Having looked at the first three verses of the second chapter of Ephesians, and having laid the groundwork for a fuller understanding of what is presented there (as well as what is to come), we can now move forward. Upon that forward movement, we read “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (2:4-5a).
So even though Israel was still in exile (a foreign power ruling over them --- “slaves” in the words of Ezra and Nehemiah), having been unfaithful to their covenant God’s intentions for them, which was to be a light to the Gentile nations; and even though in that unfaithfulness they sought not to reveal God’s glory to them, but rather harbored animosity and resentment as part of a desire to drive them from their land rather than being a beacon that would draw them to their God and His temple, the Creator God was rich in mercy towards His covenant people. Even though all men from all nations, due to, according to the Scriptural narrative, Adam’s fall in which man willfully submitted himself to worshiping what was made rather than the Maker of all things, were in exile from God’s intention for them to bear His image and have dominion over His creation, the Creator God was rich in mercy. He would not allow those created to bear His image to fail in that task. He would not allow for His once good creation to remain in a condition less than that which had been intended for it.
Why was He rich in mercy? Because Israel was His chosen, covenant people. He was rich in mercy because He had another chosen people, with which He was making a new covenant through union with the Christ (confession of Jesus as Lord). God had a renewed Israel that He was bringing forth---a people in union with Christ through belief in the Gospel, that would, through a submission to His rule characterized by loving self-sacrifice (evidenced of the Spirit of God at work), to proclaim God’s glorious rule over the entirety of the cosmos (in stark contrast to all other gods) through the Christ’s universal Lordship, and so establish and extend the kingdom of God, thereby allowing that group of covenant bearing people to bea blessing to all peoples.
Based on the Abrahamic covenant that had been passed to them through their forefathers, this had been Israel’s charge, but it had been almost completely abandoned due to their turning inward and erecting barriers and walls of separation between themselves and the peoples of the world. Nevertheless, God exercised His great love for those that He had gone forth to redeem, doing it in the midst of their transgressions (their actions that worked against the outflow of the covenant, and after the revelation of the Christ and the way of God as represented by the Christ, their continuing to pursue the kingdom of God through inappropriate means).
Paul, being part of two camps, Israel by descent and renewed Israel through belief in Christ as Messiah (the covenant mark of faith), speaks of all being dead in transgressions. Effectively, the transgression of both camps was exactly the same, with that transgression being rooted in idolatry. Israel’s continuing exile was engendered by idolatry, and though idol worship had ceased from the land, the idolatry was manifested in an exaltation of the marks of national identification that set themselves apart from the other nations whom God sought to bless, along with the desire to impose those marks upon other peoples. For those that would be renewed Israel, the idolatry is easier to understand, as we can simply scan the pages of history up until that time and since, to see the lengths to which men will go in their creation of beings to worship, rather than worship the One being Who was their Creator.