Ephesians - Week 4 Commentary

In this section of Ephesians, Paul will address the issues of Jew and Gentile and the concept of "One New Man."

We learned last week that we MUST have "the eyes of our hearts" enlightened by the Holy Spirit if we are to "get" the Bible. It is a spiritual book and we must have spiritual eyes to read it. Similarly, I believe that it is also imperative to read the Bible in it's proper context in order for us to "get" the broadest understanding of it. Before we get into this week’s text, I’d like to talk a little bit about the Bible as history and the importance of us seeing it as such.


What is the context (what are the conditions, the environment, the setting) of the Bible? We must start with the understanding that the Bible is a history book of the Hebrew (Jewish) people. It was written by Jewish men in the context of Jewish culture. This is true of both the New and Old Testaments. It contains 66 different books written by 40+ different authors over a span of about 1500 years and yet... it tells one, flowing story; The story of a promised Savior who would be born to a Jewish nation - A Savior who would reconcile both Jew and Gentile to God.

The story goes like this: Mankind, created in God's image and in perfect fellowship with God, lost his right standing with God through the sin of the first man and woman. God promised a Savior who would come through the seed of the woman. This savior would crush Satan and overcome sin, thereby restoring mankind to God.


The “seed” of the woman, the promised Redeemer, is Jesus and He came into the world through the Nation of Israel. When the promise of a Redeemer was made to Adam and Eve in the garden, however, this nation did not exist. But! In the same way that before time God knew He would choose YOU to come into His kingdom by grace through faith, God knew that He would choose to pour out his grace on a man named Abraham who would, by faith, believe the AMAZING promises that God made to Him. God promised that He would make Abraham into a great nation and that through him, all of the people of the earth would be blessed - AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED HIM. (Remember how last week we marveled at the goodness of God's choosing of us? If we can marvel at that, I think we might also marvel at His choosing out of all of the people of the earth one man to make into one nation through which He would bring about the one Savior who would in turn bring about the restoration of all things.) God chose Abraham to be the father of the Hebrew people, the nation through which the promised Messiah would come. God commanded Abraham to enter into this covenant with him through the mark of circumcision and he also told him that his descendants would be in slavery in Egypt for 400 years but that they would be delivered. (This was a foretelling of Moses, a type and shadow of Jesus the Deliverer) but we will get to those things later in the lesson.


Over and over in the Bible you find that promises and prophecies of God have "layers" of fulfillment. This promise to Abraham is no exception. It would have it's *initial* fulfillment in the miraculous birth of Isaac, a son born to Abraham and his wife Sarah in their old age. Through Jacob (who was the son of Isaac) 12 sons would be born. One of these 12 sons, Joseph, would be sold by his brothers into slavery to Egypt. For the sake of brevity, I won’t review the whole story of how Joseph became second in command to Pharaoh over all of Egypt, and how his brothers and father (Jacob) ended up in Egypt with him, and how their families grew into a great nation, and how the Egyptians came to oppress and enslave them, and how hundreds of years later Moses (who was a descendant of Levi who was one of the 12 brothers) was adopted into the Royal family of Egypt, and how Moses later led the whole Hebrew nation out of Egypt and out of slavery,  and then how gave Moses the 10 commandments and the blueprints for the Tabernacle which was the basis for the Hebrew sacrificial system of worship that pointed to the sacrifice of the lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. (I just kinda did tell you the whole story, didn’t I? - And that was quite a run-on sentence! Sorry about that!)

Anyhoo..... These 12 sons would give rise to 12 tribes once they were led out of Egypt and into the land that God had promised to Abraham. This was the Nation of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Also very important is that one of these sons, Judah, (from which the word "Jew" is derived) would give rise to the tribe of Judah and from Judah would arise a King - King David.

David, the King of Judah who would become the King of all Israel, was "a man after God's own heart" and God also made covenant promises to him. God promised to bless his offspring forever" and promised that "his line and his throne would endure forever." God promised that through David's seed, a King would arise who would rule forever. King Solomon, David's Son would later build the temple and would be known through the ages as one of the wisest men to ever walk the face of the earth but did His rule last forever? No. We read in 1 Kings 11:43 that "Solomon rested with his fathers and was buried in the city of his father David." We know that God is not a liar so the question is, did God keep His promise to David? Of course He did. God is a promise keeper.

The promises made to David (and Abraham) would have another tremendous layer of fulfillment in another miraculous birth - the birth of the promised Messiah. Jesus was born of a virgin (the "seed of a woman" as promised in Genesis), and he was the "seed" of Abraham (in that He was a descendant of the 12 Tribes) and he was a descendant of or "the seed of" David.

