Context: Paul is arguing, that in light of the decaying nature of this life and the impending judgment, we must regard life in terms of eternity. Our earthly house (this body) dissolves but we have a “building” fit for eternity awaiting as our permanent residence in heaven. God made us for the very purpose of living in an immortal, impeccable state before him and has already given us a portion of that state of eternity in the sealing of the Holy Spirit (5:5). The Christian should yearn to glorify Christ while he is in this body and should even prefer to be absent from the body and present with Christ (5:8).
Judgment will come to all (5:10). Christ’s death has redefined the entirety of life as a journey to judgment. This is why he appears feverish for the content of the gospel, even to the point of seeming to be mentally unbalanced. Those who do not see the person and work of Christ, particularly the centrality of his atoning death, as God’s preeminent statement about the purpose of existence (5:14, 15) would view as eccentric one who interprets all of life in that framework (5:13). If, however, this view is true, then Paul is the one in his right mind, everyone else is dangerously unsettled, and Paul’s supposed mental disturbance is the pathway to true life. Paul had found in the death and resurrection of Christ such an infinite display of love, that its historical reality and it doctrinal implications controlled his entire being. In Christ, all those given him by the Father (John 17:2), have died, and their life now is one lived in anticipation of all that Christ has gained in the resurrection (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15).
I. Paul now regards no one merely in earthly terms, or according to the flesh (16, 17).
A. Because eternity has so flooded his own perceptions, he can look at no person nor any event from a merely temporal perspective. Paul’s grasp of reality was radically altered by God’s having shone in his heart the knowledge of God in the face of Christ.
B. At one time, before the glory of Christ in his person and work were revealed to his own mind and heart, Paul regarded Christ in purely temporal, worldly terms. He saw him as an imposter, a blasphemer, and as a perverter of the prophetic message about the Messiah. That all changed, however, as he saw the significance of the death and resurrection of Christ.
C. Using his own case as a paradigm for the new birth and its impact, Paul sees union with Christ as the first fruits of the entirely new order of things that soon will come.
- When the Spirit gives existential union with Christ, this involves a radical alteration of mental perceptions and the object of one’s affections. All around him is a new order of things. A “new creation” appears before him. The old way in which he perceived everything has gone and he sees this world and the people in it in terms of eternity.
- He himself is a “new creature,” as are all who are “born again,” or have been “made alive together with Christ,” or have “put on Christ.” He, therefore, from the perspective of his changed affections looks at the world in an entirely new framework.
- In addition, this age is corrupt, decaying, passing away and a new order is coming. “The whole universe will be delivered from its slavery to corruption. For we know,” Paul wrote, “that the whole creation is groaning and travailing in pain until this very hour. And not only they, but we ourselves who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan within ourselves waiting for the manifestation of our full sonship in the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8: 21-23). The New English Bible translates, “When anyone is united to Christ, there is a new world, . . . and a new order has already begun.”
II. Union with Christ establishes the beginning elements of the new creation (18, 19).
A. All of this, from original corruption to final redemption, is arranged by God and is under the sway of his sovereign purpose. The writer of Hebrews refers to God as the “God of peace,” pointing to the idea of reconciliation that dominates the thinking of Paul in the next few verses, as having raised Jesus from the dead “through the blood of the eternal covenant.” The arrangement of salvation through the reconciling work of Christ came before creation and was central to the “eternal covenant.”
B. Paul sums up the entire package of salvation in the idea of reconciliation. All that was necessary to abolish enmity and bring about peace has been done by Jesus Christ. God has “reconciled us to himself” (18b)
- In Ephesians 1: 3, 4 Paul stated, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, “blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” All blessings that are of eternal consequence and are imperishable by nature have been given us in Christ, established by the eternal purpose of God—the triune God in an eternal covenantal relationship.
- The purpose established in eternity has been brought to reality historically by the death of Christ. His work accomplished the entire cosmic plan of God’s unfolding his wisdom and fitting manifestation of attributes within the entire created order and the entire flow of historical events (Colossians 1:19-20). Through “the blood of the cross” in particular, God’s disposal of all things in his process of redemption and judgment will be seen as in perfect harmony with his wise purpose of making creation the stage on which his transcendent perfections have an ongoing and increasingly glorious display.
- The most glorious aspect of this universal and cosmic display of perfect congruity in attribute and action is found in the reconciliation of sinners. How can God be just and at the same time justify sinners (cf. Romans 3:21-26)? Among the many texts that affirm this, our text says, “God reconciled us to himself through Christ.” Verse 19 affirms, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” Similarly, Colossians 1:21, 22 says, “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now he has reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in his sight.”
- Christ’s reconciling work establishes the foundation of Union with the triune God. Specifically, through the incarnation of the eternal Son of God, by which incarnation he became the anointed one, the Christ, the Messiah, and only through such a union of God and man in one person could reconciliation be effected. This incarnation not only in itself achieved, by divine wisdom and power, an unbroken union between God and man, but laid the foundation for a completely satisfactory payment for transgression on the part of man. In Christ, the one who was righteous and had gained the merit of eternal life by his perfected obedience, also was treated as the malefactor, enduring in his own flesh and human soul, the perfect wrath of God against transgression, disobedience, sin, and iniquity. In dying “the just for the unjust,” (1 Peter 3:18) he brought us to God.
