Made One in Christ | A Bible Class on Ephesians 2:11-22
Paul obviously wrote Ephesians to Gentile believers. Several passages in Ephesians make the audience clear:
- “You Gentiles in the flesh. . . .” (2:11).
- “For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles. . . .” (3:1).
- “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do. . . .” (4:17).
One can only do a proper exegesis of Ephesians 2:11-22 with the understanding that Paul was writing to Gentiles.
The Need to Remember (vv 11-12)
Paul told the Ephesian Gentiles twice to remember that they were separated from the promises of God.
- “Therefore remember that at one time. . . .” (v 11).
- “Remember that you were. . . .” (v 12).
Memory can serve a rather important function.
“Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Ex 1:8).
Joseph had been used by God to save the Egyptians from a nearly decade-long famine. However, a new Pharaoh came to power who knew nothing of Joseph’s wise, divinely-inspired leadership. Because the new king did not know how God had used Joseph to save the people, Pharaoh enslaved God’s chosen people.
What might have happened if the new ruler had known of God’s saving grace displayed through Joseph’s wisdom? Some historical knowledge could have done the Egyptians some good. Paul told the Ephesians that some historical knowledge about themselves could do them some good. Some historical knowledge about ourselves will do us a world of good—we’ll examine how below.
Moses’ instructions to the people of Israel (Deut 6:10-15).
How could the Israelites forget Yahweh when he had done so very much for them? Why would they be tempted to turn from God when they enjoyed plenty? People who have much often have a very difficult time coming to God through Christ (cf. Mk 10:17-23).
What are the consequences for forgetting all that God has done? Might this be part of the reason for the Lord’s Supper (cf. 1 Cor 11:23-25)? Besides the memorial of the Lord’s Supper, what are some other ways that we can remember all that God has done?
“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Rev 2:5).
If the Ephesians Christians wanted to repent, they needed to remember where they had been prior to their fall. Only by remembering could they repent and go back to their previous position. For a once-faithful Christian, how can memory lead to renewed repentance?
The Ephesians were to remember when they were “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” In a nutshell, Paul told the Ephesians to remember what life was like prior to coming to Christ. In context, this would include:
- Remembering that they were without spiritual blessings found in Christ.
- Remembering that they were not part of God’s chosen people.
- Remembering that God had made no covenant with them.
- Remembering that they had absolutely no hope in this life or the life to come.
- Remembering that God was separate from them.
Why would Paul want the Ephesians to remember what life was like prior to their coming to Christ? Are there parts of your life that you don’t really want to think about? What might be the value of remembering your life of sin? What might be the value of remembering specific sins you committed? What might be the value of remembering how you did not have (spiritual) blessings then? What might be the value of comparing your pre- and post-conversion lives?
Paul’s plea to remember was addressed to the “Gentiles in the flesh.” Paul emphasized here the flesh—the physical body. These were “Gentiles in the flesh.” They were uncircumcised, an act “which is made in the flesh by hands.”
Paul’s point seems to have been to emphasize that what who one is according to the flesh does not impact who he is spiritually. Paul own life demonstrated this principle. Philippians 3:3-6. As far as the flesh is concerned, Paul had everything one could ever hope to achieve; however, his fleshly accomplishments meant nothing before God. On the flip side, who these Gentiles were in the flesh—uncircumcised men—did not affect their relationship with God; after the cross, even the uncircumcised could come to God through Christ.
Paul’s emphasized the physical nature of circumcision. The act of circumcision “is made in the flesh by hands.” Since God is a Spirit, why would he ever require something so physical as circumcision?
Circumcision was the sign of the covenant God gave to Abraham (Gen 17:1-14). The Israelites were not the only ancients to practice circumcision—e.g., Egyptians, Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites all participated in the practice. Eastern Semitic people (e.g., Assyrians, Babylonians, Akkadians), the Philistines, and Greek people did not practice the act. Researchers have not even found the term “circumcision” in Assyrian and Babylonian medical texts (and there are many such texts). Therefore, Abraham would not have known about circumcision until he traveled to Egypt (however, the Egyptians only cut the foreskin instead of removing it). So, we can see that God is doing something outside of Abraham’s experience. This is God’s doing, not man’s doing, in other words.
Why would God command a covenant so personal as circumcision? In other words, if the sign is not going to be visible, why would God command it? The answer may lie in Genesis 17:7: “I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” God may very well have chosen a sign on the male reproductive organ as a reminder that his covenant was for the descendants of Abraham.
