6. Fellow Citizens with the People of God (Ephesians 2:11-22)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (28:56)


The lion shall lie down with the lamb in Messiah's Kingdom, Isaiah prophesied (Isaiah 11:6). Detail from Edward Hicks (American Quaker painter, 1780-1849), "The Peaceable Kingdom" (c. 1834), oil on canvas, 74.5x90.1 cm., National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. Full image.
"11Therefore, 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) -- 12remember 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. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
14For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15by 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, 16and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
19Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit." (Ephesians 2:11-22)

 

In the summers of my college years I worked in a factory in Oakland, California. Compared to the grizzled old workers who had spent a lifetime in that place, I was just an upstart. I would just be there for a summer or two and they didn't spend much time getting to know me. I was tolerated, even occasionally appreciated, but that was as far as it went. I was the outsider and never made it inside.

If you've ever moved to a new community or entered a schoolroom where you didn't know a soul, then you know a little of what Gentile Christians must have felt like in a congregation dominated by those whose families had been Jewish from time immemorial. In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul recalls this sense of apartness, and writes with the intention of helping Gentile Christians -- and Jewish Christians -- to understand their essential oneness in Jesus Christ.

Separated from Christ (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) -- 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." (2:11-12)

Paul begins by listing the elements of the Gentiles' spiritual condition pre-Christ:

  • Uncircumcised, lacking that ancient mark of being part of the Covenant Family of God;
  • Separate from Christ, utterly cut off from the Messiah;
  • Excluded from citizenship among the people of God, aliens;
  • Foreigners to the covenants made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, which tied the people to God with responsibilities and gave them wonderful promises;
  • Without hope or certainty or promise for the present, or for the future; and
  • Without God in the world.

Pretty depressing. The phrase "with hope and without God in the world" echoes in my head as describing utter aloneness. Many of our friends and neighbors, co-workers and relatives could be described by these words. Maybe you, too, feel this way. A person who is not united to God through Christ is alone, is lost, is without hope.

We who know Christ have really Good News to share with people who are sometimes acutely aware of their loneliness. For people longing to belong, we offer inclusion into a loving family.

Q1. (Ephesians 2:11-12) Why does being out of touch with what it means to be "lost" impede our willingness to witness? In your own words, what is the spiritual condition of a friend or co-worker who doesn't know Christ?
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When people who are estranged come back together we call it "being reconciled." That is what Christ did for us who were far away from God: he brought us back to God. This passage spells it out in detail.

Brought Near through His Blood (2:13)

"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ." (2:13)

"Brought near through the blood of Christ" is really a kind of shorthand to describe the process of our redemption. I want to explore this more fully, since the requirements of the Jewish sacrificial system described in the law of Moses fourteen centuries before Christ were fulfilled in this redemption. (You'll find these regulations delineated in Exodus and Leviticus.)

God is a holy God, and requires righteousness and moral holiness in the lives of his people. To teach holiness to his people after their deliverance from Egypt, God had them set up a tabernacle in the wilderness surrounded by a curtained-off courtyard. The common people could not approach God's dwelling place in a casual manner; they brought with them a sacrifice, confessing their sins while laying their hands on the head of the animal sacrifice. Before their eyes the animal was killed in their stead, for their sins, and its blood sprinkled on the altar where part of the sacrifice was burned (Leviticus 4).

Only the priests could enter the tabernacle to care for the holy things, and only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, the "throne room" of God where the Ark of the Covenant was placed, and then only once a year on the Day of Atonement for the sins of the people (Leviticus 16).

When Paul wrote that we have been "brought near through the blood of Christ," he means that Christ the Messiah has become the sacrifice for our sins, and because of his death on our behalf, we can approach God with our sins forgiven.

Completing the Law's Requirements (2:14-15)

"For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 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…" (2:14-15)

In Hebrew the word shālōm can mean "completion and fulfillment -- of entering into a state of wholeness and unity, a restored relationship."1 It carries the ideas of peace, wholeness, wholesomeness, reconciliation, blessing, restoration. It is a very wonderful and broad word. Paul says in 2:14 that Christ himself is our peace, our Shalom, our healing and wholeness, and the one who brought an end to the tension between us and God, which our sin had created.

