All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
While most would agree that Christ is central in both Old and New Testaments, we would not be wrong in saying that Israel is central in both Old and New Testaments. Better understood, Christ is central in both testaments within the context of Israel. This is important to understand because we cannot understand Israel apart from Christ. Additionally, we cannot have a proper understanding of the doctrine of election apart from a proper understanding of Israel. An accurate theology begins and ends with Christ and the Israel of Christ. That, of course, means that an accurate theology begins and ends with the New Testament. That seems obvious, and I think the initial response of most Christians would be one of agreement. However, if pressed, many would have to ultimately disagree when it comes to the subject of Israel. Their disagreement is based on the fact that they interpret and understand Israel through the lens of the Old Testament (OT), rather than through the New Testament (NT). This is a tragic practice among many Bible teachers. Tragic, because the practice of interpreting the NT according to OT understanding leads to a faulty theology. It’s a backwards hermeneutic. It’s imperative that we view Israel through the eyes of the NT writers, particularly through the eyes of Paul, since he had the most to say about it. Through the identity of true Israel, Paul reveals election to be corporate — unmistakably so. He does so by revealing the relationship between OT Israel and NT Israel. This is key.
Unity of Fulfillment Theology and Corporate Election:
Fulfillment Theology (FT) and Corporate Election (CE) are foundationally intertwined. They flow from the same seed of truth. CE is, of course, an Arminian position on the doctrine of election. As we’ll see, there’s perfect unity between the two positions. This unity verifies the truthfulness of each position, which provides one of the strongest arguments against Calvinism. I’m not really so naive as to really believe that this study will spell the end of Calvinism, but I believe that when properly understood, it could be the end of Calvinism for many.
Defining Fulfillment Theology:
FT views Christ and the Church as being the fulfillment and continuation of Israel. Christ fulfills all the promises and prophecies relating to Israel, and is, thus, True Israel. All who place their faith in Him enter into that fulfillment, which together, make up the Church. What began as a physical, ethnic nation, continues in Christ as a spiritual nation. Thus national Israel is rebirthed in Christ as a spiritual nation, which is the Church.
Note: Fulfillment theology is central to both Covenant Theology and New Covenant Theology. While they differ slightly in the way they view Israel and the Church, they’re in agreement that national Israel is fulfilled in Christ and His Church. As a proponent of NCT myself, the language I use to describe FT in this study is more in line with the way NCT describes it.
The Concept of Election:
Within Arminianism, there are two different viewpoints on the doctrine of election. The traditional view is the idea that God elects individuals according to His foreknowledge. In other words, God elects those whom He foreknows will come to faith in Christ (1 Pet 1:2).
The other is the corporate view. Corporate Election is the viewpoint that God chose, not individuals for salvation, but the corporate people of God – the Church, of whom Christ is the Corporate Head. The Father referred to His Son as “My Chosen” (Lu 9:35). He is the One whom God chose to pay the price for the sins of mankind. He is the One through whom God calls out of the world a people for Himself. Christ is the Elect One. He is the Head of the body, the Elect Church (Col 1:18), who came through the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Elect Church, is in the Elect Christ (Eph 1:4). Individually, we become a part of the Elect Church upon our faith in the Elect Christ.
Salvation and election begin and end with Christ. Just as He is our salvation, so He is our election. Just as our salvation is in Christ, so is our election in Christ. Just as there is no salvation apart from being in Christ, so is there no election apart from being in Christ.
Calvinists place salvation and election into two separate categories. They will readily acknowledge that we must be in Christ to have salvation, but they do not view election as being in Christ. They view election as being outside of Christ, as something that draws them to Christ.
God’s Word reveals that salvation and election are both in Christ. We must be in Christ to have either. That’s the corporate view of election. Our election is in Him. Through faith we enter into His election. We are elect only when we are in Him. We are not elect before we are in Him. We are elect because of the fact that we are in the Elect Christ, in our union with Him.
