by Martyn Lloyd-Jones
And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby. Ephesians 2:16
In these moving and glorious words, the apostle continues his great statement of God’s way of reconciling men, and shows how yet another obstacle to that desired result is removed. The Ephesians, pagans as they were, Gentiles, were not only separated from the Jews, the commonwealth of Israel, they were also separated from God. And obviously there can be no true unity between man and man until there is this other unity; because the original division into Jew and Gentile was all in terms of relationship to God. So the apostle now goes on to show how this second matter also has been dealt with, and in the same way as before, by our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. But you notice that the apostle puts this in a very interesting manner. Instead of simply stating how the pagan Ephesians had been reconciled to God, he says ‘And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby’—both, Jews and Gentiles. Then he shows us exactly how this has taken place.
The teaching here is fundamental and vital, and especially as regards this whole question of unity and of peace. In its general form we can put it like this. All the minor and secondary divisions and separations and quarrels among men are ultimately due to the fact that all men are separated from God. Now that is a fundamental and a universal proposition. The world is full of divisions and distinctions, countries, nations, blocs, groups, curtains, one side and the other side; in the nation, classes, industrial groups, capital and labour, master or employer and servant, and so on; and within all these groups again, divisions, rivalries, envies. The world is full of divisions and separations. But according to the teaching of Scripture the really significant thing is that all these minor and secondary, third-rate, fifth-rate, tenth-rate divisions and separations and quarrellings are due to one thing only, namely, that all men are separated from God and are in the wrong relationship to Him.
That is the whole case of the Bible. There would be no trouble in life at all were it not that man has rebelled against God and has fallen away from God. All the troubles are due to that. Conversely therefore, we are entitled to say that unity among men is only possible as men are reconciled together to God. The importance of that statement is obvious. There are people who talk glibly about the application of Christian teaching to the problems, and who tell us it is all quite simple. But according to this teaching it is impossible until men and women are reconciled to God. It is a sheer waste of energy and of breath and of time to try to get Christian behaviour from people who are not Christians. They cannot respond. A man has to be right with God before he can be right with his fellow men and women. I would remind you of how our Lord answered a question that was put to Him when He was asked which is the first and the greatest commandment. His reply was, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy strength and with all thy mind’; and then, ‘The second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’. But you cannot do the second until you have done the first. This is a basic, foundational principle.
Let us see how the apostle works this out. In a sense he is going on to a new theme. In another sense he is continuing the old one. The fact is, the two themes cannot be separated. That is why he connects them with this word ‘and’, which really means here ‘in addition’. What is he saying? The best way, perhaps, to approach the matter is to look at this great world ‘reconcile’; —‘And that he might reconcile both unto God’. The word the apostle actually used and which is translated ‘reconcile’ is most interesting. It is only found in one other place in the entire Bible, and that is Colossians 1, 20 and 21. He there uses the identical word— but nowhere else. You find the word ‘reconcile’ in a number of places in the Authorised Version. You will find it in Romans 5:10. You will find it in 2 Corinthians 5:18, 19 and 20. But in all those cases the word used by the apostle was not the same word as is used here. It is the same root; in a sense it has the same essential meaning; but here he used a very special word, he put a prefix on to the word which he uses in the other places. And therefore in expounding this we must take the word as he used it, prefix as well.
What, therefore, does the word ‘reconcile’ mean? Let me suggest that it includes the following ideas and conceptions. It means first of all a change from a hostile to a friendly relationship. That is the simplest meaning, the basic meaning. But it means more. In the second place, it does not merely mean a friendship after estrangement, a mere doing away with the estrangement. It is not merely that it brings people into speaking terms again who formerly passed one another without even looking at each other. It means more; it means really bringing together again, a reuniting, a re-connecting. It carries that meaning. In the third place it is a word also that emphasises the completeness of the action. It means that the enmity is so completely laid aside that complete amity follows. And the emphasis here is on the completeness of the action. It is not the patching up of a disagreement. It is not a compromise, the kind of thing that happens so often when a conference has gone on for days and there has been a deadlock and somebody suddenly gets a bright idea and suggests introducing a particular word or formula, which just patches up the problem for the moment. It is not that. It is a complete action, it produces complete amity and concord where there was formerly hostility.
But in the fourth place, it also means this. It is not merely that the two partners to the trouble or the dispute or the quarrel have decided to come together. This word that the apostle uses implies that it is one of the parties that takes the action, and it is the upper one that does it. A part of this word indicates an action from above. It is the Greek word ‘kata’; it suggests an action that comes down from above. It is not that the two sides come together as it were voluntarily; it is the one bringing the other into this position of complete amity and concord. And finally, in the fifth place, the word carries the meaning that it is a restoration of something that was there before. Now our word ‘reconcile’, which is really a transliteration of the Latin word, in and of itself suggests that. Re-concile! They were conciled before, they are now re-conciled, brought back to where they were. The word carries all those meanings, and it is this last point especially that is introduced by the special prefix found in the word used by the apostle here, the Prefix, apo, a bringing back again, the re. That is the thing that is emphasised here.
