The Gospel Observer

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations...teaching them to observe all that I commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:19,20).
June 17, 2012


1) Ephesians 2:11-16 (Tom Edwards)
2) News & Notes


Ephesians 2:11-16
by Tom Edwards

As we continue with Paul's instruction in the Ephesian letter, he states in 2:11-13: "Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called 'Uncircumcision' by the so-called 'Circumcision,' which is performed in the flesh by human hands -- remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ."

Even without the phrase, "you, the Gentiles in the flesh" (v. 11), we would very easily conclude from the passage and following verses that Paul is addressing the Gentiles.  For they were the "Uncircumcision" in contrast to the Jews who were circumcised on the eighth day, according to their law (Lev. 12:2,3).  And it was often used as a term of contempt when the Jew referred to the Gentiles as being "uncircumcised" or of the "Uncircumcision."  Of course, many a Jew put great emphasis on external acts and observances and falsely derived much confidence from them, even while his heart was far from being right with God (cf. Phil. 3:2,3 and Matt. 3:8,9).  As J.W. Shepherd points out, "The Jews were a striking illustration of the effect of ascribing to external rites objective power, and regarding them as conveying grace and securing the favor of God, irrespective of the subject state of the recipient.  This doctrine rendered them proud, self-righteous, malignant, and contemptuous...."

Paul speaks of the Gentiles as being those who were "excluded from the commonwealth of Israel," with "commonwealth" being from the same Greek word (politeia) that is also used in Acts 22:28 and rendered as "citizenship."  Thayer shows that though the term primarily means "1) the administration of civil affairs," it also has the meaning of, "2) a state or commonwealth," and "3) citizenship, the rights of a citizen."

In Acts 10:28, we can see more of this exclusion of the Gentiles in Peter's reminder to Cornelius and his household: "...'You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.'"

While the Jews had the Law of Moses, during the Mosaical Age, which lasted about 1,500 years, it wasn't for the whole world.  Consider, for example, Exodus 31:12-17, concerning the Sabbath Day.  God said, "It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever..." (v. 17).  So it was exclusively for the Hebrew people, and the meaning of "forever" in this passage is "age lasting."  In other words, the observance of the Sabbath (which a person could be put to death for violating) was to last throughout the Mosaical Period and up until the time when Jesus would nullify that Old Covenant by His willing and sacrificial death on the cross (cf. Heb. 10:9).

During the Mosaical Period, the Gentiles were "strangers to the covenants of promise."  We think, for instance, of the three, early promises that the Lord had given to Abraham (who is the first to be called a "Hebrew" in the Bible -- Gen. 14:13).  From him was to descend a special nation (Israel), and one special "seed" who would be the Christ, according to Galatians 3:16,19; and to Abraham's descendants would be given the land of Canaan (when the iniquity of the Amorite would be complete a few hundred years after that promise was first given -- Gen. 15:13,16).  These promises were repeated to Isaac (Gen. 26:3-5) and Jacob (Gen. 28:12-15); and though eventually the seed promise would lead to all the nations of the world being blessed in Christ, it was initially given to Abraham and the Jewish people that descended from him, as Paul speaks of in Romans 9:4,5: "who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen."  

Paul says that these Gentiles formerly were "having no hope and without God...."  As E.M. Zerr writes: "The Gentiles were without God as far as the provisions of the law of Moses were concerned...."   We can also note, however, that it appears that many of the Gentiles were without God because of their sinful ways, such as their idolatrous practices and belief in many gods.  We especially see this when Paul had come to Athens and "his spirit was being provoked within him as he was beholding the city full of idols" (Acts 17:16).  They even had an idol "To an unknown god" (Acts 17:23).  And it was this God that they did not know about, whom Paul was now going to preach to them -- the true and the only living God. So these Gentiles had been in a pathetic state.  The passage mentions 5 things to describe their deplorable condition:  1) They were "separate from Christ."  2) Excluded from God's family.  3) "Strangers to the covenants of promise" (that God gave to Israel).  4) They were without hope (that those promises could give).  5) And they were without God in this world.  George E. Harpur breaks this down into three main categories: "Physically they lacked the ancient sign of the covenant; politically they had not part in Israel's national or religious life, and spiritually they had no knowledge of the true God."