The fundamental difference between the Calvinist view of election and the Arminian corporate view, is in regard to the concept of election. Calvinism views the doctrine of election as the means by which an individual sinner comes to faith in Christ. However, according to the corporate view, election is not a means of salvation, but the result of it, which is our position in Christ. However, to be fair, the traditional Arminian view of election is also individual, but at least it’s in harmony with unlimited atonement and free will (freed by the Spirit).
Election is not about which individuals God has chosen to believe, but about the people group He has chosen to save out of this world unto Himself, and about the plan He has chosen to bring that about. That plan is God’s Son, Jesus. He’s God’s elect plan. “The Elect” is merely a term or a title used to identify the corporate people of God whom He has set apart for Himself. Just as God chose and set apart the people of Israel from all other peoples of the world, so does He choose and set apart the corporate body of believers from all other peoples of the world. Together we are the elect of God, for we are a distinct people who have identified themselves with Christ, God’s Elect Son.
Individually, God has chosen to save anyone who comes to Him via faith in His Son. At that point they become members of the elect people of God. He’s also chosen not to save anyone who tries to come to Him via any other way. They are the non-elect people of the world. Thus there are only two groups of people in the world, the elect and the non-elect.
Therefore, election is not about the individual choosing of people for salvation. It’s not about which individuals have been selected for Heaven and which haven’t. It’s the identification of the corporate people of God who have been called out of this world for God’s glory. Obviously, individual salvation is in view, but that’s merely the avenue that brings one into election, or elect status. Again, election is not the means by which a person comes to salvation in Christ, but is the result of coming to salvation in Christ. It’s an endearing term that refers to God’s people.
Corporate Election and Israel in Ephesians
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, to the saints that are at Ephesus, and the faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ:
4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love: 5 having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,
“foreordained us” (“predestined us”) Explained in Verse 11.
This is one of Calvinists champion passages regarding election (and predestination), which they insist speaks of individual, unconditional election. This is, indeed, one of the most important passages dealing with election, but what Calvinists believe supports their position, is strongly refuted by the context of this book. I intend to show that Paul is not speaking of individual election in these verses, but of corporate election. He introduces election in this verse, then proceeds to reveal the nature of it from this point forward. Please note that the word “chose” or “chosen” is very familiar to Paul, as it’s an OT word that referred to Israel as God’s chosen people. It’s inconceivable that he would use this word without an OT context of understanding. All that would do is cause confusion, which is what Calvinists do with the doctrine of election. The nature of election does not change from OT to NT. On the contrary, it continues in Christ and the Church.
“before the foundation of the world”
Paul reveals that the election of God’s people occurred before man was even created. Thus CE began with Adam and Eve and continues to this day. This is important to note, because one of the arguments Calvinists make against CE is that it began with the choosing of an individual, which was Abraham (as the corporate head)…..and they conclude that this destroys the whole foundation of CE. However, that argument falls flat on it’s face when one realizes that Abraham, too, was a member of the corporate body of believers, of whom Christ is the true Elect Head. It’s just that election wasn’t identified as corporate until the choosing of Abraham and of his natural offspring, Israel (through Isaac and Jacob). That’s when the nature of election began to be revealed. The NT Scriptures completes the revelation of it.
6 to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved: 7 in whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, 9 making known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in him 10 unto a dispensation of the fulness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth; in him, I say,
11 in whom also we were made a heritage, having been foreordained according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his will;
“Heritage” (“inheritance” or “God’s own possession”) See verse 14.
NASB – 11 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will,
NET – 11 In Christ we too have been claimed as God’s own possession, since we were predestined according to the one purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will.