What then is the apostle’s teaching? Let me put it to you in a number of principles. The first thing, obviously, taught here is that sin separates from God. All our troubles are ultimately due to the fact that we are not clear about sin. The apostle has already said it in verse 12; he repeats it here. It can never be repeated too often: ‘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’. The opposite is, being ‘made nigh’, being drawn nigh. The terrible thing about sin, but the thing we all are prone to forget, is that sin is not mere transgression of the law— it is that; sin is not only disobedience—it is that; sin is not only missing the mark—it is that; the most appalling thing about sin, the devastating thing about sin, is that it means breaking fellowship with God. It means that we are cut off from God, that we are out of relationship to God, that we are without God. Now that is the thing the apostle is emphasising here. But it does not even stop at that. Sin also produces enmity between man and God. And that, according to this teaching everywhere, is the condition of man in sin. It happened at the beginning of history. God made man for Himself, and man was in fellowship with God. If only we would hold on to that idea as we ought! We were made for God, we were meant for God; we were never made for the world, and the flesh, and the devil. Man was made for God, he was meant for fellowship with God, he was meant to enjoy God. And that was his original condition. But, alas, sin came in; and the terrible thing about sin was not simply that Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit—that was true, that was an action, that was rebellion, that was arrogance, that was breaking God’s commandment and ignoring His law—but the terrible thing was that it broke fellowship. Man was walking with God, and suddenly he turned his back on Him. That is the awful thing about sin. That, therefore, is the problem, that is the things that needs to be put right. It is not just a question of our being forgiven for particular actions. That is not the only problem. The basic problem is, How can this fellowship be restored? How can it be brought back again?
It is just here that so many go wrong in their thinking about these matters. That is why they do not understand the meaning of the death of Christ, and the cross, and why they see no meaning in a Communion Service. They say, Surely there is no great problem; when a child does something wrong a parent forgives him and all is well; is it not like that with God? If I confess my sins, if I say I am sorry, will not God just forgive me? And the answer of the New Testament is, that it is not as simple as that. If it were as simple as that the Lord Jesus Christ would never have come into the world; He certainly would never have gone to the cross. No, the problem is one of fellowship; the problem of how fellowship can be restored. And this is not only of importance in our initial coming into the Christian life; there is nothing that is more vitally important for Christians at all stages. The sooner we begin to think of sins, not in terms of bad actions simply, but in terms of our relationship to God, the better Christians we shall be.
All this is set out perfectly in the First Epistle of John in the first chapter. There you have a picture. The Christian is a man who is in fellowship with God and walking with God. ‘Our fellowship is truly with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ,’ says John. He says that the apostles are in this fellowship and that they want others to be enjoying it also. But then the question arises, How is this possible? ‘God is light, and in him is no darkness at all;’ and I am sinful and I keep on falling into sin. The moment I fall into sin I break my fellowship with God. It is not only that that sinful action is wrong, but I am insulting my Companion. I am doing something in the presence of the holy God, who is light, that is to Him hateful and abhorrent. How can we walk in fellowship? That is how John puts it. I am emphasising it for this good reason, that in my personal experience and in my experience as a pastor, there is no more important discovery that a Christian can make in his battle with sin, with particular sins, than just this very thing. What I tell people always is this: Stop praying about that particular thing that gets you down; make your praying positive; think of it in terms of your fellowship with God. Do not think of it merely in terms of your falling, and of that particular thing; turn your back on it, begin to think of yourself as a companion of God and of Christ, and say, Now I am with Him and I must do nothing in His presence that He will dislike and that will hurt Him. Think positively! Remind yourself that Christ is always with you, and then you will begin to hate the thing and it will become unthinkable. But that is what we tend to fail to do, is it not? We forget that the terrible thing about sin is that it is a violation of fellowship and that it separates us from God. The term ‘reconciliation’ at once brings us face to face with the fact that we have been out of fellowship and that we need to be restored to fellowship.
When God called Abraham and formed the nation of Israel, He was already taking a great step to bring that reconciliation to pass. The whole world had sinned in Adam and had fallen away from God, so all were by nature estranged from God. Man did nothing and could do nothing about that. But God did something, He took action. Out of all the mass of mankind He formed a new nation for Himself, a people for His own peculiar possession, a people with whom He could have fellowship and who could have fellowship with Him, a new nation, a new creation. That is the commonwealth of Israel. All the rest were outside that commonwealth, they were still not in fellowship with Him. These were in fellowship, the rest were not. Now if we do not grasp this truth there is a sense in which we do not understand the Old Testament at all. This is the sum and substance of the Old Testament, the story of God’s forming this peculiar people for Himself, and the relationship between them.
