The word “Gentile”, simply means, anyone who is not Jewish. It is prudent to clear that up at this point in case there is anyone in the group who isn’t sure. This may seem a strange way to start the session, but I recall when I started looking at the Bible that this was one of the words that was never really explained, and it's easy to nod along without being 100% sure what a word means. (Consider reading question 1 now? But don’t let it take up your entire evening!).
We’ve covered this in previous sessions, but to recap, the letter of Ephesians is being written to a planted church, they were not Christians, but now they are. (Although the word Christian wasn’t used at this time). Because the spread of Christianity was still in its very early stages, as the gospel spread, churches were planted. At this stage, every member of the congregation would have been relatively new to the Christian faith. If they were new, they must have been “something” before that. What they were doesn’t really matter, because, if they were not Jewish then they were simply called a gentile. Such an easy way of categorising!
When Paul is contrasting between the Jew and Gentile in verse 11, he “makes light” of the labels that the Jews themselves used as a distinction: “uncircumcised” and “the circumcision”. Paul describes this as something “which is done to the body by hands of men”. We know from Paul’s other writings (such as Rom. 2:29) that he desired an internal change (circumcision of the heart) and not merely an external one. Jews had focused on the superficial external distinction, however there were real differences between the lost Gentile as well as the lost Jew. Paul states there were 5 areas where the Gentiles were at a disadvantage, these can all be found in verse 12.
(1) Separate from Christ (2) excluded form citizenship in Israel (3) foreigners to the covenants of the promise (4) without hope (5) without God in the world. Doesn’t this sound terrible, all Gentiles were subject to these 5 points.
These phrases from Ephesians 2:12 are as grim as those at the start of chapter 2, when he said “As for you, you were dead in your transgression and sins… by nature objects of [God’s] wrath”. But now, just as he has done earlier, Paul tells us of a situation changed because of God’s intervention. As we saw in a previous study, Paul writes in v 4, “But because of his great love for us…” This time, in verse 13 he writes, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far away have ben brought near through the blood of Christ.
We see the pattern clearly at this stage, Paul starts by writing about the past (Vs 11-12) then, by the two little words “but now”, we know we are now looking at the present.
As Paul comes to talk about the present, he describes about (individuals) being brought near to God as a result of Christ’s atonement for sin. Yet he is also referring to God bringing Jew and Gentile together, to form a new unity, the church of Jesus Christ. It is to this church that the letter is written! There is no Jew or Gentile any more, the church is a gathering of people who have yet to receive a formal name, but will come to be known as Christians.
As Paul continues, he doesn’t list off a big list of the “bad” without reassuring the reader of where they are now. The more we study Ephesians, the more we should rejoice in the word “but”. Verse 13 “BUT now”… they were separate from Christ, excluded, foreigners, without hope and without God. BUT NOW they are “In Him” (verse 13) “no longer excluded or foreigners “and “members of Gods household (verse 19)
Paul’s aim here is to remind the Gentiles of how they used to live their lives before Christ . In the same breath, it serves us well to remind ourselves of our own lives before we were called, and how glorious it is to now be in relationship with Him! Sometime, we may forget the magnificence of, or take for granted, that relationship. Perhaps, to appreciate the gloominess of their (and our) past lives, they (and we) need to be reminded from time to time.
We come to the term “wall of hostility” in verse 14 and the destruction of this wall by Jesus. There are two possible walls that Paul could be referring to. A physical wall or the figurative wall of opposition.
Firstly the literal wall. In Paul’s mind there was a great visible symbol of alienation from the wall that surrounded the inner courtyards of the Jewish temples in Jerusalem. This wall divided them from the outermost courtyard, called the court of the Gentiles. Starting from the innermost areas, there was the “Court of the Priests”, where only male priests from the tribe of Levi could enter, outside that was the court of Israel, which could be entered by any male Jew, after that the Court of the women (note that this was as far as a women could go in this hierarchy). These areas were all on the same level, so although there was a difference between them there was not the monumental division that came next. From the court of the women you descended 5 steps to a “security barrier” or wall - and then a further 14 steps that descended to the court of the Gentiles.
On this wall there were notices and inscriptions that read “No foreigner is to enter within the balustrade and embankment around the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will have only himself to blame for his death which is to follow” This wall is the great Jewish-Gentile enmity that Paul had in mind as he wrote about the work of Christ in removing alienation between Jew and Gentile.
We should note, as Jew and Gentile come together to form the Church of Christ, it was neither Jews allowing Gentiles into the inner chamber, or the Gentiles forcing their way through the security. Rather that, in Christ, they found a common ground, a peace that removed all animosity between the two. This “peace” isn’t an uneasy peace, like that of two warring nations holding a cease fire, this is the destruction of that which separates them so that they become one body, one Church through Christ.
Consider the Church now, because of the destruction of the figurative wall, we consider every Christian on earth a brother or sister in Christ, regardless of where they are in the world, what they have done or who they were before they came to Christ. We are all now one body.
But even further than that, remember Matthew 27:51 “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom”. This is a reference to the veil being torn between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, this indicates in a graphic fashion, that as a result of Christ’s death, sin has been removed as a barrier between man and God, reconciliation has been achieved, and is open to anyone, Jew or Gentile, if he or she comes through faith in Jesus Christ.
This is what Paul means in verses 15 & 16 (read again). That is what it means to reconcile. It would be hard to think of a more comprehensive word for describing what God has done through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Before this great work, everyone was estranged or alienated from God. We were once in fellowship with God in Adam, but since the fall, every man and woman ever born (except one) has been born in a state of enmity again God. As we’ve looked at before, we are unable to reconcile ourselves to God, we cannot break down the wall. But God the Father made reconciliation possible by sending God the Son to bear full punishment for our sin.
So through him we all have access to the Father by the one spirit. Again, as we looked at before in Eph.2:1 [we] “were dead in our transgressions and sins” Dead meaning separated from God, BUT NOW because of what Christ did for each and every person, we have the means to restore that relationship, no longer being separate, no longer being dead! This is what it means to have everlasting life!
1) “Gentile” is a word that some people may not have understood. Maybe spend a few minutes, being honest with each other, and discuss other “religious” words that you’re not 100% sure on the meaning. Be honest!
2) We looked at the 5 disadvantages of the Gentiles, do we consider non-christians today in the same way? What effect should that have on our evangelism?
3) Does the fact that the barrier was broken have any relevance to us today? Do we need to know how / why the barrier was broken or are we just happy knowing that it was?
4) Are there still any ’walls’ in todays society that means we struggle to reach people who have not yet turned to Christ? If so, is there anything we can do to help break them down?
5) Do we put personal barriers up to stop people (Christians or non-christians) getting too close to us?
6) Knowing that whatever barriers we may pout up to keep others out, Jesus sees straight through, knowing that Jesus can see everything about us, how should we react?
7) When we pray, do we always repent of our sins?
8) Do we pray enough?
9) Is there “time” to pray now?