Summary: Ephesians 2:11-12 shows us that we were alienated from God and the people of God.
We are currently in a series of sermons on Ephesians 2 that I am calling, “God’s Plan of Reconciliation.”
We live in a world of alienation. We see it in politics, in race relationships, in economics, in the media, and, of course, in religion. I typed the word “alienation” in Google search, and one of the first headlines to appear was, “Muslims in America increasingly alienated as hatred grows in Bible belt.”
The Bible, though written millennia ago, addresses the topic of alienation. The Bible addresses our alienation from God, and it also addresses our alienation from one another. The Apostle Paul speaks of our alienation from God in Ephesians 4:18 (“alienated from the life of God”) and of our alienation from one another in Ephesians 2:12 (“alienated from the commonwealth of Israel”).
The Bible’s answer to alienation is reconciliation. And this is the theme of Ephesians 2. The first half of Ephesians 2 depicts our alienation from God. Although the verb is not used there, this is what Paul meant when he described us as “dead in the trespasses and sins in which [we] once walked” and that we were “by nature children of wrath” (2:1, 3).
Today, we come to the beginning of the second half of Ephesians 2, where Paul depicts our alienation from one another. In particular, Gentiles are described as “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel” (2:12). It is hard for us to comprehend the deep hostility that existed between Jews and Gentiles in Paul’s day. Commentator William Barclay helps us get a sense of the deep alienation between Jews and Gentiles, especially on the Jewish side. He writes:
The Jew had an immense contempt for the Gentile. The Gentiles, said the Jews, were created by God to be fuel for the fires of hell. God, they said, loves only Israel of all the nations that he had made…. It was not even lawful to render help to a Gentile mother in her hour of sorest need, for that would simply be to bring another Gentile into the world. Until Christ came, the Gentiles were an object of contempt to the Jews. The barrier between them was absolute. If a Jewish boy married a Gentile girl, or if a Jewish girl married a Gentile boy, the funeral of that Jewish boy or girl was carried out. Such contact with a Gentile was the equivalent of death.
This alienation was visibly seen in the temple precincts in Jerusalem. John Stott described the temple building itself as constructed on an elevated platform. Round it was the Court of the Priests. East of this was the Court of Israel, and further east the Court of the Women. These three courts – for the priests, the lay men and the lay women of Israel respectively – were all on the same elevation as the temple itself. From this level one descended five steps to a walled platform, and then on the other side of the wall fourteen more steps to another wall, beyond which was the outer court or Court of the Gentiles. This was a spacious court running right round the temple and its inner courts. From any part of it the Gentiles could look up and view the temple, but were not allowed to approach it. They were cut off from it by the surrounding wall, which was a four-and-a-half-foot stone barricade, and which Paul referred to as “the dividing wall of hostility” (2:14). On this wall were displayed at intervals warning notices in Greek and Latin. They read, in effect, not “Trespassers will be prosecuted” but “Trespassers will be executed.”