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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 5

Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentMahan's Commentary

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Verses 1-10

Absent from the body present with the Lord

2 Corinthians 5:1-10

This chapter continues the subject dealt with in the closing verses of chapter 4. Two things support the believer under trial and suffering: seeing him who is invisible and seeing the glory which is to follow this brief life on earth. Our confident hope of an eternal, blessed life with Christ hereafter makes us indifferent to our temporary troubles and encourages us to seek our Lord's approval.

2 Corinthians 5:1 . These are things which ‘we know.’ The body in which the soul dwells is an ‘earthly house’ because it is from the earth (Genesis 3:19) and shall return to the earth. It is called a ‘tabernacle’ or tent because of its frailty and short existence. It must soon wear out, be folded together and finally destroyed (Hebrews 9:27). When this comes to pass and the body is laid in the ground, the spirit returns to God (Luke 23:43; Philippians 1:23). We have ‘in the heavens’ a house, or habitation, or dwelling-place made by God, through the righteousness and death of Christ (John 14:1-3). It is a ‘building of God’ (worthy of its Author), ‘eternal’ (in that it shall never parish), and it will be enjoyed immediately after this tent is dissolved.

2 Corinthians 5:2 . Two things are evident here.

1. The believer groans under the burdens of this life. He groans because of the nature and corruption of sin which remains in him (Romans 7:24-25).

2. The believer longs and desires to be free from all sin and to be like Christ (Psalms 17:15). He does not desire death just for the sake of being done with life's burdens and trials, but he desires to put on immortality and to enter into the eternal joys of his Lord.

2 Corinthians 5:3 . We shall enter into the presence of the Lord clothed in the shining, pure and perfect robes of Christ's righteousness and shall not be ashamed (nor cast out) being naked (Matthew 22:11-13).

2 Corinthians 5:4 . While we are still in this tent of flesh, ‘we do groan, being burdened’ with the body of flesh and sin and desiring to be with Christ, which is far better. It is not that we desire to cease to exist nor cease to live in God's universe and kingdom, but that we long to live truly in glory, holiness and immortality (1 Corinthians 15:51-54). There is death about us and in us, and we long to be done with it. Death is not to be desired for its own sake, but even in the flesh we rejoice in the Lord and in his good providence. But death is to be desired because it leads the believer to that glorious change into the image of Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:5 . It is our sovereign Lord who has chosen, redeemed and called us to that glory and immortality (Romans 8:28-31). We can be sure of that inheritance, for God, in his unchangeable purpose (Malachi 3:6), has determined to populate the new heaven and new earth with a people like Christ. He gave his Son to redeem them and to provide for them a perfect righteousness, and he has given us his Holy Spirit as a pledge of that promise (Ephesians 1:13-14). Salvation is of the Lord in its plan, its execution, its application, its continuation and its ultimate perfection.

2 Corinthians 5:6 . Because God has foreordained us unto eternal glory in, by and through Christ, and has given us the earnest of his Spirit, we are confident and assured that we shall enjoy those blessings. We know that while we are sojourners on earth in this natural body we are absent from the glorious presence of God and the full enjoyment of that for which we have been redeemed. We are not absent from his general presence, which is everywhere (and particularly with his people), but we have not yet entered into our inheritance (1 Peter 1:3-5).

2 Corinthians 5:7 . Our lives, conduct and expectations are regulated by our firm conviction and belief concerning God's mercies and grace to us in Jesus Christ. We see nothing here (by the eye of sense) but misery, sin and death. Faith is spoken of as seeing. ‘He that seeth the Son...’ We see with the God-given eye of the soul which looks to Christ for all things.

2 Corinthians 5:8 . ‘We are confident of our future happiness and quite willing to depart out of this world and to be present with the Lord’ (Philippians 1:23-24). Those who are born from above, whose hearts and treasures are above, whose affection is set on things above, inwardly desire to depart from this strange country and live above.

2 Corinthians 5:9 . ‘We labour actively in the service and kingdom of the Lord preaching, witnessing and serving, and we labour passively, submitting to his divine providence, that whether living or dying, whether at home in the body or present with the Lord, we may be accepted in the Beloved.’ This is the one concern, the one desire of the renewed heart to win Christ and be found in him (Philippians 3:8-11).

