Jeremy Sarber

The dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles

Paul says, Christ has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility (Eph 2:14). I believe he’s alluding to the physical separation between Jews and Gentiles in the Jerusalem temple.

Gentile proselytes had a special court in the temple and were not allowed to go any further. In fact, there was a sign that read, No Gentile may enter within the barricade which surrounds the sanctuary and enclosure. Anyone who caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.”

Even a Jew could die if he were caught bringing a Gentile further than permitted. Paul was once accused of that. Some Jews grabbed him and shouted, Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place” (Ac 21:28).

It never happened, but they claimed it did.

Imagine how that felt. Imagine what it was like to be treated as inferior even though you desired to be near the same God as everyone else. It wasn’t that long ago in this country that an entire race of people was not permitted to drink from the same water fountains or use the same restrooms as everyone else. Today, we call it, injustice.

The division in the temple vividly represented the hate and hostility between the Jews and Gentiles. But God meant the Court of the Gentiles to be something else altogether. It certainly wasn’t a permanent separation between them.

Listen to this prophecy given through Isaiah in Isaiah 5:

Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.

And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?

And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry! (Isaiah 5:1-7)

While God did plant his vineyard in Jerusalem, so to speak, he discovered that it was not growing good fruit. Rather, it produced wild sour grapes. So what did he do with it? He broke down the walls around it.

What did Jesus accuse the Jews of doing to his Father’s house, the temple? He said, You have made it a den of robbers” (Mk 11:17). The Court of the Gentiles was to be a place where even Gentiles could draw closer to God, but the Jews had turned it into a marketplace.

In the end, Christ destroyed the dividing wall. Specifically, he removed the obstacles that stood in the Gentiles’ way. Paul says that he abolished the law of commandments expressed in ordinances (Eph 2:15). By fulfilling the ceremonial law, Christ effectively broke down the superficial barriers that separated the Gentiles from the Jews.