EPHESUS was a city of major importance in the First Century, nearly equal in importance to Rome and Alexandria. Ephesus was located in the far western portion of Asia, on the Cayster River, three miles inland from the Aegean Sea, which in turn was an inlet from the Mediterranean Sea. It was famed for the Temple of Artemis (Diana), one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. In Ephesus, Artemis was worshipped as a many-breasted fertility goddess.
Artemis was also a great source of income with the many religious pilgrims who would come to Ephesus, as well as for the many silversmiths who earned their livelihood making images of Artemis and shrines of Artemis, as described in Acts 19. As a result of the preaching of Rav Sha'ul (Paul), there was a near riot against Sha'ul, as many of the Ephesians were coming to faith in Yeshua.
Ephesus was also one of the locations of the Seven Congregations in the Book of Revelation. Ephesus was the first "church" mentioned in Revelation chapter 2. I put "church" in quotation marks, because the congregations of the First Century would bear little resemblance to the churches of today. They worshipped on Shabbat, not Sunday, and presumably would have also celebrated the various mo'edim ("set times" or holidays) of Leviticus 23. They would perhaps have born more resemblance to the synagogue than to the church. However, the congregation at Ephesus was predominantly composed of Gentiles, so it is unlikely that their religious services would have been liturgically Jewish.
All of the Seven Congregations in the Book of Revelation were located in Asia, a province in what is today western Turkey. The messages to the Seven Congregations were to actual congregations. These were not messages to Seven Church Ages as is sometimes taught.
In Rav Sha'ul's letter to the Ephesians, he really doesn't have any harsh words of criticism or correction such as he had to the Corinthians or Galatians. However, when we come to Revelation chapter 2, we see that the situation in Ephesus had deteriorated, and they were in major need of correction. Sha'ul's letter was more of a teaching letter, and a word of exhortation. He also left off the flowery greetings to various individuals or to the congregation as he does in other letters. He therefore may have intended this letter to be read in various congregations after it was read by the Ephesians.
In Ephesians 1:7, we learn that, "In Him (Yeshua), we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace." Sha'ul is reminding the Ephesians of the tremendous price that was paid for their salvation. Yes, salvation is a free gift of God, but it is only because Yeshua paid the price for our salvation with His blood. Likewise, if you live in a democracy, you might be enjoying the blessings of living in a free country. However, freedom isn't free; freedom is often paid for with the blood of men and women who fought to preserve that freedom. This entire little "book" is filled with many gems. However, for the purpose of this article, I would like to concentrate on chapter 2:
Eph. 2:1: And you He has made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins; 2wherein in times past you walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience, 3among whom also we all lived in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. 4But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, 5even when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together with Messiah, (by grace you are saved), 6and has raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Messiah Yeshua, 7in order that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Messiah Yeshua."
Rav Sha'ul is writing to the Ephesians as a Jew writing to Gentiles. He reminds them that they were "dead in (their) trespasses and sins," pretty much at the animal level, "according to the course of this world." They were also walking " according to the prince of the power of the air." It is interesting that so much of the moral pollution going out today is via television, radio, the internet, etc. And HaSatan (the Adversary) is the "prince of the power of the air." I'm sure that the Ephesians had a different understanding of Ephesians 2:2, as these modern sources of communication and information did not exist in the First Century. He reminds them that they formerly lived according to the lusts of their flesh. This may have been particularly true among the Ephesians, especially with Ephesus being the "capital" city for the worship of Artemis, the fertility goddess, who was perhaps comparable to Ishtar, the Babylonian fertility goddess. Not only was licentiousness permitted; it was probably encouraged as part of the worship of Artemis. And also being a port city, there were no doubt many sailors and traders looking for a “good time” who may have contributed to the prevailing sexual decadence.
However, Rav Sha'ul reminds us that even when we were dead in our trespasses, God still loved us, and "raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Messiah Yeshua." That's grace! However, God doesn't save us so we can continue living in a debauched lifestyle.
Eph. 2:8: For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God, 9Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Messiah Yeshua unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.
We are saved by grace through faith, a free gift of God. However, as said in verse 10, we are saved "unto good works." HaShem wants to save us from our sins, not in our sins.
Eph. 2:11: Therefore remember, that you being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands, 12remember that at that time you were without Messiah, being excluded from the "commonwealth" of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. 13But now in Messiah Yeshua, you who sometimes were far off are brought near by the blood of Messiah.
In these verses, Rav Sha'ul is speaking to the Ephesians in an "us versus them" way, "we" being the Jews, and "you" being the Gentiles. He makes a primary point with circumcision. Circumcision was (and is) the sign of the covenant that God made with Abraham and his descendants. The "Uncircumcision" would naturally refer to the Gentiles. However, I would like to take issue with most translations of verse 12, beginning with the King James Version. I put the word "commonwealth" in quotation marks. The reason for the quotation marks shows that I am quoting other translations. However, the word "commonwealth" is a very poor translation.
