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. 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. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
Ephesians 2:11-18 ESV
The central idea of chapter one was to communicate to us the wondrous blessings that are ours in Christ. The benediction (vv. 3-14) described our blessings, and Paul’s prayer (vv. 15-23) was for a greater understanding of them. As we began chapter two last week, the apostle reminded us how we became united to Christ and the blessings that He gives to us.
In many ways, our present text is a continuation of verses 1-10 since both describe our reconciliation in Christ. Verses 1-10 presented how Christ has reconciled us to the Father, while these verses show how Christ has reconciled His people together, particularly Jews and Gentiles. As with our reconciliation to God, we can only be reconciliated to one another through the blood of Christ, for He is our peace.
AT ONE TIME // VERSES 11-12
Verses 11-12 are quite reminiscent of verses 1-3. There we were described as being dead in sin, following the world, Satan, and our own desires, proving ourselves to be children of God’s wrath by nature. The focus here is again upon our former condition, yet this is a physical and ethnic reality rather than spiritual. Verse 11 establishes the non-Jewish ethnicity of the Ephesians: 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. Verse 12 then explores what being a Gentile means: 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.
Circumcision, we should remind ourselves, was the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants, and the people of Israel continue to circumcise their sons eight days after birth by this command. Indeed, circumcision was meant to be a physical mark of belonging to God’s chosen nation. Gentiles, on the other hand, were uncircumcised. Thus, this bodily sign represented the distinction between the holy people who belonged to God and the profane people who worshiped other gods instead. Being uncircumcised meant being alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise. No circumcision meant having no hope and no God.
Even though the purpose of the kingdom of Israel was be a kingdom of priests to the other nations, the result was actually a sharp and pointed division. Of course, proselytes were certainly made and brought into the fold of God’s people, which required circumcision of the Gentile convert. Even still, the Jew-Gentile divide was palpable, and circumcision was the physical sign of this separation.
Yet Paul uses the words in the flesh and made by hands for a very important reason. The church’s beginning was largely Jewish. Jesus Himself is Jewish, as were all of His disciples. In fact, Luke is the only author of Scripture who was not a Jew. Yet as Christians obeyed the Great Commission, the church very quickly began to shift toward the Gentiles numerically. Thus, the first major debate among the believers was whether or not Gentiles needed to be circumcised in order to become a Christian. In Acts 15, the apostles and elders of the church of Jerusalem gathered together to make a decision. Some argued, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5). Yet Peter gave this answer:
Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.Acts 15:11
If we are saved alone by the grace of Christ, then circumcision (and obedience to the law) cannot be added as prerequisites. In that case, circumcision becomes an attempt of working for salvation. Under the new covenant in Christ, circumcision means amounts to nothing. Indeed, even under the old covenants, it was only a sign. Abraham himself received the sign of circumcision only after being justified by faith before God (Romans 4:9-12). Likewise, as the sign of the new covenant, baptism is a declaration of our salvation, but it does not contribute to our saving.
Nevertheless, all of this is to say that under the old covenants the Gentiles were cut off from the people of God and from God Himself. The physical distinction only represented a much more severe spiritual distinction. What could possibly bridge this divide?
HE IS OUR PEACE // VERSES 13-18
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. With these words, Paul shifts our focus back the present and to our blessings in Christ. Although Gentiles were once far off, Christ’s blood has brought them near. In 1:7 we already saw that Christ’s blood has purchased our redemption and forgiveness, which was then described succinctly in 2:1-10. The good news, the gospel, is that we deserved the wrath of God for our sin, but Jesus took the full weight of that punishment upon the cross for us. In Christ, we are now reconciled to God! Amen! Yet now Paul is also going to describe in verses 14-16 how the blood of Christ reconciles the people of God together, both Jew and Gentile.
Verse 14 is a sort of thesis statement that verses 15-16 will support. Jesus Christ is Himself our peace. Consider the weight of this thought. Jesus does not merely offer us peace as a gift from His hand; rather, He is our peace. By His own flesh, He has broken down the dividing wall of hostility and made us one. Whatever division and hostility once stood between Jew and Gentile is now replaced by the peace of Christ.
But how has He done this? By abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances. Paul is not meaning that Christ has abolished the law of God entirely, which we know that Jesus fulfilled rather than abolishing. Instead, He abolished the law of commandments expressed in ordinances. Calvin rightly explains:
What had been metaphorically understood by the word wall is now more plainly expressed. The ceremonies, by which the distinction was declared, have been abolished through Christ. What were circumcision, sacrifices, washings, and abstaining from certain kinds of food, but symbols of sanctification, reminding the Jews that their lot was different from that of other nations…. Paul declares not only that the Gentiles are equally with the Jews admitted to the fellowship of grace, so that they no longer differ from each other, but that the mark of difference has been taken away; for ceremonies have been abolished.
Christ abolished the outward ordinances of the law that only divided and resulted in hostility. The sacrifices and washings find their perfect fulfillment in the final sacrifice of Christ that has washed away all of our sins. Circumcision has been replaced with a new sign of baptism, which is given all who are in Christ, Jew and Gentile as well as men and women. The feasts and festivals have been replaced by the Lord’s Supper, which is the remembrance of the true Passover sacrifice of Christ for our atonement. No, the law has certainly not been abolished, but it has been fulfilled in Christ. Furthermore, much of the law’s previous ordinances have passed away.
