The Letter of Ignatius to the Ephesians: Chapter One

I started this series yesterday with an introduction to the early Christian writings.

This is Ignatius’ epistle to the Ephesians, written in A.D. 107 or 116, about 50 or 60 years after Paul wrote his epistle to the Ephesians and only about 30 years after the letter to the Ephesians found in Revelation ch. two.

This is chapter 1 of 21, but the chapters are way shorter than Paul’s six chapters.

I have become familiar with your name, much beloved in God, which you have acquired by the habit of righteousness, according to the faith and love in Jesus Christ our Savior. Because you are the followers of God and because you stir yourselves up by the blood of God, you have perfectly accomplished the work which was appropriate for you.
     [You hurried to see me] when you heard that I had arrived from Syria, in chains for our common Name and Hope. With the help of your prayers, I am trusting that I will be allowed to fight with the beasts at Rome so that by martyrdom I may truly become the disciple of the One who have himself for us as an offering and sacrifice to God.
     Therefore I received the whole multitude of you in the name of God by the person of Onesimus, a man of inexpressible love, your bishop in the flesh. I ask you by Jesus Christ to love him and that you would all try to be like him. Blessed is the One who has given him to you, who has considered you worthy to be given such an excellent bishop.

Repentance of the Ephesians

We discussed this when we discussed Ignatius’ introduction yesterday. The start of chapter one is another indication that Ephesus repented after they received Christ’s letter (Rev. 2). The Ephesians had a "habit of righteousness," based in faith and love for Jesus Christ. Because they stirred themselves up by the blood of God, they perfectly accomplished the work God had for them.

I’d say they had returned to their first love.

The Blood of God, Part One: The Trinity

This is fascinating terminology. Yesterday, we discussed the fact that when the Father and Jesus are mentioned together, the Father is called "God," while Jesus is called "Lord." We all know this.

All of us know that Jesus sat down at the right hand of God. We would never read that the Father sat down at the left hand of God.

Yet here Ignatius talks about the blood of God. It is not typical to reference Jesus as God without naming him. If the Scripture mentions "God" without reference to one of the persons of the Trinity, it almost always means the Father. Yet here is Ignatius clearly referring to the Son with a general reference to God.

Acts 20:28 uses very similar terminology …

Feed the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood.

This is unusual terminology, but not inappropriate, from a Scriptural and early Christian view of the Trinity. It is inexplicable from the Arian or Jehovah’s Witness view of the Trinity.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses have actually put out a small booklet on the early Christian view of the Trinity, in which they take the nonsensical position that the early church was Arian—in other words, that they believed with Arius and the Jehovah’s Witnesses that the Son was a creation of God rather than born of him.

The position is nonsensical because the very reason Arius was condemned as a heretic was because he was against the church. You don’t get rejected for heresy when you agree with the church.

The reason the Jehovah’s Witnesses get away with it is because we’ve forgotten the early Christian view of the Trinity. We’ve replaced it with a doctrine that says that all three persons are coequal and coeternal.

This is neither Scriptural nor historical (sorry). It doesn’t agree with the Nicene Creed. Despite the fact that numerous Catholic and Protestant churches recite it weekly, it expressly disagrees with our view of the Trinity.

According to the Nicene Creed (and Scripture, and the early church), we have one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ. The Son, Jesus Christ, is begotten of the Father. The Father is not begotten of the Son. The Son is divinity from divinity, light from light, true divinity from true divinity, but the Father is the true divinity and light from which the Son comes.

All the early Christians believed that Jesus meant it when he said the Father was greater than himself (Jn. 14:28). They did not believe it was a temporary thing while he was on the earth. The Father has times that he has set, and some of those are unknown to the Son (Mk. 13:32).

Those last couple paragraphs may be news to you, but they were not news to the early Christians.

Jehovah’s Witnesses

The Jehovah’s Witnesses have jumped on this bit of information in order to promulgate their disinformation. They quote the early Christians extensively because the early Christians said a lot about the Father being the one God.

But the JW’s neglect to quote passages like this one in the first chapter of Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians. They neglect to give you the context of early Christian explanations of the Trinity. They don’t let you know that the early churches expressly rejected the idea that Jesus Christ was created from nothing. If Jesus was not formed from the eternal substance of God—if he was not eternally the Logos, or instinctive thought, of God—then he was not really divine.

It’s for this reason that Arius was wrong, and it’s for this reason that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are wrong.

Does this mean that JW’s can’t be saved?

