|Ephesians, Queen of the Epistles
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
In our last study, where together we looked at that beautiful passage of Ephesians, chapter two, verses one to 13, Paul told us three things concerning the unconditional good news of salvation. In the first three verses of chapter two, he told us that both Jews and Gentiles are dead in trespasses and sins, that we are by nature the children of wrath. This is something that we all need to discover. An unbeliever is not a sick person but a dead person. He does not need resustication but he needs resurrection. All lost sinners are dead and the only difference between one sinner and another is the state of decay. That is our natural condition.
Then, in verses four to 10, Paul expounds so beautifully the wonderful unconditional good news of salvation, that together with Christ we were made alive, together with Christ we were raised up, together with Christ we are sitting in heavenly places, that the anchor of our hope, of our salvation, is not in us but in the holy history of our Lord Jesus Christ. He took humanity unto Himself and He gave us, by His life, death, and resurrection, a new history, a new status in which mankind no longer stands condemned but justified. As Paul said in Romans 5, verse 18:
Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.
Then in verses 11 to 13, Paul told us that this wonderful salvation was not something reserved only for the Jews but also for the Gentiles, since both have sinned and come short of the glory of God, since there is no difference between Jew and Gentile in the eyes of God. Mans only hope, be he either a Jew or Gentile, is Jesus Christ and redemption through Him.
Now, we are going to turn to chapter 2, verse 14 right up to verse 22 where Paul deals with Christ as our peace. The word peace is used in two senses by the apostle Paul. In Romans 5, verse 1, Paul told us that being justified by faith we have peace with God:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ....
Jesus came to bring peace between sinful man and a holy God and through the gospel and through the acceptance of the gospel, through justification by faith, that great truth that Luther discovered and recovered from the Dark Ages, that truth is what gives us peace with God.
But now, in chapter 2 of Ephesians, verses 14 onwards, Paul is not talking about our vertical peace between sinful men and a holy God but he is talking about a horizontal peace between men and men. Let us read it and follow what Paul is saying and once again, if you have your Bibles, dear reader, please turn to it. I want you to discover this truth from your own Bible. Ephesians 2, verse 14:
For he himself [that is, Christ] is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility....
The our here refers to Jews and Gentiles. In fact, he brings this out in verse 17. What does he say in verse 17?
He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.
The far away refers to the Gentiles and the near refers to the Jews. Let us go back to verse 14:
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility....
There was a problem that existed in the Old Testament. God had given the Jews instruction that they should not be unequally yoked with the Gentiles. But the word Gentiles in the Old Testament and, even in the New Testament, is used in two ways. The word Gentile can mean a non-Jew but the Bible also uses the word Gentile to refer to the unbeliever. And what God meant in the Old Testament is not that, I am reserving salvation only for the Jews. Gods plan was salvation for all people, right from the very beginning. So when He used the word Gentile in the Old Testament, He was not referring to the non-Jew but to the unbeliever. What He meant is, a believer and an unbeliever should not be unequally yoked because a believer belonged to the kingdom of God; an unbeliever belongs to the kingdom of Satan, this world. These two are enemies, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world are enemies because their rulers are enemies. There is a controversy between Satan and Christ. There can be no compromise and, therefore, that is the instruction that God gave.
But unfortunately, Judaism took that word Gentile and applied it to the non-Jews. They looked upon the Gentiles as dogs, as unclean men and women with no hope of salvation. Because of this, they built in their temple a partition wall and today archeology has discovered the inscription that was posted on that wall that Paul is referring here to. Let me paraphrase that inscription. This is what it said: No foreigner may enter within the barricade, that is, beyond this wall, and the word foreigner refers to the non-Jew, the Gentile. Anyone that is, any Gentile who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death. In other words, any Gentile who went beyond that partition wall, which was reserved only for the Jews, was punishable by death. Why? Because the Jews had taken the word Gentile and, instead of applying that to unbelievers, they applied it to those who were not descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
In chapter nine of Romans, Paul made it very clear that the mistake of the Jews was that it is not the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that makes true Israel, but it is the qualities of these three men that qualifies one to be an Israelite. In other words, Abraham stood for faith and, if you have the faith of Abraham, then you are Abrahams seed. Isaac stands for being born from above and, as Paul says to the Gentiles in Galatians 4, we who are born from above belong to Isaac. And, of course, Jacob really refers to those whose faith endures unto the end. In other words, if you have the faith of Abraham, if you have experienced the new birth, the birth from above as Isaac was born from above, and if your faith endures unto the end, then you belong to Israel. But the Jews applied the word Israel only to those who had the blood of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Paul is saying here that this false teaching has been removed through Jesus Christ. Why? Because, in the incarnation, He took unto Himself, not only the Jewish nation, but He took the whole human race unto Himself as we saw in our last study. God took the corporate life of the whole human race, from Adam to the last person, because, even though we belong to different nations and tribes and kingdoms and countries, we share a common life.
The human race is the multiplication of Adams life. When God breathed into Adam the breath of life, the Hebrew text in Genesis 2:7, the word life is in the plural: lives:
...The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life [lives], and the man became a living being.
