7.12 Ephesians -- Fellow Citizens
h. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household.
Here is the practical result of all the foregoing theology. Twelve hundred years of religious apartheid were over. There was to be no probation, no subordination, no Judaizing. Equality was complete, it was instantaneous, it was effective, at the moment Jesus died on the Cross. His death ended the Old Covenant, his Resurrection initiated the New – with new rules of membership. Jewish citizenship was exclusive, Roman citizenship was exclusive, but here was something new: full participation in God’s Kingdom, sealed by reception of the Holy Spirit, was open to all who would submit themselves to the Lordship of Jesus.
2000 years later, we miss the impact of these words on the Gentile believers. It is the New Testament equivalent of the Emancipation Proclamation. Up to this point, non-Jews who dared to express interest in Israel’s God had to put up with prejudice, rejection and suspicion. At best, after a period of instruction and discipline, they were accorded a form of "associate membership," and diverted to the Court of the Gentiles at the Temple. On the whole, Judaism was more concerned with purification than proselytism: an influx of Gentiles would have threatened the racial identity of the Jews, many of whom could trace their lineage back through the 12 tribes to the Babylonian captivity.
We can see the same dynamics at work in American white supremacy: African-Americans were necessary to the economy, but were excluded from other aspects of social life. They were considered a threat to the racial and moral purity of the community. Every effort was made to isolate them or subordinate their participation, even when people of both races shared the same religion: in some churches even into the 20th Century, minorities were prohibited from entering the church, or permitted only at the back or in the balconies. Intermarriage was banned in some states, and all forms of inter-racial contact were governed by a rigid code of conduct. The predominant attitude of white to black was at best one of benign contempt, at worst one of active hostility,
We can only imagine that the relations of Jew and Gentile were similar, except that Gentiles held the political power. Socially and morally, however, they were outcasts, barbarians, semi-human. This was the prevailing attitude, and had been for generations -- and God had ordained it. The message of the Gospel did not immediately challenge the privileged status of the Jews. In fact, this attitude threatened to carry over from the Old Covenant into the New (see Acts). The idea that humanity was divided by God into two parts, one eternally chosen, the other everlastingly condemned, was a fixed point of Jewish identity.
What did a Gentile know of God? He came from a bastard race of idolaters and Sodomites. All he knew of God was what he had derived secondhand from Jewish scriptures, and he couldn’t even understand them without prolonged instruction from a Jewish teacher. Yet the soul of even the commonest unobservant Jew was saturated with 1000 years of God-consciousness. Even a street beggar knew the stories of Abraham, Moses and David, he knew the commandments even if he didn’t obey them, and he believed fervently that some day God would restore Israel to its former glory. How could you even think of comparing a Jew and a Gentile? – they were different species, who must not mingle, lest the latter contaminate the former.
And then Paul steps forth and utters the unutterable, he declares the unthinkable, he unveils the abomination of desolation in the Holy of Holies: the "Gentiles are fellow-citizens with God’s people." This, more than the assertion that Jesus was the Messiah, tore the fabric of Judaism, and even threatened the nascent Church. Is it any wonder that a group of zealots made a vow to neither eat nor drink until they had killed him? (Acts 23:12-15). Their accusation was:
"This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place" (Acts 21:28).
When they attacked Paul, a troop of Roman soldiers rescued him and quieted the crowd. Paul then made his defense to the people, and they listened quietly to his words, so long as he talked about his upbringing, his encounter with the "great light" on the way to Damascus, the voice of Jesus speaking to him, his recovery of sight, baptism and return to Jerusalem. But they lost control when he made the statement:
"Then the Lord said to me, 'Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles'" (Acts 22:21).
These were words that they could not bear to hear. They were the ultimate proof of his apostasy.
Think of what it cost Paul to write these words: "no longer foreigners and aliens," " fellow citizens," "members of God's household." It cost him everything, his entire past life! It was a denial of his heritage and upbringing. It also led to his imprisonment (Eph 3:1). Our age preaches an easy-going tolerance, a cheap ethic of non-discrimination -- which costs the proponent nothing. This is froth, mere inconsequential jargon, just the spirit of the age, and as such, it has nothing in common with the declarations of Paul. His words, forged out of his own dialogs with the Holy Spirit about the meaning and extent of the salvation of Jesus, broke the spiritual chains that bound the Gentiles. But the cost to him of embracing them was to deny the traditional basis of his identity and self-worth. The successor to "Jesus the friend of sinners" was "Paul the friend of Gentiles," and both were traitors to orthodoxy.