Paul had a familial relationship with the Ephesians, having spent time in Ephesus during his second and third missionary journeys (Acts 18:19-21; 19:1-20; 20:17-38). Paul wished for believers in Ephesus to understand their identity in Christ and in the corporate body of the church. In Ephesians, Paul portrayed God’s work in Christ in light of God’s historical revelation of Himself through Israel in the Old Testament.
(1) In Eph 1:11, 14, 18; 2:19; and 3:6, Paul described Gentiles together with Jews as God’s inheritance by the Spirit, reflecting concepts of God’s inheritance of Israel in the exodus. After summarizing Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness in Deuteronomy 1-3, Moses exhorted Israel to seek the Lord in the land they were entering so that they might display God’s greatness to the surrounding nations. Moses reminded Israel to abstain from idolatry in the land because “the LORD selected you and brought you out of Egypt’s iron furnace to be a people for His inheritance” (Deut 4:20). In Deut 32:8-9, Moses said that the Lord gave the nations their allotted portions of land but took Israel as His own inheritance. In Psalm 74, the psalmist felt abandoned and cried out to God for deliverance from his foes. He beseeched God to remember His congregation, the people He purchased and redeemed as His own possession (Ps 74:2). In Jer 10:1-16, the prophet contrasted the idols of the nations and Israel’s God. Jeremiah described the goldsmiths and idol makers as fools compared to the Lord who made the universe and chose Israel as the tribe of His inheritance (Jer 10:16). In Eph 1:11 and 14 Paul wrote that the Ephesians were God’s inheritance through predestination and the presence of the Spirit in them. Paul wanted his audience to be filled with hope in their special status as God’s inheritance (Eph 1:18). In Christ, God made Gentiles citizens in His household (Eph 2:19), co-heirs with Jews, and recipients of the fulfilled promise God made to Israel in Christ (Eph 3:6).
(2) In Eph 1:22, Paul quoted Ps 8:6 to articulate Christ’s exalted state following His resurrection and ascension to God’s right hand. In Psalm 8, the psalmist praised the Lord for His power in creation and the glory He placed upon humanity as stewards of all He had made. Concerning humanity, the psalmist said, “You made him lord over the works of Your hands; You put everything under his feet” (Ps 8:6). In Eph 1:22, Paul quoted Ps 8:6 saying that when God raised up Christ and He ascended to God’s right hand in heaven, everything was placed under Christ’s feet. Paul’s use of Ps 8:6 was not concerned with humanity, as in the original literary context of the psalm, but with Christ. The psalmist praised God for placing humanity over the natural world, but Paul used Ps 8:6 to articulate Christ’s rule over not just the physical universe but also the heavenly spiritual rulers that oppose believers. In Eph 3:10, Paul argued that God’s plan of unifying Jews and Gentiles in Christ was to demonstrate His victory over the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens—those that seek to divide God’s people, who are unified in Christ.
(3) In Eph 2:11-22, Paul wrote that God reconciled Jews and Gentiles, historically separated because of the law, to each other and to Himself in Christ. God told Abraham that He would make him into a great nation and bless all the peoples on earth in Abraham (Gen 12:1-3; 15:1-6). In the exodus, God distinguished Israel as His son and gave Israel the law so that they would live distinctly unto Him in Canaan (Exod 4:21-23; Exod 19:1-6; Deut 4:1-14). The psalmists and the prophets wrote of a future day when God would fulfill His word to Abraham and bring the nations to Israel that they might join the descendants of Jacob in worshipping the Lord (Pss 67:2-5; 98:3-9; Isa 51:4-6; 56:1-7; Zech 8:18-23; 14:16-19). Historically speaking, Jews chastised Gentiles as the uncircumcised, excluded from the blessings God promised Israel (Eph 2:11-12). But in His grace, God brought Gentiles near to Himself through Christ, making Jews and Gentiles one by removing the law as a wall that separated the nations from Israel (Eph 2:14-15). Paul told the Gentiles that in Christ they were fellow citizens of God’s kingdom, built together with the Jews on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ as the cornerstone (Eph 2:19-20).