5. God’s Incomparably Great PowerRelated Media
I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know…his incomparably great power for us who believe. 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, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.(Ephesians 1:18-23 )
How great is God’s power at work in the lives of believers?
In Ephesians 1:18-19, Paul prayed for the Ephesians to comprehend how great God’s power was in their lives. In fact, he says the power is “incomparably great,” meaning that there is no power like it (v. 19). There is no power greater—not the atomic bomb, not love, not hate, nor anything else. Paul tries to describe this power by heaping up synonyms for it in verses 19 and 20. Kent Hughes comments are helpful:
That is why Paul stacked all those power synonyms upon one another in verses 19 and 20 as he prayed that we might experience “his [God’s] incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead” (italics added). The stupendous power Paul is describing can be glimpsed in the nuances of the synonyms he used: 1) “[P]ower.” Dunamis is the word we get dynamite from and is used over 100 times in the New Testament. It indicates raw power or strength. 2) “[W]orking.” Energeia, from which we derive our word energy, means “inworking” and suggests the inward propulsion of power. 3) “[M]ighty” (kratos) means “ability to conquer,” as when Caesar conquered Cleopatra. Autocrat comes from this word. 4) “[S]trength” (ischus) refers to physical force. These graphic synonyms in the Pauline bouquet depict the awesome extent of God’s power.1
The implication of Paul’s prayer and description of this power was that these believers were living below the power available to them. This no doubt showed up in an inability to conquer sin, to have joy in Christ, and to persevere through trials.
It’s no different for us. We often live lives that are sub-Christian—missing God’s best. However, the reality is that God through his divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). There is no legitimate reason why we should lack God’s abundant life and holiness—for God has given us his power and resources.
Therefore, in Ephesians 1:20-23, Paul goes to great lengths to describe this power. He says that God publicly displayed this power in Christ, and it is now operating in us.
In this study, we will consider the greatest power the world has ever seen in order to better comprehend what is available to us. And the reason we need to comprehend it is so that we will begin to daily operate in this power.
Big Question: In what ways does Paul describe the extent of God’s incomparable great power at work in us in Ephesians 1:20-23? How should we daily access this power?
Christ’s Resurrection Displayed God’s Incomparably Great Power
and his incomparably great power for us who believe. 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 1:19-20)
The greatness of God’s power to us was displayed in Christ’s resurrection. In the Old Testament, people often measured God’s power by the creation of the earth. Isaiah 40:28 says, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.” However, in the New Testament, it is measured by the miracle of the resurrection.
Why is this miracle so great? It is simply because nobody other than Christ has defeated death. Kings, presidents, heroes, and spiritual leaders all die and none have experienced this resurrection. Man has not and cannot conquer death regardless of the great scientific and medical advancements made. No one has or will ever figure out how to stop death. This power is only in God and was displayed in Christ.
Some might say, “Well, Christ was not the first person raised from the dead. There were others.” This is true. However, Christ’s resurrection was unique. He was the first to be raised from the dead and to never die again.
The first resurrection recorded in the Bible was when Elijah raised the widow’s son (1 Kings 17); however, this child eventually died again. Christ raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11), but he also died again later. And every other resurrected person in history eventually died again. Essentially, one could say, “Death, though delayed, eventually got the victory.” But this was not true of Christ. He rose from the dead, never to die again. God through his power conquered death. First Corinthians 15:20 says this about Christ: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
The firstfruits are the first of a harvest, and the firstfruits tell a farmer something about the coming fruits. Christ is the firstfruits of the dead. He was the first resurrected of those who will never die. He is the beginning of what will happen to the church. This was the greatest power ever seen on the earth.
Application Question: What are the applications of this resurrection power for the church?
1. The church has already experienced a spiritual resurrection at salvation through this power.
Ephesians 2:1, 4-5 says this,
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins… But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
One of the ways this resurrection power worked in us was by our spiritual resurrection. The word “death” really just means “separation.” When Adam sinned in the Garden, he died spiritually. Then when God came to meet with him, Adam hid. In the same way, man now hides from God. He is spiritually dead towards God. His mind is in a state of hostility towards him, and he cannot submit to God’s law (Rom 8:7). In fact, God’s Word is foolishness to him (1 Cor 2:14).
