We are back in Ephesians after a couple of weeks away. Let's look at where we have been so far. This is most likely a circular letter that was meant to benefit all the saints. So much of what is in this letter can be applied to us today. In chapter 1:3-14 Rabbi Sha'ul, aka the Apostle Paul begins with a b'rakhah, which was a common Hebrew form of blessing or praise to Yahweh.
He unfolds those blessings by showing that the Father chose them in Christ before the foundation of the world (1:4-6). The Son redeemed them through His blood and made known to them the mystery of His will for the ages; the summing up of all things in Christ (1:7-12). And Yahweh sealed them with the Holy Spirit of promise (1:13-14). Lest we think that this is all about us, three times in this text Paul says, "...to the praise of the glory of His grace." God has redeemed us for His glory.
Then (1:15-23) Paul shares his constant prayer for the Ephesians, that God might grant them a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. The very heart of Paul's prayer for these saints is, "...that you may know Yahweh better." Believers, this will only happen as we spend time with Yahweh in His Word.
Then in 2:1-3, Paul focuses on fallen man and his hopeless condition—he is dead as a result of his sin. In verse 4 we have that glorious contrast, "But God," leading to the amazing blessings that they enjoy in Christ. In verses 4-6, he focuses on Yahweh and on His mercy, love, and grace in making a provision for man's salvation in Christ. Then in verses 7-10 we see the purpose of salvation—to the praise of the glory of His grace. All together, these ten verses spell out the essence of the Gospel of Yeshua Ha'Moshiach. The overarching theme of these verses is that salvation is totally of God. We were dead, "but God," by an act of sovereign grace gave us life! Not only has He given us life, but verse 10 teaches that Yahweh has prepared a path of good works for believers, which He will perform in and through them as they walk by faith. This path of good works will be laid out in detail in chapters 4-6.
Ephesians 2:11-22 is an extension of Paul's teaching in the first 10 verses of the chapter. Both passages have a similar structure. Verses 1-10 tend to focus more on their condition as individuals, whether Jew or Gentile, while verses 11-22 concentrate on their standing as Jewish and Gentile believers corporately. Verses 1-10 describe them as "dead" in their transgressions and sins and "alive" in Christ. Verses 11-22 speak of their previous condition as "far" from God, His covenant people, and His blessings, while the work of Christ on their behalf has brought them "near."
This paragraph (verses 11-22) can be broken into three sections: verses 11-13 describe the pre-Christian past of Paul's Gentile readers in relation to Israel and their present position in Christ. Secondly, verses 14-18 explain how this coming near was made possible through Christ. Thirdly, verses 19-22 apply the truths of verses 14-18 to the readers new privileged position in Christ.
Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called "Uncircumcision" by the so-called "Circumcision," which is performed in the flesh by human hands— Ephesians 2:11 NASB
Paul describes the Gentiles' former condition from two very different perspectives. The first is from the point of view of the self-righteous Jew (v11). The second is from the perspective of God Himself, and of His word (v12).
"Therefore"—with this emphatic "therefore," Paul connects what he has written to what he is about to say. It refers back to 2:1-10. Paul is saying, "In light of the fact that you have been brought from death to live by God's grace, remember the place from which God brought you."
"Remember"—this is a command, not a suggestion. Paul is telling his Gentile readers to "remember" where they came from.
"That formerly you Gentiles"—the word "formerly" is the enclitic particle indicating time. It is indicating the same thing as we see in verse 12, "were at that time," which are contrasted to the "now' of verse 13. Paul is talking about their pre-conversion state.
"Gentiles"—the first 10 verses of chapter 2 speak to both Jews and Gentiles alike, but here Paul focuses on the Gentiles. Paul is writing these things to the Gentiles as a group. For 2,000 years, from Abraham to Christ, Yahweh chose to work almost exclusively with the Jews. If you were a Gentile, the only way that you could know Yahweh, the one true God, was to be circumcised and follow the Jewish rituals and sacrificial system. Even then, the Jews considered you a second class citizen.
"Gentiles in the flesh"—the context here demands that "in the flesh" refers to circumcision, which was a sign in the flesh. These Gentiles were referred to by the Jews as the uncircumcision:
"Who are called 'Uncircumcision'"—The term "uncircumcision," is anarthrous and thus is given the qualitative force of contempt in this context. The word "uncircumcision" is from the Greek akrobustia, which means: "foreskin." With contempt the Jews considered "the Gentiles in the flesh" as those with foreskins. This implied that they did not belong to the covenant people of God; they didn't have the surgical sign that marked Israel as God's covenant people. And in the lips of the Jews it was expressive of a self-righteous abhorrence of the Gentiles as unclean and profane. It's a similar name that people would call other races today that they didn't like.
