New Defender's Study Bible Notes
3:1 prisoner. Paul evidently wrote this epistle while he was imprisoned in Rome “for the hope of Israel” (Acts 28:20); he had been a prisoner ever since he was taken captive in Jerusalem (Acts 21:33) at the request of the Jewish leaders. For at least two years, however, he was given a certain amount of freedom (Acts 28:30), and it was probably during this time that he wrote this letter to the Ephesians.
3:2 dispensation. Dispensationalism has had both its advocates and opponents among Bible-believing Christians. The Greek word (oikonomia) translated “dispensation” actually means “stewardship” or “economy.” The number and nature of the various “dispensations” or “economies” through which God has dealt with mankind during the course of history has been the subject of considerable discussion and variation among commentators. There are two such “dispensations,” or divinely given religious systems, specifically mentioned as such in Scripture. The “dispensation of the grace of God” (Ephesians 3:2) seems clearly to refer to the order of this Christian age, especially revealed through Paul and characterized particularly by the preaching of the gospel of God’s saving grace as manifested in the person and work of Jesus Christ (note also I Corinthians 9:17; Colossians 1:25). The “dispensation of the fullness of times” (Ephesians 1:10) refers to the eternal age to come when Christ has been universally accepted as Creator, Redeemer and Lord of the whole universe (Colossians 1:20; Philippians 2:9-11). Other possible dispensations include the Edenic, antediluvian, postdiluvian, Mosaic, tribulational, and millennial dispensations.
3:3 revelation. Paul frequently asserted that his preaching and writing concerning the person and work of Christ, while often quoting Old Testament Scriptures in support thereof, nevertheless had also come to him by specific divine revelation. Note, for example, such passages as I Corinthians 2:13 and Galatians 1:11-12.
3:3 wrote afore. Paul may have written an earlier letter to the Ephesians, of which we have no record. This assertion may also suggest, on the other hand, that his previous epistles to other churches were already being circulated among the different churches and recognized as inspired and authoritative messages from God.
3:4 mystery. The term “mystery” in New Testament times was familiarly associated with the “mystery religions” of the Graeco/Roman world. The initiates in these cults were given access to the pantheistic and occultistic secrets of the spirit world, which were hidden from ordinary adherents of those cults. These secrets were popularly practiced in the polytheistic idolatry devoted to various gods and goddesses representing the different forces and systems of nature. Christ and the apostles adapted the term to refer to God’s plans which previously had been kept secret from His people in earlier dispensations, except in types and shadows, but were now being revealed in all their fullness and grandeur. In Ephesians the term “mystery” is used several times (e.g., Ephesians 1:9; 3:3,4,9; 5:32; 6:19). In this particular passage, it refers to the uniting of both Jewish and Gentile believers in one great body in Christ. This theme is especially developed in Ephesians 2:11-22 and Ephesians 3:6-11. But note also that the “fellowship” of this mystery includes all of those contemplated by God from the creation itself (Ephesians 3:9).
3:5 revealed. Note Ephesians 2:20. The foundation of the great house of God was laid by the apostles and prophets by means of divinely inspired revelation culminating in the New Testament Scriptures. Once that Scriptural foundation was laid, of course, it did not have to continue to be laid. Consequently, the gifts of apostleship and prophecy were ended with the completion of the New Testament, and John, the last apostle, warns against any such future claims (Revelation 22:18-19). The superstructure of the house is now being erected, with each new believer being added to the building by the Holy Spirit when he or she receives Christ by faith (Ephesians 2:19-22; I Peter 2:2-5).
3:6 his promise in Christ. Thus Gentile believers of the New Testament can now share in all the gracious promises of God in the Old Testament except those directly concerned with the specific future of Israel as a nation. See also Galatians 3:14. It is therefore perfectly proper for Christians to claim and apply the wonderful blessings promised in the Psalms and Proverbs and other such passages for themselves.