NET Notes on: “God’s own possession”:
tn Grk “we were appointed by lot.” The notion of the verb κληρόω(klhrow) in the OT was to “appoint a portion by lot” (the more frequent cognate verb κληρονομέω [klhronomew] meant “obtain a portion by lot”). In the passive, as here, the idea is that “we were appointed [as a portion] by lot” (BDAG 548 s.v. κληρόω 1). The words “God’s own” have been supplied in the translation to clarify this sense of the verb. An alternative interpretation is that believers receive a portion as an inheritance: “In Christ we too have been appointed a portion of the inheritance.” See H. W. Hoehner, Ephesians, 226-27, for discussion on this interpretive issue.
sn God’s own possession. Although God is not mentioned explicitly in the Greek text, it is clear from the context that he has chosen believers for himself. Just as with the nation Israel, the church is God’s chosen portion or possession (cf. Deut 32:8-9).
“Foreordained” (“predestined”) (also verse 5)
This refers to the predetermined plan of God in regard to His corporate people. God planned beforehand that His people be “adopted as His sons” (vs. 4) as “God’s own possession,” through Christ. It was the called out, corporate people of God in Christ who were predestined to be. God planned beforehand that He would call a people out of this world unto Himself, which He would do through His Elect Son (Luke 9:35). This began with the choosing of the nation of Israel, which continues as a spiritual nation in Christ (1 Pe 2:5,9). An individualistic predestination (as in: who is predestined to believe) is not in view here. That idea has to be forced into the text to suit one’s theology. It’s simply not in harmony with what Paul is revealing in this book — as we shall see.
12 to the end that we should be unto the praise of his glory, we who had before hoped in Christ: 13 in whom ye also, having heard the word of the truth, the gospel of your salvation,— in whom, having also believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,
14 which is an earnest of our inheritance, unto the redemption of God’s own possession, unto the praise of his glory.
NET – who is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory.
“God’s own possession”
This phrase in the Greek is a little difficult according to Greek scholars. I read a large number of commentaries, and most are in agreement that this is the correct rendering. The major Bible translations that reflect this are the ASV, NASB, NET, NIV, NRSV, and the NLT. The HCSB, LEB, KJV and NKJV translate this as: “redemption of the possession” or “redemption of the purchased possession,” which still allows for or points to “God’s possession.”
The lone major translation that is not in agreement with the other translations is the ESV, which renders this phrase as: “until we acquire possession of it.” However, even the NRSV, which is based on the RSV, as is the ESV, is not in agreement with the ESV, and translates it as “God’s own people.”
That Paul had “God’s own possession” in mind, and not “until we acquire possession of it,” is further supported by verse 11 (see vs. 11 NET Notes) and by Paul’s discussion in the following passage of Titus:
11 For the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us, to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world; 13 looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; 14 who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a people for his own possession, zealous of good works.
Paul’s referring to “God’s own possession” is significant because, as I noted in verse 4, just as the term “chosen” is a carry-over from the OT that referred to the people of Israel, so is this a common phrase of the OT that also refers to the people of Israel. But here Paul is applying it to the Church — likewise Peter:
1 Peter 2:9-10
9 But ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that ye may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: 10 who in time past were no people, but now are the people of God: who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
“Chose” of verse 4, plus “God’s own possession” of verses 11 and 14, equals:
“For thou art a holy people unto Jehovah thy God: Jehovah thy God hath chosen thee to be a people for his own possession, above all peoples that are upon the face of the earth.” (De 7:6)
A mere coincidence? There are no coincidences among the elements of truth. There are no coincidences in God’s Word. Here are some other OT passages that Paul likely had in mind as he was penning these words of Ephesians:
3 And Moses went up unto God, and Jehovah called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: 4 Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. 5 Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be mine own possession from among all peoples: for all the earth is mine: 6 and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.
For thou art a holy people unto Jehovah thy God, and Jehovah hath chosen thee to be a people for his own possession, above all peoples that are upon the face of the earth.
For Jehovah hath chosen Jacob unto himself, and Israel for his own possession.
16 Then they that feared Jehovah spake one with another; and Jehovah hearkened, and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before him, for them that feared Jehovah, and that thought upon his name. 17 And they shall be mine, saith Jehovah of hosts, even mine own possession, in the day that I make; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him. 18 Then shall ye return and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him 4:1 that serveth God and him that serveth him not.
