As human beings under condemnation, we really do not want to think about reality, but God's Word forces us to. We have all been tainted by sin and exhibit hostility toward God. True peace was broken when Adam sinned, and his fall had both spiritual and physical consequences. Full reconciliation is necessary. As we continue our study in Colossians 1:20-21, we look at the correlation to what Paul is teaching in Ephesians 2:11-17. With reconciliation, we see how God transformed hostility to peace, making it possible to have fellowship with a Righteous God by the legal, forensic action accomplished once and for all by Jesus Christ on the cross. What was the distinction between how salvation was taught in the Old Testament compared to the New Testament? Where do atonement and reconciliation fit in?

And how does reconciliation relate to illegal immigrants? The difference between how the Jews had the Messianic hope, but the Gentiles were aliens to the commonwealth of Israel had to be addressed. This lesson reveals how Christ removed the barrier of hostility between Jews and Gentiles that had existed since the Mosaic Law.

Reconciliation: Removing the Barrier. Colossians 1:20-21; Ephesians 2:11-17


Only when we think about reality as God defined it can we understand that there are certain flaws and failures within the reality of human creation. We understand that we live in a fallen world, a world that is under judgment. We understand that as human beings we are also fallen, and as human beings we are under condemnation. We don't live in a world that is what it should be or what God originally intended it to be, and we don't live with people who are what God originally intended them to be; we have all been tainted by sin. As a result of sin and living in a fallen world the world, the Scripture says, is in a position of hostility or enmity with God. And it is because of the fact that the world because of Adam's sin has put itself in a disposition of hostility to God that everything that we experience has been corrupted by sin. Nothing is what we want it to be, what we think it should be, and we are faced with all manner of problems.

We have crises in terms of wars and terrorism. There is just a lack of harmony. A lot of people who are not Christians who try to find harmony and peace in a lot of different ways and the word "peace" becomes a watch word for generations throughout the centuries. There is a cry for peace and in the prophets of the Old Testament there is a recognition that people cry for peace—peace, peace and there is no peace. The basic issue of peace comes from the Hebrew word shalom which has to do with wholeness or health or peace. Peace, both experientially on a horizontal basis in terms of peace in society, in culture, in the world, but also peace with God was broken when Adam sinned; because harmony with God was broken, and it had an effect on our peace with other human beings. To solve all human problems there must be a resolution of this alienation, this hostility, this enmity that exists in the relationship of human beings to God. And only God can effect that peace, that reconciliation. 

Colossians 1:20 NASB "and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, {I say,} whether things on earth or things in heaven." The phrase "the blood of His cross" has to do with simply an expression of the death of Christ on the cross that transpired between 12 noon and 3pm when darkness was on Golgotha and on the earth when God the Father imputed the sins of the world to Jesus Christ.

What we see in the Scriptures is that the Scripture defines the basic problems in human history as sin. The world says the basic problem is any number of things—lack of leadership, lack of integrity, lack of education, lack of equality, etc. but the basic assumption of the world is that man is basically good. The Bible says that he is not. That is one of the foundational truths of the Scripture that separates biblical Christianity from all other forms of religion. It is a recognition that man is basically flawed and corrupt because of sin. That doesn't mean that everybody is as bad as they could be, that people don't do relatively good things, but it means that as a starting point we have to understand that man is a failed, flawed creature and that the only solution to correct that problem comes from God. That is what begins at the cross, and it is that transaction that occurs at the cross that begins to solve the problem. It is stated here as dealing with reconciliation.

The word that is used for reconciliation is a distinct word. The primary word used for reconciliation is katalasso [katalassw] but when the prepositional prefix is added, apo [a)po], it has the intensification to mean reconcile completely. Only God can reconcile completely, but we have to understand what that means. In Ephesians 2:11-17 Paul uses the same word again, "and might reconcile them both [Gentiles and Jews] in one body to God through the cross." So again, it is what happens at the cross that changes everything in creation. When Adam sinned it reverberated through all of the universe. It has not only spiritual consequences, it had physical consequences. In Romans 8:20ff Paul talks about the fact that the creations groans under the curse. It affected physical things so that physical laws, laws of biology, were changed. There was chaos that came into physical creation as well as our spiritual relationship with God. Just as Adam's sin affects everything, so what Jesus Christ did on the cross also has not only a spiritual affect but a physical affect. That "all things" in Colossians 1:20 relates not only to the spiritual but also the physical. And He did this by making peace through the blood of His cross.

