“For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees”.
Notice the God action relayed here, it is God who made both Jews and Gentiles into one new group. This is a God generated peace, accomplished when Jesus destroyed the hostility that existed between faithful Jews and faithful Gentiles. He “destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility”; Paul uses descriptive language to portray the work of the cross. Some scholars think this is a description of the physical dividing wall in the Temple courts that kept Gentiles, the uncircumcised, separated from the inner courts that were only accessible to circumcised faithful Jews. But we should understand that the language in this verse refers to much more than that particular wall, it seems to also refer to a spiritual separation, a hostility that existed at that time between Jews and Gentiles within the church.
Remember that it was that physical wall in the Temple courts and the very real hostility between Jews and Gentiles that landed Paul in prison in Rome writing to the church in Ephesus. Acts 21 records the encounter; Paul was doing everything that was required by the Law to present himself in the Temple and to facilitate reconciliation between the hostile factions in Jerusalem and the church. Then some Jews from Asia stirred up the crowd in the Temple courts against Paul, falsely accusing him of bringing uncircumcised Gentiles into the restricted area, a riot ensued and Paul was arrested and beaten by the Roman guards. After 2 years of imprisonment in Caesarea, the shipwreck on Malta, Paul and his companions are currently under house arrest in Rome waiting for his trial before Caesar.
There was and continues to be some serious hostility between Jews and Gentiles, but Paul explains how Jesus Christ destroyed this barrier, “when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees”. Nullified means to render inoperative, some translations use the word “abolish” but that word implies complete destruction which is not Paul’s intended meaning. The meaning we should understand from this phrase is that Jesus caused the law to lose its power or effectiveness; specifically the purity laws that kept Jewish and Gentile Christians separated and hindered their worshipping together.
“There are many barriers that can divide us from other Christians: age, appearance, intelligence, political persuasion, economic status, race, theological perspective. One of the best ways to stifle Christ’s love is to be friendly with only those people that we like. Fortunately, Christ has knocked down the barriers and has unified all believers in one family. His cross should be the focus of our unity. The Holy Spirit helps us look beyond the barriers to the unity we are called to enjoy”. LIFE Application Bible
“Jesus nullified in his flesh of the law of the commandments in decrees”, this is not to be misconstrued to mean that God’s Laws are no longer valid. Jesus said Matthew 5:17-20, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place. So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven!”
From Paul’s letter to the Galatians we learn, “Now before faith came we were held in custody under the law, being kept as prisoners until the coming faith would be revealed. Thus the law had become our guardian until Christ, so that we could be declared righteous by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith.” In Roman culture, the sons and heirs would be put under the custody of a guardian usually a slave whose duty was to conduct the boy in all his education and duties until the youth came of age and was no longer needed a guardian to direct their activities. From this illustration we can understand the use of God’s law in our lives, it is the law that defines our sin which keeps us separated from God, and thus reveals our need of a Savior.
Both Jew and Gentile are condemned by the law, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Only Christ, who perfectly kept the law, was able to present himself as the perfect Passover lamb to cleanse us of our sins, He did this once for all. Jesus in his flesh nullified the law, from Romans 8:3-4, “For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
Paul continues to describe God’s purpose, “He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed”. Notice a few things here, this is a new corporate entity united in Christ, not a “Judaized” Gentile nor a “Gentile-ized” Jewish church but a new creation, a united church. This language reminds me of God’s plan for marriage; the two become “one flesh”, a new entity similar to Paul’s description of “one new man out of two”. Additionally, Paul uses the word “create”; this reminds me of the creation when God said, “let us make man in our image”. This new man described in Ephesians, is the church, it is God’s creation made in his image.
Paul continues in Ephesians saying, “And he (Jesus) came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, so that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
The result of this message of peace is that both Jewish and Gentile believers have access to God the Father by one Spirit. Notice the work of the Trinity here; believers have access to God the Father through the Holy Spirit because of Christ’s death on the cross. We are no longer strangers or outsiders; we have full access because we are members of God’s household. Paul continues saying that this new building “is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone”. We belong here, in this new home where God is using us, all of us, as the building stones align rightly to and built up from Christ alone. We are being built together, joined together to grow “into a holy temple in the Lord”.
What a beautiful picture, the spiritual temple joined together by believers from all over the world and throughout the generations. 2 Peter 2 relays this same principle, “So as you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but chosen and precious in God’s sight, you yourselves, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood and to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ….But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”.
Think of how the Levites and High Priest worked in the Temple in Jerusalem, they rotated continuously to keep the incense, oil lamps and bread and sacrifices before the Mercy seat, the throne of God. They were always turned toward the LORD; their entire life was directed towards service, prayers and sacrifice to the LORD. Now God has declared that we who are believers are a chosen race and a royal priesthood. All of us, not just the professional clergy should have our lives turned towards the LORD, living confidently as a chosen race and serving as a royal priesthood.