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The Threefold Division of Scripture



In Ephesians 2 the apostle Paul shows us how to rightly divide the word of truth. Since he is the only one in the Bible who tells us to rightly divide, doesn't it makes sense that we should look to him for an example of how to do it?

In the first part of the chapter (vs.1-10), Paul talks about the past, present, and future of individual believers:
1. Time past (vs.1-3)
2. We are (vs.4-6, 8-10)
3. Ages to come (v.7)

In the latter part of the chapter he talks about believing Gentiles as a whole:
1. Time past (vs.11-12)
2. But now (vs.13-22)
3. Ages to come (v.7)

I. Time Past (vs.11-12)
The terms “circumcision” and “uncircumcision” identify a basic physical and social distinction; one that was in the flesh and made by hands. In time past the Gentiles were also spiritually alienated from God and thus said to be “without Christ." That was their condition because they were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel” and “strangers from the covenants of promise.” So, the physical distinction only pointed to the more important spiritual alienation the Gentiles occupied in time past.

Individual Gentiles could come to God in time past, but they had to come through Israel (like Ruth and Rahab). Gentiles were not blessed if they did not first bless the seed of Abraham (Gen. 12:3). God gave circumcision to Abraham (Gen. 17) as a sign of the covenant He made with him and his seed after him. It was an outward sign of the spiritual privilege God had given to them and was a required mark of their identity and covenant privileges. It was the beginning of a middle wall of partition that God put up between Israel and the nations (Num. 23:9). When He revealed the law through Moses, that wall was strongly reinforced. Israel was raised above the nations (Deut. 4:5-8).

Therefore, whenever we see God making a distinction between Israel and Gentiles in the scripture, we know that we are not reading about this present age in which there is now no difference. Most Bible believing Christians clearly see this distinction in the Old Testament, but fewer see it in the Gospels and early chapters of Acts because they are blinded by tradition (Rom. 15:8; Matt. 10:5-6; 15:21-28; Acts 1:6; 2:14, 22, 36; 3:19-26; 11:19).

II. But Now (vs.13-18)
This is one of several significant “but now” passages in Paul’s epistles. The Body of Christ was a mystery (or, secret) that was first revealed to Paul (Eph. 3:1-12; Col. 1:24-27).

Some try to use this Eph. 2:16 to teach that the Body of Christ began historically AT the cross, but notice that it says, "BY the cross." Not everything that Christ accomplished by His cross was revealed or carried out at that time. For example, He destroyed Satan through His death and resurrection, but Satan is still loose and at work (Rom. 16:20). The Body of Christ is made possible “by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13) and “by the cross” (Eph. 2:16), but entrance into this Body is “by the gospel” (Eph. 3:6) and “by one Spirit” (Eph. 2:18; 1 Cor. 12:13).

The main characteristic of the Body of Christ is that all believers are made to be “ONE NEW MAN”. There is neither Jew nor Gentile in the Body of Christ (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11). Gentiles are not being blessed through Israel's rise, but through their fall (Rom. 11:11-15). The only place in the Bible where we read about Jews and Gentiles being in one spiritual Body is in Paul’s epistles. It is in his epistles alone that we find the specific doctrine, position, walk, and destiny of the church which is the Body of Christ.

III. Ages to Come (v.7) 

After the present dispensation of the Mystery closes with the mystery of the rapture (1 Cor. 15:51), God will resume and fulfill the prophetic kingdom program of Israel (Hebrews through Revelation). The “wrath to come” (Matt. 3:7; 1 Thess. 1:10) will be fulfilled. The distinction between Israel and the Gentiles will once again be in place (e.g. Jam. 1:1; Rev. 2:9; 3:9). The Body of Christ will reign in the heavenly places (2 Cor. 5:1; Eph. 2:6-7) while Israel reigns over the nations on the earth (Isa. 2:1-5).

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