Non-Christians sometimes ridicule this whole idea of substitutionary atonement, the idea that there needed to be a sacrifice; and yet, at the very core of our whole understanding of law is an understanding that legal penalties must be paid. What is interesting as we work through these verses on reconciliation is that there is an analogy or correlation between what these verses talk about in terms of making peace with God and destroying the wall of separation between God and concepts that at the very core of our thinking about civilization and society. The idea here of a sacrifice is the idea that legal penalty has to be paid. When we reject that idea it should have consequences on how we view law. And in deed, if we look at what has happened in western civilization the idea of an objective legal standard that all human beings are accountable to—if not now then in the future at some future judgment—has been removed from the thought of western civilization and it has led to moral relativism. And on the basis of the rise of evolutionary thought based on Darwin in the mid-nineteenth century and the implications of that on law which occurred with the rise of the legal theory in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries which really brought about a direct attack on the way in which Constitution and Constitutional law was interpreted, it has led what? To a society that has less poverty, less criminality, less international conflict? No, none of that! The more we have become immersed in the secular humanism and the moral relativism that grew out of the heresies in the mid-nineteenth century—Darwinism, Freudianism, all of the views on moral relativism—the more we have experienced the disruption and the chaos of modern society. There is no real hope there. The only hope is in Christ, He is the one who has made peace. 

Defining reconciliation, first and foremost it is the work of God for man. There are two aspects to reconciliation but the primary one, the significant one that we want to focus on, is that which God does. It is an absolute in terms of its reference to every human being. It is the work of God for man in which God undertakes to transform man's position of hostility to peace in order to make possible and actual eternal fellowship with a righteous and just God. A righteous God cannot have fellowship with an unrighteous creature. That position unrighteousness of the creature must be changed so that the righteous God can have fellowship with the creature.

This is accomplished two ways. Objectively it is accomplished at the cross—the word "forensically" is used here because the cross is a legal action whereby a legal penalty assigned from the Supreme Court of heaven, i.e. death, is borne by Jesus Christ on the cross. He bears that penalty of spiritual death and it is a legal or forensic action that is accomplished once and for all by Jesus Christ on the cross. He has reconciled all things. Does that mean that everything is now saved? No, it means that legal problem of hostility has been removed but it hasn't been personally applied yet, it can only come individually through faith in Christ. So reconciliation was accomplished forensically in a legal sense once and for all by Jesus Christ on the cross and it applies, then, subjectively (or to the individual) when each person trusts in Jesus Christ as savior. We see this in Ephesians chapter two. 

At the beginning of this we understand that man is in a position that keeps him from having a relationship with God. Ephesians 2:1 NASB "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins." God is the subject of the long sentence from verse 1 down through verse 7—one sentence in the Greek. The subject of the sentence is God and there are three compound verbs found in vv. 5, 6—God "made us alive together with Christ," raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places." That is what Paul is talking about: what God did for us. First of all He solved the problem of spiritual death in that He made us alive together with Christ. We moved from the position of spiritual death to spiritual life. He raised us up together—elevation in terms of our relationship with Christ, placing us in Christ. And He makes us (present tense concept) sit together in the heavenly places—our position in Christ.

But before he can state what God has done for us he wants us to really understand that there is a problem: we are spiritually dead. Verse 1 NKJV "And you He made alive." The words "He made alive" aren't there in the original. The emphasis is: "Though you were dead in trespasses and sins." That is how we are born—spiritually dead. As a result of that we had a lifestyle: "in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world"—the thinking of this world, the values, the priorities, the ethics. And this is "according to the prince of the power of the air [Satan], of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. [3] Among them we [Gentiles and Jews, all the human race] too all formerly 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." We are all by nature under God's judgment because we are all under condemnation because of sin. [4] "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)." The basis for this transformation is given in vv. 8, 9 NASB "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, {it is} the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast."

"…and that not of yourselves…" Some people try to make that mean faith isn't of yourselves, if is a gift; but that is not grammatically accurate because the word "faith" there is a feminine and "that" is a neuter, and a neuter relative pronoun does not refer to a feminine noun. "Grace" is not neuter, it is also feminine. In Greek when you have a compound subject it is usually referred to with a neuter pronoun. Salvation is not something we produce, it is what God performs. We believe; God performs the entire work of salvation; we access it through faith. It is a gift.

