Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 2:12e “. . .and without God in the world:. . .”
“Without God” was a Gentile’s fifth disadvantage by birth–no Christ, no commonwealth, no covenants, no hope, no God. Our Gentile forbears had gods aplenty, but not the one, true, living God. The ancients were religious to the hilt. Temples abounded, but the idols of our ancestors were gods of their own making, mere extensions of their own weakness and sins.
Being “without God,” we had no communion with God, and had never known Him. We had no heavenly friend, no spiritual encourager, no divine patron. To be without food, without friends, or without shelter would be gloom enough, but to be “without God” meant to be without everything, for He is the source of “every good gift and every perfect gift” (James 1:17).
With “in the world,” we have “words which complete the dark picture” (Moule). It is frightening to think of having no God “in the world.” This is the very place we need God most. “In the world” we confront the dreadful realities of evil and sorrow. Ours is a world passing away, a world under the judgment of God, a world ruled by Satan, a world where we desperately need God’s help.
The Gentiles were fallen, lost, sin-laden, exposed to condemnation “in the world.” Our ancestors were like orphaned children, wandering aimlessly in an empty, ruined house. They “resembled mariners who without compass and guide were adrift in a rudderless ship during a starless night on a tempestuous sea, far away from the harbor” (Hendriksen).
Eph. 2:13a “But now. . .”
These are musical words. I appreciate the great Apostle’s tender sensitivity. He knew how to paint the darkness of our race, but also knew when his readers’ hearts would be near the point of exploding with sorrow. Under infallible inspiration, Paul knew when to change the tempo and tenor of his thoughts, and when to turn his attention from disease to cure.
This wonderful thirteenth verse brought to salvation Augustus Montague Toplady, author of our beloved hymn, “Rock of Ages.” While visiting relatives in Ireland, Toplady was saved at age 16 through hearing a lay-preacher expound this verse during a revival service in a barn near the hamlet of Codymain. If you do not know Jesus as Savior, I pray God will use our feeble efforts on this verse to woo you to the Rock of Ages. If verse twelve accurately describes your plight–no Christ, no commonwealth, no covenants, no hope, no God–fly to Christ. The Ephesians were at one time in your identical position. God who saved them (and Toplady) will save you.
Eph. 2:13b “. . .in Christ Jesus. . .”
The Christ of Old Testament prophecy is the Jesus of the New Testament Gospels. The Christ who was the focus of the covenants entered the world and received the personal name, Jesus. Christ is no longer merely the object of promise, He is a person whom we can know. In fact, He is One we must know, for outside of Christ, no man is close to God.
It is no coincidence this pivotal verse contains the name of Jesus. Whenever Paul wished to turn thoughts from despair to hope, from discouragement to celebration, He pointed his readers to Jesus, the fount of all joy.
Eph. 2:13c “. . .ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh. . .”
This phrase was based on a common Hebrew way of speaking about one’s position before God. Jews deemed Gentiles as “far off” from God, but viewed themselves as “nigh” to God. Moses had said of Israel, “What nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them?” (DT 4:7).
Gentiles were spiritual vagrants, outcasts, nomads, on another shore, across an unmeasured wilderness. Jesus was speaking of our Gentile ancestors when he spoke of the prodigal son who “wasted his substance with riotous living” (LK 15:13) in a far country.
Nevertheless, the seemingly impossible happened. We who “were far off” have been “made nigh” to God. We believing Gentiles are “in Christ Jesus.” Such union is the zenith of nearness. To be one with Christ means we are exactly where He is, and thus in Him we are near God. In fact, “Jesus is Himself God; here is nearness outdone” (Spurgeon). Into this type of intimacy Gentiles have been invited.
In speaking of “far off” and “made nigh,” the Apostle begins turning our thoughts toward an apt illustration. He is pointing us toward the temple. In a special way, God dwelt in the temple, a building which in Paul’s day portrayed by location, design, and management the nearness of Jews to God in contrast to the distance of Gentiles. Through its geography, architecture, and administration, the temple pictured the way things really were.
