II Cor. 5:14f
I.) Preliminary Considerations
A.) Clearing up the “all.” (14f)
First off, we have to understand that this letter was written to the believing Church. Paul is not addressing unbelievers but he is speaking to believers here. The audience thus constrains us to hear the “all” language in the context of a believing community. The “all” then, given the context, points to believers.
Scripture consistently teaches that Christ died for all the subjects of Redemption. Christ died for all who died when He died. (“If one died for all, then all died.”) This is the principle of Covenant headship that is spoken of in Romans 5. All in Adam die in Adam and All in Christ are made in alive in Christ. The apostasy of Adam was the apostasy of all united to Adam. The work of Christ was the work of all united to Christ. The simple meaning here then is the death of Christ is the death of His people.
(Compare to Romans 5 “all” language.)
In this verse we would note that the ones for whom Christ died are the same “all” who died with Christ as a result of Christ’s death as mentioned at the end of the same verse.
So the answer to who the “all” is who died is the “all” who were made alive.
That St. Paul in this very letter does not embrace a Universal Atonement is seen in what he said earlier,
But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are perishing (4:3)
Here clearly the Apostle understands that the Gospel has a hidden quality and the hidden quality of it is towards those who are perishing. Clearly no idea of universality is present.
Earlier in II Corinthians this lack of “allness” is also hinted at.
14 Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the aroma of his knowledge by us in every place. 15 For we are unto God a sweet aroma of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the aroma of death unto death; and to the other the aroma of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?
So what is the difference in the aroma? It is that some catch the aroma as perishing while others catch the aroma as being saved.
All of this thus is suggestive that the “all” in chapter 5 is a “all” that is restricted by the design of the atonement.
B.) Impact of Being part of the All for whom Christ died (15)
The Holy Spirit goes on to say here that the consequence of having died in Christ is that we are now alive in Christ and so living unto him is the pivot point of our lives. (Romans 6)
This is consistent with what St. Paul said earlier of himself when He said that Christians make it their goal to please God. Paul can even say in Ephesians
“For we (Christians) are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
Charles Hodge waxes eloquent here on this point
“He only is a Christian who lives for Christ. Many persons think they can be a Christian on easier terms than these. They think it enough to trust in Christ while they do not live for Him. But the Bible teaches us that if we are partakers of Christ’s death, we are also partakers of His life; if we have any such appreciation for His love in dying for us as to lead us to confide in the merit of His death, we shall be constrained to consecrate our lives to His service. And this is the only evidence of the genuineness of our Faith.”
19th Century American Theologian
If we are, along with St. Paul to make it our goal to please him … if we are to live unto Christ then it is absolutely essential that Christ be known. Many are those who would insist that they are living unto Christ but they live unto a Christ of their own imagination.
Now having dealt with these introductory matters we want to consider two significant impulses of this passage.
I.) Eschatological Impulse
“If anyone is in Christ He is a new creation.”
Dutch Theologian Ridderbos says of this text, “This is the main theme of Paul’s ministry and epistles.”
We would add it is part of the theme of how it is that the new creation (God’s Kingdom, God’s New World Order) is penetrating into and rolling back this present wicked age.
This idea of a “New Creation” is a motif consistent with Old Testament promises. Isaiah wrote of the new creation future. There God speaks of a coming new creation,
“For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.”
Again in chapter 66 God speaks of God making a new heavens and a new earth. In Christ that new heavens and new earth have been created.
St. Paul is saying here in II Cor. 5 that the one in Christ has already now been placed in that new creation Kingdom that we might also be styled as “God’s New World Order.”
Paul says much the same thing with slightly different language when in Colossians he can say,
3 Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son
That Kingdom of God’s dear Son is the New Creation and as we are placed in the New Creation we ourselves are now “New Creations.” The old has past. The New has come.
Paul speaks of this theme again in Colossians 3, speaking of how believers,
have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:
The Believer then is part of this new creation community which Ezekiel recognized as once being a valley of dry bones but now a army brought to life from the dead. God has brought us up out of our graves when Christ Himself was brought out of His grave and has placed us in the future eschatological age to come with Christ … a future age that is impacting and leavening this present evil age. This new creation is the Rock that Daniel saw in his vision that rolled over all other Kingdoms that was placed in its way. This new creation is the mustard seed that became a great tree so that all the birds (nations) found a place to nest. This new creation come is the leaven that works itself through the whole.
This explains why for Paul in his preaching in the book of Acts the twin themes were the Resurrection of Christ and the Kingdom of God. Because of the Resurrection of Christ the Kingdom of God (what Paul often styles as the “new creation”) has arrived and is a hurricane force that has every intent of sucking everything in its path into its vortex to remake it consistent with the new creation Hurricane.
Now, why is this Eschatological impulse that we have noted here important?
