Bible Study Series: Ephesians - The Third Heaven Epistle
Ephesians 2:11-22 Bible Study Demolishing Divisions
by I Gordon
We live in a strange day where division and hostility abound. For many in our age it is almost fashionable to get 'triggered' about anything and everything. Have you noticed it? How could you not! Labels, generalizations and accusations abound. If you are a male then I'm afraid to say it, but you are bad. If you are a white male, then you are really bad. An old white male? Really really bad. A conservative or Christian old white male? Boy! You must be a terrorist! Actually I'm fairly much all those things... so, argh, ok scrub that thought! At the time of writing, 'Woka-Cola' (argh, sorry, Coka-Cola) just made the headlines, in Conservative media at least, but putting out a training scheme that encouraged their employees 'to be less white'. Imagine replacing 'white' with any other color in that sentence and the fury that would explode! But whether it is race, wealth, religion, politics, gender, you name it... people are divided and throwing daggers at each other in some random but increasingly hostile ways. And it doesn't matter if the issue is recent or hundreds of years old. Let's cancel them! Blot them out! Push them into the sea!
And yet, thankfully, 'in Christ' these divisions are demolished. The hostility is removed. The dividing wall has been smashed. This study from Ephesians 2:11-22 is about what Christ has done to bring peace between those that were once hostile. It is a truth sorely needed in this day. As we move through these verses we'll focus on the following:
- The need to remember your background
- The need to remember what Christ has done to demolish divisions
- The need to remember that we (believers) are all one in Christ
Oh... Don't forget to remember!
Eph 2:11-12 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men)-- (12) remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.
The church in Ephesians was predominantly Gentile though there were some Jews. The Jews were known as the 'circumcision' and the Gentiles the 'uncircumcision'. Circumcision was a sign of the Abrahamic covenant and separated Jews from non-Jews. Now Paul, writing predominantly to Gentiles, tells them twice in this passage to 'remember'. Ok, so I'm a Gentile... what should I remember? The word tells us to remember where you came from. Here are some things that this passage tells us about your background. If you are a believer, you were separate from Christ. Remember that. You were excluded from citizenship in God's chosen people. You were a stranger to God's promises. You were without hope and without God in this world. Yikes! That is a scary position. Often, if we have been a Christian long enough, we start to forget what it was like to not have the hope of God in our life. Can you remember what that was like? Often it is dominated by fear. Some non-Christians at my work literally 'knock on wood' after saying something that they think may 'jinx' them. They don't know what they are doing but without God, superstitions abound, and they think that something bad might happen if they don't 'knock on wood'! The same people are often petrified of Covid19. Being a Christian, I can have confidence believing that my life and the number of days thereof, are in the hands of God.
But that is what it can be like without God in this world. Where do you find your hope without God? Maybe you hope for a good husband / wife and a good job to support what you hope will be joyful times with your family. And maybe things work out... but they often don't go as people dream. What do you hope in when life fails you or you simply fail? Hopelessness, literally, is a killer. A report came out near the end of 2020 that Japan had had nearly 2000 deaths from Covid during the year. While the media is endlessly going on about Covid19, this yearly total was less than the number of suicides that Japan had... in just the one month of October (2153) and well less than their year to date suicide total of over 17,000 people1. It has actually forced Japan to create a new governmental position - there is now a "Minister of loneliness". That is the face of hopelessness. That's the result without God.
Sometimes we think, well, what if we got away from everyone. Maybe things were better for the tribes living far away in remote places away from everyone else. Maybe they lived a simple life in a type of utopia, a heaven on earth where everyone got along? The truth is that life without God, no matter where you are, is hopelessness and fearful. Pastor Ray Stedman gives an interesting example of this. He writes:
"I read an account the other day of a South American Indian who told the missionary who led him to Christ, "When I was living in the jungle, we never knew a day without fear. When we woke up in the morning, we were afraid. When we went out of our houses, we were afraid. When we walked along the river, we were afraid. We saw an evil spirit in every stone and tree and waterfall. And when night fell, fear came into our huts and slept with us all night long." That is what paganism is. And this is what the world is returning to. All around us on every side, as Christian truth begins to fade, as the nation becomes secularized and humanized, this pagan darkness settles upon the land once again."