By erasing these ordinances of distinction, Jesus has created in himself one new man in the place of two, so making peace. Under the old covenants, there were two kinds of people: Jews and Gentiles. But under the new covenant, there are only Christians. We have become a new creation, a new mankind, “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (4:24). We do not place our faith or confidence in empty rituals and works; rather, both Jew and Gentile now look to Christ as “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
Indeed, we become new creations solely because Christ has reconciled us both to God in one body through the cross. The reconciliation that Christ brings to mankind, to one another, is mediated. Being reconciled to God is not only primary to our reconciliation with our neighbor, it is necessary for it. We must be reconciled to God before true reconciliation can be achieved between persons. As I have recently argued, our view (or even rejection) of God shapes everything else we believe, understand, or do. For instance, a disbelief in God as the designer of the cosmos most often leads to belief in some kind of eternal laws of nature that order the universe or a rejection of natural order altogether, essentially a form of nihilism. Likewise, belief in a God of grace must impact how we view the people around us. By being reconciled to God, we glimpse the gift and wonder of forgiveness and grace as we also reconcile with our neighbor.
It has also been noted that death is the great equalizer, which is certainly true to an extent, yet the title more fittingly belongs to the cross. At the cross, we find that we are just as damned by our sin as our neighbor. Before the holiness of God, there is no sense in arguing degrees of sin because all sin is defiled and worthy of just punishment. In light of eternal suffering, no one will think, “Well at least I wasn’t a thief like that guy.” The cross, therefore, places us all upon a level playing field with regards to our sin, but it also restores us by the same work. In heaven, no one will look upon another person with condescending pride in their own good deeds because entrance into the kingdom is only through the blood of the Son. This excludes all boasting from the equation, for we have all been rescued from the same rebellion against God by the same act of redemption upon the cross.
Consider now the apostle’s next words, thereby killing the hostility. What an ironic use of wording! The hostility that existed between Jew and Gentile has now been killed by the blood of Christ upon the cross. In order to bring us peace, Christ was far from peaceful with our sin. The violence of conflict is swallowed up by a violent redemption. We rightly stand in an awestruck wonder at the horror and beauty of the cross. There, indeed, does “sorrow and love flow mingled down!”
Verse 17 crucially notes the ministry of the gospel reaching out to both Jews (those who were near) and Gentiles (you who were far off). The word of Christ was preached to both peoples (at the command of Jesus Himself), which resulted in the faith of both. Both have heard the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ, and through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. Aside from being another beautiful image of the Trinity, verse 18 is the foundation of unity within the church. Through the work of Christ, we are given one Spirit who then brings us before the Father. This is the unity of God’s people, Jew or Gentile. We are knitted together in this loving work of our Triune God.
Next week as we finished the chapter, we will continue onward with God’s plan to build His united church, but for the remainder of our time, I would like to address some points of application.
The Jew-Gentile division of the New Testament period is fairly easy for us to ignore today. The church is largely composed of Gentiles, as has been the case for nearly two thousand years now. Thus, we may often forget that the inclusion of Gentiles into God’s people was a “mystery hidden for ages in God” (3:10). Our status as becoming “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus” (3:6) was a massive and seismic shift. So great was divide between these peoples that only Christ could mend it.
If this is true for Jews and Gentiles, how much more for all other divisions? It is quite popular today to state that we have never been more polarized, that we have never been more divided. While I do not agree with that sentiment entirely, I do agree with the blatant polarization around us; however, if you spend any moderate amount of time studying history, you will rapidly see that division and disunity are the status quo of humanity. In fact, historical moments of unity are widely remembered for just that reason: they were historical and uncommon.
From the moment that Adam and Eve saw that they were naked, a chasm formed within humanity as a result of sin. Babel only sealed this division by adding ethnic dimensions on top of everything. We are separated from one another, politically, culturally, linguistically, and spiritually. The significance of the Holy Spirit’s arrival on Pentecost in Acts 2 ran deeper than being a divine form of Google Translate. It was a reversal of Babel, a visible display of how humanity will now be reunited.
And we can look to nothing else. No political candidate, no humanitarian effort, no legislation, no philosophical or sociological ideology, no technological breakthrough, no treaty or agreement, no system old or new can usher in a united utopia for mankind. Christ alone can reconcile us to one another, just as He alone can reconcile us to the Father. Far from standing apart from the ills of society, the gospel is the only true and lasting solution for them. May we, therefore, reject the tendency to view preaching the gospel and reforming the world around us as two entirely separate notions. Instead, the message of the gospel is the only real bridge to peace, both with God and with fellow man.
So, proclaim it. Preach the good news of Christ, where God provides an open door for doing so. Declare Christ so that former enemies would become much more than friends or colleagues but brothers and sisters within the same family. In Christ alone do we have grace that unites us to our Father and peace that unites us to one another.
 Calvin, Commentary on Ephesians.