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Ephesians 2

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Verse 1

‘And you (‘He has raised from the dead’, or ‘He has made alive’), when you were dead through your trespasses and sins.’

The ‘and you’ may refer back to ‘raised Him from the dead and made Him to sit at His right hand’ in Ephesians 1:20, or refer forward to the ‘make alive’ in Ephesians 2:5 (the words in brackets are not in the Greek text, but are assumed). In the light of verses Ephesians 2:5-6 the first seems preferable, for it then sees His people as united in Him in all that happened to Him from Ephesians 2:20 onwards, but the final idea is the same in both cases. The thought is that His people have been ‘made alive’ through spiritual resurrection (John 5:24-25) by being born from above (John 3:3), and created in Christ Jesus to good works as a result of His workmanship (John 3:10), have been made one with Him. As a result in the spiritual realm they share His throne, something which is to be followed eventually by literal ‘physical’ resurrection (John 5:28-29). In other words from the moment of believing they reign along with Him in life and in death. It is a parallel thought to that in Isaiah 57:15, where as the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, He dwells with those who are of a humble and contrite spirit, but it is made more significant in the long run because it involves finally sharing Heaven with Him.

This unity with Christ ties in with the previous reference to His people as His body (Ephesians 1:23), as those who are united with Him in His body as One in His saving purpose. It expresses the closeness of Christ with His own. This conception of corporate personality, where the many are seen as one, occurs regularly in the Old Testament. The Servant of God in Isaiah is seen as the people of Israel (Isaiah 41:8 and often); as both them and the Great Prophet (in Isaiah 42, 49); and as uniquely the Great Prophet Himself (in Isaiah 50, 53), while in the New Testament the Servant is Jesus Himself (Mark 1:11; Luke 9:35; Luke 22:37) and also the witnessing church (Acts 13:47). The ‘son of man’ in Daniel is both the saints of the Most High (Daniel 7:27) and their Messianic king (Daniel 7:13), in each case one and yet separate. So all that Jesus experiences He shares with His people.

‘And you He raised from the dead when you were dead through your trespasses and sins.’ Their condition had been that they were spiritually dead, and doomed to final death, because of their trespasses and sins. But now He has made them alive, and they vibrate with His life. ‘Trespasses and sins’ is intended to cover all aspects of moral failure, both positive and negative. They had done what they should not have done (Romans 3:23), and had failed to do what they should have done (James 4:17), and were spiritually dead. But He raised them from the dead through the power of His resurrection life, making them spiritually alive. He transferred them from being under the power of darkness to being under the Kingly Rule of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:13).

Verses 1-10

Paul Prays That Their Eyes May Be Opened to the Richness of What Christ Has Brought Them and Has Done For Them (1:15-2:10).

Having declared what God has done for us in the overall plan of redemption Paul now reveals in more depth the work He has done within us and for us through His activity in Christ. He begins by praying that we may be given understanding so that we may grasp it, then he outlines the full glory of the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus Christ, and then he shows how those who are true Christians, saved by grace, partake with Christ in His resurrection and exaltation and, being so transformed, enter into a new spiritual sphere

Verse 2

‘Wherein previously you walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience.’

They had been guilty at three levels. They were guilty of personal sin (‘your trespasses and sins’), they were not dupes but rebels; they were guilty of following the dictates of the world (‘the course of this world’), allowing themselves to be carried along either unthinkingly or deliberately in the stream of humanity; they were guilty of allowing themselves to be swayed by Satan (‘the spirit who works in disobedient people’), by closing their minds to the light when it came.

‘You walked.’ They had walked in sin because they had walked in darkness (John 8:12; John 11:10), in the vanity of their mind (Ephesians 4:17), following the dictates of the flesh (Romans 8:1; Romans 8:4). This was their way of life. This is in contrast to those who walk in the light (John 12:35), in the steps of faith (Romans 4:12), in accordance with the Spirit (Romans 8:1; Romans 8:4), in newness of life (Romans 6:4). This is the Christian’s way of life.

‘According to the course (the age) of this world.’ They had followed the spirit of the age and had been tied down by, and submerged in, the ideas of an unbelieving world. To walk with the majority view is to walk in sin because man is sinful.

‘According to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.’ While they may not have been aware of it they were also carried along in their ways by spiritual forces, the spirit who now works in disobedient people (‘The sons of disobedience’ means those who follow and are taken up with disobedience). So three factors were involved; their own choice, the influence of the age, and the workings of Satan.

