Exegetical Notes, #5
By Louie Marsh
Paul begins to deal with another topic starting in verse 11. Up to this point he has primarily been dealing with Authentic Spirituality from an individual point of view. He has shown us how every believer has been blessed, exalted, and empowered beyond human comprehension.
He’s also shown us that we didn’t start that way. As we saw last week apart from Christ we are cut off from God, condemned and under God’s wrath. It’s only through the grace that comes from, in and through Christ alone that we can be saved, exalted and used by God to fulfill His plan for each of our lives.
But now Paul turns to the New Community that God wants to build and begins to unveil the mystery that he had spoken of earlier in chapter one.
When you find out what this mystery is, you will probably give a big yawn. It’s no secret or shock to most of us – but it was to them. But let’s try. In that way we can being to enter into the wonder of yet another accomplishment of the Cross of Christ!
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)– remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world Ephesians 2:11-12 (NIV)
Paul begins by telling us to remember, and he does this twice to emphasize how important it is to remember this. Remember what? Our blessings, how much God loves us, our hope of heaven, or the power of the Spirit in us? No. As he did last week Paul wants us to remember our status before we came to Christ.
The first thing that strikes the modern reader is how counter cultural Paul’s advice is. It’s the exact opposite of what we’re usually told in this day and age. From the pop culture guru’s all the way to most pulpits, we are told not to think of anything bad or negative, instead we must think positively!
Don’t worry – be happy!
So why is Paul again calling us to remember our dark past? All of the reasons we discussed last week apply here as well. We do well to remember because it’s true, and we often forget the real truth of mankind’s predicament apart from Christ.
We also need to remember this because it shows us just how wonderful the salvation found only in Christ really is. Like a painter splashing bright colors on a canvas, Paul knows wisely knows that those colors will appear even more striking if they are painted on a dark background.
And our background is about as black as it gets!
Even though Paul said this a few verses back we need to be reminded of this again, because now he’s not talking about us as individuals, but as a group.
From the Jewish or Old Testament perspective, there are really only two groups of people in the world: Those who are Jews, and those who aren’t. Everyone who is a non-Jew is a Gentile. Your race, background, education, wealth, etc. don’t matter in this equation.
So now Paul reminds us that the entire Gentile world and culture was separated from Christ, excluded from God’s family and had no hope and no true God in this world! The term “without God,” in the Greek is atheoi the word we get atheist from.
Notice the term “uncircumcised.” It was a term of derision, what we might call today a racial slur. Even more than racial, we have many of those based on cultural background or wealth or social status. Ever hear of the snooty rich, or trailer trash or hicks, or a generation of slackers etc.? Of course you have. We are more like the first century Jew that we’d like to admit.
You see the Jewish nation had forgotten what God had called them to do. “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, Isaiah 42:6 (NIV)
But instead of being witnesses to the world of who the true and living God was, Israel looked down on the Gentiles, called them “dogs,” etc, and actually drove people away from the very God they claimed to serve and represent.
Paul continues to repeat the pattern from the first part of chapter two by saying, “But now…” reminding us of the more dramatic “But God…” he used a few verses earlier in the chapter.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:13 (NIV)
Here we see the wider implications of Christ’s death on the cross. He didn’t die just for individual persons. Salvation was not just intended to bring individual people to God and heaven, it was always aimed at bring together everyone into one huge Family of God!
This was done through the blood of Jesus. This is part of what Jesus meant when He said, When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30 (NIV)
His work on the Cross finished the plan of God for all of us – as individual people and as a group as well.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, Ephesians 2:14 (NIV)
Our peace is found only in Christ. This is true of any kind of peace you might want to pursue, but in this context he’s specifically referring to peace between Jews and Gentiles.
Paul uses as an example of this the Temple in Jerusalem. A great illustration for his Jewish readers, but one that’s pretty foggy for the rest of us! To help you out here’s a model of what the Temple looked like during the first century.
The large court that surrounds the wall you see enclosing the building is the Court of the Gentiles. You’ll notice there’s a wall with huge doors standing between that court and the inner courts that only Jews could enter. The Jews took this separation very seriously, here’s what was written on a large limestone slab found in 1871, “No foreigner may enter within the barrier and enclosure round the temple. Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.”
Paul of course knew all about this not only by education, but some three years before he wrote Ephesians he nearly been killed by a mob on trumped up charges that he had taken a Gentle into the inner court. (Acts. 21:27-31) Interestingly enough that Gentile was Trophimus, and he was from Ephesus!
This physical wall was an example of the spiritual, cultural, emotional and attitudinal wall that separated Jews from Gentiles. This wall was torn down by Christ, His death on the cross removed this barrier from between us and now we can be one in Christ.
But how? How did His death on the Cross remove this barrier? Why was it there in the first place?