In Acts 17, verse 26, Luke tells us that out of one, God created all the nations that dwell upon the earth:
From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.
The human race shares a common life or, as we would put it from the Word of God, the human race is a multiplication of Adams life. God took that corporate life of the human race and joined it to Christ in the incarnation. Then, by His perfect life and His sacrificial death and His resurrection, He gave us a new hope, a new history, a new status in which we have salvation, full and complete. That is the redemption of the gospel; that is the unconditional good news. And in that redemption, all distinction between Jew and Gentile was removed. As Paul says in Romans 3, verse 22-23, there is no difference between Jew and Gentile:
This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God....
Both of us have sinned; both of us keep on sinning; we are together become unprofitable but, in Christ, we were brought together. The middle wall of partition was removed.
Look at Ephesians 2, verse 15:
[14: 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 the two, thus making peace,....
The enmity that existed because of the misinterpretation of that wall was removed at the cross and God removed every barrier between men and men. Today the world is torn up into all kinds of factions. The Middle East is torn up between the Israelites and the Palestinians. The people in the former Yugoslavia are torn up and there is this terrible ethnic cleansing that is taking place there that really is a contradiction of the gospel. The world is divided into all kinds of races, color divisions. Folks, the gospel removes all human barriers. As Paul says in Galatians, chapter 3, verse 28:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
In Christ there is no male; there is no female; there is no Jew; there is no Gentile; there is no slave; there is no master. In other words, there is no educated or uneducated. We are all one in Christ. That is the wonderful good news of the gospel. He has brought peace, not only between sinful men and a holy God but He has brought peace between men and men. It is only the gospel that can bring peace to this human race that is torn apart with all kinds of factions.
And so I read in verse 16 of Ephesians 2:
...And in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.
The cross of Christ has removed all barriers, all enmity between men and men and, therefore, verse 17 adds:
He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.
He came and preached peace to you who were far off (you Gentiles) and to those who were nearby (the Jews). For through Him through Christ we both, Jews and Gentiles, have access by one Spirit to the Father. The life that you and I were born with is a life of self, and where self dominates mankind, you have divisions, all kinds of divisions, all kinds of factions. But a Christian has surrendered that self life to the cross. A Christian is a person who has been born again. A Christian is a person who says with Paul, Galatians 2:20:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
And, my dear reader, Christ lives in you and me through the Holy Spirit. In fact, Paul tells us in Romans 8, verses 9 and 10 that if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he doesnt belong to Christ:
You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.
Therefore, the new birth is essential for the gospel to be made effective in your life and my life. As Jesus made it clear to Nicodemus, unless you are born from above, you cannot inherit the kingdom of God. John 3:3:
In reply Jesus declared, I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.
As a Christian, it doesnt matter whether you are a Jew or Gentile, you have now received the Spirit as the source of your life, that eternal life that God gave you through His Son, Jesus Christ. In this life, which is dominated by love that seeks not its own, this life controlled by that unconditional love, removes all barriers between man and man.
It is my belief that, if we want peace in America, if we want to remove the racial barriers, the barriers between black and white, between the majority and the minority, we cannot do it by legislation. We cannot do it by marches. The only source of removing the barriers between man and man, the only source of peace between man and man is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is only through the cross of Christ that the enmity that exists between men and men for whatever reason, can be removed. It is Christ who is our peace. And so, if we want peace in America between the various ethnic groups, if we want peace between the majority and the minority, the solution is to proclaim the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. No human effort, no humanistic method can solve this problem. I can guarantee you, no human solution is available to mankind. Why? Because Paul made it clear in this epistle and the other epistles: we are slaves to sin; we need a deliverer. It is our slavery to sin that brings the faction between men and men.
It is my prayer that we will turn to the gospel as mans only solution of bringing peace in America and in the world.
But lets go on. In verse 19 of Ephesians 2, Paul goes on now by pointing to Christ as the cornerstone. Listen to what he says, verse 19 of Ephesians 2. Remember, the you is referring to the Gentiles:
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with Gods people and members of Gods household....
We have become one. Jews and Gentiles have equal rights in this new kingdom that God has prepared in Jesus Christ no distinction between Jew and Gentile, no distinction between male and female, no distinction between rich and poor, no distinction between black and white. We are all one in Christ. That is the wonderful truth of the gospel.
Not only do we have salvation in Jesus Christ, not only can we do good works in Jesus Christ, but in Jesus Christ we have peace, not only between God and man but between man and man.
It is important that we understand what Paul is saying here. Listen to verse 20 now:
...built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
Please remember, the prophets here is referring here to the Old Testament. The Old Testament, just as the New Testament, taught universal salvation. In other words, salvation that was planned from the foundation of the world was planned for the whole human race. This is what the prophets taught; this is what the apostles taught, but Christ Jesus is Himself the chief cornerstone. What does he mean by this? Well, let me explain because most of our houses here are built out of wood, but in the tropics, in the Middle East where wood is very difficult to get since most of the Middle East is semi-desert, wood is a luxury. Besides, because of its warm temperatures, we have the problem with termites. So the houses in the days of Christ were built out of stone. Labor was cheap and so the stonemasons would carve the stones into squares and build the houses out of stone. Now the first thing they did after they laid the foundation was to lay the cornerstone. By this cornerstone, everything else was measured. They would lay this cornerstone and then tie a string from the cornerstone to the other end of the building and then place the other stone. And then they would tie a string on the other side at right angles so that everything was measured by the cornerstone.
