COULD YOU PLEASE CLARIFY EPHESIANS 2:18-22?
by Shawn Brasseaux
“If the church began [with] Paul’s conversion why is it that in Ephesians 2:18-22 the apostles were included in the Body of Christ? The words ‘fellow citizens’ show that other believers are included. And aside from that, Ephesians 2:13-14 tells us that the body was created at the cross & through the death of Christ on the cross.” Thank you for these great questions; let us see what the Holy Spirit says in His Holy Word.
Before commenting, we should read Ephesians 2:18-22: “ For through him [Jesus Christ] we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.  Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;  And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;  In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:  In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.”
Firstly, you made a good observation in remarking that Ephesians 2:19 has the phrase “fellowcitizens with the saints.” The noun “fellowcitizens” would refer to us (members of the Church the Body of Christ), while the noun “saints” would be those who were saved unto eternal life prior to us. Those saved prior to the beginning of the Church the Body of Christ would be the members of Israel’s believing remnant—Israel’s 12 apostles, and all the other members of her “little flock” (Luke 12:32), all Jews who had trusted Jesus as Messiah-King. However, redeemed Israel and the Body of Christ are two separate entities; they are all citizens of the kingdom of God of the Bible, but they still belong to two unique bodies of believers.
The Bible says we Gentile Christians “are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). We Gentiles used to be cut off from the God of Israel (Ephesians 2:11-12), but now, we who were far off are made nigh (near) to God by Jesus Christ’s shed blood at Calvary (Ephesians 2:13). According to 1 Corinthians 12:13, we are made nigh to Father God by the Holy Spirit placing us into the Church the Body of Christ (whose formation is discussed in Ephesians 2:13 onward into chapter 3, verse 11). The purpose of God forming the Church the Body of Christ is revealed elsewhere in Paul’s epistle to Ephesus.
Let us read Ephesians 1:9-10: “ Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself:  That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:” God had a will, a purpose, in creation, but He did not reveal “the mystery [secret] of His will” until the Apostle Paul. In other words, prior to Paul, God only made known some of His will; God had a secret will that He did not reveal until Paul. This secret will involved a secret family of God, another aspect of His kingdom. (We will discuss this more later.)
With Paul’s ministry and the completion of God’s revelation to man through Paul, we learn that Father God wanted His Son Jesus Christ to head the governments of heaven and earth. This goes back to the first verse of the Bible (Genesis 1:1) and is cross-referenced in Ephesians 1:10, Ephesians 3:15, and Colossians 1:20. We will take some time to look at Ephesians 3:15 and Colossians 1:20.
Colossians 1:16-20 explains: “ For by him [Jesus Christ] were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:  And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.  And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.  For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;  And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.”
Currently, Satan has defiled heaven (Ephesians 2:2; Ephesians 6:12) and earth (2 Corinthians 4:4; Galatians 1:4) with sin. Satan wanted to rule heaven and earth, he wanted to be “like the most High” (Isaiah 14:14); he wanted to be “possessor of heaven and earth” (Genesis 14:19,22). Overall, God wants to form two agencies—two groups of His children—to restore His authority in heaven and earth, to have Jesus Christ glorified in heaven and in earth, to combat and subdue the rebellion that Satan has caused in heaven and in earth. We should view Ephesians 3:15 in this light.
Please note Ephesians 3:14-15 now: “…the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named….” God’s kingdom, God’s household, God’s family is made up of people in heaven and people on earth (refer back to Ephesians 2:19). God’s kingdom—the realm over which He rules—can be divided into two bodies, the nation Israel and the Church the Body of Christ. Israel is God’s earthly people (Exodus 19:5-6; Psalm 37:11; Matthew 5:5; Revelation 5:10) and the Church the Body of Christ is God’s heavenly people (2 Corinthians 5:1; Ephesians 1:3; Ephesians 2:6-7; 2 Timothy 4:18). All believers in the Scriptures—whether Adam (those saved before our dispensation), or those saved during our dispensation, or those Christians saved after our dispensation—they are all members of God’s family (otherwise they would be lost, part of Satan’s family). However, only those saved in our Dispensation, the Dispensation of Grace, are members of the Church the Body of Christ. To those prior to the Apostle Paul, God revealed information about His earthly family (that would be the nation Israel). To Paul, God revealed information about His heavenly family (that would be the Church the Body of Christ). This is how we should view Ephesians 1:9-10.
