Christ, the Cornerstone
It’s often quite striking how saturated all Scripture is in the reality of Jesus’s character, even the Scriptures that preceded his first coming. It’s undisputed that Jesus-the-man existed – there are plenty of records showing that he lived, and not even secular historians will dispute this. What we know as believers, though, is that he was God as well as man, and this understanding comes with three key characteristics:
1) Jesus was deep-rooted in God’s plan long before he walked the earth.
2) Most tangibly, he is with us right here and right now, speaking to us and ministering to our hearts, guiding us as we live our lives.
3) He is to play a starring role in our tomorrows and of course at the end of time, as laid out in the book of Revelation.
Now, there are few books in the Bible that give us as clear an outline of Jesus’s place throughout time as the book of Ephesians does. Here, Paul is writing to the multicultural group of believers in Ephesus, and the first thing to note is his letter is clearly divided into two parts. In the first half (chapters 1-3), he outlines the gospel story: put simply, humanity needed Jesus, so humanity got Jesus. Ephesians 1:4 (NLT) says, “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.”
What a beautifully profound thought: God loved us and chose us in Christ before the foundations of the world were laid. The wonder of the cross extends back to before time began, and it was God’s ultimate plan that we should be saved from sin, not just a “Plan B” because we messed up in Eden.
In fact, as Paul gives us this overview of the church’s history and current standing in the world as of 61 A.D. or thereabouts, he mentions “God’s plan” on two occasions. The first is in Chapter 1:10 and goes thusly: “And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ – everything in heaven and on earth.” Again, Jesus wasn’t a contingency: Jesus is the plan and always was. The second occasion we hear tell of God’s plan is in 3:6, which goes: “And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus.”
So, put those two verses together, and we are left with this outline: under the authority of Christ, at exactly the right time, God brought everything to bear together under the banner of Jesus. This promise of salvation is open to everyone, everywhere. It’s not exclusive to any tribe, but is there for everyone who believes in the gospel.
Now, this is revolutionary, but it’s also rudimentary to the Christian faith, and so for many of us it’s firmly ingrained in our beliefs already. It should never not be totally awe-inspiring, however, so hopefully this serves as a reminder of how much God loves you and that he planned to give you the ultimate life and freedom before space and time even existed. Hopefully it also gives you a sense of how cosmically mind-boggling the truth of Jesus Christ is.
So, that’s the first half of Ephesians. In the second half (chapters 4-6), Paul looks ahead, encouraging the recipients of his letter to live out their faith as they look towards a Jesus-saturated future. In fact, we are given the sense that Paul is laying the foundation for what he has to say on the future throughout the first half of Ephesians as well: 1:21 says, “Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else – not only in this world but also in the world to come.”
Paul is making it unmistakably clear that our understanding of Jesus is not merely rooted in reflection (past) and meditation (present), but crucially also in discernment (future). This is not to say that as followers of Christ we become mystical soothsayers, and Paul is quite rightly careful not to make any sweeping or specific statements on the future. What he does say, though, is that we are called to build up the body of Christ, his church (4:12), and that Jesus will shine his light on our paths so that we can clearly make out the way when we cleave to him – “Awake, O sleeper, rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” (Ephesians 5:14b)
Chapters 4-6 lay out some pointers on how we can live out our faith through a rejection of our past sinful selves, bearing good witness to our non-Christian neighbours and getting along with our brothers and sisters in Christ. I believe that Paul is saying that in so doing, we open ourselves up to deeper closeness with Christ – not by works, but by living out our newfound reality when we are saved. By having “Kingdom vision”, we are more open to Jesus’s stamp on our future.
So, there in Ephesians we get a remarkable snapshot of the reality of Christ’s church here on earth, and what it means for the past, present and future. Now is a time in which we can allow ourselves to be comforted by this fact: “Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself.” (Ephesians 2:20)