Geographically, the temple was located in the midst Israelite territory. The temple’s physical location aptly represented the stark, spiritual truth: Jews were near God, Gentiles far off.
Even the temple’s architecture spoke volumes on this matter. Only Jews were allowed to enter the court immediately surrounding the temple itself. The Court of the Gentiles was outermost, the court farthest away from the Holy of Holies, the room wherein God’s glory dwelt.
The true insult to Gentiles was in the temple’s administration. Not only were Gentiles “far off.” Even in their own section of the temple complex, Gentiles were treated with absolute disdain by the Jewish leadership.
The money-changers did their business in the Court of the Gentiles. This lucrative enterprise, which operated under the jurisdiction of the High Priest, was conducted in the only part of the temple complex where Gentiles were allowed to worship. The noise and din of commercial activity essentially nullified any chance Gentiles had of meaningful worship. The Jews could not have cared less about Gentiles having a chance to worship YHWH.
This aloof arrogance made Jesus furious. Outraged, He cleansed the temple by driving out the merchants, and quoted from their own Scriptures (Isaiah 56:7), saying, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations” (MK 11:17, NASB). The Jewish leaders had instead made the temple a den of thieves (and bigots, I might add).
God ultimately broke through Jewish exclusivism by sending forth His followers, especially Paul, into the Gentile world. This “release” of the Gospel to Gentiles was graphically portrayed by God in the temple itself. When Jesus died, God tore from top to bottom the veil of the temple.
Jews bragged that wild horses tied to each end of the four-inches-thick veil could not tear it apart, but God tore it to teach two vital lessons. First, the torn veil means the way to God is freely open to all who come by way of Jesus’ death. Second, the torn veil means God has in essence been released from the shackles of a single confine. The Gentiles had not been warmly welcomed, or freely invited to come to God by way of Judaism. God thus leap-frogged Judaism and carried His Gospel directly to Gentiles.
Since Jews would not let Gentiles in, God went where Gentiles were. Let me illustrate this by conveying a story Ivor Powell heard from Rita Snowdon. As our Allied forces were liberating France, some soldiers sought a place to provide a decent burial for one of their fallen comrades. They happened upon a Catholic cemetery, and asked the priest if their friend could be buried there. Since the soldiers did not know if the deceased had been Catholic, the priest with deep sorrow and regret had to refuse their request, for it would be a breech of the laws of his Church. The men laid their friend’s body to rest just outside the cemetery fence. Next morning, they returned to see the grave one last time before leaving, but could not find it. They looked everywhere along the fence, but found no trace of freshly turned soil. Then the priest arrived with an explanation. He said he had been troubled by his decision of the previous night. Early in the morning, he had “with his own hands” moved the cemetery fence so that the body of the man who had died for France might be included!
This pictures what God did for us Gentiles. He moved the fence. While Jews closed the gate of admittance, God extended the limits of the fence, and built a new entry gate. We were “far off” from God, but He made us nigh by extending the fence toward us. We no longer have to go through the gate of Jews, Judaism, human rituals, or an earthly temple. We who were outcasts can come directly to God through His Son because the fence and a new gate suddenly came to us!
In those touching, opening scenes from Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian seeks relief from the burden of sin on his back. Evangelist points Christian toward a little wicket gate on the other side of the field. Christian walked to the gate, over which was written, “Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” He eventually passed through the gate, walked up the hill, and came to a cross, where his burden came loose, dropped from his shoulders, went tumbling down the hill, and fell into an open grave. Christian never saw his burden again, for it was gone, buried in the Savior’s tomb.
This whole wonderful scene was made possible by an important detail. The wicket gate was near Christian to begin with. It was across a field, but still within walking distance. This is what Jesus did for Gentiles. He extended the fence, and brought a new entry gate nearby.
Verse thirteen is a nearby gate of pearl turning upon hinges of diamond. Enter it and begin your pilgrimage to the heavenly gates of pearl.