Thursday, February 18, 2021

Reconciling Jew and Gentile

"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ" (Ephesians 2:13).

After the call of Abraham, the Hebrews became the people of God. They were marked by the rite of circumcision, understood as sealing them to the Lord, and thereby separated from all other peoples. A few centuries later, God gave to Israel the Law. Much of the Law was addressed to Jew and “stranger” alike, but some parts applied only to circumcised members of the nation of Israel. Gentiles living in Israel, even if they converted, were not required to keep the dietary laws, for example. Only if they were circumcised and became Israelites would these laws apply to them.

Before Abraham there were believers in the world who were not marked by circumcision, and after God called the Hebrews to be His peculiar people, there were still many uncircumcised Gentile believers in the world. Such Gentile believers are seen throughout the Old and New Testaments. But though such people were saved, they were not considered part of the people of God. They were sojourners, not citizens.

Writing to the Ephesians, Paul tells them to remember that before the Gospel came they were strangers to the covenant. Probably some of the Ephesians had been Gentile “God-fearers” before the Gospel came, but even so they were still at a greater distance from God than were the Jews. They were “excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise.” If they were pagan Gentiles, they were absolutely “without hope and without God in the world.” If they were God-fearers, they were still separated from the special hopes of Israel and from the special benefits of God (Ephesians 2:12).

But now, says Paul, in Christ they have been brought near. Everyone who is in Christ is in the same place; there can be no degrees of nearness to God if all are in Christ. Thus, the old covenant degrees of nearness are gone. The promises made to Israel are now enlarged to the church and to the whole world. The blood of Christ (v. 13) is the new circumcision (v. 11) that replaces the old. The circumcision made with hands created Israel; the new circumcision of Christ creates the church.

Paul does not say that the Old Testament is wiped out. The Gentiles have now drawn near to everything the Old Testament meant and prophesied, because they have drawn near to Christ. The Gentiles are plugged in to the history of the Old Testament. It has become their history. Make it your history, too.