2 Corinthians 5:10 . All sons of Adam must appear before the judgment seat of Christ (Hebrews 9:27). All judgment is committed to the Son (John 5:22). All judgment is relative to the Son (Romans 2:16). Men and women who have no interest in Christ, who have not the righteousness of Christ, shall give account of and stand responsible for every secret and open sin. Those who believe on Christ have no sin, therefore no condemnation (Romans 8:1). Our sins have been both judged and put away in our Lord's sacrifice (Hebrews 10:12-17).

Verses 11-17

Constrained by his love

2 Corinthians 5:11-17

2 Corinthians 5:11 . ‘Being confident that there shall be a great and terrible judgment of the Lord, before which all must appear (Hebrews 9:27), the Lord Jesus himself being the Judge (2 Corinthians 5:10, John 5:22), at which men shall give account for all that they have thought, said and done in the flesh, we persuade men to venture on Christ and believe on him to the saving of their souls. Salvation is only by Christ, who is both able and willing to save the chief of sinners (Hebrews 7:25). If a man is in Christ by faith, there is no judgment nor condemnation awaiting him (Romans 8:1; Romans 8:34). If men are not persuaded and do not believe us, God knows our hearts and the sincerity of our mission. He knows that we labour for his glory and the good of men. I hope that our faithfulness and honesty are known to you also.’

2 Corinthians 5:12 . The apostle is not praising himself nor commending himself to them, nor does he defend the sincerity of his ministry for their sakes, for they knew him. But he writes these things that they might have a reply for those false apostles and prophets who reproached Paul and gloried in outward show, in circumcision, in learning, in appearance only and who knew nothing about heart conviction, repentance and faith (Romans 10:9-10; Luke 16:15; Galatians 6:12-14).

2 Corinthians 5:13 . Paul's zeal and enthusiasm concerning Christ and the gospel of God's grace led many of his adversaries to call him a frantic, even a madman (Acts 26:24). He tells them that his great zeal and diligence were for the glory of God and the good of the church. ‘Whether we be mad, as some say, preaching with great ardour and forcefulness, or whether we be calm and lowly, it is to promote God's glory and your eternal good’ (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17).

2 Corinthians 5:14 . All ministers of Christ and all believers in the Lord Jesus are under the sweetest and strongest constraint to do what they do. They are motivated by ‘the love of Christ’ his love for them and their love for him. It is not fear of hell, desire for reward, nor concern for acceptance that excite believers to their duty, but Christ's eternal love, which led him to redeem them by his life and death, and the love of God which is shed abroad in their hearts (John 21:17; 1 John 4:19). His love for us is the chief motive, for we know that if he died then we were all dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). If we had not been dead spiritually, he would not have had to die. Also, if he died for us, we died in him to the world, to the claims and curse of the law and to ourselves (Galatians 6:14).

2 Corinthians 5:15 . How will men whom Christ loved and for whom Christ died live, labour and conduct themselves? Certainly not to themselves to serve their own profit, honour and ambitions, nor to the flesh to fulfill its lusts and cravings, nor to the world which hates Christ, but to him who died for them and rose again (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). The end of Christ's sacrifice was to redeem us from sin and make us holy (Ephesians 1:3-5; Titus 2:14). It is unreasonable to suggest that a person chosen by the Father, redeemed by the Son and regenerated by the Spirit will disregard the commandments of his Lord and live a self-centered, sinful and worldly life.

2 Corinthians 5:16 . The word ‘know’ in this verse means to approve, acknowledge, or esteem. Paul is saying that he values no man from a human point of view, in terms of natural standards. Whether a man be a descendant of Abraham, circumcised, learned, rich, gifted, or weak, he regards no man with respect to any fleshly consideration. Christ has taken away all distinctions of the flesh and brought us into a spiritual kingdom (Colossians 3:10-11). Christ was once a man, walked perfectly upon this earth and we did esteem him as such, but we have other thoughts and apprehensions of him now. He is our exalted Saviour and Redeemer, whose kingdom is not of this world. We do not make images and pictures of Christ as a man and use them in worship, but we love and worship him in spirit and truth (Philippians 3:3).

