In Ephesians 2:1-18, the apostle Paul says this:
“And ye were dead through your trespasses and sins, wherein ye once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the powers of the air, of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience; among whom we also all once lived in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest:— but God, being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus: for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore [beforehand] prepared that we should walk in them.
Wherefore remember, that once ye, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called Circumcision, in the flesh, made by hands; that ye were at that time separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus ye that once were far off are made nigh in [by] the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who made both one, and brake down the middle wall of partition [division], having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; that he might create in himself of the two one new man, so making peace; and might reconcile them both in one body unto God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: and he came and preached peace to you that were far off, and peace to them that were nigh: for through him we both have our access in one Spirit unto the Father.”
In this passage, Paul is explaining in detail “what is the hope of His [God’s] calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe”. The first paragraph is necessary to understand the second, and explains why Paul uses “wherefore” or “therefore” to begin the second. What is he saying? That the reason that the Ephesians ought to remember what he tells them is because of the magnificent salvation that they’ve experienced in the first paragraph. Now, he tells them to remember, in light of their salvation, what condition they were in before their salvation, so they see the exceeding greatness of God’s power toward them, and the hope of His calling of them in a greater way.
So, what does he tell them to remember? First, that they are “Gentiles in the flesh”. What does this mean? “Gentile” simply means non-Jew, so why does Paul add “in the flesh”? Because they were only Gentiles in the flesh. That is, they were only physically Gentiles, not spiritually. In Romans 2:28-29, Paul says that spiritual Jewishness isn’t a matter of the flesh, or the body, but of the heart:
“. . . he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.”
But Paul also digresses from his main point to tell them that they are “called Uncircumcision by that which is called Circumcision, in the flesh, made by hands”. What do these titles mean? They were used by the Jews of that time to say that Gentiles, whose males were uncircumcised, were under the wrath of God, while Jews, whose males were circumcised, were the blessed people of God, because they practiced Judaism, which required circumcision. But why does Paul add that their circumcision was “in the flesh, made by hands”. Because he’s again emphasizing that spiritual Jewishness is not a matter of the physical realm, but of the spiritual realm. In other words, he’s implying that it didn’t matter that the male Jews were circumcised, because their hearts weren’t circumcised, just as he says in Romans 1:28-29. So, the Ephesians were called the uncircumcision, but they were the “true circumcision”, while those who called themselves “circumcision” were the “false circumcision”, as Paul says in Philippians 3:2-3:
“. . . beware of the concision [mutilation]: for we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and glory in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh . . .”
Although Paul implies that the Ephesians are the true circumcision, he still tells them to remember that at one time they were the uncircumcision. So, what does he tell them to remember first?
“. . . that ye were at that time separate from Christ . . .”
What “time” is he speaking of here? This time:
“. . . when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins, wherein ye once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the powers of the air . . .”
So, when they spiritually dead, before their salvation, they were separate from Christ. What does that mean? That they weren’t spiritually united to the Messiah, or Anointed Prophet, High Priest, and King, in the realm of time, and didn’t know Him. That is why they were spiritually dead; once they were united to Christ, they were “made alive together with Christ”.
Second, Paul tells them to remember that they were “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel”. What does this mean? The Greek verb that’s translated “alienated” literally means “to estrange away”, so they were “cut off” from the commonwealth of Israel. But what does Paul mean by “the commonwealth of Israel”? The word “commonwealth” is a translation of a word that can also be translated “citizenship” or “community”, so Paul is referring to the Old Testament nation of Israel, which was under the Mosaic Law Covenant, and was God’s holy nation up until the founding of the church. Thus, the Ephesians, before they were saved, were outside of God’s people or nation.
