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Dead In Trespasses and Sins
In chapter 1 you have seen what God’s intentions were, already before the foundation of the world. In chapter 2 you will get a clarification of what God has done with your life here on earth and what your position is in the world. It is not that much about the counsels of God here; that we have learnt in chapter 1. In chapter 2 God shows His grace and power with which He realized His counsels. Only God was able to change the condition in which we lived. In Ephesians 2:1-2 Samuel : the power of God becomes visible in making alive those who were dead; in Ephesians 2:11-Song of Solomon : we see His power in bringing close to Him those who were far away from Him.
Ephesians 2:1. Ephesians 2:1-Leviticus : describe the nature of man, what his works are and to which influences he is subjected. Man is dead by nature; he is doing his works (deeds) under the influence of the devil and in this way disobeying God. The first verse is connected with Ephesians 2:20 of the previous chapter. There it is about the death of Christ in which He has chosen to enter into voluntarily. Here it is about our death, where we were, due to our own faults. You stand here at the starting point of your life as a Christian. That starting point is death. Death here means that there is not a single trace of life to be found in human nature that is focused on God.
Still there was energy, a certain kind of life. After all, it is said: “In your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked.” However, a life in sin is no life at all, it is death. Every step was made without the recognition of God and was therefore a false step. Every path was taken without asking God if that was the way He wanted you to go and was therefore a wrong road.
A good illustration of this you find in the history of the prodigal son in Luke 15. The youngest son is asking his father to give him his part of the inheritance in advance. Then he goes away and squanders all that he owns in a lawless life. You can imagine him very engaged with all sorts of depraved activities. To his father however, he was dead, for what does this father say later? “For this son of mine was dead” (Luke 15:24). In 1 Peter 4 death is spoken about in the same way: “For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead” (1 Peter 4:6). Here also people are included who are actively participating in the society, but without focusing on God.
Your and my activities were all in the category of ‘trespasses and sins’. ‘Trespasses’ means that a rule that has been given is consciously being trespassed. ‘Sins’ are all deeds that are done without taking account of the authority above us. In 1 John 3 it is put as follows: “Sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). Lawlessness means that there is no recognition of authority, whereas God has the highest authority.
Ephesians 2:2. That characterized our walk, our whole behavior in the world. This attitude was fully in line with the “the course of this world”, that is the elements through which the world is being guided, the character in which the world reveals itself. It is the atmosphere in which the world is plunged and where the goal of men is being determined, whereas God and His thoughts totally remain out of view. God is not only ignored, but all human activities are against Him. Man is adverse and rebellious.
Behind this rebellion there is a director who is full of hatred against God and His plans, “the prince of the power of the air”, that is satan, God’s unchangeable adversary. He fills the whole atmosphere with his unbounded hatred. Every human who is not connected to God breathes in that atmosphere. He wants to obstruct God as much as possible in the achievements of His counsels. Of that spirit of rebellion Job speaks in Job 21: “They say to God, ‘Depart from us, we do not even desire the knowledge of Your ways.” (Job 21:14; cf. Job 22:17). The important point is to recognize the source from which all words and deeds come, who is behind it.
This ‘spirit’, this demonic mastermind, makes an exceedingly strong couple with “the sons of disobedience”. It is not about ‘children’, but it is said ‘sons’. The word ‘sons’ speaks of maturity, of dealing with understanding. If you just remember Job 21:14, you see that there is a matter of consciously rejecting God.
This is the picture that God shows here of you and me; this is how we were and this is how every person still is who does not take account of Him. Nobody is to be excused if he does not know God (Romans 1:18-Ecclesiastes :). In contradiction of what we formerly were, it is said in 1 Peter 1 that we now are “obedient children” (1 Peter 1:14) or according to a better rendering “children of obedience.” Here it does not say ‘sons’, because it is about the nature we received, a nature characterized by obedience. You have received the Lord Jesus as your new life. His life was all obedience. If He is now your life then you will not express this life differently than He did.
Ephesians 2:3. Unfortunately we are not all the time obedient as children of God. That is because we sometimes give room to our flesh. Then practically we are back for a moment in the same condition where we formerly lived when we “lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind”. This means that emotions, will and mind were all put into the service of satan. He used (and uses) all of the human’s mind for his evil goal.