So the Bible tells us to remember. Remember your position and what life was like without God. But remember honestly! We are not to be like that rabble (or mixed multitude) and some of the Israelites who, with rose colored glasses on, could only remember how wonderful the days in Egypt were!
Num 11:4-6 The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, "If only we had meat to eat! (5) We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost--also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. (6) But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!"
"Oh the good old days! Oh, do you remember those gorgeous cucumbers? Mmmm... Things used to be so wonderful in Egypt. You know, we could eat what we liked then. Do as we liked. Go where we pleased. Oooooh.... what wonderful days they were! Now look at us!"
Oh spare me! Some believers who are not taught correctly sometimes get like that. '"Oh its so hard! I thought you said that Jesus made life easier? How come there are so many problems? It was better when I was in the world before becoming a Christian. Life was good then!" Oh how quickly we can forget! So we are to remember but remember correctly! The real truth is what the Lord told Israel to remember:
Deu 5:15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm...'
Such was the importance for Israel to remember where they had come from that the Lord setup feast days that they had to keep observing year after year to remind them:
Exo 13:3 Then Moses said to the people, "Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the LORD brought you out of it with a mighty hand. Eat nothing containing yeast."
Can you remember what it was like for you before the Lord was in your life? Think again of what it means to be separate from, or without, Christ2. You may not have realized it at the time but you were a slave. A slave to sin. A slave to the world's thinking. A slave to it's ways. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life so being without Him is to walk aimlessly, not knowing the way. It is to live in deception not knowing the truth. It is to not know real life and to remain spiritually dead. He is also the Good Shepherd who leads and guides all our days. Can you remember what is was like when you had no shepherd and no sure anchor of hope for the future? For me, one of the great differences after coming to the Lord was the sense of finally having a proper Father in my life. One who wouldn't let you down. No wonder so many are getting depressed and hopeless as they see what is happening on this earth. That is what it is like for many without Christ. I would be the same without the Lord. Remember, the word says, when you were slaves in Egypt. Why is it good for Christians to also remember those days? Two simple reasons...
- Remembering will give you a greater sense of appreciation for what Jesus has done and your position now.
- Remembering will give you a greater sense of empathy and concern for those that are still in that position.
'But now'... whew!
Eph 2:13-16 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. (14) For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, (15) by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, (16) and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.
Having remembered what life was like before knowing Jesus, we should be pleased to read the first two words of this passage - 'But now'. Like the 'But God' in Eph 2:4, the 'but now in Christ Jesus' in verse 13 comes like the spring rains to a dry and lifeless land. But now in Christ Jesus you who were far away have been brought near through the blood of Jesus. 'Near' in relation to God, is a good word! Instead of being separated we are brought near. Instead of conflict, Jesus is our peace. Instead of being without hope in this world, we are part of a new man with a new hope and new eternal destiny!
Now the Bible speaks in this passage about the great hostility of their day - the one between Jews and Gentiles. One of things that the cross did was demolish divisions. An ancient and common male Jewish prayer to God, which is still used to this day, is 'Blessed are you for not making me a Gentile, a woman, a slave.' In the Jewish temple in Jesus' day, there was a literal wall which restricted Gentiles to their own court. On the wall were signs which read: “Let no one of any other nation come within the fence and barrier around the Holy Place. Whoever is caught doing so will himself be responsible for the fact that his death will ensue.” Ok... that's crystal clear. And we shouldn't just think that it was the Jews alone that thought they were superior to the Gentiles. The Greeks did the same. They thought they were civilized ones and all else were barbarians. As did the Romans.3
Now this physical wall that the Jews made to keep the Gentiles out of the inner temple was based on a spiritual wall - the Mosaic law with it's commandments that separated the Jewish nation from all others. That wall, scripture tells us, has been demolished in Christ. It was a dividing wall of hostility that Christ destroyed. Why did He do this? Because He wanted to end the hostility and make the two (Jew and Gentile) into ONE NEW MAN! He was creating something NEW. He came and brought in a NEW covenant based on NEW promises by which we all could become NEW creations. And together, male, female, slave, free, Jew, Gentile, black, white... all of us, could be together as equals in this new living organism that we call... the Church!