In these OT passages, it’s important to note that it was all the people of Israel that was referred to as “a people for his own possession,” and not just believing Jews. It’s common understanding that it’s the whole nation of Israel that was set apart by God to be His chosen people. This method of corporate choosing continues in the NT in Christ and His Church, which is true Israel in Him. What began as a physical nation, continues as a spiritual nation, as Peter reveals in the above passage of 1 Peter. The pattern of corporate choosing was established in the OT and continues in the NT. That’s how Peter and Paul understood it; that’s what they convey to us in their writings. I think only a positional bias would prevent one from accepting this. In fact, for the Jew, because of their corporate understanding of election, the idea of an individualistic election would have been completely foreign to them.
“Inheritance” (also Eph 1:18), was a major theme of the OT. Paul, as an OT scholar and revealer of NT truth, would naturally understand the role of Israel in the plan of God in the context of the Christ of the New Covenant. With that in mind, it’s unreasonable to think that Paul would talk about the “inheritance” of “God’s own possession” without an OT reference.
No doubt Paul is referring to the eternal inheritance that we have in Christ (He 9:15; He 11:8-10; Eph 5:5; Gal 5:21; 1 Cor 6:10) — but it must be understood in the context of Israel. As the people of God, they were promised an inheritance regarding the land of canaan, the promised land. Over and over the OT refers to this as Israel’s inheritance. However, this land inheritance is secondary to the primary inheritance that is described in the following passage from Genesis:
3 And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, 4 As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for the father of a multitude of nations have I made thee. 6 And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee, throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee. 8 And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land of thy sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God….19 And God said, Nay, but Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his seed after him.
(also Ge 21:12; 22:18; Ex 32:13)
The primary inheritance revealed in this passage, is not the physical blessing (land – also Ge 13:14-16), but the spiritual blessing of belonging to God: “to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee.” This, of course, comes through the line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is the line that Jesus came through, and it’s in Him that we have the “eternal inheritance” (He 9:15). Thus what’s revealed between our text in Ephesians and the OT accounts, is that the inheritance of Israel of the OT is the same inheritance of the NT, which Paul applies to the Church.
Christ fulfilled all things Israel. All the covenant promises given to Israel are fulfilled in Him. Thus all believers, both Jew and Gentile, inherit the promises relating to salvation, Heaven, the Kingdom. etc. As it relates to the land promises, I believe that will be fulfilled in the New Jerusalem of the New Earth (Rev 21:1-2) — for I believe the land of Canaan was a type of, and a foreshadow of, the Eternal Kingdom…..because the only way for that land to be eternal (Ge 17:8)) is for it to be fulfilled in the New Jerusalem. That should seem obvious, since the land of Israel today, along with rest of this present world, will be destroyed.
There are some Bible teachers who don’t believe that the “everlasting” in Ge 17:8, actually means everlasting, but is limited to this present world. But we need to allow Scripture to mean what it says. Therefore, it’s reasonable that the everlasting kingdom of the New Earth is what’s ultimately in view in this land promise — which, by the way, is a continuation of Heaven.
Therefore, Paul’s use of this word “inheritance,” is not without an OT context of understanding. He knew that the inheritance of God’s people, Israel, is fulfilled in Christ and His Church, in whom we have our completed inheritance in the everlasting kingdom of the New Heaven and New Earth.
By the way, it’s not a coincidence that the Apostle John uses the name “New Jerusalem,” because Jerusalem represents all of Israel, being the center of worship where the temple was and where God revealed Himself. Thus national Israel was a type of the glorious Israel they were to become in Christ, whose glorious inheritance is not a land of this world or a kingdom of this world, but that which is to come in the everlasting kingdom. This discussion leads us right into what Paul writes in the following verses, because they’re related:
20 …..which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: 22 and he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.