To make the 12 apostles of Israel a part of the Body of Christ would get rid of the nation Israel. The nation Israel and the Church the Body of Christ will always remain separate entities. Israel will always be made of Jews only, whereas the Church the Body of Christ is made up of neither Jews nor Gentiles but people who are “new creatures in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11). God will always have a people to rule in heaven for His glory and a people to rule earth for His glory. There is always the necessity of the division between heaven and earth (Revelation 21:1), so there must always be a division between God’s heavenly people (the Church the Body of Christ) and God’s earthly people (the nation Israel). These are some basis conclusions that dispensational Bible study leads us to form.
Now, we move on to your question about when the Church the Body of Christ was formed.
THE CHURCH THE BODY OF CHRIST BEGAN BY THE CROSS, NOT AT THE CROSS
While it is definitely true that Jesus Christ’s shed blood makes the Church the Body of Christ possible (Ephesians 2:13), the Church the Body of Christ did not begin at Calvary. In fact, we still see the Jew and Gentile distinction after Calvary—after Calvary, there is still the distinction between Jew and Gentile (see Luke 24:47; Acts 2:5,14,22,29,36; Acts 3:25-26; Acts 5:30-31; et cetera). Remember, according to Ephesians 2:11-12, if there is a distinction between Jew and Gentile, it is not the Body of Christ, and it is not God’s current dealings with mankind.
Please do not misread Ephesians 2:16 as some do: “And that he might reconcile both [Jew and Gentile, verses 11-12] in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.” It was by the cross—not at the cross—that God formed the one new man. The Body of Christ is dependent upon the crosswork of Jesus Christ, but it did not begin at the cross. The distinction—the animosity—between Jew and Gentile was not settled until after Calvary, not at Calvary.
We read in Galatians 5:6: “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.” And Galatians 6:15: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.”
The Holy Spirit through Paul wrote those two above verses, but they were not true in time past, prior to the Body of Christ. They are true today, but they were not true prior to Paul; the distinction between Jew and Gentile existed before Paul’s conversion and ministry. However, God has now rescinded that distinction. There is no mistake in the Bible—it is just a change in program. It did matter to be a Jew in time past, for Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry was to Jews only (Matthew 15:24; John 4:22; Acts 2:22; Romans 9:5; Romans 15:8). Today, there is the “new creature,” the “one new man,” the Church the Body of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:15), and in the Body of Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile (Galatians 3:28).
WHO ARE THE “APOSTLES AND PROPHETS” OF EPHESIANS 2:20 AND EPHESIANS 3:5?
In order to blur the glaring distinctions between Paul’s ministry and Peter’s ministry, between Israel’s believing remnant and the Church the Body of Christ, it has been postulated that we are built on the ministries of Israel’s 12 apostles. Ephesians 2:20 is believed to teach such a doctrine. It is asserted that Ephesians 3:5 says that the 12 apostles had the same revelation from God that the Lord Jesus Christ gave to the Apostle Paul. Before we assume anything, we need to look at the verses, especially within their contexts.
We return to Ephesians 2:18-22: “ For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.  Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;  And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;  In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:  In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.”
We read a parallel passage in Ephesians 3:1-6: “ For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,  If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:  How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,  Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)  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;  That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:”
In order to shed light on these two passages, we need to simply look at chapter 4 of Ephesians: “ Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.  (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?  He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)  And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;  For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:  Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:”
Ephesians 4:11 says that these would be apostles and prophets Paul wrote of were ordained after Jesus Christ’s ascension into heaven. This could not be Peter and 11 because they were ordained before Jesus Christ even died, some three years before He ascended into heaven. Regarding the “apostles and prophets” of Ephesians 2:19-22 and Ephesians 3:1-6, these would not be Israel’s apostles and prophets (as some alledge), for even the Apostle Peter did not understand everything in Paul’s doctrines (2 Peter 3:15-16). The apostles and prophets of Ephesians 2:20 and Ephesians 3:5 are those apostles and prophets associated with Paul’s ministry (see Ephesians 4:11-13; 1 Thessalonians 2:6; Acts 14:14; 1 Corinthians 12:10,28-29). These apostles and prophets were members of the Body of Christ—not the nation Israel—and they were instrumental in God forming the Church the Body of Christ. These apostles and prophets associated with Paul’s ministry spoke the grace doctrines of Paul’s epistles, Romans through Philemon, before they were written down in a completed Bible (see Ephesians 4:11-13). The apostles and prophets are not the foundation; Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery, is the foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11). The apostles’ and prophets’ preaching Jesus Christ “according to the revelation of the mystery” (Romans 16:25-26), the message they preached about Jesus Christ, is the foundation on which we are built—Jesus Christ crucified for our sins, buried to put away our sins, and raised again to justify us before Almighty God (1 Corinthians 15:3-4; Romans 4:24-25).