But when we were resurrected from spiritual death, this power removed the blindness from our eyes and opened our hearts and minds towards Christ. Now we are alive to God. The Word of God and prayer, which were once dead to us, are now very much alive. We are alive to righteousness and good works. This is God’s power at work in us—we have experienced a spiritual resurrection.
2. The church will experience a physical resurrection through this power when Christ returns.
First Corinthians 15:51-57 says,
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul teaches the mystery of the physical resurrection. Some who are alive when Christ returns will never die—they will be changed “in the twinkling of an eye.” Their bodies will be transformed into heavenly bodies. And those who previously died will be resurrected from the dead. This is our future if we are truly born again followers of Christ. One day, through God’s power, we will be resurrected from the dead.
And no doubt, like Paul, we will sing, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”
Application Question: How should the reality of the resurrection from dead challenge and encourage believers?
Christ’s Ascension and Enthronement in Heaven Displayed God’s Incomparably Great Power
and his incomparably great power for us who believe. 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, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet … (Ephesians 1:19-22)
Just as man cannot conquer death, he cannot conquer evil. Man has tried education. They say, “If we educate people then the crime rate will go down.” Or, “If we place people in a different environment, it will change them.” However, these methods do not work. An educated person just commits more intelligent crimes, and a change of environment cannot change man’s heart. Man cannot ultimately conquer evil—but evil was conquered in Christ’s ascension and seating at the right hand of God. Ephesians 4:8 says, “This is why it says: ‘When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.’”
This is a picture of a conquering general marching through the city in a parade. Behind him in this parade are those he conquered—his captives—marching in chains with their heads bowed. And as the general marches, he gives gifts to his people. This is what happened with Christ in his ascension. He conquered the devil and gave spiritual gifts to his church (cf. Eph 4:11).
In addition, Colossians 2:15 says, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” In Christ’s ascension, he disarmed the powers and authorities. When Paul says, “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion” (v. 21), he seems to be primarily referring to a hierarchy of ruling demons. Just as human armies have generals, colonels, sergeants, and privates, it seems to be that way with demons. Paul also addresses this when he describes the church’s spiritual battle in Ephesians 6:12, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Christ conquered the devil in his resurrection and ascension. The evil forces gathered against him in his crucifixion were defeated in his resurrection and ascension.
But not only was Christ exalted to the right hand of God over the demonic realm, but over all of creation as King. God put him over “every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come” (v.21). Psalm 2, a messianic Psalm, says this:
Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. “Let us break their chains,” they say, “and throw off their fetters.” The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
In Psalm 2, David prophesied that God would install his Son, the Messiah, over all the kings of the earth. Christ was the Davidic king prophesied about throughout the Old Testament. Paul, while speaking in a synagogue in Antioch, said Christ’s installment as the Davidic king was fulfilled at Christ’s resurrection. Acts 13:32-34 says,
… What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: “‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’ The fact that God raised him from the dead, never to decay, is stated in these words: “‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’
Christ now rules in heaven at God’s right hand as the Davidic King, but one day he will fully exercise his rule on this earth. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil 2:10-11). Amen!
Application Question: What applications can we take from God’s power displayed in Christ’s ascension and enthronement in heaven?
1. God’s power displayed in Christ’s ascension and enthronement reminds us that one day we will not only be resurrected but also ascend to heaven as Christ did.
The power of God not only raised Christ from the dead but also took him to heaven. In Acts 1:8-9, we see Christ talking to the apostles and then ascending to heaven in a cloud. Similarly, we will ascend to heaven to be with Christ.
Christ says this in John 14:1-3:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
Christ promised his disciples that they would be where he is in heaven. One day he is coming again to take us to heaven. This will be done by the power of God already at work in us.
2. God’s power displayed in Christ’s ascension and enthronement reminds us that we will one day rule with him.
Scripture already says that we are positionally seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6). This is a present reality because of our union with Christ. However, one day we will rule with him in heaven and on earth, as his co-heirs. Romans 8:17 says, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” We are co-heirs with Christ, and we will share in his glory. Paul teaches that we will even judge the world and angels with Christ (1 Cor 6:2-3).