But it has a purpose. Ephesians 2:10 NASB "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." The "we" there refers to not only Jews but also Gentiles, and that is really what comes out in the next section. Verses 1-10 establish the foundation of our salvation by grace through faith, and from that Paul is going to show some greater dimensions of that salvation, especially in terms of the relationship between Jew and Gentile—not unsaved Jews and Gentiles but Jews and Gentiles in Christ. We have to understand that in vv. 11-19 the primary focus is on the fact that there has existed since the Mosaic Law a hostility between Jews and Gentiles. God, from the time He called out Abraham, set apart the Jewish people and gave them a position of privilege in light of the covenant that gave in light of the Scriptural revelation that He gave, in light of the promises that God gave to the Jewish people, and this distinguishes them by their privilege from the rest of humanity. It means that the Jewish people were given certain privileges based on knowledge and information. They knew more about God; they knew about God's plan; they knew that there was a promise of a Messiah. That information was not given to the Gentiles. They are in a position of privilege in that God has communicated to them things He did not communicate to the entire human race. What He communicated to the Jewish people was for the entire human race but He does not have a covenant relationship with anyone but the Jewish people. That does not make them justified automatically, it doesn't make them saved automatically; it just means that they had more information than everybody else and that put them in a place of privilege in terms of what they knew. But it doesn't make them any more saved or justified than anyone else.

The primary focus here that Paul is bringing out is now that we are in Christ there is no longer this lack of peace or division or barrier between the Jewish believers and Gentile believers. We need to understand from this context o9f what that barrier consists when it speaks of the relationship between Jews and Christ and Gentiles and Christ. But then he takes it to another level of application which is really secondary to what he is saying in this passage, but it is the foundation of the removal of the barrier between Jew and Gentile and that is ultimately the removal of the barrier between man and God—which is the foundation for understanding reconciliation. 

Ephesians 2:11 NASB "Therefore remember that formerly you…" There is a shift in pronoun from "we" in verse 10 to "you" here. "… [formerly] the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called "Uncircumcision" by the so-called 'Circumcision,' {which is} performed in the flesh by human hands— " What does he mean by the phrase "in the flesh"? He uses the same term when describing the Jews as those who are called "circumcision in the flesh". What he is talking about is just in terms of who they are in terms of their physical ethnic background. He says first of all to remember something, so he is going to focus on the way things were prior to their trusting in Christ as savior—once Gentiles in the flesh. We learn from studying Scripture that once we are saved these ethnic distinctions are no longer relevant in the church age in the body of Christ. It doesn't mean that there aren't actual ethnic distinctions, that somebody is not Jewish or somebody is not a Gentile, it means that as opposed to the Old Testament under the Mosaic Law those ethnic distinctions are no longer significant in terms of our personal spiritual life. Remember that in the Old Testament only someone who was Jewish could enter into the inner courtyard of the temple to worship. Only male Jews could enter. Now that Christ has died for our sins those distinctions are no longer relevant in terms of our personal individual spiritual life. There are distinctions in some ways to the role of men and the role of women but not in terms of their personal relationship to God; they have equal access to God. Paul also says that there is neither slave nor free. That doesn't mean that the slaves were freed because they trusted in Christ but that whether they were slaves or free was not determinative in terms of their relationship to God anymore. In the Old Testament slaves could not go into the temple, they were kept out; but now every believer in Christ has equal access to God.

"Uncircumcision" here in the Greek does not have an article with it. The lack of anarticle in the Greek doesn't make it indefinite like it does in English but often it indicates something's quality. In this case the Jews referred to Gentiles as uncircumcised. Example: David's reference to Goliath as "this uncircumcised Philistine." David cast the battle in terms of spiritual dimensions and said the issue here had to do with Israel's privilege and position in terms of the Abrahamic covenant, the Abrahamic covenant gave Israel this land and this uncircumcised Philistine has not relationship to God's promise of the land; so what is the problem, why aren't we defeating him? But by this time the Jewish people out of arrogance, especially under Pharisaism, were just haughtily and arrogantly referring to Gentiles as uncircumcised. No article. The quality here wasn't a positive quality but a negative quality; it is an insult, a term of derision. "by the so-called circumcision" does have an article because there is a point of using it to identify the arrogance that came out of the Jewish thought here, that they were special in their relationship to God; they were the circumcision. But then Paul says [circumcision] "made by hands." The Greek word there, cheiropoietos [xeiropoihtoj] means something that is made by human effort and it is always used to depict human works as opposed to God's work. So he is making the point here, that their own work makes them think they have some privilege with God; and they do not.