Circumcision also separated the Israelites from their neighbors. As mentioned above, some other ancient cultures practiced circumcision; however, some (e.g., the Egyptians) practiced it differently than did the Hebrews. However, we find a clear demarcation between God’s people who were circumcised and God’s enemies who were not. When David first saw Goliath, he said to the men who stood near him, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam 17:26). 1 Samuel 18:25-27.
Circumcision for the Jews would have been obedience to Yahweh. Notice what God told Abraham: “Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant” (Gen 17:14). We know how greatly God values obedience; e.g.: “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams” (1 Sam 15:22).
Circumcision also demonstrated God’s wisdom. Women whose husbands have been circumcised have a far, far lower insistence of cervical cancer than other women. Vitamin K, which is absolutely necessary for blood clotting, is not present in a child until somewhere between days 5 and 7. The first day safe for circumcision would be the eighth day.
The Gentile Christians needed to remember their state when they were living as uncircumcised Gentiles in the flesh—They were separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise, without hope, and without God. Notice that the Ephesians are told to remember a second time. This demonstrates the importance of their remembering.
“At that time.” The phrase cannot refer to the time before they were circumcised. There is no hint in this passage that they were circumcised. In fact, the whole tenor of the paragraph demonstrates that they were never circumcised. Circumcision is no longer necessary for one to be in a covenant relationship with God. Acts 15:24-29. “Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God” (1 Cor 7:18-19).
The phrase would refer to the time when they were living as Gentiles. A life of sin is referred to as living like a Gentile. “For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry” (1 Pet 4:3).
Of course, Jews did not look upon Gentiles favorably—the point of this paragraph is that Jesus Christ broke down the “dividing wall of hostility” (Eph 2:14) between Jews and Gentiles. Yet, it remains a fact that the Gentiles were not God’s chosen people (the root of a feeling of superiority among the Jews). It’s also a fact that Gentiles often lived in open rebellion to God (cf. 1 Pet 4:3).
According to ancient Jewish beliefs, non-Jews could never participate fully in the promises of God, even if they were circumcised. Of course, proselytes were circumcised when they converted to Judaism. Any slave who desired to eat the Passover was to be circumcised (Ex 12:43-44). Any “stranger” who sojourned with the people of Israel had to be circumcised along with all his sons in order to eat the Passover (Ex 12:48). The Ethiopian eunuch was certainly a proselyte and not a native-born Israelite. First generation proselytes were looked down upon by native Jews. Paul demonstrated in this passage that not only is circumcision no longer necessary but one’s ethnicity no longer mattered. Anyone may fully participate in God’s promises.
“You were separated from Christ.” What does it mean to be separated from Christ? Being separated from Christ would put one outside the sphere of grace (Gal 5:4). In a similar vein, estrangement from Christ means that one does not have the forgiveness of sins (1 Jn 1:7). Being separated from Christ would prevent one from having any spiritual blessings: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing” (Eph 1:3). Obviously, being in a state of estrangement with Christ is an extremely serious situation.
How can one separated from Christ come to know that he is severed from the Lord? If one is severed from Christ, is there any hope that he can be united with him? How can one be united with Christ after having been estranged from him? What steps can you take to help people be united with Christ?
“You were. . . alienated from the commonwealth of Israel.” The Greek term for “alienated” refers to being estranged or alienated. The term is in the perfect tense. The perfect refers to something which happened in the past and continues to have effects in the present. The use of the perfect would indicate a state or a condition.
“Commonwealth” in Greek refers to a state. The idea is government administration. The meaning here is that the Ephesian Christians were alienated from the theocratic government in ancient Israel. In other words, these Gentile converts to Christ had not enjoyed the blessings of living under the Old Law and serving God in that manner. What blessings did the Gentiles miss because they had not lived under God’s theocratic rule established through Moses? We, too, have never been under the theocratic rule of God in ancient Israel. Are there blessings we have missed because we haven’t lived under that reign?
Notice however the use of the past tense: “you were.” The implication is that in some way at least the Gentile Christians in Ephesus were no longer “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel.” If they were not Jews who lied under the theocratic reign in ancient Israel, how could they participate in the commonwealth of Israel after coming to Christ? Is there any way that modern Christians participate in the commonwealth of Israel?
“You were . . . strangers to the covenants of promise.” The term for “stranger” is xenos, from which we get the English term xenophobia.
God had made special covenants with the Israelites. He started with his special covenant with Abraham that he would give his descendants Canaan (Gen 15). A large part of the “promise” of the covenants was that the Messiah would come from the Jewish people (cf. Gen 12:3). Furthermore, the people’s response to the covenant with God was obedience (e.g., Josh 24:16-28).
