Christians and Jews: The Unity of the Church
The issue has come full circle. When Gentiles began to accept the Jewish Messiah, Jesus, in the first century, a question arose: Should Jewish people (who dominated the church at the time) and Gentile believers worship as a family in the same assemblies? To say the least, it was a thorny issue. Some believed that it was preferable to be separated and maintain the historical distance that had existed between the communities. There were those, however, who thought otherwise. The church, they reasoned, was a totally unique phenomenon. In this new era, there was to be no division. Jewish people and Gentiles had become members of the same family and, therefore, should be interdependent, mutually support one another, and function as members of the same body.
Today the same questions are being raised. Should Christian believers of Jewish descent resurrect the synagogue system and break ranks with their Gentile brethren? Opinions on the subject span a wide spectrum and often initiate rather heated debates. Of course, believers have the latitude to choose different paths when it comes to cultural adaptations in their worship styles. Few would argue this point. But something more basic than incorporating lox and bagels into the services of a local assembly is involved here.
It is extremely important to remember that no matter how strongly one may be attached to ethnic and cultural heritage, they should not form the basis of our worship. In other words, Jewishness is not a valid reason for believers to join together in worship. The same may be said about people from various elements within the Gentile community. The focal point of our worship must always be the Lord Jesus Christ. In Him, all other factors become minor and subsidiary considerations. This thought is carried by the Holy Spirit into the second and third chapters of the book of Ephesians.
The Gentile Dilemma
Wherefore, remember that ye, being in times past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands—That at that time ye 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 (Eph. 2:11–12).
Earlier in the chapter, Gentiles were described as “dead in trespasses and sins” (v. 1). As if that were not enough, they were classified as living and moving in a circle far removed from the favor of God.
Among whom also we all had our manner of life in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others (Eph. 2:3).
The ravages of malignant paganism coupled with a sin nature had consigned the whole of the Gentile world to spiritual catastrophe and, ultimately, eternal destruction.
Of all of the single-word transitions in Scripture, the little word but often looms above the rest in significance. It most certainly does in the present context.
But [emphasis added] now in Christ Jesus ye who once were far off are made near by the blood of Christ (Eph. 2:13).
This surpassing verse is prefaced by another but. In this instance, the word is directly coupled with the name of God.
But God [emphasis added], who is rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath made us alive together with Christ (by grace ye are saved), . . . For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God—Not of works, lest any man should boast (Eph. 2:4–5, 8–9).
I suppose the most astonishing aspect in this revelation is that after millennia of alienation from Jehovah, suddenly the door of redemption was thrown open to Gentiles, and they were invited to become members of the family of God. And beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, those who believed became heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ.
We often marvel, and rightly so, at the wonder of our Lord’s preservation of the Jewish people against all odds and His purpose to bring about, once and for all, a consummate reconciliation to the Messiah. But it is no less a marvel that the Sovereign of eternity would condescend to light the way home for belligerent and estranged Gentiles. And how was this accomplished? It was through the cross work of the Savior, who came to “give his life a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45), even for the off-scouring of the world.
No Middle Wall
But while the plan of redemption was being accomplished, another work of grace was taking place. It is no secret that the history of this planet is littered with the debris of vicious animosity between Jews and Gentiles. Gentile persecution of the sons of Jacob constitutes a bloody chapter in the sordid chronicle of human behavior. In spite of this fact, God was sovereignly moving to another purpose—one that would stand as an enduring testimonial to what only He could do.
For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us (Eph. 2:14).
The language could not be more precise. Even the most committed anti-Semite, who lives under the guise of Christianity, cannot explain away the obvious. That middle wall was the one that stood in the Temple in Jerusalem. It was a barrier placed between the courts of Israel and the court of the Gentiles. The apostle Paul and all his readers clearly understood what that partition was about. It was a barrier that said “No” to every Gentile who ever wanted to set foot on Mount Moriah. The courts of Israel, the altar of sacrifice, and the Holy of Holies were off limits to the heathen. Only death lay beyond the fence.
But with the rising of the sun on that glorious resurrection morning came a new day. Through the cross work of the Messiah, that wall had been torn down. And the enmity between Jews and Gentiles was swept away with the debris of that forbidding, restraining barrier. A new era had been ushered in. No one had expected it, but it had been part of the divine plan all along. It was, as it were, a mystery that was now revealed.
Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances, to make in himself of two one new man, so making peace (Eph. 2:15).