Third, Paul tells them to remember that they were “strangers from the covenants of the promise”. By “strangers”, Paul is teaching that they had nothing to do with these covenants before they were saved, but what are these covenants that he’s talking about? Since he’s describing the Ephesians’ condition as the Uncircumcision, with relation to the Old Covenant nation of Israel, these covenants have to be those that were made with the physical Jews in the Old Testament. The main covenants that Paul is referring to were the ones made with Abraham, the nation of Israel, and David. These covenants had nothing to do with Gentiles directly in the Old Testament era. The first initially had to do with the physical land of Canaan, the physical descendants of Abraham, and the physical blessing of the Gentiles through the nation of Israel. The second, the Old, or Mosaic, Covenant, had to do with Israel’s relationship to God, and their possession of or exile from the land of Canaan. The third had to do with a physical descendant of David who would rule the nation of Israel.
When they were first given, they seemed to have nothing to do with Gentiles, but the fact that Paul says they were the covenants of “the promise” indicates that he’s referring to the ultimate promise of all of them — Christ Himself. In the Abrahamic Covenant God promised that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through his seed. In the Mosaic Covenant administration, God symbolically promised that He would send Christ through the prophetic office, the priesthood, and the kingship of Israel, as well as the sacrificial system. In the Davidic Covenant, God clearly promised that there would be a King descended from David whose kingdom would have no end. Christ is the promised Seed of Abraham, and the promised Prophet, High Priest, King, and Lamb of Israel. Although Paul says that the Ephesians had nothing to do with these covenants, as they related to the nation of Israel, he does imply that they now benefit from the ultimate promise of Christ.
However, Paul finishes his list of things for the Ephesians to remember by saying that they had “no hope and [were] without God in the world”. What does this mean? That, because the Ephesians were “in the world”, or outside of God’s people, and under the most severe dominion of Satan, they were hopeless, and didn’t worship the true God.
Why? Because they were “separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise”.
After this list of things to remember about the Ephesians’ once hopeless state, he contrasts it with their present condition:
“But now in Christ Jesus ye that once were far off are made nigh in the blood of Christ.”
So, how were they made near to Christ, to the community of Israel, to the covenants of the promise, and to God? First, “in Christ Jesus”. What does this mean? That it’s only because they share all that is true of the Anointed Jesus in His humanness that they are now near. Because He is near to God, they are near to God. Second, they were made near “in [or by] the blood of Christ”. What does the word, “blood”, mean? It means Christ’s bloody death, which was necessary to purchase the forgiveness of their sins. Why was it necessary? Because “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). Why? Because “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), and “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11). In order to truly die for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3), Christ had to shed His blood in His death. And it was by His death that the Ephesians were brought near to God, and to His community.
Why did the blood of Christ bring the Ephesians near to God and His people? First:
“For he is our peace, who made both one . . .”
Paul says that Christ Himself is the peace that exists between God, Gentiles, and Jews — He is the only Mediator between God and men, and between men and men. Therefore, His peace made both Jews and Gentiles into one group of people.
Second, Christ “brake down the middle wall of partition [division]”. Paul seems to be alluding to a physical wall in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, which separated the area designated for the Gentiles from the rest of the temple, reserved for the Jews, but it makes little difference. What Paul’s point is, is that there was a barrier of division that separated Jew from Gentile, and Christ broke it down.
And how did He brake it down?
” . . . having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances . . .”
What did Christ do? He abolished, or made useless, “the enmity”, or hostility, that existed between Jews and Gentiles. And how did He do that? “In his flesh”. What does this mean? That His broken body on the cross was what brought peace to the two groups.
But what was the cause of the hostility?
“. . . the law of commandments contained in ordinances . . .”
What is this law of commandments? Well, it’s a law that’s “contained in ordinances”. And what are ordinances? The word translated “ordinances” can also be translated “civil laws”. That is, these were laws meant for a nation. And what was the nation? The nation of Israel. The nation of Israel was under “the law of commandments contained in ordinances”, or the Mosaic Law, which led them to be hostile toward Gentiles, perceiving them as their enemies, since they weren’t under this law. And, of course, Gentiles were proud that they weren’t under this law, and were also hostile toward the Jews. This can be seen in Gentile mistreatment of the Jews throughout the Old Testament, such as the Babylonian captivity. However, all this hostility was abolished among the people of God when Jesus abolished the Mosaic Law through His bloody death on the cross.
