Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 2:14b “. . .who hath made both one,. . .”
As “our peace” (2:14a), Jesus takes away sin, the terrible thing which prevents peace. Forgiven on the basis of Christ’s shed blood, repentant sinners are drawn nigh unto Jesus, and thereby brought near to one another. “Divisions are overcome, not by an approaching or a receiving on either side, but by Christ coming and making peace for both” (Foulkes).
“Both” in our text refers to Jews and Gentiles, Circumcision and Uncircumcision. Christ made of these two groups one group. The Greek words are neuter, and literally say “both things one thing.” The latter is strong language, used to express the unity of the Father and the Son (JN 10:30).
Jesus has not made Jews into Gentiles, or Gentiles into Jews. He made of the two a new entity which supersedes the old distinctions. Saved Jews and saved Gentiles are Christians. Neither is lord over the other. Jews no longer have preference, nor are Gentiles to come in and take over. Gentiles were not meant to enter the faith as conquering intruders, but as brothers who wish to stand side by side with Jewish believers. God makes us one community, one group, one entity, one family.
Originally, God separated Jews from Gentiles. Jews were set apart as a channel through which salvation would flow to Gentiles. Once Messiah came, separation was needed no longer. The two are to be knit in Jesus.
Paul viewed salvation as a package deal. In this second chapter he discussed how one is made right with God, and without hesitation proceeded to relate how this new birth changes one’s relationship to man. The two go together. If made right with God, one will also be made right with man.
This truth was dramatically impressed upon me in my early life. One Sunday night in 1964 Henry Rone came forward during the invitation at South Side Baptist Church in Cape Girardeau. Many who had prayed for years for his conversion began rejoicing as he went forward, but Henry could not get peace about his decision. Dad dealt with him quite a while, but to no avail. Something was blocking the way. Knowing Henry well, Dad finally asked, “Are you willing to forgive the two men you have hated for years?” Henry said, “No.” Dad replied, “Then you cannot be saved. You can be forgiven only if you are willing to forgive.” Henry pondered this a moment and then replied, “If that’s the case, I forgive them.” He immediately sensed he had been made right with God.
Dad was correct in his assessment of Henry’s dilemma. Salvation is a package deal. In making us right with Himself, God also makes us right with others. Simultaneously, He deals with the vertical, quickening us “together with Christ” (2:5), and the horizontal, making “both one.”
Eph. 2:14c “. . .and hath broken down the middle wall of partition
between us;. . .”
Jews and Gentiles held a mutual disdain for each other. Animosity was intense on both sides. A “hatred-barrier” (Hendriksen) had developed between them. Reciprocal enmity had erected a “middle wall” between them. Joint abhorrence had become a “partition,” a divider.
The social barrier separating Jews and Gentiles was perfectly symbolized by an actual wall of stone and mortar in Herod’s temple. The wall which separated the Court of the Gentiles from the inner Jewish courts aptly portrayed the alienation of the uncircumcised from the circumcised. This temple wall was animosity and bigotry carved in stone. It was “the middle wall of partition” corporeal, embodied, made tangible.
This five-feet-tall, beautifully wrought, marble wall stood on a level area from which one flight of stairs ascended to the Jewish courts, and another flight of stairs descended to the Gentile court. The Jewish courts were twenty-two feet above the Gentile court. Jews were “up,” Gentiles “down.” The wall and stairs were intended to maintain this status quo.
Along the wall, at regular intervals, inscriptions written in Greek and Latin warned Gentiles to proceed no further. These writings are known as the infamous Death Inscriptions. We have always known these tablets existed because Josephus wrote of them, but they were buried for 1800 years. In 1871 the French archaeologist Gannean discovered one of these tablets. It is on display in Istanbul’s Archaeological Museum. Another of the Death Inscriptions, found in 1934, is in Jerusalem’s Rockefeller Museum.
The Death Inscriptions were blunt and to the point. “No foreigner may enter within the barrier around the Holy Place. Anyone caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.”
With its stairways and Death Inscriptions, there stood the wall, an incarnation of “the middle wall of partition”–cold, stark, cruel, an impasse, a quandary, a physical picture of a social stalemate and standoff, a marble symbol of a spiritual predicament, a statement in stone. It was the ancient world’s “Iron Curtain” and “Berlin Wall.”
Paul understood whereof he spoke, he knew the barrier well. It was fresh in his mind. When writing this letter to the Ephesians, he was in a Roman jail due to an arrest in Jerusalem prompted by this very wall.
Trophimus, a Gentile from Ephesus, had been sent to Jerusalem with a collection for the impoverished saints there. Paul hoped this offering, which was donated by Gentile believers for the aid of Jewish believers, would buy much good will between the two groups. Jews from Asia saw Paul and Trophimus together in Jerusalem. Later, when they saw Paul in the temple, they falsely accused him of bringing the Ephesian Gentile with him past the wall surrounding the Jewish courts (AC 21:28-29). This accusation led to the Apostle’s arrest and subsequent trip to Rome.
As Paul was writing Ephesians, the temple wall and its Death Inscriptions were still in place, but Paul knew Jesus had rendered their significance null and void. By tearing the veil at Jesus’ death, God had nullified all other barriers in the temple. Paul could see in his mind’s eye the wall flattened, and its Death Inscriptions buried in rubble. He envisioned us Gentiles joyfully ascending the stairs, stepping across the debris, and side by side with Jews from the inner courts drawing nigh to God.
This is what Christ did. He destroyed “the middle wall of partition,” a deed more astounding than the fall of the Jericho wall, the tearing of the Iron Curtain, or the collapse of the Berlin wall. Christ broke down the animosity of which the temple’s marble wall was but a symbol. He beat down the wall which separated Jews and Gentiles into two rooms. He built up relationships by tearing down the hate-barrier.
Ivor Powell tells a dramatic story which pictures how Jesus makes two peoples one. Before relating the story, I need to convey some background information. The hatred between Germans and Russians spawned by World War II can hardly be overstated. Hitler’s army scourged the Russian countryside. In retaliation, Russian soldiers mutilated prisoners of war and sent them back to their German units to demoralize and frighten the invaders. After the war, Russian officials demanded an increased portion of Germans who had surrendered to the other Allies. Forced to relent, and knowing that firing squads awaited the Germans, Allied soldiers (including my friend Everett Holderman) tore boards from the floors of the train cars to give the Germans at least a chance to jump for their lives before reaching the Russian army. Even after 45 years of the cold war, Mikhail Gorbachev, former leader of the Soviet Union, says when Russian children play war games, they still pretend their enemies are German, not American.
Now we can better appreciate Powell’s story. Dr. Kurt Frank’s father, a German, spoke Russian and was placed in charge of one of Hitler’s prisoner-of-war camps. That particular winter was extremely cold. Prisoners were suffering terrible hardships. Having no shoes, and forced to stand ankle deep in slush, the men were wrapping rags around their feet to protect them. One day Mr. Frank heard loud voices coming from the enclosure. Fearing there might be trouble, he hurried to investigate. He saw a group of young Russian men huddled together, vigorously discussing the Christian faith. One of the prisoners was saying, “We have great troubles and may never see our homes and families again, but I want to tell you about another country. We may not get home for Christmas, but we can all reach that heavenly land through the death and resurrection of the Savior.”
Mr. Frank could hardly believe what he was seeing and hearing. In the midst of abject misery, a man was proclaiming the good news of Jesus. Mr. Frank approached the group and said, “What this soldier is telling you is true. Christ is also my Savior.” He apologized for the treatment which was given to the prisoners. Mr. Frank thereby risked his own life, for in Nazi Germany, such an apology was considered treason.
A holy hush fell over the men as the commandant of their camp embraced their fellow prisoner. They were seeing a sight too rarely seen; they witnessed a living example of a “middle wall of partition” being crushed to the ground by the finished work of Jesus Christ. Let the walls fall, and have the peoples on opposite sides cross the rubble and embrace one another at the foot of the cross.