The darkest moment in the life of the disciples was that three-day period when the body of the Lord Jesus lay lifeless in the tomb. For those three days, the disciples of our Lord were hopeless. They gathered together in a locked room, fearing the same fate as their Master, at the hands of the Jews (John 20:19). Even when reports began to reach them that the Lord was alive, they initially refused to believe them (Luke 24:11).
It was not until the risen Lord appeared to them personally that they were convinced of His resurrection. Once convinced, these men would never be the same. The resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus transformed the disciples from a frightened, discouraged, and defeated band of men to a dynamic, confident force which, in the words of their enemies, turned the world upside down.
The resurrection of our Lord was proof that He was the Messiah, as He claimed, and that death could not hold Him in its grip (see Acts 2:22-32). Beyond this, the ascension of the Lord Jesus to the right hand of the Father brought about the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit, empowering believers and convincing and converting those whom God had purposed to save (Acts 2:33-36).
In the first chapter of his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul has spoken of the blessings which God has purposed and provided for every believer, in Christ, to the praise of the glory of His grace (verses 3-14). He has also prayed for the Ephesian saints, that the Holy Spirit might grant them the enlightenment to grasp the unseen realities of which the Scriptures speak, which are the foundation of their faith. He has prayed for their growing comprehension of the “hope of His calling,” and of the “riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (verse 18).
In verses 19-23, Paul describes the third foundational truth which is fundamental to the faith and practice of the Ephesian believers: the knowledge of His infinite power:
And what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:19-23).
The Easter season is nearly upon us. Most of us probably are content with our belief in the resurrection and ascension of our Lord as a historical event. In this belief, we differ from many. But this is not a sufficient grasp of these events as Paul understands and teaches them. There is much more to be gained from these events, as our text will indicate to us. The truths of this text are those which will transform our lives, if we but believe them. As Paul looked to the Spirit of God to make these truths and their implications known to his readers, let us likewise look to Him to enlighten our hearts, so that we might grow in our grasp of these realities, and thus find our thinking and lifestyles reshaped by them.
My approach in this lesson will be to capture and communicate the message of the text before us by summing up its essence in several sentences.
Ephesians 3:19-23 is a part of Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian saints. It is not difficult to see that Paul’s prayer begins at verse 15. It is not quite so easy to see precisely where it ends. His prayer is that the Holy Spirit will enlighten the minds of his readers, so that they will grasp in a greater way the unseen blessings which God has provided in Christ, and are revealed in the Scriptures.
Paul’s prayer is that the Ephesian saints will be divinely enabled to grasp the infinite power of God in Christ. This text focuses on God’s power in two major categories: (a) God’s power over all other powers and authorities; and (b) God’s power exercised on behalf of the church. Verses 21 and 22a deal with the former, while the rest of the verses pertain to the latter.
Our text paves the way for Paul’s teaching in Ephesians chapter two. If, in chapter 1 Paul speaks of the Lord’s resurrection and ascension, in chapter 2 he speaks of the believer’s resurrection and ascension, in Christ (compare 1:20 with 2:6). Further, while in chapter 1 Paul speaks of Christ’s ascension as resulting in His being given authority over all other powers (1:21-22a), in chapter 2 he speaks of these authorities as those which once held us captive (see 2:1-3).
Paul’s words at the end of chapter 1 imply that the Christian’s assurance of the certainty of purposes and promises of God which constitute the Christian’s hope rests upon our recognition of His power to achieve them. Notice again the words of Paul in verses 18-20 as rendered by the New American Standard Bible:
18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places (emphasis mine).
The words “these are,” found in verse 19, are in italics in the NASB, indicating that they are not in the original text, but supplied by the translators. These words suggest what I believe to be true, and that is that the three elements of the Christian’s future hope mentioned in verses 18 and 19 are all inter-dependent. Apart from the supreme power and authority of God in Christ, we have no hope. It is because of His infinite power that we are assured of obtaining the “hope of His calling” and the “riches of the glory of His inheritance.” Indeed, apart from the sovereignty of God, all of the blessings of verses 3-14 would be nullified.
