According to Ephesians, the gospel is about God’s formation of a new humanity. This is true in two senses: First, in Jesus, the Last Adam, believers are made new Adams and Eves; and, second, in Jesus the divided human race is united into a new family, the temple of God.
“And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. . . .” (Ephesians 2:1-22).
The break between Ephesians 1 and 2 obscures Paul’s point. His statement begins in 1:18-19, where he mentions his prayer that the Ephesians would grasp the “surpassing greatness of His power to us who believe” (v. 19a). This is the power that God exercised when He raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him above all rule and authority (vv. 19b-23).
When Paul describes the exaltation of Jesus, he reaches back to the language of Genesis 1. Adam was called to “fill” the earth, and to “have dominion” over the rest of creation (Genesis 1:28). Jesus has now completed that task, being exalted above all rule and dominion (1:21), subjecting all things under his feet (1:22; cf. Psalm 8:3-8), and filling all things (1:23). By His resurrection and exaltation, Jesus has become the Last Adam.
As Paul goes on in chapter 2, he says that what happened to Jesus has happened to all those who believe in Jesus. The Father raised Jesus from the dead by His power, and that same power raises us up from our death in trespasses and sins (2:1, 6). Jesus has been exalted into the heavenly places (1:20), and in Him, we are also exalted into the heavenly places (2:6). That means that in the Last Adam, Jesus, we are all remade as Adams and Eves, empowered by His resurrection to have dominion over sin and to complete the task given to Adam at creation. Salvation does not cancel creation; salvation fulfills creation.
The other point that Paul emphasizes is that in Jesus the human race has been reunited. To understand what Paul is saying in 2:11-22, we need to go back to the beginning of the Bible. In the beginning, God made of one blood all nations of the earth. Yet in the ancient world, men were divided: Greeks despised barbarians and slaves; Romans considered non-Romans to be inferior; men such as Aristotle considered women to be defective and inferior males, and Aristotle believed that some people were naturally slaves.
But the division of the human race was not merely a result of human bigotry and sin. God Himself divided the race. He scattered the nations at Babel, confusing their languages so that they could not cooperate in their rebellion against Him (Genesis 11). Soon after Babel, he chose one nation among those scattered nations and lived among them (Genesis 12). He gave them the Torah, the Law of Moses, which distinguished them from the other nations. Israel was cut off from the Gentiles. As soon as Yahweh commanded Abraham to cut his body and the bodies of his sons with circumcision, the body of the human race was also cut in two. On the one side is the “circumcision”; on the other side is the “uncircumcision.” Dividing a living thing in two is a sure-fire way to kill it. Throughout the Old Testament, the body of the human race was a corpse lying out on the earth, divided between Israel and the nations, Jew and Gentile. The human race was dead, waiting for a resurrection.
It appeared that God had everything under control. He had selected one nation out of all the nations of the earth to be His special possession, His holy nation. Israel was supposed to be the people that would reverse the sin of Adam by worshiping God and Him alone; they were supposed to reverse the sin of Cain by living with their brothers in harmony; they were supposed to remain unstained by the world, and not intermarry with idolatrous Gentiles. By living this way, they were supposed to be the model of how all men and women everywhere were supposed to live.
But Israel failed. Israel indulged in idol worship almost from the beginning – constructing a golden calf at Sinai and later worshiping the Baals. Instead of living as a single people, Israel quickly divided into Northern as Southern kingdoms. They adopted pagan customs and ways of life. Instead of being a model of how to live faithfully before God, they became a mirror image of the Gentile world. Paul is talking specifically about Jews (he uses the pronoun “we”) when he writes that “we too all former lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Ephesians 2:3).
By the time Jesus came, the Jews had made things even worse. Instead of realizing that the human race could not stay divided into two forever, and instead of being humbled by their history of idolatry and apostasy, many Jews had become proud. They believed that Jews could be alive all on their own. They thought God favored them and them alone, and that they didn’t need the Gentiles to keep on living.
ONE NEW MAN
Paul’s gospel is about salvation from sin, but because sin and its judgment divided the human race, Paul’s gospel is also the good news that the human race has been restored to unity in Jesus. Gentiles were once separated and far off from God (2:12), but now have been brought near (2:13). Through the death of Jesus, the wall of Torah that separated Jews and Gentiles has been torn down, reconciling the two in peace (2:15-16). The purpose of this, Paul says, is that the whole human race would gain access to the Father through the Spirit (2:19), and both Jews and Gentiles would be united as a temple of God, God’s dwelling on earth through the Spirit (v. 22). The human race is reunited so that the one human race can draw near to the one God in His one dwelling, the church, and praise Him with one voice.
The great division of the human race in the Old Testament was that between Jews and Gentiles, but there are of course many other divisions within the human race. Paul’s gospel implies that those divisions too are overturned in Christ. Those who were far off and marginal are brought near (2:13, 19). As we strive to form a Christian culture here, we must labor so that the unity of all races, classes, and nations in the one new man is manifested.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Tuesday, August 16, 2005 at 11:18 AM
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