EPHESIANS-SERIES NR 4
Theme: One new mankind
Scripture: Ephesians 2: 11 – 22
The chances are non-existent that we can form any idea of the colossal separation that there were between Jews and Non-Jews (gentiles) at the time when our Lord Jesus was on earth. Unimaginable discrimination, hate and distrust. Our own history of racial discrimination is a Sunday school picnic in comparison with the conflict between Jews and Non-Jews at that time.
Keep in mind: The world at that time was divided into two groups (“nations”) : Jews and Non-Jews. All Non-Jews (of whatever nation) was seen (from Jewish perspective) bundled together in one group in opposition to the Jews, namely: Non-Jews (Gentiles). It is difficult to understand the NT unless you understand this, because it forms the background of almost all the NT-scriptures.
The sinful fallen heart of man works in a way that, should you suppose that you are privileged and have received gifts above other people, you instinctively elevate yourself above others and look down on them. That pride is the root of all the tension between all groups of people – until today. And no human solution is ever able to solve it. As we see it in our own country.
What was the conflict between the Jews and the Non-Jews?
The Jews misunderstood the entire spirit/atmosphere/meaning of the OT and thought that they were – as ethnic group – elevated above others because their bodies were circumcised, therefore they were THE nation with whom God had unique connections.
The Non-Jews were the uncircumcised, the dogs, the outsiders. The Jews had the expectation of a coming Saviour, but the Non-Jews were without hope. God revealed Himself to them as Jews and gave them His Words, but the Non-Jews were in darkness.
The Non-Jews are the uncircumcised/ dogs/ without Christ/ excluded from Israel/ far from God/ no share in God’s promises/ without hope/ without God. The Non-Jews were seen as FAR away. The Jews saw themselves as brought NEAR. Therefore there was terrible hostility. The Jews looked down upon the Non-Jews, and the Non-Jews were envious of the Jews’ spiritual privileges. There was literally an invisible barrier that divided the Jews and the Non-Jews.
The main thing that divided them was the Jewish ceremonial law-system (v 15). Not the Law, the “10 commandments“, but the 100’s of ceremonial laws that surrounded the Law and that were the foreshadowing of the Lord Jesus.
After the Lord Jesus had come, these ceremonies were completely done away with (“abolished” v15) Ceremonial Law = Temple, sacrifices, clothing, acts of purification/rituals. Certain days that were holier than others. Clean and unclean. Should you come into contact with something (for example a corpse), you are unclean and had to undergo purification rituals at the temple, etc. These are examples of ceremonial law.
These ceremonies were exactly that which made the Jews very arrogant towards the Non-Jews – who were already regarded as unclean. It strengthened the barrier between Jew and Non-Jew. That is why a Jew did not greet, visit, eat with, or shake the hand of a gentile.
One can imagine what a great upheaval it must have been to both Jewish and Non-Jewish CHRISTIANS, after the Holy Spirit was poured out, after their conversion to Christ, to be together in one church as brothers and sisters in Christ! To make room for each other. To embrace in Christ, people whom you previously despised. The coming of Jesus, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the life giving renewal of rebirth, literally caused a revolution! And remember: after conversion to Jesus Christ, Jew and Non-Jew were together in one church. No sign of separate churches for separate groups! Whoever were one in Christ, were visibly united in one church. The entire NT testify to this.
When we now look at Eph 2: 11-22 against this background information, we immediately understand what the Apostle Paul is talking about here. Just remember what he wants to say in chapter 2: He wants his readers to remember what they formerly were and what they now are (that is an instruction in v 11).
In 2: 1-10 he says: You were dead in transgressions and sin, now made alive (reconciled with God).
In 2: 11-22 : You were cut off from and excluded from citizenship of the nation of God, but now 100% included in the household of God (reconciled with God’s people).
Keep in mind that the believers in Ephesus were all Christians consisting of Non-Jews. There were practically no converted Jews among them.
These Ephesian believers knew exactly what it meant to be “dogs” in the eyes of the Jews! But now, in Christ, everything has changed. Together with the converted Christian Jews, the converted Christian Non-Jews were now one new mankind. Everything that had previously separated them from one another has been broken down by Jesus’s death on the cross.
That is what Paul’s first readers have to clearly understand: what they formerly were, and what they are now!
With this background in mind, one can readily understand 2: 11-22. Powerful words:
Jesus’s physical death on the cross has changed everything between man and man. We are always inclined to think about Jesus’s death on the cross in a vertical manner (God and man reconciled). But now Paul is drawing a horizontal line (man and man reconciled). If you are reconciled with God through Christ, you are also reconciled with your converted and saved fellow man, it does not matter what the divisional factors were between you! In Jesus’s physically broken body, the dividing wall of hostility is destroyed (v 14). He not only gives peace, He is peace between man and man – those who are in him by faith (v 14).
