Ephesians 2:11-17 - Jew and Gentile brought together
One of the greatest problems confronting the New Testament church was: How can gentiles also be admitted to the church of Jesus Christ? Surely, you cannot negate thousands of years of history and all the gifts which had been bestowed on one people (the Jews) and say that we now start on an equal footing! Does it mean nothing that the Jews were the beloved of God? Does it mean nothing that the Jews have served the true God for thousands of years? Does it mean nothing that the promises had been given to the Jews? Does it mean nothing that God had given His laws only to this people?
When one considers the above questions he realizes that it was nothing short of revolutionary to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the gentiles. The Jews had been brought up to recognize the gentiles as "dogs." The covenant had been given to the Jews, and to the Jews only, and its sign was circumcision. The gentiles were therefore commonly referred to as the uncircumcised. That made it clear enough to everyone that they were different people with whom the Jews would have nothing to do. Woes had been pronounced on those who would marry outside of the people of God. Jews were not even permitted to eat with gentiles. They were the unclean. And now God says "How dare you call common what I have made clean!" This naturally raised difficult questions for the sincere Jew. Something had already been done before Ephesians was written to make clear that a new era had dawned. The Synod of Jerusalem had been held and "officially" the relationship between Jew and gentile Christians had been established. But, this decision spoke of some ethical principles: the gentiles should not eat of things sacrificed to idols; they should not eat of the flesh with the blood; they should not eat that which had been strangled; and they should (of course) abstain from fornication. Is that all that is now required in this New Testament time? What about circumcision? What about the rules and regulations concerning diet? Has everything now become easy? Let non-discrimination be an official position — practice will dictate something else! Even the Apostle Peter found it difficult to swallow this view and was criticized severely by Paul (Galatians 2:11ff.).
Paul does give us a little insight into the hypocrisy of the Jews concerning their relation to the gentiles when he speaks of a "circumcision made by hands." Of course, this was the only circumcision which existed, but, his emphasis on the fact that it was made by hands shows us that with many it was only an external rite. Then the circumcision, of course, was meaningless and was not a sign (a true sign) of the covenant of grace. It must be borne in mind that all that which was circumcised was not automatically the true people of God.
But, let it also be clear that something great had to happen to these gentiles before they could be accounted to belong to God's people. When the Jews had accused them of being uncircumcised, they had been far removed from God. They were without Christ, and there is no salvation apart from Him. They had been a people which was wretched. The Jew had looked for a Savior to come, while the gentiles didn't even recognize their need of a Savior.
They had also been "alienated from the commonwealth of Israel." Of course — they had their own state and their own government. Was this a serious lack on their part that they did not belong to the commonwealth of Israel? Yes it was. Israelites had a Theocracy — God was their Ruler. He had given them His laws so that the Apostle can say at another occasion: What nation has such laws as Israel? Israel was highly privileged to have this kind of government. The gentiles were aliens to all of this. Their own governments were usually corrupt and ruled for themselves.
They had also been "strangers from the covenants of the promise." If there was one outstanding element in the relationship of God to His chosen people, it was the fact that he had made His covenant with them. In this covenant He had promised to be their God. What that meant in all its depth was not fully known until Christ came. But, it was a covenant of friendship which He had made with His people. That the plural, "covenants," is used seems to indicate only that the same covenant was reiterated time and again throughout the Old Testament history. This covenant is not between equals nor is it an agreement in which both parties have the same importance. Man must accept it by faith, but God makes the covenant. How richly Israel had been blessed through this relationship, and the gentiles were simply strangers to this relationship.
Being strangers to God's covenant, they were, of course, without hope in this life. If He is not their God and they are not His people, there is no hope! What a hopeless world the gospel came into. Idolatry brings fear — but no hope!
Paul concludes this list of the things which the gentiles lacked by stating that they were "without God in the world." The gentiles had their own gods and thereby they tried to satisfy their basic need. But they failed. These idols were not able to instill any hope and gave no comfort to those who worshipped them. The true God had made them and had also given them many things. But, they did not have the knowledge of the true God nor of the way of salvation.
From all of this it becomes evident that the plight of the gentiles was a desperate one... They had nothing. Are these now to be placed on the same plane with the Jews who have been so highly favored? Isn't the salvation brought by Christ the natural property of the Jews? How can these hated gentiles suddenly become their brothers?