Here Paul touches on the kingship of Christ. There are similarities between Ephesians and Colossians, and here is an example of that. In Col 1:13, Paul specifically refers to the Kingdom of Christ, while here he merely describes it. While the Sovereign Christ is truly Ruler of the universe, as Paul indicates here, his focus throughout this book is on the Church, whom he specifically names in this passage (verses 22-23). What Paul is revealing here (as confirmed by Col 1:13), is that the Church is the Kingdom of Christ and that that kingdom is now. While I think this passage stands well on its own, to remove all doubts one must do a study of all passages relating to this subject, which I’ve done. The following link will take you to the introduction to “Kingdom Now”:
While The Kingdom of Christ is not focus of this study, I mention it here because it’s given to us in this passage, and it is related. I want to encourage you to study this further…..because, truly, the NT reveals the Church to be both Israel in Christ and the Kingdom of Christ, who is the corporate, Chosen people of God. The harmony and oneness of Corporate Election and Fulfillment Theology and the Kingdom of Christ reveals truth, for truth is always consistent in all aspects of truth, in all doctrines of truth.
But again, the primary purpose of this study is to show that election is corporate, as Paul reveals through the corporate choosing of Israel, which he positively applies to the Church — not only in this book, but also in the books of Romans and Galatians (also Hebrews and 1 Peter). In all three of these books he reveals the Church to be the fulfillment of Israel, which continues as a spiritual nation in Christ, who is Himself true Israel. And, as we’ve seen, Peter reveals the same thing.
As if this isn’t enough to show that Paul viewed the Church as the fulfillment and continuation of Israel, and that he viewed the method of corporate election of Israel continuing in Christ and the Church, Paul confirms it in one of the most extensive passages in the NT dealing with this subject in chapter two:
Verses 11-22 is a highly significant passage regarding Israel and the Church. This is one of the most extensive passages about this in the NT. Paul talks so much about it in so many places that I think it’s obvious that he went out of his way to provide us with understanding about the identity of Israel under the New Covenant.
11 Wherefore remember, that once ye, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called Circumcision, in the flesh, made by hands;
Speaking to Gentile Christians, Paul refers to the days under the Old Covenant, before the cross. The Jews looked down upon Gentiles as being second-class citizens. They viewed themselves as being the recipients of the special favor of God (though they didn’t/don’t understand their true calling), and in truth, they were….but they were arrogant about it and very prejudiced. They looked upon Gentiles with disdain.
In fact, during the transition period of the early Church, from Old Covenant to New Covenant, it took awhile even for believing Jews to look upon believing Gentiles differently as they were accustomed to. So Paul had to reorient their way of thinking. They needed to learn that in Christ there is no distinction between the two groups, that together we are a whole new creation:
15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. ESV (Gal 6:15)
“made by hands”
Here Paul mentions the fact that circumcision was something that was done or “made” by human hands, in contrast to the “circumcision of the heart,” which is done by the Holy Spirit:
28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God. (Ro 2:28-29)
In Christ, we are spiritual Jews, true Jews in Christ, for He is true Israel.
So we see that both believing Jews and believing Gentiles had to have their way of thinking reoriented under the New Covenant. They both had to learn that in Christ we are a new creation, a whole new entity. In Christ there are no Jews and there are no Gentiles, but a whole new people group:
28 There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for ye all are one man in Christ Jesus. 29 And if ye are Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise. (Gal 3:28-29)
As believers in Christ, we are spiritual Jews, and together as the Church, we are spiritual Israel. Our identification, as such, is in Christ, in whom Israel has their fulfillment. Paul further confirms our identification as spiritual Jews by referring to us as “Abraham’s seed.” It’s not the physical seed of Abraham who are Jews, but those who share his faith:
7 Know therefore that they that are of faith, the same are sons of Abraham. (Gal 3:7)
Calvinist Sam Storms is very helpful here (from book Kingdom Come):
By “new man “ Paul means the Christian community in its corporate identity, the Church. This new man is not simply an amalgam of the old in which the best of Judaism and the best of the Gentile world are combined. This is a completely new creation in which distinctives of Jewishness and Gentileness are irrelevant. Thus, as Lincoln says, “they have not just been brought into a mutual relationship, but have been made one in a unity where both are no longer what they previously were (cf. vv. 15, 16, 18). In accomplishing this, Christ has transcended one of the fundamental divisions of the first-century world.” Therefore, it’s not as though Gentiles are transformed into Jews or Jews into Gentiles. Rather “the resulting new humanity transcends the two old entities, even though unbelieving Israel and disobedient Gentiles continue to exist.
