In the run up to our Pledge Sunday on 15th May, at all our Sunday services we will be thinking about God’s building project and our part in it, in the hope that we might see our building plans in the light of what God is committed to doing. For the same reason we are diving into this letter to the Ephesians for our first three studies this term. A crucial theme of the whole letter is how God has purposed to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, namely Christ (Eph.1:10). That’s where history is headed, and the church is where that purpose is being worked out here and now.
In the first half of ch.2 God’s work of salvation is described in terms of how we who we were once dead in sins have been made alive in Christ – the perspective is more individual and vertical; in the second half the perspective is primarily corporate and includes the horizontal, showing how from a divided and alienated humanity God has in Christ made a new humanity, reconciled to one another and to God. The significance of this new humanity is spelt out in the final paragraph.
Our world is marked by divisions of many kinds, but nothing quite matches the division that once stood between Jew and Gentile. There was of course an ugly animosity between Jew and Gentile, but there was also a very real distinction between the two. Gentiles faced a 5-fold exclusion: God’s King was not their king, so they didn’t have the rights and privileges of belonging to his people and living under his rule; they had no part in the covenant relationship; they were “without God and without hope”. We were far away from being able to know God and know the blessings of God, but wonderfully through the sacrificial death of Christ we are brought near.
The barrier that enforced this division between Jew and Gentile was the Law, but Christ has destroyed it by his death – not entirely doing away with the Law (Paul will quote from it in 6:2), but doing away with its function of dividing humanity into Jew and Gentile. His death made peace between man and God, so that now in him there is peace between Jew and Gentile because “the dividing wall of hostility” is no more. God’s purpose in Christ’s death was not simply to reconcile us to God, his purpose was to create a new humanity, to form a new people, where the old distinctions don’t hold, for we all have the same access to the same Father by the one Spirit through Christ.
Reconciling us to God is not all that Christ died to achieve, we need also to take on board this horizontal dimension of his reconciling work, and therefore recognize the importance and the privilege of belonging to the church – that’s an important part of the Gospel.
We appreciate this aspect of the Gospel as we appreciate the significance of the church, and these final verses are important in helping us do that. Where once we were outsiders, we are now part of God’s People, sharing in the rights and privileges that come with citizenship, and part of God’s Family, enjoying relationship with God and the provision and care of God, and part of God’s Temple, knowing the supreme blessing of God’s presence in our midst. This corporate language underlines the fact that I know and enjoy the blessings of the Gospel in the context of this new community. And I become part of this community by virtue of being joined to Christ. He is the cornerstone, in reference to which the whole building takes its shape and on which it depends – “In him the whole building is joined together”.
The foundation, laid once for all and not now to be tampered with, is the teaching of “the apostles and prophets”. The prophets referred to here are probably not the OT prophets, since they are named after the apostles, but the fact that they are referred to as part of the foundation suggests that, however we might understand an ongoing gift of prophecy, these prophets were a unique group of individuals, closely allied with the apostles, and whose teaching like the apostles’ was authoritative and foundational. That foundation is preserved for us in the NT.