By Dr Dominic Kuek
“No alien is to enter…the temple and enclosure. Whoever is caught will be himself responsible for his ensuing death.” These words were hung outside the temple during Jesus’ day, a warning to pagan Gentiles that they would be stoned if they entered the inner courtyard of the temple. It was to protect the holiness of the temple, because God’s dwelling place would be defiled and unclean if they entered. Only God’s chosen people were allowed to come near into his holy presence.
As Christians today, we often take it for granted that God’s promises are for us, and so we don’t feel very amazed that we are included in God’s plan. But Eph. 2:11-22 humbles us by reminding us that we were once outsiders to God’s community, miles away from God. Paul described the Ephesians (and by extension, us) as “foreigners to the covenants of the promise”, “far away” and “without God in the world” (Eph. 2:11-12). We had no right to be part of God’s people, no right to enter into his presence, no right to share in his promises of hope and salvation.
But now, in Christ Jesus, all of this has been overturned! Through Jesus’ death we, though Gentiles, have been made fellow citizens with Israel, with heaven as our home. We, though strangers, have been welcomed into his family, with God as our Father. We, who once could not step into the temple, are now being built into God’s holy dwelling place, in which he lives by his Spirit. Because of the cross, we have a new status, a new community, and a new relationship with God. What amazing grace that God has shown us!
During this tumultuous period, I think that we are at particular risk of forgetting these truths, and so let me share a few ways that the passage has encouraged and challenged me. Firstly, Ephesians has been a reminder to me that we can rejoice, even in this time of uncertainty and anxiety, because of the tremendous grace that has been shown to us through Jesus. Secondly, although it can be easy to feel distant from God at the present moment, it has been a huge encouragement to remember that we have already been brought into an intimate relationship with him, and so there’s no reason for me to feel this way. Lastly, in this time of online worship, there is a real danger of being isolated worshippers, forgetting that we are part of one holy temple in the Lord. We must not lose sight of the responsibility we have towards each other, because it is only when each part is working properly that God’s temple is built to maturity.