For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 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, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. – Ephesians 2:14-22 ESV
To truly understand this passage, you must first grasp the nature of the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in Paul’s world. There was a long and deep-seated animosity between the two groups. To put it bluntly, Jews despised Gentiles. They viewed them with contempt and rarely, if ever, associated with them on any level. The Jews viewed themselves as the chosen people of God. Everyone else was considered a Gentile, an outsider and destined to God’s wrath and punishment. It was forbidden for Jew to marry a Gentile, and in the rare cases it did happen, the family of the Jewish son or daughter would consider their child as dead, even holding their funeral to mark the day. Paul had just told the Gentile converts in the church in Ephesus, “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” (Ephesians 2:12 ESV). Jesus, the Messiah or Christ, had been promised to the Jews. He had been born a Jew. They had been born outside the commonwealth of Israel, with no access to the covenant promises made to the people of God. So not only were they disdained by the Israelites, they were without hope and without God in the world.
But all that had changed. Paul reminded them, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13 ESV). The great chasm that had separated the Gentiles from the Jews had been closed by Jesus. He had made it possible for them to have hope and a relationship with God. But amazingly, Jesus had not just reconciled the Gentiles with God, He had reconciled them to the Jewish believers in their congregation. They were now one.
For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. – Ephesians 2:14 NLT
When God called out Abraham and promised to make of him a great nation, that was the beginning of the Jewish people. God separated them out. He took one man and his barren wife and made of them a mighty nation. He chose them as His own and revealed Himself to them in ways that He had not done with any other people group on the planet. He rescued them out of captivity in Egypt. He had them through the wilderness. He met all their needs along the way. He gave them His law. He led them the land of Canaan just as He had promised Abraham. He fought and won battles on their behalf. He gave them prophets to speak to them. He provided kings to lead them. He appointed priests to minister to them. And they were to be a light to the Gentiles, a visible example of what it looks like when men live in obedience and submission to God. But they had failed. They couldn’t keep God’s law. They were incapable of remaining faithful to Him. They repeatedly rebelled and wandered from the truth of God, seeking after false gods and the fulfillment of their own selfish desires. And as a result, God punished them. He sent them into exile. He disciplined His chosen people. But He also redeemed them from slavery yet again and returned them to the land of promise. But things would never be quite the same. They would never have another king. They would never enjoy the peace and prosperity of the days of David and Solomon.
Then God sent His Son, the Messiah. After centuries of waiting, the long-awaited One arrived on the scene. But John records what happened. “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV). Jesus, the Son of God and the descendant of King David, was rejected by His own people. Instead of crowing Him as King, they demanded His crucifixion. But it was all part of God’s redemptive plan for mankind. With His death, Jesus had “broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” The law had separated Jews from Gentiles, but it had also separated Jews from God. They could not keep the law. It held them under sin, exposing and condemning their lack of faithfulness to God. But Jesus removed the barrier. He reconciled both Jew and Gentile to God “in one body through the cross” (Ephesians 2:16 ESV). He made it possible for men to be restored to God and to one another. Paul claimed that Jesus “came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (Ephesians 2:17 ESV). The very same message of redemption was preached to Jews and Gentiles. Restoration and reconciliation to God would be the same for both. As Paul stated earlier, it was to be by faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV).
And now, believing Jews and believing Gentiles were one. No more alienation and separation. No more animosity and hostility. As a result of their shared faith in Jesus Christ, they had become “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19 ESV). The church was God’s plan from all along. It was always His intention to redeem men and women from every tribe, tongue and nation. That is why He had told Abraham that He would make him the father of many “nations” – not just the Hebrew nation. He had also told Abraham that through him all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 22:18). And that promise was fulfilled in Christ. “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22 ESV). The people of God, reconciled to Him through a common faith in His Son, and living in the shared power of His Spirit. One nation under God.