The idea is that they were not part of the people who brought Christ into the world. There is also an implicit repetition of the concept of being separated from Christ in this idea. Christ was part of the covenants of promise to Abraham and his descendants, a covenant in which Gentiles had no share.
Again, the past tense implies that the Ephesian Gentile Christians were no longer “strangers to the covenants of promise.” How were they now part of the covenants of promise? How are modern Christians no part of the covenants of promise?
“You were . . . having no hope.” What hope were the Ephesians missing when they were outside of Christ? Those outside of Christ have no hope of the resurrection. “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thess 4:13).
Those who have a relationship with God have great hope.
- Paul had hope that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked (Acts 24:15). What would have been the basis for Paul’s hope in the resurrection? Why would he hope for the resurrection of the righteous? Why would he hope for the resurrection of the wicked?
- Abraham believed God’s promise against all hope (Rom 4:18). Abraham knew that Sarah was barren and that there was absolutely no way a 90-year-old woman could ever give birth to a son. However, against human hope, he had hope in God that Yahweh would fulfill his promise to make of Abraham a great nation. What reason(s) would Abraham have had to hope in God against all physical hope?
- Unseen hope saves us (Rom 8:24). Why is it necessary for our hope in God to be unseen? In what way(s) does hope save us?
- The Scriptures give us hope (Rom 15:4). How do the Scriptures give us hope? Why are the Scriptures necessary to have hope?
- “Faith, hope, and love abide . . . but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13). What did Paul mean when he wrote that hope abides? Why is love greater than hope?
- The Christian has a “hope laid up . . . in heaven” (Col 1:5). What is that hope? Why must that hope be stored in heaven?
- The Christian’s “blessed hope” is the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Tit 2:13). How is Jesus’s appearing in glory our “blessed hope?” Notice the strong Christology present in this passage—i.e., Paul referred to Jesus as “our great God and Savior.”
- Jesus is here called God.
- Why is the Deity of the Lord Jesus necessary for his appearing to be our “blessed hope?”
- The Christian’s hope is “a sure and steadfast anchor for the soul” (Heb 6:18-19). We can have this hope because God cannot lie. How does the impossibility of a divine lie impact our “sure and steadfast” hope? How is our hope “a sure and steadfast anchor for the soul?”
- Those in Christ are called upon to testify as to the reason they have hope (1 Pet 3:15). Why should Christians share their hope when asked by others? What is the reason for our hope?
- Hope purifies the Christian (1 Jn 3:3). How does hope purify those in Christ? Why is hope necessary for purification?
“You were . . . without God in the world.” The Greek for “without God” is atheos, the word from which we get “atheist.” The word literally means “no God.” Theos is the Greek term for God, and adding the alpha privative negates the noun, quite similar to the English prefix un. Paul, therefore, simply said that the Ephesians were “no God in the world.”
“No God” in this passage has two possible meanings which fit the context. This could mean, as the English Standard Version and most other English translations render the term, that the Ephesians did not have God. This could also mean that the Ephesians were living godless lives before they came to Christ. It’s not at all impossible that Paul meant both ideas.
The Ephesians did not have God before they came to Christ. What does it mean to be without God in the world? What does it mean to have God in the world?
The Ephesians lived godless lives before they came to Christ. Paul had already made that truth clear: “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” (Eph 2:1-2). What does a godless life look like? Why do people live godless lives?
Brought Near (v 13)
“But now in Christ Jesus” “But now” obviously serves to contrast the state the Ephesians were to remember with where they were when Paul wrote. The phrase is quite similar to the phrase “but God” we find in verse 4. God is also the one who brought the Ephesians near to him in this passage. You “have been brought near,” Paul wrote. The passive here is called the “divine passive.” Although the verb is passive, the action is performed by God. We could easily paraphrase this text as: “But now in Christ Jesus . . . God brought you near by the blood of Christ.”
Once more in Ephesians we come across the phrase “in Christ Jesus” (or “in Christ”). The Greeks did not structure sentences as we do in English. Each word has a special ending showing how it functions in the sentence (subject, verb, object of preposition, direct object, etc.). Thus, they put the emphasis in a sentence first regardless of how the word functioned in the sentence.
The order of the sentence is precisely as we find it in English; thus, Paul emphasized the truth that only in Christ Jesus had the Gentile Ephesians been brought near to God. Why did the Ephesian Gentiles need to be brought near to God through Christ? What role does Christ play in bringing people close to God? Remember some of the spiritual blessings available only in Christ Jesus (Eph 1:3-14).
