The apostle Paul wrote his letter to assembled believers living in the city of Ephesus in about 62 CE, while in Roman custody (Acts 28:31). The book of Acts documents the establishment growth, and progress of the “gospel of Christ” (Rom. 1:16) as it continued to spread throughout the Roman Empire (Acts 1:8) during the “last days” (Acts 2:17; II Tim. 3:1). The very “purpose of the ages” (Eph. 3:11) during the “last days” (Acts 2:17) was to make “known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (Eph. 1:9, 10 ESV). The letter of Ephesians is an inspired ‘snapshot’ of how the “unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3) was being fulfilled through the “preaching of the cross” (I Cor. 1:18) in that “generation” (Matt. 23:36; 24:34) as these believers saw the approaching “end of the age” (Matt. 24:3).
The Bible affirms the centrality of Israel as the means through which redemption was to be accomplished in history. “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth.” (Deut 7:6; 14:2). “Also today the LORD has proclaimed you to be His special people, just as He promised you, that you should keep all His commandments, and that He will set you high above all nations which He has made, in praise, in name, and in honor, and that you may be a holy people to the LORD your God, just as He has spoken.” (Deu 26:18, 19). It was the purpose of God that Israel, as His “chosen” people would be a “holy people” — set apart from “all the peoples on the face of the earth” to be His own “special treasure” in order to accomplish His purpose in redemption as God’s “elect” (Isa. 45:4; 65:9).
The Bible provides a contrast between the “former days” (Ezek. 38:17; Zech. 8:11) and the “latter days” (Num. 24:14; Deut. 4:30; 31:29; Isa. 2:2; Jer. 23:20; 30:24; 48:47; 49:39; Ezek. 38:16; Dan. 2:28; 10:14; Hos. 3:5; Micah 4:1) of Israel. When the “fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Gal. 4:4). The “last days” (Acts 2:17; Heb. 1:1, 2; II Tim. 3:1), extended between the ministry and preaching of John the Baptizer and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, as that unique period of time for the “restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:21), “to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:10). There was a “last days” sense of urgency in the letters written by the apostle Paul — a ‘nearness of expectation’ — because the prophesied “coming of the Lord” was “at hand” (James 5:7-9) as the “ends of the ages” (I Cor. 10:11; Heb. 9:26) was approaching.
There is an inseparable relationship between Israel and the “church” that existed during the “last days” (Acts 2:17). The English word “church” itself, has been inserted into the text by translators, giving the impression of something far different from what the intended meaning was of the inspired writers. The English word “church” originates from the Greek word, kyriakon (κυριακός), that means, ‘belonging to the Lord’ but differs from the actual word found in the text, which is ekklesia (εκκλησία) (See Matt. 16:18; 18:17; Acts 5:11; 7:38; 8:1 8:3 9:31 11:22 11:26 12:1 12:5 13:1 14:23 14:27 15:3 15:4 15:22 18:22 20:17 20:28). The use of κυριακός, according to the Catholic Dictionary (1909) finds it origins long after the first century and the concept is foreign to the meaning of Scripture:
A term used from the third century to signify a Christian place of worship; a society of men united in the true worship of God. Since, in the present order, true religion was and is religion revealed and supernatural, by the word “Church” we properly understand a supernatural religious society, “a society of rational beings united in the true supernatural worship of God.” According to this proper acceptation, the word Church is taken in its broadest sense, as meaning the society of all those, whether they be angels or men, from Adam to the end of time, who, adhering to God, are united into what we call the Communion of Saints.
Unfortunately, this definition runs counter to what the actual and intended meaning of the word εκκλησία means as it appears throughout the Greek Scriptures (NT) According to Easton’s Bible Dictionary:
In the New Testament, it is the translation of the Greek word ecclesia, which is synonymous with the Hebrew kahal of the Old Testament, both words meaning simply an assembly, the character of which can only be known from the connection in which the word is found. There is no clear instance of its being used for a place of meeting or of worship, although in post-apostolic times it early received this meaning.
Whatever the concept in “post-apostolic times” those who seek to understand the Bible must define the terms within the frame of reference given to it by the inspired writers and not in accordance with what the word came to mean later. The “analogy of faith” (Scripture interprets Scripture) is the principle through which one ascertains the intended meaning in its context.
The Greek word εκκλησία is a compound word, that means, “the called-out ones” — those assembled or brought together for a specific purpose. The corresponding Hebrew word found throughout the Old Testament is more accurately rendered as “congregation” or “assembly” of Israel (Deut. 5:22; 9:10; 31:30; Josh. 8:35; I Sam. 17:47; I Kings 8:14; Micah 2:5).
