Key text: “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace” (Ephesians 2:14-15).
Lesson objective: To understand that the former world was divided into two hostile groups of Jews and Gentiles. But since the cross of Calvary, both groups are objectively reconciled into a third group, the new humanity in Christ.
Introduction: In the ancient world there were many schemes in which to classify people. There were the rich and the poor; free persons and slaves; men and women; Romans and barbarians; and so on. But from a theological point of view, there were only two major divisions: Jews and Gentiles (2:11-12). Israel was a privileged nation under the one true God, a chosen people. To them were granted the oracles of God, the covenant law at Sinai, the Temple worship and the promises invested in Israel’s coming Messiah. The Gentiles in general were left to grope in darkness and wallow without hope in their twisted pagan religions.
However, even Israel’s light was a dim one at best, for God’s greater glory had not as yet been revealed in full. Israel learned quickly of the need for barriers between themselves and God. The Sinai covenant emphasized these divisions (vv. 14-16). The Temple in Jerusalem was itself a structure of several barriers. Outside the Temple there was a yard, called the court of the Gentiles, and a wall. On the wall at intervals was placed a warning for a Gentile not to enter further on the penalty of death. On the other side of that wall, the next court was reserved for Jewish women. Another barrier kept them from going any further in. Inside that barrier only Jewish men were permitted, but only to find another barrier for the priests alone to enter. But even then, a final barrier existed where only the high priest could enter the sanctuary of the holy of holies, and that only once a year! How could there be peace as long as all these distinctions remained?
However, in God’s eternal plan and wisdom he made a way to eventually remove these barriers and allow full access to himself, not only for Jews but for Gentiles as well (vv. 13, 17-18). First, the covenant-law given at Sinai was only temporary. At the cross, Jesus made full atonement for the sins of all humanity, therefore annulling in its entirety the old system of laws that marked divisions between Jews and Gentiles. Jesus is the way! Second, God has called a new people to himself based on the promised new covenant. This new humanity would no longer be Jews or Gentiles but Christian believers. In other words, this was God’s plan for the reconciliation of both Jews and Gentiles into one new people in Christ.
And finally, Gentile believers would no longer occupy the outer court, nor women excluded from God’s presence, nor men subjugated to a priestly caste for an audience with Almighty God (vv. 19-22). Jesus Christ changed this forevermore! Believers of all walks of life now have immediate and uninterrupted access through the blood of Christ and the residence of the Holy Spirit. Hallelujah!
Questions for Bible Study
Read the following verses and respond to the questions:
1. Ephesians 2:11-13
a. What are the Gentiles called, and by whom? v. 11. What are the implications of this name for the Gentiles? See 1 Samuel 17:26. What about the name for the Jews? See Leviticus 12:1-3.
b. What is the first of five conditions attributed to the Gentiles? v. 12a. (The Greek word “Christ” means “Anointed one”).
c. What is their second state of affairs? v. 12b.
d. What is their third circumstance? v. 12c.
e. What is their fourth plight? v. 12d.
f. What is the implication of the fifth in regards to salvation? v. 12e.
g. How is it possible for their former circumstances to be radically changed? v. 13. What does Paul mean by “far off” and “brought near?”
2. Ephesians 2:14-18
a. Who made the peace? v. 14a. What two have been made one, and how is this done? v. 14b. What is the barrier called? v. 14c. Why? Consult the Introduction.
b. What was abolished in Christ’s “flesh” or his death? v. 15a. What law is Paul referring to? See 2 Corinthians 3:3, 7, 11; Galatians 3:19-25.
c. What was God’s purpose in annulling the law (Torah)? v. 15b. See how easily the law becomes a barrier in Galatians 2:11-16, 21. Give examples of how the law may have been a barrier for you before becoming a believer in grace.
d. Through what means alone can reconciliation take place? v. 16.
e. To whom was peace (the gospel) preached? To only the Gentiles? How about the Jews? v. 17. Why?
f. Who has access to the Father? v. 18. In this verse, can you detect the Trinity at work in the reconciliation of humanity?
3. Ephesians 2:19-22
a. What are the results of reconciliation as opposed to our previous condition as Gentiles? v. 19. Are we second-class citizens after Jewish believers? How about just good friends of the family? Why not?
b. Can you describe the architecture of this spiritual building? v. 20. Who are in the foundation? Why? Who is the chief cornerstone? Why?
c. Who or what is this building that is being addressed? v. 21. Who is the one keeping it together? What kind of temple is it?
d. What are we built to become? Who inhabits this place? v. 22. Do you think the system of access was better with the Temple? Why or why not?
Respond to the following questions:
1. Although Israelis as a whole are not yet believers in Christ, do you think the United States should continue to politically support their cause over against the Palestinians? Why?
2. Do you think that there will ever be a true reconciliation between orthodox Jews and evangelical Christians within our lifetime? Many Jews say that Jesus was just a man or at best a misunderstood prophet, and that Paul was an apostate Jew. What do you say?
3. If the church is God’s instrument in Christ for reconciliation between peoples of all kinds, how can it prove itself to the world when reconciliation is difficult even among its own members?
4. What steps can the local church take to improve relationships among its own ranks? It has been said sarcastically that the church is the only army that shoots its own wounded. What do you say?
5. What is Christ’s role in the redemptive task of reconciling all people unto himself? What is Christ’s role in the church when its members hurt?
There is so much to be grateful for when we can look subjectively from inside the comfort of God’s grace outward to a lost (unbelieving) world. But, remember, we at one time were also on the outside, humanly speaking, not knowing how to find our way in. Praise God in Christ for his divine reconciliation and the inclusion of us all in calling forth a new humanity. Jesus Christ is the way!
Author: Lorenzo Arroyo