‘The prince of the power of the air.’ A controlling spirit over ‘the power of the air’. In Colossians 1:13 ‘power’ is equivalent to ‘kingly rule’, for it compares ‘the power of darkness’ with ‘the kingly rule of His beloved Son’. Thus the idea may be of a prince ruling over ‘a kingdom’, a kingdom of spiritual beings not naturally of this earth, and of all who walk in disobedience. ‘The air’ may be seen as a kind of No Man’s Land, almost equivalent to the ‘heavenlies’, but excluded from them, and thus a minor spiritual sphere, from which Satanic forces attack the heavenlies (Ephesians 6:12). It is the sphere of those who do not know God or walk with Him. We can compare how in Revelation Satan was seen as attacking the forces of Heaven and was cast out of the heavenly realm (Revelation 12:8 compare Luke 10:18). In our view both these verses in Revelation are speaking of the time when Jesus was resurrected (see Revelation).

Alternately the ‘power of the air’ may be seen as evil winds, which may tie in with the idea of ‘winds’ of false doctrine tossing men to and fro like leaves (Ephesians 4:14). Winds are often symbols of disaster (see especially Job 1:19 with 12 where such were specifically Satan’s work).

‘The spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.’ This can only be the Devil, Satan, the adversary and tempter (Matthew 4:10; Matthew 16:23; Mark 4:15; Luke 22:3; Acts 5:3; Acts 26:18; 2 Corinthians 11:14; Ephesians 4:26; Ephesians 6:11; 1Ti 5:15 ; 1 Peter 5:8; 1 John 3:8-10). He himself is in rebellion against God, and he has thus brought others into that same spirit of rebellion.

Verse 3

‘Among whom we also once lived in the lusts of the flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.’

‘We.’ Lest anyone think he is excluding himself from being a sinner Paul now includes himself and his companions, along with all Christians. They too had once followed the lusts of the flesh and had given way to the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and there was also a theoretical danger that they might do so again. For constant is the battle of the Spirit with the flesh, although those who walk by the Spirit will overcome (Galatians 5:16). Note the duality of the types of ‘lusts of the flesh’, for they include not only the desires of the body, but also the desires of the mind. Intellectual sin is as great as fleshly sin. The mind at war with God is as sinful as the body which walks in disobedience.

‘And were by nature (phusei) children of wrath, even as the rest.’ For phusei compare Galatians 2:15. It means what we essentially are in our thinking and behaviour, our natural condition. The natural man is thus a child of wrath, that is a person deserving of wrath, for by nature man is a sinner (Romans 5:19) and once given the chance this soon reveals itself. Thus is introduced, as a suggestion that cannot be denied, that the wrath of God is directed at sin (compare Romans 1:18) and that all men are under the wrath of God because of sin (Romans 2:5; Colossians 3:6; John 3:36; Revelation 6:17). The wrath of God is not anger as we know it, it represents God’s antipathy to sin, God’s hatred of sin, God’s reaction in His holiness against sin. He cannot abide sin and must act to destroy it like a gardener acting with his chemicals to destroy all that is destructive and harmful in his garden. That is His ‘wrath’.

‘Even as the rest.’ Paul was no different from the others, no different from us, in this.

Verses 4-6

‘But God, being rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ, (by grace you are those who are saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus.’

‘But God.’ Here is the great turning point. In the midst of man’s sinfulness and subservience to evil God stepped in. He did not leave mankind without hope, walking in darkness, not knowing where they were going. Instead He intervened because He is rich in mercy, and because He has set His love on us. Thus Paul now stresses again the abounding riches of the mercy of God and the greatness of His love for us. It is these, and these alone, that can explain why, when we were dead in sins, He exercised the greatness of His power (Ephesians 1:19) and gave us new life, and raised us up with Him, and made us sit with Him in heavenly places, giving us spiritual life that we might know Him.

‘Being rich in mercy.’ Elsewhere we read, ‘according to His mercy He saved us’ (Titus 3:5). Here the richness of that mercy is stressed. This mercy is within His sovereign will (Romans 9:15-18), and it abounds towards us, so that Paul himself could never forget that he had obtained mercy in this way (1 Timothy 1:13; 1 Timothy 1:16), with the result that the plea for mercy for others is often contained in his salutations. Here we learn of God’s overflowing mercy, of His boundless activity which results from His compassion towards the undeserving, towards us and all who are His.

‘For His great love with which He loved us.’ His love was central to the exercise of His saving power. He so loved that He gave His only Son (John 3:16) and John exults continually at the greatness of that love (1 John 3:1; 1 John 4:9), while Paul tells us that God commends His love towards us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). What greater love could there be than that? Grace is indeed love acting on behalf of the undeserving, and here again we learn of His overflowing and abounding love.

‘Even when we were dead through our trespasses.’ The suggestion appears to be that because we were ‘dead’ we were unwilling and unable to respond. We had no spiritual life. We had constantly deviated from what was right and it had worked death within us. We continually ignore Him in our daily lives. Thus because of our parlous state He had to step in and to force the issue.

