By Jim Roberts
In the first chapter of the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul enumerates many of the spiritual blessings that believers possess today. Then he makes the glorious announcement that the Lord Jesus Christ now serves as the Head over all things to the Church which is His Body.
In Ephesians, Chapter 2, Paul reminds Gentile believers of two things that used to be the case in regard to their spiritual state. In addition to being at one time dead in trespasses and sins, Paul says that Gentiles were also aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise.
In response to our lethal state of sin, Paul concludes that God now makes us alive in Christ and has raised us up to sit in the heavenly places in Christ. In response to the fact that we were at one time strangers from Israel’s covenants of promise, however, Paul does not conclude that we have now been made partakers in those covenants. On the contrary, Paul concludes that we have now been brought near to God apart from the covenants by the blood of Christ. Beginning in verse 11, we read:
“Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.— (Eph. 2:11-13)
Paul goes on to say that when Christ died on the cross, He abolished the law of commandments contained in ordinances. In other words, Christ abolished the rituals of the law which had caused such a wall of separation between the Jews and the Gentiles.
When God instituted the temple worship at Mt. Sinai, He made it clear that no one could participate without being circumcised. Now Paul says that the shed blood of Christ has abolished that requirement. When Christ died on the cross, He fulfilled all of the righteous requirements of the Law and abolished the rituals of the Law which were but a shadow of things to come.
It is particularly interesting to note, however, that even though the rituals of the Law were abolished at the cross, they were practiced by the Jews all the way through the Acts period. In Acts 15, it is recorded that the Apostle Paul appeared before the Jerusalem church to discuss this very issue.
Paul declared before the elders in Jerusalem that God was saving uncircumcised Gentiles, and he maintained that it was not part of God’s plan or purpose for the Gentiles to be circumcised. The Jerusalem elders agreed and sent out a letter stating that the Gentiles would not be required to observe the rituals of the Law. Thus, the wall of separation between the Jews and the Gentiles was reinforced at this meeting.
In Acts, Chapter 21, Paul was accused of teaching Jews that they did not have to observe the rituals of the Law, but since that was not the case, Paul agreed to go into the temple at Jerusalem and participate in some of the rituals of the Law.
Clearly, the rituals of the Law were very much a part of Israel’s covenants, and they drove a wedge between the Jews and the Gentiles. This was true during the Old Testament times, and it was also true during the Acts period, as God offered Israel the New Covenant Kingdom.
The rituals of the Law, which had created this wall of separation, were abolished at the cross. However, it was not until Israel’s covenants were set aside that Paul was free to reveal this monumental truth. In Ephesians 2 he said:
“For (Christ) Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.— (Eph. 2:14-16)
During the Acts period, the Gentiles were grafted into Israel’s New Covenant hope (Romans 11:17). As a grafted branch, they maintained their own identity and yielded their own particular fruit. Therefore, the Gentiles could never be one with Israel under the terms of Israel’s covenants (Romans 11:27).
However, when Israel’s covenants were temporarily set aside at the end of the Acts period, the Apostle Paul was free to announce the glorious truth concerning the Church which is the Body of Christ. Paul said that Christ had abolished the rituals of the Law at the cross so that He could create in Himself one new man in one body through the cross.
When we consider the overwhelming consequences of this revelation which was given through the Apostle Paul, we have to say with the apostle:
“For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, … to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.— (Eph. 3:14-15, 21)