STUDIES IN EPHESIANS

Copyright © Rosemary Bardsley 2003

STUDY FOUR: JESUS CHRIST: THE BREAKER OF BARRIERS [2:11 - 22]

If you are using these studies for group study, use the questions and headings in the Tasks to promote discussion. In most cases teaching on the Task questions is given below the Task.

A. IN OURSELVES - IN CHRIST: AN INCREDIBLE CONTRAST

Task #1: Read 2:11-22 and list the contrast between what we are in ourselves and what we are in Christ. Discuss the significance of this incredible change in status and identity.
Ref
In ourselves
In Jesus Christ
Ref

11

13

12

16

18

19

13

21

19

22

The power of God active in the resurrection of Christ, that raised him from death to life and seated him at his right hand in power and glory, has also done an amazing work in us. As we have seen in 2:1-10 God's power has taken us from being 'dead in transgressions and sins' and 'raised us up together with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus'. Paul now describes how this has changed forever our status and identity.

A.1 What we are no longer

To disperse all feelings and concepts of Gentile inferiority and Jewish superiority, and to outlaw any resulting divisions and distinctions, Paul describes the impact of the saving power of God in Christ in terms particularly relevant to the historical Jew/Gentile situation.

Speaking specifically to the Gentile Christians, he describes their pre-conversion status and identity as:

      • 'uncircumcised' - which means that they were not identified as the people of God.
      • 'separate from Christ' - and therefore without salvation, having to stand on their own two feet in the presence of God.
      • 'excluded from citizenship in Israel
      • ' - and therefore regarded as not God's people.
      • 'foreigners to the covenants of promise' - without knowledge of God's spoken and written revelation, not aware that a Saviour was promised.
      • 'without hope' - trapped in the hopelessness of this world's thoughts and religions.
      • 'without God in the world' - although they may have many gods, yet they are without the one who alone is God.
      • 'far away' - cut off from God and from spiritual life.
      • 'foreigners and aliens' - again, not God's people, not citizens of his kingdom.

This is what we who are Gentiles are, in ourselves, apart from Christ and his saving work. And this is what Paul affirms forcefully is no longer the case for those who are in Christ. This exclusion, this alienation, this distance, this hopelessness, this lack of status, and all the resultant divisions and distinctions have been done away with by God's action in Christ.

For deeper thought: Before their salvation in Christ, what was the identity and status of the Jews? At the deepest spiritual level, were they, in themselves, any different from the Gentiles? Study and discuss the following verses: John 8:39-47; Romans 2:17-29; 3:9-24; Galatians 2:14-16; Philippians 3:1-9.

A.2 What we are in Christ:

Instead of existing in alienation from both God and the Jews Paul teaches that, in Christ, Gentiles:

      • are brought near to God
      • are reconciled to God by the same means as the Jews
      • are no longer in a state of mutual hostility with the Jews
      • have the same access to God as the Jews
      • are no longer foreigners and aliens
      • are fellow-citizens of God's kingdom
      • are members of God's household
      • are built on the same foundation as the Jews
      • are, along with the Jews, God's holy temple in Christ
      • are being built together with Jews into God's holy dwelling
      • are, along with Jews, indwelt by the Spirit of God.

As Paul has already identified in Ephesians 2:1-10 and in Romans 3:22-24, there is no difference. No difference in sinfulness; no difference in the way of salvation, no difference in present status and identity [see also Galatians 3:26-29 and Colossians 3:11]. Though the Jews, because of the revelation received through their history, may have been considered 'near' to God in contrast to the Gentiles being 'far off', and though, as a nation, they had been chosen by God as a vehicle for his revelation and for the human ancestry of Christ, yet each one of them as individuals also stood in need of the same saving work of God in Christ.

B. HOW AND WHAT GOD ACHIEVED IN CHRIST

Task #2: As we read 2:11-22 we learn that in and through Jesus Christ God achieved not only our salvation, but also the removal of the Jew-Gentile division. In the boxes below complete the description of what God accomplished in and through Christ, and discuss the meaning and implication of each.

