…In love He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:4b-6 HCSB)
As we consider what God has done this verse tells us that it was done In Agape (love). God’s love shapes all of his actions toward us.
Destiny – The inevitable or necessary fate to which a particular person or thing is destined; one’s lot.
- To fix upon, decide, or decree in advance; foreordain.
- Theology To foreordain or elect by divine will or decree.
In the time when Paul wrote this book people were used to the idea that a far off Roman Emperor or Official would issue a decree that had direct impact on their life. For example, in Luke 2 we read that Caesar Augustus issued a decree to take a census and everyone went to their own city to register for the census. A decree ordained the destiny that Joseph and Mary would travel to Nazareth.
The Greek word proorizō is translated as predestined. It comes from two root words pro – “in front of” and horizō – “horizon” meaning that God has placed in front of believers a horizon or boundary a destination.
us to be adopted
In ancient Rome the notion of family was much stronger than it is in our day. In each family a paterfamilias was the “head of household” but this was extended to include the adult children and remained in force as long as the pater (father) was alive. The paterfamilias had legal authority over the family and even the power of life and death in earlier years.
It was common to adopt not only children but adults into families as a way to forge close ties. When such adoptions were made, unlike adoption in our time, both families became connected. It became common practice in the empire for the Roman Emperor to adopt his successor. Augustus Caesar was adopted by his great-uncle Julius Caesar and he later would adopt Tiberius who adopted Caligula and so on.
through Jesus Christ
The word translated through dia – (A primary preposition denoting the channel of an act) indicates that Jesus the anointed Messiah is the channel or means by which this adoption takes place.
Everything about this act points back to God. It was his good pleasure, kindness or will to do this. It was to the praise of his glorious grace to do this in the Beloved (Jesus). There is nothing here to suggest any merit or decisive act on our part in this transaction.
What does this mean?
As a Roman citizen from Tarsus Paul knew the Roman customs of adoption. He had probably seen this firsthand. Paul is the only author in the New Testament to use this term to describe the relationship of the believer to Christ.
In Romans 8:15 he contrasts our old state as pneuma douleia (spirit of slavery) to our new state as pneuma uihothesia (spirit of adoption) allowing us to refer to God as Abba.
In the Gemara (a Rabbinical commentary on the Mishna, the traditional teaching of the Jews) it is stated that slaves were forbidden to address the head of the family by this title. It approximates to a personal name, in contrast to “Father,” with which it is always joined in the NT. This is probably due to the fact that, abba having practically become a proper name, Greek-speaking Jews added the Greek word pater, “father,” from the language they used. Abba is the word framed by the lips of infants, and betokens unreasoning trust; “father” expresses an intelligent apprehension of the relationship. The two together express the love and intelligent confidence of the child.
Abba – Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words
Before the foundation of the world, God laid out a horizon before us, a path that would lead from that of the slave who was forbidden to call the head of the household “Abba”, the slave who operated in a spirit of fear to the adoption, the placement as a son in the family with all the rights and privileges purchased for us by Jesus Christ. God did this for Himself, for the praise of His glorious grace.
He did not see anything in me deserving of this and that is the beauty of it. The unworthy, fearful slave lifted up by the firstborn (pre-eminent one) Jesus Christ to become a son.