The ascended Lord Jesus Christ revealed the doctrines first to Paul, and then the Holy Spirit used Paul to reveal the doctrines to everyone else (including us). Peter and the 11 learned of Paul’s special ministry and the wisdom committed to Paul by listening to Paul preach in Galatians chapter 2 and Acts chapter 5.
You should pay close attention to Galatians 2:6-9: “ But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me:  But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter;  (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles: )  And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.”
Through Paul’s writing and preaching ministry, the Holy Spirit manifested the grace doctrines. We find those doctrines recorded in Paul’s epistles, Romans through Philemon.
CONCLUSION: THE PURPOSE OF THE CHURCH THE BODY OF CHRIST (NOW AND IN THE AGES TO COME)
We read again in Ephesians 2:20-22: “ And [we] are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;  In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:  In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” Having briefly discussed our corporal purpose in chapters 1 and 2 (which we did briefly earlier), and he will do so further in chapter 3, the Apostle Paul reminds us that God’s will for us before He installs us to serve Him in the heavenly places, is to put us His Holy Spirit within us (that happens at the moment of salvation from sins unto eternal life, and this indwelling Holy Spirit enables us to function as God’s children, and by faith we work with Him to accomplish His will).
The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 6:19: “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” And again, 2 Corinthians 6:16: “And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Finally, 2 Timothy 1:14: “That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us.” Today, God the Holy Ghost will use the Bible verses (grace-oriented doctrine, especially Paul’s epistles, Romans through Philemon) that we study and believe, to fill us with Jesus Christ’s life.
Galatians 2:20 tells us all about the Christian life: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” And Philippians 1:21: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Finally, Colossians 3:4: “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.” A parallel passage is found in Philippians chapter 1: “ And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;  That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ.  Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.” It is by the Holy Spirit Himself that Jesus Christ Himself will produce in us good works. This, not us striving in religious works, is the key to victorious Christian living!
But, this life of Jesus Christ in us is not just meant to operate during our brief lifetime on planet Earth. God the Father’s plan is to use us forever for the purpose for which He created us in Christ Jesus—it goes well, well, well beyond this earthly life. Once we leave this planet, God has a whole new realm of operation for us to function (which is why we need new bodies; 1 Corinthians 15:51-58; Philippians 3:20-21). This is best understood by examining some more basic principles of right division, dispensational Bible study.
We briefly mentioned that the Bible’s first verse says, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). As we stated earlier, God needs a body of individuals to execute His will in both realms (originally, these agencies were angels and mankind, respectively). When Lucifer/Satan polluted heaven with sin, and when Adam joined Satan and corrupted earth with sin, God began His two-fold plan to restore heaven and earth to Himself. Most of the Scriptures discuss God creating the nation Israel to function as His earthly people, but what about His restoration of the heavenly places? Like we stated earlier, God kept His plan for restoring heaven a secret until the Apostle Paul’s ministry (Ephesians 3:1-11).
Again, God already had the nation Israel’s believing remnant as His people, but that was just part of His will. Why is God forming the Church the Body of Christ? God the Holy Spirit through Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:19-22 and its context: “ Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;  And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;  In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:  In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.”
Now, God has revealed His secret will—heaven’s restoration (Ephesians 1:9,10). In Paul’s epistles alone, Romans through Philemon, we learn that God is currently creating a body that will fulfill His will in heaven (as Israel will fulfill His will in earth; note Matthew 6:10). God is forming the Body of Christ to be His dwelling-place, a body through which His life is to be lived now and forever (Ephesians 2:21,22)! Just as Jesus Christ will live His life in and through Israel on earth (Jeremiah 31:33,34; Matthew chapters 5-7; John 1:12; 2 Peter 1:3,4; et cetera), our grand reunion with our deceased brothers and sisters in Christ in heaven is just the beginning of God’s will for heaven.
God wants to fill us with His life now, and in the heavenly places, it will still be His life (albeit without our sinful flesh in the way, and the context will be the whole universe, not just earth like today!). Just imagine a local church assembly free from all doctrinal error and all sin. Via us, God will fill all of heaven with the life of His Son, Jesus Christ, and it will truly be a family enterprise, one that will literally transcend the endless ages to come!