In those days, it may be difficult for us to appreciate the truth behind the message in these verses. Yet if we do understand it, we may not thrill in our souls as the early believers must have done. Ever since Jacob’s time, Israel had been a nation apart, chosen by God to be specially a people for Himself. All other nations (Egypt? the Philistines, Assyria, Babylon, and so on) had all been enemies of Israel, and worshippers of foreign deities.
God’s purpose was revealed only to Israel, even though this nation was later disunited into the southern and northern kingdoms. The Gentiles were kept apart from the sanctuary, unless any became proselytes who embraced the Jewish religion. Only the Israelites had the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God and the promises, Rom. 9. 4-5. Hence our passage deals with how God fanned "one new man” out of these two opposing parties who were at enmity the one with the other. (Chapter 3 will describe how God revealed this great truth.) Note the various words used to describe this newly-formed unity: “two” and “one”, for example.
Paul commences the paragraph by describing the Gentiles physically, v. 11, and morally, v. 12. “In the flesh” refers to their physical condition rather than to their moral character, though to the Jewish mind the former seemed to be almost equivalent to the latter. In Genesis 17. 9-14, God introduced circumcision as the token of the covenant for Abraham and subsequent generations; those outside the covenant were separated as nations apart.
In Acts 15. 1, 5, the Pharisees sought to perpetuate this token (circumcision) in Christianity, but the apostles stood their ground by writing, “we gave no such commandment”, otherwise Christianity would have been ritualized almost from its inception. This token which was “made by hands” stands in contrast to “his workmanship” in verse 10. It should be compared with “temples made with hands”, Acts 7. 48. A ritualistic religion occupied with types and shadows was loved by the Jews, and is loved by many in Christendom today, but the N.T. shows the better way in Christ.
Verse 12 deals with the preconversion days of the Ephesians, and indeed with the character of the Gentiles throughout Israel’s history. They were “without Christ … without God”; men cannot choose to have God without Christ, for “Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father”, 1 John 2. 23; 2 John 9. This was in contrast to Israel; they had Christ as found in the O.T. prophetic Scriptures, and when He came in Person He came to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Again, the Gentiles were alienated from the commonwealth of Israel (namely, from association with the twelve tribes), for Israel as a nation was particularly chosen by God to the exclusion of others. Again, they were “strangers from the covenants of promise”; for example, the covenant to Abraham was that all the land of Canaan would be given to him and his seed, Gen. 17. 8; the covenant made to Moses was that a man would live if he kept the law, Lev. 18. 5; Rom. 7. 10. Finally, the Gentiles had no hope; the kingdom promises prophetically made to Israel could provide no hope to the Gentiles, since they were sunk in unbelief.
Verse 15 provides the contrast, and stands as a summary of the rest of the chapter. The Gentiles, “far off, are “made nigh by the blood of Christ”. That is, the Gentiles were not brought to the position of the Jews as being in sin and unbelief, but to the position of the Jews who themselves had been brought nigh through the sacrifice of Christ. The divine work accomplished a change for both Jew and Gentile, as the apostle John deduced from the words of the high priest, “that Jesus should die for that nation, and not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad”, John 11. 51-52.
From henceforth, the believing Jews and Gentiles would be mutually at peace and at unity. They would be separated from the rest of the Jews and Gentiles. The ungodly may try to erect some kind of unity between the opposing parties at enmity the one with the other, by saying, for example, “We have no king but Caesar”, John 19. 15. Yet in spite of this, the Jews and Gentiles were separated in unbelief by “the middle wall of partition’. This word “partition” means a fence, as the hedge around the vineyard, Matt. 21. 33. It may refer to a barrier in the temple courts in Jerusalem, through which no Gentile could pass. (Thus the Jews thought that Paul had brought a Gentile into these holy Jewish precincts, Acts 21. 28-29.)
It is Christ only who has made peace between these two opposing parties, but this relates only to converts gained from both parties, not to unbelievers for whom the enmity remains. The barrier has been broken (even if in practice, Peter may through fear attempt to raise it again, Gal. 2. 12), but a barrier certainly exists between the church and the world, even if some of its members often fail to appreciate this fact.
This enmity has been annulled “in his flesh”, namely, through His sacrifice. The law itself served as a barrier between Jew and Gentile, particularly as pertaining to its ceremonial side. So the ceremonial law, consisting of commandments relating to the tabernacle, temple and sacrifices contained in the O.T. Scriptures, has been annulled, or rendered inoperative. For example, the old passover has been entirely displaced by the true Passover. The old passover separated the nation of Israel from the Egyptians, but the “one bread” demonstrates the unity of the “one body”, 1 Cor. 10. 17. However, since that time, men have clung to ritual as if it had not been annulled, but regardless of men’s aspirations, the work of Christ remains secure. Of the two parties, He has made “one new man, so making peace".
In verse 16, Paul uses further phraseology with which to describe this peace. “One body” has been made from believers extracted from the two opposing parties, this being the “mystery” revealed to Paul in 3. 6. This implies a living unity with Christ as Head.