Even in King David's time it was a term of derision. Do you remember what David called Goliath?:
Then David spoke...For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?" 1 Samuel 17:26 NASB
This was mockery. David is calling him an unclean pagan!
This might be a good place to talk about the hatred that existed between the Jews and the Gentiles. The Jews viewed the Gentiles as unclean "dogs." Jewish men prayed every morning, "Lord, thank You that You didn't make me a Gentile or a woman." The Jew said that the Gentiles were created by God to be fuel for the fires of Gehenna. The barrier between Jew and Gentile was absolute. If a Jewish boy or girl married a Gentile, they held a funeral because touching a Gentile in anyway physically like that is tantamount to death. It was not even lawful to render help to a Gentile woman in childbirth, for that would be to bring another Gentile into the world. The common motto for the Jew toward the Gentile was this: "The best of the serpents—crush them, and the best of the Gentiles—kill them!"
Notice what Peter said to the Gentile Cornelius:
And he said to them, "You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. Acts 10:28 NASB
Then when Peter gets back to Jerusalem his fellow Jews give him a hard time about meeting with Cornelius:
And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, saying, "You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them." Acts 11:2-3 NASB
Notice the distinction here, "those who were circumcised" and "You went to uncircumcised men." We'll talk more about this in a minute.
Not only did the Jews hate the Gentiles, the Greeks hated the Jews. The Greeks thought themselves to be the highest pinnacle of all humanity. They saw their culture and language as superior to all others. They called others, "Barbarians," a term that made fun of the way that foreign languages sounded to the Greeks. It was as if these unsophisticated foreigners went around babbling, "bar-bar." They couldn't even speak Greek, the language of the gods! Cicero wrote, "As the Greeks say all men are divided into two classes, Greeks and Barbarians." Aristotle wrote, "The Barbarians practiced beastiality." That is they practice sexual activity with animals. Plato said that the Barbarians were their enemies by nature. It was said that the Greeks waged a truce-less war against people of other races—against the Barbarians.
So there has been a long history of animosity between the Jews and the Gentiles. As you know, when people get saved, they don't leave all their baggage at the door of the church before entering. In the Book of Acts, we see the Jewish "believers" resistant to the evangelization of the Gentiles (see Acts 10 and 11). And even when God's purpose of saving the Gentiles was accepted, some insisted that the Gentile converts must become Jewish proselytes in order to be saved:
Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." Acts 15:1 NASB
So we see that circumcision was a big deal to the Jews.
So there was a very real danger that the early Church would split into separate Jewish and Gentile Churches. They easily could have rationalized the split by saying, "We have different customs and preferences as Jews and Gentiles." This is why Paul fought so hard for unity.
Alright, so Paul says that the Gentiles are called uncircumcision "By the so-called 'Circumcision.'"
To us, circumcision is simply a medical procedure whereby the foreskin is removed soon after birth. To the Jews, circumcision was a sacred ceremony that marked out a man as a true son of the covenant. Barclay says, "To a Jew a man who was not circumcised was, quite literally, not a Jew, no matter what his parentage was."
The Jews believed that circumcision of all the rites and all the rituals was the most important. They actually believed that circumcision was a surgical act that secured their righteousness. They thought that circumcision was what made a man acceptable to God.
The Book of Jubilees, which is an ancient Jewish work, considered one of the Pseudepigrapha by Eastern Orthodox and Protestant Christians is dated at around 160-150 BC. It has this to say on circumcision in chapter 15:
25 This law is for all the generations for ever, and there is no circumcision of the days, and no omission of one day out of the eight days; for it is an eternal ordinance, ordained and written on the heavenly tablets. 26 And every one that is born, the flesh of whose foreskin is not circumcised on the eighth day, belongs not to the children of the covenant which the Lord made with Abraham, but to the children of destruction; nor is there, moreover, any sign on him that he is the Lord's, but [he is destined] to be destroyed and slain from the earth, and to be rooted out of the earth, for he has broken the covenant of the Lord our God.
In the Midrash it is said, "God swore to Abraham that no one who was circumcised should be sent to Gehenna."