‘Made us alive together with Christ.’ And how did He do it? He ‘made us alive.’ The word of God spoke to our hearts and the Holy Spirit worked a new birth within us. We were born from above (John 3:5) We experienced the ‘washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit’ (Titus 3:5). We were ‘begotten again to a living hope’ (1 Peter 1:3). We were ‘begotten again -- of incorruptible seed through the word of God which lives and abides’ (1 Peter 1:23). We were begotten ‘of His own will --by the word of truth’ (James 1:18). It was like the dead earth producing life after an abundant fall of rain, the ‘drenching’ (baptizo) of the Holy Spirit (which is what baptism illustrates). Thus were we ‘made alive’ by Him.

‘Together with Christ.’ And it happened in Christ. Spiritually we rose because He rose. The power of His resurrection was released to give us life (Philippians 3:10; Romans 6:8-9), and we are now alive from the dead (Romans 6:13) and live our lives by the power of His risen life (Galatians 2:20; Romans 5:10; Romans 6:10-11). ‘The hour comes and now is when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live,’ Jesus had said (John 5:25) , and that hour has now come for us who are His. We live as those who are risen from the dead, walking in newness of life in the spiritual sphere (Romans 6:4), which then reflects itself in the physical sphere. So Father, Son and Holy Spirit unite in giving us life.

This ‘making alive’ indicates the commencement of the Christian life, and is therefore speaking of a genuine present, personal experience in the life of each believer. We may not always ‘feel’ it but it is at work within us nevertheless (Philippians 2:13). It is often suggested that while what Paul is describing in Ephesians 1:19-22 actually happened to Jesus Christ, it only ‘potentially’ happened to us. But that is not what Paul is saying. Rather he is making clear that it is more than that, that it is something that is actuated in experience. There are, in other words, two aspects to what he is describing. One the present aspect which we experience through the Spirit as he opens up a new spiritual world and we enter in and live in it (‘Heaven above is softer blue, earth beneath is sweeter green, something lives in every hue, that Christless eyes have never seen’), and the second the final fulfilment when earth is left behind and we enter totally into that spiritual world at the coming of Christ when we will be ‘changed’ or resurrected (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17) and see Him as He is (1 John 3:2) and spend eternity with Him (Revelation 22:3-5).

‘By grace you are those who are saved.’ Lest this all seem to be too wonderful for us Paul interjects this comment, which he cannot keep back as he contemplates the graciousness of God. This is not something that we have attained for ourselves, he declares. This is not something we have earned or deserved. It is all as a result of God’s active grace, His undeserved, unmerited, active love and favour reaching out to us in saving power. It is ‘by His grace’ that we have been, and are therefore now saved, thus experiencing this glorious chain of events, commencing from new birth and finalising in glory.

‘And raised us up with Him, and made us to sit with Him in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.’ If our being made alive with Him is actual in experience there is no doubt that this is so too. The point is not only that what happened to Him will one day happen to us because we are in Him, (although that is true), but that in a genuine sense it has already happened. We can ‘know Him and the power of His resurrection’ (Philippians 3:10). We can walk continually in His presence. We can experience continually the active power of His life at work within us and through us (Galatians 2:20). And Ephesians 6:12 makes clear that even now, as we seek to stand against the wiles of the Devil (Ephesians 6:11), ‘our wrestling -- is against -- spiritual wickedness in the heavenly places’. Thus we are seen as already in the heavenly places. And this is because when we responded and believed, we were not only made gloriously alive in Him through His Spirit, but were also raised with Him through His resurrection power and seated with Him in the heavenly places, and entered into a new sphere of existence, reigning in life through Christ (Romans 5:17). Into this sphere we are born as new-born babes (1 Corinthians 3:1; Hebrews 5:13; 1 Peter 2:2) and within it we need continually to grow and mature (Ephesians 4:15; 1 Peter 2:2; 2 Peter 3:18).

Thus having entered into a new sphere of existence, we, as it were, live in two worlds. We live in the physical world, as we always have, but we now also live in a spiritual world where we are seated with Christ, Who is at God’s right hand (Ephesians 1:20). That means that in that world we experience the protection of His authority and power, and we know the power of His life. It is only because of this that we can hope to stand against the wiles of the Devil. (See on Ephesians 1:19-21). And it is from this world that we then go out as ambassadors for Christ, calling on the world to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20). We are, through the Spirit, enjoying the earnest of our inheritance (Ephesians 1:14), the first sample and guarantee, until we finally receive the whole.

Verse 7

‘That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.’

