The Wall of Separation Broken Down
October 14, 2012 / No. 3641
Dear Radio Friends,
The verses we consider today address the separation God ordained in the Old Testament between the nation of Israel and all other nations of the world. Paul addresses the Gentile believers with these words in Ephesians 2:11-15:
Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called uncircumcision by that which is called the circumcision in the flesh made by hands; that at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace.
This passage explains how God broke down the barrier between the Old Testament church and the Gentile people in order to include the Gentile nations of the earth in His church and kingdom. This passage is the central theme of Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church: in the New Testament age Christ fulfills the law in order that the Gentiles might be grafted into the church. God blends together into one new man—into one church—the saints of the Old Testament and the Gentiles of the New.
A Separating Wall
It is clear from the verses we study that the Gentile nations in times past were not a part of God’s church. Paul explains that the Gentiles were at that time without Christ. They were “sometimes,” that is, “at that time,” far off. A middle wall of partition existed between them and the nation of Israel. The simple truth Paul emphasizes here is that during Old Testament times God had built a wall of separation between the nation of Israel, the church of the Old Testament, and all the other nations of the world.
This separation between the Hebrew people and the other nations did not come about suddenly. Noah foretold it in Genesis 9:26, when he prophesied that God would be the God of Shem’s descendants. This meant that God would gather His church specifically out of Shem’s generations. This prophecy began to come true when God chose to establish His covenant with Abraham who was born out of the line of Shem. This line of the covenant and church was narrowed even further when God told Abraham that in Isaac would his seed (that is, the church) be called. In other words, the other children of Abraham, those that he had with his other wives, Hagar and Keturah, would not be included in God’s church of old. Slowly, through several generations, all this proved true. God narrowed the scope of His church to include Abraham, then Isaac, then Jacob and his 12 sons. These twelve sons eventually became the heads of the 12 tribes of the nation, and later, the kingdom or commonwealth, of Israel.
After God had delivered the nation of Israel from the land of Egypt, He formed the nation into a kingdom under law. At Mt. Sinai God made Israel a Theocracy—a kingdom under the rule of God. Israel was given the Torah—the many laws that would govern her as a nation and kingdom. She was organized there into her 12 tribes. At that time, too, the priest and Levites were appointed for service in the temple. The tabernacle was built and Israel’s official worship as a kingdom began. Israel was now transformed into a commonwealth—the instituted church of the Old Testament. Moses reminded the children of Israel of this before they entered into the land of Canaan: Deuteronomy 7:6: “Thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth.” At that time God limited His church and salvation to the nation of Israel.
The rest is history. Israel was given by God the land of Canaan as an inheritance. God set up David as the great king, and under him and his son Solomon the nation of Israel developed into the greatest commonwealth or kingdom on earth. With the development of this kingdom, the nation of Israel became known as the nation whose God was Jehovah. Here is the simple truth: in the Old Testament, God did not save any people or nation in the earth other than the people of Israel. Not everyone in Israel was saved, mind you. God saved only His elect people found within the nation of Israel. But this did not change the fact that those whom God had chosen to save were, with but very few exceptions, always born within the nation of Israel. This went on for well over a thousand years!
Now, that means of course that these Gentile believers in Ephesus were, in their generations, not a part of God’s church or His covenant. Paul explains in verse 12 of Ephesians 2 that the Gentiles were aliens, not only from the commonwealth of Israel, but also from everything that that included! These Gentile nations were strangers from the covenants of promise. They were cut off from God’s covenant: the friendship, love, and favor of God. And they were cut off from the various promises of that covenant. They simply were not a part of the friendship and fellowship God had established with the children of Abraham. They were strangers from the promises of God that He would be their God, who would never leave or forsake them—and from the promise of eternal glory.