- Chose us to be holy and blameless before him in love.
- Predestined us for adoption as sons.
- Redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.
- Have obtained an inheritance.
“You who once were far off.” In what ways were the Ephesians “far off?” Two ideas fit the context:
- They were far off as uncircumcised Gentiles (i.e., not part of God’s chosen people). Paul spoke of the unity between Jews and Gentiles in the following verses.
- They lived in open rebellion to the God of heaven. Paul spoke of their open rebellion in the verses immediately preceding this one.
- This verse seems to serve as a bridge between the two complimentary ideas.
- “Far off” was used in rabbinical writings to indicate both of these concepts. The “far off” were uncircumcised Gentiles, and they “near” were Jews. The “far off” were also those who were ungodly, and they “near” were those living according to God’s standards.
The past tense in this passage speaks volumes. The Ephesian Christians “once were far off,” but now in Christ they had been brought near. I doubt that we can overemphasize the difference between a life of sin and a life of holiness in God. There are several benefits to remembering the difference:
- Remembering that we once had a very different life than the one we now have calls us to holy living. Why do we need to put the former way of life behind us? What steps are necessary for one to put away his former life?
- Remembering that we once had a very different life can serve as an example to others. In other words, a change life can demonstrate to the world and to new Christians the power of God. How can a change life demonstrate God’s power?
- Remembering that we once had a very different life can help one deal with guilt. Many people deal with deep-seated guilt over what they have done (e.g., Judas). Guilt certainly has its place, for it can lead to godly sorrow which can lead to repentance and a new life. However, many people, like Judas, have a hard time moving on from their former lives and forgiving themselves? Why do you believe so many Christians struggle with guilt? How can understanding a new life help with guilt?
- Remembering that we once had a very different life before coming to Jesus can help our gratitude. Why is it important to have and express gratitude for the new life we have in Jesus? How can we demonstrate our gratitude to God for the new life he has given us?
The Gentile Ephesians had “been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Why was the blood of Christ necessary to bring the Ephesians near to God? Redemption (being brought near to God) comes through the blood of Christ (Eph 1:7). Jesus’s blood was poured out “for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28).
Gentiles have been brought near to God through the cross of Jesus. Through the cross Jesus “has broken down . . . the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances” (Eph 2:14-15). Jesus’s blood is “the blood of the covenant” (Matt 26:28). His blood brought about the new covenant and abolished the first.
Christ Jesus, the Unifier (vv 14-18)
In the latest Greek edition of the New Testament, this verse begins a new paragraph (as it does in the New International Version). The original Greek had no grammar at all. In fact, there were not even spaces between words. Scholars have separated the words and provided punctuation, separated words, and divided sentences into paragraphs. That’s important, for all paragraph divisions in any translation (or Greek editions) are man-made. Some verses are hotly debated as to proper punctuation, paragraph placement, etc.
This would be an appropriate place to start a new paragraph, for Paul began a slightly different topic and drew some conclusions from the previous few verses. The uncircumcised Gentiles had been alienated from God prior to the coming of Christ. Christ Jesus, however, offered himself on the cross to bring Jews and Gentiles together in one body.
“He himself is our peace.” The Greek has the pronoun “he” here. Greek grammar, unlike English, does not require the pronoun; the subject of the verb is part of the verb. Whenever a pronoun is used, the pronoun strengthens the writer’s point: “He himself.”
Paul contrasted the alienation of the Gentiles with the work of Christ. In their sin, the Gentiles had been separated from God without hope in the world. However, Jesus came forward to offer himself as a sacrifice and bring the two groups together.
The emphasis further points to the fact that only Christ Jesus could make peace between Jews and Gentiles. Why could no one else bring peace between Jews and Gentiles?
This verse could be structured on the Hebrew of Micah 5:5. In the context of Micah 5, the prophet is describing the coming of the Messiah from Bethlehem and how he would “stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD” (Mic 5:4). Micah concluded the section of the Messiah’s coming with: “And he shall be their peace” (Mic 5:5).
What is peace? Why do we need peace? How is Jesus “our peace?”
“Who has made us both one.” The “us” in context is obviously Jews and Gentiles. In what ways were Jews and Gentiles separate before the coming of Christ Jesus? In what ways have Jews and Gentiles been united since the coming of Christ Jesus? Why did God desire Jews and Gentiles to be one in Christ Jesus.