And the final purpose of God in all this is that He might continually reveal His goodness and kindness towards us in every possible way through all ages. He will show to us ‘the exceeding riches of His grace.’ What could be greater than that? This is either saying that His grace (active, powerful love) towards us is like a vast treasure-house of riches, beyond comprehension, beyond counting, being showered upon us, or that of His grace we shall experience such treasure-houses of riches for ourselves. Both are in fact true.

‘In the ages to come.’ This is both in the remainder of the present age, and ‘to the ages of the ages’, into the everlasting future. There will be no time limit to the dispensing of His goodness. The ancient Hebrew did not think of ‘eternity’ as we think of it, he thought of ages and ages and ages, ‘the ages of the ages’. These are not necessarily theological ages, simply ages beyond measure. They express the idea of eternity.

‘In kindness towards us.’ The word for kindness is used in Romans 11:22 of God delighting in mercy towards those whom He has chosen. It is used in extra-Biblical literature of the beneficence of rulers as they shower gifts on their favourites and dispense favours to their people, and it is used of Isaac’s pacific nature. Thus it is God being at abundant peace with us, and pouring out His generosity on us in full measure, supplying us from His storehouse of grace.

‘In Christ Jesus.’ And, as ever, all this is ‘in Him’. It is the Messiah Jesus, sent by His Father, Who has brought all these blessings on us.

Verses 8-9

‘For by grace you are those who are saved, through faith, and this not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.’

This links back to ‘in Christ Jesus’. We are in this position outlined above as ‘those who are saved’ because we have put our trust in Christ, and even that salvation was not of ourselves but was a gift given to us by the grace of God, the unmerited, active love and favour of God.

‘By grace.’ By God’s actively revealed and unmerited love.

‘Through faith.’ All God’s gifts come to us through our response of faith. As in our hearts we reached out to Him through Christ, and what He wrought for us through His cross, God responds with saving power.

‘And this not of yourselves.’ ‘This’ may refer back to ‘faith’ (but ‘this’ is neuter and ‘faith’ is feminine, so that it is unlikely) or it may refer to the salvation inherent in ‘you are those who are saved’. Either way it signifies that we have done nothing of ourselves. Faith may be the channel, but it does not deserve anything, nor is it of merit. It is merely the opening though which all that God freely gives us comes. It is the breach in our defences brought about by God when we were dead in sin. It is response wrought in us by His Spirit to something wonderful being offered, and is perfected in us by the grace of God. We long for salvation, we look to Him for salvation, He responds in grace, granting it to us as a gift. It is only then that He works righteousness within us.

‘It is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.’ Paul could not have put more clearly that salvation is all of God. It is a gracious gift. We do nothing towards it (‘not of works’), we simply respond for our own selfish reasons and suddenly find ourselves engulfed in the active, unmerited love of God. Thus boasting is excluded. All of us are basically on the same level. Those who have responded have nothing to boast about, but much to rejoice in. But they cannot say ‘we have responded because we were better than they’ otherwise boasting would not be excluded. We must beware of making faith a somehow superior ‘work’. Faith that is ‘our’ work will fail.

Faith as God’s gift is true, lasting faith. It is not faith in ordinances or ceremonies, or in the church. Nor is it faith based on deserts. It is faith in Christ Himself. It is faith in the direct working of God (Colossians 2:12). It is faith in the Faithful One. When the Apostolic preacher proclaimed Christ, he did not initially call men to a series of ritual acts, nor did he initially ask him to join the church, he called him to put his trust in Jesus Christ. It was of faith not of works.

There is a type of so-called faith which is shallow and receives nothing. It is temporary, and is passing and fading like the grass (see John 2:23-25, and compare Mark 4:16-17). It is a faith brought about by the event of the moment, fading when the moment fades. It wants to receive any blessings going but the person who has it has no real desire to be saved. They do not want to be changed, they merely want to remain the same and yet go to Heaven. Such faith does not save.

But when a person recognises his sinfulness and longs to be changed in heart and mind, and cries in his helplessness to the Saviour, then he will be truly saved. We only have to look at the description of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector to see this. The one had strong faith, but it was faith in his own goodness in the sight of God, the other had a weak faith that reached out to God for forgiveness and mercy, and rejected any thought of deserving. And it was the latter which received God’s response (Luke 18:11-14).

Verse 10

‘For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God beforehand prepared that we should walk in them.’

‘We are His workmanship.’ The word poiema means ‘creation, what is wrought’. In the New Testament it is only used of God’s activity. Thus we are His creation, His workmanship. We are made exactly as He wants us to be. This does, of course, refer back to what Paul has described. Our being made alive, and raised, and seated with Christ in Heavenly places, results from the creative work of God within us and upon us and results in a ‘heavenly’ life.

