In this passage, Paul explains how the death of Christ fulfills and thus breaks down the division between Jew and Gentile necessarily resulting from the ceremonial law. With that distinction gone, the true issue of universal moral guilt and corruption can be dealt with by the covenantal man Christ Jesus. This explanation arises from Paul’s concern in 2:3 where he notes, ‘”Among them we tooall formerly lived in the lust of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”
I. The Ceremonial law presented a barrier to the Gentiles. (Verses 11, 12) – “Who are called ‘uncircumcision’ by the so-called ‘circumcision.’” This passage explains the working of God to remove the separation developed from covenantal distinction. A remote implication might involve racial reconciliation, but it is only remote. Racial barriers are artificially imposed and have no warrant from Scripture but must be seen in light of creation of one man and one woman as the original pair from which have come all the different ethnicities and hues of all of humanity. Paul is speaking of a real distinction imposed by God himself for a time until “the fulness of time was come.” It is not a racial distinction, but a covenantal distinction.
A. The covenantal sign of circumcision showed the division between Jew and Gentile (Genesis 17:10-14). In order to pursue his purpose of bring a savior to sinners, God marked off one man, Abraham, through whom he would bring one man, the anointed Messiah, the Christ. To accomplish this, through Abraham he brought into existence a nation that would serve as a type of the church. To them he would give ceremonies that would mark them off from other nations in order to preserve a witness of revealed truth that would identify the one man, Jesus of Nazareth, as the Christ, the Lamb to take away the sin of the world. Circumcision was the sign that identified that nation through whom Messiah would come.
B. That signed symbolized their separation from all the covenant promises given by God.
- The Gentiles, therefore, were separated from Christ; they were not of the people through whom he would come. They were not participants in the national life and identity of Israel (Genesis 12:7; 15:18).
- They were not recipients of the promises that had been made all the way from Abraham (Genesis 17: 5-8) through Malachi (3:1-3).
- One nation God had been selected through whom God would give his revelation, his laws, his prophets, his priests, and finally his promised Redeemer. Other nations were not the recipients of those great blessings (Psalm 105; Romans 9:1-5).
II. Christ’s work removed the barrier of the Ceremonial Law. (Verses 13-15)
A. Christ’s death eliminated all the distinctives between people that had been established by the ceremonial law. Those who were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. The “Far Off” ones were the Gentiles. Circumcision reminded the Jewish people that the covenant is not kept if the son does not shed blood. Jesus fulfilled the rite of circumcision in the shedding of his blood on the cross; the elimination of the covenantal separation denominated by circumcision has passed away in the once-for-all death of Jesus. The far-off ones now are near.
B. Christ himself is the reconciliation. He has made the two into one. He himself is the peace between the formerly alienated groups—between those defined by ceremonial law and those who were among the “uncircumcised,”—for all that the ceremonial law contained by way of type has been completed in the person and work of Christ himself. Paul gives the separating factor between Jew and Gentile three names.
- “The middle wall of separation” he has torn down. Every aspect of God’s having defined his people by ceremonial separation is cancelled now by Christ.
- Second, he calls these ceremonial provisions the ”enmity.” He does not refer here to the enmity between God and man (verse 16 and Romans 5:10 “For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son . . .), but to that established by the “the wall of separation.”
- “The law of commandments in ordinances” were those positive, not moral, commands that were designed to make the Jewish nation a “peculiar people” set apart for God’s own use. They had civil laws that governed their nation as well as a large number of ceremonial laws. Circumcision, regulations concerning the sacrifices, various tithes, different kinds of sabbaths beyond the Sabbath of the Ten Commandments defined them and separated them from the nations. Through them the world, all nations, would be blessed by the perfectly holy, one who was “holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” Of the two, Jew and Gentile, Jesus’ death has made one new man.
C. All of these, Jesus the Christ has “abolished in his flesh.” The entire body of distinguishing ceremonies now laid aside by their fulfillment in the incarnation of the Son of God has made Jew and Gentile “One new man.” Before the death of Christ, he was gradually opening the provisions of the new covenant (See John 3: 1-8; John 4:9, 10, 19-26), but at his death, by the sacrifice of himself, the provisions of the new covenant were immediately established.
