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The Wall
of Partition

The Wall of Partition

by Richard Nichols

Published in
The Informer
March, 1995

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Last updated:
October 7, 1999.

In Ephesians 2:14 Paul said, "For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us." This is only a part of a lengthy argument for the purpose of settling a very unpleasant controversy.  The apostle had reference to the rights and privileges which should be granted to Gentiles who became disciples of Christ.  Many Jewish believers opposed their reception into the church at all, and went so far as to forbid the apostles "to speak to the Gentiles that they might be be saved" (1 Thess. 2:16).  Paul, being the apostle to the Gentiles, defends their right to the gospel plan of salvation a devotes a great portion of this epistle to that subject.

In the first chapter of this letter Paul shows "that in the dispensation of the fullness of times he would gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth, even in him."  Thus showing that the original purpose of God was, finally, to unite all believers of all nations in one body.

In the second chapter he shows that the Jews have nothing to bast of above the Gentiles on the grounds of good works.  The Gentiles had "walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience," yet the Jews had their behavior in the very same way, "fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature" [second nature] "the children of wrath, even as others" [the Gentiles].

He then announces the great truth, that the whole gospel plan of salvation was devised and put into operation on the principle of grace. All who are saved then, whether Jew or Gentile, "are saved by grace, and not of works, lest any man should boast."  This shows that the Jews had no privileges in the gospel kingdom which did not belong to the Gentiles on the same principles.  Now, while pursuing these argument, the apostle penned our text.

In our investigation of the subject we propose to show:  what is meant by this partition wall, and its designs; treat on the breaking down of this wall;  the purposes for which it was broken down;  and draw some practical conclusions.

What Is Meant By This Partition Wall?

The apostle explains what the partition was in the words:  "Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of command contained in ordinances" (Eph 2:15).  So then, the law of Moses, with all its rites and ceremonies, is what is here called a partition wall.  Of this law God was the author and finisher.  He counseled with no man or angel as to what should or should not be law.  He gave it from the thick darkness that crowned the smoking summit of trembling Mount Sinai.

Why Was The Law Given?

For man to be saved he must have confidence in God.  He must not only believe that "God is," but he must believe that "He is a rewarder of all who diligently seek him" (Heb 11:6).  Now, in order that man may have this confidence in the Lord, it was necessary that He show himself to be a covenant keeping God--that all that He promised He would perform.

God had made promises to Abraham saying, "In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed...And IN THY SEED SHALL ALL THE NATIONS OF THE EARTH BE BLESSED" (Gen 12:3; 22:18).  Therefore, in order to keep this promise it was necessary to keep the lineage of Abraham separate from all other nations until the Messiah should come.  Paul expresses it, "until the seed should come to whom the promise was made" (gal 3:19). Had not this been done the descendants of Abraham might have been lost in the ocean of humanity so that no one could ever have been able to tell whether the covenant had actually been fulfilled or not.

It might have been fulfilled to the letter, but the lineage being lost would have given the skeptic and advantage.  In order, therefore, to keep the posterity of Abraham separate from all other people, and thus to prove to all men that the Lord had kept his promise completely, He threw around the descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob, the law of commandments and ordinances, and thereby fenced them in from all other nation of the earth.  This was the first design of the law.

The Law Held The Nation In Subjection

The Jews were always spoken of as a stiff-necked and rebellious people. They were constantly inclined to run away from God.  Therefore, the Lord treated them as the farmer treats his unruly stock--He fenced them in.  So the law is called a governor under which Israel was placed until the time appointed by the Father.  They were to remain in subjection to the law until the time they were to be made free by the Son.

Peter using another figure calls the law a yoke, which he says, "neither they nor their fathers were able to bear" (Acts 15:10).  Bye the term yoke he simply meant law and government.  In this he shows that it became that partition wall intended to hold the Israelites in subjection to God.  Like unruly stock the people often broke over this wall and ran away from God, but their rebellion does not disprove this design of the law.