‘Created in Christ Jesus unto good works.’ His creative work within us inevitably results in good works, but the creative work precedes the works, it does not result from them. When we are made ‘a new creation’ (2 Corinthians 5:17 compare Galatians 6:15) He recreates our hearts with a desire and yearning for what is good, with the result that our lives are changed and we begin to ‘hunger and thirst after righteousness’ (Matthew 5:6) and begin to ‘seek first His kingly rule and His righteousness’ (Matthew 6:33). Then the set purpose of our lives becomes to do what is right towards God and man. It may begin slowly, but if this is not beginning to happen in us we need to question our faith.

‘Which God beforehand prepared that we should walk in them.’ God’s purpose has always been that His people should be people of ‘good works’. We must never see good works as ‘not quite as spiritual’ as worship and witnessing. As we carry out good works in the love of God we are fulfilling God’s purpose in us. We are being lights in the world as He commanded us, bringing glory to God (Matthew 5:16). It was for these good works, among other things, that He chose us and it is to this, among other things, that He foreordained us. They are thus part of His great plan. But as ‘wrought by God’ the good works follow His saving work, they do not precede it. Many do ‘good works’ naturally, and that is well and good. They should not be belittled. But in the scheme of things they are incidental. They bring little glory to God, except indirectly. On the other hand the works of which Paul speaks here are those that result from a heart and life changed by God, and they produce fruit for eternity.

So we finish the description of God’s saving power through the resurrection with the indication that the final result on earth will be the good works which bring glory to God.

Verses 11-12

‘Wherefore remember, that previously you were the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called Circumcision in the flesh made by hands, that at that time you were separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world.’

Paul first reminds his Gentile readers of the position they had been in. They had been Gentiles, the Uncircumcision (not circumcised as members of the covenant), separate from Christ, outside the promises of God, having no hope and without God in the world. Many of Paul’s converts had been admirers of the Jewish religion while not being willing to be circumcised and enter it fully. They were thus very much aware of this lack. Others had simply been aware, often vaguely, that they were outside the promises of God because they were not His people.

‘Gentiles in the flesh who are called Uncircumcision.’ They were non-Jews by birth and not physically circumcised into the covenant. Therefore the Jews despised them and saw them as having no part in the people of God, as outside the promises of God and as having no claim on the Messiah. They were thus seen as ‘without God’.

Which is called Circumcision in the flesh made by hands.’ This refers to physical circumcision. Previously, without physical circumcision the Gentiles could not become Jewish proselytes, which was at the time their only hope of sharing in the blessings of the God of the Jews. Those who were thus circumcised despised ‘the Uncircumcised’. They saw circumcision as absolutely necessary for all who would be His people.

‘You were separate from Messiah.’ They had had no part in the coming Messiah, who thus would offer them no hope. Not for them the promise of God’s future deliverance, except as a by-product.

‘Alienated from the commonwealth of Israel.’ ‘Alienated’ here means excluded from, seen as having no part in. The Jews were seen as among the most moral members of society because of the Mosaic Law. They were, on this account, and on the basis of their ancient writings, admired by many Gentiles. ‘Commonwealth’ (politeia) can also mean ‘way of life’. Thus the idea may be that they were generally excluded from the Jews as a nation, with their superior laws, or alternatively that they were excluded from their way of life which encouraged morality. They did not enjoy the spiritual and moral blessings brought by the Law (the word of God).

‘Strangers from the covenants of promise.’ ‘Strangers’ were those who were passing through but had limited rights. Thus the Gentiles had had limited rights as regards the covenants or their promises.

‘Having no hope.’ They had had nothing to look forward to, no Messiah, no future kingdom, no promises. Greek philosophies of the time tended to offer little real hope, being either cynical or profligate, and while there were religions which appeared to offer hope, they failed in what they offered.

‘Without God in the world.’ This probably refers to their condition as ‘in the world’ without God. Biblically being ‘in the world’ meant being heedless of God and following the world’s ways. Thus they were in the world and far from God. It may however signify that any religious belief they had did not deal with ‘a god who was at work in the world’, as the God of the Jews was at work in the world, as witnessed by their history.

But a major reason for this detailed description of what they were without, was because he will now demonstrate that in Christ all these benefits are theirs, and theirs without physical circumcision. They will become united with Christ the Messiah, they will become members of the true Israel, they will inherit the covenant promises, they will gain hope, and they will find the God Who acts in history. (In Colossians he will point out that they have in fact been circumcised in the circumcision of Christ - Colossians 2:11).

