By Tim Sullivan


Every Fourth of July the citizenry of the United States commemorates America’s Independence Day. Sadly, the significance of this holiday seems to fade with each passing year. When last season’s cellphone seems woefully obsolete, the rule of mad King George over the thirteen English colonies seems like ancient history. For generations Americans have known nothing but independence from foreign rule (conspiracists, enter your comments here). By and large we Americans have difficulty appreciating our freedom because we cannot remember a time when we were not free.

In most Western societies most unbelievers know that the Christian church is waiting with bated breath for them to accept the gift of salvation. Almost every altar call includes a word about how easy it is to enter the kingdom of God. This indeed is true – it is easy. But without a knowledge of the way things used to be, Christians will suppose that the welcome mat has always been set out before the door to the kingdom. This idea is not true, and it is one reason that God wants Christians to know our Bible history.

Ephesians 2:11:
Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands....

To find the meaning of this verse we must understand the dishonor that came with being called "the uncircumcision."

From the time of Abraham all the way to the church age, God divided humanity into only two groups: the Hebrews and the Gentiles. The Hebrews are the seed promised to Abraham; they are God’s chosen people. Everyone who is not Hebrew is Gentile. Ever since the Assyrian overthrow of the northern tribes of Israel, the Hebrew people of Judaea have been called the Jews. (Of course, like all the names in the English Bible, the terms Hebrew and Jew have been anglicized.)

As a token reminder of God’s covenant with Abraham and his seed, God instituted the very private mark of circumcision for both a man’s heirs and slaves.

Genesis 17:12–13:
And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed.
13 He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.

Any Jewish male child who was not circumcised was excluded from God’s covenant.

v. 14:
And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.

Circumcision represented not only a sanctified seed but also a man’s heart being tender and open toward God.

Deuteronomy 10:16:
Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked.

Now, the moment the Jews became the Chosen People, the Gentiles became the unchosen people, the rejected people. The Gentiles were the uncircumcised heathen. No matter their standing amongst the other nations of the world, they were a lower class of humanity, entirely excluded from God’s sanctuary.

Ezekiel 44:9:
Thus saith the Lord GOD; No stranger, uncircumcised in heart, nor uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary, of any stranger that is among the children of Israel.

Witness the utter disdain that David showed for the giant Goliath. "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine," he said, "that he should defy the armies of the living God?" (1 Sam. 17:26).

The Gentiles were completely cut off from God’s covenant with Israel. The only way the Gentiles could receive a blessing from God was by showing benevolence towards the Jews.

Genesis 12:3:
And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.

The grace shown toward Rahab is an example of this blessing.

Joshua 6:17:
And the city shall be accursed, even it, and all that are therein, to the LORD: only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent.

In every other way the Gentiles were left out in the cold. Even if a Gentile acknowledged Jehovah as the true God, he could no more make himself a Jew than I can make myself a Latino.

These are truths that God wants every Christian to know, as witnessed by Paul’s letter to the Gentile Christians of Ephesus:

Ephesians 2:12:
That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world....

We were WITHOUT Christ

"Christ" means "Messiah" (see John 1:41). The Messiah was promised for the Jews only. Gentiles had no Messiah; they were without Christ. That is why they could not partake of the Passover.

Exodus 12:43:
And the LORD said unto Moses and Aaron, This is the ordinance of the passover: There shall no stranger eat thereof....

Not eating of the Passover, of course, excluded the stranger from receiving the benefits of the Passover.

We were ALIENS from the commonwealth of Israel

Gentiles were not and could not become members of the House of Israel. Even if they spent their entire life among the Jews, they were always considered outsiders. Jesus himself forbade his disciples from ministering to anyone who did not belong to the house of Israel:

Matthew 10:5–6:
These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not:
6 But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

We were STRANGERS from the covenants of promise

Briefly, there were four covenants of promise. The Abrahamic Covenant was the promise of a sanctified people. The Palestinian Covenant was the promise of land. The Davidic Covenant was the promise of an everlasting kingdom. The New Covenant was the promise of the full restoration of Israel. But all these wonderful promises did nothing for the Gentiles. The Gentiles were outsiders looking in; they were strangers and foreigners.

To appreciate the disregard shown to foreigners, consider the law of the year of Jubilee. Every seven years the Jews were commanded to release their neighbor of his debt:

Deuteronomy 15:1–2:
At the end of every seven years thou shalt make a release.
2 And this is the manner of the release: Every creditor that lendeth ought unto his neighbour shall release it; he shall not exact it of his neighbour, or of his brother; because it is called the LORD’S release.

But as for the Gentiles, it was foreigner-schmoreigner! They were given no jubilee relief.

v. 3:
Of a foreigner thou mayest exact it again: but that which is thine with thy brother thine hand shall release...

Now, according to the plan of God for this age, there are many more Gentiles than Jews who accept Christ. The greater odds are that you, dear reader, were yourself born into that portion of humanity called the Gentiles. What a turnaround has occurred! Before, Gentiles had no hope of salvation and were utterly without God in the world – not necessarily because they did not want God but because God did not want them! But now, those who were once outside of the fold have been made fellowcitizens with the saints, members of the commonwealth of the House of Israel.

Ephesians 2:19:
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God....

We are fellowcitizens with the saints. But who are the saints? Christians are prone to look back no further than the church of the first century to find an answer. But the congregation of saints began long before the Day of Pentecost.

Psalm 149:1:
Praise ye the LORD. Sing unto the LORD a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints.

Aaron, the brother of Moses, is one of the saints of the Lord.

Psalm 106:16:
They envied Moses also in the camp, and Aaron the saint of the LORD.

What caused this great change? Not mortal man had a clue it was coming!

Ephesians 3:5:
Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit...

The inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s everlasting covenants with Israel is the glorious mystery of Christ.

v. 6:
That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel...

This truth was hid in God until it was revealed to Paul, who then made it known to the world.

vv. 8–9:
Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;
9 And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ....

Now we who were strangers are fellowcitizens with the saints. We who were foreigners are members of the House of Israel. Before, we had no part, but now we are partakers with the Children of Israel, "partakers of their spiritual things" (Rom. 15:27); "partakers of that one bread" (1 Cor. 10:17); "partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel" (Eph. 3:6); "partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light" (Col. 1:12); "partakers of the heavenly calling" (Heb. 3:1); "partakers of the Holy Ghost" (Heb. 6:4); "partakers of his holiness" (Heb. 12:10); and "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pet. 1:4).

Now we can understand why God wants us to remember that we were "Gentiles in the flesh." We who were once excluded from God’s covenants are now full members of the House of Israel with the same rights and privileges as his chosen people. This is the mystery of Christ, hid in God from the beginning of the world. This is "the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Eph. 3:11) – "that the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel" (v. 6).



From the August 2010 issue of The Vine & Branches