“And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (I’ll leave the numbers for our benefit here).
Okay, what we see St. Paul, in his awesomeness, doing here is painting a beautiful compare/contrast between two different kingdoms, both of which are spiritual in nature, put their image on their adherents, and require strict loyalty and obedience. of course, as these verses point out, they are complete opposites.
Let’s begin with what we read in 1-3. This is the kingdom of Satan clearly, a created being. His domain is the air (verse 2), he is not fully of earth nor of heaven. He authored disobedience (verse 2). His rule begins in spiritual death, which is highlighted by verse 1. Those who adhere to his rule and follow are filled with lust, of the flesh and of the mind (verse 3) and the deeds they bring to bear are trespasses and sins (verse 1). And here we arrive at the point you raise. The result of this reign is, as verse 3 says, wrath, thus eternal death.
Note that not once does St. Paul mention 1) the Atonement, 2) the Crucifixion, or 3) Jesus’ sacrifice in any way at all. Not in any of these first 3 verses.
We are not under any wrath of God. We are under the wrath of Satan’s reign, which is death and sin. St. Paul does not paint any sort of picture here that indicates anything about God’s wrath (note: that isn’t to say that God does not have any). The wrath spoken of is that of being out of communion with God, of failing to be priests and to offer to God what is His. When we fell out of right relationship with God we brought upon ourselves this wrath mentioned. Sin and death brought about by Satan.
God, the uncreated all holy being, is the King and ruler of this other kingdom (verse 4). His realm is the “heavenly places” (verse 6). In verse 4 we see that He rules by mercy and love. The beginning of this rule, which is seen in the completion of Christ’s ministry, is reversing this theme of death and sin brought about by the Fall and by Satan’s rule; it’s the beginning of redemption to eternal life (verse 5). As his subjects and worshippers, we desire to offer thanks (eucharist in Greek) and glory to our Creator and Redeemer. Our needs are to be filled with righteousness since we reign with Christ and live in Him (note on my blog. His throne is the Cross, from which He reigns. it is powerful to say we reign with him in this because we are commanded to put to death our sarx, Gal 2:19-20. just a really cool thought.We reign from our own crosses with Christ. I digress). This rule He does brings about kindness and riches (verse 7) and thus eternal life. The COMPLETE and TOTAL antithesis of the other Kingdom.
We’d say that that is what these verses speak of. It’s a s-t-r-e-t-c-h to say that these verses in context have anything to do with Atonement being that 1) St. Paul never mentions it and 2) the compare/contrast theme is so clear. If one isolates verse 3 and prooftexts it then of course it supports PSA. This is one reason why PSA fell apart for me early on in my theological journey as I began to explore and open myself to ancient Christianity.
It’s a big burden of proof on the PSA adherent to show how these verses tie in with the Atonement in any way, shape, or form.
A fellow Orthodox Christian and I discussed this privately and he took a different route with the “children of wrath” verses. He had this to say:
“I’m not really sure if this reading can be sustained from the text. It certainly seems to me that the wrath in Ephesians is the wrath of God, as that is the way the word “wrath” is usually used. As noted above, that’s not really the question. When we sin, we miss the mark, and we actually cause a spiritual reverberation throughout the creation, as we, the Image-Bearers of God, have been committed the care of the creation by God. We become “objects of wrath” because we are creation-destroyers. It is perfectly just (meaning right) for God to destroy us in order to save the creation. However, God’s wrath is not removed from us because it is poured out on another. This wouldn’t solve anything in itself, as we would still be creation-destroyers. The key is that through Christ’s death and resurrection, we are able to be transfigured into His Image and thus participate in His redemption of the creation. We are saved from the wrath of God not because someone else takes it on himself, but because through Christ, we are made into that which is no longer an object of wrath.”
I think both readings are valid readings. I tend to agree with the commentary from the Orthodox Study Bible, which guided my reading of the text, which I put in my own words with each point made about each Kingdom.
So there you have two readings, but neither make the Atonement and wrath connected. So we are children of wrath indeed, but the question is whose wrath?
What do you think?