Verses 11-22

They Are to Remember that They Were Once Excluded From Israel and the Promises But Are Now Made One With the True Israel; They Are Now the People of God (2:11-3:12)

Paul here goes on to point out that the ordinances of the Law of Sinai (the whole sacrificial system and all that pertained to it), which were a cause of separation as they were what made Israel distinctive, have now been done away through His cross, which has superseded all offerings and sacrifices, and the result is that all can now be received within that covenant, and within the Abrahamic covenant of promise which offered blessing to the nations (see Galatians 3:0; Genesis 12:3), and enjoy the same relationship with God and with each other as was dispensed though that covenant. He points out the disadvantages that they had endured while separated, not so much because they had necessarily been concerned about those disadvantages but in order to demonstrate that it was those advantages that they had now gained by having the separation removed. He very strongly emphasises that the two (Jews and Gentiles) have been made one within His covenant. There is now one new Israel, one church, and all who believe are a part of it.

It should be noted that the idea is not that the Law has been abolished, but that it has rather been fulfilled in Christ (Matthew 5:17-18). That is why those who are in Christ will fulfil the Law by being filled with His love, not disregard it (Galatians 5:13-14).

Verse 13

The Uniting of Jew and Gentile Through the Cross. The Establishing of the New Israel.

‘But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off are made near by the blood of Christ.’

Now all is changed. In the Christ Who died for them all these benefits are theirs. They have been brought near to God, the invisible God proclaimed by the Jews, through His shed blood. Through His sacrifice of Himself for sin, which cancels out the old ordinances, He has removed the barrier of sin, making them ‘holy’ and righteous so they can approach Him without fear.

‘Made near.’ In Ephesians 2:17 the Jews are ‘near’. Thus in Christ Jesus and through the blood of the cross the believing Gentiles are, in being ‘made near’, united with the believing Jews in their ‘nearness’. They are reconciled both to God and to each other (Ephesians 2:16). The implication is that physical circumcision has been replaced by being united in His death.

Verses 14-16

‘For he himself is our peace, who has made both one, and broke down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that he may create in himself one new man, so making peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.’

Indeed God has united both Jews and Gentiles who come to Christ Jesus into one body. Peace is made between them and they are one. And through the cross He has reconciled both as one body in His own body, to God, by means of His sacrifice on the cross.

‘He Himself.’ The pronoun is emphatic and should be in italics for emphasis. ‘Is our peace.’ This means ‘has brought about and maintains peace’, making both one. They are made one with each other and at one with God.

‘Broke down the middle wall of partition.’ He has, as it were, torn down the wall in the Temple that separates the believing uncircumcised Gentiles from the Jews and their holy place. Copies of the actual inscription forbidding any foreigner on pain of death to ‘enter within the barrier which surrounds the Temple and enclosure’ have been found in the neighbourhood of the one time Temple. It was thus a serious barrier to oneness. But that barrier has now been torn down (even before the Temple was torn down). For all are now His in Christ on equal terms.

‘Having abolished in His flesh (that is, His flesh offered on the cross, compare ‘in the blood of Christ’ - Ephesians 2:13, and Colossians 1:21) the enmity, even the Law of commandments contained in ordinances.’ The major hindrance to their being one, and a cause of enmity between them, was the ceremonial and ritual requirements which were found in ‘the Law of Moses’. This was why there had to be a wall in the Temple so that the Gentiles could not enter and make the inner part of the Temple ‘unclean’. But through the offering of the flesh of Christ, and the shedding of His blood, the sacrifices and rituals of the Temple are no longer necessary. In Christ and through His sacrifice that Law has been done away as far as it deals with ordinances. Its requirements are no longer binding because Christ’s offering of Himself is all sufficient (Hebrews 10:11-14). All can now enter fully into the presence of God. Paul does not otherwise explain here how this is achieved, so it would seem that it was seen as a settled issue by this time. We can find part of the answer in Galatians 3:0.

In Galatians 3:0 Paul tells us that no man can be reckoned as righteous by the Law, for no man can fully observe it, and that through His death Christ has removed the curse of the Law by being made a curse for us, taking our curse on Himself (Galatians 3:10-13). Thus the Law no longer has power over us to condemn us. He also tells us that the promises to Abraham, which include blessing to the Gentiles, are superior to the Law, being applied through the Spirit by faith (Galatians 3:1-9; Galatians 3:14) and that the Law, which was short term, has now been replaced, as its function is now over (Galatians 3:15-29).

‘Having abolished.’ The Greek word is difficult to translate. It can mean ‘to make of no effect’, ‘to do away with’ or ‘to take away the power of’, thus to abolish, invalidate. But its main meaning is clear. All the Jewish rites and ordinances have been done away as far as approach to God is concerned. They are no longer necessary. They have been replaced by something greater.

Thus the enmity and cause of division being removed, Jews and Gentiles who come to Christ become one new man in Christ. United with Him and in Him they are seen as a corporate unity along with Him, ‘in Him’. The idea of the ‘new man’ may be to suggest a new Adam composed of believing Jews and believing Gentiles, a new ‘mankind’. Jesus Christ is ‘the last Adam’ (1 Corinthians 15:45).

