The End of All Hostility
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, July 4, 2004
Copyright © 2004, P. G. Mathew
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. - Ephesians 2:14-15
The history of mankind is a history of war. Jesus warned his disciples that they would hear of wars and rumors of wars, and certainly that has been true. But why do people quarrel? Why do nations practice warfare? Why don't we all just get along by talking to each other and having conferences? Why not eliminate all defense budgets and spend that money on social services? The reason is simple: All people are sinners. Only the end of sin will see the end of all hostilities. Only when there is no sin will our swords be turned into plowshares.
Jesus Christ came into the world to deal with sin; he did so by his sacrificial death in our behalf. Ephesians 2:11-18, then, speaks of the destruction of all hostilities, which was accomplished by Jesus Christ on the cross.
Alienation of Sinners
All people experience at least two forms of alienation because of sin. First, there is alienation between fellow human beings. As sinners, we hate other people. In fact, we like to look down on others and glory in our differences, whether racial, social, gender, or economic. Second, there is alienation of man from God. And perhaps we can say there is a third form of alienation-the divisions and conflicts many of us experience at one time or another within ourselves.
In verse 11 Paul tells the Ephesians to remember how alienated they were from both God and each other. "Remember" is the only imperative found in this passage. As believers, we have to forget certain things and to remember certain other things. It is good to forget the injuries that people inflict upon you. But there are some things we are commanded to remember. As believers in Jesus Christ we are especially to remember our former condition. So Paul commands the Ephesians to remember their past, that they might praise God for saving them and reconciling them to him so that they might walk in humility, praise God, and proclaim the same saving gospel to others.
These Ephesian Gentiles were despised by the Jews, who gloried in their external privileges, including circumcision. But theirs was a circumcision performed by human hands, done only in their flesh, which had nothing to do with true inner spirituality and the circumcision which the Holy Spirit performs in human hearts. But the Jews took great pride in such external marks of privilege.
Paul the Pharisee speaks about these privileges in Romans 9:3-5: "For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; 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 Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen." He could have also added, "Theirs is the circumcision."
In contrast, the Gentiles had only disabilities, at least according to the Jews. A number of these disabilities are mentioned in Ephesians 2:12. First, though, consider what the Jewish people thought about Gentiles. They looked upon them as dogs and as fuel for the fires of hell. They claimed that God loved only Israel, not the Gentiles. Of course, that was a lie, for God had in fact chosen Israel to be the light of the whole world. But the Jews failed in their mission to the Gentiles. They hated them so much that they would not help a Gentile woman if she was struggling to give birth to a Gentile baby.
Peter, the chief apostle, was brought up with these ideas. So in Acts 10:28 he told the Gentile Cornelius, "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean." Peter himself practiced such hostility against Jews until God instructed him differently.
So the Jews misunderstood their privileges. They were chosen by God, not only for their own salvation, but that they might be a light to the Gentiles. God's eternal plan was that, through Abraham and his descendants, all the families of the earth be blessed. Instead, the Jews, the chosen people of God, became exclusivistic, isolationist, and separatist.
What, then, were the disabilities of the Gentiles? Paul mentions five of them in Ephesians 2:12 and another in Ephesians 4:18.
They were Christless. First, the Gentiles were without Christ. In Christ all blessings are found, but these people were outside of Christ. The Old Testament promised that the Messiah, the Christ, would be of the Jews; thus, a Gentile had no share in the promise of the Messiah unless he became a Jew and kept the ceremonial law, including circumcision. Only then could he worship the God of Israel. The Gentile Ruth had to say, "Your people will be my people" before she could say, "Your God will be my God."
They were stateless. Paul says the Gentiles were "excluded from citizenship in Israel," alienated from the commonwealth of Israel. As non-citizens, they had no rights in God's theocratic kingdom.
They were friendless. The Gentiles were "foreigners to the covenants of the promise." They were strangers to the covenants of promise which God made to Abraham. Because the Jews were not acting as lights to them, the Gentiles had no idea that they were included in the Abrahamic covenant of God's salvation. They knew God was Abraham's God and friend, but they had heard nothing about such a promise for the Gentiles.