Because these Gentiles were alienated from the covenants of promise, they were without Christ too. This passage conclusively proves that the saints in the Old Testament were, just as the church today, viewed by God in Christ. Believers in Old Testament Israel were saved in Christ! They were saved through the faith that pointed them ahead to the coming of the Messiah—to the coming of Christ! The other nations of the earth were cut off from the faith that was given to God’s people in Israel that connected them to Christ. This means they were cut off entirely from salvation! This is why they were without hope! They had no hope! They had no spiritual desire or longing for the coming of Jesus Christ and the salvation from sin and misery found in Him alone. They did not look or wait for Christ’s birth. They did not even know who Christ was, nor the redemption that He would bring. And all this added up to one thing: they were without God in the world.
What a horrible plight: their eyes were blinded and their hearts were darkened in sin and unbelief. They knew there was a God that had to be served, but they were determined not to serve the true God. They followed after the gods of their own flesh. They heaped to themselves idols. There was this huge spiritual wall or barrier that existed between Israel and the Gentile nations of the world. It divided them into two camps. On the one side were God, Christ, and salvation. On the other was sin, despair, and no hope.
And that wall was impenetrable! Man could not break it down. That is true because God had appointed this wall of separation. It was divinely ordained. God did not choose to save the Gentiles in the Old Testament. He chose to save His people only out of the natural seed of Jacob. That’s it. And what made that wall so solid was the law of commandments contained in ordinances. The middle wall of partition that divided Israel from the rest of the nations is mentioned in verse 14. Then in verse 15 Paul describes what the wall was. This was the wall that separated Israel from other nations: the law of commandments contained in ordinances. The law of commandments refers to the Mosaic law given at Mt. Sinai that organized her into a kingdom under law. God instituted His church as a kingdom under law—under all kinds of commandments. These commandments of the law included the civil, ceremonial, and moral commandments. All these commandments made up the one law of God. That is why Paul refers to the Torah as the law of commandments. God’s law consisted of many types of commandments.
But the particular type of commandments Paul has in mind that separated this nation from all other peoples was the ceremonial law. We say that because these particular commandments consisted of all kinds of ordinances, that is to say, all kinds of ceremonies. Paul refers to one of these ceremonies in verse 11, that of circumcision. Circumcision was a sign of membership in God’s covenant and church. The nations around Israel were uncircumcised heathen. This is just one example. All the ceremonies of the law: the sacrifices, the feast days, the temple worship, the priesthood, and so on, served to form a barrier between Israel and the nations of this world. That barrier was a wall of enmity we are told in verse 15. Hatred existed between Israel and the unbelieving nations of the world. God had commanded His people to dwell in safety alone and not to touch the unclean nations of this world. And likewise, these nations were out to destroy the cause of Jehovah in the earth by destroying Israel. There was a wall of hatred and strife that existed for hundreds of years between the commonwealth of Israel and the Gentiles who were without Christ.
A Breaking Down
But Paul speaks of the amazing mystery concerning the church of Christ that is revealed to the church today in verses 13, 14: “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us.” Christ has broken down—smashed, demolished—the wall that for years had divided the Gentiles from true Israel. There is not one separating stone of that wall left upon another. The way that kept those outside of Israel from being a part of the church and covenant of God in this world—that way is now completely open to you and me who are Gentiles! We are no longer barred by God from the fellowship of God’s church and from fellowship with Him. We are no longer without God in this world. We may confess that the God of Israel is our God and that He will be our guide even unto death. We have hope—blessed hope. We now wait for and long for the second coming of Jesus Christ, when He will receive us into heaven together with the saints of the Old Testament.
Believers today are a part of the church because Christ has removed the enmity that kept us in separation from the church of the Old Testament. The unbelief that hardened us in our sin has been taken away by Christ. We are given eyes to see and hearts to understand that we have what believers of old had. It was true: salvation was of the Jews. But now God’s people from all nations, together with the saints of old, have become recipients of salvation by God’s grace. Israel’s God is now our God.
It is true! God, who is rich in mercy and in His great love wherewith He loved us, has grafted us into the generations of His church. There is no more enmity or envy or strife between us and true Israel. And when we say true Israel we mean those Jews who are of the faith of Abraham—not the natural descendants of Abraham. That nation has been cut off. True Israel believed in the Christ when He came into this world. Now we, together with these believing Jews, are true Israel.