Recently I received a letter from a young woman in Africa. She was an orphan, and was not able to afford a college education. A gracious and godly Christian woman became her sponsor. The only problem was that this old woman died before the young woman received her diploma. She finished all her classes, but the final tuition payment was never made. In spite of the older woman’s good intentions, she was unable to fulfill her commitment.
Most of us have had the experience of being promised something and then not receiving it, because of the unwillingness or inability of the one who made the promise. God’s infinite power, even over death, assures us that His promises, unlike those made by others, will be fulfilled. We, like Abraham before us, can be “fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform” (Romans 4:21).
Paul’s words in Ephesians 1:18 and 19 imply that our grasp of the infinite power of God falls short of the wealth of that power. Paul prays that we might be divinely enabled, by the Holy Spirit, to comprehend the “surpassing greatness of His power.” Apart from divine revelation and illumination, we would not know the greatness of His power. Even with them, our finite minds will never fathom the depths of God’s goodness or greatness. The inference of this text and of the whole of Scripture is we will never, in this life, adequately grasp the vast wealth of God’s person and of that which He has provided for us. Further, we will spend all eternity praising Him for these.
33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:33-36).
7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who shall also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 10 Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment (1 Corinthians 1:7-10).
The power of God of which Paul speaks is that which is manifested in and through Jesus Christ. All of the blessings which God has purposed and provided for the saints are “in Christ” (see 1:3-14). It is the purpose of God to “sum up all things in Christ” (1:10). So also, God’s power is that which He brought about “in Christ” (1:20).
Paul’s words indicate a direct relationship between the infinite power of God which is manifested in Christ, and His resurrection and ascension. I believe that the power of our Lord is related to His resurrection and ascension in at least two ways. First, the resurrection and ascension of our Lord demonstrate the magnitude of the power of God in Christ. The surpassing greatness of this power is the same power44 which was evidenced in the resurrection of our Lord from the dead, and which was bestowed upon Him at His ascension.
Second, the power of God which is in Christ is that power which God bestowed upon Him as a result of His death, resurrection and ascension. While our Lord set aside some of the privileges and prerogatives of His heavenly glory at the incarnation, He gained more than these when the Father raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand:
5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).
9 But we do see Him who has been made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. 10 For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings (Hebrews 2:9-10).45
The power and authority bestowed on Christ by the Father at His ascension is greater than any and all other powers. The Lord Jesus is greater than all other powers by virtue of the fact that He created them, and by virtue of His resurrection and ascension to power.
16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created by Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16).
13 And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him (Colossians 2:13-15).4647
The power of our Lord, bestowed on Him by the Father at the time of His ascension, sets Him above any and all powers. He is greater than any other power, than all other powers, whether these powers be present or future, heavenly or earthly:
And what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come (Ephesians 1:19-21).
By virtue of His obedience to the will of the Father, His incarnation, sacrificial death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus has been given all power and authority, to rule over all creation. The final phase is the second coming of Christ, to subdue His enemies and to establish the rule of God on the earth. At that time, every living soul will acknowledge His sovereignty:
9 Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).
I do not play cards very often or very well. When I do, it is usually “Rook.” I do know this, when playing a card which is a “trump card,” I do so very cautiously. I know that it is possible someone else has a card of the same color, but with a higher number. Our Lord’s authority and power are not tentative, but certain. Because of this, we can be assured that His purposes and promises will be accomplished.
The power and authority of Jesus Christ includes His headship over the church. The precise meaning of verse 22 is difficult, and a matter of considerable discussion: “And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church.”
I understand these words to mean several things. First, they inform us that Christ is the Head of the church, which is His body:
18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything (Colossians 1:18).
Second, I believe that Paul’s words in our text go beyond the fact that Christ is the Head of the church. I believe that Paul is telling us that Christ, our Head, is “Head” over all things. The One who is “Head” over the church is also “Head” over everything else. This means that what the “Head” of the church desires, He gets. If the president of the local PTA is also the president of the United States, you can be assured that His power as president will benefit the PTA as well.
As the Head of the church, Jesus Christ directs His power to and through the church, to accomplish His purposes for it and for the saints.
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe (Ephesians 1:18-19a).