- Though reconciliation consists of several operations of God, in its initial work it involves justification which consists of two aspects. Paul wrote, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10). Similarly, Paul wrote that Jesus “was delivered over because of our transgressions and was raised because of our justification” (Romans 4:25). In his death, Jesus Christ “bore our sins in his own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24) freeing us from the law’s condemnation; in his resurrection his personal attainment of righteousness becomes our righteousness by imputation.
- “Reconciling the world to himself” brings out the thought of Paul’s argument in Romans 11 where he parallels “world” and “Gentiles” in contrast to the Jews, who by their blindness have not attained to the knowledge of salvation through the Messiah: “Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! . . . For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:12, 15). When Paul wrote of the reconciliation of the world, he did not mean each and every individual, but the world of peoples beyond the Jewish nation. God has his elect in the “world” as well as his remnant among the Jews; because Jesus Christ has died for them–all of those given to him by the Father–they have died. Christ has taken their death upon himself; it is as if their death on account of sin already has occurred, and they will not enter into condemnation (14).
III. Paul summarizes his ministry in terms of this reconciliation (20). Paul wrote it twice: God “gave us the ministry of reconciliation,” (18) and “He has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (19) The reconciling transaction comes to full fruit when the hearts of those for whom he died are called by the word and conformed to the truth by being brought to love God and trust him.
A. He sees it as an action on his part.
- Paul has been sent on an embassy as a representative of his Lord and Master, Christ. He considers that his words are not his own but the words of Christ himself—“as though God were making an appeal through us.” Throughout this letter, Paul has presented his message as the plain truth given by God, the success of which is completely dependent on the power and purpose of God (1:18, 19; 2:14-17; 3:5, 6, 12; 4:2-7; 5:11)
- In verse 11 he used the word “persuade;” in verse 20 he uses 2 other words. One is from the same word used in chapter 1 for comfort, and from which the word for “comforter” in John 14:16 comes. It literally denotes to “call alongside.” Through the apostle, God calls to sinners to come alongside him—that is, cease their rebellion, take his purpose as their own. Having this commission, Paul approaches it with particular urgency. He sees himself as issuing, on behalf of Christ, an earnest call. Thus he “implores” or he “begs” in light of the irreversible and inevitable reality of the coming judgment. Those who are not “reconciled” will experience the fierceness, indignation, and wrath of God (Romans 2:8, 9)
B. He summarized the content of the message. The message of reconciliation involves, in fact, is identified with, the reality of reciprocal substitution and consequent imputation (21). In summary, Paul’s call to reconciliation lays before his hearers the work that Christ has done without which none can stand in the day of judgment. On the one hand, all that sins requires of those who have committed it, Christ endured in their stead; on the other, all that righteousness gains before the judgment of God is granted to those who heed the message of reconciliation.
IV. In light of Christ’s universally extended work and the inevitability of coming judgment, response to the message now is urgent.
A. Since the ascension of Christ, the world has been in its “last days” (Hebrews 1: 1, 2). Judgment could not come before Christ came and died, for the prophecies of salvation through him must indeed take place. Now, however, that salvation has been accomplished, it is the “day of salvation.” Nothing remains to be done for the reconciliation of his people, history may close at any moment, and when it does the “acceptable time” as come to an end.
B. Presently, God is patient. He has promised that this present age will end with the melting of all the present elements with fervent heat (2 Peter 3: 7, 10-13). This day of finality now awaits the fulfillment of the promise of election (2 Peter 1:10, 11), and when it is done, the end will come. The present extension of the “day of salvation” is due to the intention of God to bring all of his elect himself (2 Peter 3: 9), scattered throughout the nations and throughout the ages. He is not willing that they should perish, which they must do if they do not come to repentance. But they will come to repentance through the call of Christ through his ambassadors, “Be ye reconciled to God.”
C. The call for reconciliation, therefore, is universal. Sin and rebellion are universal so the moral duty of repentance and seeking a heart reconciled to the rule of God and the pursuit of the glory of God is universal. All are creatures of God, all are subjects of the moral law of God, and none has the option to be exempt from standing before the triune God in judgment. The call, therefore to be reconciled to God is necessarily universal. The requirement of repentance is necessarily universal. The duty to find peace with God only through the perfect sacrifice of Christ is necessarily universal. God’s prerogative in salvation, however, is one of pure grace. He will bestow the riches of Christ’s reconciling work on those for whom it was made. To them the call for reconciled hearts will be effectually powerful: “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’ The Lord will stretch forth your strong scepter from Zion, saying ‘Rule in the midst of your enemies.’ Your people will offer themselves freely in the day of your power…. He has made known to his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of nations …. He has sent redemption to his people; He has ordained his covenant forever; Holy and awesome is his name” (Psalm 110:1-3; 111: 6, 9).