head is altogether beyond the purview of our physical senses. It is this Body, we believe, which is here meant, as in Ephesians 4:12-13 (which has never been realized by any church on earth), the Church for which Christ gave Himself ( Ephesians 5:25). The term cannot be restricted to any local assembly. It includes “the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven” ( Hebrews 12:23) — the sum total of all God’s elect. That mystical Body has been in process of formation since the days of Abel and will not be completed until the end of human history.
View this controversial expression in the light of what precedes. Christ’s being seated at God’s right hand is perceptible to faith alone. All things being put under His feet is not comprehensible by our senses: “Now we see not yet all things put under him” ( Hebrews 2:8), neither do we yet see “the church, which is his body.” Contemplate it in the light of what follows: the Church is not only the Body of Christ but also “the fullness of him that filleth all in all” ( Ephesians 1:23), which could never be said of any local assembly, nor even of any denomination. The Church is the mediatorial “fullness” of Christ: there cannot be a Redeemer without redeemed, a Shepherd without sheep, a Bridegroom without a Bride, a living Head without a living Body. He is her “fullness” ( John 1:16) as the Lord of life and grace; she is His fullness since by means of the glory He has put upon her He will hereafter be magnified ( 2 Thessalonians 1:10).
We conclude as we began. The relation of the Church to Christ is entirely a matter of divine revelation. Verses 21-23 bring before us that which pertains wholly to faith — not fiction or fancy, nor reason or sense. But though each of these objects is as yet unseen by the outward eye, they are nonetheless real, and shall yet be beheld by a wondering universe. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit makes the Church Christ’s mystical Body, for only those He indwells are members of it. The Church is Christ’s “fullness” as it completes His mystical person: the Head and the Body form the mystical “Christ” of 1 Corinthians 12:12, Ephesians 4:13, and perhaps Galatians 3:16. Christ did not place this inestimable honor on angels: they are neither His “body” nor His “fullness.” He loved His mystical Body above His natural body, for He gave the one for the other.