Simply because the nowness of the “new creation” has been so long buried and continues to be buried underneath the flotsam and jetsam of those in the Church who would rather over emphasize the “not yetness” of the new creation. They accuse us who preach this nowness of a “over-realized” eschatology, by which they mean that our expectations of what Christ intends to accomplish before His return is to high to the point of being dangerous. They cast their eyes upon the landscape and they see how Christians are marginalized and they say, “Thus it has ever been, thus it is now, thus it will ever shall be. Amen,” completely ignoring the triumph of the Gospel and of Christianity in periods throughout History.
They thus make a virtue out of the expectation that the gates of Hell shall prevail. Their theology is all Crucifixion and no Resurrection and Ascension. They see the “not yet” of our Reformed Hermeneutic as corporeally incarnating itself into all of reality and all of our living but the “now” victory of our Reformed Hermeneutic in their sermons, books, and tours is all “spiritual,” which is to say, not only that it has no present tactile reality anyplace beyond the Church, but that it never will have any present tactile reality anyplace beyond the Church.
They conclude that those of us who desire to speak up regarding the “nowness” of the Kingdom and the certain incremental victory of the new creation over this present wicked age are a positive harm upon the Church.
Really, though the disagreement here is only one of differing eschatology. When Postmillennialists read the Scripture they see the triumph of Christ in space and time. When amillennialists read the Scripture they also see the triumph of Christ in space and time but then they end up defining “triumph” quite differently.
Now having spent some time here we want to consider the
II.) Soteriological Impulse
Reconciliation is the bringing together of two parties who have hostility towards one another.
The necessity of Reconciliation presupposes the existence of a barrier of enmity that needs to be removed.
In Christian theology the Reconciliation that needs to take place is both a Reconciliation of God to man and of man to God. The main emphasis of what St. Paul is speaking of here is God’s reconciliation towards man though the reciprocal idea of man’s reconciliation to God also can be gleaned.
Man’s main problem is that God needs to be Reconciled to him. God is justly at war with man because of His sin and something had to be done to provide a basis for God to be reconciled to man. That something that needed to be done God did Himself by incarnating and sending the 2nd person of the Trinity — the Lord Christ — to be the one who would remove The Father’s just hostility to His elect by taking upon Himself the Father’s just hostility towards sin.
In this text what is primarily spoken of is
A.) Objective Reconciliation (God being reconciled to man)
1.) The Author of the Reconciliation
God Himself — Paul says “… All things are of God who has reconciled us.”
Here we note that the chief and only actor in our reconciliation and salvation is God. This is why Biblical Christians will talk about “Salvation being all of God.” God took the initiative to reconcile His people. God did all the saving and He did it in the provision of Christ.
Who, Paul teaches here is,
2.) The Basis of our Reconciliation ?
Yes, God is the author of our reconciliation but He elected to provide that reconciliation only through Christ. This explains why Biblical Christians insist on the absolute necessity of a known Christ in order to have peace with God. There is no concourse with God apart from the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Christ is the one who extinguished the necessary and just opposition of God that was a immovable force set against us.
The plain meaning, thus, is that through Jesus Christ, God established the basis of agreement between men and God as estranged, removed the barrier to the sinner’s approach to Himself, and accepted the work of propitiation in Christ.
3.) The Preached Word of our Reconciliation (18, 20f)
Paul says here that he was set aside unto the ministry of reconciliation. By this he means that it is his calling to make known that God’s has been propitiated. Paul lets men know that God himself has appeased Himself in the appearance of Himself in the person and work of the second person of the Godhead.
4.) Reconciling the World to Himself.
Here I think we need to see that the reconciling work of Christ accomplished on the cross was designed so that in the outworking of history what would eventually come to pass was the salvation of the whole cosmos (“World”). In Christ’s death all things were reconciled in principle and definitively but that reconciliation was to take place progressively in history and culminate in all things being reconciled finally in the consummation of all things. The redemptive effects of Christ’s death was accomplished at the cross and those same redemptive effects continue to extend out into the future so that the all things that were reconciled in principle and definitively in the death of Christ are progressively reconciled as the future unfolds. The final end of Christ’s work is the reconciliation of the World that was accomplished in principle and definitively in the work of our Lord Christ in his Cross work.
Missionary Impulse (20f)
1.) Not reckoning their trespasses to them
2.) Based on the fact that God has provided His reconciliation to men because of Christ men now are responsible to be reconciled to God.
3.) Become the righteousness of God in Him
Objective — Based on the fact that Paul says that God counted Christ as being sin for us, I understand when Paul talks about our becoming the Righteousness of God he is referring first to the reality that because Christ’s righteousness is counted as ours we are said to be the righteousness of God.
Subjective — Becoming.
We become what we have been freely declared to be.