'through the blood of Christ' ( 2:13 ):

 

'in his flesh' (2:15):

 

'in himself' ( 2:15 ):

 

'through the cross' (16):

 

'through him' (2:18):

 

'in him' ( 2:21 ,22):

 

We learn in this passage that:

The Gentiles were 'brought near through the blood of Christ'. This immediately teaches us that Gentiles are now on the same standing as Jews, for the Jews are described as being 'near' in verse 17. Notice that it is 'through the blood of Christ' that this is achieved. It is not the result of any merit or performance of the Gentiles ... is not because the Gentiles suddenly converted to Judaism or started conforming to Jewish law. It is an act of sheer grace - God's grace mediated through Christ's death. Paul has already taught us that it is because of God's choice and God's action. And these are the same reasons that the Jews existed as God's people in the first place [Exodus 31:13; Deuteronomy 7:7,8; Ezekiel 20:12].

God has removed the division between Jew and Gentile in the 'flesh' of Christ. This removal of division and distinction is described as

      • He has 'made the two one'
      • He has 'destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility'
      • He has abolished 'the law with its commandments and regulations'.

The Jew's possession of the law, and their perceived keeping of the law, was seen by the Jews to radically distinguish and separate them from the Gentiles. This distinction and this separation was more than a legal theory; it was lived out in daily practice in their lives.

Jesus in his death for both Jew and Gentile, made it abundantly clear that Jew and Gentile are equally sinners - both need his atoning sacrifice; also, by that same death, God has made it clear that both are accepted in his presence on the same basis and for the same reason: this once-for-all sacrifice of Christ.

When Christ died for sins, he died for the sins of Jews and he died for the sins of Gentiles. 'In his flesh' he completely fulfilled and carried on behalf of both the law's just demands of the sinner. By bearing the complete penalty, by dying for both Jew and Gentile, he removed both out from under the legal authority of the law. In him, in his flesh, both Jew and Gentile died to the law. All those commandments and regulations of the law which held Jew and Gentile in division and enmity were abolished by God in the death of Christ.

Paul has stressed in this letter that all of God's spiritual blessings are ours in Christ, that we are seated in the heavenly realms in Christ. Our nationality is irrelevant. Our historical relationship to God's law is irrelevant. God, in the flesh of Christ, has made the two one.

For deeper thought: This making 'the two one' 'in his flesh' has a further reality: the 'flesh' that Christ took in the incarnation was human flesh ... not Jewish flesh as distinct from Gentile flesh; in fact Gentile women are listed in his human ancestry [Matthew 1:5]. His flesh was human flesh; his death was a human death. One flesh. One death. One substitute for all.

In doing what he did in the flesh of Christ, by abolishing the law, God had a purpose: 'to create in himself one new man out of the two'. In Christ there is no longer two: Jew and Gentile; as far as God is concerned: there is 'one new man'. In Christ all the distinctions and divisions have been radically removed: he creates, in himself, one new man. Thus Paul has stated in Ephesians 2:14 that Christ 'himself is our peace, who has made the two one and destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.' Christ himself on the cross as the substitute of both Jew and Gentile, Christ himself seated at the right hand of God as the victorious Advocate of both Jew and Gentile in the presence of God, is, himself, 'our peace'. In him the distinctions no longer exist.

'Through the cross' Christ achieves and implements a double-barrelled reconciliation: in his 'one body' (verse 16) he reconciles both Jew and Gentiles to God through the cross, and by that same cross he 'put to death' the Jew/Gentile hostility. As we have seen already, the 'one body' of Christ was presented as a substitute for both the Jew and the Gentile. The sins of both were nailed to his cross. The one body of Christ is the 'body' of the Jew, and the 'body' of the Gentile: his one body which was slain for both, in which both are represented, and into which both are incorporated. To stand at the foot of the cross and acknowledge that this death is really my death and your death makes any subsequent superiority/inferiority, any subsequent human boasting, any subsequent human distinctions and divisions, groundless. To gaze at our great high Priest in heaven, and to acknowledge that he is my representative, and your representative, and then to claim some distinction or significance for myself, is to fail to understand our shared and equal need for this Mediator.