I suppose I don’t have to say much about ‘the lusts of our flesh’. Everything in this world is about the satisfaction of wants. The world provides in this and maintains itself through it. Television commercials and bill boards along the road are adapting to it in a shameless way. Also the internet is such a fulfiller of fleshly desires. Everyone who cannot live without it is doing ‘the lusts of his flesh’. The human will is involved here. He consciously makes the choice to do it. A moment may come when it becomes an addiction and that such a person is unresistingly being guided by his lusts. But this was not from the beginning.
The mind also has a part in this. How often did someone fulfill his lusts by first thinking about certain things? If the wrong thinking is not being cut off, it will come to a volition and subsequently to a deed.
So all in all it may be clear that people who are dead in trespasses and sins are “by nature children of wrath”. Here they are called ‘children’ and not ‘sons’. It is about the nature, about what characterizes the condition in which such a person lives. Because this is totally without God, it cannot be other than asking for His wrath. God cannot allow a condition that is against His nature. If He works towards a situation in which He will be ‘all in all’ (1 Corinthians 15:28), He shall wipe out in His wrath all who want to prevent that.
If that was also for you and me, who “even as the rest” were under God’s wrath, what then has stirred God to let us escape from that and to give us blessings that are far beyond our understanding? That will be made clear in the following verses and our admiration for Who God will thereby increase more and more.
Now read Ephesians 2:1-3 again.
Reflection: What are the characteristics of a person who is not a child of God?
God, Rich In Mercy
Ephesians 2:4. In Ephesians 2:1-Leviticus : you have seen what the human nature is (dead, without any connection to God) and how he acts by his nature. This all is subjected to the wrath of God and is therefore the only prospect for man. We cannot imagine a view that is more hopeless than this. And then come those hopeful and shining words “but God”. These words bring a mind-blowing transformation in the desperate situation of a person and open a source of blessing which is beyond our thinking.
You’re going to see what the nature of God is and how He acts by His nature. In Romans 5 and Titus 3 you also read these words “but God” (Romans 5:8; Titus 3:4). There also these words are an introduction on what God has done and contrast sharply with what man is and has done.
In our verse God has not acted (or God doesn’t act) because we are so desperate. The first thing is not our misery or need. No, God is operating from Who He is and therefore His whole glory is being revealed. In what God is doing here, He alone is in action. Nothing is demanded from man; there is even no appeal for conversion. After all, how could a dead person hear anything, not to mention that he would be able to accede to any appeal?
Surely, man is called to convert and is held responsible to heed that call. That side of the truth you find in the letter to the Romans. In the letter to the Ephesians everything comes from God. God is love, and mercy comes from His love. God is rich in mercy. How rich He is in mercy you can see when you think of the desperate and miserable situation as it is pictured in Ephesians 2:1-Leviticus :. In His great mercy God has bent down to you and raised you from that situation. In Ezekiel 16 we see a striking illustration of that (Ezekiel 16:1-2 Chronicles :).
As already said, this action of God is based on “His great love”. Love goes a lot further than mercy. Mercy has to do with the misery in which a person is found. Love is above everything and apart from everything. God is love. He was that also when sin was not there yet and therefore there was no reason to show mercy. Then He had this thought to bless people with such wonderful, eternal and heavenly blessings that are only to be found in the mind of an almighty God.
When He wants to bless them, He finds them in a situation of the Ephesians 2:1-Leviticus :. (It is important always to bear in mind that this is the background of God’s action.) Is God embarrassed by this situation? That is impossible. God would not be God if He would not use the situation, just exactly to let shine “His great love with which He loved us”.
The expression ‘with which He loved us’ appears also in John 17 (John 17:26). Doesn’t it impress you that the expression there refers to the love of the Father for the Son? You see there that God loves us with the same love with which He loves the Son. This clarifies once more that it is about an eternal love.
These are all actions out of God’s great love. You see how everything that God did to us, is associated with what He did to Christ. God’s great love we see exactly in the fact that He not only had compassion for dead sinners to whom He has shown His mercy, but that He also wanted us to be partakers in everything that belongs to the inheritance of His beloved Son!
This is quite a lot more than that only our sins would have been forgiven, isn’t it? Surely that would have been great on its own. And it would have been totally wonderful if He would have brought us back to paradise. But in connection with Christ God goes beyond all limits. To recognize this is the greatest revelation we could have after our conversion.
