The apostle Paul prayed that the Ephesian church would know: ‘What is the exceeding greatness of [God’s] power toward us who believe, according to the working of his mighty power which he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come’ (1:19-21).
The power that saves a soul is the same power that raised Jesus from death. Paul’s reasoning is as follows. In order to understand the ‘exceeding greatness of his power toward us who believe’, we must also grasp that it flows from the power God exercises in the exaltation of the crucified Jesus — which includes his resurrection, ascension and heavenly rule.
Notice how Paul heaps up the most pointed words for ‘power’ to drive this home. This power (dunamis) toward us who believe, is the same as that working (energeia) of his mighty (ischous) power (kratos) in raising Jesus (v.19).
We all realise that Jesus’ resurrection was a miracle of God’s supernatural power, but we routinely underestimate what it takes to save a sinner. Being saved is often reduced to little more than an intellectual, or even emotional, decision on our part: we have a crisis; we ‘believe’; God’s hand is in it in some indistinct way and we are ‘saved’.
God helped, but we do not think of it as a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit that changes the unchangeable and awakens the dead. But what is salvation but a spiritual resurrection, requiring the same divine power necessary for a bodily resurrection?
This power raised Christ from the dead (v.20a)
It is surely no stretch to believe that the God who created all things out of nothing can breathe life into a dead body. The fact is that without the resurrection there is no hope. Paul honestly admits that ‘if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins’ (1 Corinthians 15:17).
An unrisen Jesus — crucified and still dead — cannot save anyone. He was raised for our justification (Romans 4:25). No resurrection means no forgiveness, no salvation, no eternal life and therefore no hope.
Those who are trusting a ‘Jesus’ who did not really atone for sin and did not really rise from the dead are still in their sins. They can know nothing of the power of God that raised him from the dead, and will raise all those who believe in Christ as their Saviour. Christ’s resurrection is a pledge guaranteeing the believers’ resurrection (1 Corinthians 6:14; 15:20-23).
This power exalted Christ a Prince and a Saviour (v.20b)
‘Him God has exalted to his right hand to be Prince and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins’ (Acts 5:31). He who was the Son from all eternity is now enthroned as the God-man, and in virtue of the victory of the Cross.
Jesus, in his body sits at God’s ‘right hand in the heavenly places’. Psalm 110 is fulfilled: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies my footstool’.
This power is comprehensive and universal in its extent (v.21)
Once exalted, Jesus is not passive. His heavenly session (sitting) is intensely active and involves the exercise of his absolute authority over everything in creation for all time.
The power that raised Jesus and exalted him, will forever secure the purposes of God against all opposition (Colossians 1:16; 2:25). Paul’s great point here is that the Lord pulls out all the stops to save his people. There is nothing of our (illusory) power in our own salvation. It is all of God’s wonderful love, grace and power, in and through his Son.
He makes us willing in a day of his power. The very power that raised Jesus saves us, takes us from spiritual death to eternal life, and will reunite body and soul in the resurrection of the Great Day.
The gospel is ‘the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes’ (Romans 1:16). The exalted Christ is our surety and nothing whatsoever ‘shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:39).
This armed Paul against all the privation and persecution that came his way, and he could testify that ‘in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us’ (Romans 8:37).
Gordon Keddie served for 40 years in pastoral ministry with Reformed Presbyterian churches in Pittsburgh (PA); Wishaw, Scotland; State College (PA); and Southside, Indianapolis. He is a well-known writer and conference speaker. His most recent book, Prayers of the Bible — 366 devotionals to encourage your prayer life (764 pages), is published by Crown and Covenant Publications (978-1-943017-11-9).