In the Jewish mind, circumcision was salvation. So the objection to Gentiles being saved by faith alone hit the streets early in the days of the First Missionary Journey. The Judaizers said, "Believing the Gospel of Christ is not enough, you need to be circumcised or you will not make it to heaven." The Jews couldn't even conceive of an uncircumcised person being acceptable to God. By insisting on circumcision, the Judaizers thought that they could determine who was admitted into the covenant.
Notice what Paul says about them:
But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished. I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves. Galatians 5:11-12 NASB
This is one of the strongest statements Paul ever made. The word Paul uses for "mutilate" is apokopto, it means: "to amputate or castrate." Paul presses the matter: "if cutting off a little flesh is good, cutting off much flesh is even better. Why not be so pious as to castrate oneself?"
So the matter of circumcision played a very, very important role in the preaching of the Gospel to the Jews and to the Gentiles in New Testament times.
Now notice that Paul calls them the "So Called" Circumcision—Paul was pointing to the fact that though the nation of Israel had the outward sign of physical circumcision, they did not have the circumcision of the heart that God called for them to have.
Jeremiah records Yahweh saying:
"Circumcise yourselves to the LORD And remove the foreskins of your heart, Men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, Or else My wrath will go forth like fire And burn with none to quench it, Because of the evil of your deeds." Jeremiah 4:4 NASB
He is speaking here to those who were circumcised in the flesh.
Look at what Moses says to the children of Israel:
"Yet on your fathers did the LORD set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day. "So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer. Deuteronomy 10:15-16 NASB
This is a constant theme in the Scriptures, but Paul points out that for the most part, those "called the circumcision," while being circumcised in the flesh, were obviously not circumcised in the heart.
Paul speaks to this in Romans 2:
For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. Romans 2:28 NASB
Here Paul makes a distinction between the outward/physical and the inward/spiritual.
The "outward Jew" is a transgressor of Torah since he is not honoring Torah of the heart, which is only done by having faith in the Gospel of Yeshua and receiving the promised Spirit.
Once the New Covenant arrived, the only true Jews were those who trusted in the Christ. All other Jews were covenant breakers, no matter what rites they held to:
But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. Romans 2:29 NASB
In this context, Paul uses "Jew" as the people of God, those chosen by Him, those shown God's favor, and those in covenant with God. What Paul says here in Romans, he says throughout the New Testament. Look at what Paul wrote to the Philippians:
for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Yeshua and put no confidence in the flesh, Philippians 3:3 NASB
Paul says, "For we are the true circumcision." The "we" is a reference to Paul and the Philippian Christians. But what Paul says of them is true of all Christians. Theologically, this is very significant. This is Paul's description of the Church of Yeshua the Christ. The Church is the "true circumcision." Here Paul uses the title, the technical designation of the children of Israel, and applies it to the Church. Paul seems to be telling us that the "true circumcision" is not determined by ethnic derivation, not determined by the blood flowing in your veins, but rather by the faith that is in your heart.
Paul goes on in verse 11 to say that their circumcision was "performed in the flesh by human hands"—this was Paul's way of contrasting something that man had done versus something God has done. The phrase "being performed with the hands" is the genitival adjective of means: cheiropoietos. This word is used in the Tanakh of making idols. This adjective always depicts what a person does with his or her hands in contrast to the work of Yahweh.
Do you see what Paul's saying? You boys pride yourselves on being circumcised because it's the covenant sign, but without circumcision of the heart it's just something that you have done with your own hands. You have made an idol of the physical circumcision of your own hands.
remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. Ephesians 2:12 NASB
In this verse Paul lists five things that the Gentiles did not have prior to their conversion. "Remember you were at that time separate from Christ"—again he tells them to remember where they came from. "At that time"—points to the time before their conversion. They were "separate from Christ"—now we all were separate from Christ before we were saved, but that's not what that means. You could put it like this: You were without Messiah, that's what it means. The Messiah belonged to the Jews. The Messiah was not promised to the Gentiles, the Messiah was promised to Israel. Although it is predicted in the Tanakh, and throughout the Word of God, that the blessing and the benefits of Messiah, Yeshua of Nazareth, would flow through to every nation and every man through His ministry—yet He would be born a Jew. He said Himself: "Salvation is of the Jew." He said also that He had come primarily to minister to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
If you were a Jew you had the expectation of Messiah. You looked forward to that day that the Messiah would come and rule over not only your people and land, but over the whole world as was promised. But if you were a Gentile, you had no expectation of Messiah.
Before the Gospel came to Ephesus, these Gentiles had not heard the name of Yeshua. They had no idea how to have their sins forgiven and be reconciled to God. They worshiped the idol Artemis, and feared the evil spirits, trying to keep them at bay through magic. But they were separate from Christ, with no way of knowing Him.