No. It doesn’t. Chances are, you’ve got the Trinity wrong, and God saved you.

What stops JW’s from being saved is their lack of belief in Jesus Christ. They follow men and the teachings of men. They don’t know that Jesus wants to live inside of them by his Spirit because they believe the Spirit of God is an impersonal force.

Thus, they miss out on the whole central message of the Christian faith: Christ in you, the hope of glory.

The Blood of God, Part Two: The Blood

More important than the doctrine of the Trinity …

Yes, more important than the doctrine of the Trinity is the reference here to being stirred up by the blood of God.

Listen, God will be fine if you don’t understand him. In fact, even if you can perfectly explain the Biblical and early Christian view of the Trinity, you still don’t understand God.

Never forget. God is saving us; we are not saving him.

And that’s the point I want to make about stirring ourselves up by the blood of God.

This whole ticket into heaven things is not what God is after. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The Bible never says that Jesus "paid the penalty" for our sins, and the whole paid-penalty theory is disgusting and immoral.

Are we really willing to suggest that God is under bondage to some cosmic law that forces him to torture people in fire eternally if they commit one sin?

That’s horrifying, and it has nothing to do with the God of the Bible who is praised repeatedly because "his mercy endures forever," a phrase found 41 times in Scripture.

The blood of God was not shed to change God. God was already merciful, which is why Jesus shed his blood. God already forgave sin to the repentant. He did not torture them eternally when they repented; he forgave them when they repented from the very beginning.

As David says, "Sacrifice and offering you do not desire … You do not delight in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart …" (Ps. 51:16-17).

Jesus shed his blood so that you would live a life of repentance and righteousness.

Life was already offered to the repentant even under the Old Covenant …

In repentance and rest you shall be saved … but you would have none of it.

But under the New Covenant, Jesus died for us and not for God.

God didn’t need to change. He was offering salvation to those who would repent. We needed to change. We would have none of it. So Jesus, by his death, enabled us to repent and live for God

For what the Law could not do … God did. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, he condemned sin in the flesh so that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Rom. 8:3-4)

What’s our response?

Being enabled, we repent and perform righteous works that God has made for us to do …

If you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if, by the Spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body, then you will live. (Rom. 8:12-13)

The apostles knew that, so that is what they preached.

  • The first Gospel sermon: "Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).
  • Jewish description of the Gospel: "So, then, God has also given the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life" (Acts 11:18).
  • Paul’s description of what he preached: "… that they should repent, turn to God, and do works appropriate to repentance" (Acts 26:20).

It remains true to this day that without holiness—a holiness that must be pursued, not one that is simply granted from God—you cannot see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).

It is the blood of Christ that enables us to do this. It is the blood of Christ that breaks the power of sin in us. It is the blood of Christ that cleanses us so that the Spirit of God may dwell in us.

He died for all so that those who live would no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and rose again. (2 Cor. 5:15)

In other words, my friend, you are not going to reap eternal life unless you continue doing good without growing weary (Gal. 6:8-9; 2 Pet. 1:5-11; 1 Jn. 2:3-4; Rom. 2:6-7). (I put Romans 2 at the end of that list because we Protestants don’t believe that verse. However, once you’ve made your way through those verses I listed in Galatians, 2 Peter, and 1 John, maybe Romans 2:6-7 won’t seem so unbelievable to you.)

A Little More on the Blood of God

Isn’t this ridiculous? I’ve spent 1750 words talking about 62 words that Ignatius wrote.

That’s only about 1/3 of that first chapter, and there’s more to say!

For example, he ends that first third—just the part we looked at, not the rest of the chapter—by saying that they have perfectly accomplished the work God had for them. That happened because they stirred themselves up in the blood of God. They did not congratulate themselves on their ticket to heaven and live how they pleased. They stirred themselves up, knowing that the one who says he knows God but doesn’t obey him is a liar (1 Jn. 2:3-4), and they perfectly accomplished the work God had for them.

How? By the blood of Christ.

There’s power in the blood. The blood cleanses us. It gives us fellowship with one another … if we walk in the light (1 Jn. 1:7). That blood is precious.

That blood is precious not only because it saved us, but because it purchased us. Yes, we’ve been bought by the blood of the Lamb of God, slain since the foundation of the world (Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23; Eph. 1:14; 1 Pet. 1:18-19).

Moving On

Okay, we’re hitting 2,000 words again. Let’s move on.

We’ll have plenty to do tomorrow: martyrdom as an entrance to heaven; how close Ignatius comes to bishop-worship and why.

It’ll be fun.

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