"Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called "Uncircumcision" by the so-called "Circumcision," which is performed in the flesh by human hands — remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world." (Ephesians 2:11-12)In the early centuries, Christianity was viewed, especially by the Romans, as a sect of Judaism. In the sea of people who made up the Roman empire, Jews represented a very small segment and Christians an even smaller segment of the population. Few Romans really understood the Jews and fewer of them had any inclination in joining them in their religion and peculiar laws. Some, when viewing Christianity, saw it as just another reset on Judaism which held little significance for them or their countrymen. The Jew/gentile divide was real and few who were gentiles wished to become Jews and their prejudice made it hard for them to understand a new religion that came out of Judaism but was not tied to the old Jewish ways. Furthermore, even after becoming Christians, some still struggled as to how they aught to relate to the Jews and the Law as they attempted to live out their new found faith in Christ. Was it necessary for them to become as Jews? Were they indebted to keep the old Jewish law? Must they become circumcised to be accepted by God and the Jews from whom was the Christ?
Paul wrote to them that, while there was enmity between the Jews and the Gentiles, and while they were rejected by the Jews for their uncircumcision and their gentile birth, they were not rejected by God. Circumcision was a mere work of men, performed in the flesh by human hands, but God was working something greater in their lives, a work in their soul performed by the Spirit of God. What was done by hands was not to be compared to that which was being performed by the Spirit.
That being said, the redemptive history of God ran straight through the lineage and history of the Jews. In many ways, the Jews did have an advantage over the gentiles. Paul lists four specific ways the Jews were benefited by their birth verses that of the gentile.
First, they, the gentiles, were separate from Christ. This does not mean that they were rejected by Christ, but that when Christ came, He came somewhere else, somewhere far removed from them. The Greek word has the idea of an expanse of space between two things, Christ came, lived, and died and they were completely unaware. They missed His teachings and His miracles. They missed the blessings of His daily presence and ministry among the people. What advantage did those have who actually lived, saw, and listened to Jesus as He walked this earth.
Second, they were excluded from the commonwealth of Israel. The be excluded is to be an alien or to be alienated from something. Furthermore, the Greek word for commonwealth is the same word from which we get our word for polity. The idea is that we were outsider and excluded from citizenship of the nation of Israel; the nation which God chose to place His presence in and through which He sought to bring forth His salvation. Two thousand years of history, culture, and citizenship had passed to which the gentiles were excluded. They missed out on all the benefits of citizenship the nation of Israel had to offer.
Thirdly, they were strangers to the covenants of promise. It's not so much that they did not have know them, but even in knowing them, the covenants and promises were not for them. These covenants and promises were to the Jews and to the "seed" of Abraham through which all the nations of the world would be blessed. They were foreigners to the covenants because the covenants and promises spoke to someone else.
Finally, they were without hope and without God in this world. What other nation had God living in their midst? What other nation could promise ts citizens forgiveness through its religion, laws, and ceremonies? What other nation had God so near to them as the nation of Israel did? The Greek and Roman gods were distant and offered no hope to the people. In fact, they were often the source of their troubles and their life was often spent trying to appease their gods and trying to advert the calamity they brought upon mankind.
This was the state of the gentiles before Christ came, but oh how things changed after His coming!