… were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
Gentiles, besides being the objects of Jewish contempt, were also in a spiritually bankrupt condition. Not because, as many of the Jews had thought, they were uncircumcised, but for other reason, which Paul summarizes in five descriptive phrases. Paul reminds the church at Ephesus of their past as a corporate people, so that in light of this, God’s grace in joining them with the Jewish people into one new society might be magnified.
First, they were without Christ. While the Jewish people clung to the hope of a coming Messiah for centuries, even in the midst of their darkest hours, Gentiles were not even aware that such a promise was made. Though the Jewish nation for the most part rejected Jesus, their expectation for the coming of a Messiah had been a source of strength and courage in the midst of their otherwise very dark history – in fact, their expectancy actually rose in the darkest of those times. Gentiles knew of no such promise.
Second they were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel. Aliens, is a word that carries with it the idea of separation or estrangement; it is also a political word related to one’s right of citizenship or lack thereof. Gentiles were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, meaning they had no place, no right of citizenship in the kingdom of God’s government. There was no godly society which they could participate in by privilege, whereas those born Jewish in the flesh, whether truly in the kingdom of God or not, experienced the privileges associated with the kingdom. Yet still more awful than this:
Thirdly, Gentiles were strangers from the covenants of promise, having no idea that God would even enter into a covenant with man. They knew not from Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, or David. The whole concept of the covenant was established in the Hebrew Scriptures, so the Jews were very familiar with that which was foreign to the Gentile. As a result of this:
Fourthly, Gentiles had no hope. Now this does not mean that they had nothing to live for. Gentiles, like Jews, had hopes and aspirations to attain better things in life; certainly Gentiles enjoyed familial relationships, friendships, nature, seasons of rest and even a sense of happiness from the elements of common grace which God has bestowed to the world at large. But Gentiles were a hopeless people because, even though God had planned to extend the borders of salvation outside of the nation of Israel, they did not know it. They were a people, very much like animals, pushed by the past and driven in the present, but never enticed by the future. There was no confidence, when they left the tomb of a loved one, that they might see them again. They had no hope, that is, no expectation, that death would ever be destroyed or swallowed up in victory.
Finally they were, what really is the source of their condition, without God in the world. The word in Greek is atheoi, where we get the English word atheist; but this does not suggest that did not believe in god, in fact they had many gods and many lords. Rather they had no knowledge whatsoever of the one true God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Without God, and left in the world (as opposed to the commonwealth of Israel where they had access to God’s kingdom), they were left to be ruled by Satan and his kingdom of darkness which dominates the thinking and activity of this present evil age.
When people come to Christ, they are in Paul’s words, no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. (Eph 2:19). What a God-glorifying contrast between what you were and what you are in Christ! Meditate upon the difference that Christ has made in your life and worship Him, for He alone is worthy to be praised!
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