And why did Christ abolish the Law?
“. . . that he might create in himself of the two one new man, so making peace . . .”
So, first, Christ abolished the hostility of the Law so He would create one new man from the two, Jew and Gentile. What does this mean? That Christ created a new humanity — Christians. And what does it mean that He did this “in himself”? That it is only because they are both in Him that this creation happened. Since He’s the “firstfruits” of the resurrected humanity, those who are in Him are a part of this new, resurrected humanity (1 Corinthians 15). And what does this creation of one new humanity lead to? Peace among them.
But Christ’s work doesn’t stop with peace between people. He also abolished the Law so He “might reconcile them [Jews and Gentiles] both in one body unto God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby”. This means that the hostility that the Law brought wasn’t just between people, but between God and people. Why? Because God’s law demands people obey Him, and they refuse to. Thus, He is hostile toward them because they are hostile toward Him and His law. Yet, when Christ died on the cross, He bore the hostility that sinners deserve, in their place, and thus abolished the Law in its use as a law, and removed the hostility that God had toward those who are in Christ. That is how Christ reconciled both Jew and Gentile to God through the cross.
But Christ did more after He died on the cross to reconcile both Jew and Gentile in one body to God:
“. . . he came and preached peace to you that were far off . . .”
Who are those who were far off? The Gentiles, including the Ephesians. But Paul says that Christ Himself preached peace to them. Did He literally? Because in the New Testament account of the introduction of Christianity in the city of Ephesus, Christ wasn’t the one preaching peace — it was mainly Paul. So, how can Paul say that Christ preached peace to the Ephesians? Because the church acts on the behalf of Christ in preaching peace to people. And what is this peace? Peace with God.
Of course, Paul also says that Christ came and preached peace “to them that were nigh”. Who were these people? The Jews. They were near to God only because they knew about Christ, were part of the commonwealth of Israel, and were partakers of the covenants of the promise. However, they didn’t fully know peace with God until Christ preached peace to them, and they believed His gospel.
And how does Paul know that Christ reconciled both Jew and Gentile to God, so that He could honestly preach it to them?
“. . . for through him we both have our access in one Spirit unto the Father.”
Paul knows this because it is through Christ that both the Jewish Christians, including Paul, and the Gentile Christians, including the Ephesians, have access to God the Father by the power of God the Spirit. What does he mean by “access”? He means a relationship with Him, knowledge of Him, love for Him, and the ability to talk to Him with the knowledge that He loves them.
So, if you believe the gospel of peace with God by the bloody death for our sins and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ alone, how does this passage apply to you?
- You are a spiritual Jew, and have a circumcised heart.
- You were once separate from Christ.
- You were once alienated from the people of God.
- You were once a stranger to the covenants of promise.
- You were once hopeless.
- You once lived without God.
- You once were a part of the evil world.
- In Christ Jesus you were made near by the blood of Christ.
- Christ is your peace.
- Christ made you a part of the people of God.
- Christ abolished that which separated you from your Jewish or Gentile brethren.
- Christ reconciled you, along with everyone who will ever be a Christian, to God.
- Christ reconciled you to God through the cross.
- Christ put to death the hostility that existed between you and God through the cross.
- Christ preached “peace” to you.
- You have your access to your Father by the Spirit’s power through Christ — use it.
If you aren’t trusting only in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is both God and man, His death for our sins, and His resurrection from the dead as the only grounds for your peace with God, then you are separate from Christ, alienated from the people of God, a stranger to the covenants of promise, without hope, and without God in the evil world. That means that you are far from God, and God is hostile toward you because of your rebellion against Him, and is able to cast you into hell for your rebellion against Him. But you can be made near to Him through the bloody death of Christ. He can be your peace with God, since He satisfied God’s wrath through His death on the cross. You can have peace with God, and He is commanding you now to change your mind and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, His death for our sins, and His resurrection as the only grounds of your peace with Him because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness through Jesus, having proven it to everyone by raising Him from the dead. If you change your mind and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, His death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of your sins, God promises that you will have access to Him as your Father. I beg you on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.