The power of God in Christ is not directed toward men in general, but toward the saints. God has brought about the blessing of the saints in Christ (1:3-14). His power is directed toward the benefit and the blessing of His own. This power is not a “blank check” which the saints may draw upon any way they choose, but is also governed by the purposes of God for the saints. Paul’s prayer in verses 15-18 is placed between the purposes of God (verses 3-14) and the power of God (verses 19-23) for good reason. Our prayers should be based upon God’s infinite power, and defined by God’s revealed purposes.
The power and authority of Jesus Christ which was granted to Him at His ascension, is now being poured out on the church in various ways. One way, mentioned by Paul in Ephesians, is the bestowal of the spiritual gifts required for the building up and ministry of the church:
7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, And He gave gifts to men.” 9 Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:7-13).
As Christ’s fulness fills the church, so the church is the fulness of Christ. Verse 23 is probably the most difficult verse in our text. The church is the body of Christ, the “fullness” of Him who “fills” all in all. As Head of the church, the fulness of Christ is directed toward the church. As the body of Christ, the church fills up or fills out that which Christ continues to do in and through His church.
The church continues the work of Christ:
1 The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when He was taken up, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen (Acts 1:1-2).
What Jesus “began to do and to teach,” the church continues to do and to teach. Those who are true believers, and members of His body, the church, should see themselves as “filling up” the work of our Lord as a part of His body, which He empowers:
24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body which is the church in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. 25 Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, 26 that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, 27 to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ. 29 And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me (Colossians 1:24-29).
Paul believed that an understanding of the power of Jesus Christ was essential to the believer’s spiritual walk. Because of this, he not only describes this power, but he prays that the Holy Spirit would give each of his readers (and the church) a deeper grasp of this power.
What practical difference should this knowledge make? How would a better understanding of the power and authority of Jesus Christ make? Paul has linked this power to the resurrection and ascension of our Lord. When we look at the ways in which the resurrection and ascension of Christ impacted the early church, we will begin to see how these truths also affect us.
Let us trace the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus through the New Testament, beginning in the gospel of John. Since more attention has been given to our Lord’s resurrection, we will concentrate on the ascension of our Lord. Three texts in John’s gospel highlight our Lord’s ascension:
12 “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 “And no one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven, even the Son of Man. 14 “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life (John 3:12-15).
60 Many therefore of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? 62 “What then if you should behold the Son of Man ascending where He was before? 63 “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life (John 6:60-63).
7 “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. 8 “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment; 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged (John 16:7-11).
In John chapter 3, Jesus has been talking to Nicodemus, a renowned teacher of Judaism his day. And yet when Jesus told this Pharisee that he must be “born again” he was completely mystified. When Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit, he was likewise puzzled. In fact, everything spiritual puzzled this man.
In response, Jesus spoke the words recorded in John 3:12-15, recorded above. I had always thought that Jesus was speaking of His death on the cross, when He said that He must be lifted up like the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness in Moses’ day. But in the context I think we can see that Jesus meant more, much more. The lifting up of Jesus on the cross was only the “first floor,” so to speak. His death and burial led to his further elevation, by His resurrection. This led to His ascension, to the “top floor” (so to speak), thus bringing about salvation for those who would believe in Him. The ascension of our Lord is thus linked to His saving work.
Have you ever thought of the ascension of Jesus as God bringing the saving work of Christ full circle? In the incarnation, the second Person of the Godhead added perfect humanity to His undiminished deity. In His incarnation, the Lord Jesus laid aside the use of some of His glory and power. In His resurrection and ascension, the Lord Jesus took perfect humanity to heaven, where He was given immeasurable power and authority. Now, in heaven we have a mediator between us and God, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).
In John chapter 6, Jesus taught the crowds who flocked to Him after His feeding of the 5,000. He urged them to think of Him as greater than Moses, and His “bread” as greater than the manna which God provided through Moses. He taught them that He was the “bread from heaven,” and then went on to speak of His sacrificial death on behalf of sinners. He told them that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood. They were horrified at His words, taking them only in their most literal sense. Jesus responded to them in the same way He had done with Nicodemus. He spoke of the spiritual meaning which lay behind his words, but they could not grasp it. He told this crowd that if the words of His sacrificial death as the “Lamb of God” puzzled them, His ascension back into the presence of His Father, from which He had come, would be even more difficult for them to grasp. And so it was.
