“[God] has made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure that He set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:9-10).
What is the meaning of the existence of human beings? Of the cosmos? What is the point of everything? What is the goal of history, what is it all headed towards? — All these questions, according to the Apostle Paul, have been answered once and for all. The mystery of God’s will has been revealed. What God is trying to do is to gather up all things in Christ, to unite them, to bind them together in harmony, whether things in heaven or things on earth.
Here as elsewhere, Paul’s teaching boils down to two essential points. On the one hand, there is the all-powerful, provident Lord God, who is in control of all things and who guides history to its appointed end. On the other hand, there is Jesus Christ, who is the revelation of the purposes and character of this God. Both points are necessary; you cannot have one without the other. If all we have is a provident God, we are not any better off for knowing this, since we cannot be sure that this God’s purposes are good or loving towards us, especially knowing that we sin against Him every day. But if all we have is Christ as the revelation of God’s character and purposes, then, as comforting as this knowledge may be, yet we may still be lost if God is not also provident.
Paul’s gospel does not demand a choice between God’s power and His goodness; they both come together. God’s power means that He is provident over history and can accomplish His will. God’s goodness, as evidenced in Jesus Christ, means that this will is a good one for us, in spite of appearances. I will also make a further point. If this revelation of God’s purposes took place “at the fulness of time,” this means that history before Christ is not the same as history after Him. Until Christ came into the world, His arrival was the goal towards which everything was headed. But now that He has come into the world and God’s will has been revealed in Him, the goal of history is now for all things to be gathered up in Him. Christ is the purpose of everything: His arrival was the purpose of what predated Him, and the gathering up of everything in Him is the purpose of all that follows after Him. Everything is put in relation to Christ as to its goal.
There are a lot of speculative possibilities in the commentary of this verse. What could it mean, to give one example, for things in heaven to be united under Christ? We do not know much about the things in heaven, since we live on Earth and only have access to earthly things. I won’t bother about that. I am far more interested in what it means for earthly things to be gathered up in Christ.
This “gathering up in Christ” might mean this. You and I, who are gathered up into Christ, both love Christ and look towards Him as our Savior and, through Him, to God as our Father. More than that, you and I, who are gathered up into Christ, encourage one another and spur each other on to good works through the teachings of Christ, our shared Master and Teacher. Furthermore, you and I both eat at the same table of the Lord, in the meal which Christ gave us to do “in remembrance of [Him]” (Luke 22:19). In short, my life and everything in it is caught up with Christ, put in relation to Christ, referred back to Christ, and this necessarily entangles me with everyone else who loves Him and who seeks to please Him with a life lived in holy, blameless love.
This means, naturally enough, that Christ, who is our Teacher, teaches us the way to live in harmony. Only if Christ’s teachings bring harmony and unity can all things be gathered up into a unity in Him. If we want peace, if we want harmony, then we must turn to Christ and to learn from Him “the things that make for peace” (Luke 19:42).