They were hopeless. Somebody once said that to be useless is the worse thing that can happen to us. But there is something worse than uselessness; it is to be hopeless. The Gentiles here are described as being "without hope." To them, everything was utterly meaningless, as we read in Ecclesiastes. They had no hope of a Savior or salvation. The deeper they thought, the more pessimistic they became.
This is still true of all who are outside of Christ. What, then, should such hopeless Gentiles do to be happy? Don't think! "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. Do what you can to make money, grab power, and enjoy the good life now, for the future will be terrible." Only judgment and hell await unbelievers. That is why these Gentiles were hopeless.
They were Godless. Paul described the Gentiles as "without God in the world." They were atheoi, atheists. Certainly, they had received the revelation of the true God in nature and in every man's conscience. Yet, we are told in Romans 1, the Gentiles suppressed this knowledge of God, exchanged truth for a lie, and worshiped creation rather than the Creator. Engaging in every form of wickedness, they showed their utter contempt and enmity toward the true God.
As part of their worship of the goddess Diana, the Ephesians committed all sorts of lewd, sexually immoral acts with the hundreds of temple prostitutes. The Bible says every unbeliever is, in truth, worshiping demons. These people had many gods, but were without the one true God.
They were lifeless. In Ephesians 4:18 these Gentiles are described as "separated from the life of God." Dead in trespasses and sins, they were cut off from the life of God. Oh, they may have been rich or famous. Some of these cultured and civilized people were intelligent philosophers, for we hear of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and others. Yet God says concerning them that they were Christless, stateless, friendless, hopeless, Godless, and lifeless.
This is true of all who are outside of Jesus Christ. Even those who are merely baptized should not glory in their baptism, as the Jews gloried in their circumcision, for such things are only externalities. Every sinner is outside of Christ. Only in Christ can we find safety and celebration, salvation and blessing. These things are not found outside of Christ.
So every unbeliever is cut off from God. Man was driven from paradise because of his sin and rebellion. Now he needs a mediator between holy God and sinful man. Objectively, he should be one qualified to make atonement for him and deal with his sin problem. Subjectively, he needs one who can change his heart and make him a new creation.
So we read in Ephesians 2:13, "But now"-nuni de. Here is a strong contrast. What a great difference Jesus Christ makes! "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ." There is no other way to be brought near to God and have fellowship with him, but in Christ Jesus and his shed blood on the cross. So this is speaking about the objective atonement of Christ on our behalf.
"Now" speaks about the incarnation of Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection. Now is the era of the gospel. The Bible tells us now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation. Now there is great hope for all sinners, Jew and Gentile alike. We do not have to remain Christless, hopeless, Godless and lifeless. There is a "now" that has come in Jesus Christ.
Atonement, or propitiation, refers to a sacrifice that causes the wrath of God against us to be turned away. As a result of this sacrifice of propitiation, God's wrath is turned away, and now God is favorably disposed toward us.
Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, perfect God and perfect man, the one who knew no sin, the priest after the order of Melchizedek, offered himself as an atoning sacrifice, acceptable in the sight of God, in our behalf. We must understand that God is just and holy, so he must punish sin. He is the immutable, unchanging God; therefore he must punish us.
The Bible declares we are enemies of God. But we are told in Psalm 86 that God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love (v. 15). Here, then, we find another aspect of his perfection: God does not want to punish us! So God himself solved this dilemma by his own eternal plan of salvation: God the Father would not spare his own Son, but he would give him up for us all. The whole Jewish sacrificial system is based on this idea. The animal sacrifice and bloodletting pointed forward to the propitiatory sacrifice Christ would make upon the cross.
God so loved sinners that he gave up his only begotten Son as an atoning, propitiatory sacrifice, that whosoever believes on him should not perish but have eternal life. In the eternal council, the Son freely agreed to suffer God's wrath against us as a man on the cross, and the Holy Spirit agreed to administer that salvation subjectively to our hearts.
God poured his wrath upon his beloved Son, because God is just, and he must punish sin. So he punished a substitute, a fit and qualified substitute, the God/man Jesus Christ. The wages of sin is death, yet in our place, Jesus Christ died.