But this Shalom was brought about by what we call today a "paradigm shift," a "sea change," a basic alteration in the whole way God was dealing with man. Prior to Christ the Law was the barrier between Jew and Gentile. The Jews kept it rigorously, the Gentiles disregarded it. It had become a dividing wall between them: a source of pride to the Jews, an object of scorn to the Gentiles. Look at the finality of these words:

"He ... has destroyed (luō) the barrier ... by abolishing (kartargeō) in his flesh the law with its commandments and ordinances" (2:14-15)

The word translated "abolishing, abolished" is Greek katargeō (from kata, "separation, dissolution," and argeō, "to be idle, inactive"). It means "to cause something to lose its power or effectiveness, invalidate, make powerless," then "to cause something to come to an end or to be no longer in existence, abolish, wipe out, set aside something."2

Wow! When Jesus had been accused of abolishing the commandments, he had said:

"I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished" (Matthew 5:17-18)

Moral, Ceremonial, and Civil Law

One way of looking at the Law in the Old Testament is as three basic components:

  1. The moral law, the enduring principles of righteousness which are timeless, such as the Ten Commandments.
  2. The ceremonial law, pertaining to the tabernacle, temple, priests, and sacrifices.
  3. The civil law, rules concerning property, crime, and punishment.

1. Moral Law

The moral law, of course, is woven into the fabric of the creation. It cannot be done away with any more than righteousness can become obsolete. But it was fulfilled completely in Jesus Christ, the perfect, sinless man who lived the life of God before us in the flesh.

2. Ceremonial Law

As we have seen above, Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial law, which prescribed how sin was to be forgiven, and who should gain admittance to the Holiest of Holy Places, the very Presence of God. Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of each of us. In the Old Testament, God permitted a lesser (an animal) to substitute or stand in for the punishment deserved by the greater (a sinful man). In the New Testament, the greater (God's very Son) became the substitute or stand in for the punishment deserved by the lesser (all men). In his own body, with his own blood, for all time, Jesus fulfilled the whole of the ceremonial law. When he died, the veil of the temple, separating people from the holy place of God, was rent in two from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51), signifying that God had opened up the way to his very Presence through the Messiah.

After Jesus, temple sacrifices became superfluous. Every time an animal was sacrificed for sin after the Lamb of God had made the ultimate sacrifice, it was a kind of hollow mockery of what Christ had done. As the writer of Hebrews said, the Old Covenant is now "obsolete" (NIV, NRSV, Hebrews 8:13).3 Jesus fulfilled the religious, ceremonial law, and by completing it, rendered it obsolete.

3. Civil Law

The civil law, too, had been fulfilled when the Messiah came and the Old Covenant became obsolete. Its time was past. God had been Israel's King in the Wilderness. When the people had clamored for a king, God gave them Saul, and then David. But Israel's last king, last "son of David," had been taken into exile in 587 BC. Now in Jesus Christ, the "Son of David," "the Son of God," the ultimate King of the Jews had come. Heralded by angels and sought as King by wise men at his birth, Jesus had finally stood before Pontius Pilate and acknowledged that his Kingship was "not of this world."

Q2. (Ephesians 2:14-15) In what sense did Jesus as Messiah "fulfill" the Mosaic Law? What is the significance of that for Jewish people? For us Gentiles?
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Jew and Gentile as the "New Israel"

The Messiah also decreed the end of the Jewish monopoly as the exclusive people of God: "Therefore I tell you that the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit" (Matthew 21:43). Now he commanded his followers to "make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19), to "go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation" (Mark 16:15), to "be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). The Gentiles and Jews together became "the Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16). The civil laws intended for the nation of Israel in the Promised Land, while good and useful, had become obsolete as the nation embraced believers throughout the world.

