Friday, February 19, 2021

The Wall of Hostility

"For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility" (Ephesians 2:14).

Paul speaks of a dividing wall of hostility between the Jews and the Gentiles. Some have suggested that this refers to a barrier that existed in the temple that kept Gentiles at a greater distance from God than Jews. The problem is that God never authorized this wall, and passages like Numbers 15 indicate that God-fearing Gentiles had the same access to the temple as Israelites.

Paul uses the wall as a symbol of the “law with its commandments and regulations” (Ephesians 2:15). This law was the barrier, and it is now gone. We have to be careful here. The Bible everywhere teaches that God’s moral law is permanent. The moral law was not a barrier between Jew and Gentile. It was rather some aspects of the ceremonial law that formed this barrier, as we mentioned in yesterday’s lesson.

The wall between Jew and Gentile was a wall of hostility. Genesis 3:15 says that God created hostility between the woman and the serpent. In terms of Old Testament symbolism, the woman becomes Israel and the serpent becomes the Gentiles. The unclean animals, which the Israelites were not to eat, resembled the serpent in that they crawled in the dirt, or did not have hooves to shelter them from the dirt, or they ate dirt (carrion), or they rose up against their human masters in rebellion. These unclean animals symbolized the Gentiles, and the dietary laws were given, in part, to create a barrier between Israelites and Gentiles (Leviticus 20:23–26).

Jesus, in His work on earth, satisfied and fulfilled all the demands of the Law. As for the moral contents of the Law, Jesus’ fulfillment simply puts the Law into effect for all nations. Regarding the laws that separated Jew and Gentile, Jesus’ fulfillment removed them. Whereas formerly the dietary laws protected the Jews from Gentile influence, Christ told Peter that all the animals may be eaten (Acts 10–11). It is no longer the church that needs protection from the world; now it is the world that will need protection from the all-consuming onslaught of the church. The barrier is down, and all people are called to draw near.

Often the church lapses back into “old covenant thinking.” We invent new rules to “protect” ourselves from “the world.” Have you fallen into this kind of protectionist mentality? What changes do you need to make in your thinking to recover a vision of aggressive Christianity?