This is the power operating in us. This power raised and seated us in the heavenly places with Christ. It is through this power that we will rule with Christ eternally on earth and in heaven. Paul wants believers to comprehend the present reality of this power in our lives.
3. God’s power displayed in Christ’s ascension and enthronement reminds us that we also can conquer sin, Satan, and all powers of the enemy.
This is the very reason that Paul commands the church in Ephesians 6:10-11: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” The same power that conquered the devil and his schemes in Christ’s ascension and enthronement is working in us to stand against the devil and his schemes. In fact, we are seated with Christ in a position of authority over the enemy (Eph 2:6). God’s power has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3)—including power to conquer sin and the enemy.
Application Question: How can we operate in Christ’s power to conquer sin and the devil in our lives?
Christ’s Headship over the Church Displayed God’s Incomparably Great Power
And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Ephesians 1:22-23)
The last aspect of the incomparable greatness of God’s power Paul emphasizes is Christ’s headship over the church. Paul says that God “appointed him to be head over everything for the church which is his body” (v. 22 and 23).
This means that Christ is not only the ruler of angels, demons, and people but also the church. However, the difference is that Christ will rule the powers and principalities and the unredeemed by force with an iron scepter (Psalm 2:9). On the other hand, he will rule with the church in an organic relationship as their head.
In Ephesians Chapter 2, Paul talks about God’s formation of a new entity through Christ’s death and resurrection. He states that believing Jews and Gentiles were created into a third race—the church (v. 14-15)—and this race has become the body of Christ. God’s power is not only displayed in Christ’s rulership over the church, but in the church becoming Christ’s body—inextricably linked forever.
In verse 23, Paul says, “which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” This verse has stimulated great discussion amongst commentators.
Interpretation Question: What does the “the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” refer to?
1. Some commentators believe this verse refers to Christ being the fullness of God who fills everything in every way.
“Him” would then refer to God instead of Christ. John Stott explains the first view this way:
The first explanation takes the phrase as a description not of the church (the body) but of Christ (the head), i.e. ‘… the church, which is the body of him who is the fullness of him who fills all in all’. In this case Paul is saying not that the church is the fullness of Christ, but that Christ is the fullness of God, who fills Christ as indeed he fills all things.2
This view presents several problems: “For one thing the syntax is awkward, requiring God to be both subject and object of the same sentence (‘God … gave as head to the church Christ who is the fullness of God’).”3 Another potential problem is that Scripture never explicitly says Christ is the fullness of God. It does say that God’s fullness dwells in Christ (Col 2:9).
However, Scripture does teach that God fills “everything in every way.” It says he fills the heavens and the earth (Jeremiah 23:24) and that the highest heavens cannot contain him (1 Kings 8:27).
2. Some commentators believe this verse refers to the church being the fullness of Christ and yet Christ filling everything in every way.
The problem with this view is that it would imply that Christ is incomplete without the church. If this is a correct interpretation, Paul obviously meant it in a paradoxical sense.4 The God who needs nothing and is independent has chosen to depend upon his church. In the same way that a body cannot function without a head, a head cannot function without the body. Christ has chosen to work through his church on the earth and throughout eternity, and if the church does not work, then his work does not get done. This is a great mystery. In view of this, John Calvin proclaimed:
This is the highest honor of the church that, unless He is united to us, the Son of God reckons Himself in some measure imperfect. What an encouragement it is for us to hear, that not until He has us as one with Himself is He complete in all His parts, or does He wish to be regarded as whole!5
3. Some commentators believe this verse refers to Christ being the fullness of the church and yet filling everything in every way.
Christ filling the church is taught throughout Scripture. Believers are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19) and Christ indwells them (Eph 3:17).
In further support of this view, Paul says in Ephesians 4:10, “He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)” Since Paul connects Christ’s ascension with filling “the whole universe,” it’s very plausible that he is doing the same thing in Ephesians 1:23. This interpretation has the fewest difficulties and is most likely the correct interpretation.6
Application Question: What applications can we take from the concept of Christ being the head and the church being his body?
