A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 2:13-18. 2). The portrait of the peacemaking Christ or what Jesus Christ has done.
The parallel between the two halves of Ephesians 2 is obvious. First comes in both cases a description of the life without Christ: ‘dead’ (verses 1-3) and ‘alienated’ (verses 11-12). Then follows, again in both cases, the great adversative: ‘But God’ (verse 4) and ‘But now’ (verse 13). The main distinction is that in the second half Paul is stressing the Gentile experience. Twice he uses the emphatic pronoun *you (hymeis)*: ‘Remember that once *you* were alienated…But now in Christ Jesus *you*… have been brought near.’
This, then, in its essence is the difference which Christ has made: *you who were once far off have been brought near*. Such spatial language (‘far’ and ‘near’) was not uncommon in the Old Testament. God and Israel were known to be ‘near’ one another, since God had promised to be their God and to make them his people. Hence Moses could say: ‘What great nation is there that has a God so *near* to it as the Lord our God is to us?’ (Dt.4:7). Their uniqueness in this respect is repeated in Psalm 148:14, where they are called ‘the people of Israel who are *near* to him’. By contrast, the Gentile nations were ‘far off’, peoples who had to be summoned ‘from afar’ (Is.49:1). But God promised that one day he would speak ‘Peace, peace, to the far and to the near’, a promise which was fulfilled in Jesus Christ and which is quoted here by Paul with reference to him (Is.57:19; Eph.2:17). And this ‘nearness to God’ which all Christians enjoy through Christ is a privilege we take too frequently for granted. Our God does not keep his distance or stand on his dignity, like some oriental potentate, nor does he insist on any complicated ritual or protocol. On the contrary, through Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit we have immediate ‘access’ to him as our Father (verse 18). We need to exhort one another to avail ourselves of this privilege (Heb.10:22; Jas.4:8).
Verse 13 is more than a statement that we who were ‘far off’ have now been ‘brought near’; it contains in addition two important references to Christ. For it states that our new nearness to God is both *in Christ Jesus* and *in (or by) the blood of Christ*. It is essential, if we are to be faithful to the apostle’s teaching, to hold onto these two expressions, and not to emphasize one at the expense of the other. For ‘the blood of Christ’ (as in 1:7) signifies his sacrificial death for our sins on the cross, by which he reconciled us to God and to each other, whereas ‘in Christ Jesus’ signifies the personal union with Christ today through which the reconciliation he achieved is received and enjoyed. Thus the two expressions witness to the two stages by which those ‘far off’ are ‘brought near’. The first is the historical event of the cross, and the second Christian conversion, or the contemporary experience of union with Christ. What Jesus Christ accomplished by his cross Paul will explain in the next verses. Meanwhile, it will be wise for us to observe well the phrase ‘in Christ Jesus’ with which he introduces the whole exposition of Christ’s reconciling work. It is not a universal reconciliation that Christ achieved or that Paul proclaimed: it is rather a nearness to God and to each other gratefully experienced by those who are near Christ, indeed ‘in’ him in a vital, personal union. This means, as John Mackay expresses it, when commenting on these verses, that God’s integrating principle for uniting human beings is neither intellectual (philosophy) as in Roman Catholicism, nor political (conquest) as in Islam or Marxism, but spiritual (redemption by Christ, involving union between Jews and Gentiles, man and God and ultimately heaven and earth). These are three alternative ‘imperialisms’, the first of mind, the second of force, and the third of the kingdom of God.
The apostle goes on to elaborate the work of Christ, in terms both of what he did and how he did it. What he did is plain: *For he is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility* (verse 14). ‘He’ (*autos*) is strongly emphatic. It is he, Christ Jesus, who shed his blood on the cross and who offers himself to his people today to be united to them, it is he who by what he did once and now offers *is our peace*, that is to say, is the peacemaker between us and with God. The ‘both’ whom he has *made…one* seems clearly to mean Jews and Gentiles, but the reconciliation was broader than that, for, as we saw earlier, *the dividing wall of hostility* which he *has broken down* symbolized Gentile alienation from God as well as from Israel.
This announcement which Paul makes of the breaking down of the wall by Jesus Christ is extremely remarkable. For literally and historically speaking, the wall was not broken down until the Roman legions entered Jerusalem in AD 70. So it was still standing, still surrounding the temple, and still excluding the Gentiles, while Paul was writing this letter. But though materially it remained, spiritually it had already been destroyed in AD 30 or so, when Jesus died on the cross. As Armitage Robinson put it, ‘It still stood: but it was already antiquated, obsolete, out of date, so far as its spiritual meaning went. The sign still stood: but the thing signified was broken down.’
We turn now to the question how Christ did it. What did he do when he died on the cross to get rid of the divisive enmity between Jew and Gentile, between man and God? The answer is given in verses 15 and 16. They are packed tight with theology, and need to be unpacked. Perhaps the best way to clarify the apostle’s sequence of thought is to isolate the three successive main verbs which he uses, *viz. by abolishing…that he might create…and might reconcile…* We are told that he abolished the law of commandments in order to create a single new humanity and to reconcile both parts of it to God.
Tomorrow: Ephesians 2:15a. a). The abolition of the law of commandments.