Ephesians 2:11-22, From Alienation to Reconciliation
Mankind has a natural inclination to build barriers between people. These barriers can be as subtle as separating themselves from anyone different than them, or as obvious as literal walls to keep people out. Jesus broke down all the barriers between people in a religious sense. In the New Testament first century church there had been a barrier between slave and free, men and women, and Jew and Gentile. Jesus revealed through the Apostles’ ministry that He had created a new entity called the church, which broke down all those barriers. John recorded in John 17:11,21-23 that during the Last Supper Jesus prayed His high priestly prayer for the church to operate as a unified well oiled machine, in which all the various groups that had been operating separately, would come together through their common bond in Christ. God’s view is that positionally we are all one in Christ. We all have the same Savior and the same Holy Spirit indwelling us. In the Kingdom of God all barriers men have put up will come down, and Jesus is urging the church to do so even now. In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul will bring to light that in the past they had multiple barriers to overcome, like circumcision, the ceremonial laws and covenants, the dividing wall at the Temple, and of course the real barrier of selfishness and sin.
Ephesians 2:11-22, Symbols of Division
When Paul went to Ephesus on his third missionary journey, he first went to the local synagogue to reason with the Jews from the O.T. Scriptures that prophesied about Christ. He made many converts, but soon was uninvited to come back. Then he and his new Jewish believers in Christ went out into the city preaching the Gospel to everyone. Therefore the church there was made up of both Jews and Gentiles who formerly had nothing to do with each other. Jews believed they were superior as God’s chosen people, Greeks believed they were wiser and more intellectual, and Romans believed they were superior rulers of the world. The physical sign that separated Jews and Gentiles was circumcision. Spiritually, the Gentiles had no Messiah, no covenants, no law from God, and no relationship to the one true God. How could all these proud, different people ever come together?
The Peacemaker, Eph.2:13-18
Paul wrote that now that they all have believed in Christ as their Savior, those who were formerly far away (as pagan idol worshippers) have been brought near to God through the atoning work of Christ on the cross. Because we have the same Savior and the same Spirit of God in us, all barriers have been leveled. The blood of Christ made this possible because the real barrier of sin, which separates man from God and man from man has been eliminated. In verse 15, Paul also wrote that Jew and Gentile were formerly separated by ceremonial law. God had commanded through Moses that the Hebrews were not to participate in the pagan idolatry of the Canaanites. In order to keep them separate, God commanded kosher eating, and various religious ceremonies, memorials, sacrifices, and offerings. Since the sacrifice of Christ was sufficient to atone for all sin past, present, and future, Jesus abolished all the previous laws except the moral laws of the Ten Commandments. Without the previous religious differences, there could be peace between Jew and Gentile.
The Image of the Dividing Wall at the Temple
When King Herod built the new Temple on the temple mount, He built a wall around the actual Temple and only Jewish men could come in. Outside that wall was the Court of the Jewish women, and outside that was the court of the Gentiles. On the gate separating the Court of the Gentiles there was a sign that read–no Gentiles may enter on penalty of death. In Acts 21:27-32, Paul was arrested and falsely charged with conspiring to bring a Gentile into the Temple Court. He would have been stoned to death, but the Roman soldiers rescued him. In Eph. 2:14, Paul used the image of that dividing wall at the Temple to make it clear how serious the divide between Jews and Gentiles was before Christ broke it down. The irony is that God placed a special Court of the Gentiles in the Temple in order to bring Gentiles to the Lord, but they had used it to exclude them. Jesus did not Christianize the Jews or Judaize the Gentiles, and He did not create a mixture—He made a “new man”. In 1 Peter 2:9-10, Peter wrote that the church was a brand new creation, “you are a chosen race…a holy nation, a people for His own possession…once you were not a people but now you are God’s people”. In Eph.2:15, Paul calls the church a “new man” denoting a new human race (spiritually) in Christ. Instead of Jew vs. Gentile you now have one new man, and both together have peace with God and each other. Their religion, laws, and good deeds could not accomplish this, but Jesus did.
What Does This New Spiritual Race Look Like?
Paul was describing a great miracle in which a new humanity was created by reconciling each to God and then reconciling each to each other. In order to explain it, Paul produces three great biblical images for this new united body of Christ. First we are citizens of the Kingdom of God. All the different groups came together as Christians and citizens of the same Kingdom. Secondly the church is all in God’s household, God’s family. Family is the place you go, knowing you are loved and accepted. You enjoy intimacy with God’s family. Thirdly you are the building of God, a holy temple. This building is built on a great foundation, which represents the correct teaching of the Apostles and prophets. The church is built on the true revelation from God as taught by the Apostles. The cornerstone, which is Jesus Himself, is of even greater importance, for it determines the strength and stability of the building. This was a great image because Solomon’s Temple had a huge cornerstone the size of a boxcar. Lastly, we read that the image of the building blocks being progressively built on the foundation, are all joined together to form the building. Those building blocks represent all the different races, and both genders and slave and free all coming together to become the building of God. This great coming together is called by Paul a mystery that was previously unknown but now after Christ came the apostles revealed it.
Ephesians 3:1-6, the Hidden Truth Now Revealed
Normally when we think of mystery we think of Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, or Nancy Drew mysteries. The mystery Paul was revealing about the church was beyond all natural knowledge, and has only been opened up to us after Christ’s resurrection by the Apostles through the Holy Spirit. Colossians 1:26 also speaks of it saying, “the mystery hidden for ages but now revealed to His saints”. It is not something mysterious, but it is something God has just now made known. This makes me remember what Daniel said to the king when he interpreted his dream, “There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries…” In Ephesians 3:2-6, Paul divulges just what the mystery is, “Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” The mystery now known is that Gentiles are partakers along with the Jews in all the blessings that Paul listed in Ephesians chapter one, namely: being chosen by God, adopted into God’s family, redeemed by the blood of Christ, given the absolute truth of God’s Word, given an inheritance in heaven, and sealed by the Holy Spirit. In the past, Gentiles could only approach God through Israel as a proselyte, thus there was a barrier, but now Christ has broken down that wall, making one new people out of Jews and Gentiles together as equals. It may be valuable to look in detail at the three phrases Paul used in Eph.3:6. We are “heirs together”, meaning we all receive all the blessing of all the spiritual blessings he listed in chapter one. Secondly, we are “members together of one body”. The church is the body (of people) who are in Christ, and Christ is the head of this organization. We all who believe in Christ come together in one universal church as equals in spite of all our worldly differences. Thirdly, we are “sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel”. If we trust in Christ, we have promises from God. This revelation is special for Paul since God appointed him as the Apostle to the Gentiles. Before Christ came into his life, Paul as a Jew had a huge dividing wall excluding all but the most religious Jews, but now by the intercession of Christ his life was changed, the wall came down, and Paul was sent out to bring Gentiles into the family of God. Paul would always be amazed at the new doctrine of the church, and he would always be excited to take it to the known world. Even though it is not new to us now 2000 years later, we should still be excited to welcome all the different people into the universal church.
A View of the Church in Heaven, Rev. 7:9-17
In the last book of the Bible, Revelation, we can have a view of the diverse group that makes up the church that Paul has been describing. It is the Apostle John’s vision of heaven in which he sees a great multitude from every nation on earth. It is like the mustard seed that Jesus used to describe the church in Matt. 13:31, “It is the smallest seed, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants”. John saw before the throne of God clothed in righteous white robes a multitude of people of every tribe and language all together serving Christ and glorifying God. “The Lamb of God will be their Shepherd…and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes”.