‘And might reconcile them both in one body.’ This is an interesting use of body which combines two ideas. The prime emphasis is on the fact that His one human body was offered on the cross, thus He offered Himself in one body. But this is then seen as a unifying factor so that they too are seen as ‘one body’ in His body which is why they are ‘one new man’. It thus illuminates the meaning of ‘His body’ in Ephesians 1:23. There is no suggestion here of the one body as a body in contrast with Him as the head. It represents Christ fully and signifies the one corporate entity represented by the one new man, which is both head and body, united with Him as the body. The later emphasis (Ephesians 1:20-22) is indeed on one Temple as cementing the unity. The main point is that the two are united as one man, one body, united with His body, so that as one they can be reconciled to God through the cross, the enmity between them having been slain.

This is symbolised for us by the bread at the Lord’s Table. The bread represents the body of Christ offered up for us but it also represents us as the one bread, the one body, incorporated in Christ, ‘seeing that we who are many are one bread, one body, for we all partake of the one bread’ which is ‘a communion, a continual relationship, with the body of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).

‘And might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross having slain the enmity thereby.’ Through their response to the shed blood of Christ both Jew and Gentile, the ordinances of the Law being abolished, are united and made one. And simultaneously, as they are being united in one corporate entity, ‘one body’, they are reconciled to God through the cross, through the one body of Christ with which they are united. So oneness, reconciliation, is achieved with both man and God.

‘Reconcile.’ Apokatallasso. An intensification of katallasso (Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20), which also means ‘reconcile’. It is only found elsewhere in Colossians 1:20-21. It is possibly a Paulinism. To ‘reconcile’ is to ‘bring back into relationship’, to ‘remove enmity and antipathy’. We had no relationship with God because of sin, but sin having been dealt with we can now come to know Him truly. We are reconciled with God.

Verse 17

‘And he came and preached good news of peace to you who were far off and to those who were near.’

This echoes Isaiah 52:7 and signifies the good news preached through His cross and through His Apostles, which brings them peace with God and peace from God. It is not likely that it means His lifetime ministry as that would put the verse out of order, for the preaching appears to be after the act of reconciliation. The main point here is that both those who had been far off (the Gentiles, compare Isaiah 52:13) and those who were ‘near’ (the Jews) have had peace preached to them by Him. Peace with each other and peace with God.

Verse 18

‘For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.’

For the one Holy Spirit gives both of them access as one in Him to the Father. This emphasises their oneness. Thus both believing Jews and Gentiles now have access to the Father through the activity of the indwelling Holy Spirit. And as the Spirit is one, so they approach God as one.

‘Access.’ The word is prosagoge meaning ‘approach, access’.

The whole emphasis from Ephesians 2:11-18 is thus on the fact that believing Jews and Gentiles are made one. They are made one, ‘in Christ Jesus -- in the blood of Christ’ (Ephesians 2:13), through Him Who is ‘our peace’ (Ephesians 2:14), through the creation of one new man from two (Ephesians 2:15), through being reconciled as one body (Ephesians 2:16), through the believing Gentiles being brought near as the believing Jews are near (Ephesians 2:17), and through both having access to the Father through the one Spirit (Ephesians 2:18). This is in order to demonstrate that the believing Gentiles may now enjoy equally the privileges already enjoyed by the believing Jews. They have become ‘the Israel of God’ (Galatians 6:16). They are all one in the new Israel.

Verse 19

‘So then you are no more strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God.’

Paul could not make clearer that all believers now form the new Israel. Previously they were ‘alienated from the commonwealth of Israel’, now they are fellow-citizens with ‘the saints’ (an Old Testament word for the true Israel). Previously they were strangers to the covenants of promise, now they are no longer ‘strangers and sojourners’. Previously they were ‘without God’, now they are ‘of the household of God’. Previously they were separate from Christ, now they are ‘in Christ’ (Ephesians 2:14) and joined into God’s Temple with Christ as the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). Thus they have been made a part of the new Israel, the ‘Israel of God’ (Galatians 6:16).

‘Strangers and sojourners.’ The ‘strangers’ were those who passed through Israel making only a temporary stay, possibly also having in mind ‘God-fearers’ (Gentiles interested in Jewish teaching but unwilling to be circumcised), while the sojourners were more permanent, but in the later period were never accepted fully as true Jews (unless they were circumcised and entered into the covenant by becoming proselytes). It possibly also indicate these proselytes (Gentiles willing to be circumcised and become ‘Jews’) who, while theoretically accepted as full Jews, never felt themselves as fully accepted in practise. Basically it represents all who have a sense of being separated from the people of God.

