In Ephesians 3:1-12, Paul talks explains the mystery of the Gentiles, namely, that the Gentiles are to be partakers in all God’s promises and blessing and that Paul was to be God’s apostle to the Gentiles. This is a “mystery” because it is divinely revealed but it should not have been a surprise since it was hinted at throughout the Old Testament. Even at Jesus’ birth, the Magi, Gentiles all, came to worship Christ, hinting at a further fulfillment of texts such as this one. This text, the theme of which is how God’s glory is manifest to the nations, is one example of OT prophecies that deal with the blessing of God upon the Gentiles.
The “glory” of God (v. 1) is his presence, made visible to people. Previous examples include the Burning Bush, the manifestation at Mount Sinai, and the appearances to Isaiah and to Ezekiel. It is “your” light because it is manifest particularly to “Zion,” the Hill of the Lord’s power and authority through the king, which means it is made manifest to the people of God for their benefit.
The call to “rise” (v. 1) is a call to stop groping around as if you are in darkness because God’s light has shone, revealing his power, wisdom, and purpose. They themselves are called to “shine” because they reflect the Light of Glory of the Lord
We each grope around as if we are in darkness until the light of Christ shines to us. This is because we are in darkness. We cannot see what is most significant, we can only see what is right in front of us so we can’t see the eternal implications of our values, desires, and choices. Once the glorious light of the Gospel shines to us, we see God’s glory, which heightens are own sinfulness and makes the darkness evident.
But the light that has shone into the world shines into our hearts and will one day shine with such brightness that the whole world will see it and not be able to ignore it or explain it away.
Though the world is already under the darkness of sin, the future will bring a time of darkness even more severe and that darkness will grip the entire earth (v. 2). Into that darkness, however, the Light will rise over Zion, revealing God’s glory and removing the darkness (and its attendant blindness) so that the people, all peoples, will see God’s glory. This is a fulfillment of the statement of the seraphim at the beginning of Isaiah’s prophecy that “the whole earth is full of [the Lord’s] glory!” The time of this occurrence is probably the same time in 66:18-19, which also helps us understand how this glory is made clear to the nations.
Zechariah (12:10) speaks of a day when the houses of Israel and Judah will look upon the One whom they have pierced and this will be followed by a day (14:16) when all nations will worship the Lord. These days are separated by the Day of the Lord, the Day of Judgment in which God will judge the wicked before redeeming his people.
So the Lord’s redemption will not end with his people but will ultimately embrace all peoples as all are drawn to the light of the Gospel.
The Gentiles, literally “the nations” (v. 3), will behold this light and be drawn to it. (Which nations are listed in the following verses and in 66:19-21.) The expression “your light” is tricky since it could refer to the Lord or to the people, but the distinction is not as important as it first seems since this section so closely identifies the Lord with his people Zion such that the glory of God reflected by the people of God are practically one and the same (cf. 9:1-2; 42:6; 49:6).
This “Light” is Jesus Christ. The Writer of Hebrews says that in these last days God has spoken to us by his Son (Heb. 1:2) while John says that Jesus is the light that shone into the darkness and the darkness was not able to overcome it (John 1:4-5).
This light has shone for the benefit of all nations, not just Israel and not just those whom we think are or should be favored. Whereas in the past we had to go to the nations, and we still should, in these days the nations come to us. Are we looking for reasons and ways to confront them with the Gospel, or do we live out the old adage “us four no more.” Or worse, are we approaching such mission in such a way that we are seeing only in human categories that reek of misplaced arrogance, equating ourselves with God’s chosen people and in the end making the same mistakes that God’s chosen people made in the accounts in the Gospels?
When the Visigoths and later the Vandals sacked Rome in the fourth century, the church fathers Jerome and Augustine had very different responses to it. Jerome wrung his hands over it, wondering what Christendom would do now that the holy City had fallen. Augustine was overjoyed. His reasoning was that now they didn’t have to go to the heathen with the Gospel because the heathen were coming to them!
While in Atlanta recently my wife and I discussed why there were no more Roman Catholic churches in the area considering the influx of hispanic people over the last two decades. I said maybe they go to evangelical churches thinking it is all the same or because they can’t find one (or for whatever reason) and as a result, they encounter the true salvation through faith in Christ alone and believe.
Likewise, people come to America, or to your neighborhood, or to church for many different reasons. Whatever earthly or human reason, those reasons are simply providential factors ordered so that God could shine the light of the Gospel to them as he did to us.
This truth should spark four responses in us:
Humility – God chose the weak, foolish, and despised things of the world “so that no flesh should Glory in his presence” (1 Cor. 1:29) If you’re chosen, that’s God’s assessment of what you were. There is no room for boasting, only the recognition that the light shone to you, you didn’t turn the light on all by yourself.
Compassion – If you remember a life without God, or if you are aware what it means to live life without God, then instead of arrogantly condemning sinners for, you know, sinning (that’s what sinners do), you see them as sinners in need of a Savior and you seek to lovingly confront them by shining the light of God into the darkness of their sin and suffering so that they see the depth of their sin and the greatness of God’s mercy and grace.
Urgency – The day of darkness that precedes the Lord’s return is swiftly approaching. But consider also that each one of us is one breath, one heartbeat, one brain wave away from the Day of Judgment. This means that you must make the most of opportunities to shine the light of the Gospel.
Boldness – Boldness is not rudeness. Boldness is a lack of self-consciousness. It is fearing God and loving Jesus more than you fear man or love your pride. Knowing that this Gospel message is true makes us all the more ready to stand up for it. Knowing that it alone brings hope makes us all the more ready to share it with those who are hurting, suffering, and sinning. Knowing that it brings blessing makes us all the more ready to offer it even to those who don’t look like us or talk like us.