Ephesians 2:5. Just explore it. The first step in the unfolding of His great love is that He ‘made us who were dead in trespasses’ “alive together with Christ”. This was the first thing that was necessary for us. It is clear that this step was needed to be taken by God. The same applies for the steps that follow after the first one, that these were made by God in order to bring us where He wanted us, according to His counsel. Receiving a new life, a new nature, stands in contrast to the depraved nature that characterized us in the past.
It is also not only said that we were made alive; that also can be said of the believers in the Old Testament. Not a single man will ever enter God’s kingdom without having been made alive, which means without having life from God. However, only of the believers that belong to the church, can it be said that they are made alive “together with Christ”.
Through our connection with Christ God gave us life that went through death. The life we received is resurrection life. The life that every child of God received who lives after the death on the cross, the resurrection and the ascension of the Lord Jesus, is the life of the risen and heaven-ascended Christ.
Before Paul continues to describe God’s actions, we read the words “by grace you have been saved”. This emphasizes how lovingly God dealt towards us, who had entirely no right or capacity to deserve God’s favor in any way.
Ephesians 2:6. Also the second step to God’s purpose is taken by Him: He “raised us up with Him”. This step is closely related to the previous one; they are also very similar, yet there is a difference. The words ‘made alive’ are about a change in our condition. We were dead and have received new life. The words ‘raised up’ are about a change in our position, the area in which we are. We were in the world, the area of death. When Christ was raised up from the dead, He also came into another area and He had nothing to do anymore with the world that was before His death and resurrection. The problem of sin was solved.
What God did to Him, He also did to us. Because we are raised up together with Christ, we are neither in the same manner in the world as when we were in it before we were made alive. We now breathe in the atmosphere of life. And yet, God has not finished His actions towards us.
The third step is that He has “seated us with Him in the heavenly [places] in Christ Jesus”. You don’t read here that we are seated with Christ in heavenly places, but that we are there in Him. It is written this way, because we are not really there yet. He is there actually, and because the church is one with Him, we are also there. Although you are still on earth with your body, through faith you can accept that you are already in heaven in Christ.
The three steps we paid attention to and in which God showed us His great love, He had taken with a purpose. That purpose is described in the following verse.
Now read Ephesians 2:4-6 again.
Reflection: How did God show His great love in these verses? Do you know more proofs of that great love?
Saved By Grace
Ephesians 2:7. The words “so that” indicate that what is now being described is the target of the previous verses. After you’ve seen to which high position you were taken by God – made to sit in the heavenly places in Christ – you will now see why God gave you that position. With receiving that high place your blessings haven’t finished. There is far more to be expected by you. There will be a time, that is called here “the ages to come”, that the whole world shall see what God has done to you.
At the moment this is all a mystery for the world, as it is said in Colossians 3:3: “And your life is hidden with Christ in God.” It will be different in the ages to come, because right after that it is said: “When Christ who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:4; 1 John 3:2). Then “the surpassing riches of His grace” will be visible. In Ephesians 1 we also saw the “the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7). There you have seen what you already have received, such as forgiveness and redemption. But everything you already have, will be displayed by God to the entire creation. That makes ‘the riches of His grace’ (Ef 1:7) the ‘surpassing riches of His grace’ (Ef 2:7).
In Ephesians 2:8 we still speak of God’s grace, but first I want to look with you at “His grace in kindness toward us”. If you are fully aware of all this it makes you small. Kindness is the riches of God’s goodness which is in His heart and is being expressed through His actions. And hasn’t that goodness ‘come upon us’, upon you and me and every other child of God?
Who were the ‘us’? People who first were depraved, dead sinners; insignificant small creatures that hated God; who dared to lay their dirty hands on their Creator; who abused Him, scourged and mocked Him and spat in His face; who nailed Him to the cross and after they erected it, even there mocked Him and challenged Him to come down from the cross to make Him prove that He was Who He said He was: the Son of God. In this way you and I have treated Him and so killed Him. That was you and me. And ‘us’ He has blessed with such blessings! Can you imagine greater grace? Eternity will not be too long to worship Him for that.
And due to Whom will we be the representatives of God’s kindness in the ages to come? It is the Lord Jesus, as it is “in Christ Jesus” that God will show us His rich grace in the ages to come.
Ephesians 2:8. It is all grace! Again Paul returns to this point. There is not a thing from man involved, regarding this point. Even faith is called here a gift from God. It all fits with the content of the letter in which everything comes from God. If man would say: ‘But I have contributed to receiving the blessings, after all I have believed?’ then Paul takes away this argument. Even faith is a work of God; He worked that in us. You could say: grace is the basis of agreement for God to bless us; faith is the path by which, or the means through which, He could give us that blessing.
