Paul had spoken powerfully regarding all the spiritual blessings with which God had blessed Christians in Jesus, having been elected and predestined to obtain the hope of salvation and righteousness in Christ, superabundantly receiving grace and mercy in Him (Ephesians 1:1-14). Paul prayed for Christians to gain understanding from God in the heart to know the great hope in which they have been saved and His great power at work in those who believe, since Christ has been established above every authority, especially over His body, the church (Ephesians 1:15-23). Paul would go on to explain the nature of this salvation and how it came about, first to Israel, and then to all who would come to God in Christ.
Paul continued his theological explanations by establishing the need and value of salvation secured in Christ, and man’s purpose before God (Ephesians 2:1-10). Paul did not shrink from laying out the ugly truth about the need for salvation: all were dead in their sins, having walked in the way of the prince of the powers of the air, living according to lust, as children destined for wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3). Yet God, rich in mercy and love, made believers alive in Christ and raised us up with Him to sit in the heavenly places in order to continually demonstrate the riches of His grace, for Christians are saved by grace through faith, not because of anything they have done to earn it (Ephesians 2:1-9). And yet Christians are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do the good works which He prepared for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). This whole message works together for a reason, just like in Titus 3:3-8: Christians need continual reminders about their need for salvation and God’s display of grace and mercy in Jesus so that we may be productive in good works. We cannot imagine that we are superior to other people; we have sinned and deserved condemnation like all the rest. But God loved us, would not give us the condemnation we deserve (thus showing mercy), but would give Jesus and salvation, we did not deserve (thus showing grace). We did not, nor could not, earn or merit this salvation, but are called upon to receive it humbly through faith and trust in God in Christ. We can then serve God and encourage our fellow man in good works so as to glorify God.
Paul then specifically focused on God’s welcome of Gentiles and how it came about (Ephesians 2:11-18). He identified Gentiles as the uncircumcision, those separated from the covenant between God and Israel, the nation of Israel, and as without God or hope in the world; such is the state of mankind without God, and it is quite unpleasant (Ephesians 2:11-12). And yet through the blood of Jesus Gentiles who were far away could draw near, for Jesus in His death broke down the wall dividing the Jews from the Gentiles, the Law (Ephesians 2:13-15a); one is given reason to imagine the Court of the Gentiles in the Temple in Jerusalem, an actual, physical wall cordoning off Gentiles from coming any closer to the Presence of God. But it is not as if the Gentiles would become Jews: Jesus has created one new man in Himself, and in this way makes peace, killing the hostility which existed between Jews and Gentiles, preaching peace to those near and those far off (Ephesians 2:15b-17). Both Jewish and Gentile Christians now have access to the Father through Jesus in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:18). We must appreciate the radical nature of what Paul is suggesting: for 1,500 years, Jewish people identified themselves in contrast to those of the nations. In response, those in the nations tended to look upon the Jewish people as oddities and best, and with contempt and hatred at worst. The only way to eliminate the hostility was to kill it, and Jesus did so on the cross, giving the Jewish people no more right to presumption of election and giving Gentiles equal access to God in the Spirit. Jewish Christians remained ethnically Jewish while Gentile Christians remained their various ethnicities, but the faith and hope they shared in Christ was of far greater value and consequence than their worldly identities; no earthly division ought to separate them. So it remains to this day, and not merely between Jewish people and Gentiles: all people have access to God in the Spirit through Jesus, and there is no worldly division which ought to separate the people of God, for what they share in Jesus is greater than any challenge, difficulty, or division in the world.
Paul had formerly spoken of the church as the body of Christ, given to Jesus under His authority (Ephesians 1:22-23); having established the means of salvation for all people, especially the Gentiles (Ephesians 2:1-18), he now affirmed that Gentile Christians were no longer strangers or aliens, but fellow-citizens and members of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19). Mixing his metaphors, Paul considers that household as built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus as the cornerstone, built up into a holy temple in which the Spirit dwells (Ephesians 2:20-22). Through these powerful metaphors Paul reinforced the instruction he had just provided and explained for those who would hear how the people of God are to view one another and their relationship with God. As citizens of God’s Kingdom they are to uphold their responsibilities to accomplish His purposes (cf. Philippians 1:27); as fellow members of God’s household, they consider each other as brothers and sisters of the heavenly Father, equal in standing before Him, and restored in relationship with Him and each other (cf. John 17:20-23, Romans 8:11-17). Temples are places in which it is believed that a deity himself, or a manifestation of a deity, is present; thus, Christians are to consider themselves as the temple of the Holy Spirit individually and collectively, and are therefore to conduct themselves in holiness so God, who is holy, can maintain His presence in their midst (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:19-20, 1 Peter 1:13-16). The temple is founded upon the teachings of God in Christ as made known by the apostles and prophets; the cornerstone, providing alignment for everything else, is Jesus Himself (1 Corinthians 3:11). In this way Christians are to be a holy family of people who love and care for one another and seek to do good for all people, always cognizant of their need for salvation and thankful that God has provided it in Christ. May we all participate in God’s household in the Kingdom of Jesus!
Ethan R. Longhenry