Where John and Jo both know the Lord Jesus as Lord and Savior, they cannot and must not continue living in hostility towards each other. Jesus’s death on the cross has literally created a new mankind (v 15).
Previously the world was divided into two groups: Jews and Non-Jews. Now the world is divided in two new groups: In Christ and outside of Christ – it does not matter which nation/culture you belong to.
God does not take a couple of good things out of different religions and try to create “unity” from it. No, He changes hearts and lives in Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. He breaks down all hostility in Jesus’s crucified body and then He connects people with Jesus and brings them together in a new mankind! Is that not super wonderful?
Look at 2: 11-22. Jesus’s shed blood 2000 years ago: destroyed the false division that Jewish circumcision brought about / brought IN/NEAR people who were formerly excluded by the ceremonial laws / brought people who were far, close by / brought people into God’s covenant and His promises / reconciled people who were without God and hope, now reconciled to God with every hope / destroyed hostility and brought about peace / abolished and did away with ceremonial OT law / united IN ONE BODY people who were formerly separated from each other / gave FREE ACCESS to the Father for everyone who knows Him / made people who previously stood outside, members of God’s household.
And of course: All these people mentioned here are now IN CHRIST. It does not include ALL PEOPLE on earth. It is everyone who is reconciled with God in Christ.
The big question is now what the meaning of this passage is for us, living here in 2020. Yes, we are Non-Jews the same as the Ephesians were. But the conflict between the Jews and the Non-Jews at that time, is irrelevant today. It is 2000 years removed from us. How should we apply this passage, and what spiritual value does it have for us today?
1 People of different societal groups/cultures – who are born again in Christ (not all people!), are one mankind, and that unity must be practically visible.
Visualize in you minds-eye a multitude of people on earth who are born again in Christ, of all ethnicities/ nations/ languages/ cultures/ religions. They are one and they are the new mankind. And this unity must become visible in local churches. It is not only an invisible spiritual unity.
In the book of Acts we see converted Jews and converted Non-Jews worshipping together in churches from the day of Pentecost. This new mankind is like a spiritual building (v 20) built on the foundation of the OT-prophets and the NT-Apostles (OT & NT) (v 20). The Truth that the prophets and apostles taught is the foundation upon which the new spiritual temple is built. Jesus himself is the chief cornerstone in whom the entire building is joined together. It is the new temple that God lives in (v 22). He does not dwell in buildings. He also does not dwell in all people on earth. He dwells in His redeemed children of all nations and languages in a unity built upon one foundation and joined together by one cornerstone.
No wonder that verse 18 says so wonderfully that all children of God now have FREE ACCESS to the Father through the Holy Spirit! Look in this one verse, how the Triune God functions: In unity with Jesus we have free access to God the Father, by the Holy Spirit! Free access! 24 hours of every day.
2 People who are born again in the Lord Jesus, must seriously take care that man-made religious rules do not bring divisions between them. It can easily happen that man-made traditions or differences about matters that are lying on the fringes, separate true believers! It must not.
3 The ceremonial OT law (the Old Covenant) is abolished! Not the “10 commandments“, but the ceremonial law that was the foreshadowing of the coming of Jesus, and that after His coming became obsolete and was abolished.
These days, there is again an inclination among certain Christian groups to bring Jewish ways into the Christian Faith. For example, thousands of Christians annually go to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of the Tabernacles. It is a feast that belongs with the ceremonial law and that was abolished with the coming of Jesus (v 15). Other people feel that we should call Jesus by His Hebrew Name (Jeshua). And God as Yahweh. To be a true Christian, we should dig up and honour our Jewish roots, they say. I think this tendency is in strong opposition to Ephesians 2: 11-22.
4 We get spiritual vigour when we think about what we might have been had we remained outside the Lord Jesus. Therefore, the instruction in verse 11: REMEMBER! KEEP IN MIND what you were before…
We MUST remember what we may have been had the blood of the Lord Jesus not flown and had we remained outside of Him. Think about that and you will get spiritually invigorated. You would have been without Christ / excluded from God’s household / far from God / without share of His covenant / without share in His promises/ without hope / without God in the world / without peace / in hostility with others / lived under rigid religious rules / no access to the Father / outside God’s household / without foundation / no indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
If you are a Christian, you can turn each of these words into a positive. You are wholly saved from them – by the body of Jesus that was broken on the cross.
Translated by Marthie Wilson