Part 14 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians
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"Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ" (2:11-13)
The older we get, the more we like to remember the past. Usually, we remember the good times and forget the bad times. (The “good old days” weren’t as good as some people seem to think.) But twice in Ephesians 2, Paul wanted the Ephesians to remember the bad times (vv. 1-3, 11-12).
The Christians in the church at Ephesus were primarily Gentiles (v. 11). Before Paul writes about how God has united Jews and Gentiles in the body of Christ, he wants them to “remember” (vv. 11, 12) their former lives (“at one time,” v. 11; “at that time,” v. 12).
As Gentiles, the Ephesians were “called ‘the uncircumcision’ by which is called the circumcision” (v. 11). “The circumcision” refers to the Jews. Circumcision was a physical sign of Israel’s covenant with the Lord (Gen. 17:9-14). “To be called ‘uncircumcised’ was a Jewish term of derision” (ESV Study Bible, p. 2265).
But circumcision (like any other human work or ritual) is unable to save us (cf. vv. 8-9). Paul says circumcision “is made in the flesh by hands” (v. 11). “Made…by hands” is in contrast to the work of God. Circumcision is an external change performed by humans. In order to be saved, we need an internal change performed by God, a circumcision of the heart (cf. Rom. 2:29; Phil. 3:2-3; Col. 2:11). “The LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut. 30:6; cf. 10:16; Jer. 4:4).
In verse 12, Paul lists several privileges that the Ephesians didn’t enjoy prior to putting their faith in Christ. The Ephesians were once “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (v. 12).
First, they were without promises.
They were “separated from Christ” because they were unaware of the promises of the Messiah (the coming King). They were “strangers to the covenants of promise” because these promises were given to Israel. The three major covenants of promise were the (1) Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12:1-4), (2) the Davidic covenant (2 Sam. 7:12-17) and (3) the new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34). Basically, God’s plan of salvation through Christ was revealed to and given through the Jews, not the Gentiles (though the Jews should have shared the good news with the Gentiles). This is why Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “Salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22; cf. Rom. 9:4-5). Second, they were without hope.
If a person does not have hope, the deeper he thinks, the more depressed he becomes. Third, they were without God.
The Gentiles believed in many gods, but they did not believe in the one true God. To the Gentiles, he was the “unknown god” (Acts 17:23).
Without God and his promises, there is no hope.
“But now” (v. 13) is similar to “but God” (v. 4). The Ephesians were formerly “separated from Christ,” but now they are “in Christ Jesus.” They were formerly “far off,” but now they have been “brought near.” Paul probably has Isaiah 57:19 in mind, which says, “‘Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,’ says the LORD, ‘and I will heal them.’”
“The blood of Christ” has achieved reconciliation.
1. The blood of Christ has reconciled us to God.
The need for reconciliation between God and man was taught by Jesus in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). The prodigal son left his father and traveled to a “far country” (v. 13). Eventually, the son repented and returned home, expecting to live as a servant, not a son. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced and kissed him” (v. 20).
Though we have sinned against God, he wants us to be reconciled to him. He proved this by the sacrifice of his Son.
2. The blood of Christ has reconciled us to one another.
Christ died not only to save individuals, but to unite individuals in Christ. Jews and Gentiles are now one in the body of Christ, the church. Ephesians 2:11-22 is “perhaps the most significant ecclesiological text in the New Testament” (Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians, p. 123).
God’s plan is to restore harmony to this world.