What Paul is saying is that our Christianity, everything that we hope for as Christians whether we talk of our peace in justification or the holy and righteous living in sanctification or when we talk of the changing of our corrupt nature to incorruption at the second coming of Christ which the New Testament calls glorification all of this, has its source in Jesus Christ. Everything must be measured by Jesus Christ our thoughts, our direction, our ambitions, our desires. Everything must be Jesus Christ. In other words, a Christian is a person who says with Paul, For me to live is Christ. He is the cornerstone and since, in Christ, there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile, that must be the basis of our unity, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets but Jesus Christ is the cornerstone.
The prophets offered us salvation as a promise. The apostles pointed to Christ as our salvation but it is Christ who is the cornerstone. What the apostles and the prophets simply did was to point us to Christ, the prophets by a promise, the apostles by the historical truth of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
So the church here is defined by Paul as a building. Look at verse 21. In verse 20, Christ is presented as a cornerstone by which every other stone is measured and placed. Now in verse 21, he says:
In him [that is, in Christ] the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.
Every believer has a vital part in the temple of God and when the New Testament talks about the temple of God, it is not talking about buildings. The tragedy of the Christian church is somewhat the same as the Jews. The Jews put emphasis in their temple. You remember what Jesus said to the Jews in John, chapter 2, verse 19:
Jesus answered them, Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.
The Jews missed the total point of Christs statement. They said to Him,
It has taken 46 years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?
But Jesus was not talking about the building. He was talking about His body. Even His disciples failed to understand this truth because, as I read John 2, it tells me that only after the resurrection the disciples remembered those words and realized that He was not talking about a building, He was talking about His body. John 2:21-22:
But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
It is not a building that makes up a Christian church. We have some beautiful churches here in America. I look at the Washington Cathedral, that beautiful edifice. Oh, what a wonderful building it is. You go to Europe and see those beautiful cathedrals that were built in the Middle Ages. But many of those buildings are empty. Very few people go to church today. In Europe, it is just a small percentage. In America, it is a higher percentage but the majority of the people stay at home. The building is not the church; the church is men and women who are indwelt by the Spirit of Christ, who are joined together with Christ as the cornerstone. And it is Gods desire that the church grow up as a building in perfect harmony with the cornerstone. It is Gods purpose that the church, Jews and Gentiles, are perfectly united together.
When you look at the corner of a building, the stones are interlaced so that the bonding will be very strong. And in the church, the bonding between all groups, all ethnic cultures, should be bonded together in one. Yes, we may not see eye-to-eye in many things, but in the church there must be unity in spite of diversity because the gospel is the power of God, not only to save us from the condemnation of the law, not only to save us from the guilt and punishment of sin but from sin itself which has divided this world into all kinds of factions and which is the cause of all the wars and strife that we are seeing and listening to on the news.
Listen to the concluding verses of this section, Ephesians 2:22:
And in him [that is, in Christ] you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Christianity is a growing experience. Oh, what a wonderful message this gospel is. We have tried, as human beings, every single method to bring unity in this country. We have tried legislation; we have tried marching; we have tried all kinds of educational programs; and everything seems to be failing. Passing laws has not solved our problems. Using force, using authority, using police force has not solved our problems. Education has not solved our problems. Human gimmicks have failed. Every method that we have tried has failed to produce a united nation. There is only one way that you and I can be united genuinely. It is through the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ because the enmity was removed at the cross. The middle wall of partition between men and men was totally eradicated at the cross. The curtain between a holy God and sinful man was torn apart from top to bottom, says the gospel records (Matthew 27:50-51, below, also in Mark 15:37-38):
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split.
There is no barrier between a holy God and sinful man in the gospel of Jesus Christ. And there is no barrier between men and men through the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is my prayer that as we understand this truth, this truth will set us free, free from the factions and the divisions that have been produced even in the Christian church. You know, in 1 Corinthians, chapter 3, Paul divides Christians into two camps. He calls one group carnal Christians, babes in Christ, and the other spiritual. One of the evidences of a carnal Christian is there is jealousy; there is division; there is strife within the church. If there is strife within the Christian church, if there is division, it is because we are still carnal. And Paul is saying, Please, how long are you going to remain carnal? It is time that the church grows up into Christ. It is time that the Christian church understands the full implications of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not enough to raise our arms and say, I am saved. The world needs to see the power of the gospel in your life and in my life.
I will conclude with these words of Jesus Christ. John 13, verse 35:
By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
Or in other words, when you have unity within the church. It is my prayer that this truth will set you free, that no longer will there be any division in your church, in my church, that we shall be one in Christ and the world will see the power of the gospel bringing all kinds of ethnic groups, all kinds of cultures, all kinds of races, all kinds of colors united by the blood of the Lamb. This is my prayer in Jesus name. Amen.