The Ephesian church was begun by Paul on his third journey, as recounted in Acts 19. At the conclusion of his second journey (where the greater part of his time had been spent in Corinth), Paul left the city carrying two trusted disciples with him: a man and his wife whose names were Aquilla and Priscilla. This couple was left in Ephesus and Paul planned to return there when he had visited brethren in Jerusalem, Antioch, and Galatia. During his absence, Aquilla and Priscilla were busy, working and doing all they could to prepare for Paul’s return. He did return and spent about three years in their midst “preaching the kingdom” (Acts 20:25). It was to this church he wrote, “Unto me, who am less than the least of all the saints was this grace given, to preach unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery which for ages had been hid in God who created all things; to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus, our Lord” (Eph. 3:8-11). This passage shows that the church was in God’s mind as part of a hidden mystery from the world’s foundation. The church not only makes known God’s manifold wisdom, but also the church itself is the revelation of God’s wisdom. When Peter wrote of God’s eternal purpose in Christ he said, “We are redeemed…with precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, even the blood of Christ, who was foreknown from the foundation of the world” (1 Pet. 1:19-20). It is clear from these two scriptures (Eph. 3:8-11; 1 Pet. 1:19-20) that the eternal purpose of God was to establish both His church and in order to do that, He sent His Son to die in order to save man from their sins.
The first promise that Christ would come was God’s promise to Satan that the seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s (Satan) head (Gen. 3:15). This would be a fatal blow. God’s promise to Abraham was that “in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3), a promise which left undefined the nature of that blessing. While the promise was that all nations would be blessed through Abraham’s seed (and Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and David), what the specific nature of that promise would be was not revealed. It was part of the mystery hidden in God’s mind from before the foundation of the world. Peter concurred: “The prophets sought and searched diligently who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what time or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did point unto, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow them. To whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves but unto you, did they minister these things, which now have been announced unto you through them that preached the gospel unto you by the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven; which things angels desire to look into” (1 Pet. 1:10-12).
God did not leave mankind in doubt about what the blessing was, however. Peter, in his sermon on Solomon’s porch, said, “Ye are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying unto Abraham, and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Unto you first God, having raised up his Servant sent him to bless you, in turning away everyone of you from your iniquities” (Acts 2:25-26). What had God, having raised up Jesus, done? He had sent Him to bless them. And what was the nature of that blessing? It was “turning away everyone of you from your iniquities.” Salvation from the guilt of sin was (is) that blessing God promised to all the families of earth through Abraham’s seed.
This was God’s eternal purpose. Isaiah wrote, “Surely he had born our griefs and carried our sorrow … thou shall make his soul an offering for sin” (Isa. 53), thus ere He was born prophets spoke of His death as though it was an “accomplished fact.” On Pentecost Peter spoke of Christ being delivered up by “the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). John the Baptist identified Jesus as “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). A lamb is universally recognized as a sacrifice for sins. Jesus said of Himself, “The son came not to be ministered to, but to minister unto and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45).
Jesus came into the world knowing He would die on a cross to make possible for all men (the families of the earth) the forgiveness of their sins. And, just as certainly as God purposed the death of His Son, He purposed the church, for the church is those who have been saved by the death of God’s Son (Acts 2:47; Eph. 5:23)! This was part of God’s hidden mystery. When one looks at the church, he sees the manifold wisdom of God — those redeemed by the blood of His Son. How the world sees the church and how God sees the church is vastly different. The world looks at God’s wisdom as “foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:18).
The church was never an “afterthought with God.” It was never an “alternate” plan. It did not come into existence as a change to His plans. The church was what God had planned from the world’s foundation. God did not foreordain certain individuals to be saved and others to be lost; He did choose the place where man must be to be saved, and that was in Christ, in His body (Col. 1:4). And what is His body? Read what it is in Ephesians 1:22-23. He leaves to man the decision whether he will be in Christ or out of Christ. Read what one must do to be in Christ (Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27).