Since we are are spiritual Jews in Christ and the true “sons of Abraham” through faith in Christ, that means that Jesus is true Israel. Thus if Jesus is true Israel, then all the promises to Israel and for Israel are ultimately and actually made to Him and fulfilled in Him, as Paul says in Galatians, specifically verse 16:
16 Now to Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ…..28 There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for ye all are one man in Christ Jesus. 29 And if ye are Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise. (Gal 3:16,28,29)
12 that ye were at that time separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus ye that once were far off are made nigh in the blood of Christ.
Here Paul is talking about how the Gentiles were at one time separated from the “commonwealth of Israel.” Paul explains this commonwealth in Romans 9:
3 For I could wish that I myself were anathema from Christ for my brethren’s sake, my kinsmen according to the flesh: 4 who are Israelites; whose is the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; 5 whose are the fathers, and of whom is Christ as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.
This “commonwealth of Israel” refers to the citizenship, privileges, blessings, the Law, the covenant promises, etc., that were given to Israel by God. The Israelites were God’s chosen people (Ro 11:1). It was through them that He revealed Himself to the world. It was to them and through them that the Word of God came. It was through the Jewish prophets that God spoke and taught and warned and encouraged. It was to them and through them that He performed miracles and displayed His glory. It was through Israel that the Savior of the world came.
Paul’s point in this whole passage, is that together we are now citizens of Israel through the blood of Christ. The Israel that Paul is referring to is clearly not the nation of Israel, but those who share a common faith in Christ. Together, as the Church in Christ, we are now Israel of God. The Church doesn’t “replace” Israel. On the contrary, Israel has its fulfillment and continuation in the Church as a spiritual nation.
Apart from Christ, Jews and Gentiles alike are separated from the “commonwealth of Israel” (true Israel), separated from all the spiritual blessings that were promised in the OT prophecies relating to Christ. In Christ, “the covenants of the promise” are for both believing Jew and Gentile.
It’s vitally important that we understand that Paul is using Jewish terminology and applying it to all who are in Christ, who together make up the Church. In 1 Peter 2:3-10, Peter also uses Jewish terminology and applies it to the Church, indicating that Israel is reborn in Christ as a spiritual Israel.
In regard to “the covenants of the promise,” again, Sam Storms is helpful:
The plural “covenants” points to a series of covenants: with Abraham (Gen. 15: 17), Isaac (Gen. 26:2-5), Jacob (Gen. 28:13-15), and David (2 Sam. 7). These covenants were all characterized by or based on “promise,” namely, God’s pledge to be faithful to his people and to fulfill his word to them. One might even translate the phrase, “the covenants which embodied the promise” of God. Though Gentiles had no part in this promise they are now co-heirs with Christ.
Thus in Christ, Gentiles are co-heirs of all the promises made to Israel, for those promises are fulfilled in Christ (Eph 3:6). We enter into those promises through Him:
14 For he is our peace, who made both one, and brake down the middle wall of partition, 15 having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; that he might create in himself of the two one new man, so making peace; 16 and might reconcile them both in one body unto God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:
Paul reveals that where there was once a “wall” between Jews and Gentiles, in Christ there is now unity, a “oneness,” and not simply being as one, as being in harmony, but a “new man” in Christ, a new entity.