Now we, God’s people out of all nations and races, belong to the commonwealth of Israel. We are fellow citizens with the saints of old! Is this an earthly nation or kingdom? Not at all! It is a spiritual kingdom—the kingdom of God and Christ. The church today, in unity with the church of the past, is true Israel.
But there is one question remaining. How did Christ accomplish this? How did He manage to break down that middle wall of separation? What was the hammer that smashed to ruins the law of commandments contained in ordinances? Christ’s blood! Ephesians 2:13: “ye who sometimes were afar off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” Christ has abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances, by shedding His blood to save God’s people out of all the nations of this world.
You see, all the ordinances of the Old Testament laws governing Israel as a nation before the birth of Christ were ordained by God to point His people to Christ. Circumcision, for example, was a bloody ordinance that pointed to the blood of Christ that would cleanse God’s people from sin and cut away the foreskin of unbelief. The sacrifices likewise shed blood in order to point God’s saints in the Old Testament to the blood that needed to be shed to take away the guilt of sin. The priesthood pointed to Christ, the feasts pointed to the work of Christ in salvation, the temple with its rites and furniture pointed to Christ. Through His death and resurrection, all these commandments contained in ceremonies were fulfilled.
In fulfilling them, Christ abolished, did away with, these ceremonies. They became obsolete, unnecessary. And since they were the wall that separated Israel from the Gentiles, the wall of separation was taken away. The church in Christ no longer had to keep these ceremonies: neither the Jews nor the Gentiles. There is no longer the requirement for us to worship as did the saints in the Old Testament. So there is no more reason for division. We are as believers of the same household of faith.
But there is one more way the blood of Christ broke down that wall. That was the way of salvation! We who were dead in our sins and trespasses have been delivered from sin by the grace of God and through the blood of Christ. Such salvation has become universal—that is to say, God’s people out of all peoples, nations, and races of the earth are saved. At the time of Pentecost the Spirit of Christ was poured out upon all nations. Ever since that day Christ has gathered His church out of the nations of this world. God grafts His people out of all nations into the church of Christ and then continues to gather them in the line of their generations. By Christ’s blood we have been reconciled to God. We are saints and are faithful!
Now understanding the mystery of the church, we are humbled! We were nothing in our generations! Nothing at all! We were in our generations excluded from heaven and God’s favor and fellowship. We have done nothing to deserve to be where we are today! Only by God’s grace have believers been grafted into the church of Jesus Christ. Only by grace have they received the gift of faith and become members of the church.
Think of what God by His grace has done for His people! We who were alienated from the church because we were alienated from God are now reconciled to God on account of Christ’s death. Christ paid the price for our sins. He has made us righteous in His blood. We are no longer the children of wrath. We are now the people of God—members of His church! God has done that! He has accomplished that freely for us in the blood of Christ.
A Resulting Peace
Here is the result of this wonder work of Christ. Verse 15: He has “made in himself of twain one new man, so making peace.” Two peoples: Jews and Gentiles. A wall had divided them for a thousand years and more. These two, who were divided according to God’s sovereign choice between faith and unbelief—these two God has joined together to make one new man. We have become one body, one living organism, believers from all nations interacting as one living whole. We are a new man.
No, the church of today is not different from the church of old. The church today has simply taken on a new appearance. It is renewed in Christ. And it is identified together with Christ. Who is the new man we have become? The church has become one in the Man: Jesus Christ. Christ is the head, and we are the members of His body, the church. We are Christ’s. We are become that one man in Christ.
And because we are, there is now peace! There is peace between the races of men who, since the tower of Babel, have always been divided. In Christ there is no distinction between nations. Oh, as long as unbelief reigns in the nations of the earth there will be division and strife—no peace for them. But for believers from these nations there is peace because they are one in Jesus Christ. What a glorious gospel!
But Christ is our peace in another sense too: it is He that gives us peace in our hearts. We are brought nigh to God. We dwell in perfect fellowship with Him. That gives us inner joy and peace. We are happy and content in the safety of the church. We marvel at God’s grace in our lives. And as God’s church we gather together in worship on the Lord’s Day to lift our voices in praise to God.