But unfortunately that was not sufficient, for the apostle tells us here that the Jews as well as the Gentiles needed to be reconciled to God. Jews as well as Ephesians needed a reconciliation. Why? The New Testament supplies the answer. All the Levitical sacrifices, the burnt offerings and the sacrifices, the killing of the paschal lamb and the daily lamb, and the presentation of the blood, and all the rest of this rich and elaborate ceremonial was really not sufficient; it was merely a shadow of something that was to come, it was merely a covering over of the sins of men. ‘For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins’; it covered over the sin but it did not really deal with the problem. It was sufficient for the time being. But according to this same apostle Paul, in the third chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, it was necessary that God should justify such dealing with sins, and He did justify it on the cross of Calvary. He had to justify Himself for the remission of sins that were past, and there He does it.
But not only was that a problem. The Jews, alas, needed to be reconciled for this reason also, that they had so completely misunderstood what God had done in Abraham, and in the nation, that they thought that the mere fact that they were physical descendants from Abraham in and of itself saved them. John the Baptist knew that, because when he began to preach to those Jews he said, ‘Begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father, for I say unto you that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham’. But that is what they were saying. On one occasion the Lord Jesus Christ said to them, ‘If ye continue in my words then are ye my disciples indeed, and ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free’. But they resented it, saying, ‘We be Abraham’s seed and were never in bondage to any man; how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?’ (John 8:33). The Jews had misunderstood it all; they thought that because they were Jews they were right with God, but thereby they brought condemnation on themselves. They needed to be reconciled. And furthermore, as we have seen on a previous occasion, their attitude to the Gentiles was terribly sinful. They regarded them as dogs, they despised them as outsiders. For these various reasons they needed to be reconciled to God.
That brings us to our next principle, which is, that both Jew and Gentile are reconciled to God together in exactly the same way, not separately. ‘And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body’—that is the point, that is the emphasis here. Now the ‘one body’ does not mean the physical body of the Lord Jesus Christ. The ‘one body’ is the Church. So what he teaches is that the Jew and the Gentile are reconciled to God in exactly the same way; there is no longer any difference between them. There is only one way of being reconciled to God. ‘There is one God and one mediator (only) between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.’ (1 Timothy 2:5) There are no separate ways into the kingdom of God for Jew and Gentile; there is only one way, and this is it, the ‘one body’ again. I emphasise this for this reason, that there is a teaching which is quite popular, but which seems to me in the light of this verse and others to be terribly, dangerously, unscriptural, which says that now during this dispensation it is in Christ and by His grace and by His death that men are saved, but that in a future time the Jews will then be saved by the keeping of the law. To them will be preached not the gospel of the grace of God but ‘the gospel of the kingdom’, and the law, and they will keep the law and they will enter into the kingdom by the keeping of the law. I say again, quite deliberately, that that is a denial of the fact that there is only one way to be reconciled with God, namely, through Jesus Christ and Him crucified. There is no access into the presence of God except through the one and only Mediator; ‘that he might reconcile both in one body’, and it is the only body, the only way. It is in this one body, the Church; and no man ever has been or ever will be reconciled to God save in this way. Abraham and the Old Testament saints, all whose sins had been covered, are really reconciled to God in Christ. All in all future ages will be reconciled in the same way. It is by the grace of God and that alone that any man can be saved.
So I go on to the next principle, which I put like this. The reconciliation is achieved and produced by the Lord Jesus Christ. ‘And that he’— He, the Lord Jesus—‘might reconcile both unto God in one body’. He! Oh that we all might be clear about this! There is no hope for man apart from Him. He came into the world because it was the only way. No man, I say again, ever can or ever will save himself by his own efforts or striving, no matter what is preached to him. Neither can the law save him; as Paul says: ‘What the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh …’. Christ had to come. ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself’, and there is no other way. Here the apostle puts the emphasis upon the Lord Jesus Christ. It was God who sent Him, but it was Christ by coming and by all His active and passive obedience who has done it. ‘He is our peace’, and He alone is our peace. I say again that unless we ascribe all the praise and the honour and the glory to the Lord Jesus Christ we are not Christians. It is His action; it is God’s action in and through Him. Man is dead in trespasses and sins, he is an enemy and alien in his mind by wicked works, he is a God–hater, he does nothing and can do nothing good. How is reconciliation possible? We found the answer in the definition of the word: it is an action from above, it is a move on God’s part, the God against whom we have rebelled and on whom we have turned our backs. It is He who initiates the great movement. He began it in the Old, He continues it in the New; it is perfect in Christ. It is His action. It is all in Jesus Christ. It is all the grace of God in Christ. ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.’ That is the message.