In the context of this reconciliation and removal of hostility 'in this one body' through the cross Paul states that Christ 'came and preached peace' to both Jew and Gentile (verse 17).

For deeper thought: When Paul states that the hostility between Jew and Gentile has been 'put to death' he does he mean ...

[1] that all feelings or actions of hostility between them have been brought to an end, or,

[2] that the previously existing cause and perceived validation for the hostility ['the law with its commandments and regulations'] has been disempowered and annulled, or, as he says in verse 14, 'destroyed' by the death of Christ, and that because of this the Christian Jew and the Christian Gentile are now one in Christ, members of his one body.

Paul, sealing his argument about the removal of the Jew/Gentile division and distinction, adds 'for through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit' (2:18). This statement contains at least four expressions of the oneness of Jew and Gentile in Christ:

      • 'through him' = one means of access,
      • 'we both have access' = a shared access,
      • 'to the Father' = a common Father,
      • 'by one Spirit' = by one active agent.

Nothing remains of the former distinction.

So Paul states [2:19-20] that Gentiles are no longer 'foreigners and aliens' but share in the identity of the Jews: God's people and members of God's household, with the same spiritual foundation as Jewish Christians - 'the apostles and prophets', and with the same 'chief cornerstone' - Jesus Christ. In himGentile and Jew are 'joined together', in him Gentile and Jew become God's temple, in him Gentiles along with Jews, are the dwelling place of God's Spirit [2:21,22].

Task #3: Write out in summary form what this passage teaches about the effect of the Gospel on the difference between Jew and Gentile?

 

 

 

C. IMAGES OF THE CHURCH

Task #4: Read 2:11-22 again and identify and discuss the six different images of the church that Paul uses. Write these images and their significance in the boxes below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gentile and Jew together in Christ form the church, which Paul refers to as:

God's people [2:19]. [Literally, the Greek means 'fellow citizens with the saints' - that is 'fellow citizens with those set apart by God for God'.] Historically the Jews were known as God's set-apart people, but now, in Christ, the church comprising both Gentile and Jew, is the set-apart people of God [read Romans 9:22-26; 1 Peter 2:10].

God's household [2:19]. In the Greek the phrase 'but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household' reads literally 'but you are fellow citizens with the saints and those of the household of God. Both 'saints' and 'household' are adjectives previously referred to the Jews. Now, they are referred to the church. To be of someone's household gives one a shared kinship, a shared identity, a shared loyalty, a shared belonging, a shared protection. [Read also Galatians 6:10 where the church is referred to as the 'household of faith', refer also to the teaching of Jesus, where he referred to himself as the Master or Lord of the household, and those who followed him as his household: Matthew 10:24-25].

The whole building [2:21]. A holy temple [2:21]. A dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit [2:22]. Paul refers to this same concept in 1 Corinthians, where he says 'you are God's field, God's building' [3:9]; 'you yourselves are God's temple' and 'God's Spirit lives in you' [3:16]. Paul, in using this concept of the Gentiles as the 'temple' of God, intrudes into extremely sensitive ground. The temple was among the most sacred of Israel's religious institutions. It was the 'house of God' - symbolically, his dwelling place. Not even Jews were allowed into its inner sanctuary ... only the High Priest could enter there, only once a year, and only under strict religious conditions. Now Paul has the boldness to state that, in Christ, Gentiles along with Jews, actually are the temple, the dwelling place of God.

Additional Task: Discuss:

[1] The radical nature of Paul's statements about the church in 2: 19-22.

[2] The significance of 2:21,22 for our understanding of ourselves corporately as the church.