Actually, with ‘the gift of God’ not only ‘the faith’ is meant. That came from the reply I received from Gerard Kramer (an expert in the Greek original text) to my question what the word “it” refers to in the phrase “it is the gift of God”. Does it refer to what is right before that phrase, “through faith”, or does it refer to further back, “for by grace you have been saved”?
His reply was: The interesting thing is, there is no ‘it’ in the Greek original. Literally it is said: “and that [neuter] not of yourselves, of God the gift”. So the words “yourselves” and “God” are in contrast with each other. That’s why the question should be answered to which the former “that” (neuter) referred. The word “faith” is feminine, actually. That’s why you could say that the meaning of ‘that’ (and so of ‘it’) actually goes a little further and that they both refer to by grace (also a feminine word!) you have been saved through faith.
The blessing is called here “have been saved”. The original meaning of this word is: to arrive in a safe place right across all dangers. When Paul says here that we have been saved, it means that we have, as it were, already arrived safely. Also that fits with this letter. Saved here means the spiritual and eternal salvation, including all blessings that God gives to everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus.
Faith is not present in the heart of man naturally. The weed, that comes out of the heart of man naturally, is described to us in details in Romans 3 (Romans 3:9-Psalms :). Faith is not a wild plant or a plant that runs wild, but a beautiful flower that cannot be pulled out anymore if it is once planted by the heavenly Father. It is impossible to take away ‘the gift of God’. What He gives remains of Him and therefore remains in eternity.
Ephesians 2:9. To exclude all misunderstanding, the apostle adds to it that it is “not of works”. Through my own works it is impossible to receive God’s blessing. How could you expect any activity from a corpse (we were after all dead in sins and transgressions)? Everything has to come from God and indeed it happened like that. Concerning man, we must say that all glory is excluded. That glory belongs to God alone.
Ephesians 2:10. Does the previous verse mean that ‘works’ don’t count at all to the believer? To that question there is a clear answer, again entirely in accordance with the content of the letter. Actually it is about a totally different kind of works than what the law requires from man. The works of the law are given to sinful people in order to enable them to deserve life.
The principle of the law has nothing to do with grace and faith, but with achievements that are to be expected from a sinful person: “However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them.”” (Galatians 3:12). Here in the letter to the Ephesians, however, it is about works that are the result of our salvation. They are the result of the fact that we are a new creation, “for we are His [i.e. God’s] workmanship”.
Indeed, as natural human beings we are also His workmanship: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust from the ground” (Genesis 2:7). He is our Creator, Who “is mindful that we are [but] dust” (Psalms 103:14). Or as how Elihu puts it: “I too have been formed out of the clay” (Job 33:6). In this letter, however, it is about what we have become as new people. And just as Adam in no way had contributed to his own creation, we neither have contributed in any way to become a new creation. And just as Adam received the commandment to work, we as new creations also have to work.
The works that God expects from us as new people, again fits with the content of this letter. You don’t have to rack your brain over what you should do. God already had thoughts about that when He thought of you in eternity. Just as He had predestined you for sonship (Ephesians 1:5), He also had prepared good works beforehand that you should walk in them. Your position finds its origin there in eternity and also your good works find their origin there.
You see that here it is about works that were already prepared before the law was given. It is one of the proofs which show that a believer, who belongs to the church, has nothing to do with the law; the law cannot be a rule of life to him. The law is destined for man who belongs to the earth, the old creation. The believer doesn’t belong to the earth anymore, but – as a new creation – to heaven. There he is already made to sit in Christ, as somebody who is “created in Christ Jesus”, Who is seated at His right hand in heavenly places (Ephesians 1:20).
What is said here of ‘good works’ clarifies that the believer is not only seen as in heavenly places, but that at the same time he is also on earth amidst the old creation. He is someone who can realize heavenly matters in daily life on earth, the old creation. It is about ‘good’ works, meaning that the Christian from God is given to do things that are to the benefit of his environment.
For a Christian who recognizes these works, life will lose all rigidity. What is more simple than to walk in the works in which God already has provided and thereby only to trust on His grace? In short, walking in good works consists of the following: to show on earth Who the glorified Christ is in heaven. In the chapters 4 and 5 that will be developed further.
Now read Ephesians 2:7-10 again.