"... And in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near." (2:16-17)

I've spent some time explaining how Jesus "abolished in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations" (Ephesians 2:15), because this is often misunderstood and disregarded by us Gentile Christians. But know this: for you the Messiah (Christ means "messiah, anointed one," you know) changed his whole plan and now reconciles you to God together with his beloved Jewish people. Instead of treating Gentiles and Jews differently, now they have become in the Messiah "one new man out of the two," ending the Gentile-Jew hostility, "thus making peace" (2:15).

We Christians, who have such a tendency toward pride, division, denominationalism, and separatism from fellow Christians, need to pay special heed. There are two rich words here -- "peace" (Greek eirēnē, Hebrew shālōm), which we examined above, and "reconcile" (apokatallassō).4 Reconciliation happens when an estrangement is healed, a separation is removed. God has reconciled us to himself through Jesus' death on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:19-21).

Access to the Father (2:18)

The next verse contains a wonderful promise:

"For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit." (2:18)

Yes, on its face it means that Jew and Gentile are now on equal footing before God.

But I want us to think about the concept of "access" (prosagōgē).5 In the Near East, a monarch's presence was exclusive. Only a few courtiers had the privilege of being with him. If a person had a petition -- and he were a citizen -- he might have an appointment to bring the need to the king. Non-citizens had no standing whatsoever. No rights. No access. They could write their requests and hope that the king would consider them, but he had no obligation to do so. They were not citizens.

We Christians have a special access to God not granted to others. Yes, they can pray and hope, but they have no privilege. Their prayers are based on hope and desperation. Our prayers are offered "through faith in him" and spring from "freedom and confidence" (Ephesians 3:12).

In our desire to be inclusive and believe in the Brotherhood of Man, we need to realize that Jesus taught an exclusive relationship with God through His Spirit, which results in answered prayer and spiritual power (John 14:12-14; 15:7). The world resists the exclusivity of Christianity and resents it, but it is clearly taught in the Scripture. In the midst of the now-universal scope of the gospel, people still need to embrace Christ and the gospel with faith to be able to come to God.

Q3. (Ephesians 2:17) What does it mean to have "access to the Father"? In what way does the Holy Spirit facilitate this access? In what way does Jesus enable this access?
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Made One in Christ (2:18-22)

"18For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. 19Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit." (2:18-22)

In contrast to our old place outside of God's blessing and privilege, we now have been given wonderful blessings:

  • Access to the Father by the Spirit through Christ (a Trinitarian concept)
  • Citizenship with God's people
  • Family membership in God's household

Notice that our privileges are with God's people, not instead of God's people. All who put their faith in Christ, Jews and Gentiles, are part of the same people of God now.

A Dwelling Place for God in the Spirit (2:22)

"And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit." (2:22)

The final part of this passage contains a play on words in Greek. Verse19b says we are members of God's house (oikos). Both in Greek and in English, the word "house" can mean both "dwelling place" as well as "household." In 2:19, Paul uses the word first with the idea of "household," "fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household," but then consciously shifts over in 2:20-22 to a related word, "dwelling place" (katoikētērion6). The dwelling place in this passage is not the individual heart of the believer, but the congregation itself. Our churches are to be "a dwelling place for God" -- an awesome thought!

God's "house" is also a "holy temple in the Lord" (2:21) which is spiritual and metaphorical, rather than physical. The apostles and prophets make up the spiritual foundation. Christ is the chief cornerstone which determines and joins together the building. We are perceived as "living stones" (1 Peter 2:4-5) which are "built together" (2:22a).

Notice that the theme is unity with other believers. Some people act as if they were "Lone Ranger" Christians. They isolate themselves from the other believers, don't attend church or support the ministry, and parrot the unscriptural excuse they learned from the world, "You don't have to go to church to be a Christian." As I read Ephesians and the rest of the New Testament, not loving our brothers and sisters enough to get together with them is a mark of non-Christianity. The Apostle John wrote:

"Dear friends, let us love one another [i.e. other Christian believers], for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love" (1 John 4:7-8).

