7.8 Ephesians -- Brought Near
a. those who were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
The essence of all racism is separation, a removal of those deemed unclean, inferior, subhuman. The physical layout of the Jewish Temple was segregated: there were separate courts for priests, men, women, lepers, and farthest away, Gentiles. These categories were also the hierarchy of significance within the Jewish religious consciousness: priests at the apex, Gentiles at the bottom. This religious prejudice was ingrained, indeed mandated by the Law of Moses, and even upheld by Jesus during His lifetime.
But the death of Jesus, the shedding of his blood, broke this entire structure, the religious as well as the social components. There are no longer "ups" and "downs", "ins" and "outs," at least on racial lines. Those who were far away have now been brought near, but near to what? First, to God, to the Holy of Holies, to partipation in the Covenant promises, to all the blessings that they were excluded from for centuries. But also near to one another. A vitally important part of the new order was the end of social segregation. The vertical and horizontal relationships are both at stake here. Indeed, in surveying the history of the Church, one criterion of measuring fidelity other than doctrinal orthodoxy might be that of heterogeneity. Where there is the perpetuation of a "caste" system, we will find divergence from the New Testament standard of faith. (We are speaking of a caste based on race/nationality/language, not an ecclesiastical hierarchy based on education, ordination, and other non-racial factors). And what does one say about traditional 19th Century through late 20th Century American white churches with their strong piety and conservative morality, combined with implicit discouragement or even explicit exclusion of minorities from membership? How could they preach a sermon on the power of the blood in a segregated facility? The demons of hell must have stood up and cheered.
And there is the mystery: why is it the blood that is the agent of unity? Paul does not here mention the reason, but it is due to the Old Testament understanding of atonement through sacrifice.
For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life (Lev 17:11).
Under the Old Covenant, the blood of animals sufficed to allow the Jews to "come near" to God, but the Gentiles were not included in that Covenant. Now, however, the blood of Jesus extends forgiveness to all of humanity, but only those who come before God presenting that blood as their sin offering. Significantly, not only are Gentiles still excluded who disdain the blood of Jesus, but now the Jews who continue to offer animal blood find themselves rejected. Jesus' sacrifice cancels the (limited) effectiveness of the old religious system. Whether for salvation or condemnation, the old distinction of Jew and Gentile has no meaning -- all must come to God under the same terms. This is the radical innovation God introduced through Paul's teachings about Jesus' death.