Just as there could be no mistaking what was meant by the abolition of the partition in the Temple, there was no misunderstanding concerning the reference that of the two, God was making one new man. Jewish believers and Gentile believers were being fused into a totally new entity. The two were becoming one in Christ.
Redundancy is often tedious. Editors cringe when they see it. But when the Lord decides that redundant phraseology is in order, we would be well advised to listen carefully. And He decides so here, perhaps because the thought of Jew and Gentile becoming members of the same family is one that elements on both sides might not wish to entertain. So God Himself presses the point.
And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby, And came and preached peace to you who were afar off, and to them that were near. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father (Eph. 2:16–18).
One new man, one new body. Thus the Church of Jesus Christ is introduced. Jew and Gentile now inhabit the same frame. They are, indeed, one. It is an unmistakable fact of life.
But this fact is not the sum of this new reality.
A Living Sanctuary
Now, therefore, ye are no more strangers and sojourners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone, In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord; In whom ye also are built together for an habitation of God through the Spirit (Eph. 2:19–22).
This is a marvelous word. Jewish believers, along with their Gentile brothers and sisters, are being interspersed as building blocks in a divine sanctuary. Within that new building, the Spirit of God is making His abode. When He speaks of our being “an holy temple in the Lord,” it is not something to be taken lightly. Being the habitation of God is an extremely serious matter. This being the case, we must examine carefully the ramifications of what God intends for us through this new reality.
Viewing the Cathedral of Grace
There is a rare testimonial aspect related to this new sanctuary. It is, in fact, a magnificent cathedral of grace. With Jew and Gentile reconciled in Christ, God has created an undeniable witness to His mercy and grace. In a very real sense, Jewish and Gentile believers who worship and serve together as members of the Body of Christ provide an indisputable witness to the power of the gospel. They are a public demonstration of what only God can do. The world cannot reproduce it, nor can the world deny it. Jews and Gentiles are truly reconciled through the finished work of Christ.
Principalities and Powers
There is a verse in the third chapter of Paul’s marvelous epistle that cannot be diminished. In fact, it is almost incomprehensible to the human mind.
To the intent that now, unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places, might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God (Eph. 3:10).
His church has been put on display, not only before human eyes but also before creatures in other realms of the universe. Thus He declares to all in the created universe of God—to Satan, fallen angels, and those who follow in God’s train—“Come and see! Come and witness what I have done. Come see my people, my church.”
It is not off the mark to say that redeemed Jewish people and Gentiles, worshiping and serving together, are the most powerful witness in the universe to the grace and mercy of God.
And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages hath been hidden in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ, To the intent that now, unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places, might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God (Eph. 3:9–10).
The Glory of God
In concert with the revelation that the church manifests the wisdom of God before “principalities and powers in heavenly places,” is the fact that the church is also a vehicle by which He reveals His undiminishing glory.
Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Eph. 3:21).
Through the church, a chosen vessel of His grace and mercy, Jehovah is perpetually displaying His abounding wisdom and glory. You will remember that the Jewish people have been chosen for the express purpose of being a “light for the Gentiles” (Isa. 42:6, KJV). This will, of course, be fully realized during the Millennium. But through the church, He is performing a very special work today. Between verses 10 and 21, we are treated to a comprehensive view of just what the Lord is doing in order to show His wisdom and glory to every created being in His universe during this Age of Grace.
We learn of His eternal purpose in Jesus Christ, the boldness and confidence available through Him, strength and power by way of His Spirit, faith that roots and grounds our love, the surpassing love of Christ, the ability to be filled with all the fullness of God, and enablement to do exceedingly beyond all that one could ask or think through the divine power that works within us.
A few moments of meditation on all these treasures will bring to mind some of the central attributes of God Himself. Therefore, what is being manifested through simple believers here on earth defies manufacture through human ingenuity. We are, indeed, new creatures in Christ. A sovereign God has chosen to encapsulate His wisdom and glory in the church that He has condescended to create. Little wonder that this body should have been chosen to reflect His glory “throughout all ages.”
The Unity of the Church
It seems to me that the question of whether Jewish believers and Gentile Christians should worship together is emphatically answered in Scripture. And if there are deficiencies in the understanding and conduct of some congregations with regard to Jewish things, they can best be corrected by the presence of their Jewish brethren in their midst. The middle wall has, indeed, been broken down. And when we sit down together to worship, we can best confirm this glorious fact to a heart-hungry world.