Read Ephesians 2:11-12. Paul introduced this section by bluntly describing the position of Gentiles before they made Jesus their Savior and passed, as Paul clearly stated in the opening verses of this chapter, from death to life.
In the days of Jesus there was total animosity between Jews and all Gentiles. Jews called Gentiles “dogs” and unless absolutely necessary would have no interaction with them. Having anything to do with a Gentile made a Jew unclean. If they had to travel to a Gentile country, they shook the dust off their feet when they arrived back in Israel as a sign that Gentiles were dirt that you did not want to bring into God’s country. There are reports that if a Jew married a Gentile a symbolic funeral for the Jew was carried out. Some Jews said that Gentiles were created by God to be fuel for the fires of hell.
A list of the indicators of the hatred of Jews for Gentiles could go on and on with an equally long list of how many Gentiles felt about those Jews who thought they were the only ones who truly knew God. Most Gentiles despised the Jews and wanted nothing to do with them.
God never sanctioned that attitude on the part of either Israel or Gentiles. God let it be known that He had chosen Israel to be His special people so He could bless all the peoples of the earth. God stated in various Old Testament places that Israel was to be a witness to the Gentile world, but seldom, if ever, did they fulfill that role.
In verses 11 and 12 Paul spelled out the place of Gentiles in the scheme of things when the early church was formed. Paul noted first that Gentiles were called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision.” Gentiles were viewed as those outside the people of God. Gentiles were social outcasts.
In addition to name calling, Gentiles were “separate from Christ.” The promised Messiah was to come through the Jewish people, in the lineage of David etc. Gentiles had no future except judgment because there was no promised one who would redeem them. Those outside of Jesus were dead in their trespasses and sins. Such was the state of Gentiles and Jews, but the Jews had the promise of a Messiah.
Further, Gentiles were “excluded from citizenship in Israel.” The Jews believed that they were the chosen people, God’s holy nation. He was their God and not the covenant God of anyone else. That meant that when a Gentile was refused citizenship, he was refused permission to belong to the people of God and, therefore, separated from every blessing afforded to the people of God.
Gentiles were “foreigners to the covenants of the promise.” God’s covenant was with Israel, a covenant that made multiple promises specifically to them, including to be their God, provide for them, protect them etc. Read Genesis 12:2-3. As far as the Jews were concerned that covenant was an exclusive promise to them.
To make matters worse, they were “without hope and without God in the world.” Although God had left a witness to Himself in creation the Gentile world never accepted that witness, suppressing the truth. In place of that truth, they established their own religions and setting up their own idols. Paul detailed their rejection of whatever light they were given in the opening section of Romans.
One writer (William Hendriksen) summarized Gentiles in the day of Paul as “Christless, stateless, friendless, hopeless and Godless.” That about sums it up. Paul described them in verse 13 as being “far away” from God. It was not a pretty picture for us as Gentiles, and we are counted among those Gentiles.
Fortunately, that was not the end of the story. Read Ephesians 2:13. The “But now” of verse 13 is the equivalency of the “But God” of verse 4.
The rest of chapter 2 makes it clear that Jesus did something to end that separation of Jews and Gentiles. Read Ephesians 2:14. The essence of that summary is that the two groups who were once bitter enemies are now one. The things that once separated are gone.
The first part of verse 15 records that Paul was saying that Jesus established a new community, which we know as the church. In so doing He set aside the various rules and regulations that once identified one as a Jew. Those regulations included such things as circumcision, various sacrifices, and dietary laws. Jesus never abolished God’s moral law but abolished the ceremonial law which was fulfilled completely in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
The center part of verse 15 reads, “His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two.” Note that God has created one new humanity. The key to understanding that statement is the word “new.” In Greek there are a variety of different words that are used to describe different aspects of being “new.” The Greek word used here is “kainos.” Kainos was used to describe that which was new in form or quality. It was used to describe something that was different in nature, in essence.
Read Ephesians, in 4:24. The Christian is not simply the old person whitewashed to look new but is a totally new creature in Christ. The transformation that takes place when one makes a commitment to Jesus is more than simply changing one identity from non-Christian to Christian. It is a transformation of the individual that only God can do whereby one is different in nature.
When Paul described the fellowship of Jews and Gentiles as being a “new humanity out of the two” he was not talking of a new group in which Jews and Gentiles simply worshipped together, but a totally new entity. The “new” humanity was not a new club made up of Jews and Gentiles after they had compromised in order to worship together. The church is a totally new entity that is possible only because God has changed individuals so they can indeed be one in Jesus.
When we began looking at this, I noted that an initial response to this section can be one that says it was tremendously important in the early church but since we no longer face the separation of Jews and Gentiles, it is irrelevant to today. Perhaps, if the message is simply about Jews and Gentiles but what if the principle is larger? What if God was not saying through Paul that there will never be unity between parties that have radically different ideas until they are united in Jesus?
Think about the significant unity movements of the past year or so. Think about “Black Lives Matter vs. Blue Lives Matter.” Think about the issue of refugees vs. existing society. Think about the push for equality between men and women. The point is, we live in a sinful world and while sinners desire some kind of unity, there will be none until they are united in Jesus. We will not have real lasting peace on earth until we are made into a new society in Jesus. There may be intermediate steps that may minimize differences but in the end the hope of society is in a relationship with Jesus.
Read Ephesians 2:15-17.
Notice the word “peace” which occurs 3 times with the additional word “reconcile.” The message of the Bible is that a result of man’s sin discord and alienation came into the world. Most critically there was discord or alienation from a holy God but in addition there was discord among men. Genesis 3 details the alienation from God and then immediately following that, in Genesis 4, we have discord among men pictured with the killing of Abel by his brother Cain.
The last few verses in Ephesians 2 deal with the problems the Jews and Gentiles had. In truth, however, they deal with the much larger and more relevant issue of first having peace with God so we can then legitimately have peace among men. Paul summarized that in verse 19. Read that verse. It describes what we are and the only hope for oneness in the world.
The church has not always been the church and reflected the reality of that, but that is our hope. The first challenge is to be sure we live so every Christian is seen as an equal member of the household of God. Second, it is a challenge to present Jesus to those around us as the only real, lasting solution to the problems that divide.