Jesus speaks of His ascension also in John chapter 16. In chapters 14-16 Jesus tells His disciples that He must leave them and return to the Father. There, He will prepare a place for them. And from there, He will send His Holy Spirit, to manifest His presence in their midst. The Holy Spirit will not only bring Jesus’ words to the disciples’ remembrance, He will also empower the words and the work of the church. He will convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.
The statement which is pertinent to our study is found in verse 10: “And concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me” (emphasis mine). What catches my attention is the word “you,” and not the word “they.” How is it that the Holy Spirit will convince the world concerning righteousness by our Lord’s absence and the church’s inability to see Him?
I think I am beginning to understand. Jesus is soon to die, and then to be raised from the dead. For forty days He will come and go among His disciples, seen by no one other than them. And then, He will be taken up into the clouds, and seated at the right hand of the Father. It is then that the disciples (and His church) will see Jesus no more. Filled with His Holy Spirit, they will continue to live as though He were alive and present with them—because He is! Their lives will be transformed. They will cease to cower and hide for fear of the Jews. They will powerfully bear witness to His resurrection and ascension. In so doing, they will become living testimonies to the righteousness of Christ. Some will be convinced that Jesus is still alive, because the Father raised Him who was righteous from the dead.
3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, (Romans 1:3-4).
25 He who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification (Romans 4:25).
Just before His ascension, our Lord gave the apostles (and thus the church) the so-called “great commission.” This command of our Lord was predicated on a simple fact, that all authority had been given to Him, on heaven and on earth. The great commission is stated as the consequence, the outflow of His authority:
18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
The disciples were commanded to wait in Jerusalem until the power of the Holy Spirit came upon them:
“And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).
But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The message which the apostles proclaimed, after the Holy Spirit came upon the church, was that Jesus Christ was risen from the dead, and that He was to return to judge His enemies. In order to avoid the judgment of God and to enter into the kingdom of God, men must believe in Jesus and God’s Messiah for the forgiveness of sins, the One whom God had made both Lord and Christ:
23 this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. 24 “And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. 25 “For David says of Him, ‘I was always beholding the Lord in my presence; For He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. 26 ‘Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue exulted; Moreover my flesh also will abide in hope; 27 Because Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Hades, Nor allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay. 28 ‘Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; Thou wilt make me full of gladness with Thy presence.’ … 32 “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. 33 “Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. 34 “For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: ‘ The Lord said to my Lord,” Sit at My right hand, 35 Until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet. “‘ 36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:23-28, 32-36; note especially verse 27)
14 “But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses (Acts 3:14-15).
The Lord performed many miracles, signs and wonders at the hands of the apostles, who persistently gave credit for these miracles to their living Lord:
5 And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” 7 And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. 8 And with a leap, he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God (Acts 3:5-8).
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people, 9 if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, 10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health (Acts 4:8-10).
The apostles were assured not only that Jesus was alive, and that He was performing signs and wonders at their hands, but also that He was in complete control. Listen to their confidence in His sovereign control over all things as they pray after having been arrested and released by the Jewish authorities:
23 And when they had been released, they went to their own companions, and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “O Lord, it is Thou who didst make the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them, 25 who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Thy servant, didst say, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, And the peoples devise futile things? 26 ‘The kings of the earth took their stand, And the rulers were gathered together Against the Lord, and against His Christ.’ 27 “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Thy holy servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur. 29 “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence, 30 while Thou dost extend Thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Thy holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:23-30).
When arrested and brought before the Jewish Sanhedrin and commanded not to preach again in the name of Jesus, Peter responded,
29 But Peter and the apostles answered and said, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross (Acts 5:29-30).
When Stephen was brought before the Sanhedrin, he spoke powerfully to the Jewish authorities concerning the stiff-necked rebellion of these men, as their fathers before them had rebelled against the Holy Spirit. As the assembled group were about to kill Stephen, he was comforted and they were cautioned by the vision which Stephen was given of his risen and ascended Lord, not sitting at the Father’s right hand, but standing, poised for action:
54 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. 55 But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56 and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears, and they rushed upon him with one impulse (Acts 7:54-57).