Not only were they separate from Christ, but they were "Excluded from the commonwealth of Israel"—the word "excluded" is translated as: "alien" in the KJV. An alien is one who does not belong; a stranger, a foreigner, a person who has no rights to be in a specific place, they have no privilege of citizenship
The Jews had a nation over which God ruled. They gloried in the fact that God was the head of their nation. They had a sense of destiny, a sense of God's protection, a sense of belonging to a single people who were all under the oversight of God.
Israel could rightly say, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord" (Ps. 33:12), and they could refer to God as "the God of Israel" (Ps. 72:18). But that was not true of any Gentile nation.
Paul says that the Gentiles were also "Strangers to the covenants of promise"—
the word covenants is in the plural because God entered repeatedly into covenant with His people. It is called a covenant of promise, or rather of the promise, because the promise of redemption was connected with it. What the promise meant is that great promise of a redeemer made to Abraham, and so often afterwards repeated, is clear not only from the context, but from other passages of Scripture. "The promise made to the fathers," says the apostle in Acts:
"And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Yeshua... Acts 13:32-33 NASB
Would the "covenants of promise"include the Mosaic Covenant? I don't think so, because the Mosaic Covenant was not a covenant of "promise"; it is a conditional covenant, meaning that Yahweh would bless the nation Israel when they collectively obeyed Him. The genitive "of the promise" probably refers to the foundation promise made by Yahweh to Abraham. The Mosaic Law and the promise to Abraham are contrasted in Romans 4:13-17 and Galations 3:6-4:31. How could it be a covenant of promise if it has been replaced by the New Covenant? It seems to me that "covenants" refers to the Abrahamic Covenant and the New Covenant. The covenants of promise refer to unconditional promises. Throughout the New Testament the New Covenant replaces the Mosaic Covenant and not the Abrahamic Covenant.
The Gentiles had no promises; those promises were given to the Nation Israel. You can read the Tanakh and you will find that God never ever made a covenant with a Gentile. Now Abraham was a Gentile, and then he became the first Jew by being called of God. The New Covenant itself was given to the House of Israel and the House of Judah, and if you weren't a member of the House of Israel or the House of Judah, you weren't included in that covenant, directly; that covenant was not made with you.
Paul continues to say of the Gentiles, "Having no hope"—without God's covenant promises, there is no hope! His promise to send the Messiah was to Israel. But the Gentiles had no hope, at least, no hope based on the promises of God. The tombs of the Pharaohs show that they had some hope of an afterlife, but it was an empty hope. Only the Jews had hope in the living God:
For You are my hope; O Lord GOD, You are my confidence from my youth. Psalms 71:5 NASB
Archaeologists have dug up 1st century cemeteries in various places in Greece and Rome and have found many tomb stones which bear upon them the Greek or Latin words for "No hope."
The Greek thinkers, the scientists of that day, the Roman philosophers, the statesmen, the leaders of the Roman world, all looked out upon the universe and saw nothing but an enormous cosmic loneliness.
The reason the Gentiles had no hope was because they were "Without God in the world"—that doesn't mean "without a god in the world." They had plenty of gods! They had gods of stone, gods of wood, gods of the spirit, gods of the forest, gods of the sea, god of the mountain, and god of the sky and the clouds. The pagan world is intoxicated with religion! They want all the religion they can get, all the temples, all the shrines, all the offerings, all the rules and regulations, yet at the end of it all they were without God! Without the true and the living God, Yahweh.
Paul describes the condition of the Gentiles before the cross as one of utter hopelessness and despair. We now live in an age of God's blessing on the Gentiles.
Twice in these two verses Paul commands them to "remember"! They are to remember that they were hopeless! All of us are called to remember the entirety of our hopeless condition apart from the mercy of God in Yeshua's death and resurrection. It's really good to remember what you were before you came to Christ, because it makes you a lot more thankful for what you have in Christ.
F. F. Bruce says "Nothing is so apt to promote gratitude as a retrospective glance fixed on the whole of the pit from whence we have been dug."
We look at this list describing these Gentiles being without Christ, and we too should begin to "remember" from what it is that we have been saved. We, too, were once Gentiles in the flesh. We, too, were once without a Messiah, and therefore without hope or God in the world. We, too, were excluded from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise. So, we are put into the same situation as these Gentile believers in Asia Minor. We have the same context out of which to think of these things. We must, then, as Paul told these people, "remember." Why? Why should we think about our past and where we have come from? Because we are so prone to forget.
