“In whom we have received an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of the one who works all things according to the counsel of his will, to the end that we should exist to the praise of his glory — those who first hoped in Christ; in whom you also, in hearing the word of Truth, the Gospel of our Salvation, in which you also believed and were sealed in the Holy Spirit who was promised.”
What then does it mean to say that believers are “sealed in the Holy Spirit”? The obvious use of the term “seal” has to do with the idea of closing something up with the aim of preserving it from decay or contamination. Thus, we might seal a bag of food for sale or a jar of produce so that we can enjoy it at a later date. We also seal our envelopes before mailing them so that no one may tamper with the contents therein. Jesus’ tomb was sealed with a large stone by the Romans in the hope that his body would not be taken from within (Matthew 27:66).
There is another aspect of the notion of sealing that had to do with identifying official documents. And so, when a document was complete, an official would drip wax on the seam of the document (sealing it closed) and then would place a stamp in the cooling wax to identify whose document it was. We still see some documents sealed in a similar fashion or at least stamped with an official “seal” to identify its authenticity. It is this second use of the idea of sealing that is most important to understanding Paul’s language here, though the first use is also of great importance.
After Jesus feeds the five thousand, people come to him seeking more. Jesus’ response is as follows:
“Jesus answered them and said, ‘Amen, Amen, I say to you. You seek me not because you saw signs, but because you ate from the bread and you were full. You should not work for food that perishes but for food that remains to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on this one the Father God has sealed.’”
There is much we could talk about from Jesus’ statement, especially in the contrast that Jesus makes between the benefits of our works, which we earn and perishes and the gift of God given through Jesus Christ that is eternal. Salvation, my friends, is a matter of grace and is the gift of God, not as a result of works, but then again, we will cover that a little later in this great book of Ephesians.
What is most important for our conversation here is the notion of God’s sealing. Who is the one who is sealed? In this case, it is Jesus. What is the sealing referring to? The idea of sealing seems to be a parallel to the idea of the signs which Jesus did — signs that identified him as the Son of God. Thus, the sealing in this case is that God’s hand was upon him not only for preservation, but as a sign to the world that he is who he said he is.
But how, then, does this apply to our passage here in Ephesians? Paul often speaks of seals in his writings. In Romans 4:11 he speaks of circumcision as the seal of righteousness given to the saints in the Old Testament era. It was an identifier that they were a member of the covenant of God — an identifier that would later be replaced by baptism (Colossians 2:11-12).
In 1 Corinthians 9:2, Paul also speaks about the seal of his Apostleship. Again, while Paul is certainly sealed in the hands of God, what is more important (in context) is the notion that this seal of his Apostleship is meant as an indicator to the People as to who he represents — who has called him as an Apostle.
Yet, it is not until we arrive at 2 Corinthians 1:22 and 2 Timothy 2:19 (along with Ephesians) that this terminology is applied to all believers. In each passage, there is the notion that the seal is a guarantee of our salvation — that the Lord knows who are His. Indeed, we are sealed for eternity, but the reason that the seal is good is because it is God’s seal that is upon us — the seal of men will break down and be corrupted, but God’s will not be so.
And so, we return to Ephesians 1:13 (and its parallel in Ephesians 4:30), which speaks of us being sealed by the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption. Again, while we are sealed from corruption, what is of greater significance is that of whose sign we bear — that of God the Father himself through God the Son, Jesus Christ. And thus, with those saints of the Old Testament who are spoken of as “sealed” by the Apostle John in Revelation (Revelation 7:3,4,5,8), we find ourselves joining them as those sealed for redemption and eternity as well. What wonderful assurance that the Christian can have, for our assurance does not come from within us or from that which we earn, but from God the Holy Spirit. It is his Word that we trust but it is also his Work that we trust when it comes to the promise of eternity.