Reflection: What demonstrates the riches of God’s grace?
Ephesians 2:11. Here a new section starts. Paul looks back. He did that also in Ephesians 2:1. There it merely was about our personal past in order to demonstrate in the next verses which personal blessings we possess in Christ. From Ephesians 2:11 it is about our collective past and subsequently we see which blessings we together have in Christ. Both cases regard the time of our life on earth. That is a difference with chapter 1. There the issue is the counsels of God from before the foundation of the world, so out of time and apart from the earth.
In chapter 2:1-10 you’ve seen what God has personally worked in us, after our desperate situation has been presented. In Ephesians 2:11-Song of Solomon : you will see what God has done to us collectively, after our desperate situation also has been presented first. With ‘collectively’ I mean all believers from the Jews and the Gentiles together for that is the point here.
The unity that has arisen between Jew and Gentile is a miracle of God’s grace. Paul demonstrates how great this miracle is by making a comparison between what the Gentiles once were and what they now have become. Most of the readers of this letter, then and also now, consist of those who once belonged to the Gentiles. They are being stimulated to remember how desperate their situation was in the past, that they will be more aware of what their situation is now.
To illustrate their once desperate situation, he compares it with that of Israel. It is important to bear in mind that in this comparison the issue is the former position in the flesh of both Gentile and Jew. Paul puts down seven aspects of the position of the Gentile. They are, as it were, sledgehammer blows. Every blow makes the Gentile sink deeper in his miserable situation.
The first blow: they were “the Gentiles in the flesh”. The expression ‘in the flesh’ indicates that their whole life was controlled by fulfilling their lusts. In Romans 7 it is put at follows: “For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were [aroused] by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death” (Romans 7:5). God had given His law to Israel that in obeying the law they should enjoy life in fellowship with God.
The second blow: the Jew looked down on the Gentile with contempt and scolded them for “Uncircumcision” (1 Samuel 14:6; 1 Samuel 17:261 Samuel 17:36). As noticed, it is about a comparison regarding their outward position. That’s why Israel is called here “by the so-called “Circumcision””. It is only about the external form, which is emphasized by the addition “[which is] performed in the flesh by human hands”.
Ephesians 2:12. The third blow: the Gentiles once were “separate from Christ”. Christ, that means the Messiah to Israel, was not promised to the Gentiles; He was promised to Israel alone. When He came on earth, He came for ‘the children’ of Israel, not for ‘the dogs’, the Gentiles (cf. Mark 7:24-Amos :).
The fourth blow: the Gentiles were not categorized under the civil rights of Israel. Therefore they lacked many privileges that were included in this commonwealth. There may be all kind of social and religious privileges, but also statutes and rights that God gave to His people. In this way their life was so much organized that they could live at the highest level, in health, peace and safety (Deuteronomy 4:8).
The fifth blow: as “strangers” the Gentiles had no part in “the covenants of promise”. God had made various covenants with Israel since Abraham (Genesis 15:17-Ecclesiastes :; Leviticus 26:42; Psalms 89:4-Deuteronomy :). They had one collective promise: the coming of the Messiah, Who would fulfill what God had promised in the covenants.
The sixth blow: “no hope”. The situation becomes more and more hopeless. You might hope that after all that is said previously, a change would come for good. But also for that matter there is no change. There is no ground to expect something good of the future.
Finally the seventh, the biggest blow: “without God in the world”. The Gentiles had all turned their backs on God (Romans 1:20-Ecclesiastes :). That’s why “in generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go in their own ways” (Acts 14:16). They were left totally to themselves, without any connection to God. From among all the nations God had chosen Israel. Through this nation He revealed Himself to all other nations.
Now what is the intention of this comparison? Before I explain that, I first want to tell you what the intention is not. The comparison is in no way to prove that the Gentiles have now certainly become partakers of the blessings of Israel. A big misconception is the explanation that in these verses it should be said that the Gentile has been drawn near because he should have become Jew. That cannot be the right explanation, as also in the Old Testament there was the possibility to become a Jewish member, a so-called proselyte.
Furthermore God also had blessings in store for the Gentiles in the Old Testament. But we have to consider the following. In the first place the blessings mentioned in the Old Testament for the nations are not given to those nations themselves, but to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and later to Israel. In the second place we see that the nations can only receive blessings by the means of Israel. When in future Israel will be God’s nation again, all nations will also join in this restoration. This will happen when the Lord Jesus has established the millennial kingdom of peace.