Several years ago, my wife (Miriam) went to visit family in Colombia, South America. She attended one of the Messianic congregations in Bogotá and brought back a DVD of the teaching, which we watched together. I know some Spanish, but am far from fluent. However, when the Messianic Rabbi Natanel quoted Ephesians 2:12, I noticed that he used the Spanish word for "citizenship," instead of "commonwealth." Some might say, "Well, that's because there is no Spanish word for commonwealth." However, in most non-English translations, they use a word meaning citizenship. For instance, when we went to Holland, we noticed that the Dutch Bibles used the word for "citizenship," not "commonwealth." The word "commonwealth" is uniquely British. There is a British Commonwealth of nations, but no other nation has such a thing. Also, in the First Century, there never was a "commonwealth of Israel."
The word being translated is the Greek word Πολιτεία (politeia) which is the source for words like politics. Politeia is used several times in the Newer Testament, where it normally is translated as "citizenship," which is as it is translated first in Strong’s Concordance. The only place in which the KJV translators used the word "commonwealth" for politeia is in Ephesians 2:12. This is a very British translation of politeia, not found in non-English translations. It also a very incorrect translation. Let's read this verse again as it should be translated: "Remember that at that time you were without Messiah, being excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world."
And yes, the distinction between "commonwealth" and "citizenship" is important - very important. For instance, nations in the British Commonwealth have some rights and privileges. For instance, someone from India (a member nation of the Commonwealth) would have preferential treatment when it comes to immigration to Britain, and an easier access in gaining British citizenship. However, someone who has lived in India his whole life would have no rights to vote in British elections, and could expect no benefits from the British government.
However, Sha'ul tells us that those who were formerly "excluded from the citizenship of Israel" were "brought near by the blood of Messiah." In other words, Gentiles who believe in the Jewish Messiah become "citizens" of Israel. Obviously, this is in the spiritual sense. Gentiles who accept Yeshua cannot expect to vote in Israeli elections. However, when Gentiles accept the Jewish Messiah, it means that they accept upon themselves the spiritual rights and responsibilities of Israel.
For instance: I married Miriam when I was in the United States Army. She was a citizen of Colombia, and I was a citizen of the USA. When we were in Germany, our daughter was born to us. At that time (1970), anyone born in Germany was a German citizen. Therefore, we had three different citizenships. My wife was Colombian, my daughter was German, and I was American. Eventually my wife studied for her citizenship. In 1974, when my daughter was 4 years old, we went to a U.S. courthouse, where my wife had a citizenship "exam." She passed, and my wife and daughter became citizens of the United States. When they became citizens of the USA, they agreed that they would obey the laws of the USA, not the laws of Colombia or Germany.
When we become part of the "citizenship" of Israel, it means that we take upon ourselves the responsibilities and laws of Israel. This means "Torah," which means "instructions," although it is generally translated "Law." The instructions include "Law," but are not limited to Law. Rav Sha'ul would be telling his readers that Gentiles who accept Yeshua are no longer without hope and without God in this world. That's good news! However, he would also be telling them that they should also take on the laws and responsibilities of Israel, including observance of Shabbat, the dietary laws, etc. This is nothing new. Moshe wrote, "There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you (Numbers 15:16)."  When Gentiles accept the Jewish Messiah, they are grafted into the Jewish Olive Tree described in Romans 11:17-21. There is no room for anti-Semites, as I don't believe any anti-Semite would like to be grafted onto a Jewish Olive Tree or be a citizen of Israel! Gentiles who are spiritually grafted into Israel should also respect the fact that the Land of Israel is the homeland for the physical seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Eph. 2:14: For He is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of partition between us; 15Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; to make in Himself of the two into one new man, so making peace; 16And that He might reconcile both to God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby. 17And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off, and to them that were near. 18For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. 19Now therefore you are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, 20and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Yeshua HaMashiach Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21in whom the whole building being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22in whom you also are built together for a habitation of God through the Spirit.
The "middle wall of partition" in verse 14 could be compared to the m'chitzah, which is a wall or curtain separating the men from the women in an Orthodox synagogue, so that the men and women are not distracted by those of the opposite gender. However, a better application was the wall separating the Court of the Gentiles in the ancient Beit HaMikdash (Temple). Gentiles could enter the Court of the Gentiles, but were forbidden to go any further. In the spiritual sense, it is this wall that is broken down, separating Jew and Gentile.
After accepting the Jewish Messiah, the Gentiles become fellow citizens (Eph. 2:19) of Israel, not part of the commonwealth of Israel. Jew and Gentile become one new man in Yeshua. However, this does not mean that Jews join the "church" and become Christians, as these verses are normally interpreted. Instead, it is the Gentile who joins the citizenship of Israel, as is confirmed in verse 19. The enmity between Jew and Gentile is gone! Gentile “believers” who are antisemitic and anti-Torah are not grafted in to the Jewish Olive Tree of Romans 11. Those who are truly born-again through the Jewish Messiah become lovers of Zion and the Jewish people.
In verse 20, we learn that the foundations of our faith are the prophets and apostles, which includes Moshe, the greatest of the prophets. Yeshua is the cornerstone holding everything together.