In the first ten verses of Ephesians 2, the apostle Paul describes what God has done for us through Jesus. We were dead but God made us alive. But this is not the end of the story. There is so much more and the rest of chapter 2 teaches the continuing blessings found in Christ. In Ephesians 2:11-22 the apostle Paul teaches us about our new position corporately. We have been brought into salvation (2:1-10). But we are not left alone. The scriptures never speak of having a personal relationship with Christ, as if all that matters is you and God. This conveys the false idea that you can just keep to yourself and be good with God. We have been brought into salvation to be united with other believers. The scriptures regularly speak of the corporate relationship that we have. To appreciate what we have, we must first understand where we came from.
Where We Were (2:11-12)
Paul begins with the call to remembrance. Twice he says that we must remember in verses 11 and 12. We need to know what it means to be a Gentile. You were called “the uncircumcision” by the Jews. This slanderous term was used to speak of them as sinful heathens. Verse 12 goes on to explain five privileges that the Gentiles did not have before Christ. These disadvantages are to be remembered so they can fully appreciate the many spiritual blessings.
First, you were without Christ. There was no hope for a Savior to save them. There was no basis for them to look for a Messiah. In general, the Gentiles knew nothing about the anticipated Messiah nor did they care to learn. The Christ belonged to Israel. The Christ is first and foremost the king of Israel. The Gentiles had no part in Christ. There was no ability to belong to the coming Christ.
Second, you were excluded from the citizenship of Israel. Israel was the privileged community chosen by God as the recipients of the promise. The special privileges of God came to Israel, not to the Gentiles. Specific blessings were not poured out to the Gentiles.
Third, you were strangers to the covenants of promise. The plural “covenants” is unusual in the scriptures but likely refers to at least the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. The Gentiles had no relationship or access to the covenant God made with Israel. The Gentiles were not entitled to the benefits of the covenant community.
Fourth, the Gentiles had no hope. Without access to the covenants and promises, there was no hope to live under like Israel lived under. The Gentiles are outside the sphere of God’s people and covenant and there was no hope directly given to them that this condition would ever change. They did not share in the hope of salvation. They did not share in the hope of being able to have a relationship with the Lord.
Fifth, the Gentiles were without God in the world. The Gentiles were ignorant of the true and living God and did not believe in him (cf. Galatians 4:8). There was no way for the Gentiles to have a true relationship with God. Gentiles were pagans, believing in many deities and devoted themselves to their worship. Israel had the relationship with God. The Gentiles did not have such a relationship. Throughout the Bible we see that the greatest privilege for a people is to be near to God and the greatest curse is to be banished from his presence.
What God Did In Christ (2:13-18)
Verse 13 should be as powerful to us as verse 4. The first three verses of chapter 2 declared our sinfulness and our expectation of wrath. But God intervened. Such glorious words! Verse 13 acts in the same way. You were separated, without hope, and without God. “But now in Christ Jesus” all of that has changed. In Christ Jesus a dramatic change has occurred. Now you have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Jesus is the meeting point with God for all of humanity. Notice that we are not brought near by becoming Jews. We are brought near to God because of the blood of Jesus. We see the high cost of bringing us close to God — Jesus’ death. Paul is announcing the seemingly impossible: the Gentiles who were excluded from the promises of God have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Jesus is our peace. Notice that it is not that Jesus simply brought peace. He himself is our peace. The “he himself” is emphatic. It is not simply the message he proclaimed or the message proclaimed about him. It is he himself. Jesus is our peace. The first aspect of the peace in Jesus is in that he creates peace between Jew and Gentile believers by making them both one people. There were two groups of people but in Christ they have now become one people. The division between the two is broken down by his flesh. What caused this separation? Paul identifies it as “the law of commandments expressed in ordinances.” Paul is referring to the Law of Moses. It was the Mosaic regulations that caused the division to occur. The ordinances found in the Law of Moses are what set Israel apart from the world (feasts, sacrifices, food laws, etc). Christ has abolished the Law of Moses, the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments. The law lost its power and is now rendered inoperative by Christ. Now there is one people in Christ and under his covenant. A new race has been formed. In verse 15 this group is called a new humanity or new people. In verse 16 this group is called “one body.” Back in Ephesians 1:22-23 Paul called this one new body, “the church.” This is why there is peace. The Law of Moses is now the old law, rendered inoperative by the cross, so that we can now belong together as one body, one people, one group of saved people, the church.
