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Ephesians: Tearing Down the Wall of Hostility (2:11-22)

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tearing down the dividing wall of hostility

For 28 years a wall separated the city of West Berlin from East Berlin. This wall divided the people of Berlin into two camps, separated by walls, soldiers, weapons, and hostility. But in 1989 the wall was removed, along with the restrictions on travel from one side of the city to the other. The two Berlins became one city with the removal of this dividing wall of hostility.

Wall of Hostility

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Ephesians 2:11-13 NIV

This passage describes a similar kind of situation. But instead of a physical city separated by a physical wall, we have two groups of people separated by the Old Testament Law. On one side of the wall were the Jews, the chosen people, who had God’s Law. They also had a common ancestry, from Abraham; as well as the promises made to him. And they had the revelation of God’s prophets, his message to them as a people.  Because God had chosen them, the Jews looked down on everyone else, calling them Gentiles; people outside of the promise, without the Law, and uncircumcised.

On the other side of the wall were the Gentiles. The Gentiles might be Roman, Greek, Egyptian, or any of a myriad of other nationalities. They had a wide variety of social, economic, and educational levels. They included over 99% of the world’s population. But what they had in common was being outside of the covenant relationship with God, not living under the Law, and without knowledge of God.

The Law As A Wall

Separating the two groups was the Law; a set of commands given through Moses to the Hebrew people at Mt Sinai. This law formed the basis for their life together as a nation. It made them unique, establishing a covenant relationship between them and the God of creation. And built into the law is the expectation that they would separate themselves from all of the peoples around them, holding themselves apart and holy to God.

Now it was possible for a Gentile to cross over that wall and enter into the covenant relationship with God. But it was not easy. And as a consequence not many did it. Many more would climb to the top of the wall and get close, but would not be willing to go all the way. And the Jews, for their part, seemed not very interested in helping Gentiles to cross their barrier.

One New Humanity

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Ephesians 2:14-18 NIV

But then, about 2000 years ago, Jesus was born. He lived for about 33 years and then was crucified on a Roman cross. He was an apparent victim of his own people’s opposition to changing the status quo. But Paul tells us here that this event was really much more than it appeared.  According to Paul, the blood of Jesus shed on the cross, brought reconciliation between the two camps. It destroyed the wall of hostility that separated the two. And in doing so, it produced one humanity where once there had been two.

The wall that separated us, the Law, was set aside, it was removed, along with its commands and regulations. But how does this jive with Matthew 5:17 where Jesus says he has not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it? I think this question is best answered by Paul in Galatians 3:23-25 where he claims that the purpose of the law was to bring us to Christ, and once that had been accomplished, or fulfilled, then we were through with the law. Once I have come to Christ I am no longer under the law, but am under grace (Romans 6:14).

No Longer Foreigners and Strangers

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Ephesians 2:19-22 NIV

In Christ, it makes no difference whether we are Jew or Gentile. We are all one body in him because of grace. It is by faith in what Jesus did that we come into a relationship with God now; not by adherence to the commands and regulations of the law. Observance of the law as a means to righteousness has been replaced by God’s grace. As a result, we are all equally able to stand before God. Not because of anything we have done. But because of what he did.

And now we all can be built up into one house, or body, that God is able to inhabit and be glorified in. Let there be nothing in our lives or attitudes that would divide us as believers. Or that would cause us to think more highly of ourselves than of any other believer; or any other person. And rather than erecting more walls to make it difficult for people to come to God, let’s reach out to the world around us and introduce them to the Savior.

Some Questions to Consider

  • Are there other believers you struggle with? With some kind of a wall between you? If so, what would this passage challenge you to do about it?
  • What did Jesus do to remove the wall that divided people?

You are welcome to respond to these questions in the comment section below. If you do, be sure to check the “Notify me” checkbox just above the Post Comment button so you can get any feedback. Note that all comments are moderated. Only respectful comments relevant to the topic will be posted.

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Ed Jarrett

Just an old clay jar that God continues to see fit to use in his kingdom's work. I am retired, married with 2 children, and 4 grandchildren. I have followed Jesus for many years. And I love to share what He has given me from His word.

A Note to Readers

The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.

2 thoughts on “Ephesians: Tearing Down the Wall of Hostility (2:11-22)”

  1. No Longer Foreigners and Strangers. This is the heart of the passage. We have been united to God through Jesus Christ, and have been adopted into His family through Jesus Christ. WE have peace with God and peace with one another. This is the task that needs working out for the rest of our earthly lives (though it is also true that all is accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.)

    We do have a glorious gospel to share.

    • We are one new humanity in Christ. All of those things that once divided us, do so no longer when we are in Christ. He has torn down the wall that divides us.


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