In Ephesians 2:1-3 Paul describes the Ephesian believers’ hopeless condition before they had come to experience the power of God in Christ Jesus which had transformed their lives – this of course is true for all believers. According to the Paul they were (spiritually) “dead”, which figuratively describes the state of being lost or under the dominion of death and also denotes an inability to communicate with the living God.
This condition was due to their “transgression and sins” and therefore the recipients needed to be made “alive” (2:5) in Christ. Ephesians 2:1-10 can therefore be described as a continuation and application of the theme of the power of God’s actions in Christ. Before God had made the believers alive in Christ, the believers were influenced by the environment (“the age of this world”, 2:2), by a supernaturally powerful opponent (“the ruler of the realm of the air”, 2:2) and by an inner inclination towards evil (“in the desires of our flesh”, 2:3). Of particular interest to my series of posts is the second influence mentioned above.
(1) And you being dead in your transgressions and sins, (2) in which you formerly walked according to the age of this world, according to the ruler of the realm of the air, the Spirit now working in the sons of disobedience; (3) among whom we also all formerly lived in the desires of our flesh, doing the wishes of the flesh and its thoughts, and we were by nature children of wrath just as the rest. (Ephesians 2:1-3, own translation)
Ruler of the realm of the air
Αs we have seen, “powers” could denote earthly powers in the Intertestamental literature, but is best understood here as heavenly powers, even referring to Satan himself. “Realm” can be translated as “authority, government or power” or “domain, realm or kingdom”. The term therefore denotes the “realm” or “sphere” of the ruler’s influence. The “air” in ancient times was believed to be the intermediate sphere between earth and heaven, and also the dwelling space of hostile spirits, as the Intertestamental literature and magical papyri indicate. Contrary to ideas presented by Walter Wink and a more recent western understanding, the “air” was not the atmosphere of opinion of ideas, attitudes and the like. Paul, it appears, was referring in 2:2 to the leader or chief of the evil heavenly powers, and not a “disposition” or general “attitude”. Later in Ephesians the term is clarified to mean the “devil” (4:27, 6:11) and the “evil one” (6:16).
Consistent with this interpretation, Peter O’Brien believes that it is best to understand “the spirit” (2:2) as in apposition to “the ruler” (2:2) and therefore as describing further the ruler of the air. The “ruler of the realm of the air” is therefore the “spirit” who continues to exercise a strong and compelling influence over the recipients of the letter and over Christians today. There is absolutely no reason to view the author as taking steps towards the demythologizing of the “powers” in this passage i.e. interpreting the alleged “mythological” elements in the New Testament in a more “scientific” way.
The Ephesian believers, like all people, were not only living according to their own consciences and contemporary ideologies and practices, but were also living under the influence of a supernatural hostile power, according to the author. Although the ruler of the realm of the air had been defeated by Christ Jesus and was subject to Jesus (as is the case of all “powers” hostile to God), he is portrayed here as continuing to make his powerful, yet limited, influence felt in the then Roman Empire and entire world.
(By the way, Satan and the various “powers” still posed a threat to the Ephesian believers even after their conversion, according to 4:27 and 6:10-12.)
…and [God] raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6)
In v6, Paul describes what God had done for the formerly spiritually “dead” (2:1) Ephesian believers. The three verbs in 2:5-6 with the συν (Greek)-prefix (made alive with, raised with, seated with) describe what God had done for the believers and the terminology is consciously dependent on 1:20. It seems that Paul in 2:6 was expounding what means to be “made alive together with Christ” in 2:5. “Raised up with” is in the aorist tense. Normally in the Pauline literature, the resurrection of believers is presented as a future concept, yet here Paul is describing a past event in the believer’s life. Paul, alluding to 1:20, maintains that believers, who were spiritually “dead” (2:1) were spiritually “resurrected”, just as Jesus was physically resurrected after being physically dead. According to Paul, God’s power was at work in the raising of Jesus and the implication is that the same power is at work in spiritually raising the believers from their spiritually dead state. This verse speaks about the believers’ positional resurrection, and not their physical future resurrection.
Having raised Jesus out of the dead, God then “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms” (1:20). The believers too had been “seated with him in the heavenly realms”. The phrase “in the heavenly realms” indicates that in some sense believers already had a heavenly status with heavenly power. The believers now shared in Christ Jesus’ enthronement high above the “powers” (1:21). The last prepositional phrase “in Christ Jesus” should probably be seen as joined to the verb “seated with”, emphasizing that it is the believers’ union with Jesus that gives them these spiritual advantages. The solidarity between Jesus and the believers is indeed highlighted by use of the συν-compounds. The union with Jesus had enabled the believers to participate in the divine eschatological act of resurrection. However, Paul, in contrast to some scholarly opinion, also reveals a belief that this eschatology is not fully and wholly realized in this age because he pointed to the future “coming ages” where God will “show the incomparable riches of his grace” (2:7).
The spiritual exaltation in 2:6 would be of particular relevance to the believers in western Asia Minor and in Africa today. This spiritual exaltation not only would have the believers’ personal inward being, but actually the total spiritual framework in which the believer, inwardly and outwardly, lived and related to God and the world, including the “powers”. According to Barth, the believers’ “spiritual” resurrection and seating gave them a sound theological perspective when assessing their own relationship and position with regard to the sinister spiritual “powers” that controlled the socio-political and indeed other structures of life. By virtue of their union with Jesus, the believers may now share in the authority of Jesus over the “powers”. As a result, the power of the latter’s influence over the believers’ lives had been broken. Barth continues, “The saints are closer to heaven and more firmly established there now than theatre-goers who have reserved tickets in their pockets and wait for admission”. According to Paul, this exaltation is obtainable not through magic, incantations, traditional medicine (muti) or secret signs, but through faith in Christ Jesus.
You were spiritual zombies, but now you have been made alive with Christ and share in his victory over the dark powers of this age.