Ephesians 2:13. But what in fact is made clear to us in Ephesians 2? That there is blessing for the nations apart from Israel! Ephesians 2:13, where we now are, explains that further. The Gentiles were in two aspects of view far off from God. Firstly, by being apart from Israel – this you have just seen. But they were also far off from God from the spiritual point of view. However, also the Jews were from the spiritual point of view far off from God.
Where both of them stood far off from God, both Jew and Gentile had to be brought near to God and that “by the blood of Christ”. The Gentile certainly doesn’t become a Jew and even fewer a Jew becomes a Gentile. Both are being brought in a totally new position and that is “in Christ Jesus”. It is not spoken anymore here of ‘Gentiles in the flesh’ and neither of ‘Israel in the flesh’. Together they are a new unity, of which is mentioned that they both have been made one (Ephesians 2:14), and that they were created “into one new man” (Ephesians 2:15) and that they were reconciled “both in one body” to God (Ephesians 2:16).
Jews and Gentiles are taken from their natural environment and are placed in a whole new unity: the church. To the Gentile, as well as to the Jew, that is a great transformation. Formerly in a double point of view so far off; now, ‘through the blood of Christ’, so near to God, even been brought to His heart.
“The blood of Christ” draws our attention to the offering of Christ. Through His blood we are reconciled with God. On that basis God has taken away every obstacle to allow us to come into His presence and to bless us with all spiritual blessings. We will never finish figuring out the value of that blood.
Now read Ephesians 2:11-13 again.
Reflection: How did the difference in position between Jew and Gentile disappear?
Christ Is Our Peace
In the previous verse you have seen that we ‘have come near’ and that ‘in Christ’ and on the basis of His blood. Therefore it is possible that we can come into God’s presence. However, if there was nothing else, it could mean that the church was no more than an improvement of Judaism. For the Jew the door to God was closed, for the church it is open.
How great this privilege might be, nothing is said of what the church has more than Israel. The church doesn’t consist of an arbitrary number of Christians that now have the privilege to be in the presence of God. That privilege doesn’t necessarily mean that the distinction between Jews and Gentiles is removed. And one of the unique characteristics of the church is that now this distinction has indeed disappeared. That is what these verses will clarify.
Ephesians 2:14. The disappearance of this distinction is the result of what Christ has accomplished through His death on the cross. “He Himself is our peace”, with the emphasis on His Being. He has worked peace between God and man and – and this is where the emphasis is – between Jew and Gentile. This is something completely new.
In the Old Testament the separation between Jew and Gentile was made by God Himself. There He gave the law as “the barrier of the dividing wall” or “the middle wall of separation”. The law was a sort of fence. Within that fence God stood in connection with His people Israel, a relation that was laid down in many commandments and ordinances. That fence functioned also as a division between Israel and the surrounding nations that did not have this law.
By indicating this formal separation between Jew and Gentile not all has been said yet. In principle it could have been that they, as it were, had cordial contact with each other over the fence. That is not the case. Apart from a distinction in position there was also enmity. This enmity was also the result of the “Law of commandments [contained] in ordinances”.
The Gentile was separated from that, in which the Jew boasted (Romans 2:23). The Gentiles did not want to have anything to do with God. They had their own gods and subjected themselves to the rules they established themselves. In the Old Testament the Jew was appealed to tolerate the idolaters by no means.
In this situation – that regards both the position of both and the hostile spirit they had towards each other – a radical change has happened. First the law as the middle wall of separation has been broken down or dissolved, disempowered.
Ephesians 2:15. Also the law as an expression of God’s will has been abolished or suspended. Both the breaking down and the abolishing happened through what Christ did “in His flesh”. The expression ‘in His flesh’ refers to His body that He surrendered in death on the cross. The law was brought to a definite ending for everyone who has been brought near, not only Jew, but also Gentile.
Also the believer who was originally a Jew had to understand that the law has been brought to a definite ending for him. The same law that kept the Gentile at a distance from God, also kept the Jew at a distance from God. He had broken the law after all! That brought him under the curse. If the Jew wanted to have peace then also for him the law had to be abolished.
Yet it is neither the breaking down of the middle wall of separation between Jew and Gentile that makes the church that special. It was necessary but not sufficient. The most significant character of the church is not that Jew and Gentile now freely have contact with each other. Then the fence would have been built again, only a little further so that the Gentiles would be within the fence. The difference between Jew and Gentile would have been removed by uplifting the Gentile to the level of the Jew. It would be totally unthinkable to let the Jew, after breaking down the wall, descend to the level of the Gentile.
