Ephesians 2:11-22 now reveals the great mystery that God had kept hidden even from the Jewish people as He foretold the coming of their Savior. In Greek thinking and language, a “mystery” was a “divine secret,” something that only a divine being could reveal. And this secret of God was that the riches of His salvation through Christ was not only the forgiveness of sins, but the making of two completely different peoples – Jews and Gentiles – one new people shaped into a holy temple where God is worshiped.
“In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.” – Isaiah 2:2
It is probable that many Jewish people in the 1st Century believed that Jehovah God really loved only them. As a result, their expectations about their coming Messiah would include this exclusivity. But that is not what their own Scriptures said. In this section of his epistle, Paul will present clearly God’s true plans for Jews and Gentiles.
- An old expression says, “Hindsight is always 20/20.” I take this to mean that in looking back at the past, we probably see things (or at least think we do) far better than those who were in the past
- Perhaps that is why many Scriptures in the Old Testament did not seem as significant or clear to the original hearers or even those in Jesus’ own day as they do to us today.
- Today I am particularly thinking of those passages that spoke of God’s concern for those who were not Abraham’s offspring.
- Genesis 12:1-3 – “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Repeated in Genesis 18:18; 22:18; 26:14; 28:14)
- Isaiah 2:2-3 – “In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.”
- Isaiah 24:14-16 – “From the ends of the earth we hear singing: ‘Glory to the Righteous One.’“
- Isaiah 60:3 – “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.“
- Zephaniah 2:11 – “The LORD will be awesome to them when he destroys all the gods of the land. The nations on every shore will worship him, every one in its own land.“
- Zechariah 8:22 – “And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the LORD Almighty and to entreat him.“
- Daniel 7:13-14 – “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.“
- If Jesus’ own disciples did not fully understand their meaning, Jesus made it clear to them in His Great Commission: “…Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them… and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.“
- Whatever Saul of Tarsus had understood these passages to mean, they took on a whole new meaning after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. There he was told by Jesus, “I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
REMINDING THE EPHESIANS OF THEIR PRIOR CONDITION:
- In Ephesians 2:1-3 Paul has already reminded them of their previous condemned and sinful condition.
- Now, in 2:11-12 he contrasts their prior condition in relation to the Jewish nation, those who were God’s chosen people.
- By birth they were of the “uncircumcised,” both as to the physical act as well as its significance as a mark of those in covenant relationship with Jehovah (Genesis 17:11).
- They were separate from Christ. I think that means they were not the recipients of the promises of the coming Messiah; those were made to the physical descendents of Abraham and it was through them He was to come (Romans 9:4-5).
- They were excluded from citizenship in Israel. They could not be Israelites since citizenship in Israel was not simply a matter of living in the land or paying a sum to buy it.
- They were foreigners to the covenants of promise. God had not previously entered into any covenant with them or their ancestors.
- They were without hope and without God in the world. It simply had not been possible for them to be right with a God they did not even know. BUT “God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son so that anyone that believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life!“
CHRIST BROKE DOWN THE WALL BETWEEN:
- In Ephesians 2:13 Paul will now discuss how God through His grace and mercy reversed the separation and alienation which existed between Jewish people and Gentiles.
- They were brought near to God by the blood of Christ. He first said this back in 1:7 where he said redemption and forgiveness had come to them by the blood of Christ.
- By God’s design, the Jews had always depended on the blood of animals to bring about redemption and forgiveness. See the arguments in the book of Hebrews showing that the the continual offering again and again of these sacrifices signified that real redemption was not possible through them.
- Only the Lamb of God spoken of in Isaiah 53 would truly be able to take away their sins
- In other words, the Jewish people could only have redemption in the same way as the Gentiles… through the blood of Christ.
- Jesus destroyed the wall of separation and hostility created by the Jewish law with its commandments and ordinances.
