Author: Ron Graham
A verse by verse study of Ephesians 2:11-22, about how Jesus has brought into fellowship with God the very people who were the most alienated from him.
In this passage, Paul is distinguishing two kinds of people among the Ephesians Christians. There were those of Jewish descent, and there were those from other ethnic origins. God’s plan has brought both groups together as one holy people.
Paul first reminds the Ephesians that they were once separated from God at a great distance. Most of them hadn't even belonged to Israel or believed in the Old Testament promises. They had lived in dark ignorance as heathens without hope.
¶“11At one time, remember, you lived as Gentiles in the flesh. You were called the uncircumcision by those called the circumcision —circumcision done in the flesh by human hands. 12You were separated from Christ. You were alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise. You were without hope and without God in the world. 13You were once far off, but now in Christ Jesus his blood has brought you near” (Ephesians 2:11-13).
Down through history there has been animosity between Jew and Gentile. The Jews, for their part, looked down on people who were not “circumcised according to the law”. They seemed to think that circumcising a baby boy made him holy.
But how can an operation in the flesh, done by human hands, have any effect on the human spirit? Circumcision had spiritual value, not in itself, but as a sign of a covenant and as an Acts of faith.
Paul doesn't mention women here, but how can women be saved and made holy if circumcision is required? Female circumcision is conspicuous by its absence in God’s law.
The only flesh and blood that can impart salvation to the human spirit is the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. He was sinless and offered his body and blood as a sacrifice to God. This is what Paul commends to the Ephesians for their salvation —not circumcision.
"You were once far off, but now in Christ Jesus his blood has brought you near" (Ephesians 2:13). Paul describes the Gentiles (non-Jews) as now being just as “near” to God as the Jewish people. Now Paul will develop that theme.
Paul now considers the unity that has replaced the former division between Jew and Gentile. Christ’s sacrificial death in the flesh has abolished the barrier between.
¶“14Christ himself is our peace. He has made us both one. He has broken down the barrier of hostility between us. 15He did this by abolishing, in his flesh, the law of commandments in decrees. Christ created in himself one new man, in place of the two, so making peace. 16He could thus reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross. Thus he killed the hostility. 17And he came and preached peace to you who were far off, and peace to those who were near. 18For through Christ, in one Spirit, we both have access to the Father” (Ephesians 2:14-18).
Jew and Gentile are no longer divided. Paul pictures two persons, one a Jew and the other a Gentile. But they are replaced by one person, the Christian —it doesn't matter whether this person is a Jew or a Gentile. "There is neither Jew nor Gentile... you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).
"He [made peace] by abolishing, in his flesh, the law of commandments in decrees." (Ephesians 2:15). "He erased the handwriting of decrees that was against us and contrary to us. He took it away, having nailed it to the cross" (Colossians 2:13-14).
Paul is referring to the laws in the Old Testament. He sees them as the barrier between Jew and Gentile because those laws separated the Jewish people from the rest of the world. So Jesus "came and preached peace" (Ephesians 2:17), and died to achieve it.
What Paul has been saying is not all easy to understand. But now he will draw it all together in a simple way. He will allude to the central feature of Judaism, the great temple in Jerusalem. Something similar was familiar to the Ephesians: the great temple to the godess Diana (Acts 19:35) —although this temple was dedicated to a false and immoral religion.
¶“19So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens. Rather, you are fellow citizens with the consecrated, and members of the household of God. 19You are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Christ Jesus himself is the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is fitted together. It grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22And you are part of it too. In him you are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).
Jesus has brought peace and reconciliation by joining every Christian into one single structure. This is a universal spiritual temple made of consecrated people. These are all those made holy by Christ’s universal sacrifice. One Christ, one sacrifice, one temple.
And this temple is independent of the religions built by man. They represent divisions. Christ’s temple is unity. Citizens of Christ’s kingdom are one temple, one body. No other is is needed. No other is permitted.