This is our final part of this series on miracles. In this part, we will, once more, consider the duration of miraculous gifts in the church.
“But to each one of us grace was given to the measure of Christ’s gift” (4:7).
The “grace” referred to here is miraculous gifts (Ephesians 3:7; 4:7-8 cf. 4:11; Romans 1:5; 12:3-6; 15:15-16). This gift was from Christ (Acts 8:20), God (Acts 8:20), and the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:8-11). All authority is derived from the Father. This authority was given to Christ [Matthew 28:18-20; John 17:1-2; John 5:22 (cf. Acts 17:31; Romans 2:16)]. The Spirit is the dispensing agent, working through the authority of Christ (John 16:13-15).
“When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men” (4:8).
Two things followed Jesus’ ascension: (1) He led captivity captive. He gained victory over the power which had held men captive (cf. Romans 7:23-25; 1 Corinthians 15:17-18, 22, 55-57; Hebrews 2:14-15). (2) He gave gifts to men (cf. John 16:7-14; Luke 24:46-49; Acts 1:8; 2:4).
Some see the imagery to be from military victory parades. Adam Clark commented, “The conqueror was placed in a very elevated chariot… the conquered generals were usually bound behind the chariot of the conqueror, to grace the triumph… the conqueror was wont to throw money to the crowd” (Vol. 6, p. 452).
“(Now this, ‘He ascended’… He also first descended into the lowest parts of the earth… He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things)” (4:9-10).
Robert Lowry penned, “Up from the grave he arose; with a mighty triumph o’er his foes; he arose a victor from the dark domain, and he lives forever with his saints to reign. He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!” (Song: Low In The Grave He Lay).
“He… gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (4:11-12).
These various ministries were closely associated with miraculous gifts in the early church. Two of these ministries were necessarily connected with miraculous gifts: apostles, prophets. Evangelists of the first century were aided by miraculous gifts (Acts 21:8 cf. 8:5-6, 13; 2 Timothy 4:5 cf. 1:6). Though, it is possible to evangelize without miraculous gifts (Acts 18:24-19:7; 2 Timothy 2:2). Pastors and teachers evidently, commonly were also miraculously endowed (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11). W.T. Hamilton has remarked, “The need and work of each office determines its permanency. If the need for the office was temporary, the office was temporary. If the need permanent, the office was permanent. This passage deals with gifts, not the permanency of the office. Their needs were supplied until the word was all revealed” (Glory In The Church, pp. 79-80).
The gifts were given to equip the church for the ministry and the edifying of the body. W.T. Hamilton commented, “When Paul wrote the Ephesians, most of the New Testament had not been written; hence, they had special needs that had to be supplied in a special way. This was true of the entire church for several years after its establishment in Acts 2” (ibid, pp. 78-79). Remember that edification came through revelation and inspired teaching (1 Corinthians 14:3, 6).
“till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to the perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children tossed to and fro and carried by every wind of doctrine…” (4:13-14).
How long were these gifts to last? The answer is “till we come to the unity of the faith.” The term “unity” can mean “unity… in contrast with parts of which the whole is made up” (B-A-G). “The Faith” refers to the system of faith (cf. Acts 6:7; 14:22; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Galatians 1:23; 3:23; 3:25; Philippians 1:27; 1 Timothy 3:9; 4:1; 5:8; Jude 3, etc.). Doesn’t this sound like the perfect or complete in contrast with the parts in 1 Corinthians 13:9-10?
The two passages have other similarities. (1) Both speak of the church moving from childhood to maturity (Ephesians 4:13-14 cf. 1 Corinthians 13:11). (2) Both speak of the church coming to full knowledge – epignosomai (Ephesians 4:12 cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12).
- Some have pointed out that while “till” can refer to a termination point (e.g. Acts 23:12, 21; 1 Timothy 6:14), it does not have to mean such, but can mean – up to that point, without implying what happens after that point (e.g. Genesis 8:5; 46:34; 1 Samuel 15:35; 2 Samuel 6:23; Matthew 11:23; 13:30; 28:15; Mark 13:30; Acts 10:30; 20:7; 23:1; Romans 5:14, etc.). This is true. However, this passage sounds much like 1 Corinthians 13, which does speak of the end of the miraculous age (even Pentecostals admit such though we differ over the time).
- Some hold that this is speaking of the unity of brethren, and that what is being said is that the purpose of the various ministries is to bring about such unity. Moreover, some who hold this view do not understand “till” as a termination point, but a goal. However, this does not seem correct because Paul had just instructed them “to keep the unity of the spirit and the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).
- Some wonder how “the faith” in Jude could refer to the complete system of faith since most do not list Jude as the last New Testament book written. In reply – a) we do not know for sure the exact chronological order in which the books appeared. Jude is thought to have been one of the last books written. b) If it was not the last written, it is possible that “the faith” had been delivered orally at this point but had not yet been written down or fully disseminated. The E.S.V. Study Bible comments, “Although the New Testament documents had not yet been collected into a complete canon of Scripture, by this time the foundational New Testament teachings were circulating in oral form through the apostolic circles.” Marion Fox has summarized his thoughts on the subject in this way: “The ‘Unity of the Faith’ came when the faith (the New Testament) was fully revealed, confirmed, and disseminated. For example, the church at Thessalonica had two epistles, the church at Corinth had two epistles, Timothy had two epistles, etc. Each congregation or person had a piece of ‘the faith’ and when they saw to it that their piece was copied and disseminated to the universal church, the unity of the faith had arrived. Of course, each congregation would be required to have those who possessed gifts to confirm the authenticity of each book” (The Work of The Holy Spirit, Vol. 2, p. 418).