But now in Christ Jesus you [Gentiles] who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
We have seen how the first half of the second chapter of Ephesians speaks of the spiritual death of all men (Jew and Gentile) and our subsequent resurrection as individuals in Christ. Now in the second half of the chapter we find the corporate experience explained, as the apostle Paul writes how, through redemption in Christ, Jews and Gentiles are made into “one new man.” While the relationship between these two groups may be of lesser concern in the 21st Century, this was the burning issue of the first Century. This is illustrated in the Apostle Peter’s initial hesitancy to fellowship with the Gentile, Cornelius (Acts 10:17-29), and his later hypocrisy in refusing to fellowship with Gentiles while other Jews were present (Gal 2:6-16). F.F. Bruce observes: “no iron curtain, colour bar, class distinction, or national frontier of today is more absolute than the cleavage between Jew and Gentile was in antiquity.” He called the unity between Jew and Gentile in Christ the “greatest trial of the Gospel in the apostolic age.” John Calvin wrote:
“… God, who was pleased to admit our fathers into the number of his own people, deserves to be held in everlasting remembrance. The calling of the Gentiles is an astonishing work of divine goodness, which ought to be handed down by parents to children, and to their children’s children, that it may never be forgotten or unacknowledged by the sons of men.”
The matter of Gentiles being saved weighed upon the apostle Paul’s thoughts in the book of Romans, where he wrote: … is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. (Rom 3:29-31). In chapter one, he made the unprecedented statement that the Gospel is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. (Rom 1:16). In the first and second chapters of this epistle, Paul proves that both Jew and Gentile are likewise under sin; but in Christ, Paul concludes in Galatians 3:28-29: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Why is that which is astonishing, taken so much for granted in our age? First because it has been 2000 years since the dividing wall, which kept Gentiles for the most part from receiving salvation, has been removed. For two millennia, Gentiles have been coming to Christ, becoming fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, so the idea of the exclusion and alienation of the Gentiles from God’s kingdom seems remote to us. Also, today’s church emphasizes the Gospel’s work toward the individual coming to Christ and making a personal choice to follow Him; there is far less concern in the modern church for the corporate expression of the unity among the people of God. Paul writes: For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, … so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity (Eph 2:14-17). Amidst the emphasis on the individual’s atonement, the atoning or peacemaking work of Christ in bringing separated people together in Him, has been neglected in evangelical churches. Over 100 years ago, James Denney wrote:
Is the great appeal of the Cross one which is intelligible only to men of a single race …? On the contrary, there is nothing in the world so universally intelligible as the Cross; and hence it is the meeting-place not only of God and man, but of all races and conditions of men with each other. There is neither Greek nor Jew, male nor female, bond nor free, there. … But of all Christian truths which are confessed in words, this is that which is most outrageously denied in deed. There is not a Christian church nor a Christian nation in the world which believes heartily in the Atonement as the extinction of privilege, and the leveling up of all men to the same possibility of life in Christ, to the same calling to be saints. The spirit of privilege, in spite of the Cross, is obstinately rooted everywhere even among Christian men.
How tragically accurate this statement is. While the grandeur of the Biblical vision for a new and unified society cannot be overstated, today Christians continue to erect new barriers of denominationalism, racism, prejudice, jealousy, and divisive class and caste systems. Personal animosities engineered by pride separate human beings, while Christ is most glorified where there is unity and love among of His people. May this text challenge us to live as we indeed are – with all barriers which separate us from each other, torn down by Christ’s peacemaking cross-work.
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