As a society, we have memorials to help us remember things that we don't want to forget. There is a monument in Washington, D.C. in honor of persons in the American Armed Services who died in the Vietnam War. The memorial is a large black marble wall at the Washington Mall. The names of the dead are inscribed in the wall. That wall was erected so we would not forget those who died in Vietnam.
Because we are so prone to forget, we need things to help us remember. God has given us various memorials to help us remember things that we should not forget. One such memorial is the Lord's Supper. Speaking of the Lord's Supper, Yeshua said, "This do in remembrance of me." A major goal of the Lord's Supper is to elicit remembrance of the person and work of the Lord Yeshua the Christ:
and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me." 1 Corinthians 11:24 NASB
The Lord's Supper is a memorial of the spiritual deliverance of God's people from their bondage to sin and death. That deliverance is through the blood of the Lamb, the Lord Yeshua the Christ.
We learn to appreciate what has happened to us by looking back to what we were and really beginning to understand what God called us out of in Christ.
How do you go from having no hope to having abundant hope? How do you go from not having God in the world to having Him as your Father? The same way these Gentiles did. You are brought near to God by the blood of the Christ:
But now in Christ Yeshua you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:13 NASB
"But now"—this denotes the contrast between their present condition and that prior to conversion. Thank God for the "but now." We saw the same thing in verse 4, "But God!" Before the Gospel, we were separate from Christ, excluded from the people of God, strangers to God's covenant promises, with no hope and without God Himself. "But now in Christ Yeshua"—this marks the important contrast: Yahweh has intervened.
"In Christ Yeshua"—is Paul's favorite phrase. He has used it (or some variation, such as "in Him") at least 13 times so far! It means that we are totally identified with Christ. As Paul says elsewhere, "If you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3:29). By faith Gentiles join the "true circumcision" (Philippians 3:3), and become "sons of Abraham" (Galatians 3:9) and "real Jews" (Romans 2:29). Even though we are wild olive shoots, yet by faith we are grafted in to share the rich root of the cultivated olive tree (Romans 11:17). We are graciously granted to have a part in the promise to Abraham. There is only one people of God, the vessels of mercy, the true Israel, whom "God has called not only from the Jews, but also from the Gentiles" (Romans 9:24; Ephesians 2:15). The destiny of true Israel is now my destiny, and all the promises made to her are my promises.
After a meeting a man came up to George Silwood and said: "You know, it's wonderful, isn't it, to be safe in the arms of Jesus? Isn't it wonderful?". Mr. Silwood responded, "Son, I have something better than that" "How can you have something better than to be safe in the arms of Jesus?" he asked. Listen: '"I am safe AS AN ARM of Jesus!' What does the Word of God say? We are the body of Christ. We are part of Him. And with the body of Christ there's no amputation, there's no decapitation! I am engrafted in Christ and just as a part of His body can never be lost, I can never be lost!"
"You who formerly were far off have been brought near"—"far off" and "near" are terms that are used in the Tanakh to refer to the Gentiles and Jews respectively. When the Temple was built in Jerusalem, the Jews by virtue of proximity to it were all near. The Gentiles, because they were beyond the borders of Israel, were far off. "Brought near" is a passive verb, meaning that God acted upon them to bring them near to His presence.
In the first sermon ever preached in the New Covenant Peter says to the Jews:
"For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." Acts 2:39 NASB
He says to the Jews. "To you and your children." Now if you stop right there we could say salvation is just Jewish, but he said this: "and to all that are afar off." Amen!
We have been brought near "By the blood of Christ"—this speaks of the sacrificial death of Christ, which was necessary to propitiate God's demand of holiness.
In this one verse, Paul answers the objections of the previous verse. Gentiles at one time were without Christ, not being in the citizenship of Israel, but now are brought near by the blood of the Christ. Gentiles at one time were strangers of the covenants of promise and thus not having a relationship with God, but now we who were once far off were brought near. These Gentiles to whom Paul was writing were no longer at enmity with God. And neither are we through faith in Yeshua.
Today many of us have been raised in a Christian environment, having come from Christian homes in a so-called "Christian" nation. We are more in the position of the Jews of Paul's day than that of the Gentiles. We have been exposed to a great deal of truth. We have many advantages, just as the Jews had. But we, like the Jews, must trust in Yeshua, and Him alone for our salvation. Do you remember the "But Now" moment in your life?
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