Regarding this wall, Albert Barnes says:
There is an allusion here undoubtedly to the wall of partition in the temple by which the court of the Gentiles was separated from that of the Jews…..The idea here is, that that was now broken down, and that the Gentiles had the same access to the temple as the Jews. The sense is, that in virtue of the sacrifice of the Redeemer they were admitted to the same privileges and hopes.
The division and antagonism between the Jews and Gentiles, which was symbolized by this wall (as well as the Law), was dissolved by the blood of Christ. Through His death and resurrection, Jews and Gentiles become one through Him. Where there was once hostility between the two, there is now peace because of their common faith in Christ as Lord and Savior. The two become one in Christ, and together become true Israel, who are both of the faith of Abraham (Gal 3:6-9; Gal 3:26-29).
The “one new man,” i.e., the Church, in which both believing Jews and believing Gentiles were united by the blood of Christ, was heir to all the promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The dispensational idea that in the age to come Israel would hold privileged status and be the unique focus of God’s eschatological activity and blessing was ruled out by this passage.
What Paul is explaining, is that this “one new man,” this “one body,” is not a combining of Jews and Gentiles, but an entirely new creation of a new people. We are all one in Christ, where there is no Jew or Gentile, but a brand new organism. Corporately, we are heirs to all the promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
17 and he came and preached peace to you that were far off, and peace to them that were nigh: 18 for through him we both have our access in one Spirit unto the Father.
Paul is not saying that we “have our access” as two distinct groups: as believing Jews and believing Gentiles. Again, what Paul is saying, is that we have our access into the presence of the Father (“in one Spirit”) as one new and entirely different people. Old distinctions are done away with in Christ.
19 So then ye are no more strangers and sojourners, but ye are fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, 20 being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief corner stone; 21 in whom each several building, fitly framed together, groweth into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit.
To demonstrate the harmony between what Peter taught and what Paul taught, let’s take a look at 1 Peter 2:4-10 (note carefully the like-terms they use):
4 unto whom coming, a living stone, rejected indeed of men, but with God elect, precious, 5 ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 Because it is contained in scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: And he that believeth on him shall not be put to shame. 7 For you therefore that believe is the preciousness: but for such as disbelieve, The stone which the builders rejected, The same was made the head of the corner; 8 and, A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence; for they stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. 9 But ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that ye may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: 10 who in time past were no people, but now are the people of God: who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. (1 Pe 2:4-10)
In this passage, Peter alludes to the OT temple (likewise, Paul). Here he reveals that the temple of God is now a “spiritual” temple, a “spiritual house.” That’s who we are in Christ; that’s who the Church is, as Paul reveals:
16 And what agreement hath a temple of God with idols? for we are a temple of the living God; even as God said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (2 Cor 6:16)
The OT temple was a type of the spiritual temple of God that was yet to come in Christ. In Christ, we as the Church, are a “spiritual house,” a spiritual temple. The OT temple represented all of Israel. As a spiritual temple in Christ, does it not follow, yes, does it not require, that Israel also now be spiritual in nature? How could it be any other way? If the physical temple of the OT represented a physical people, then it follows that this spiritual temple must represent a spiritual people. Thus true Israel is the body of Christ, the Church.
Continuing with Peter:
Jesus is a “living stone.” We in Christ are also “living stones.” The OT temple was built with physical stones. The spiritual temple of the NT is built with spiritual stones, and Jesus is the “Chief corner stone.” In Christ, we are a “spiritual house.” Notice that the dead animal sacrifices of the OT are done away in Christ, and that we as a “holy priesthood,” are to offer up “spiritual sacrifices.” As believers, the spiritual sacrifices are the yielding of our bodies and lives to God:
12 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. (Ro 12:1)
It’s easy to see that Peter and Paul are in perfect harmony, that they reveal the same understanding. True Israel is a spiritual Israel, those of the faith of Abraham (not physical descendants). The OT temple represented the people and faith of national Israel. The NT temple (the Church) represent the people and faith of spiritual Israel, those who are in Christ. Both the OT temple and national Israel were looking ahead, and was a type and shadow of what would be fulfilled in Christ and His Church.
