No Longer Strangers
Oct 26, 2009
When speaking of the new Temple that God was building, not in Jerusalem but in the New Jerusalem, Paul makes the point in Ephesians 2:17-19,
(17) And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; (18) for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. (19) So that you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household.
Some make the point that these Ephesians included many ex-Israelites of the dispersion who had been taken to Assyria and who spread gradually west into the area of the Seven Churches. In studying the historical records, they note that Peter wrote to these "elect strangers of the dispersion" (ex-Israelites) in his first letter (1 Pet. 1:1, 2). I have no doubt that many of them were descended from the Israelites, and Peter called them "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation" in 2:9.
However, keep in mind that Peter also calls them "strangers" (or aliens, foreigners), because they had been divorced (Jer. 3:8; Hosea 2:2) and cast out of God's house. God even stripped them of their Birthright name Israel. So their legal status was no better than any other non-Israelite. Paul also says that the Ephesian believers had been "strangers" at one time, and that their "citizenship" had been reinstated on the basis of their belief in Jesus Christ.
Citizenship in the Kingdom (i.e., in Israel) is a matter of divine law, rather than race. Race had its advantage, in that the children born in Israel had better opportunity to know the truth of God. Because the people were expected to teach their children the ways of God, the assumption was that they would all retain their citizenship as Israelites. However, the law makes it clear that God retained the right to exile them if they rebelled against His sovereignty and His laws.
This is precisely what happened to the Israelites in 745-721 B.C. They were exiled to Assyria and lost their citizenship in the Kingdom, because they preferred to worship idols and violate the terms of the Covenant. So the Israelites became "gentiles," along with all the other nations (ethnic groups) in the world. Their legal status with God was no different from anyone else.
But all was not lost, because the law itself provided for reinstatement as citizens of the Kingdom. They simply had to conform to the legal requirements of obtaining citizenship that any other non-Israelite had to do to become an Israelite. The primary requirement was FAITH in Yahweh, the God of the Bible who had covenanted with Israel and had formed them into a nation under Moses.
Because "Yahweh has become my Yeshua" (lit. transl. of Ex. 15:2; Isaiah 12:2, 3), we know that Yeshua (Jesus) was the Yahweh of the Old Testament prior to His incarnation in Bethlehem. Therefore, to obtain citizenship in the Kingdom, non-Israelites and ex-Israelites had to have faith in Jesus Christ and to recognize Him as their King and Lawgiver.
When God established the first Passover in Egypt, many Egyptians saw the power of God and believed in Him. In fact, a multitude of them actually left Egypt and joined with the Israelites in their migration to the Promised Land. We read in Exodus 12:37, 38,
(37) Now the sons of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, aside from children. (38) And a mixed multitude also went up with them, along with flocks and herds, a very large number of livestock.
Many of these foreigners were new converts, so they had the same type of problem of the flesh that many new Christian converts have today. Nonetheless, God did not tell Moses to kick them out of "the Church in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38). Rather, God made provision of manna for them and allowed them all to keep the feasts, provided the men were physically circumcised (as the sign of the Old Covenant).
God intended that there would be equal rights for all in His Kingdom. He made it clear that He did not love the children of Israel any more than non-Israelites, saying in Lev. 19:33, 34,
(33) When a foreigner resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. (34) The foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.
Israelites were to love the aliens as they loved themselves, because they were to follow God's example of love. God loved them as much as He loved the Israelites. And they were to treat these aliens according to the Golden Rule, remembering that they themselves had experienced unequal treatment when they were aliens in Egypt. So they should have learned their lesson about mistreating foreigners.
So there was to be "one law" for all the people, regardless of their genealogy (Num. 15:15, 16).
The law, then, includes non-Israelites in the Kingdom, provided that they receive the token of the Covenant. In Moses' day it was physical circumcision, the sign of the Old Covenant. Under the New Covenant, the sign is heart circumcision, prophesied by Moses in Deut. 30:6, saying,
"Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live."
Even as physical circumcision was the Oath of Citizenship ceremony in Moses' day, so also is confession of faith in Jesus Christ the Oath of Citizenship under the New Covenant. Rom. 10:10 says,
"For with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation."
So coming back to our main topic, whether the Ephesian believers were or were not ex-Israelites of the dispersion may be of interest to historians, but from the standpoint of biblical law, it makes no difference. Either way, the law made provision for them to become citizens of the Kingdom of God. There was only one path to citizenship--confession of faith in Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.
This path has always been open to all. It was not closed under the Old Covenant, and the New Covenant did not close the door either. For ex-Israelites of the dispersion, none of them could claim citizenship in the Kingdom on account of their genealogy. Apart from faith in Jesus Christ, they were still under the curse of the law which had exiled their forefathers. If any such ex-Israelite had tried to claim Kingdom citizenship on account of genealogy, God would have simply told him that his genealogy was the problem, because it identified him with those who were under the curse of the law.
So Paul tells the Ephesian believers that at one time they had been strangers and foreigners, but through faith in Jesus Christ they were now "fellow citizens with the saints" and part of "God's household." They were citizens because they had followed the legal procedure of citizenship, equally available to all, that had been established in the divine law under Moses.