Paul speaks of this in Romans 3:25. Here we see God taking the initiative to give up his Son: "God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement"-or propitiation-"through faith in his blood." And verse 26: "He did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus."
In 2 Corinthians 5:19 we read that "God was reconciling the world"-that is, sinners-"to himself in Christ. . . ." Once again we sinners are not taking the initiative, for we are rebels and enemies of God. No, God the Father himself took the initiative to reconcile us by "not counting men's sins against them." Instead he counted our sins against his own Son. As verse 21 says, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." He is Yahweh Tsidkenu, the Lord our Righteousness. We stand before God clothed in that perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.
First John 2:2 says, "He is the atoning sacrifice [or propitiation] for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world," that is, all the people in the whole world who will repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. First John 4:10 says, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
So, then, God took the initiative to reconcile us to himself and bring us back to him. He said to the repenting thief, "Today you will be with me in paradise." That is reconciliation. Before, we were prevented from entering into paradise; now, the door is open and he says, "Come in; you will be with me in paradise." God forgives our sins based on what Jesus Christ did on the cross. We are welcome to come, to repent, and to believe. When we do, we will be forgiven and reconciled instantly.
The Wall of Hostility Destroyed
Ephesians 2:14 tells us, "For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one"-that is, Jew and Gentile are one new humanity-"and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh . . ." That is speaking about his death on the cross. When Jesus died on the cross, he destroyed man's hostility to man.
In verse 16 we read, "And in this one body"-that is, in the body of Jesus Christ-"to reconcile both of them to God"-dia tou staurou- "through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility." So verse 14 speaks about the destruction of hostility between man and man, and verse 16 speaks about the destruction of the hostility between man and God. Jesus accomplished both when he died on the cross. That is why in the church we love one another. We are one new human race, created by God.
Verse 13 says, "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ." Through the violent death Jesus Christ experienced on the cross, he destroyed the hostility between man and man, and more than that, the hostility between man and God.
By his death, Jesus destroyed all enmity. So we read in verse 14, "For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one, and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility." To understand this more fully, we must realize that while Paul was writing this letter he was recalling what happened during his last visit to Jerusalem. He had a friend, a Greek believer named Trophimus, whom people saw with Paul in Jerusalem. The Jews falsely accused Paul of bringing Trophimus, a Gentile, into the temple area. This would have been a criminal act. In the Jewish temple there was an area called the Holy of Holies, where God was present, between the cherubim, above the mercy seat. Because of man's sin, the Holy of Holies was divided from everything else by a six-inch-thick veil, and no one could enter except the high priest, and that once a year, with blood. The temple proper (the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place) was surrounded by several areas radiating out from it, as it were, in concentric circles. First there was the court of the priests, and next to that was the court of Israel for men, followed by the court of Israel for women. Then, on a lower level, built all around the temple, was a stone wall five feet high. On it was a warning sign which declared, "No foreigner is to enter within this balustrade and embankment around the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his death, which will follow." This warning was written in both Greek and Latin. There were several such signs, one of which was discovered in 1871 and is now kept in a museum in Istanbul.
So if Paul had brought Trophimus, a Gentile, into the temple, he would have violated this law. But when Christ died on the cross, Matthew 27:51 tells us that the thick veil separating God from sinful man was torn from the top to bottom. The veil stands for the torn body of Jesus Christ. When Christ died and made atonement for our sins, the way to God opened up. Now anyone can come to God in the name of Jesus Christ. We can come with confidence, because our sin problem has been dealt with on the cross. Thus, the hostility between man and man, and man and God, was destroyed by Christ's death on the cross.
And not only was the veil torn, but the five-foot-tall stone wall was, in effect, broken down, even though it stood until A.D. 70, when it was finally destroyed. (PGM) When we come to God the Father through Jesus Christ, all hostility is over. God loves us and our fellow believers love us, for we are one. By faith in Christ's atonement, both Gentile and Jew can come to the throne of grace with confidence and worship God. Believers in Jesus Christ, whether Gentile or Jew, can finally love one another.
No More Distinctions
"For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one" (v. 14). In Christ, God made Jew and Gentile one new race, one new humanity. And verse 15 says, "His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace." Notice, it is a brand-new creation. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5:17). "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10).
The church is the new creation, in which there is no distinction here between Jew and Gentile, slave and master, rich and poor, for all distinctions disappeared on the cross. One cannot look upon the cross and hate another. The cross destroyed such hostility. God's purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two.
In verse 15 we are told something else: that Christ abolished the law. Now, that is an interesting statement. Some people may say: "Oh, this means that now we can commit adultery. We can steal. We can murder. Didn't you say that Christ abolished the law!" No, that is not what it means! Let us, then, examine what this statement means, because it can be confusing.
First, Christ abolished the ceremonial law that separated the Jews and the Gentiles, such as circumcision, animal sacrifices, dietary laws, rules of ritual purity, and the laws of festivals. Second, Christ abolished the moral law as a way of salvation. But those who are saved will love God's law and demonstrate that they are saved by keeping it in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is a guide to our life given to us by God himself. So we must never think that Christ abolished the Ten Commandments by his death on the cross. He did not. He came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).
That is why a person cannot be a Christian and hate his brother and sister. That does not mean we do not hate sometimes. But hatred is a sin we should repent of, because it is a sin against the cross, against God's own sacrifice. Yes, as human beings, we are always trying to create walls of distinction between people. You may be tall; I am small. You are black; I am white. I am smart and you are dumb. I make more money than you. We do this because such distinctions are the identity for a sinful man. But for a man of God, his identity is, "I am a child of God." Thus Colossians 3:11 says, "Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all."
On the cross, Christ established unity and destroyed hostility. So Galatians 3:26-29 says, "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." That does not mean that we will stop being male or female. There are gender differences and role differences. Nevertheless, we are all one in Christ, and do not distinguish between people in negative ways.
Ephesians 2:17 says, "He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near." "He came" means he rose from the dead. God raised him up, seated him in the heavenly places, and has subjected all things in the universe under his feet. Because Christ rose from the dead, he now can come and preach peace to us who are afar and peace to those who are near. He did so after his resurrection, appearing to his disciples and telling them, "Peace be unto you." But not only that, he also preaches through his ministers. So when I or another minister of the gospel preach, who is preaching to you? The Lord Jesus Christ, through human agency. And when you listen to such preaching, your problems will be solved, your enmity will disappear, your hostility will be destroyed, and you will receive peace. As the gospel is preached, you hear it, you believe it, and you are saved. And you are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.
Reconciliation is the application of this redemption into the heart of the believer. When God applies this salvation, the believer becomes a new person, with a new nature, and now he loves God. The word that is used in verse 16 for reconcile is apokatallassí´. Such reconciliation is the work of the Holy Spirit.
But we must realize that there is no universal reconciliation. Many people say that because Jesus Christ died on the cross, all people are already reconciled to God, whether they believe it or not. That is a lie. There is reconciliation only for those who trust in Jesus Christ and his atonement.
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says this reconciliation is a change from hostility to friendship. God was angry at us, and his wrath was being revealed against us. But he is no longer angry at us; now he is our friend-yea, more than that, he is our heavenly Father.
This reconciliation accomplished by Christ on the cross is a real reuniting of both parties. It is not forcing them to come together, not trying to bring about some kind of superficial relationship. No, this is a real reuniting of man with God by Christ. The completeness of the action is expressed by this word apokatallassí´. Enmity is completely eradicated and now there reigns love. It is illustrated in the picture of the father embracing his prodigal son.
This reconciliation is not established by man; sinful man can do nothing to bring it about. It is established by one party-the offended, superior party. God himself must take action to reconcile us to him, that his blessings may flow into us. To be reconciled means it is a restoration to what was before. In fact, I believe it is a restoration to an even better state than the one that existed before, because we are now not in Adam but in Jesus Christ, the second Adam. Our relationship with God is even better because we are adopted sons of God.
All who are so reconciled to God through Jesus Christ are also reconciled to one another. Because we all are a new humanity and sons and daughters of God, it is logical that we love one another and live lives of love and unity. Of course, we do not always do this perfectly. But when we are not loving one another, we are committing a sin against the cross. Especially when we come to the Holy Communion, we must repent of our sins and say, "O God, have mercy upon me for my self-centeredness and my sin of not loving one another."
