In Ephesians 2:11-17 Paul states plainly that the unity of Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ was a great blessing and privilege for both. For the Gentiles the blessing of this state of salvation and unity is emphasized by having them recall their former state of separation or spiritual death.
“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:11-12).
They had been “separated from Christ” and “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” But whereas they had been “far off,” they had now been “made near by the blood of Christ.”
The whole picture is one of estrangement, separation and deprivation. At the time the Ephesians were without Christ, they were deprived of the spiritual blessings that are in Him. Being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, they were separated from the community of common interest and mutual love and benefit. They were bereft of hope and separated from God and from the life and glory that are in Him.
To be an alien is to not be a citizen. Of what had the Gentiles not been citizens? The commonwealth of Israel. What is a commonwealth? The English term, (often applied to states – Kentucky, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia) is from the archaic term, “commonweal” which means “the general welfare.” Commonwealth, in its usual signification, refers to “a state, nation or other political unit…founded on law and united by compact or tacit agreement of the people for the common good.” Commonwealth is a synonym for “community“, which is a “unified body of people with common interests.”
As used by the apostle in this text, it was not confined to fleshly Israel, but has reference to that community of believers, the faithful ones who were the true Israel. To be aliens from this commonwealth was the same as being without Christ, and meant that one was not a beneficiary of the “covenants of promise” and were “without hope and without God in the world.” An alien, as is obvious both from the text and by definition, does not and cannot partake of the benefits of the government of which he is not a citizen. But God’s purpose was to bring all people under His government – His kingdom.
Thus the “gospel of the Kingdom” was the annunciation of that eternal purpose of God, with all men being invited, urged, persuaded to enter into it – to come under the rule of God for their blessing and for God’s glory. Since God’s covenants, plural, (with Abraham and with Israel) was not just for their own blessing, but the blessing of the whole world, these Ephesian saints were among the first to see and experience something of what that is supposed to look like. The only problem with them was that this was such an extremely radical concept that the Jews and Gentiles should be together in a common life and endeavor, they were having a hard time getting their minds around it. Some professed Christians today have a hard time accepting that believers of all races, classes, economic and social levels are on an equal footing in their relationship with God.
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” (Ephesians 2:13-16).
But for these who had been called “uncircumcision,” (a term of derision emphasizing and enforcing the separation between them and the Jews), all this was in the past. “Now in Christ Jesus” they who had been far off had “been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Now, where there had been enmity, there was peace. Where there had been separation, there was reconciliation. Where there had been division, now there was unity. Where there had been alienation, now there was citizenship. Where there thad been spiritual death by reason of being separated from God, now there was life by reason of access to Him “by one Spirit.” All this was done also by the grace of God, a gift given by the power of God.
As valuable and important as were all these blessings, it was not Paul’s purpose to just emphasize them as such. His point was that these blessings were to unite the Jews and Gentiles who were “in Christ Jesus.” This was so because Christ “is our peace,” having “broken down the wall of division” and “abolished in His flesh the enmity.” The “law of commandments contained in ordinances” was that wall of separation or enmity, so called here because it was what had kept the Jews and Gentiles separate from one another. It was never God’s purpose to bless all men separately. He had kept the Jewish nation separate until they fulfilled His purpose, but the time had come for all men to be brought together. The promise made to Abraham was to bless all nations – but the blessings were to be for both groups in a unity of God’s creation.
In verses 14-18, though he is speaking specifically to the Gentile believers, the apostle is careful to note that the Jews were as much in need of the blessings that came through the cross as were the Gentiles. Both had need of reconciliation to God. Peace was preached to those who were near (the Jews) as well as to those afar off (the Gentiles). Through Christ both have access to the Father through one Spirit. That access is in the one body – the church – the one new man (neither Jew nor Gentile) created in Christ Jesus.
It was never God’s intention for mankind, no matter how diverse in terms of superficial, external circumstances, to be separated from each other. It was never His intention that people be separated from Him. By bringing all humanity, along with all the spiritual beings in heaven, together into a commonly shared relationship with Him, He fulfills His eternal purpose. All creation was always intended to be together in a harmonious honoring of the creator (Ephesians 1:7-10). This happens when everything is at last subjected to His rule – His kingdom.