The Bible knows no "Lone Ranger" Christians, only believers in fellowship with the other believers in their locality. Yes, there is a place and time for spiritual retreat. Jesus and others drew away for a time of spiritual solitude, fasting, and prayer, but then came back again to be with God's people. Being a perpetual hermit is an aberration, not our command. Our sense of identity according to Ephesians is as part of God's people, part of God's household, stones "being built together" to become a temple.

The Church as a Temple (2:21-22)

"In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit." (2:21-22)

Several times in the New Testament people are spoken of as being a "temple." In 1 Corinthians 6:19 Paul says clearly, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?" Clearly he is speaking of the individual Christian here.

But in each of the other instances, the reference to the "temple" is to the church body collectively. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 warns against destroying the church which has been built by a builder such as Apollos or Paul. 2 Corinthians 6:16-17 is spoken to a people among whom God lives and walks. "We are the temple" rather than "You (singular) are a temple." In 1 Peter 2:4-5 believers are likened to "living stones," which are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices. The context here is clearly of a temple, now with spiritual sacrifices rather than physical ones.

Q4. (Ephesians 2:22) What is the significance that your congregation was made to be "a dwelling place for God in the Spirit"? What hinders that from being fully experienced? What can you do to help that become more fully experienced and appreciated?
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Spiritual Masonry

Verses 21 and 22 use three interesting words which describe Jesus' spiritual masonry:

  • "Joined together" (NIV, NRSV) and "fitly framed together" (KJV) is Greek sunharmologeō, "fit or join together."7 This verb is another compound word, with sun, "together" + harmologos, "binding, joining;" from harmos, "a joint," and legō, "to lay with." Have you ever laid a brick or stone walkway? Or built a block wall? Then you know how important and exacting the joinery process is.
  • "Grows into" (NRSV, KJV), "rises to become" (NIV) is Greek auxanō/auxō, "become greater, grow, increase."8
  • "Built together" is sunoikodomeō, "build up (together) or construct various parts,"9 another compound using sun, "together, with" + oikodomeō, "to build a house, erect a building".
Disciple Lessons from Ephesians, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
All the lessons are now available as an e-book or printed book for your convenience.

Ephesians 2:22 has always meant a great deal to me. It says that when Christians gather, we become together a "dwelling place of God in the Spirit" (RSV). There is a special sense in which God meets with his people when they are gathered in his name.

Jesus spoke of the spiritual power of the gathered church: "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (Matthew 18:20). It's not that he isn't with us as individuals, but that in a very special sense he meets with us when we gather to honor him with brothers and sisters in Christ. I believe that God wishes to fill our gatherings with his presence as powerfully as he did the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-35) and the temple (1 Kings 8:10-11) when the Shekinah glory of God became so great that the priests could not perform their ministry because of the greatness of the glory of God in his house.

We have been called to be building blocks in a temple, which becomes "the dwelling place of God in the Spirit." From alienation and separateness, we have truly been brought inside God's house to become part of its very structure, to see him in his glory. What a wonderful and high calling!

Prayer

Lord Jesus, bring each of us into the unity for which you lived and died and now intercede before the throne of God. Amen.

Key Verses

"For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit." (Ephesians 2:18)
"And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit." (Ephesians 2:22)

References

  1. GLC, shālēm, TWOT #2401a.
  2. Katargeō, BDAG 525-526.
  3. Palaioō, "to make old, to declare to be obsolete" (H. Seesemann, palai, ktl., TDNT 5:717-720).
  4. Apokatallassō means "to change, to exchange, to reconcile" (F. Büchsel, alassō, ktl., TDNT 1:251-259; BDAG 112).
  5. Prosagōgē, "way of approach, access" (BDAG 876).
  6. Katoikētērion, "dwelling place" (BDAG 534-535) from katoikeō, "to make something a habitation or dwelling by being there, inhabit" (BDAG 434). Also O. Michel, oikos, ktl., TDNT 5:119-159.
  7. Sunharmologeō, BDAG 986.
  8. Auxanō/auxō, BDAG 151.
  9. Sunoikodomeō, BDAG 974.

Copyright © 1985-2017, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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