- The church must submit to Christ, even as a body submits to its head. Without submitting to Christ, we can do nothing good; in fact, we harm ourselves when we operate outside of his will. Therefore, it is a necessity for us to abide in Christ and hear his voice.
- The church need one another, even as the members of a body need one another. Paul says the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you” (1 Cor 12:21). We need each other because God’s power has made us one body, and therefore dependent upon one another. To try to be independent, as many in the church do, is to spiritually impoverish ourselves.
- The church shares the glory of Christ—the Head. Whatever glory bestowed upon a head is also bestowed upon the body, for they are one and the same. It is the same with us, as the body of Christ. Christ has given us his glory and we will one day rule with him (cf. John 17:22, Rom 8:17).
As the ascended Christ is the conqueror of the powers and principalities, he is also the honored Head of the church. God’s great power has made Christ the head and us his body. Thank you, Lord! Amen.
Application Question: How is God calling you to honor Christ as your head in your daily life and also by working with and serving his body?
Certainly, Paul did not want the Ephesians to just comprehend this power, but also to experience it daily. He himself desired this, as seen in Philippians 3:10: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” He also prays for the Ephesians to experience more of God’s power in Ephesians 3:16: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.”
Application Question: How can we daily experience the power of the resurrection in our lives?
1. In order to daily experience the power of the resurrection, we must pray for it.
As Paul prays for the Ephesians to be strengthened with power in the inner being (3:16), we must also pray this for ourselves and others. Through prayer, we access God’s power. To fail to pray is to walk without it—in our own strength.
2. In order to daily experience the power of the resurrection, we must have faith.
Christ says that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we can move mountains (Matthew 17:20). Some Christians never experience this power because they believe God for too little. They want to get to heaven, but they have no real desire to be used by God on earth. When God calls them to step out in faith, they have every excuse to not believe or obey him (cf. Judges 6:15). Christ said he couldn’t do many miracles in his home town because of their lack of faith (Mk 6:5), and no doubt, this is also true for many believers and churches today.
3. In order to daily experience the power of the resurrection, we must allow God to use us in our weakness.
Second Corinthians 12:9-10 says,
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
It is in our weakness that God shows himself strong. Many times he allows us to go through trials and become weak just so we can experience the power of the resurrection in our lives and ministries (cf. 2 Cor 1:9). Sometimes he calls us to serve outside of our giftedness—outside of where we are comfortable—so we can experience his power. And when we experience it, we start to learn that we can’t live without it.
How is God making you weak so you can experience his power?
4. In order to daily experience the power of the resurrection, we must abide in Christ.
John 15:5 says, ‘“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Remaining in Christ, or “abiding,” as it can be translated, is a discipline. It includes reading the Word of God, prayer, worship, church fellowship, and serving. By making our home in Christ, we experience the power of the vine in and through our lives. Those who fail to abide—those who fail to live a life of discipline—will lack power and therefore fruitfulness in their lives.
Are you experiencing God’s power in your life and ministry?
Application Questions: Are there any areas in your life where you especially need to experience God’s power? How is God calling you to more faithfully appropriate it?
How great is God’s power in the life of a believer? God’s divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3). This power is at work in us (Eph 1:18-19), and we must comprehend it and appropriate it daily.
- Christ’s resurrection displayed God’s incomparably great power.
- Christ’s ascension and enthronement in heaven displayed God’s incomparably great power.
- Christ’s headship over the church displays God’s incomparably great power.
Copyright © 2016 Gregory Brown
Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked KJV or AKJV are from the King James Version or Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible.
All emphases in Scripture quotations and commentators’ quotations have been added.
1 Hughes, R. K. (1990). Ephesians: the mystery of the body of Christ (pp. 55–58). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
2 Stott, J. R. W. (1979). God’s new society: the message of Ephesians (p. 61). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
3 Stott, J. R. W. (1979). God’s new society: the message of Ephesians (p. 62). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
4 Hughes, R. K. (1990). Ephesians: the mystery of the body of Christ (pp. 62–63). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
5 Hughes, R. K. (1990). Ephesians: the mystery of the body of Christ (pp. 62–63). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
6 Stott, J. R. W. (1979). God’s new society: the message of Ephesians (p. 65). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Related Topics: Character of God