III. Christ’s work brought reconciliation of humanity as one people to God (Verses 16-18).
A. Now that the fulfillment of the ceremonial law has been done in Christ, God deals with humanity as a whole. We move away from the circumcision of Abraham to the faith of Abraham (Galatians 3:7-9, 23-29); we move behind the national covenant made with Abraham to the universal racial covenant made with all of humanity in Adam (Romans 2:25, 26; 4:9-11; 5:18, 19).
B. Now in one body, God deals with all humanity as sinners, separated from him and at enmity with him by their wicked deeds. He also is their enemy for they all as a whole and in each individual part have violated his moral law and in Adam have become corrupt. Thus, “through the cross” God now takes the entire body of his people—both Jew and Gentile—and reconciles them to himself in one body, putting to death the enmity.
C. The message that is preached now, is a message of peace, the same message to both divisions of humanity, the circumcised and the uncircumcised. Jesus preached this message through his apostles both to those near and those far off. Now through the cross all of the reconciled ones are “near.” As Paul said in Romans 5:18, “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life . . . by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.”
D. The death of Christ is the fulcrum of the covenant of redemption giving the moral leverage necessary for full reconciliation with God: “For through him we both [Jew and Gentile] have access by one Spirit to the Father.” This trinitarian involvement in salvation is a constant theme of the New Testament (e.g. Titus 3:4-7; Hebrews 9:14; 1 Peter 1:2; 4:14; 1 John 2:20-24). We must remember that we confess, in accordance with clear Scripture witness, one God infinitely excellent in every perfection of essential deity, living eternally as three persons all inhabiting the same essential deity and at the same time, as a necessary aspect of deity, exhibiting the distinct properties of personhood as Father, Son, and Spirit eternally and in an infinitely perfect way. That all of the persons who have ever existed subsequent to Adam were resident in him and emerged from the DNA given him at his creation shows us how a single nature can be inhabited by an incomprehensible array of properties of personhood. The death of the person Jesus Christ, gives all the material needed by the Spirit to make sinners and rebels into the children of God and constitute the “household of God.”
IV. The work of Christ gives unity, stability, and a promised finished perfection to God’s dwelling place among his people (Verses 19-22).
A. This argument Paul so meticulously developed, brings the demonstrated conclusion that all of those believers in the Gentile churches to whom he is writing are “no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household “ (verse 19). In 1 Timothy 3:15, Paul calls the church “the household of God.” There he relates that concept to the confession of truth (“The Mystery of godliness which we confess”) that gives it reality; the testimony of this household and its place in the world is sustained by its continued faithful witness to revealed truth.
B. Here he has the same reality in mind as he immediately establishes the “household” on the “foundation of the Apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone.”
- The foundation of the apostles and prophets refers to the revealed truth received by the Apostles and preached with a view to gathering together the elect of God (2 Timothy 2:10). The prophets were those within the congregations gifted also with special revelation that they might continue to instruct the congregations in the revelation of the truth of the new covenant and the fullness of the work of Christ.
- All of their exposition of Scripture, done under the inspiration of the Spirit, and all of their presentation of newly revealed truth focused on the perfect work of Christ. It was truly christocentric. The church stands or falls on the person and work of Christ for he is the chief corner of the entire edifice.
C. The entire building, in all its parts, is fitted together by Christ himself in his work and given its rational structure in worship and witness through the truths that unfold his perfection as Redeemer, his perfect righteousness as the Christ, his Lordship granted him as resurrected conqueror of death. His having undertaken the fulfillment of righteousness, the satisfaction of the wrath of God, the defeat of the deceitful enmity of Satan and his demons, in him “the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.”
- Fitted together in Christ, in this life it continues to grow, both numerically and in knowledge and holiness. Sanctification personally and corporately in worship and witness is the natural outcome of the dynamic that leads to saving faith in Jesus. The instructions given throughout the New Testament (see 4:17-32) are for the purpose of effecting this growth in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).
- This growth is always related to our glorifying Christ—“in the Lord.” The church by the “washing with water through the word” will be presented by Christ to himself as a “glorious church not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:26, 27)
D. Again Paul accents the Trinitarian energy involved in this element of the eternal purpose of God. By Christ’s work, the church will be a dwelling place for God, in the Spirit. God inhabits his people as Father, because of the redemptive work Christ has done and in the continued operations of the Holy Spirit in forming us into the perfected holy image-bearers of the triune God.