Christ Jesus “has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” Paul wrote the Epistle to the Ephesians from prison (Eph 4:1; 6:20). He was in prison because he had been falsely charged with taking a non-Jew inside the temple (Acts 21:28). Taking a non-Jew beyond a certain point in the temple was such an important breach of Jewish law that the Romans allowed the Jews to be put violators of the law to death. Therefore, the idea of “the dividing wall of hostility” was important to Paul’s first readers. They would have known that he was in jail (not knowing if he would live for die) for supposedly violating that wall and that no Jew could violate it without serious consequences.
Jesus, however, “has broken down” this wall. The English Standard Version and the New International Version both translate the Greek though the verb “broken down” is a perfect (the perfect refers to something which occurred in the past which still has consequences in the present). However, the Greek is in the aorist tense. Unlike the perfect, the aorist points to the fact that something happened in the past. The verb here points to the one time when Jesus broke down “the dividing wall of hostility.” In other words, the Greek doesn’t point to the results of the breaking down; instead, the point is that Jesus broke it down one time at the cross.
The Greek itself word means “to loose”—it could also mean something like “to destroy.” By the way, the Greek verb is the one all Greek students learn to conjugate.
Jesus broke down the dividing wall “by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances.” The dividing wall had been erected in Herod’s temple because of interpretations of Mosaic purity laws. Furthermore, the dietary restrictions and the commands for separation created division between Jews and Gentiles. Many of the ordinances in the law could not be observed by Gentiles.
The New Testament teaches that the Old Law has been nailed to the cross. Colossians 2:13-14. Hebrews 7:11-14. Hebrews 8:6-7. Hebrews 8:13.
What Mosaic commands do we no longer follow? What are some of the benefits of living under the New Testament instead of the Old Law? What are some commands in the Old Testament you’re thankful you don’t need to follow? What are some commands in the Old Testament which would make evangelism more difficult?
By setting aside the Mosaic Law, Jesus was able to “create in himself one new man in place of the two.” Because the Old Testament is no longer in effect, Jews and Gentiles can be one in the church. Why would Jesus desire “one new man” instead of “the two?” In other words, what would be wrong with having a Jewish church and a Gentile church and keeping the two separate?
By having one new man in place of the two, Jesus made peace. Paul had just written that Jesus “himself is our peace” (Eph 2:14). The context there is our peace (reconciliation) with God. Paul wrote immediately before Jesus as our peace about being separated from and having no hope in the world and being brought near through the blood of Christ. Now, the context is that Jesus had made peace between Jew and Gentile by bringing them together in one body. Jesus brought peace to Jews and Gentiles through the abolishment of circumcision, dietary laws, commands for separation from Gentiles, etc. Why did Jesus himself need to become our peace? How did Jesus bridge the divide between Jew and Gentile? How important is the peace Jesus brought between Jews and Gentiles?
Jesus abolished the law of commandments and made Jews and Gentiles one so that he “might reconcile [both Jews and Gentiles] to God in one body through the cross.” What is reconciliation?
Notice the emphasis on the “one body” in this section of Ephesians. Verse 14: “Made us both one;” verse 15: “One new man;” Verse 16: “One body.” Jesus prayed for the unity of the church the night before he died (Jn 17:20-23). We often apply passages about the one church to denominationalism and the division we see in Christendom. It’s certainly right and proper to do so. The Lord Jesus wants there to be no doctrinal division in the church. Jesus hates false doctrine (Rev 2:6). False doctrine will cause one to be lost (1 Tim 4:16). If paying attention to the teaching (doctrine) leads to being saved, the opposite would also be true—By not paying attention to the doctrine, one will be lost.
However, the context here is reconciliation between different ethnic and religious groups. The church is a place where all people can be one and welcomed regardless of who they are. Do you think the church has always been a welcoming place? Why or why not? What can the church do to be even more welcoming?
Jesus abolished the law and reconciled Jews and Gentiles in one body “through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” God has always required blood sacrifices for sin. Jesus’s death was a blood sacrifice for sin (cf. Eph 1:7). However, Jesus death was also to bring in the new covenant. About the cup at the Lord’s Supper, Jesus said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Lk 22:20). Some Greek versions of Matthew 26:28 add the word “new” in front of “covenant.” However, the best evidence suggests that “new” was added to that passage because a copyist was thinking of the text in Luke.
Why was Jesus’s death necessary to bring about the new covenant? Jesus’s death was able to bring about the new covenant because he fulfilled the old covenant.
- “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt 5:17-18).
- “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom 10:4).
- “The law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24).
- Only because the law was perfectly followed by Jesus and fulfilled in him could the law be nailed to his cross.
Jesus “came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.” “Came” likely refers to the incarnation. Scripture teaches that Jesus existed with the Father and Holy Spirit from eternity. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (Jn 1:1-2).