So be careful when you hear, like many in the Hebrew roots movement do, emphasis on keeping the Jewish law with it's commands, days, festivals, dietary laws and the like... instead of on Christ. They will often try to make it sound like Gentiles are merely grafted into the Jewish Torah system instead of realising that the law was hostile to us and was demolished and put to death at the cross as Ephesians 2:13-16 says. And it is not because the law is bad... it is our natures that are bad and cannot keep it. So there was always going to be a 'new' covenant. Jesus, speaking of the day when He would be taken from them, spoke of this and warned again of trying to mix the two systems:
Mar 2:19-22 Jesus answered, "How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. (20) But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. (21) No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. (22) And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins."
So again... what Jesus brought in is new. It is not just bringing Gentiles into the Jewish system and asking them to try keep the law. When we try to live in the new covenant within the confides of the old, it is trying to patch an old garment. It is putting new wine in old wineskins and the result is always the same - the skins burst and the new wine is ruined. No! What we should be emphasizing is this new man and a new covenant based on new promises for a new creation. That is where there is life! That is where the hostility ends! That is where there is peace.
William MacDonald writes well stating:
"The church is new in the sense that it is a kind of organism that never existed before. It is important to see this. The NT church is not a continuation of the Israel of the OT. It is something entirely distinct from anything that has preceded it or that will ever follow it. This should be apparent from the following:
1. It is new that a Gentile should have equal rights and privileges with a Jew.
2. It is new that both Jews and Gentiles should lose their national identities by becoming Christians.
3. It is new that Jews and Gentiles should be fellow members of the Body of Christ.
4. It is new that a Jew should have the hope of reigning with Christ instead of being a subject in His kingdom.
5. It is new that a Jew should no longer be under the law.
Now obviously the law, which brought hostility between Jew and Gentile, also caused hostility and separated the sinner from God. But again, it's not the laws fault... it is mine... and yours! The law is holy and good (Rom 7:12) but when combined with out sinful nature it caused sin to increase. I've been using a few illustrations rom Pilgrim's Progress in these studies so why not one more. In a previous study in Ephesians I spoke of Christian knocking over and over on the door of the interpreter. Finally his knocking was answered and he was allowed in to see and hear many instructive things. Let me quote one picture that the interpreter showed Christian:
Then the Interpreter took Christian by the hand and led him into a very large parlor that was full of dust because it was never swept. After He had reviewed it a little while, the Interpreter called for a man to come and sweep. Now when he began to sweep, the dust began to fly about so much and was so thick that Christian almost choked. Then said the Interpreter to a damsel who stood nearby, “Bring water, and sprinkle the room.” When she had done as requested, it was swept and cleansed very pleasantly.
Then Christian asked, “What does this mean?”
The Interpreter answered, “This parlor is the heart of a man that has never been sanctified by the sweet grace of the gospel; the dust is his original sin and inward corruptions that have defiled the whole man. The first man that began to sweep is the Law; the damsel that brought water and sprinkled it is the gospel. You saw that as soon as the first man began to sweep, the dust filled the room so thickly that it could not be cleansed, and you almost choked on it. This is to show you that the Law, instead of cleansing the heart from sin, actually revives, increases, and adds strength to it. Even though the Law uncovers and forbids sin, it is powerless to conquer or subdue it at all.
