Not only does Ephesians 2:14 declare that [Christ] is our peace, but it also declares He has broken down the middle wall of partition between us. Here is a truly fascinating point! This middle wall has an important historical meaning. Some expositors suggest that this is a parallel term for the tearing of the veil in the temple at Jerusalem during Jesus’ crucifixion. But this cannot be since the tearing of the veil pictured the removal of the barrier of sin between man and God. This is clearly not what is being pictured here. This middle wall actually refers to a literal wall.
Before looking at that literal wall, let us illustrate with another. While the people slept on the night of August 13, 1961, one faction of their government began closing the border between the two halves of the city. By morning, the job was done and the Berlin Wall was born. Streets had been torn up and barbed wire fences took their place. Over the next few years, the wall evolved until the final result was a 66-mile long, 11.8-foot high concrete wall, complete with 302 watchtowers. Over the 28 years that the wall stood, 192 people were killed and approximately 200 more injured by shooting as they tried to get past that wall to freedom. Is it not interesting how many were killed trying to come west, but how few tried to go east?
It was then on June 12, 1987 that then President Ronald Reagan delivered a speech to the people of West Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate, a speech that could also be heard in East Berlin. Near the end he made that dramatic Cold War plea to Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev that truly signed the Reagan legacy. Gesturing to the wall behind him, he said: “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Twenty-eight months later the Berlin Wall came down. As part of Mr. Reagan’s legacy, the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), the ninth Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, was commissioned on July 12, 2003. A piece of the wall, adorned with a bronze profile of Reagan by artist Chas Fagan is now displayed aboard that vessel. During a Precommissioning Ceremony, Commanding Officer Captain Bill Goodwin said, “Many of us who served during the Cold War remember what the Berlin Wall represented—oppression, communism, and a lack of trust between two super powers. This piece of the wall honors our namesake, whom many people credit with ending the Cold War.”
What a dramatic picture! The middle wall Paul refers to here, however, was even more daunting, dreaded, and divisive, but it too was eventually destroyed. It was the wall in Jerusalem that separated the court of the Gentiles from the temple area. First Century Jewish historian Josephus records that there was an inscription on the wall in both Greek and Latin “which forbade any foreigner [i.e. Gentile], to go in under pain of death.” Ironically, Paul was wrongfully accused of taking Trophimus (an Ephesian Gentile) past this point (Acts 21:29), and Paul undoubtedly had this incident in mind as he penned this Epistle. Archeological discoveries in 1871 and 1934 confirmed these warning inscriptions, which read, “No foreigner may enter within the barricade which surrounds the sanctuary and enclosure. Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.” These “Death Inscriptions” are now on display in the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul and the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem. So, while that wall fell when Jerusalem fell in 70 A.D. (some nine years from when Paul was writing), Paul saw this wall as ALREADY destroyed by Christ on the cross.
All this has a powerful application for today. There was (and still is) an arrogance and bigotry between Jew and Gentile that God never intended. God’s intention was that the Jews use the “court of the Gentiles” as a place to win the Gentiles to Judaism and eventually bring them into the temple, but the Jews used the “dividing wall” to keep the Gentiles restricted, to keep them forever outside God’s favor.
It also challenges us concerning our need today to realize the oneness that should be present in the Body of Christ. We are not advocating a compromise of doctrine, for no church or individual believer should fellowship with the liberals and apostates who deny foundational doctrines such as grace alone, the Deity of Christ, the Virgin Birth, or the Inspiration of Scripture. But we should always strive for unity when doctrine allows it. We will deal with this in more detail in Ephesians 4, but unity is not only a PRACTICAL principle (Eph. 4) but it is first a DOCTRINAL principle (Eph. 2). We will never have true “practical unity” unless we understand the doctrinal truth of what made it possible.