In many ways, Ephesians 2:11-22 covers the same ground as Ephesians 2:1-10. Both sections highlight “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” (Eph. 1:19). In both sections, Paul moves from addressing what his readers were before they were Christians to what they are now that they are “in Christ.” The difference is that each section has a particular focus. In 2:1-10, Paul speaks of the problem of sin, but in 2:11-22, Paul speaks of the problem of fellowship – both with God and with the rest of God’s people. The glory of salvation is multi-faceted: Not only does Jesus deal with our sins, He also brings us peace – both with God and with others.
The key issue for Paul’s first readers was the relationship between Jews and Gentiles. Since the Jews – and not the Gentiles – had received the “oracles” of God (Rom. 3:2) and entered into covenant relationship with God (Ex. 19-25), many Jews viewed themselves as “closer” to God than non-Jews simply by virtue of their ethnicity. They often looked down on Gentiles – as seen by Paul’s allusion to “the circumcision” calling Gentiles “the uncircumcision”. Even though the Jews were God’s people by grace and not because of anything special in themselves (Deut. 9:1-12), this ethnic barrier was very real.
Paul refused to participate in this degradation of the Gentiles because he recognized circumcision as a merely physical, external reality (notice his comment that circumcision is “made in the flesh by hands – i.e. a human accomplishment as well as Rom. 2:28-29). However, he recognized that Gentiles did have some inherent problems and obstacles to knowing God and being in relationship with him. Even though many Jews wrongly exalted their ethnic heritage, there were legitimate blessings provided to the Jews that Gentiles never had.
First, Paul’s Gentile readers – before their salvation – were “separated from Christ” (2:12). They were not connected to Him and the life He could provide – as Paul mentioned (in 2:1), they were “dead”. Moreover, be cause they were Gentiles, they did not even have a hope of a Christ like the Jews who had received numerous promises of a righteous, redeeming King. Unlike the Jews, they were not even looking for Jesus and had no reason to do so. This is a serious disadvantage because all God’s blessings come through Christ (Eph. 1:3; 2:4-6). They were in serious trouble because they were separated from Christ.
Second, Paul says they were “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel” (2:12). They were not part of God’s chosen people. Again, that was a serious disadvantage because God made Himself known to Israel in special ways. He made known His will, and law, to Israel and no one else. He poured out blessings on Israel that were not poured out on anyone else. There were clear advantages to being part of God’s special people as a Jew (Rom. 3:1-2; 9:4-5). Once again, the Gentiles were in serious trouble because they had no part in these special advantages.
Third, Paul says they were “strangers to the covenants of promise” (2:12). God’s people had a special relationship with Him in which He promised certain blessings on them. He had promised to bless Abraham and make him into a great nation which would be a blessing to all other nations (Gen. 12; 17; 22). He had also promised David that a son of David would reign on the throne forever (2 Sam. 7). The Jews held on to these promises and put their hope in them – because they came from God. But the Gentiles had no such promises to which they could cling. Again, they were in serious trouble.
And Paul sums up their sad state by declaring that they had “no hope” and were “without God in the world” (2:12). The two go together. Even though God created them, He was not “with” them – in covenant relationship with them as with the Jews. And as a result, they had no hope. There was no way they could make it better, and they had no promises or evidences that God intended to make it better.
Yet, God did do something about it. As Paul says, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (2:13). God made a way for those who were far off from Him with no hope to be brought near to Him – to move from “outside the camp” (i.e. the area of death and curse and uncleanness) to “inside the camp” (i.e. the place of blessing and fellowship and cleanness). God promised He was going to do this even in the Old Testament (Isa. 49:6; Amos 9:11-12). Jesus even spoke of “other sheep” from outside of Israel that would come (John 10:16), and this was the gospel proclaimed by the early church (Acts 13:47; 15:16-18).
Through the blood of Christ, those who were far off – with no hope of anything better – have been brought near. Those who were separated from Christ are now “fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17) because they are made alive with Him and raised with Him and seated with Him. Those who were alienated from the commonwealth of Israel are now members of the same tree (Rom. 11:17) as Jews as true children of Abraham (Gal. 3:29). And those who were strangers of the covenants of promise are now partakers of those promises (2 Cor. 1:20-22).
This is glorious news. At every point at which there was a glaring problem, it has been addressed and made right. We who were far off have been brought near – though we had no right or claim to such a blessing and God did not owe us such a blessing. Behold the grace and mercy and love of God who has brought us near and made us His own and made us part of the people of God.