The first instance of εκκλησία is found in the promise of Jesus to “build” His “called out ones” (Matt. 16:18) — His “assembly” of those were set apart during the “last days” (Acts 2:17; II Tim. 3:1) to accomplish a special purpose. This designation of being “called out” is significant from the standpoint of the role of Messiah in gathering from among Israel those who believed in Him and accepted Him as the foretold “Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel” (Isa. 41:14; 43:14; 44:6; 47:4; 48:17; 49:7; 54:5; 63:16). During the “last days” (Acts 2:17), the “gospel of Christ” (Rom. 1:16) was the “calling out” of those from Israel who were under the Old Covenant, into the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:1-13). From the perspective of redemption, there was a cross-determined work of separation that was taking place of the “sheep” from the “goats” (Matt. 25:32-46) and the “wheat” from the “tares” (Matt. 13:30-32). Therefore, when we see the word “church” in our English Bibles, the intended meaning (called out ones) should be understood, rather than the common use of the word by most people today.
Another important aspect to understanding the context of Ephesians and the intended audience is related to the Old Testament prophecies that foretold that during the “latter days,” God would “call out” for Himself, a “remnant”: “And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, As the LORD has said, Among the remnant whom the LORD calls (Joel 2:32). “I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob, I will surely gather the remnant of Israel; I will put them together like sheep of the fold, Like a flock in the midst of their pasture; They shall make a loud noise because of so many people” (Micah 2:12). “For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem; The city shall be taken, The houses rifled, And the women ravished. Half of the city shall go into captivity, But the remnant of the people shall not be cut off from the city” (Zech. 14:2). “’ For the seed shall be prosperous, the vine shall give its fruit, The ground shall give her increase, And the heavens shall give their dew— I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these” (Zech. 8:12).
The apostle Paul, reveals the “last days” (Acts 2:17) preaching of the “gospel of Christ” (Rom. 1:16) as the “calling out” of this “remnant”: “Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel: “THOUGH THE NUMBER OF THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL BE AS THE SAND OF THE SEA, THE REMNANT WILL BE SAVED (Rom. 9:27; Isa. 10:22, 23). It was during that “present time” as Paul writes to the Romans of his own day, that he tells them, “There is a remnant according to the election of grace” (Rom. 11:5).
Thus, when the apostle Paul begins to describe to the Ephesians the identity of the “us” and the “we” (Eph. 1:3-12), and says, “He chose usin Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4), “having predestined us” (Eph. 1:5) “being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11), it is all within the historical background of Israel as God’s “elect” (chosen) people (Isa. 45:4; 65:9), and especially the “remnant according to the election of grace” (Rom. 11:5) who were the “called out” of Israel. Therefore, from the “promises made to the fathers” (Rom. 15:8) of Israel, came the “church” (called out ones), who were this foretold “remnant” (Joel 2:32; Rom. 9:27; 15:8) who lived during that “present time” (Rom. 15:8) to accomplish the fulfillment of God’s “purpose of the ages” (Eph. 3:11) during those “last days” (Acts 2:17).
The significance of the identity of those to whom the apostle Paul writes cannot be understood apart from an appreciation of his choice of personal pronouns throughout. The centrality of Israel is a key element:
It is in the context of the role of Israel as the elect, the chosen, descended from Abraham to propagate the Messiah, rather than in the context of individual predestination to salvation, that Paul speaks of election. The first chapter asserts that the Jews, God’s saints or holy ones, were “chosen” to bring the blessing of redemption to all nations in fulfillment of the promise to Abraham. It was the Jews who were foreordained unto adoption for this purpose (v. 5), chosen in the beloved (Messiah) for God’s glory, that is, to declare the sovereignty of monotheism, (v.6), chosen before the foundation of the world to be “holy and blameless” (v. 4). They were the first to hope in the Messiah (v. 12). … In this respect the pronouns in Ephesians provide a key to the theology of the book. If studied on the assumption of consistency in use, they reveal the thinking of the author in a way that allows us to draw important conclusions about the point of view from which he writes and therefore about his theology (Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology).
The harmony between God’s promise to Israel in the Old Testament, and those entering into the New Covenant is unmistakable in the determination of the continuity that continued during the first century: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (I Pet. 2:9). Are these not the very same words that God spoke to Moses about His Old Covenant people Israel? (Deut. 7:6; Exod. 19:6).
As the message of the letter to the Ephesians continues to unfold, the apostle Paul unveils the very essence of God’s purpose in redemption and those to whom it was directed. The importance of this background material is to help those involved in this study to better determine the approach taken by the apostle Paul as he writes to these assembled believers in Ephesus. They would have understood those to whom he had references, whereas a broader frame of reference is necessary for those of us living 2,000 years beyond the historical events that were in progress during the time the inspired letter was being written.
In this short study, our purpose was to provide a brief, yet comprehensive lesson about the importance of Israel, the meaning of the word “church” and who the “remnant” was during the first century. To benefit most from this article, take the time to look up the passage cited and begin to see how all of the pieces begin to fit together in understanding the purpose, message, and meaning of the book of Ephesians.