Whatever else it might be, Paul’s little letter to the Ephesians is filled with fundamentally rich truths about church that should transform the way we think about the community God has created. Written to a first-century congregation comprised of people from starkly different backgrounds (Jewish and Gentile), the topic of community would be an area where they understandably needed some pointed instruction. Yet twenty centuries later, I’m not sure we don’t require these truths as much as the believers at Ephesus did.
In 2:1-10, Paul lays out the relationship between grace and the church. They were the church of God by the grace of God. Their community was not man made; it was God given. He concludes the section by telling them that they are the “workmanship of God” (v. 10). God was at work in them through Christ and He had made something special out of them!
In 2:11ff, Paul develops this by speaking further to the work of the Godhead in the creation of church. (It’s difficult in this section not to hear echoes of the creation account in Genesis and Paul will bring out an element of this in 5:31ff). But for now, he relates the work of the Godhead to the Gentiles by reminding them of their past. Though it wasn’t that long ago chronologically, it was distant in that they were far off from God in terms of being outsiders to the covenant, the promises, and the knowledge of Christ and God (v. 12 and Romans 3:1-2). (I don’t think its necessary that we understand Paul to be commenting on their alienation from God due to their sin – he’s already done that in 2:1-3. Rather, he is speaking here of their previous existence as a non-covenant people). But now they have been brought near through Jesus (v. 13), and are a part of everything.
As our Peace, Jesus has brought Jew and Gentile together (“has made the two one,” v.14). He brought this about by bringing down the “dividing wall of hostility” (v. 14). This is an allusion to the temple wall which separated the Gentiles from the Jews. Under the old covenant, the nation of Israel enjoyed the special relationship with God that Paul has already referred to in v. 12. Entrance into the inner area of the temple (via passing through a gate in the wall), was part of their privileges but for a Gentile to do the same thing meant death. Let no foreigner enter within the partition and enclosure surrounding the temple. Whoever is arrested will himself be responsible for his death which will follow.
This is the inscription discovered on one of the stones from the temple wall in 1871. I think it is what Paul has in mind when he speaks of Jesus destroying the wall.
This is a reference that would have hit home with the Ephesians when you think about the circumstances under which Paul wrote. He was imprisoned in Rome because he had been accused of bringing a Gentile, Trophimus the Ephesian, into the inner temple area (Acts 21:27-36). It’s hard to believe the church at Ephesus would not be intimately acquainted with these facts and touched by the irony of Paul being accused of bringing one of their own through a barrier that God through Jesus had brought down.
But God was at work in more ways than just a wall coming down. If the picture here suggests a temple being razed, there is also a new temple being built. This temple is superior to any of the previous Jewish temples. They were composed of precious materials; this one is composed of precious souls. It consists of people who have been redeemed. Christ is the “chief cornerstone” (v. 20). All other stones were set in reference to the cornerstone; it determined the shape and structure the building would take. (If anyone would appreciate good architecture in temple building it would be the Ephesians). So it is with Christ and His church. Everything in the church is to take its shape from Him – from people coming into Christ through participating in the likeness of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection at baptism (2:5-6), to submitting to one another out of reverence to Him (5:21).
God is at work—bringing down the wall, building the new temple and living among His people (2:22)!