12 that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
The idea that Gentiles were not circumcised indicated to Jews that they did not have five privileges given to the nation Israel.
That at that time
Having described in verses one to 10 what the Ephesians were before salvation, Paul now developed what they were as Gentiles.
ye were without Christ [Messiah],
First, as Gentiles they did not know the Christ, the Messiah. They did not possess the salvation He provided. They were “without” or separated from the Messiah.
being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel,
Second, Gentiles did not belong to the theocratic nation of Israel. They were “aliens” or estranged from Israel’s kind of people. Sometimes we forget that Israel was more than a spiritual entity; it was a state or national entity as well.
and strangers from the covenants [contracts] of promise,
Third, Gentiles were “strangers” to God’s promises. They could not claim the Abrahamic covenant (Ge 12:1-3; 15:18-21; 17:1-8), the Palestinian covenant (Dt 28-30), the Davidic covenant (2 Sa 7:16; Ps 89:1-4), or the New covenant (Jer 31:31-34). These covenants promised the coming Messiah and the blessings that flow from Him. Not having the covenants meant not belonging to the theocratic nation of Israel.
An unconditional covenant is a contract that God makes with His people. It is a promise that God makes for those who are His own, without any strings attached. God gave covenants about a coming King, a kingdom, and a land.
having no hope,
Fourth, Gentiles did not have hope. They had no anticipation of a coming Messiah who would offer them salvation. The nation Israel had hope because God had given them promises; they could count on Him keeping His word. However, Gentiles had no basis for objective hope; they had nothing to hope for.
Hope is based on promises from God. It is confidence in the person of God and what He says. The Jew had hope in the promises of God; the Gentile had none.
and without God
Fifth, Gentiles were in the desperate situation of being “without God.” The words “without God” form the Greek word for atheists. Although the Ephesians as Gentiles had many gods of polytheism, they had no true God. Gentiles in Paul’s day were polytheists, but they did not have the true God. Notwithstanding their plurality of gods, they still had no genuine hope or confidence in the true God. They did not have God because they did not want Him.
in the world:
Gentiles were “in the world” as over against being in the commonwealth of Israel.
Our hope rests on God’s promises.
Gentiles have no hope and thus no purpose for their lives. Like the Gentiles of the first century, we live in a day of pluralism where everyone chooses his own god. That may be a god of lust (like Aphrodite of the first century) or a god of power (like Zeus).
The idea that there is one God and that He is exclusive to any other god was an issue in that polytheistic or pluralistic society in biblical times. Judaism and Christianity have fought pluralism throughout the centuries. It should be no surprise that we fight pluralism with its relativistic philosophy today. Our society wants Christianity to be syncretistic; it is offended by the God of the universe who demands worship above anyone or anything else.
Non-Christians have no hope and thus no purpose for their lives. Like the Gentiles of the first century, we live in a day of pluralism where everyone chooses his own god.
If Christians buy into relativism, they will not see their faith as unique. It will be but one of many. That is a weak faith, a faith vulnerable to the world system. Belief in the idea that finding truth is always in process is a belief that will lead to uncertainty and loss of conviction about what is true. When Augustine took notice of the false teachers of his day, he asked one question: “Where does it lead?” Unless we deal with our doubt, it will hang around our necks like an albatross.