None of these possibilities reflects how God has formed the church. After the breaking down (negative) something new (positive) is manifesting itself and that is “one new man” and “one body”. To this which is new, Jew and Gentile are brought together.
First, something about the new man: Christ is in a most intimate way connected with the new man. He has created him “in Himself”. The word ‘create’ indicates that it is about something that hasn’t ever existed before, but that is produced by Christ. He did not do that as with the first creation in Genesis 1, by speaking a word of power: ‘Let there be peace!’ No, with His work on the cross He was “establishing peace” between Jew and Gentile.
Jew and Gentile as one new man, introduces a new being, with totally new features. Shortly said this is the new man: Christ as He lives and becomes visible in every believer. To present the new man it is only possible with all believers, as each of them shows another aspect. For every believer personally it is applicable that He is in Christ and therefore a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Ephesians 2:16. How lofty it might be what we see in the new man, everything hasn’t been said yet about the nearness in which the church has been brought to God. After the unity in essence, that is seen in the new man, follows the greatest unity that is possible: “one body”. One body is not a number of people that make the new man, while each of them shows a different aspect of that one new man. One body goes a step further. It means that those people together form an inseparable unity. They are united with each other as the members of a body are united with each other.
This also is totally new. In the picture of the one body it is expressed most clearly how totally new the position is for both Jew and Gentile. The old position is definitely history.
Another picture can make this clearer. In John 10 the Lord Jesus speaks of the sheep He brings out of the sheepfold (John 10:3-Numbers :). Those are the Jewish sheep, believers from the Jews. He also talks about “other sheep, which are not of this fold” (John 10:16). Those are the believers from the Gentiles. Then He proceeds: “I must bring them also, … and they will become one flock [sheep from Jews and sheep from Gentiles] [with] one shepherd” (John 10:16).
The Gentiles are not brought to the fold of the Jews. Jew and Gentile are neither brought to a new fold, so to speak, within a new system with new rules. No, they are being shaped to a new flock, under one Shepherd.
Now back to our chapter. Jew and Gentile can be together in one body as reconciled with God in His presence. This is also the result of what the Lord Jesus did on the cross. Should there be a way to create a situation of harmony between God and “them both”, then it was only through reconciliation. Reconciliation is needed where there is enmity.
On the cross Christ was “made … sin” (2 Corinthians 5:20-Ecclesiastes :). There, in Christ, everything was judged by God and everything was taken away that cannot exist before Him, so that He could bring us near to Him. The cross also means the end of the old feud that existed between Jew and Gentile, as through the cross was “put to death the enmity”. This is how the cross works reconciliation between God and men and between men and men.
Now read Ephesians 2:14-16 again.
Reflection: What did God do in Christ to bring us near?
The Access To the Father
Ephesians 2:17. For the third time in this chapter peace is spoken about. The first time was in Ephesians 2:14. There the Person of Christ Himself is peace. Subsequently in Ephesians 2:15, where peace is the result of the work of Christ on the cross. Here in Ephesians 2:17 it is about the preaching of peace. Also this announcing is ascribed to Christ.
Yet “and He came” cannot refer to His life on earth. Then He indeed preached peace to His Own (“those who were near”, John 14:27; John 20:19-Ecclesiastes :), but never to Gentiles (“you who were far away”). He did not come to earth for the latter (Matthew 10:5-Joshua :). Now, however, the Lord Jesus has, as you have seen in the previous verse, brought reconciliation through the cross, followed by His return to heaven. From there He preached this peace to everyone, through His apostles and disciples.
What His representatives are doing on earth at preaching His peace to Jew and Gentile – as there is no distinction anymore – is His work. Here you see again the unity there is between Christ in heaven and His own on earth. Through this that peace has also come to us, and you and I have also become partakers of it.
Ephesians 2:18. After all previous magnificent results of the work of Christ, we now come to the highlight of our spiritual privileges: the access to the Father. You can be perfectly happy and at home with Him, without desiring anything else. This access is for “both”, Jew and Gentile, “through Him”, that is Christ. He has opened the way through the cross. He has made it possible that you can come to the Father, without any inward hesitation and without any outward mediation of others apart from yourself. You personally can go directly to the Father.
