{4}         New Humanity (Eph 2:11-22)

Introduction

PART I. CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE. SECTION B. NEW COMMUNITY.

Hostility between human beings is not an invention of the 20th century. It has run rampant since the beginning, when we chose to be hostile to God. Alienation between individuals, nations, races, and even hostility between Christians is no stranger to us. The Bible speaks of human alienation—alienation from God our Creator and alienation from each other. This breakdown of human relationships is dehumanizing.

 

Question: As you think about your world, what examples of hostility between groups of people come to mind?

 

Outline:

2:11-22            Belonging: appreciating full union with Him

 

        Karl Marx took the word “alienation” from the German theologian Ludwig Feuerbach and applied it to the plight of the proletariat. Since every worker puts a part of himself into his craftsmanship,  his employer is guilty of alienating the worker from himself when he sells the product. This is economic alienation and is the basis of the class struggle. Now, the word is used more generally of the working man’s alienation not only from his achievement and its due reward, but also from the exercise of power, especially in decision making. This is political alienation. Alienation is partly a sense of disaffection with what is, and partly a sense of powerlessness to change it.

        The Bible speaks of human alienation. It is of two kinds: alienation from God our Creator, and alienation from one another, our fellow creatures—the breakdown of human relationships. We become strangers in the world we live in, aliens instead of citizens. The Greek word (apallotrioo) means to estrange, exclude or alienate. The word is used only 3 times in the NT: Eph 2:12; 4:18 and Col 1:21.

        In this passage, the double alienation is replaced by reconciliation. In v.1-10, human beings are depicted as alienated from God. In v.11-22, human beings are depicted as alienated from each other, particularly between Gentiles and the Jews. The Jews had an immense contempt for the Gentiles. This is represented by the wall around the temple. Between the inner courts where the Jews can go and the outer court (of Gentiles), there were two walls and a total of 19 steps. The wall is 1.5 metres high with warning notices hanged on it: “No foreigner may enter within the barrier and enclosure round the temple. Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.” (see Ac 21:27-29)

        There was hostility between man and God, and between Gentitles and Jews. But Jesus Christ has destroyed both hostilities (Gr. echthra) in v.14 and v.16. The work is done in 3 stages represented by 3 phrases: [1] “at one time” you were alienated from God and from His people Israel (v.11), [2] “but now” by His death on the cross, Jesus has reconciled Jews and Gentiles both to each other and to God (v.13), [3] “so then” you are no longer alienated but full members in God’s family (v.19). These 3 stages correspond to the 3 sections of this passage.

 

Explanation

2:11     Circumcision was given by God to Abraham as the outward sign of membership of His covenant people. The term “uncircumcised” is a derogatory term used by the Jews for the Gentiles.

Paul hints that behind what is called “the circumcision which is made in the flesh by hands” there is another kind, a circumcision of the heart, spiritual not physical.

2:12     Paul lists Gentile disabilities:

[1]   separated from Christ as they even had no expectation of a coming Messiah;

[2]   alienated from the commonwealth (Gr. politeia) of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise (literally referring probably to the foundation promise made by God to Abraham)—2 related disabilities, as Israel was a covenant people to whom God had committed Himself by a solemn pledge;

[3]   having no hope and without God in the world—again 2 related disabilities, because although God had planned and promised to include them one day, they did not know it. Although God had revealed Himself to all mankind in nature, the Gentiles suppressed the truth they knew and turned instead to idolatry so they had no true knowledge of God such as He had given to Israel. They were cut off from the Messiah, from the theocracy and the covenants, from hope, and from God Himself, thus “Christless, stateless, friendless, hopeless, and Godless.”

Divisiveness is a constant characteristic of every community without Christ. Therefore “remember” (v.11) and again “remember” (v.12) the former alienation.

2:13     The parallel between the two halves of Eph 2 is obvious. First half: life without Christ is “dead” (v.1-3), followed by “but God” (v.4). Second half: life without Christ is “alienated” (v.11-12), followed by “but now” (v.13). Here, both times are with the emphatic pronoun “you” (Gr. hymeis) in v.12 and v.13.

It is in the language of space: “far” and “near”, like in OT: Moses said “What great nation is there that has a God so near to it as the Lord our God is to us? (Dt 4:7). The nearness to God is a privilege Christians enjoy through Christ. We have immediate “access” to God (v.18). Unforuntatley, we often taken it for granted.

The nearness is both in Christ (personal union with Christ) and through the blood of Christ (His sacrificial death for our sins). The first is the contemporary experience of conversion while the second is the historical event of the cross.

2:14     God’s integrating principle for uniting human beings is neither intellectual (philosophy) as in Roman Catholicism, nor political (conquest) as in Islam or Marxism, but spiritual (redemption by Christ, involving union between Jews and Gentiles, man and God).

Christ is our peace—peacemaker between the two groups and with God. “He” (Gr. autos) is strongly emphatic.

The wall was broken down with the death of Christ, spiritually. Physically, the wall was not broken down until the Roman legions entered Jerusalem in AD 70. This is Paul’s remarkable prophetic vision.

2:15     How did Christ accomplish the breaking down of the wall of hostility? There are 3 successive main verbs: [1] abolish, [2] create, [3] reconcile. He abolished the law of commandments in order to create a single new humanity and to reconcile both parts of it to God.

[1]   The abolition is startling in view of the declaration of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount that He had not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it (Mt 5:17). However, the discrepancy can be explained by the two different senses of the law. In Mt 5, Jesus referred to the moral law and was teaching the difference between Pharisaic righteousness and Christian righteousness and was urging that Christian righteousness involves a continuous, yet deeper and more radical obedience to the law. Here, Paul refers to the ceremonial law (NEB: “rules and regulations”): circumcision (the main physical distinction between Jews and Gentiles in v.11), the material sacrifices, the dietary regulations, and the rules about ritual “cleanness” or “uncleanness” which governed social relationships. The parallel passage in Colossians alludes to circumcision and ordinances (Col 2:11,16-21). On the cross, Jesus fulfilled all the types of the OT ceremonial system and these laws no longer bind Christians.

It is also possible that Paul was making a secondary reference to the moral law. Jesus did not abolish the moral law as a standard of behaviour (it is still in force and binding on His followers), but he did abolish it as a way of salvation. Jesus took upon Himself the curse of the law (the judgment) in order to free us from it (Gal 3:10,13). In the paralle message in Colossians, God “forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Col 2:13-14). Acceptance with God is now through faith in Christ alone. The law was a barrier between Jews and Gentiles, but faith unites us, since all of us have to come to God through Christ in the same way. We are all brought to the same level at the cross.

Jesus abolished both the regulations of the ceremonial law and the condemnation of the moral law. Both were divisive. Both were put aside by the cross.

[2]   The abolition of the old (divisiveness of the law) leads to the creation of the new (a single, undivided humanity)—from the negative to the positive.

The “new man” is the Christian community viewed corporately, meaning a “new human race”, united by Christ in Himself. Not only the Jew-Gentile divide was abolished, but also sexual and social distinctions: male or female, slave or free (Col 3:11; Gal 3:28). The inequality before God is abolished with the new unity.

2:16     [3]        The hostility is mutual: man’s rebellion against God, and God’s wrath against man for his sin. Through the cross, the hostility is “killed”. Christ is not only the slain but also the slayer. The result is reconciliation, God turned away His wrath.

Thus the cross of Christ achieved 3 things: abolition, creation, and reconciliation. However, not the whole human race is reconciled.

2:17     Christ announced what He had achieved. The announcement follows the achievement so it does not refer to His public ministry but refers to His post-resurrection appearances in which the very first word He spoke to the apostles was “Peace be with you.” Subsequently, the proclamation of peace is to the whole world through the proclamation by the apostles and Christians in subsequent generations. Through His followers, Jesus Christ is still preaching the gospel of peace.

“You who were far away and those who were near” refer to Gentiles and Jews.

2:18     Reconciliation is an event but “access” is the result and the continuing relationship. Access (Gr. prosagoge) has the image in an oriental court when subjects are granted an audience with the king or emperor. We now have access to the Father with “boldness and confidence of access” (Eph 3:12).

Our access involves the triune God: Our access is to the Father, through the Son, and in or by one Holy Spirit (the Spirit who regenerates, seals, and indwells in us).

“We both” again reminds the Gentiles that both the Jews and Gentiles are members of the God’s new humanity.

2:19     The results of Christ’s achievement is the new Jew-Gentile community described as: [1] God’s kingdom, [2] God’s family, and [3] God’s temple.

[1]   Gentiles were strangers and sojourners, “aliens in a foreign land”, visitors without legal rights. Now, we are fellow citizens (Gr. sumpolitai) with the saints (saints here meaning the “holy nation” of the Jewish people) together in God’s kingdom.

[2]   Even more intimate, we are members of the household or family of God. Jews and Gentiles are all children of God. The idea of God as the Father will be explained further in 3:14-15; 4:6. Here, the emphasis is on the brotherhood (“brethren” meaning brothers and sisters) across racial barriers.

2:20     [3]        The next 3 verses describe the 5 elements of God’s temple, including: [a] foundation, [b] cornerstone, [c] cohesion and growth, [d] individual stones, [e] function. The temple in Jerusalem had been the focal point of Israel’s identity as the people of God. Now, this temple of God is the focal point of the new worldwide humanity.

[a]   The foundation is the most important factor for the stability of a building. In the parable of the two house builders, the most important element is the foundation on solid rock. Here, Paul describes the foundation as “the apostles and prophets”. Since they have a main role of teaching, the term refers then to their teaching and instruction, not their person nor their office.

“Apostles” refer to a small group of people in the early church whom Jesus chose, called, and authorized to teach in His name, and who were witnesses of His resurrection, NOT a generic term for missionaries or church planters or bishops or other church leaders. What they taught, they expected the church to believe and preserve; what they commanded, they expected the church to obey. “Prophets” are inspired teachers to whom the word of God came and who conveyed that word to others faithfully. The couplet “apostles and prophets” may refer to the OT prophets and the NT apostles as the basis of the church’s teaching. But the inverted order of words suggests that it refers to the NT prophets, a small group of inspired teachers in the early church associated with the apostles. They together bore witness to Christ and their teaching was derived from revelation (Eph 3:5) and was foundational to the universal church.

Their teaching is contained in the New Testament Scriptures. These are the church’s foundational document. As a foundation once laid cannot be tampered with, so the NT foundation of the church is inviolable and cannot be changed by any additions, subtractions, or modifications by anyone.

[b]   The cornerstone is part of and essential to the foundation; it helps to hold the building steady. The temple in Jerusalem had massive cornerstones (the ancient monolith excavated from the southern wall has a length of 12 metres). Here, Paul describes the chief cornerstone is Christ Jesus. He holds the temple together as a unity, an organic unity describes many times as “in Christ”, similar to branches “in” the vine or members “in” the body.

2:21     [c]        As a building depends for both its cohesion and its growth on being tied securely to the cornerstone, so Christ the cornerstone is indispensable to the church’s unity and growth. Unless it is constantly and securely related to Christ, the church’s unity will disintegrate and its growth either stop or run wild.

2:22     [d]       The individual stones are the Gentile readers of this letter as indicated in “you too”. Peter describes individual church members as “living stones” in “a spiritual house” (1Pe 2:4-5). The Jerusalem temple was an exclusively Jewish building which all Gentiles were forbidden to enter. Now the Gentiles are not only admitted to this new temple; they are themselves constituent parts of the temple of God.

[e]   The function of God’s temple is the same as the temple in Jerusalem: to be a dwelling place of God. Once again, the trinity is mentioned (God, Lord, Spirit). God dwells in the temple, through His Son, by His Spirit. This spiritual temple, composed of His redeemed people scattered in the world, is God’s home on earth. It will also be His home in heaven, for the building is not yet complete (“rises to become”). Only after the creation of the new heaven and the new earth will the voice from the throne declare with emphatic finality: “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men.” (Rev 21:3)

 

Summary

        It would be hard to exaggerate the grandeur of this vision of the new society that God has brought into being. But when we turn our eyes from the ideal portrayed in Scripture to the concrete realities experienced in the church today, it is very different and a very tragic story. For even “in” the church there is often alienation, disunity and discord. Now Christians erect new barriers in place of the old which Christ has demolished: now racism, now personal animosities engineered by pride, prejudice, jealousy and the unforgiving spirit; now a divisive system of caste or social classes; now a separation of clergy from laity, as if they were separate breeds of human being; and now a denominationalism which turns churches into sect and contradicts the unity of Christ’s church. All these also hinder non-believers from believing in Jesus because of the credibility gap between the church’s talk and the church’s walk.

 

Application

 

Prayer

        Praise God for bringing you so close to Himself and to other believers when at one time you were so far away. Ask Him to work in you His grace to live out the truth that the dividing wall of hostility is broken down between all believers.