Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1.1-2).
This greeting is typical of how Paul begins all his letters. In many cases the slight differences in Paul’s greeting will reflect some theme or issue he will address in the body of his letter. In this case, Paul is writing a general tract communicating his message as an Apostle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus, the implications of this generic greeting get especially explained in the rest of this letter.
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus
Paul is an ambassador, a delegate, an agent, an appointed representative. The title apostle means all those things in this case. But Paul writes as the apostle of Christ Jesus which means that we must think of him as a royal ambassador for another kingdom.
Why “royal”? Because Jesus is a real king sending his messengers to the nations.
The term “Christ” is the Greek word for anointed. In Israel a priest or king was installed into office by being anointed with oil. The ritual represented the action of God’s Spirit in appointing someone to and equipping and empowering him for office. When God rescued Israel from Egypt and had them build a tent for him to dwell in their midst, Aaron, the first Priest to serve God there, was anointed with oil (Leviticus 8.12). Samuel the prophet anointed David with oil to declare him king of Israel (First Samuel 16.13). David was the beginning of a royal dynasty in Israel that remained in power (more or less) until Israel was invaded by the Babylonian Empire and deported. Since that time, as Israel hoped for a return for the glory that they had when they were independent, they came to expect God to restore a new descendant of David to the throne. Indeed, God promised by the prophets that he would do so. In the Hebrew language, the expected King was called “the Messiah.” In Greek, he was called “the Christ.” Both mean, “the anointed one,” referring to God’s promise to appoint someone as a new king for a renewed kingdom.
This has a great deal of import as to how we are to read Paul’s letter. In the late popular television series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ancient texts were constantly studied in order to find obscure prophecies about the future or else give clues as to how to deal with supernatural forces. Some people assume the Bible is meant to be regarded in this manner and either revere it in this fashion or dismiss it because they know there are no such forces.
Another popular genre today is self-help, books that are produced in both secular and spiritual styles. Many see this as the role for Biblical literature. Paul is writing practical advice for us to be better people, or to give us inspiration for living.
But Paul’s own interpretation of himself says that he is writing as the representative of the heir and ruler of the world. Even though Paul (as we will see) regarded himself as commissioned to represent Jesus to the nations outside Israel, and even when he was reviled and persecuted by fellow Israelites for doing so, Paul never wavered from proclaiming a specifically Jewish message. “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal,” he wrote years later to his understudy, Timothy (Second Timothy 2.8-9a). For Paul, the royal identity of Jesus as the promised descendant of David was always essential.
In fact, Paul believed that precisely because the heir of David had now ascended into heaven to rule the world, he could and must now proclaim him as the universal savior or deliverer of humanity. As he wrote to the Romans: “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord [Jesus] is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him” (Romans 10.12).
In other words, when originally written, and even now, Paul was writing political material. He was writing to establish and strengthen communities in loyalty to a new king who was the lord and deliverer of not just the Israelites who sided with him, but of everyone who entrusted themselves to him. As a preacher and teacher he was, in a real sense, the representative of an invading force establishing a beachhead on planet Earth. Rather than an alien invasion, Paul would have claimed that he was bringing back real humanity to the world.
In the eyes of the authorities in Paul’s own day, his message could be regarded as subversive, if not outright treason (Matthew 2.3; John 19.12; Acts 17.7). Today we miss this. In today’s society, Ephesians is a book that corresponds to private life, personal preference, interior “spirituality.” But in Paul’s mind, this is a letter to the nations from their emperor. From the standpoint of the Roman Emperor it is a letter from a pretender to a disloyal cell within the body politic.