December 2, 2020

Christ’s Triumph — Our Salvation

Fridays in Ephesus (4)
Christ’s Triumph — Our Salvation

During Eastertide on Fridays, we are reflecting on insights from Timothy Gombis’s recent book, The Drama of Ephesians: Participating in the Triumph of God.

• • •

Today, we come to the heart of Ephesians.

The body of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians grows out of his thanksgiving and prayer in Eph. 1:15-19. Tim Gombis notes that there is an inclusio that marks off the epistle’s main section:

  • 1:19 — “the working of the strength of his might”
  • 6:10 — “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might”

The section that begins with the first use of this phrase forms Paul’s thesis statement:

“These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (1:20-23)

The parallel phrase in Ephesians 6 is the summary of Paul’s argument:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (6:10-17)

Ephesians is a drama about God’s divine triumph in Christ.

Ephesians is a drama about the Church’s salvation and participation in Christ’s triumph.

The Harrowing of Hell, 14th c. manuscript

Paul’s thesis is that “God has now decisively broken [the powers’] iron grip of enslavement over his world, defeating the powers and freeing creation in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” But as in Psalm 2 and Psalm 110, the Messiah’s exaltation is not presented as the final triumph. “The Lord says to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.’” The King has been enthroned. The powers have suffered a fatal blow; it remains for them to be completely subjugated.

The Church plays a role in the ongoing drama — “One of the tasks of the church of Jesus Christ, then, is to be the agency whereby Jesus Christ, the cosmic Lord, wages war against the evil powers, finally finishing them off and destroying them after delivering the decisive blow in his death and resurrection.”

In Ephesians 1:20-2:22, Paul narrates two cycles of victory that God has accomplished in Christ. These follow what Gombis calls “the pattern of divine warfare,” as seen in Old Testament counterparts declaring the Lord’s reign.

Divine Warfare Pattern Eph. 2:1-10 Eph. 2:11-22
Kingship 1:20-23 [1:20-23]
Conflict/Victory 2:1-3
Celebration 2:8-9 2:17-18
Temple-building 2:10 2:19-22


The first cycle shows how God triumphantly saves his people, who are in bondage to death by nature, environment, and choice. By grace, he raises them up and makes them his new creation, his “workmanship.”

The second cycle shows how God triumphantly brings peace to a divided humanity, calling people from all nations together into his household, making them his holy temple.

• • •

One important point to grasp in all this talk of divine warfare and victory is that Ephesians proclaims Christ’s triumph and the Church’s participation in that; however, it does not advocate triumphalism.

Timothy Gombis reminds us:

The manner in which God achieves his victory over the powers is crucial, since the way God triumphs determines how the church participates in his triumph. God defeats the powers through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is a radically subversive way of doing things. The cross turns everything on its head — God wins by losing; the powers lose by winning. The powers’ triumph over Christ on the cross was their own defeat; and Christ’s defeat won him the victory.

As Christ-followers, we are defined by the Story of Jesus — his incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. As he triumphed, so we walk in his triumph. God works through us as we live cruciform lives. We are the suffering people of God, who bear in our bodies the dying of Jesus that the life of Jesus may be given to the world.

This often looks like defeat. In Christ, it means ultimate triumph.


  1. A good article about how we experience grace and victory in the face of defeat

    Here is a missionaries take on teaching the armour of God and applying it with 200 Aboriginal children

  2. Psalm 45 is a great illustration of two axiomatic themes – War and Love. The fairest of all kings takes up his sword in glory and majesty but wins through truth, humility and righteousness. He sits on the throne as God. Then talk turns to family building. Wife and children. No longer talking of our fathers and the days of old, but fruitful multiplying of princes throughout the earth. The fighting is done in the interest of creating new life. That fight is waged through the humble wielding of the word.

  3. Wonderful, CM. Enjoying the series.

    I wonder if IM has ever given any thought to a journey through John Stott’s “The Incomparable Christ”? This series has the same feel to me…

  4. Your post reminded me of this poem by Bonhoeffer: