v17. “And he came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh”.
When the Lord Jesus Christ came to this earth, He declared glad tidings of peace to Gentiles who were far off from God, in that they did not have the revelation of God through the Scrip- tures, they did not have the privilege of the Temple worship, and the prophets had not been sent to them through the preceding centuries. They were far off from God in their spiritual darkness, but Christ’s message is nevertheless for them. The same glad tidings are also being declared to the Jews, who have been near to God in that they did have the special privilege of exposure to His revelation ever since the time of Abraham, and so they should have recog- nised the Messiah, when He appeared. So Christ’s coming results in glad tidings being de- clared to all the world. They are glad tidings of peace between man and God (not peace be- tween nations, as many wrongly assume). A one world brotherhood and the unity of all na- tions is not the goal of the Christian gospel.
In the New Testament period it is the case that all men by nature are far off from God; they are indeed in a position of deadly estrangement from Him. The Jews were in this position also under the old covenant, but the difference was that the grace of God was constantly drawing them near to Him.
“Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you” (Isaiah 59:2).
This separation means that there is also a very distinct separation between God’s true people and those who are not, a separation which Paul refers to in v14 of this chapter a ‘wall of par- tition’. We used to speak of an ‘iron curtain’ between East and West, but that was nothing compared to the division between sinful, mortal man, and the eternal, holy God. This is a gulf which man through his own efforts is incapable of breaching. His good works will never do it, because good works cannot atone for sin. His charitable activity, which will often bol- ster his reputation amongst men, cannot bring him into the presence of God.
The high streets in modern Britain contain numerous charity shops, and many people dili- gently raise money for various charitable causes. Does this mean that we are going through a great revival of Christianity in the nation? It does not. The unregenerate man has to try and prove that he can be good without God, and by the gift of God’s common grace even to non- believers, yes, they are capable of good deeds. This, however, does not change the fact that all men by nature are far off from God, utterly separated from Him because of sin, and no amount of good works can bridge the gulf. Only faith in Christ can do that. As Paul states :
“A man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16).
The Jews often outwardly performed good works in society, but their hearts were far off from God.
“By grace are ye saved, and that not of yourselves : it is the gift of God : not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
All men are incapable of saving themselves through their own attempts at goodness. Their only hope is to throw themselves on Christ for mercy. Whilst Paul in v17 here speaks of Gentiles being far off from God and Jews being near, this nearness of Old Testament Israel was in the sense of having the special privilege of being exposed to God’s truth. Many Is- raelites, however, rejected that truth, showing that in their fallen, sinful hearts they were as far off from God as any Gentile, needing to repent and believe for salvation.
This continues to be the general predicament of both Gentiles and Jews today : far off from God. There is an enormous chasm between God and men, and only the Lord Jesus Christ can rectify this situation of enmity. Man is in a wretched condition of being far off from God. It is into this hopeless situation of sinfulness and guilt that Christ has come, proclaiming glad tidings of peace to Jew and Gentile. He has opened up a way of access to God.
v18. “For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father”.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, His life of perfect obedience and His sacrificial death, the great gulf between sinful man and the holy God is closed up. We see in this v18 the Trinitari- an nature of God : man is reconciled to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. There can be no reconciliation to the Father except through the Son.
“There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timo- thy 2:5).
“How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament” (Hebrews 9:14-15).
The Lord Jesus Christ has died and His last will and testament make all who believe in Him His beneficiaries. He bestows as an unmerited gift His salvation. He mediates a coming to- gether between God and man whereby God’s justice upon sin is satisfied through Christ’s sin-bearing upon the Cross. This is why Our Lord had to become a man. Only a man could bear man’s sin. But He had to be a man without any sin of his own, in order to be a sacrificial lamb offered up to God. This is why He absolutely had to be born of a virgin. Any man born by normal human procreation would have inherited a sinful nature and a heart alienated from God. The Lord’s death on the Cross is the true sacrifice foreshadowed by all the symbolic Old Testament sacrifices. Here we see the real means of access to God – through the shed- ding of blood.
v18. “For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father”.
Both Jews and Gentiles receive salvation on the same basis, through Christ alone. The Holy Spirit convicts men of sin and draws them to seek mercy. None of us would have ever be- come believers but for the Spirit’s drawing work. Those who respond to this work, and repent and believe, are brought into fellowship with God and have His Spirit come to dwell within them, giving them new hearts which love God’s Law.
v19. “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God”.
In Christ Gentiles now come into the kingdom of God and enjoy the privileges which were once confined to Israel. Of course, even in Old Testament times, only those Israelites who repented and believed from the heart were regarded by God as His true people. Both then and today, all rebellious unbelievers are foreigners with no right of access into God’s king- dom, but those who submit to Christ become members of the very family of God. The Lord Jesus Christ came into the world at God’s appointed time, a time planned in eternity. He came to make those who were alienated from God into adopted sons of God. He came to re- move man’s condemnation under the law, by suffering the law’s penalty in the sinner’s place. Because He has come, all who believe in Him will inherit everlasting life.
When a man repents of sin, and believes in Christ he becomes a member of God’s true Israel, God’s true household, that is, the church of those who are truly redeemed. The believer in Christ receives the Spirit; he is born anew as a son of God. In any family the son bears a likeness to his father. The true Christian will become more and more like his heavenly Father in his holiness of life. This is the working out of the great salvation which Christ has come to bring. We are transformed into his likeness, as we bear the fruits of the indwelling Holy Spir- it.
v20. “Ye are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ him- self being the chief corner stone”.
Those who belong to the household of God live in a house with sure foundations. ‘Apostles and prophets’ are the medium through which the New Testament revelation has come to us. The New Testament prophets are those who, along with the apostles, received special revela- tion in the years after our Lord’s death and resurrection. They were also those whose “func- tion was to authoritatively speak the word of God to the church in the years before the New Testament canon was complete” 1, expounding the apostolic revelation. Both Mark and Luke, who wrote the respective Gospels, but who were not amongst the 12, can be included amongst their number. Paul was both an apostle and a prophet, though not one of the 12. Paul’s point here is that the church has an explicit doctrinal basis and Christ is the corner- stone and the lynch pin of it all. The whole system of God’s dealings with men centres upon the Son of God. No man can any have fellowship with God, any entrance into God’s house- hold, apart from Christ. That is why His birth is so significant. It is the birth of Him who is the cornerstone of the true temple of God, comprising all who are saved.
v21. “In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord”.
Paul has just told the Ephesians in verse 20 that they are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. So Paul continues his building metaphor. The term “all the building” may mean ‘the act of building’. So the reference could be to the whole work of construction, or alternatively “all the building” speaks of each individual piece of construction work. Each individual piece is fitly framed together. There is a perfect alignment between every wall, ceiling, window and doorway. You Ephesians, says Paul, are a piece of the work contributing to the glorious whole, which is a holy temple, the whole gathering of all those united to Christ. Peter likewise says of believers in Christ,
“Ye also as living stones are built up a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5).
So the gathering of true believers is likened to a temple. Individual believers and churches are stones and rooms in the Temple, which is the dwelling-place of God. In the Temple at Jerusalem God manifested his presence in the Holy of Holies. This was the Old Testament pattern for the New Testament church, which is a spiritual temple where God dwells in the hearts of believers in Christ by the Holy Spirit.
v22. “In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit”.
We believers are the habitation of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit. This distinguishes us from all other men.
“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man destroyeth the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, and such are ye” (1Corinthians 3:16-17).
So believers are a holy entity, jealously guarded by God. Even individual believers are said to be the temple of the Spirit. Paul writes concerning our physical bodies,
“What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20).
In other words, Do not profane the temple of the Holy Spirit which you are as an individual believer.
“And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (2 Corinthians 6:16).
We see then that this fact that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit means that we are set apart from the rest of men because of our sacred status, just as the earthly Temple was set apart from all other buildings made for common use. This separateness should be apparent in our manner of life. Our bodies are for holy use only. We are the very dwelling place of God Himself. The church, therefore, should be awesome in its beauty, utterly set apart from all that is profane. Individual believers are also temples of the Holy Spirit. This should mani- fested in our separateness of conduct, our holiness of life. We should constantly be manifest- ing the fruits of the Spirit.
These verses 17-22 speak of the transformed and privileged status of believers in Christ. They have been transformed from those who were far off from God; strangers and foreigners, outside of His kingdom. It is into this hopeless situation that Christ has come proclaim- ing glad tidings of peace between sinful man and God, a peace for both Jew and Gentile. He has come to open up a way of access to his Father. Those who submit to Him by repentance and faith become members of the very family of God; they are born anew as very sons of God. They belong to a household with sure a sure foundation. They are part of a glorious building which is the temple of the Holy Spirit. The foundation is Christ, the Rock, the chief cornerstone. Today those who are far off from God, and that is all men without exception, may be utterly transformed, and have peace with God if they turn from sin and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
1 The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Ephesians, Moody Publishers, p82