As Paul often did, here he used two words with similar meanings to emphasize his point. Even our ability to comprehend what God has planned for us consists of God’s grace, a gift of the Holy Spirit (Isa 11:2).
The “mystery of God’s will” refers to the unfolding of the plan of salvation (1 Cor 2:6–12). This is in contrast to the rites of the mystery religions, such as those of the cult of Artemis or of Isis. Those rituals promised to yield greater spiritual insight and power, resulting in the initiate sharing in the fate of the god.
However, in the Old Testament (OT), a mystery consists of a formerly hidden secret of God’s activity which is now being disclosed.
For example, after King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream which troubled him, he threatened to kill any of his advisors who could not tell him both the content of the dream and its interpretation. Daniel requested extra time and asked his associates to pray for him. “Then to Daniel in a night vision, [the] mystery was revealed.”
For Jews and early Christians, the term means a once-hidden plan now revealed by God, rather than our contemporary understanding of a mystery as something unknown (Eph 3:3–6; Eph 6:19; Col 1:25–27).
This was “according to his good pleasure which he planned beforehand in him (Christ) toward the administration of the fullness of the times.”
In other words, not only the Father devised the arrangement for our salvation. The preexistent Son participated in determining how to overcome the obstacle which sin would thrust into the human-divine relationship. God began to unfold this plan when the messiah came (Gal 4:4–5; Mark 1:14–15). However, it shall not be completely fulfilled until the final day of our redemption (Eph 4:30; 1 Tim 6:13–16).
This final state shall be “the summing up of all things into Christ, things in heaven and things on the earth in him.”
Paul was referring to the culmination of history, when the entire cosmos shall once again come together under Jesus’s rule. Then the universe shall again experience its original harmony, when all shall be the very best it can be (Gen 1:31; Eph 1:18–23; Rom 8:18–23).
And that’s not all: “In him also we were chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of the one who works out everything according to the purpose of his will.”
The word “chosen” (klēroō) appears as a verb only here in the New Testament. Fortunately, it occurs regularly in the Greek translation of the OT, where it refers to the division of the promised land by casting lots (Num 26:55–56).
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Read Eph 1:8–11. What is God’s ultimate plan? Why is Paul’s inclusion of gentiles significant? How has Chapter 3 affected your understanding of the image of God?
Go to An Israelite View of Gen 1 (Chapter 4)
[Related posts include Blessings from the Father (Eph 1:3–4); Adopted as Sons (Eph 1:5–6); Redemption through Christ’s Blood (Eph 1:7–8); The Cult of Artemis (False Teaching in Ephesus); Co-Heirs with Christ (Rom 8:16–18); Creation’s Eager Expectation (Rom 8:19); Subjected to Futility (Rom 8:20); Set Free from the Slavery of Corruption (Rom 8:21–22); Equality with God (Phil 2:5–6); A Summary of Trinitarian Creeds (Appendix to Phil 2:5–6); Taking the Form of a Slave (Phil 2:7); Obedient to the Point of Death (Phil 2:8); The Name Above Every Name (Phil 2:9–11); A Return to Paradise (Rev 22:1–5, 20); and Greek Translation of the Old Testament]
[Click here to go to Chapter 3: The Image of God (Genesis 1:26–31)]
 Snodgrass, Ephesians, 52.
 Lincoln, Ephesians, 29–30.
 Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, 260.
 Arnold, Ephesians, 86.
 Günther Bornkamm, “μυστηριον” (mystērion), TDNT 4:802–27, 803.
H. H. D. William III, “Mystery,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (NDBT) (ed. T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner; Downers Grove, IL; Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 674–5.
Arthur G. Patzia, “Mystery,” in Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments (DLNT) (ed. Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids; Downers Grove, IL; Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 782–4, 782–3.
 Snodgrass, Ephesians, 53.
 Arnold, Ephesians, 87–8.
 Lincoln, Ephesians, 33.
Danker, et al., “κληροω” (klēroō), BDAG, 548–9.
 Lincoln, Ephesians, 35–6.
Danker, et al., “κλῆρος” (klēros), BDAG, 548.
Geza Vermes, trans., The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, 4th Ed (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic, 1995), 1 QS 2:2, 71, https://archive.org/stream/pdfy-Uy_BZ_QGsaLiJ4Zs/The%20Dead%20Sea%20Scrolls%20%5BComplete%20English%20Translation%5D#page/n129/mode/2up.
 Arnold, Ephesians, 89–90.