The miracle has occurred through the coming of Christ into this world and the work He has accomplished. That which seemed to be a total impossibility has become a fact. The gentiles were so far removed from God. Christ has drawn them close. The blood of Christ has accomplished wonders. Now the blood of Christ has first of all brought God and the sinner together. This is the salvation of which the Bible speaks. But, He has done far more by the sacrifice which He has brought. He has not only brought God and man together, He has also brought man and man together, and therefore also the Jew and the gentile. He is the One who has established peace where there was enmity. He has made both one! There had been a wall between them which nothing and nobody seemed to be able to break down. That hostility grew with the years. Christ broke down this wall. Here in Ephesus one can see the effect of the work of Christ. Jew and gentile are worshipping together and sit at the same table. The Bible knows of only one division — believer and unbeliever, no Jew and gentile or any other distinction. Christ broke down barriers and brought men together as well as reconciling them with their God.
How did Christ accomplish the deed of bringing Jew and gentile together? He "abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances." What does this mean? The Apostle is not speaking of the moral law or the law of the ten commandments. Those will always stand and will have to be observed by both Jew and gentile. No, it is rather the ceremonial law which he has in mind. The Jew could not understand that those who had always been his enemies could now receive all the benefits of salvation in Christ. On the other hand, the gentile could not understand how circumcision would benefit him in his salvation. He could not understand how the failure to eat pork could help him in his salvation. This does not mean that this ceremonial law had never been of value. It had taught Israel much during the Old Testament times. It showed that God's people was a peculiar people. They were to be separated from all others. But, that time is past. Christ has in His flesh abolished this ceremonial law. He has brought the great sacrifice and don't let anyone bring another sin offering! Israel had fallen into the error of placing the ceremonial law above the moral, and this had led it to a mere formal religion. This is done away. Let those who worship God worship in spirit and in truth, whether they be Jew or gentile.
In this way Christ has created "in Himself of the two one new man, so making peace." Only the sacrificial work of Christ was able to accomplish that which no one else had ever accomplished. Faith in Jesus Christ as the only Savior of men is the only requirement for both Jew and gentile. Therein they have become the same. Both Jew and gentile have received great riches through the Christ of God.
United in Christ's church
So has Christ reconciled men to God and has formed that body called the church. The church of Jesus Christ is a marvel in this world. That is the only body in which old and young, rich and poor, and all races meet and call one another brethren. We must never lose sight of the fact that the one holy catholic church is an article of faith! Who could ever have imagined that such a body could come into existence after sin had entered the world? We see it but we don't understand it. The glory of that body, the church, is emphasized in Ephesians as nowhere else. How is it possible that people can speak so lightly of the church which is His body and believe that they have made a great improvement on the message of Scripture by always speaking of a personal Savior and a personal salvation. Of course these statements are true; but only in the light of the church, the body, the bride of Jesus Christ! He builds His church. He gives His life for His church. Many of the ills, spiritual ills, of the present day can be traced to a faulty conception of the church. When true and false church are no longer "easily distinguished" from each other, there is trouble. When it is emphasized that no church has all of the truth — one may conclude that there is no true church, and we then call on such vague concepts as an invisible church!
Christ has established peace through the work which He accomplished. This peace is now found between Jew and gentile. However, such a peace will never come unless they are both reconciled to God. The relationship to God must be right before there will ever be the possibility of a proper relationship between men. He Himself preached that peace. Never did anyone speak as He spoke. He came with the gospel — the good news. He preached it not to one group, but to all. He preached it to those who were nigh, who were close — the Jews. He also spoke it to those who were far off — the gentiles. This was the true gospel. This brought peace of heart and that only is the true peace. He restored hope. He gave meaning to life. He accomplished what the prophets of the Old Testament attempted — to turn the people from formalism to the true religion. Great peace have they who follow Him. He is our peace. He is the Prince of peace. He preached it and the church must preach that same message.
Questions for discussion:
- Does the ceremonial law have anything to teach us today? How about Israel's civil law?
- Why was there such hostility between Jew and gentile? Does that still exist? Is there any way of preventing another holocaust, such as that in the 1940s, except by means of the preaching of the Word?
- Seeing faith in Jesus Christ is all that is necessary, is it very important to speak of the covenant and all the other things summed up by Paul in vs. 12? Is there the danger today that we ignore such things as the covenant and only emphasize the necessity of believing in Jesus?
- We are indebted to the blood of Christ for our salvation. For anything else?
- Why is the church an article of faith? Do we sufficiently emphasize the importance of being the true church and belonging to that church only?
- What determines whether or not a church is the true church?