‘Fellow-citizens with the saints.’ They now have total equality with, and the same standing as, the Old Testament saints, the people of believing Israel (Deuteronomy 33:3; 1 Samuel 2:9; 2 Chronicles 6:41; Psalms 16:3 and often in the Psalms; Daniel 7:0 often). As fellow-citizens (sunpolitai) they are members of the commonwealth (politeia) of Israel.

‘And of the household of God.’ They now belong especially to God’s own household (compare Caesar’s household (Philippians 4:22) which was large and widespread), and therefore especially and recognisably His. Thus they now have an intimate knowledge of God in contrast with being ‘without God’. They are as close as anyone can be.

So the believing Gentiles are now joined with Christ, are members of the new commonwealth of Israel, are partakers in the covenants of the promise, have much hope, and have access into God’s presence through the Spirit. They are His people (compare 2 Corinthians 6:17-18).

Verse 20

‘Being built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the chief cornerstone.’

The believing Gentiles are now built into a living Temple of God (‘a habitation of God in the Spirit’ - Ephesians 2:22) on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets. The fact that the Prophets are linked with the Apostles as the foundation makes clear that the foundation is the teaching of both, and not the persons themselves. We can compare this with how the foundation rock on which the church would be built was also the statement of Peter, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Matthew 16:16-18). The true church of God is not founded on men but on truth.

In view of the stress all through on the uniting of believing Jews and Gentiles in one, and their now enjoying together all the benefits of being ‘Israel’, we are almost certainly to see these as including the Old Testament Prophets, and as including John the Baptiser. The foundation is the teachings of the Jesus as revealed through the Apostles, including their expansion of that teaching, and the teachings of the Old Testament as exemplified in the Old Testament Prophets. Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone as the teaching of both prophets and Apostles points to Him and centres on Him. Indeed He is the foundation on which all their teaching is built (1 Corinthians 3:11).

This interpretation parallels it with 2 Peter 3:2, ‘That you should remember the words which were spoken before by the holy Prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Saviour through your Apostles’, and Romans 16:25-26, where Paul speaks of ‘my Gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ -- the mystery which -- is now manifested and by the scriptures of the Prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, is made known unto all the nations unto obedience of faith’.

Some would see the prophets as solely New Testament Prophets but such stress on their foundation qualities is not found elsewhere, and 2 Peter 3:2 and Romans 16:25-26 also suggest otherwise. (Ephesians 3:5 might be seen as fairly strong support for this view, although see our discussion on that verse. But if so it is almost unique). As we have seen the Old Testament Prophets and their teachings are constantly in mind in the Apostles’ teaching (Romans 1:2; Romans 16:26; James 5:10; 1 Peter 1:10; 2 Peter 3:2). In Revelation 21:14 the names of the twelve Apostles alone are written on the foundation stones of the new Jerusalem, the twelve patriarchs and the twelve tribes being represented by twelve gates.

‘Christ Jesus Himself being the chief cornerstone.’ The chief cornerstone was either fitted at the top of the building, giving strength to the whole and binding the structure together, or the foundation stone on which all else rested. Thus Christ Himself is seen as the binding force that holds all together and strengthens the whole, and as the One on Whom all is founded.

Verse 21

‘In whom all the building (or ‘every building’), fitly framed together, grows into a holy Temple in the Lord.’

And the purpose of all that has been described is so that they might be ‘the Temple of God’, that is, that in which God dwells in the world. Men must no longer look to Jerusalem and its Temple but to the Temple which is composed of Christ and His believing people. The building being described is ‘a holy Temple’, ‘a habitation of God in the Spirit’, and all its parts are joined and fitted together ‘in Him’, growing into that Temple. Thus the people of God are seen as being His Temple, a picture used elsewhere in 1Co 3:16-17 ; 2 Corinthians 6:16. (In 1 Corinthians 6:19 it is the body of each individual Christians which is seen as a sanctuary of God). All believers are being fitted together for this purpose. ‘All the building’ stresses the unity of the whole. If we read as ‘every building’ it may refer to different local churches, but ‘all the building’ seems preferable. (The picture is very similar to that in 1 Corinthians 12:13-27 where we are all members of His body. Note how in 1 Corinthians 6:15; 1 Corinthians 6:19 the two concepts merge).

Verse 22

‘In whom you also are built together for a habitation of God through the Spirit.’

Paul’s Gentile readers are therefore also part of that Temple and part of that people, and the presence of God and the indwelling of the Spirit in them is especially stressed. Thus the whole Temple, which is the whole church of true believers in union with Christ, is the dwelling-place of God through the Spirit. God dwells with His people and is active among them (John 14:23).

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ephesians 2". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.