The second aspect of peace is also important to notice. Not only are Jews and Gentiles reconciled into one body as believers, but we are also now reconciled to God. Jews and Gentiles both needed a way to at peace with God. Verse 16 points out through Christ nullifying the Law of Moses he is able to reconcile us both to God. Both Jews and Gentiles needed peace with God. Gentiles needed peace with God because they were far off and had no relationship with God in the first place. The Jews needed peace because God had brought them near and given them the Law but they broke that covenant. We need peace with God. The first three verses of chapter 2 told us that we are children of wrath. Verses 11-12 reminded us that we were separated, alienated, strangers, without hope, and without God! But Jesus came and preached peace to all (2:17). Jesus did not preach peace by saying everyone is okay just as they are. He preached peace by declaring that everyone needs to come to him to be reconciled to God. The cross became the defining moment so that the Law could be nailed to it. Jesus’ death, his blood which we remember every Sunday, established a covenant of peace rather than a covenant of hostility. This is the message the apostles are preaching, according to Paul and Peter. Peter says that the message God sent to Israel was the message of the good news of peace through Jesus (Acts 10:36).
Verse 18 tells us that it is equal access to the Father. There is no special privilege to one group over the other. Paul has been clear that there are not two groups but one. Any doctrine that teaches otherwise, suggesting one group has a greater status or privilege, is completely false! The one body receives equal access and equal privilege to the Father. It is the same Spirit, one Spirit, for equal access and equal reconciliation.
Who You Are (2:19-22)
There are three images that are used in this section to describe who we are through the blood of Jesus. The first image is that we are fellow citizens. Now we are no longer strangers. We are not outsiders anymore. The idea is that we were foreigners without any rights. I saw this many times when living in San Diego. Americans would take day trips to Mexico. Everyone wants to go to Tijuana and I don’t know why. But there was a problem with going there that most did not think about. Being an American has no power there. You are a foreigner. You are in another country and you are not afforded the rights given to Americans here when on Mexican soil. So many had difficulties getting back across because of this. Being of another nationality does not afford you any privileges here. In fact, it prevents you from enjoying the rights and privileges that we experience here. This is the idea. You were foreigners. You have no rights or privileges to the kingdom of God. But now you are citizens. Through Christ you now belong, with full rights and privileges. You are citizens with the saints. You are on equal footing with the saints of the past like Abraham, Moses, and David.
Not only this, you are members of the household of God. This is the second image of who we are in Christ. The church building is not the household of God. Together as Christians we belong to the household of God. You are full family members with God as your Father. There is no greater household to belong to in life. There is no better family to be joined to. We had no access to God at all. Now we belong to God’s house through the blood of Christ. This calls for us to look at one another differently as well. We are the family of God. We are joined together and must love one another and act toward one another like family. This family is the most important family that we have. We must not only see our responsibility to one another as family in God’s house, but desire to be joined together. In Ephesians 4:16 Paul describes how we as the body are to be joined and held together. It is a privilege that we have been brought together in Christ. We must not see our time together as duty but a joy. Yet too few see the joy of joining ourselves together as family.
The third image of who we are and what we belong to is a holy temple. When Gentiles became Christians they were immediately placed on a firm foundation. The foundation of this glorious house to which we belong is the apostles and prophets. We are built upon them because it is their writings and teachings through the Holy Spirit moving them to speak and write the very words of God that we have responded to. This is the access we have in the one Spirit to the Father. We will talk more about this concept in the next lesson. The basis of this whole structure is Jesus. Jesus is the cornerstone. He is the stone by which every stone in the foundation and structure must be aligned and measured. Jesus is the most important stone in the whole building. We are joined into a holy temple. The temple was the place where the presence of God dwelled. He was not actually in the temple, but the temple represented that God was there, blessing his people, providing for his people, and protecting his people. Verse 22 makes the point explicitly clear. We are built together into the dwelling place for God. God was far away to the Gentiles but now he is with you.
Being a temple to the Lord is not a self-centered concept. I think this has happened in teaching about the temple far too often. The point is not that this is an individualized idea where we stand independently because we are a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Remember that the point is that we are joined together corporately. Paul is telling Gentiles who they are together in Christ. The temple is not a selfish concept but is the place where God and humanity meet. The temple was the place where the people could turn to God. The temple was the place where they could offer their sacrifices to God. The temple was the place where people repented and moved closer to God. Friends, we together collectively are to be that temple. We are to be the place where people come and meet God because he is with us. We are to operate in such a way so that the world will meet God through us. It is an indescribable privilege given to us that we are built into a holy temple to the Lord. The world needs to find God through us and everything we do is to reveal God, draw people to God, and point people to go to God. What we do must reflect our love for Christ and represent ourselves as a temple to the Lord.
We were completely separated and excluded from God, his covenants, and his promises. But now through Christ he has made us fellow citizens in this glorious kingdom. God has made us family in the household of God, with all the privileges and rights of family members. God has made us a holy temple to the Lord, showing the world the glory of Christ and drawing the world to him. You are reconciled to God. You have been given a glorious life purpose with that reconciliation. You are built on Christ. Grow into the temple of God.