Jesus is called "The Lion of the Tribe of Judah." He was both the "Branch" and "Root" of David. In the Old Testament, the promised Messiah was repeatedly foretold to be both the source of David and the offspring of David. How can one person be BOTH the root (the source, the beginning)  and the branch (an outgrowth, the offspring) of someone else? Jesus, of course, can be BOTH the root and offspring of David. He existed before David and He was a descendant of David. Paul writes in Colossians that Jesus is  "BEFORE all things and in HIM all things hold together."

So, I think we’ve established this fact: Jesus' lineage was prophesied, promised and brought forth through the nation of Israel, the nation that God birthed through Abraham. The promise to Abraham that “All nations on Earth would be blessed through him” WAS kept! Through Jesus' atoning death on the cross, all of the nations of the Earth would indeed be blessed because His death would open the  way for the reconciliation of God and man. (Incidentally, the reconciliation of man to God through atoning blood is only rightly and thoroughly understood through the lens of the Old Testament sacrificial system. We will not be able to get into that in the scope of this study but I mention that simply as an example of how an understanding of the Old Testament is crucial to a proper understanding of the New Testament).


The promise of redemption had another glorious layer of fulfillment in "the new birth" - a miraculous coming to life of hearts that were DEAD in trespasses and sins. This "newness of life" occurs in all who are brought near through the blood of Christ. But just what is it that we were brought near to? Paul tells us here in this section of Ephesians: WE WERE BROUGHT NEAR TO THE PROMISES OF GOD THAT WERE PREVIOUSLY ONLY AVAILABLE TO GOD’S CHOSEN PEOPLE. This new birth allows all people to have access to all of these promises. In Romans 9:4-5 Paul would emphasize this even more: when he would write about his Jewish brethren, “Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised!”

The promises that were made to God’s chosen people are extended to ALL believers through Christ's death and resurrection and they will have their ultimate fulfillment when Christ returns in power and great glory. Paul (and Jesus Himself) speaks repeatedly about how believers are to wait and look eagerly  for their blessed hope - the bodily appearing of Jesus Christ to Earth.


Believers were raised to new life spiritually through Jesus' death on the cross and they will be given eternal life physically when Christ restores all things. The promised Son who has been reigning in the heavenlies since His ascension will be one day be reigning in the presence of His people.  People from every nation, tribe and tongue will FULLY “inherit Jesus” and we will be joint heirs with Him! David says in Psalm 16,  “The Lord is my portion and my inheritance!” As if eternity with the lover of our souls is not wonderful enough, we are promised that "everything that The Father has WILL BE OURS." As we discussed in a previous lesson, the Holy Spirit is our "engagement ring", the down payment or guarantee that Christ WILL come for us, His bride.

This is the unfolding story of the Old and New Testaments: Man, separated from God by sin is reconciled to God by faith in the atoning blood the Sinless One - Jesus who would come into the world by way of the nation of Israel - the people that God chose to be His People. It is so important that we see Jesus in the context of Jewish History. Doing this helps open our eyes to the depth of the fulfillment of the promises. We are able to marvel much more at Him when we see the beauty of the "scarlet thread" - the story of redemption -  that runs through the Bible.  

So, now that we are viewing things in their proper context, Let's get to this week’s text. :)

Ephesians 2:11 - 3:13

So far, we've learned a lot about Abraham. He was the Father of the Hebrew people - the man that God chose  to make into the nation that would give us Jesus. Genesis 17 tells us that when God made His covenant with Abraham, He commanded Abraham to enter into that covenant with Him by way of circumcision. This was the "sign" of God’s covenant. Abraham and all of the males born to his family for generations to come were to be circumcised. Circumcision was a cutting away of flesh - a mark - showing that they were in covenant, in relationship, belonging to God. All of the males born to him AND any foreigner “purchased” by him were to have this mark. Interestingly, the Hebrew word bĕriyth (covenant) has it’s root in the word that means “TO CUT.” We see later in Genesis 22 that God was firmly convinced that Abraham believed Him BECAUSE Abraham “did not withhold his only son” from Him (in his willingness to slay Isaac as an offering to God). Abraham continued to believe God’s promise that He would make him into a great nation through His son Isaac. Abraham’s faith was tested and he PROVED this faith by his willingness to lay his promised son on an altar and lifting his hand to slay Isaac. ABRAHAM trusted that God would provide a sacrifice (or raise Isaac from the dead). This, too, is how WE “prove” to God that we believe in His grace - We believe through faith that God provided a sacrifice and that He raised Jesus from the dead. Abraham’s earlier performance of the bloody sign of circumcision was proof that he was obedient to God’s command but it was his FAITH in God that caused God to say "NOW I KNOW YOU BELIEVE ME!"
So... back to Ephesians... Paul, in talking to the (primarily Gentile) Ephesian church says "Remember that previously you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision”  - remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and you were foreigners to the covenants of the promise. You were without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ."

