In Ephesians 1 (well and 2 & 3…and in fact the whole letter) Paul presents a stunning picture of the cosmic reign of Christ and how it plays out into history now. We find in this letter some of the most amazing statements of His rule and authority, stemming from what He has done for us.
But it can be tempting to read into some of these passages some of the many ideas that have risen up since they were penned, from Greece and Greek thought, from Augustine, from Calvin. As far as Greek thought goes, another read of the passage would simply reveal how what we treat as very ‘Greek’ thoughts (eg. ‘chosen’, ‘predestined’ vv. 4-5) are couched in deeply-rooted Jewish terms and ideas (eg. ‘adpotion’, ‘Beloved’, ‘redemption’ vv.5-6), and therefore can be looked at in that context, as we remember that Paul was always of the Jewish school of thought, not Plato’s (unlike many of his sincere devoted commentators today in the Reformed camp…just saying!).
I could take time to go into all the wonderful ideas in this passage, and their misconstruals, but to begin with one particular idea which has been on my mind for a while, what does it mean when it says that ‘He [God, the Father of glory] put all things in subjection under His [Jesus’] feet’ (v.22)?
I heard this question asked once, and it was framed in the description of our present experience, where it doesn’t look like everything is under Jesus’ feet – if it were, we wouldn’t have wars, famine, strife, suffering… etc. etc. Unfortunately I felt that the answer given at the time was less than satisfactory, or a bit fuzzy at best, seeming to say that, yes, everything really is under His feet, and we don’t necessarily understand that, but it’s what the Bible says.
It’s much simpler than that, actually. God has revealed Himself in Scripture and gives us the Holy Spirit to help us interpret. So we might just have a better chance than saying, “we might not understand it, but that’s it.”
The verses in question hearken back to two main Old Testament quotes. The first is Psalm 8:6 which says of the ‘son of man’, ‘You make him to rule over the words of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet.’ This is referred to in a number of places, including Hebrews 2 which, speaking of mankind says that ‘now we do not yet see all things subjected to him. But we do see…Jesus…’ (Heb 2:8-9) ie. there is going to be a process involved in seeing this prophetic envisioning of all things being under man’s feet, and it’s not complete yet. But we can fix our eyes on Jesus as we go our way seeking it to be fulfilled.
Because so far this has talked about man, not Jesus. Our question is about things being under Jesus’ feet; and indeed the ‘son of man’ in Psalm 8 COULD perhaps be seen as the Son of Man – Jesus.
In which case I should first make the point that in Ephesians and especially in these verses we see redeemed humanity in Christ, the head, ‘filling up’ His body, being the fullness of Him (Eph 1:23). So in a sense as much as it applies to all things being under Jesus’ feet, they’re going to be under the church’s feet.
The second thing then is to mention the second Old Testament reference quoted here: Psalm 110. In that case it is much more clearly Messianic, and all over the New Testament is immediately applied to Jesus: ‘The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”’ Ah, now we have it: all things under Jesus’ feet. But that doesn’t necessarily answer our question.
Psalm 110 appears to be straightforward, as does Ephesians 1:22 – all things are under Jesus’ feet. But we’ve already seen that the Psalm 8:2 reference involves humanity, and according to Hebrews isn’t necessarily fully inaugurated yet. We also notice the language of the Psalm ‘until…’ – there is process involved here too. And in the context of Psalm 110, when you read on through it, you find that Jesus’ enemies under His feet looks like an army being sent out to battle, ruling in the midst of God’s enemies, their enemies (Psalm 110:2-3).
Sound familiar? Because this is how also Ephesians itself ends: ‘Finally, be strong in the Lord…put on the full armour of God…’ Ephesians itself instructs us to think, act like soldiers against ‘spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places’ (Ephesians 6:10-12).
So really, arguably, Paul’s argument isn’t primarily that all things are under Jesus’ feet, end of discussion. He ends the discussion in chapter 6 with a call to arms! He has the same view that Psalm 8, the writer to the Hebrews, and Psalm 110 have: Things are BEING put under Jesus’ feet, His authority is being extended, as His army is sent out to rule in the midst of His enemies!