The idea that national Israel still has a place in God’s plan is contrary to what is taught in the NT. If the fulfillment of Old Covenant Israel has already occurred, then what sense does it make that things would revert back to OT Israel and OT temple under the New Covenant (something that dispensationalists teach)? The whole book of Hebrews SHOUTS against that idea!
All things considered, how can it be that God still has a distinct and separate plan for the nation of Israel apart from the Church? It should be clear by now that God no longer recognizes the Israel of the OT, for they were but a type and shadow of Christ, who is true Israel.
Not that ethnic Jews don’t exist today. Not that the nation of Israel doesn’t exist today. But God has already accomplished His plan and purpose for them. The nation of Israel was a type of the “holy nation” (1 Pet 2:9) which was to come, which is the the Church.
In Christ all people distinctions have been removed. We are a whole new corporate people, distinctly belonging to Christ as one, and having our identity in Christ.
The unmistakable language of the apostle here in Ephesians 2 forced me to conclude that all distinctions, all spiritual privileges, all grounds for separation and alienation based on one’s ancestry, have been abolished by the blood of the cross. One’s genetic history no longer has bearing or weight or significance in the sight of God. One’s ethnic identity no longer has relevance when it comes to the experience of spiritual privilege. The focus of God’s presence, the repository of his power, is no more and never again shall be an ethnically united people-group who share a common ancestry, but rather a spiritually united Church who share a common faith in Jesus Christ.
What the Jews of today need to recognize, is that they have their completion in Christ, both individually and as a nation. They’re still looking ahead to a kingdom that has already been inaugurated, which is the Church.
Regarding the Davidic Covenant (Eph 2:13), that the Messiah would come through the line of David, and that He would rule in a kingdom from the throne of David, that promise has already been fulfilled. Jesus sits upon that throne today – “at the right hand of God” – within the kingdom of His Church (Acts 2:29-36).
Conclusion of Ephesians 1 & 2:
When we tie in this significant discussion of Paul’s with what he reveals in chapter one, it’s entirely reasonable to conclude that he understood corporate national Israel of the OT to have its fulfillment and continuation in Christ and the Church as a corporate spiritual nation. It’s also entirely reasonable to conclude that he viewed the method of corporate election of OT Israel to continue in Christ and His Church. There’s an obvious correlation between the two.
Therefore, the “choosing” of Eph 1:4 must be understood in the context of Paul’s whole discussion in these two chapters. The only way one can come away with an unconditional individualized understanding of election from this verse, is to isolate it from this context. Proper exegesis requires any passage of Scripture to be interpreted within its context.
What we’ve covered in this book to this point, is sufficient to demonstrate that Paul viewed the choosing of Eph 1:4 as corporate, with the body of Christ in mind, just as God chose the corporate people of OT Israel. He continues to reveal this corporate line of thinking in the following passages of this book. Since I’ve already discussed this at length, I’ll not provide commentary on these verses. At this point it’s just helpful to see the focus or mindset that Paul had while writing this book. Note especially the words in bold:
5 which in other generations was not made known unto the sons of men, as it hath now been revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; 6 to wit, that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs, and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel,
10 to the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God,
21 unto him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations forever and ever. Amen.
4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as also ye were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all.
11 And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ: 13 till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: 14 that we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; 15 but speaking truth in love, may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, even Christ; 16 from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love.
22 Wives, be in subjection unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, being himself the saviour of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives also be to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it; 26 that he might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the word, 27 that he might present the church to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. 28 Even so ought husbands also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his own wife loveth himself: 29 for no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as Christ also the church; 30 because we are members of his body. 31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great: but I speak in regard of Christ and of the church.