The Law Was Intended To Teach

Speaking to Jewish Christians Paul wrote, "the law was our school-master to bring us to Christ" (Gal 3:24).  The nation of Israel was placed under the law as a tutor to train and prepare that people in heart and character for the coming dispensation.  In reasoning on this subject, the apostle said, "Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be Lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.  Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world" (Gal 4:1-3).  The "tutor" was the law.

We see the law as a competent teacher.  No teacher was ever better qualified to accomplish the ends contemplated.  The law with all its rites and ceremonies pointed to the gospel age; hence, it is said that the law had a "shadow of good things to come."  The bread of the Divine presence very fitly prefigured the Lord's supper in the church of Christ.  The golden alter and burning incense were fit types of the spiritual devotion arising from the hearts of men purified by the grace of God.  The sacrificial animals bleeding for the sin of the people under the law suitably depicted the great offering of Christ on Calvary to put away sin.  This at the close of the Jewish age, and the ushering in the final dispensation--the Christian age.  Indeed, their very temple itself was a type of the church of Christ and every rite performed within its consecrated walls was intended to develop the spiritual mind, enlarge the views, direct the affections and prepare the nation for the coming Messiah.

Why Was Israel So Poorly Taught?

We know that every student that is put under a good, efficient teacher does not come out an accomplished scholar.  To gain this end the student must be reconciled to the rules of the school; he must have some regard for his teacher; he must submit to the laws of the institution; and, above all, he must apply his mind to his studies.  All these things the nation of Israel failed to do.  They fell out with their teacher;  they refused to submit to His authority;  they wo8uld not apply their hearts to His instructions;  they added their own views of propriety to His commandments, insomuch that the Lord said, when He came, that they had made void the law by their traditions (Matt. 15:16).

To this general charge, there were a few honorable exceptions; these were fully prepared to receive the Christ.  Good old Simeon was of this happy number.  It is said of him that he "was just, and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel."  When Jesus was circumcised he "took him up in his arms and said, now Lord lettest thou they servant depart in peace; for mine eyes hath sen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to lighten the gentile and the glory of thy people Israel" (Luke 2:28,29).  Simeon saw salvation in this child for all nations; he saw, in the Infant Savior, light for the Gentiles, who had long been in darkness, and glory for the Israel of God.

Now, the only principle upon which we can account for the striking difference bet3ween this good man and the great mass of the Jewish nation is that he studied his lessons--he obeyed his Teacher; he satisfied himself with the requirements of the law, and was therefore prepared to enter the higher school, when the great Teacher, sent from God, appeared.  We fully believe that if the whole nation had thus submitted to that school-master and governor, they would all have been as well prepared for the reign of Christ as was this good man.  The fault was not in the teacher, but in the students.

The Breaking Down Of The Wall

This law stood in full force during the teaching of John the Baptist, and of Christ and his disciples, until the Lord's death.  John lived under the law.  Christ himself lived under that law, and hence, when he healed a man of leprosy, he told him to "show himself to the Priest, and offer for his cleansing those things that Moses commanded" (Mark 1:44).

But when the great antitype, the atoning sacrifice expired, the law expired with Him; when Christ bowed His head and died, the partition wall fell.  It was then that he who is our peace offering, broke down the middle wall of partition, according to our text.  Speaking in reference to this same matter, the apostle says, He hath "blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross" (Col. 2:14).

God signified that this partition wall had now fallen by rending the vail of the temple at the death of Christ.  That vail separated the holy place from the most holy.  It concealed from public view the holiest place of the temple, and might therefore be considered as an emblem of the partition wall between Jew and Gentile.  But now the promised Seed had come; the substance of all the shadows under the law is now manifested; the Lamb of God which had been slain in plan from the foundation of the world was now slain in fact.  Upon Calvary's brow He bowed His head and died and the partition wall was then and there leveled to the ground.  Christ opened up a new and living way, through the vail of His flesh, into the holiest made without hands (Heb. 10:20).