Those who were "the circumcision" were the Jews. The Jews referred to the Gentiles as "uncircumcised" because they did not bear the mark of the covenant made to Abraham. In this letter, Paul is reminding these Gentile Christians that not only were they separated from God by their sin, they were separated on the basis of their birth, their nationality, their lineage! They were excluded from the promises, excluded from the hope of Messiah. They were alienated from God and without hope! BUT NOW! Because of their belief in Jesus' sacrifice they had been brought into the covenant! By faith Abraham was given the promises. By faith WE are brought into the promises.

I'd like to stop for a moment to make a distinction here: the one new man, The Church, has not replaced Israel but has rather been brought into to the covenant promises of God’s people. We have now been included in the commonwealth and given "citizenship. God’s chosen people have been "expanded" and not replaced. The Church is indeed something new in the sense that prior to the promises being made available to the Gentiles, only Jews could come near to God by faith in the atoning blood of a sacrifice. Now, however, God has made a "new man" consisting of Jews and Gentiles and we, too, come to him by faith in the atoning blood of the perfect sacrifice.


In the Hebrew system of worship, the only way that the High Priest could enter into the Holy of Holies (where the presence of God dwelled)  was WITH BLOOD. Hebrews were commanded to be in fellowship with God through faith that in the keeping of the law and the feasts and through the sacrificial system of worship, their sin would be hidden by the blood and they would be acceptable to God. This system of sacrificial worship that required the blood of animals was an offering for the covering of their sin.

Now, it is IMPERATIVE to note that Abraham came 430 years BEFORE the law (and therefore BEFORE the Sacrificial System) that was handed down through Moses. Abraham was brought into the covenant because God chose Him to come into the covenant. He was commanded to enter into God’s promise through circumcision, the bloody sign of the covenant between himself and God but he was commended for his FAITH in the promises of God when he proved his faith by his willingness to slay the one through whom the promise was to come. 430 years later, God would give the Law (10 Commandments) and institute the sacrificial system that POINTED TO CHRIST. The law was a “schoolmaster” in that it showed us that God requires perfect adherence to His commands. Man can’t keep those commands so God gave the temple sacrifices to cover sin. THIS WAS ALL TO POINT TO JESUS CHRIST AND HIS ATONING SACRIFICE. It is important to note that “Abraham trusted God and it was credited to Him as righteousness.” Abraham was saved by Grace through FAITH just as we are today.
Jesus hadn't *changed* the system, He had fulfilled the system! He had set aside the need for the system because He was the once for all sacrifice - the perfect lamb that takes away the sin of the world. (Again, to truly get a grasp on the importance of the blood, one MUST gain an understanding of the Old Testament and the "way of approach" to God as seen in the feasts and the tabernacle/temple). The way of approach is still through faith in atoning blood that covers sin but Jesus was the final sacrifice and the redemption He accomplished is accessible to anyone who will claim Him as their Passover lamb, their atoning sacrifice.


Paul continues and says, "{Jesus} ...has made the two groups (Jews and Gentiles) one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new group out of the two." As I briefly mentioned in last week's lesson, this wasn't just figurative language. In the temple in Jerusalem, there was a literal wall of separation. Gentiles could "approach God" but they could only come so far. There was an "outer court" area into which the Gentiles were permitted to enter but there was a barrier that they could not cross. This barrier was demolished at the cross.

Blessedly, Jesus actually demolished TWO barriers. We just discussed the breaking of the barrier between Jew and Gentile but have you ever read Matt 27:50-52? It reads,  "And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life."

Again, to understand the significance of this event, you MUST understand the Hebrew system of worship in the Old Testament. The moment Jesus' spirit left His body, the veil - the barrier that hung in the Temple that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies (where the Ark of the Covenant was kept) - was torn in two from the top to the bottom. This was significant because ONLY the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies and he could only enter once a year (on the day of atonement). On top of the restriction of just the High Priest and just once a year, HE could enter only with blood. The sole purpose for the High Priest entering this sacred space was to sprinkle blood on the Mercy Seat - the top of the “chest”  that was the ark of the covenant. In the ark were the 10 commandments. When God looked on the ark, he would see the blood and not the law that had been broken. He accepted the sacrifice of an innocent animal and the sin was “atoned” for. The Holy of Holies was inaccessible to everyone except this one man on this one day under this one condition: He must enter with blood. This makes the language of the letter to the Hebrews so much more meaningful: Jesus is our High Priest!

