"Consequently, then, no longer are you guests and sojourners, but are fellow-citizens of the saints and belong to God's family, being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, the capstone of the corner being Christ Jesus Himself, in Whom the entire building, being connected together, is growing into an holy temple in the Lord; in whom you, also, are being built together for God's dwelling place in spirit."
When reading God's word, it is profitable to note the section ends and summaries such as the one given above. This quotation is taken from the last verses of Ephesians 2. In this chapter we learn that we are dead to the offenses and sins in which once we walked.*1) In that era our conduct was "in accord with the chief of the jurisdiction of the air, the spirit now operating in the sons of stubbornness." Yet God, being rich in mercy, because of His vast love, "vivifies*2) us together in Christ, and rouses us together and seats us together among the celestials in Christ Jesus."
To whom do these words "together" -repeated three times in close succession -to whom do they apply? In the first part, it is evident that they apply to ourselves, that is, to all believers in Christ Jesus: we are included in the "together." The unity of the body of Christ is a fundamental matter, for "By one spirit we are all baptized into one body."
Two classes of people are mentioned in this chapter: the first are those believers among the nations to whom this letter was written. The second includes both believers and unbelievers of Israel.
Believers among the nations had never been under law, nor will they ever be under it. They are saved by grace, and saved in grace. An attempt by the followers of James to impose the law on the nations had been firmly resisted by Paul, and this forms the subject of his Galatian letter. There he shows that "by works of law no flesh at all shall be justified." On behalf of transgressions was it added. It came in "by the way, that the offence should be increasing." Law altered the character of sin, and it became transgression. The evangel heralded by Paul was "apart from law." At the very heart of Paul's evangel is God's own righteousness, and this comes to the believer through Jesus Christ's faith.*3) It is an absolute matter, and cannot be nullified by the failure of the flesh.
None of these facts finds any correspondence in the law, which deals, not with God's righteousness, but with man's unrighteousness.
The believing Jews were those who had heard the message of the evangel preached on Pentecost by Peter and the rest of the twelve. They heard the message, and had repented. If Acts chapter 2 is read, it will be noticed that Peter did not preach the same evangel (or gospel) as Paul heralded among the nations. Peter charges Israel with the murder of Jesus, and calls for them to repent, and many did repent. Repentance has the law in view.
Yet the Jewish believers had a problem with Paul's evangel. Accepting Jesus as Israel's Messiah changed nothing in relation to the words of the law. The man "who does the law shall live by it." They still understood that their days would be prolonged by attention to the law. Peter, in his letters sees Israel regenerated "into a living expectation through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." In that future era, they will come into the full benefit of all that the law promised to those who keep its precepts. This was Israel's expectation, revealed under the new covenant in Jeremiah.*4) Then will they have strength to keep the law.
Justification, as revealed in Romans three*5) is not mentioned in Peter's letters. He sees Christ as the Perfect Example, that they "should be following up in the footprints of Him Who does no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth, Who, being reviled, reviled not again, suffering, threatened not, yet gave it over to Him Who is judging justly, Who Himself carries up our sins in His body on to the pole, that, coming away from sins, we should be living for righteousness: by Whose welt you were healed." There was much benefit flowing from the death of Christ, but to Israel these benefits brought changes which, had they been accepted nationally, would have hastened the Kingdom coming in power.
In this Messianic Kingdom the nations will have no part, for Israel are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a procured people."*6) Access to God will be through the priestly nation, Israel. The Gentile nations will once again be in the position outlined in verse 12 of Ephesians 2 -"alienated from the citizenship of Israel, and guests of the promise covenants, having no expectation, and without God in the world." The Ethiopian in Acts chapter 8:27-40 is an example of the place the nations will occupy in the Kingdom.
Under the law, life was prolonged by attention to its details and was dependant on the efforts of it subjects. The laws subjects were Israel, for to them were entrusted the oracles of God. Their expectation was to an earthly resurrection in the future eon (often called the 'milennium') when, indued with God's spirit, their life will be prolonged to what may be called eonian life. They will enjoy the blessings of the Messianic Kingdom.
Under grace, those of the nations receive a gratuitous righteousness from God, through Jesus Christ's faith. This is not at all dependant on their own efforts, but on God's faithfulness. They are presently blessed with every spiritual blessing among the celestials. Their expectation is to a celestial calling, when, as Christ's complement, they will be His instruments to herald reconciliation to the celestial beings.
We therefore have two bodies of believers in this second chapter of Ephesians. One with an earthly calling, and which depended on a national privilege –"unto them were entrusted the oracles of God" and the other with a celestial calling, and with no physical ties to the favoured nation.
The words "together" are the first indication of the joint body, introduced in this chapter, and further explained in the next. The two classes of believers are, the believing Jews, and the believing Gentiles. We have already seen how disparate was their calling, their standing, and their expectation. "You" in the first verse, refers to the Gentile believers, and "we" in verse 3 includes all Israel, believers and unbelievers alike.
God, being "rich in mercy" (in the face of law) had begun the calling out of the ecclesia with Israel. He saved first the foremost of sinners, for a pattern of those who were to believe. Then the evangel is progressively announced, with ever higher truths being revealed, until the point where Israel is set aside, "until the complement of the nations may be entering."
But what of those of Israel who have believed ? Have they lost their allotment and their expectation ? The answer to this question forms the subject of verses 4-7 of Ephesians 2.
"Yet God, being rich in mercy, because of His vast love with which He loves us (we also being dead to the offences and the lusts), vivifies us together in Christ, and rouses us together and seats us together among the celestials, in Christ Jesus, that, in the oncoming eons, He should be displaying the transcendent riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus."
Previously there had been enmity between Jew and Gentile, but now "He is our peace, who makes both one . . . creating the two in Himself into one new humanity, making peace." Here is the New Humanity ! Now there is one evangel, an evangel of peace, and it is "peace to you, those afar, and peace to those near, for through Him we both have had the access, in one spirit, to the Father."
1 This is a mature statement of the teaching of Romans 6.
2 "Vivifies" = made alive beyond the power of death.
3 Rom. 1:17; "For in it God's righteousness is being revealed, out of faith, for faith." Rom. 3:22; "Yet a righteousness of God, through Jesus Christ's faith, for all, and on all who are believing." See also Gal. 2:16; 3:22; Phil. 3:9.
4 Jeremiah 31:31. "Not like the covenant I made with their fathers . . . .I will put My law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts . . ."
5 Romans 3:22 "A righteousness of God, through Jesus Christ's faith, for all. and on all who are believing."
6 1 Peter 2:9