He, Who enables you to do this, Who gives you the power to do this, is “one Spirit”. For the fourth time we find the word ‘one’ (see also the Ephesians 2:14-Nehemiah :). Each previous unity is worked by this one Spirit. Every distinction is gone. The Spirit does not give a different access to the Jew than to the Gentile. There always is free access to the Father for every ‘son’. God is not hidden anymore behind a veil as when He dwelled among Israel in the tabernacle and in the temple.
The relationship with God is not being ruled anymore by law, but by liberty. Every restriction of that liberty by introducing again something of the law, means an obstacle of the free access. That is a shortage to the child of God, but a greater shortage still to the Father Who loves to have His children near Him.
It is not so much of what you do near Him. Surely, you can praise Him, you can also ask Him things. But the greatest desire He has is that you are near Him; that He sees that you search for Him because of Who He is: the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. You are with Him as somebody who is made one with the Lord Jesus. To be with the Father is actually enjoying all what the Lord Jesus is to the Father and to be aware that that relationship also is yours, as we are one with Him. Then you can only worship.
Ephesians 2:19. From this great privilege yet other privileges follow. The words “so that” indicate that. Where you live and where you are at home, you are not a stranger and foreigner. On earth we still are indeed ‘strangers and foreigners’ (1 Peter 2:11), but with the Father we are at home, together with other “fellow citizens with the saints”. Not citizens of an earthly land with the same nationality, but of a heavenly land (cf. Philippians 3:20) where all dwell who have the ‘nationality’ of heaven.
Besides the relation with each other, we may live near to God and be “God’s household”. It is His house, a house that is characterized by fellowship with Him and with each other. As said it is God’s house, the house where He lives. That is the step to the last verses of this chapter. There you see how this house is built.
Ephesians 2:20. It is a good thing to notice that until now the church has continuously been brought before us in the picture of a body. Now Paul is going to use another picture for the church and that is that of a house. That is necessary, because herewith things can be clarified that have to do with building. In this way you can view the church in the Bible as a building that is built by God, but also as a building that is built by men. Because the latter here is not the subject, I neither will pay attention to it. Here it is about the building of the house by God. In Matthew 16 you find the same thought. There the Lord Jesus says that He shall build His church (Matthew 16:18).
The building of the church by God and the Lord Jesus takes place on “the foundation of the apostles and prophets”. You could say that they are the foundation in two respects. They are themselves the foundation, the first stones of the building, on which other “living stones” (1 Peter 2:5) were built. Next to that they have shown by their teachings how the building has to go.
It is clear that the prophets, who together with the apostles are the foundation, cannot be the prophets from the Old Testament. From Ephesians 3 it is clear that it is about something that was unknown in the past (Ephesians 3:5). Also the order – first ‘apostles’ are mentioned and after that the ‘prophets’– clarifies that it is about prophets of the New Testament.
But the foundation of this house is not the most important. The whole house, including the foundation, rests on the cornerstone, “Christ Jesus Himself”. The whole house draws its value from Him. The character of the cornerstone confirms the character of the building.
Ephesians 2:21. This character is expressed in “in Whom”. From Him, in connection to Him, “the whole building” is “being fitted together”. The whole is being fitted together and built in the right way, without any chance of cracks. In Him this building is growing by a continuous addition of new, living stones. This growing, or building, continues until the last stone is added and the building is finished. That is the moment when the Lord Jesus comes to take the church to Him. In the view of the building, the church shall perfectly serve the purpose to which she is grown and that is “into a holy temple in the Lord”.
In the Old Testament the temple is the place where God dwelt and where also the priests dwelt. When the Lord Jesus in John 14 says of the Father’s house “in My Father’s house are many dwelling places” (John 14:2), He seems to be referring to the temple. In the house of the Father we eternally shall live with the Father and the Son and we will worship Them.
Ephesians 2:22. Yet God will not wait until the building is finished. That’s why the last verse speaks of the church as a building, a place where God already dwells now. This building is being shaped by all believers who live now on earth. That is a building of which stones disappear, which happens when a believer dies, but to which also stones are added, which happens when somebody converts.
It is a great joy to God to have a house on earth, in which He can dwell, through His Spirit. To this purpose the original Gentile Ephesians (“you also”) were also built. To this purpose you and I, who didn’t have any part of this (or had the right to), are also built. What a grace!
Now read Ephesians 2:17-22 again.
Reflection: How and when do you make use of the access to the Father?
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Ephesians 2". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany