A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 2:11-22. A single new humanity (continued).
Of this double Gentile alienation – from God and from God’s people Israel – the so-called ‘middle wall of partition’ (verse 14, AV) or ‘dividing wall of hostility’ (RSV) was the standing symbol. It was a notable feature of the magnificent temple built in Jerusalem by Herod the Great. The temple building itself was constructed on an elevated platform. Round it was the court of the priests. East of this was the court of Israel, and further east the court of the women. These three courts for the priests, the lay men and the lay women of Israel respectively – were all on the same elevation as the temple itself from this level one descended five steps to a walled platform, and then on the other side of the wall fourteen more steps to another wall, beyond which was the outer court or Court of the Gentiles. This was a spacious court running right round the temple and its inner courts. From any part of it the Gentiles could look up and view the temple, but were not allowed to approach it. They were cut off from it by the surrounding wall, which was a one-and-a-half metre stone barricade, on which were displayed at intervals warning notices in Greek and Latin. They read, in effect, not ‘Trespassers will be prosecuted’ but ‘Trespasses will be executed’.
The famous Jewish historian Josephus describes this barricade in both his books. In his *Antiquities* he writes that the temple was ‘encompassed by a stone wall for a partition, with an inscription which forbade any foreigner to go in under pain of death’. In his *Wars of the Jews* he is a little more explicit. There was, he writes, ‘a partition made of stone all round, whose height was three cubits. Its construction was very elegant; upon it stood pillars at equal distance from one another, declaring the law of purity, some in Greek and some in Roman letters, that “no foreigner should go within that sanctuary”.’
During the last hundred years or so two of the Greek notices have been discovered, one on 1871 and the other in 1935. The former, exhibited in the museum in Istanbul, is a white limestone slab measuring nearly a metre across. Its exact wording is as follows: ‘No foreigner may enter within the barrier and enclosure round the temple. Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.’ Paul knew all about it from personal experience. Only about three years previously he had nearly been lynched himself by an angry Jewish mob who thought he had taken a Gentile with him into the Temple, interestingly enough an Ephesian named Trophimus. (Acts 21:27-31).
This then is the historical, social and religious background to Ephesians 2. Although all human beings are alienated from God because of sin, the Gentiles were also alienated from the people of God. And worse even than this double alienation (of which the temple wall was a symbol) was the active ‘enmity’ or ‘hostility’ (*echthra*) into which it continuously erupted – enmity between man and God and enmity between Gentiles and Jews.
The grand theme of Ephesians 2 is that Jesus Christ has destroyed both enmities. Both are mentioned in the second half of the chapter, although in the opposite order:
verse 14 ‘He…has made both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility (*echthra*).’
verse 16 ‘That he…might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility (*echthra*) to an end.’
Alongside his destruction of these two enmities Jesus has succeeded in creating a new society, in fact a new humanity, in which alienation has given way to reconciliation, and hostility to peace. And this new human unity in Christ is the pledge and foretaste of that final unity under Christ’s headship to which Paul has already looked forward in 1:10.
After this introduction relating to its background and theme we are now ready to study the text itself:
(Read Ephesians 2:11-22. ed).
It may be helpful if, before immersing ourselves in a more detailed exposition, we grasp the structure of the passage as a whole. Paul traces his Gentile readers’ spiritual biography in three stages. Here is the gist of his message to them: ‘(1) At one time you were alienated from God and from his people Israel. (2) By death on the cross Christ Jesus has reconciled Jews and Gentiles both to each other and to God, creating “a single new humanity” (Verse 15, NEB). (3) You are no longer alienated but full members with Israel of God’s people and family.’ The three stages are marked by the expressions ‘at one time’ (verse 11), ‘but now’ (verse 13) and ‘so then’ (verse 19). And the sequence runs: *Remember that at one time you …were alienated…but now in Christ Jesus you … have been brought near…for he is our peace… So then you are no longer strangers… but… fellow citizens with the saints…* I shall entitle the three unfolding stages of God’s plan as follows:
a). the portrait of an alienated humanity, or what we once were (verses 11-12)
b). the portrait of the peacemaking Christ, or what Jesus Christ has done (verses 13-18)
c). the portrait of God’s new society, or what we have now become (verses 19-22)
Tomorrow: 1) verses 11-12. The portrait of an alienated humanity, or what we once were.
|The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Ephesians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.|