The New Testament epistles make much of the power of Jesus Christ, granted to Him by the Father when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand. This very same power, which raised Christ from the dead, is that power by which God gives life to our dead and powerless bodies, so that we can live righteously:
10 And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you (Romans 8:10-11; see also Romans 7:24).
It is this power which provides all that we need to live in a way that pleases Him:
Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:3).
It is not only the power of the risen and ascended Lord which saves us, but this same power also keeps us:
33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Just as it is written, “For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:33-39).
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5).
The hope of the Christian is based upon the power of the ascended Lord, to raise us from the dead, to overthrow the wicked, and to establish the eternal kingdom of God:
Then comes the end, when He delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power (1 Corinthians 15:24).
So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power (1 Corinthians 15:42-43).
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself (Philippians 3:20-21).
When the kingdom of God comes to the earth, men of every nation and tongue, and every created being will praise Him for His power:
“Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created” (Revelation 4:11, see also 5:12; 7:12; 11:17; 12:10; 15:8).
After these things I heard, as it were, a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God” (Revelation 19:1).
As we leave this text, let me conclude with some final comments on the subject of God’s power and prayer.
First, the power of God is not a blank check, which we fill in with prayer. The power of God is linked with His eternal purposes. God’s power assures the saints that what God has purposed and promised, He is able to accomplish. Our hope is therefore certain, our eternal reward secure (see 1 Peter 1:5).
There are those, like Simon the Sorcerer in Acts chapter 8, who wanted to be able to broker the power of God for his own profit. God’s power has not been given for self-serving purposes, and those who seek to use it in this way will be severely disciplined.
The power of God does not assure us of present prosperity, but of confidence in suffering, knowing that in suffering we fill up that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24-29) and that we obtain the blessing of greater fellowship with the One who suffered for us (Philippians 3:10). The power of God is not a guarantee that Christians will escape from suffering, but that they will endure in the midst of it:
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God (2 Timothy 1:8).
Second, God’s power should serve not only as a comfort to those who trust and obey, but as a warning to those who do not. We know that our Lord will come in power to subdue His enemies and to judge those who have not believed on Him. Those who profess to be Christians should also be reminded that God has invested His glory and reputation in the church. So it is that He will exercise His power to purge and purify His church when it fails to bring glory to Him:
26 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” 31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:26-31).
17 For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner? (1 Peter 4:17-18).
Third, prayer should not be viewed as an opportunity for finite men to bend the will and the power of God to serve their own selfish purposes, but as a time to submit our will to God’s will and to His purposes. How quickly we pervert and distort the truth of God’s word, especially in relation to God’s power and our prayers. We speak of “the power of prayer,” an expression which is not found, and which is without sanction in the Bible. It is not our prayer which is powerful, it is God who is all-powerful. We pray because He is powerful. But His power is restricted to those things which accomplish His purposes. If we would pray with confidence, let us pray for what God has purposed and promised, rather than for those things our flesh would desire:
3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures (James 4:3).
If we would pray like Paul, it would be for those things which God has purposed and promised. The prayers of our Lord Jesus should serve as models for all our prayers:
39 And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39; see also Matthew 6:7-15)
Finally, we should be reminded that the power of God is not grasped by men who are strong, but clung to by those who are weak. Our Lord Himself was exalted by the Father because He was obedient to the point of death. He took on our weaknesses and sins, and God raised Him up and seated Him at the right hand of power.
So many Christians seem to think that they lack power and need to go through some kind of mental or spiritual gymnastics to get it. We don’t get power that way. It is in the recognition of our weakness and of His strength that we must turn to Him who has all power. It is not our power which matters, but His.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves (2 Corinthians 4:7).
And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me (2 Corinthians 12:9).
For indeed He was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, yet we shall live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you (2 Corinthians 13:4).
Let us look to Him, who has all power, and who freely employs it to fulfill all His purposes, for His glory and for our good.
That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Philippians 3:10).
Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21).
44 I do not wish to differ with the translations, but at this point I believe that the NIV does a disservice to the text when it renders it this way: “That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 1:19b-20, emphasis mine).
Other translations and paraphrases emphasize the fact that it is not a similar power, but the very same power: “That power is the same divine energy which was demonstrated in Christ when he raised him from the dead and gave him the place of supreme honor in Heaven” (Phillips).