The Jews were set apart by God to be His people. Not to be superior or arrogant, as so many of them became by the time of Christ, but to be examples of the Who and what the living God truly is.
The wall was set up because only those who were part of God’s people, forgiven accepted members of His Family, who had faith in Him and had accepted His covenant and bore the sign of that covenant (circumcision) were allowed to enter.
But that has all changed now – because there is a new way to God through the New Covenant that Christ has established through His death, burial and resurrection!
What did He do? He destroyed the Law as a Way to God! by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, Ephesians 2:15 (NIV)
He abolished it, did away with it, it’s gone! There’s now only one way to God – and that is the way of faith in God’s Grace that only comes from and in and through Christ!
Doesn’t that contradict what Jesus Himself said? “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Matthew 5:17 (NIV)
It seems like it might from the English reading doesn’t it? But let’s take a closer look at the words translated abolish.
In Ephesians 2:15 Paul uses the word kataryeo, “the basic sense cause to be idle or useless, the term always denotes a nonphysical destruction by means of a superior force coming in to replace the force previously in effect, as e.g. light destroys darkness.”
But in Matthew 5:17 Matthew used kataluo “the basic sense put down, loosen, of buildings w. their stones destroy, demolish, dismantle (MT 27.40); fig. as invalidating an institution such as law or sacrifice do away with, annul, abolish”
Do you see the difference? Jesus didn’t destroy the Law in the sense that He tore it down because it was bad or invalid. No! Instead He fulfilled in Himself by living a perfect life and becoming the perfect sacrifice for sin.
Then He did away with it by replacing it with a new and better way of salvation, a salvation that comes out of His fulfillment of the Law and His buying for all who will believe the grace that gives us salvation in Christ.
and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. Ephesians 2:16-17 (NIV)
Indeed that was His purpose. Peace has been proclaimed to everyone, regardless of race, color, creed, etc. You see because of Grace there’s no need for us to be hostile to anyone for all of us have the same situation before God, and all of us have the same recourse to God’s redemption in Christ.
For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Ephesians 2:18 (NIV)
You see that’s one of the most wonderful things about the Cross – it is the great leveler. It brings everyone together and makes all go through the cross of Christ to be saved. Rich, poor, educated or ignorant, beautiful or ugly, etc, etc, etc. all come through Christ
As the old hymn “God Leads Us Along” says, Some through the waters, some through the flood, Some through the fire, but all through the blood. (George A Young, 1903)
Here we have one of the greatest accomplishments of the Cross, past forgiveness anyway. All of us come to Christ the same way – or at least we’re supposed too. So there’s no place for pride or arrogance, because we are lost sinners without Christ and saved by Grace through Him.
Jews and Gentiles are now one in Christ. This is the great mystery of the ages, that God has long worked towards and finally Paul gets to unveil to the world.
For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Ephesians 2:18 (NIV)
I’m repeating this verse because I want you to notice that the Trinity again is here, in just one little verse, showing once again that if you don’t believe in and understand to a degree at least, the Trinity, you can’t really understand the New Testament or the depths of Christ’s salvation for us.
We are united by One Spirit, through One Savior, and have access to One Father! – that’s unity!
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people, and members of God’s household built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. Ephesians 2:19-21 (NIV)
Paul says that all believers are now citizens of God’s Kingdom and more than that members of the King’s very family! He mentions these great blessings, but he doesn’t linger on them. Instead he moves on to the third metaphor he wants to us and briefly explains it, so we’ll look at it in a bit more depth.
Paul is comparing us to the Temple, again we see how he uses part of the Old Covenant to illustrate the New Covenant.
He tells us that we have a firm and unshakable foundation – the Apostles and Prophets. There’s not much disagreement on who the Apostles were – so we’ll just accept that this is a reference to the New Testament apostles.
But which prophets is he referring too? The Old Testament prophets, or the prophets in the New Testament ones? There’s no sure way to tell, but given his emphasis a bit later in the book on the positions in the church of both Apostles and Prophets, I lean heavily toward the latter.
I believe Paul is saying that it’s through the supernatural ministry of the Apostles and Prophets (he was both of course) that the New Covenant has been delivered and is being established for all time.
Christ is the chief cornerstone, which means our new nation is build upon and centered around Jesus Christ. Once again we see how Christ Centered Ephesians is, and how Christ centered Authentic Spirituality must be.
This new humanity is also holy – which you may remember means set apart for specific use. Paul implies here what he said in verse 10 – we are saved and unified so that God can use us! No sitting around on cloudy playing harps folks – God is living and wants His Kingdom to conquer and more forward and be active!
Last point here, and like most of what we’ve already looked at is something Paul will return to in more depth later, is being Spirit filled, as he mentions up in verse 18.
This entire salvation in Christ depends on the Spirit’s power to be effective in our lives.