“Then you saw the damsel sprinkle the room with water, after which it was pleasingly cleansed. This is to show you the way in which the gospel comes into the heart with its sweet and precious influences. You saw the damsel clear the dust from the room by sprinkling the floor with water. This shows how sin is vanquished and subdued and the soul made clean through faith and consequently fit for the King of glory to inhabit.”
Peace, access and citizenship for all in Him!
Eph 2:17-19 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. (18) For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (19) Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household...
Jesus came and preached peace to those both far and near. That is, in context, both Gentiles and Jews. But by extension this Gospel of peace goes out to those that we would see (often incorrectly) as far far away from God. You see that woman selling her body in sin? It goes out to her. You see that evil looking gang member? It goes out him. The gospel has been changing peoples lives in all walks of life for 2000 years. But note that it is only 'through Him' that we have access to the Father by the one Spirit. There is a way but it is narrow. And the entire trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, all combined in enabling access to God for those in Christ. Through Jesus we have access to the Father by the Spirit. And the amazing truth is that for all that have come this way, we are no longer strangers but now citizens of heaven! We have a new home... (one completely free from masks, lockdowns, corrupt leaders, immoral laws and viruses of any type!)
Php 3:20-21 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; (21) who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.
To both Jews and Gentiles, all in this new man have a new hope to go along with the new covenant. And this is not an earthly home in Jerusalem or Israel (even though the Lord has unfinished business and plans there!) but a heavenly home and kingdom according to His great promise to go and prepare a place for us and then return to take us to be where He is (John 14:1-3). That is our real home. That is our true citizenship. Do not the events in this world make you all the more longing for your real home... your heavenly one? How awesome it is that we can be called citizens of heaven! If this world is all I had, like those 'without Christ' then I would be miserable. As mentioned at the start, we see so much division down here. Our day may not be Jew versus Gentile so much (although anti-Semitism is still rife!) but there are many purposively trying to create divisions within society. They pit male versus female versus those unsure what gender they are. They pit the young verses the old and black versus white. We have the left versus the right and poor versus rich. Some people are experts at purposefully pitting one group of society against another to ultimately divide and conquer... it's the old Marxist plan4. Well it's an even older plan that that. Ultimately it goes all the way back to a certain once anointed Cherub called Lucifer who tried the divide and conquer tactics in Heaven itself and has been using it ever since! So what we are seeing, in the West especially, is nothing knew. These are very very old tactics being played out within our society and media.
But praise God there is something new under the Son! In Him those divisions are smashed!
Gal 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
"I do not believe in the universal brotherhood of man and the universal Fatherhood of God. To me that is a damnable heresy. I believe a true brotherhood is composed of those who are in Christ. A man may have skin as white as the driven snow, but if he is not a child of God, he is not my brother. A man may have skin as black as midnight, and if he is a child of God, he is my brother. We are something new. We are in Christ—a new man. This is the building, the temple, God is building today."
All of this is according to a great plan that was revealed earlier in the book of Ephesians. It is a plan that would ultimately bring all things back together and under the headship of Jesus Christ. That is where all the events of human history are leading:
Eph 1:9-10 And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, (10) to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment--to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
Don't you look forward to that day? Boy I do. This world is tiring. I look forward to the day when every tribe and tongue, believers of all nations, will dwell together in perfect harmony, unity and peace... under the rule and authority of Christ. I look forward to the day when people are not intentionally stirring up trouble for their own benefit. I look forward to the day when righteousness prevails.
The ongoing construction of the new building
Eph 2:20-22 ...God's household built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. (21) In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. (22) And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
The chapter concludes with a view of what this new man looks like from God's perspective. We look in the natural and still see divisions and conflict, even with the church. Unfortunately if you have been a member of a local Church long enough (let alone if you have been a leader in the Church) you'll know that divisions and conflict are still there. But God sees the spiritual reality of what this 'Church' is in Christ. A new picture is seen in this passage giving God's perspective. We, as believers in Christ, are likened to a new building, a holy temple, that is still under construction being built brick upon brick. It's foundation is based upon the teaching of the apostles and prophets who declared God's revelation to all those that would listen as Paul was doing in this letter. And of course Jesus is the chief cornerstone without which the whole building falls. We are a house, a building, a temple and a dwelling place for God Himself. And you, if you believe, are a stone in this holy temple of God. Each member is a living stone and each member, each stone, is important for the overall temple.5
1Pe 2:4-5 As you come to him, the living Stone--rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him-- (5) you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
This building continues to grow, quietly, with the Spirit moving in the hearts of countless individuals, bidding them to come. Can you remember how the first temple, Solomon's temple, was constructed? It was all done, well, quietly!