Jesus himself said that he is eternal. “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (Jn 8:58). The Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Koine Greek around 250 BC in an edition known as the Septuagint. The Septuagint would have been the Bible Jesus, the Apostles, and their hearers would have known. Some New Testament citations of the Old Testament are verbatim from the Septuagint. The Greek construction Jesus used at John 8:58 is identical to the construction Yahweh used at Exodus 3:14. Jesus, therefore, claimed to be one with the Father and eternal. The crowd understood Jesus’s claim of deity, for they picked up stones to kill him (Jn 8:59). Jesus also said: “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (Jn 17:5).
Yet, the glorious truth of the gospel is that Jesus willingly gave up the glory he had with the Father before the world existed to come to this world of sin. Jesus “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:7). Part of the reason Jesus came was to preach: “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (Mk 1:38).
Jesus came to preach peace. Jesus could preach peace, for “he himself is our peace” (Eph 2:14).
In what way(s) did Jesus preach peace? Some of what Jesus preached wasn’t at all peaceful. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt 10:34). If Jesus did not come to bring peace but a sword, how could an inspired apostle write that Jesus preached peace? Sometimes Jesus preached harshly—E.g.: “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces” (Matt 23:13). How is accusing people of being hypocrites peaceful?
The context of Paul’s statement is obviously peace in two ways: (1) Peace Gentiles can now have with God; and (2) Peace Jews and Gentiles have with one another through Christ. Paul may have drawn this context from Isaiah 57:19: “‘Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,’ says the LORD” (Is 57:19). God had just promised that he would gather foreigners into his house (Is 56:3-8). God gathered foreigners into his house and gave them peace through Jesus Christ.
Jesus did preach peace. The first preaching of Jesus was simple: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15). That message is itself an invitation to have peace with God and to possess the peace God offers, for that peace is only available through repentance and faith in the gospel.
Zechariah prophesied that Jesus would “guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:79). Jesus also said: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Jn 14:27).
Jesus’s proclamation of peace “to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.” At Ephesians 2:13, Paul had said these Christians had been far off before they were brought near through Jesus’s blood. “Far off” would refer to the Gentiles, and “those who were near” would be the Jews. If the Jews had largely rejected Jesus as the Christ (e.g., throughout Acts Paul was persecuted by the Jews when he preached in the synagogues), how could they be described as “those who were near?” In what way(s) were the Gentiles “far off?” Were some Gentiles closer to God than the Jews?
Through Jesus, “we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” “We both” refers to Jews and Gentiles. Paul repeatedly mentioned the unity of Jews and Gentiles in this passage. Paul seemed very concerned that his Gentile readers understand that they, through Christ, were part of the same body as the Jews and were on the same footing as their Gentile brethren.
Access to the Father is “in one Spirit.” The mention of “one Spirit” as opposed to “the Spirit” seems to point to the fact that Jews and Gentiles have access to God through the same Spirit. In other words, there isn’t a Spirit for Gentiles and another Spirit for Jews. Instead, there is one Spirit who shows absolutely no distinction between Jew and Gentile.
The Spirit provides access to the Father. “In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:13). The Spirit intercedes with God vis-à-vis our prayers: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom 8:26).
Gentiles in the Household of God (vv 19-22)
The Gentiles were “no longer strangers and aliens.” Earlier in the paragraph, Paul had made clear that Gentiles were “strangers and aliens.” “You were . . . alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise” (Eph 2:12). Paul twice said the Gentiles were “far off” before they came to Christ (Eph 2:13, 17). Paul previously had called pre-conversion Gentiles “strangers to the covenants of promise” (Eph 2:12).
However, this is the first time the apostle has called them “aliens.” Yes, he said that they had been “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel” (Eph 2:12). However, the Greek word at verse 12—while clearly meaning “alienated”—is not related to the word Paul used at verse 19. Paul seems to have been “escalating” his argument here. He wants the Gentiles to understand exactly who they were before they came to Christ. Is it ever important to remember who we were before we came to Jesus? Who were we before we came to Jesus? Before they were converted, the Gentiles were completely separated from the Lord and his family.
The Greek term alien literally means “one living alongside.” This is a person who was not a member of the nation, but simply lived in it. Under the Old Testament, a resident alien was subject to only part of the laws in effect and could only have partial protections provided by the Law. In what ways were Gentiles “aliens” before they came to Christ? From what were they alienated? From whom were they alienated? How were you alienated before you became a Christian?