Ephesians 2:12 NASB "{remember} that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world." He is going to identify five things here that were distinct between Gentiles and Jews. At that time they were, first of all without, Christ. That meant that they did not have information about the Messiah. It is referring back to the Old Testament period before Jesus came so he is not talking about Jesus in terms of salvation, it is more of the concept of the Messiah and that Gentiles had no promise, no knowledge of the Messiah. Israel had this messianic hope.

Secondly, at that former time they not only had no concept of a messianic hope but they were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel. The word "alien" is a word that is not politically correct today. The language Paul uses is a language that affirms the right of a nation to establish the requirements for citizenship and what non-citizens are not allowed to do. The word "aliens" here is a perfect participle—completed past action that has ongoing results—from the Greek word appellotrioo [a)pphllotriow] which means simply to be excluded or alienated from something. It means somebody who is a stranger, someone who is not a part of the body politic of a nation.

The word that is translated "commonwealth" should be referred to as citizenship in Israel. It is the Greek word politeias [politeiaj] which in the Greek language referred to the residents of the city that participated in all the rights and privileges of a citizen of that city. When we go back to the Old Testament we discover that there were legal mandates in the Mosaic Law for how to treat strangers or aliens—Gentiles who came into Israel. They had limited privileges. The idea of someone who was excluded or alienated was that the privileges that a non-citizen had in a country was defined by a law and by treaty. The who assumption that we should not exercise privilege and rights as to who should live and operate in our country and who should not is taking a position by implication that contradicts what the Scripture says about reconciliation and the whole understanding of citizenship. Paul uses that as a legitimate basis for understanding reconciliation.

Then he says they were "strangers to the covenants of promise." The covenants of promise in the Old Testament basically related to the unconditional covenants. The Mosaic Law was never considered a covenant and a promise. The Abrahamic covenant was a promise because it promised Israel three things. The descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were promised a land, a seed, and that through that seed all the nations would be blessed. Gentiles were not a part of the covenant process. A covenant was a legal contract made between God and Israel and the Gentiles are secondary beneficiaries but not covenant members in the sense that Israel is.

Last, they "have no hope and [are] without God in the world." So the Gentiles had no hope because they were not a covenant partner, and they were without God—atheos [a)qeoj], atheists.  But there is a contrast.  Ephesians 2:13 NASB "But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ." He is talking about now "in Christ." He is not talking about Gentiles outside of Christ or Jews outside of Christ, he is talking about what we have in Christ. The Gentiles were far off but have been brought near to God (reconciliation applied) by the blood of Christ. 

Ephesians 2:14 NASB "For He Himself is our peace, who made both {groups into} one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall." Christ is our peace. It is His work on the cross that provides peace. The phrase "made both one" is talking about the relationship between Jew and Gentile because there was a barrier between them as well. What was that barrier?

Ephesians 2:15 NASB "by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, {which is} the Law of commandments…" That is what separated Jew and Gentile. The Jews had the Mosaic Law and at the root of the Law was that they had to be circumcised. Then there were the other 600-plus commandments in the Mosaic Law, and then  following all of that separated and distinguished Jews and Gentiles. So in the flesh there is a hostility or enmity or division between Gentile and Jew. So that barrier of the Law, because the Law has been removed, nullified after the cross, means that in Christ there is not a barrier between Jew and Gentile. It was the Law that created that barrier. "… {contained} in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, {thus} establishing peace." His primary point is making reconciliation and peace in terms of Jew and Gentile together and one in Christ. Then he moves to another topic.

Ephesians 2:16 NASB "and [in addition to removing that barrier] might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity." Now he goes to the foundational doctrine that supports his primary purpose—support the fact that Jew and Gentile are now one in Christ—but that is built on the doctrine of reconciliation. So there is a grace solution that removes the barrier between God and man. It is the removal of that barrier that is what we refer to as reconciliation objectively. God removed the barrier at the cross.

It is interesting that in the Old Testament we have this word "atonement"—really a made-up English word: at-one-ment. It is made up in order to try to understand the word kaphar that is used in the Hebrew in the Old Testament. The word "atonement" is never found in the New Testament, except once. On the other side the word "reconciliation" is never used in the Old Testament. So atonement has to do with something that is happening in the Old Testament period that anticipates what Christ is going to do on the cross. But once it is accomplished on the cross there is an objective reality of the removal of enmity between God and man, and that is referred to as reconciliation. It is understanding both of these terms and how they represent the totality of what is accomplished on the cross that helps us to understand the peace that we have with God, and that as Christians we have a real peace that goes beyond any comprehension. It is ours as a reality in day-to-day life no matter what the circumstances may be.