1Ki 6:7 In building the temple, only blocks dressed at the quarry were used, and no hammer, chisel or any other iron tool was heard at the temple site while it was being built.
A.C Gaebelein writes well on this saying:
"The building, the true Church is fitly framed together, which means that God puts it together in His own marvelous way. Solomon’s temple gives a little illustration of this. When that temple was building, hammer, axe and tools of iron were not heard. ... Every stone was prepared beforehand and fitted into the place where it belonged. How beautifully it illustrates the fitting together of the house, His Church! He chooses and prepares the material and puts each in its proper place (1Cor 12:1-31). What a contrast with man’s methods in trying to increase “church membership”! The divine revelation is forgotten. Christendom has departed from the faith in these revelations concerning the one Church and its architect. But all the confusion, the wrong conceptions and attending evils, cannot frustrate the purpose of the Lord. He is building His Church. He takes the material and puts it as living stones in the place where it belongs. This is the work of His Spirit."
So each of us is a stone in the temple and each is important. Have you seen your place? Have you found your purpose in this grand eternal plan of God?
As we come to the end of this chapter in Ephesians, think again of how it began. That start of chapter two described our position before knowing Christ. In fact this whole chapter gives pictures of what that was like. Consider these words once again:
- Dead in sins
- Following the ways of the world and the spirit at work in those that are disobedient
- Children of wrath
- Separate from Christ
- Excluded from citizenship
- Strangers to the covenants of the promise
- Without hope and without God in the world.
Now that makes for some grim reading. But contrast that with how the chapter ends:
- Brought near through the blood of Christ
- Granted peace
- Placed in a 'new man'
- Reconciled to God through the cross
- Given access to the Father by one Spirit
- No longer foreigners and aliens, but citizens
- Members of God's household
- A member of a holy temple in the Lord
- A dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit
What a difference! To sum this message up, there is a lot of division and hatred in the world today. It has been prophesied to occur in the last days. Jesus Himself told us the love of many will grow cold and lawlessness will increase. He said it would be ethnic group against ethnic group in the days approaching His return. Sadly, this will be the way going forward until the Lord returns to make things right.
For the unbeliever, the message is that Jesus is the way to peace between yourself and God. There is no hope without God in this world. But the hostility has ended between God and yourself if you will believe in Him and receive salvation. As a quick illustration I read this week about Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese army officer in World War II. Following the war, Hiroo's former commander travelled to the Philippines to relive Hiroo of his duties following an order issued by the Japanese Emperor. Why did the Emperor have to issue an order you ask? Because it was now 1974, 29 years after World War II had ended, and Hiroo was still hiding and fighting, not believing that the war was over. To those that don't know the Lord Jesus, the message is that the war between you and God, in Christ, is over. He is our peace and you shouldn't continue to rebel and fight like Hiroo did when the payment for peace has already been made years long ago.
For the believer, what a wonder it is that this hostility is smashed in Christ. What a wonder it is that these walls of division have been demolished. I hope you can see that. I trust you are treating all those in Christ as equals, your brother and sisters in the Lord for we are all one in Christ Jesus our Lord! I trust that you are remembering where you came from, without God, so that you have thankful hearts towards God and a message for those without Him. And I trust that you keep realise that ultimately, this is not your home but you are citizens of a heavenly home. I look forward to the day when every tribe and tongue, believers of all nations, will dwell together in perfect harmony, unity and peace.