In verses 14-15, peace has been made between the two parties, but in verse 16 the thought is extended, and we have the reconciliation of both to God. In other words, what God has achieved is not just a peace treaty between believers from the nations. This reconciliation rests upon a proper basis, namely, “the cross”, else enmity may well recommence. Because of the lasting efficacy of this basis, the enmity has been slain by means of the cross. Unfortunately today, strife, disunity, denominationalism and even heresy amongst some believers all tend to deny this truth. However, the spiritual attitude of believers to this disunity is not to enter into it, but to remain separate, since unity is to be found only on the outside of the affairs of men.
Paul then states that Christ “came and preached peace to you which were afar off (namely, the Gentiles), and to them that were nigh (namely, the Jews)”. “Far off is in the sense of verse 12, while “nigh” is in the sense of Romans 9. 4, 5, both parties being in unbelief. When the Lord was here on earth, He ministered mainly to the Jews, Matt. 10. 6; 15. 24; Acts 10. 36, and only occasionally to the Gentiles, Matt. 15. 28. We therefore believe that Paul refers to the Lord’s work after His ascension through His servants. As “working with them’, Mark 16. 20, He commanded them to go to the uttermost part of the earth, Acts 1. 8. Christ worked through the apostles to both Jews and Gentiles, Gal. 2. 8.
The results of this show the Trinity in action: “him … one Spirit … the Father”, v. 18. Those afar off and those that are nigh are joined together in a common privileged access. In the O.T., access was physical in the tabernacle and temple; it was, of course, only partial for those who brought sacrifices, but (physically) complete for the high priest on the day of atonement. When such ceremony was operative, the way into the holiest was not made manifest, Heb. 8.8, but now all believers have access, entering with boldness into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, 10. 19. In the O.T., the Spirit showed that the way really did not exist, but now He leads believers along the way that has been divinely prepared.
Paul now writes of the Gentiles: “ye”, v. 19, and he uses two negatives. They were no longer Gentile “strangers” (from the covenants of promise), and no longer “foreigners”, namely “sojourners”. For Abraham was a sojourner in a strange land, Acts 7. 6; Heb. 11.9; namely, he was living apart from the nations occupying the land. By implication, the Ephesians, as unsaved, had been living apart from the one body. But as converted, all has been changed, and Paul extends the thought behind a united body, using the ideas “fellow citizens, household, temple".
As “fellow citizens” of the saints, Paul implies a broad spectrum of fellowship, extending throughout all lands where assemblies had been established. There were common privileges and blessings, and no believer was excluded from the church as the body of Christ. By God’s “household”, the apostle implies that there was a common family, under the care and rule of God, with Jewish and Gentile believers no longer separated by religious, legal, territorial and national considerations.
Finally, as a “temple”: note that the church is not built upon the apostles and prophets as human foundations; this would detract from the pre-eminence of Christ. Rather, the temple was built upon what they had taught through their preaching and writing, namely Christ. Compare this with 1 Corinthians 3. 10-11, where the foundation locally is Christ, laid by Paul himself. The apostle states that Christ is the “chief corner stone” of the foundation, and everything else in this foundation concerning His work and teaching flows from His Person that is found there. At the same time, He is the Head, so the church lies in between the foundation and the Head. In 1 Peter 2. 6, Peter quotes Isaiah 28. 16, when he writes about “a chief corner stone, elect, precious” laid in Zion. He then continues in verse 7 to show that the Lord is also at the top as “the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner”, Matt. 21. 42; Acts 4. 11.
Paul visualizes the church as a temple increasing upon this one foundation. This is, of course, quite the opposite to the temple of Diana in Ephesus, a heathen building of vast proportions, that had long since been completed. The word for “temple” is that used only for the inner shrine, not the outward structure seen by men on the outside (see Precious Seed, page 43, vol. 34, 1983). Hence Paul has in mind the church as a spiritual entity, precious as seen by God; he is not thinking about its outward testimony as seen by men. It is “holy”, separated to God for His purpose, as is its local counterpart, 1 Cor. 3. 17.
Moreover, it is fitted together, as was every stone in Solomon’s temple. There were no haphazard stones, rough and unfinished; all was in keeping with the divine plan. The Greek prefix meaning “together’ occurs again in this word, once more implying that Jews and Gentiles are moulded together into a harmonious spiritual whole. Paul stresses that the Gentiles (“ye” in verse 22) also form part of this temple. (Thus the chapter commences and concludes with the same thought “ye”, vv. 2, 22.) The whole spiritual edifice is for God to dwell in, recalling the glory of God that was found within the vail in the tabernacle and temple in O.T. times. Locally, too, the Spirit of God dwells there, 1 Cor. 3. 16: “I will dwell in them, and walk in them’, 2 Cor. 6. 16, implying a position of separation from “the unclean thing".
Whereas Solomon’s temple was ultimately destroyed by the invading Babylonians, yet this “holy temple” will remain for ever, since from this church there will be praise and glory unto God “throughout all ages, world without end”, Eph. 3. 21.