- Different are held over exactly what “law” Paul has in mind. Some see it as fundamentally the 10 Commandments. Others think he is only speaking of all the commanded sacrifices, ceremonies, holy days, and requirements found in the extended set of laws beyond the 10 Commandments. I am not convinced that he is trying to precisely limit his description of the law to just one or the other. All of the law taken together caused the Jewish people to be separated from the Gentiles. But over many generations a great hostility grew up in each group toward the other, causing the Gentiles to despise the Jewish law and the Jewish people to see it as making them special and different.
- In the outer courts of the Temple in Jerusalem at this time there was a wall surrounding the inner precincts (the building containing the Holy Place and Holiest Place along with the great altar, etc.). This “middle wall of partition” was to prevent Gentiles from getting any closer to the Temple than that point. Signs were even erected by every opening through this partitioning wall warning that any Gentile passing beyond that point was subject to immediate death!
- Paul uses this physical barrier as an illustration of the spiritual separation that Christ broke down. While his Gentile readers probably were not aware of the physical wall in Jerusalem, every Jewish Christian would have understood his point very well.
- As an aside, when Jesus drove the moneychangers and sellers from the outer Temple area, it was because they had turned this area reserved for Gentiles from a place of prayer for them into a marketplace and den of thieves! In other words, Jesus was appalled that the Jewish leaders had robbed the Gentiles who believed in Jehovah from any opportunity even to worship and pray to Him for a distance!
- The physical partitioning wall in the Temple was not destroyed until AD 70 when the Romans destroyed the entire Temple area. But Paul is saying that in a figurative sense, Jesus tore down the wall so Jews and Gentiles together to both have full and free access to the Father. What an image! How shocking and unimaginable for every Jew who still rejected Jesus as the Christ. How wonderful and great it was for every Gentile who did accept Jesus as Christ!
- While the sacrifices of animals could not truly reconcile even the Jewish people to God, the sacrifice of Jesus’ own body reconciled both Jews and Gentiles who believed to God AND TO EACH OTHER! They both now had peace with God and with each other!
- And they both had received the same Spirit as a seal and a deposit (1:13-14) and through Him had access to the Father.
TOGETHER MAKING A HOLY TEMPLE:
- Ephesians 2:18-22 now presents Paul’s imagery of both Jewish and Gentile believers together becoming a Holy Temple:
- Because the wall of partition has been removed by Christ, Gentile believers are now:
- Fellow citizens with God’s people (metaphor or a kingdom or nation)
- Members of God’s household (metaphor of a family)
- A household built on the foundation of the Apostles (New Testament) and Prophets (Old Testament)
- A household with Christ Jesus as the chief cornerstone. “Cornerstone” is used only here and in I Peter 2:6 where Peter is actually quoting the prophecy of Isaiah 28:16. John MacArthur in his commentary on this verse says:
- “The cornerstone was the major structural part of ancient buildings. It had to be strong enough to support what was built on it, and it had to be precisely laid, because every other part of the structure was oriented to it. The cornerstone was the support, the orienter, and the unifier of the entire building.”
- Connected to the cornerstone (Christ Jesus) Jewish and Gentile Christians together are joined together to become a Holy Temple “in the Lord.” (metaphor of a temple) Paul uses “Lord 9 times in Epehsians specifically of Jesus Christ and never specifically of God the Father. So this is a Holy Temple in Christ!
- And the Ephesians Christians, both Jewish and Gentile, are part of this dwelling in which God dwells by the Holy Spirit.
- Here then we see not only God’s “Great Plan” by which He will be glorified in His new Holy Temple, not in either the Jerusalem Temple or the Temple of Artemis. We also see the full participation of the fullness of deity – Father, Son and Spirit.
- God’s Great Plan is that people of all races, nations and languages become equal in His Household, Kingdom and Place of Worship.
- It is here that social status, gender, skin color, or background do not at all determine each person’s status before God.
Our image is from Wikipedia and shows one of the stone signs archeologists have discovered that once were part of the dividing wall in the Temple. The complete inscription translated into English said, “No stranger is to enter within the balustrade round the temple and enclosure. Whoever is caught will be himself responsible for his ensuing death.”