But now, look at what has happened to them, as Paul goes on to show: "But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ" (Eph. 2:13).  Remembering what they had formerly been, but now what they had become in Christ, should evoke gratitude and motivation in their continual service to the Lord.  For what a wonderful change the Lord Jesus had made possible for them.  

Notice this expression: "you who formerly were 'far off'..." (Eph. 2:13).  That phrase is also seen in Acts 2:39: "For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself."  Since Peter is addressing the Jews, the "you and your children" is pertaining to the Jewish people, while the "all who are far off" includes the Gentiles, which Peter probably didn't fully realize at the time.  For about 10 years later, God had to give Peter a vision that enabled him to see that Gentiles could also be recipients of the gospel and become fellow Christians (Acts 10:9-16).  For while he was still greatly perplexed over the meaning of the vision, the men had arrived, whom Cornelius had sent to summon Peter (v. 17).  The Spirit then told him, "...'Behold, three men are looking for you. But get up, go downstairs and accompany them without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself" (vv. 19,20).  So Peter went with them, and Cornelius and his household became the first Gentiles converted to Christ. 

As we think about the order of preaching, beginning with the day the church was established, it was to first go forth from Jerusalem (Luke 24:46,47; Isa. 2:2-4) and next "in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth" (Acts 1:8), which is exactly how we see it carried out in the book of Acts.

Paul shows that these Ephesians who had formerly been "far off" had now been "brought near by the blood of Christ" (Eph. 2:13), which parallels with Colossians 1:21,22: "And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach[.]"  Without Christ's death, there would be no hope for the sinner to draw near to God; but, instead, the doom of an eternal separation from the goodness of the Lord.  God's desire, however, for man to be saved from that most terrible of all outcomes is clearly seen in Jesus' sacrifice.  For Christ "died for sins once and for all...so that He might bring us to God..." (1 Pet. 3:18).  In Revelation 5:9, John writes, "And they sang a new song, saying, 'Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.'"   So now, during this New Testament Age, the one gospel is for all -- whether Jew or Gentile -- with the same plan of salvation and spiritual blessings for anyone who will submit to that plan.  

In bringing out more on this, Paul states, "For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall" (Eph. 2:14).  Jesus "is our peace."  The Bible refers to him as the "Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6), and He made that possible for these two groups to coexist in that.  But who do these "groups" stand for?  Different people had different ways of viewing the world's population in Paul's day.  To the Romans, you were either a "citizen" or a "non-citizen."  To the Greeks, you were either a "Greek" or a "barbarian."  But to the Jews, you were either a "Jew" or a "Gentile."  And, as we will see in the context, these are the two groups under consideration.  For the passage speaks of a peaceful coexistence made possible by the Lord by His breaking down "the barrier of the dividing wall" that is defined in the next verse as the "Law of commandments," which is the Law of Moses that was exclusively for the Jews; and, therefore, that which separated them from the Gentiles.  

Going on with this thought of the Lord having "broke down the barrier of the dividing wall" (between Jew and Gentile), Paul then points out that Jesus accomplished this "by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity" (Eph. 2:15,16).  Notice that this particular law is twice referred to as "the enmity," as well as described in the passage as being a "barrier" and "the dividing wall."  So for about fifteen centuries, the Jews had their own unique law, the Law of Moses, of which the Lord had never commissioned them to go into all the world and preach to every person, as He did in the "Great Commission," concerning the gospel (Mark 16:15).   So that Law did serve to separate them from the Gentile world, which also included the prohibition of intermarriage with the Gentiles (Deut. 7:1-4.).  However, many of the Jews violated that law (Neh. 13:23-27;  Ezra 9:1-3, 10-12,14).  But during the days of Ezra the priest, he exhorted them to separate themselves from their foreign wives and make confession unto God, which they were willing to do (Ezra 10:10-12,19,44).  In addition, Jews and Gentiles were not even to visit or associate with one another, as we saw earlier in Acts 10:28.  Consider also John 18:28: "Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover."  The "Praetorium" was where a Roman governor would set up his headquarters.  So a place where Gentiles would be.  According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, "The Pretorium was originally the headquarters of a Roman camp, but in the provinces the name became attached to the governor's official residence.  In order to provide residences for their provincial governors, the Romans were accustomed to seize and appropriate the palaces which were formerly the homes of the princes or kings in conquered countries. Such a residence might sometimes be in a royal palace, as was probably the case in Caesarea, where the procurator used Herod's palace (Acts 23:35)."