The Gentiles were now “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” They were “fellow citizens.” They were no different before God and now different in the church than those who had been born as part of God’s special possession. “Fellow citizen” indicates that Jews and Gentiles were the same in the kingdom—there were no social and class divisions. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). In other words, any social, class, or racial divisions in the church run counter to the gospel. Do we still struggle with social, class, and racial division in the church? How should the church deal with social, class, and racial differences? What are some practical ways we can demonstrate all believers are “fellow citizens” who “are all one in Christ Jesus?”
They were “fellow citizens with the saints.” “Saint” literally means “holy one” in Greek. The idea is that Christians have been sanctified, set apart from the world for the worship and service of God. Other Scriptures also refer to Christians as saints: “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons” (Phil 1:1).
They were “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” The Greek term for “household” when used of persons (as it is here) refers to one’s family.
All Christians are members of the family of God.
- Christians are family with the Lord. “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matt 12:50). “He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers” (Heb 2:11). What does being part of Jesus’s family mean?
- Christians are also siblings of one another. Throughout the New Testament, Christians are called “brothers.” What does Christians’ being family mean? Is the church a welcoming place that people feel at “home?” Why or why not?
The Gentiles were now “members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” I find it somewhat intriguing that the word “church” in not used at all in this passage. There are several synonyms for church in the passage: “body” (v 16), “household of God” (v 19), “structure” (v 21), “temple” (v 21), and “dwelling place for God” (v 22).
There are a couple likely reasons for the omission of the word “church.”
One: the Greek term for “church” literally means “assembly.”
After the town clerk addressed the riot in Ephesus, “he dismissed the assembly” (Acts 19:41). The word for “assembly” is the same word for “church.” As he addressed the problem of spiritual gifts at Corinth, Paul declared, “In church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue” (1 Cor 14:19). “Church” is used to mean “assembly” several times in 1 Corinthians 11-14. Yes, the word “church” came to mean the group of believers and not just the assembly of believers; however, the basic meaning of the Greek is “assembly.”
Two: far more importantly, Paul emphasized two aspects of the church the Ephesians needed to understand.
The church is a family. The church is, Paul said, the “household of God.” The Gentile believers needed to understand that they were part of God’s family and that they belonged. The Jews—physical descendants of Abraham—were family. Gentiles had the same opportunity to be family through Jesus Christ.
“Body” probably carries some connotation of family in the passage. Jews and Gentiles were reconciled to God in one body. The image of a body is of a unit composed of many different parts operating in harmony as a whole. Jews and Gentiles—because they are family in Christ—function in harmony as a whole.
The church is God’s dwelling place. “Temple” and “dwelling place for God” are really synonyms and point to the fact God dwells among his people in a special way. The primary purpose of a temple was to house a deity. God dwelt in a special way in Solomon’s temple: 1 Kings 8:10-11. God dwells in the church as a body of believers in a special way. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17. The “you” in both of these passages is plural, so we know Paul intended the church as the temple. God no longer lives in man-man temples (Acts 17:24); however, he does live in the temple of the church. The word “structure” would also point to the church as a building of a temple. What is the significance of the church as the temple of God? How should the church as a temple impact our daily lives? How should the church as a temple impact our worship assemblies?
The church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. On the twelve foundations of the new Jerusalem were inscribed “the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev 21:14). The new Jerusalem seems to be a picture of the church (“the Bride, the wife of the Lamb,” Rev 21:9) in glory. Since prophets follows apostles in the text, New Testament prophets seem to be in view.How can the church be built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets? Since Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to the apostles who in turn gave him to prophets (Jn 14:26; 16:7-15; cf. Acts 8:17-18) and the apostles and prophets wrote New Testament Scripture, the idea seems to be that the teaching—writing—of the apostles and prophets are the foundation of the church. “In practical terms this means that the church is built on the New Testament Scriptures” (John R. W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians. The Bible Speaks Today series. Reprint ed. Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1979, 107). What role do the New Testament Scriptures play in the church? Does the modern church give enough importance to the Word of God? Why or why not? How can the modern church show more respect to the Word of God?
Christ Jesus himself is the cornerstone. A couple quick grammatical points:
- “Christ Jesus himself.” Greek uses pronouns like this for emphasis. Paul emphasized that none other than Christ Jesus is the cornerstone—While the apostles and prophets are the church’s foundation in this passage, Christ Jesus is the cornerstone.
- “Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” As a present participle, “being” points to the fact that Christ Jesus is always the cornerstone for the church. That’s important in this context, for Paul envisioned the church as not being completed but being continually built; no one else will ever overtake Jesus and be the church’s cornerstone.