Verse 18 tells us exactly how we are reconciled to God: "through him." Reconciliation is only possible through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. There is no reconciliation to the true and living God possible by any other way. Jesus Christ said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me." There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who died on the cross in our place. Therefore, all other religions are not only false, but wickedness before God. There is no salvation in any other but through Jesus Christ.
Verse 18 says, "For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit." It is the Holy Spirit who regenerates you. It is the Holy Spirit who gives you a new nature and gives you the gift of repentance and saving faith so that you will trust in Jesus Christ alone for your eternal salvation. And it is by this one Spirit we cry, "Abba, Father."
Notice also that in verse 18 we see the Trinity working. There is Christ, the Father, and the Spirit. The whole of salvation is the work of the three Persons of the holy Trinity. If you do not believe in the holy Trinity, you cannot be a Christian; it is that simple.
So, as a result of the work of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, verse 18 says, "we have. . . ."-not "we will have" or "we had," but we have right now. Based on the work of Christ on the cross and the work of the Holy Spirit within us, we experience here and now something grand and great and holy and mighty and wonderful and exhilarating. What is it? Access- prosagí´gíªn-to the Father.
Suppose you want to have an audience with the most powerful man in the world, who, in modern times, is the President of the United States. You would need someone to introduce you to him. That is what this word access means-having an introduction by someone who is known to him very well and who knows you. Perhaps you are the boyfriend of his daughter. Then the daughter can introduce you, and you will have access to this most powerful man. Or you may know his mother or his father. That will be good enough; you will have access. The truth is, most of us do not have access to the President of the United States.
But you and I have been given access to the eternal, everlasting, self-existing, self-sufficient, most-holy, most-wise God, and he has become our Father, because we know his Son, Jesus Christ, as our Savior. The Son has introduced us to his Father, who is now also our Father. He is not a judge anymore; he is our Father. That is why his Son taught us to pray, "Our Father, who art in heaven. . . ." Because we have access to his presence, any time, anywhere, in the name of Christ, we can pray to him as his children, and he hears our prayers. We have fellowship with him, John tells us. We are in his presence, where there is fullness of joy and everlasting pleasures. And we are asked to come to him with boldness and confidence to receive grace and mercy.
We are a blessed people, are we not? Before, we were outside; now we are in Christ. We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ. We have fellowship with the Father and are heirs of his promise. We are citizens of God's kingdom and members of God's family. We have been made alive with Christ, raised with Christ, and seated with Christ. In him we have redemption and forgiveness of sin. In him we are adopted as his sons.
Brothers and sisters, we are no longer Christless, stateless, mindless, friendless, hopeless, Godless, and lifeless. Once we were outside; now we are inside. We are in Christ. Now we belong.
Are You Reconciled?
What about you? Are you inside or outside of Christ? Are you alone, confused, lost, hopeless? Are you trusting in the deceitfulness of riches? Let me tell you, Christ has solved our sin problem, and Christ loves sinners. Therefore, I urge you to repent and receive Christ as your propitiation, as your Savior and Lord. The Father is waiting to receive you and shall forgive all your sins and reconcile you to himself. Then you can pray to him and receive grace from him. Then you can fellowship with him with everlasting joy. Then you can have fellowship with the people of God. In Christ there is unity, there is love, there is burden-bearing, there is counsel, and there is help of every kind. I pray that you will call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.
Are you already in Christ? Then remember your former state. It is good to remember the quarry from which he has taken us. I pray we will humble ourselves and praise God for our great salvation. I pray we will be peacemakers, proclaiming the same gospel of peace to those who are outside the church, to those who are hopeless enemies of God, that they may also be saved. May we tell others, "God reconciles you to himself by his own Son, Jesus Christ, who died for you." Love your fellow believers and lay down your life for them. Do everything to maintain the unity of the Spirit, which God has accomplished for us on the cross. How blessed it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! There God will command his blessing, even life forevermore.
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Copyright © 2004, P. G. Mathew
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