The "Samaritans" were a mixed race through the intermarriage of Jew and Gentile, which began soon after many of the prominent people of the northern kingdom of Israel had been taken into Assyrian captivity in 721 B.C. by Sargon.  For around 677 B.C., Esarhaddon, the king of Assyria, had Gentiles from Babylon, as well as other foreign places, to settle in the cities of Samaria, which led to this intermarriage with Jews who had been left in that region.  After the Jews had returned to Judea in 536 B.C., following the 70-year Babylonian captivity, some of the Samaritans who are referred to as "the enemies of Judah and Benjamin" (Ezra 4:1) wanted to help in rebuilding the temple, but they were prohibited from doing so (vv. 2,3).  (The Samaritans built their own temple at Mt. Gerizim, and later at Shechem.)  In thinking more of the friction between Jew and Samaritan, consider also John 4:9: "Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, 'How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?' (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)"  Also, Luke 9:52,53: "and He sent messengers on ahead of Him. And they went, and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make arrangements for Him. And they did not receive Him, because He was journeying with His face toward Jerusalem."  That's all it took for these Samaritans to not welcome Jesus.  And to many Jews, the word "Samaritan" was used and thought of contemptuously.  For example, John 8:48: "The Jews answered and said to Him, 'Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?'"  What person could be worse in the thinking of a Jew than a Samaritan?  But to compound that, they referred to Jesus as not only a Samaritan, but also as a Samaritan with a demon.  So from these passages, we see the division and, at times, even the hostility between the Jew and the Gentile (which included Samaritans).  

But Ephesians 2:15,16 shows that Christ would make these two "into one new man, thus establishing peace, and reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross...."  So this peaceful coexistence for the Jew and the Gentile is in Christ and His kingdom.  For notice what the Bible says of those who are: "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn. 13:35).  1 John 1:7, "but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin."  The Christians have a very special relationship with each other because of Jesus Christ.  Similarly, the principle of Psalm 119:63 should also be equally true for God's people today: "I am a companion of all those who fear You, And of those who keep Your precepts."

With that in mind, consider the prophecy in Isaiah 11:6-9 of this new relationship between Jew and Gentile in Christ.  Isaiah foretold of the kingdom, the church (Isa. 2:2-4); and the peaceful coexistence between wolf and lamb, leopard and kid, and calf with young lion, etc. figuratively expresses the peace and unity between Jew and Gentile.  For God says this would be so "in all My holy mountain" (Isa. 11:9), which represents God's authority, on which the church would be built (Isa. 11:2) and which these individuals had obediently submitted to and became united in Christ.  By so doing, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28).  Yes, God is an impartial God who is willing to save any person -- regardless  of whether Jew or Gentile.  As shown in Acts 10:34,35, this was the conclusion that Peter was able to reach, after having received a special vision from the Lord: "And opening his mouth, Peter said: 'I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him.'"  As we saw recently, that actually sums up the whole duty of man -- "to fear God and keep His commandments" (Eccl. 12:13).  So it applies to all people, rather than to just one race.  

How thankful we should be that we can enter into this relationship with God and fellow Christians where unity and peace has been made possible by the cross of Christ.  For through the Lord's death, one can receive a new life, by simply meeting the conditions.  For this is made possible through the Lord's atoning-sacrifice, along with the peaceful coexistence He brought about "by abolishing in His flesh the enmity..." (Eph. 2:15). 

News & Notes

We are thankful that it did not turn out to be blood clots in Cheryl Crew's leg and lungs, but she is now being treated for pneumonia.  Let those of us who are Christians be praying for a speedy recovery.

Clara Kemp was to recently have a stent procedure.  Let us also pray that everything will be going well for her.

The Steps That Lead to Eternal Salvation

1) Hear the gospel, for that is how faith comes (Rom. 10:17;  John 20:30,31).
2) Believe in the deity of Christ (John 8:24; John 3:18).
3) Repent of sins (Luke 13:5; Acts 17:30).
4) Confess faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9,10; Acts 8:36-38).
5) Be baptized in water for the remission of sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:26,27; 1 Pet. 3:21).
6) Continue in the faith; for, if not, salvation can be lost (Heb. 10:36-39; Rev. 2:10; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).

Park Forest

9923 Sunny Cline Dr., Baton Rouge, LA  70817
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evangelist/editor: Tom Edwards (225) 667-4520
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