Christ Jesus is the cornerstone. When Paul wrote, the cornerstone was the crucial part of the foundation; without the cornerstone there would be no foundation and no building. Every other stone in the building—including all the foundation stones—were squared up with the cornerstone. In the East, the cornerstone was considered to be even more important than the foundation.
Paul’s calling Jesus the cornerstone is an allusion to Psalm 118:22: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” The idea is that a beautiful and appropriate stone to be used in construction was available, but the builders chose to use another stone. The rejected stone becomes the most important stone in the building. Jesus used this text to speak of his rejection by the Jewish hierarchy in Mark 12:10.
Other Scriptures also teach that Jesus is the cornerstone or the foundation.
The theme of the passage in Matthew 16:13-20 is to show that Jesus is the promised Messiah (Matthew, after all, was writing to Jews to establish Jesus’s Messiahship). Simon confessed his faith that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16). Jesus praised Simon by saying, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). Jesus changed Simon’s name in a wordplay with rock. “Peter” and “rock” sound similar in Greek, but they have different meanings. “Peter” means “stone.” The Greek term was used of tombstones and pebbles. “Rock” was used of cliffs and ledges by the sea. The term was used of boulders.
Jesus promised to build his church “on this rock.” Grammatically, Jesus used an impersonal pronoun to describe the rock—“this rock.” It would be a strange way to describe Peter as the rock upon which the church was built. It would also be a strange way to say that Jesus himself is the rock upon which he would build his church.
Contextually and grammatically, the best understanding is that Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, is the rock upon which the church was built. This is somewhat splitting hairs; however, Jesus’s Messiahship is the truth upon which the church has been established. Peter is the “stone.” He played a role no other human being has played in establishing the church. Jesus gave him the keys to the kingdom of heaven (Matt 16:19); Peter preached the first sermon at Pentecost and preached the first sermon to the Gentiles. He thus used the keys of the kingdom.
“No one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 3:11).
1 Peter 2:6-8.
Why is it important for Jesus to be the cornerstone? How should Jesus as the cornerstone affect the church? Worship? Activity? How should Jesus as the cornerstone affect daily life?
The household of God is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus as the cornerstone, “in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.”
Paul envisioned the church as both a completed building and a building under construction. At verse 20, the apostle said the Gentile believers were “built” as a church. The Greek term “built” is an aorist participle in Greek. The aorist refers to an event as a snapshot in the past without any time reference. Paul’s use shows the church is a completed building.
However, at verse 21in the same sentence, Paul said that the church “grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” “Grows” in Greek is a present active indicative. The present tense shows that the church is always being built. There is never a time when the church is not under construction.
How is the church’s construction completed? When was the church’s constructed completed? In what way(s) does the church’s completed construction impact us?
How is the church always under construction? In what way(s) does the church’s ongoing construction impact us? Although God is the One who builds the church, do we have any role in the church’s ongoing construction? How do we help the church continue its construction?
“Being joined together.” The term refers to the whole, elaborate process of fitting stones together (cutting them, rubbing them down, testing them, preparing the dowels, etc.). The word in Greek is a present passive participle. The present tense shows that the church is always being joined together. The passive voice means that the Gentiles are not doing the building. This is called the “divine passive.” God is pictured as the One who is doing the building. The participle explains “grows”—i.e., the church grows by “being joined together.
The picture here is of different people (viz., ethnicities in the context) coming together in the church. Just as a building is completed through an array of different stones the church is completed through many different people. How does the church made up of a whole bunch of different kinds of people impact the church today?
The church “grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” Paul may very well have used the illustration of a temple here, for the great Temple of Artemis was in Ephesus (regardless of whether or not Ephesians was a circular letter, the temple would have been extremely close to these brethren). The Temple of Artemis was the claim to fame for Ephesus. It was four times as big as the Parthenon which still stands in Athens, and the Temple of Artemis continues to be considered as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
God dwells in the temple of the church. God dwelt in the tent of meeting (Ex 40:34-35). God dwelt in the temple Solomon constructed (1 Ki 8:10-11).
God today dwells in the church as his temple. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Cor 3:16-17). The word “you” is plural in the Greek in both the above verses. Therefore, it’s obvious that Paul spoke about the church (and not individual Christians as God’s temple) in this text. How does God dwell in his church? How should the church as God’s temple impact the way the church worships? Conducts her business? The way Christians treat one another? How should the church as God’s temple impact the day-to-day life of the Christian?
“In the Lord.” The church is continuing her growth “in the Lord.” The church cannot grow without the Lord’s involvement (cf. Jn 15:5).