Ephesians was written during Paul’s initial imprisonment in Rome. It was written at the same time as Colossians and was delivered to the respective congregations by the same man, Tychicus (Ephesians 6:21, Colossians 4:7). Of the 155 verses in Ephesians, 78 are repeated in identical or similar language in Colossians. While Paul spends much of Colossians refuting false teaching and exhorting his audience to remain grounded in the pure doctrine of Jesus, his tone in Ephesians is much different. In Ephesians, Paul attempts to help us comprehend the incomprehensible work God completed in Jesus Christ and the marvelous gift of salvation that resulted.
In chapter 2, we notice in verse 4, “But God who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” Where sin and death once reigned, God has given us life not based upon our own merit but upon His love and grace. He has saved us in spite of our sin.
For a moment, read verses 5-6 without the statement in parentheses: “even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ…and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” If you compare Ephesians 1:20 and 2:6, you will see a direct correlation. God raised Christ and seated Him at His right hand. In like manner, God raised us and seated us with Christ. Notice that the words raised and seated are both in the past tense, indicating that God has already accomplished this work. Conservative translations contain this idea across the board:
ASV: “and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places”
NKJV: “and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places”
ESV: “and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places”
YLT: “and did raise us up together, and did seat us together in the heavenly places”
Neither of these statements anticipate a glory to come. On the contrary, these are spiritual realities for the Christian.
Paul’s letter to the Colossians teaches that a Christian experiences a resurrection by the name of Jesus Christ in water baptism. In Colossians 2:11, Paul makes it clear that Christian baptism is the spiritual equivalent of OT circumcision. Just as circumcision entailed the surgical removal of flesh, so too, baptism constitutes a cutting away of the body of the sins of the flesh. Paul goes on in verse 12, “buried with Him in baptism, in which you were raised with Him through faith in the working of God who raised Him from the dead. And you being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him.” All of the elements that we observed in Ephesians 1-2 are contained in these three verses with one significant addition: Paul reveals that God raises us from the dead in baptism. If we have been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, we have been raised from the dead; made alive together with Christ.
Having determined that God has raised us up with Christ in baptism, let’s now turn to sitting together with Christ in the heavenly places. If Christ is in heaven and I am on earth, how can I sit with Him in the heavenly places?
To be seated with Christ means that our life is bound up in Christ. Consider the parallel passage in Colossians 3:1:
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting on the right hand of God. Set you mind on things above, not on things of the earth. For you died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
When we are united with the crucifixion of Jesus, we die to the world. Through the cross of Jesus, “the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). Since I have died to the world and been raised with Christ, I should seek heavenly things; set my mind on things above. Why? Because I died and my life is hidden with Christ in God. My life is concealed by Christ; protected from those who might steal it. So long as I am seated with Him, no one can take my life in Him away. As Jesus says in John 10:10, “The thief does not except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” The Christian life is bound up with Christ: no one can take that life away; it is kept safe until He “who is our life appears.” Because our lives are bound up with the Savior where He sits, we sit with Him.
To sit with Christ means far more. Paul says in Ephesians 1:3 that God has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” These spiritual blessings originate in the heavenly places and they come to us in Christ. Do you remember Ephesians 2:6? God “made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ.” To be seated with Christ means we receive every good thing God has intended for mankind. By Christ we are predestined to adoption. Christ redeemed us through His blood, granting us the forgiveness of sins. God reveals through Christ the mystery of His will. All things in heaven and upon earth are summed up in Christ. The riches of God’s inheritance awaits us in heaven. Those who sit with Christ in the heavenly places receive these heavenly blessings.
We sit with Christ by virtue of what God accomplished in our Lord and not by our own merits. As one looks through the apostle’s list of blessings in 1:4-14, one can’t help but notice that these tremendous blessings come to us as a result of the crucifixion, resurrection, and glorification of Jesus Christ. If we skip ahead to 1:16, Paul relates his constant prayer for brethren: that we would come to understand in progressively greater degrees the hope of our calling, the glory of our inheritance, and the power of God at work in us.
“These,” he says in verse 19, “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.”
Notice that the three things Paul wants us to understand more deeply rest on the power God displayed in resurrecting and glorifying Christ. We have hope, glory, and the power of God at work in us because God raised Jesus from the dead and placed Him at His right hand. It was the work of God at the cross and at the tomb that made our salvation possible. This is why Paul later says, “by grace you have been saved” two different times. It is by the working – or operation – of God that our sins are cut away in baptism (Colossians 2:11-12). It is God who gives us life and blesses us in Jesus Christ and makes “us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ.” Therefore, our standing before God and our salvation ultimately depends not upon our own works, but upon the work of God. A life of faithful obedience rests upon what God achieved, leaving us no reason to boast.
And so we sit with Christ in the heavenly places. We live because of Him. God gives us every choice blessing in the spiritual realm through Him. Our lives rest upon the completed work of God in Christ. It is from this position of glory that Paul begs us to “walk worthy of the calling with which (we) were called” and urges us to “stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 4:1, 6:11). By sitting with Christ we are able to walk and to stand.