But in particular you notice the apostle says it is by the cross. ‘And that He might reconcile both unto God in one body—by the cross.’ I would again call your attention to the way in which the apostle keeps on repeating these things. ‘But now in Christ Jesus’, he has said in verse thirteen, ‘ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ’. He does not stop here at saying ‘that He might reconcile both unto God in one body’; he adds— ‘by the cross’. He brings it in because he must bring it in. There is no reconciliation apart from the cross. And what does the cross mean? The parallel passage in Colossians 1:20, puts it perfectly: ‘Having made peace by the blood of his cross’. It is the death, the life laid down, it is the blood–shedding, the life poured out. That is how God makes peace, that is how Christ makes peace, that is how reconciliation comes about.
There is no possibility of reconciliation apart from the death of the Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross on calvary’s hill. Why? Well that is the last point. ‘… having slain the enmity thereby’—therein, by that. Here we come to the question people are so fond of asking. Why was the death of Christ upon the cross essential, and how does it reconcile us? You will find that strange answers are given to that question which seem to me to be quite incapable of being reconciled with the apostle’s statement. Some say that what happens is that ‘God forgives the cross’; that cruel men put our Lord to death but that God forgives them even for doing that. They say that we were all there—‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord?’ Yes, they say, you were, you were in one of the groups— the soldier, the Pharisee, or one of them, and you crucified Him; ah, but this is the message. God forgives even that. But that is not making peace by the cross. That is making peace in spite of the cross, which is the exact opposite. But what the apostle teaches everywhere is that God, Christ, makes peace by the cross, through, by means of, the cross. Yet another explanation given is that God always produces good even out of evil. Joseph, in his day, saw it. Joseph said to his brothers, ‘… ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good …’; you sold me in a wrong way, you meant something wrong: ah yes, but God turned the evil into good, and He always does. The supreme illustration of that, they say, is that God even turned the evil of the cross into good. Men performed an evil action, but God turned it into something marvellous. Is that saving us and reconciling us by the cross? No! I say again that it is just a way of saying that He saves us in spite of it. That is not saving by the blood of the cross. That is not making peace by, through, or by means of, the blood of the cross. Still others say that it means that as I look at Christ there dying innocently on the cross my heart will be broken as I realise the sinfulness and the enormity of it all. But that will not do either, because that again is not a making of peace by the blood of the cross. According to Paul it has happened, it has been done; it is not something that only happens when I realise what has happened on the cross; it was done once and for ever, the action was complete on Calvary— God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. He has done it once and for ever. It is something much more profound than any of these explanations.
The true teaching is that before reconciliation is possible something has to happen on God’s side as well as on our side. Sin has brought enmity between man and God. God hates sin. God’s wrath is manifested against sin. And before there can be reconciliation, before God can again bless men, this enmity has got to be removed. And the teaching is that it has been removed by the blood of the cross. Why does he mention the blood, why the cross, why the death? Because that is the explanation of all the Old Testament teaching about sacrifices. That was God’s own method, it was God who ordained it all, as a picture of that which was going to be done in Christ. Is not this how they did it? They took the animal, then they put their hands on the head of the animal. What did that mean? They were taking their sins and the sins of the people and symbolically transferring them to the animal. Then the animal was killed, its blood was shed; and the blood was presented as an offering; the animal was offered as a sacrifice. That is the teaching. And that is precisely the New Testament teaching about the death of Christ on the cross. ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.’ Why not? Because He imputed their trespasses unto Him! God took your sins and mine and He put them on the head of Christ, and then as the Lamb of God He slew Him. Not imputing their trespasses unto them! Because ‘he hath made him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). By the blood of His cross! By the cross He did it! The enmity—man’s enmity against God was put on to Christ and there was taken away. He slew it there. That is the teaching. That is the meaning of the cry of dereliction, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me.’ It is because Christ’s blood, the blood of the Lamb of God, was shed on Calvary’s hill that the way of reconciliation is open. The enmity has been removed, and God can look on man with benignity and is ready to bless him and to receive him and to restore him. The Jews needed that, the Gentiles needed it, and together in Christ they have received it. In Christ, by His blood, they can enter together into the ‘holiest of all.’ What a wonderful gospel, what an amazing statement! What happened on Calvary? Christ was slain. Yes, but by being slain, He slew the enmity. He was slain— He slew the enmity! He made an open show of principalities and powers, He nailed the law to the cross, and man is reconciled to God. And all are reconciled in the same way, in Christ. Whether you are Jew or Gentile, Barbarian or Scythian, bond or free, male or female, good or bad, high or low, you have got to come this way. Christ died for the Church. Or, as the apostle Paul puts it in his farewell address to the elders of the church at Ephesus: ‘… the church of God which he hath purchased with his own blood’ (Acts 20:28). One body! The only way to reconcile God and man, and man and God, is by the cross, by Christ’s death, which slays the enmity, which takes away all sins. ‘The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.’