Who are the rulers of Ephesians 3:10?

To whom did God reveal his multifaceted wisdom, according to Ephesians 3:10?

a) to rulers and authorities, both of whom exist in the heavenlies, OR
b) to rulers (kings/governors on earth), and to authorities in the heavenlies?

Either interpretation is possible, but there are grammatical and contextual reasons to consider the second option.

Grammatically, the article is repeated. Translated literally, the phrase is:
to the rulers and to the authorities in the heavenlies.
Most translations miss this detail, making us less likely to consider (b).

Contextually, this verse is discussing the reveal of a mystery. The mystery was the gnarly problem of what God would do to the nations when he finally sent his anointed ruler (the Christ) to rescue his people. They had been suffering for six centuries under foreign rulers, from Nebuchadnezzar to Caesar.

When the Davidic king (the Lord’s anointed) finally came, they discovered God’s answer to this mystery. The heavenly sovereign demonstrated his multifaceted wisdom by solving both problems at once: ending the war, uniting Jews and gentiles into a single global citizenship in the reign of his anointed (in Christ). The presence of this reunified humanity is therefore a message to both the human rulers who wage war in their attempt to subjugate people under their power, and also to the spiritual powers to whom those human rulers are enslaved.

That picture — oppressive human rulers who are slaves of evil spiritual powers — is precisely the framework of the apocalyptic literature. This interpretation best fits the apocalyptic framework of Ephesians 3 (the mystery and the reveal).

But we in our modern world have a different framework, one that makes us less likely to consider option (b). We think of God only in terms of spiritual power, not political power. We reduce Jesus to the role of personal Saviour (one who saves me from my personal sins), missing his Messianic role (enthroned as God’s anointed ruler over the earth).

When God raised his anointed out of death and enthroned him as King of Kings, he sent a strong message to the rulers of the earth. The message was, “Earth is no longer subject to you who serve the dark powers; I have given all authority over the nations to my Anointed.”

So how do Christians (followers of King Jesus) treat the rulers of this world?

  • God’s original plan was for humans to represent his devoted and blameless character in his earthly realm (Ephesians 1:4), so that’s the regal kingship over the earth that God is restoring in the Messiah’s people (1:20-22).
  • When the nations (“you”) crushed Israel (“we”), the whole earth came under the reign of evil and death (2:1-3), and so it is the nations and the Jews together who form the citizenship of God’s kingdom in his anointed ruler (2:4-22).
  • So that means we cannot treat the human oppressors as our enemies, since they themselves are merely slaves of evil powers (6:12). So our role is not to oppose the human rulers. There’s is no point trying to expose them as agents of evil, since that’s not how God did it.

When God donned his armour to release his people from the reign of evil, he didn’t fight the human rulers. He came dressed in the truth of what Heaven had decreed for the earth, standing in the righteousness character of our heavenly sovereign, ready to spread the good news of making peace, trusting God’s decrees regarding the earth. That’s precisely how we must relate to this world’s rulers too (6:13-17).

So, when God established the church as his diverse and multiethnic humanity reunified in God’s anointed, God was making a statement both to the human rulers and also to the spiritual powers those rulers served — to the rulers, and to the authorities in the heavenlies.

When God gave the kingship to Messiah Jesus our ruler, he restored the earth from evil rule into the governance he had always intended. It was an effective message to the rulers of the earth and to the spiritual powers that oppressed them. It was what God had always planned for the earth: “his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (3:11).

Worth considering?


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Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

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