And what about the Veil itself? Early Jewish tradition states that the Temple veil was as thick as the width of a man's hand (about 4 inches thick) and that it was so substantial that even if an ox were tied to each side and driven in opposite directions, they would not be able to make even a rip in the fabric. The fact that this veil was torn from the TOP DOWN signifies a miracle. God Himself reached down in His mercy and  tore the veil. In doing this, He opened the way for men to approach Him. The writer of Hebrews (who I happen to think is probably Paul) clearly draws a correlation between the rent veil and Christ's  broken body: "Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water."   

Jesus broke down this barrier between God and man by way of His broken body. He also broke down the wall of Separation between Jew and Gentile. He made peace between Jew and Gentile and formed them into "one new man" and  reconciled both of them to God through the cross. He came and preached peace to those who were far away (Gentiles) and peace to those who were near (Jews). His peace came to the Gentiles in the message: "You're brought into the promises made by God to Israel!" and to the Jews, peace came in the message of "I have fulfilled the law that not one of you was ever able to keep!"


The old sign of the covenant was the bloody sign of circumcision. The new sign of the covenant is a sign of cleansing - the covenant of water baptism. The blood has been shed and we have been made clean through the blood of Christ and we've been brought into the covenant not by the cutting away of our own flesh but through the blood of the perfect man in whom there was no sin. Because of the blood of Jesus, Jews no longer have to bring the blood of animals year after year to make atonement for their sin and Gentiles are no longer foreigners and strangers (to Israel) but are now fellow citizens with God’s people and are members of his household.

Wrapping up week 4: Ephesians 3:1-13

Paul had been given a revelation - special insight - into the Mystery of what Christ's death would do and He was sharing that mystery in explicit detail here. His job - his special mission -  was to make known - to explain clearly - this mystery that been hidden for ages.

(It's important to note that "mystery" here does not mean something "mystical" or "unknowable" but rather something that has existed as truth but had heretofore been uncovered and was now being revealed.)

We've been talking about this glorious mystery for a few lessons now: "The mystery is that through Jesus, Gentiles are heirs together with Israel and they are now members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus."

Now, let me stop here for a second and tell y'all something as we move to the last section of this passage. This next verse is *the* verse that made me decide to do this study in Ephesians. When I read this not long ago it was as if I was seeing it for the first time. It still blows me away.

After Paul reveals the mystery of the one new man, he then proceeds to tell them what God's INTENTION for the church is - Are y'all ready for this? Read it outloud. Read it slowly. Read it in as many different translations as you can get your hands on - I think it just might knock your socks off.

"His intent was that now, through the church (US!) , the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to......


This is God’s intended purpose of the Church? To make known the wisdom of God to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms? This is just crazy to me! I happen to think that this is referring to fallen angels as well as the angels who remained loyal to God because Paul uses the same “rulers and authorities” language when he talks about the fact that “our struggle is not with flesh and blood but the rulers in the Heavenly places”. Remember - God is all about His Glory and this says that He has chosen to reveal His glory to angels through US - The Church!

Peter would affirm this when he wrote one of His letters, too. He explained that the prophets of old were often confounded by the words that they received from the Lord but "It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you (us!) , when they spoke of the things that have now been... explained by... the Holy Spirit - Even angels long to look into these things."

Angels long to understand the mysterious glorious grace and mercy of God. Angels look to God's redeemed people and see the redemptive gracious plan of God and they marvel.

One final thought: Remember in the Garden that Satan tempted Eve to sin? He was cursed for this and promised a crushing blow. In the same sentence that cursed Satan, God promises Adam and Eve a Redeemer. Even though they had sinned, they were promised One who would come to crush the tempter. This, too, speaks of God’s election! When Satan and the angels fell there was reserved for them everlasting destruction but when mankind fell there was a promise of redemption! Gods ways are indeed mysterious!

Oh the richness of The Word Of God! I pray that you are encouraged by this! Let me jump to part of next week's text and leave you with this thought in relation to what we have just seen:

"God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.To Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen."

Church! He has prepared good works for us to walk in! Angels long to look at the wonders of God's grace shown to us! May we cling tightly to the promise that God's power at work in us is able to accomplish exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think! To God be the glory!!

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