(Eph 2:11-12 ESV) Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision [the Jews], which is made in the flesh by hands — 12 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.
Paul is now quite plain. Before Jesus, the covenants were just for the Jews, and the Gentiles had “no hope” and were “without God in the world.”
(Eph 2:13-16 ESV) 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
Jesus has now changed all that by the cross. The “dividing wall of hostility” is likely a reference to the wall in the Temple that kept the Gentiles separate from the Jews — allowing only Jews near the special presence of God in the Holy of Holies.
The cross, however, killed “the hostility” making Jews and Gentile “one man in place of the two.” The result is peace — shalom — and reconciliation with God “in one body.”
There is but one Messiah, one cross, and one body of Christ. Therefore, the only path to salvation is unity. Unless Jews and Gentile join into one, there can be no salvation for either.
(Eph 2:17 ESV) 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.
Jesus preached shalom — right relationship — both to Jews and to Gentiles. We cannot have shalom with God unless we have shalom with each other.
(Eph 2:18 ESV) 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
The Gentiles have received the Spirit, demonstrating that both Jews and Gentiles now have access to the Father as father. Having the same Spirit means unity is essential.
(Eph 2:19-21 ESV) 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.
Paul now shifts from simple unity to something more tangible to his First Century readers. He speaks in terms of citizenship — and in Rome, only citizens could vote and enjoy complete rights to fair trials, etc. Citizenship was a rare and special blessing only a few enjoyed — and many paid high prices to gain citizenship.
But both Jews and Gentiles are citizens of the Kingdom. There are no class distinctions. No aristocracy. No inherited titles and positions. Everyone is a full citizen, neither more nor less — something the world would not see in a nation-state until after the American Revolution — and then in America only after the Civil War ended slavery.
We — Jews and Gentiles — are also “members of the household of God.” This meant more to Paul’s First Century readers than most of us could understand. Your identity was your family and your household. If God is your Father, then you are part of his family. And while family carries great weight in modern America, imagine that weight times 1,000 in the First Century.
Most sons followed their father’s trade in their father’s hometown. A son took a wife and lived in a room next to his parents’ room. With openings for windows. Glass was not yet invented. Privacy not only didn’t exist, it was so inconceivable, there was no word for it. Everybody knew everybody’s business — unless they were very wealthy.
So to be a part of God’s household was not just family. It was family of the most intimate kind — living in close proximity, eating together, sleeping in the next room, sharing everything.
Paul then culminates these images with an even more powerful one: the Temple. The church is a temple being built out of Jewish and Gentile Christians. Every reader in ancient Rome had seen many temples. Every major city had several — and they were typically beautiful, even opulent. And they indicated the presence not only of the god being worshiped but the special favor of that god.
But, of course, Paul surely had the Temple in Jerusalem particularly in mind. Most of his readers had likely never seen it, but it was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was legendary during its time. Herod the Great was a sociopath, but he was called “great” for his architectural achievements — especially the Temple in Jerusalem.
To be part of the Temple — stones built into a temple for the Holy Spirit — meant being part of something spectacularly beautiful through which God himself showed his favor on his special, chosen, beloved people.
The Temple was a place of instruction, of prayer, of sacrifice, of worship, of song, of musical instruments, and offerings of money for those in need. It was symbolic of the unity of the Jewish people, one thing that all had in common and cherished. And Paul says this is what the church is for Jews and Gentiles alike and together.
Pilgrim saved for their entire lives to make a single trip to Jerusalem to offer sacrifice and witness and participate in the great festivals celebrated there in honor of YHWH. The Temple was a place of thanksgiving and national pride. It was even a place where heaven and earth were joined so that God could dwell among his people while still in heaven.
The Jews did not consider the ordinary laws of physics — as they understood them — to apply in the Holy of Holies. Rather, a gate between heaven and earth was open there, and God dwelled at the intersection of both — so that the Temple enjoyed an intense presence of God not found in other places.
For this reason, the Jews prayed toward Jerusalem and aligned their synagogues in that direction. They saw their worship and prayers as ascending toward God through the Temple, even if they were worshiping in Persia or Italia.
And this was the church being built out of new stones, both Jews and Gentiles, mortared with God’s shalom.
(Eph 2:22 ESV) 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.