2 Corinthians 5:17 . ‘If any person is in Christ,’ not in religion, in the church, or in moral reformation, but in Christ, by faith in Christ, by a new birth wrought in the soul by the Spirit of God, in Christ through electing love, redeeming grace and a living union, he is ‘a new creature’ (Galatians 6:15). This new creation describes a creation work, not of man but of God (Ephesians 2:8-10; Colossians 3:10). It is a new nature, a new man and a new principle of grace and holiness, which was not there before and is distinct from the old nature, the old man, with which we are born in the flesh (John 3:5-6; John 1:12-13). ‘Old things are passed away’ - the old way of life, which loves and serves the flesh, the old legal righteousness and religion, old companions and acquaintances, old desires for riches, honour and human philosophic, and old foolish thoughts of God, self and future glory. The new man thinks and acts from new principles, new rules, with new goals and objectives and in a new fellowship. He has a new commandment of love, a new name, a new song in his mouth, even praise to God, a new and living way opened by the blood of Christ, and an inheritance in the new heavens and new earth. In the new creation absolutely nothing of the flesh is needed, used, nor continued. Our Lord said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’

Verses 18-21

All things are of God

2 Corinthians 5:18-21

There are only four verses in this section, but if, by the grace of God, a person can lay hold of the things taught in these verses, he will have a foundation which will not be shaken, a sure hope in Christ Jesus and the greatest comfort in every trial.

2 Corinthians 5:18 . ‘And all things are of God.’ Paul probably referred to the preceding statement: ‘If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature,’ for this complete change, which is wrought in conversation is certainly not of ourselves, but of God (John 1:12-13). We have a new name, a new heart, a new nature, new principles and a new family, which are all of grace by the power of God. But on a wider scale all things are of God all things in creation, in providence, in redemption and in the world to come. He is the first cause of all things!

There may be second and third causes and instruments used by God to accomplish his purpose (Acts 4:27-28), but he works his will in heaven and earth and gives it to whomsoever he will. ‘He hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ.’ Those who were enemies by birth, by nature and choice are now made friends and sons. Reconciliation indicates a quarrel or separation, and sin is responsible for that separation. ‘Your sins have separated you from your God.’ The law of God is violated, the justice of God must punish the guilty and the holiness of God will not permit acceptance or fellowship. But God is not only willing to be reconciled, he has appointed his Son the Mediator of reconciliation (1 Timothy 2:5). He set forth his only begotten Son in his purpose and decree to be our representative, our righteousness, our sin-offering and our atonement (Galatians 4:4-5) that by his obedience before the law and by his suffering and death the law might be honored, justice satisfied and peace made between God and the elect.

He reconciled us to himself as being the party offended, whose law was broken, whose justice required and demanded satisfaction (Romans 3:19-26). And he ‘hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation,’ which is the gospel. By the inspiration of God, the Scriptures were written (2 Timothy 3:16-17) which contain the word of reconciliation, showing that peace and eternal life are in Christ. God also sends forth his ministers to preach the gospel of mercy and grace in Christ (Romans 10:13-15; 2 Timothy 1:8-11; Mark 16:15-16). This ministry of reconciliation is God-given.

2 Corinthians 5:19 . ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.’ This phrase declares what is the ministry of reconciliation, its author, its means, its subjects and its consequences. Christ is God (John 1:1-3; Acts 20:28). In the person of Christ, God was actually providing himself a lamb, a ransom and an atonement. He did not charge our sins to us but to Christ, having made Christ to be sin for us (Isaiah 53:4-6; Isaiah 53:11-12; 1 Peter 2:24). The word ‘world’ does not mean that Christ effectually bore the sins of every person and reconciled every son of Adam to God by his death. If this were true, no one would finally be lost. He reconciled the world in the sense that he redeemed a people out of every tribe, kindred and nation - not of the Jews only.

John Owen said, ‘If Christ died for all of the sins of all men, then all men will be saved; if he died for some of the sins of all men, then no one will be saved; but if he died for all of the sins of some men, then some men will be eternally saved.’ This message of substitution and satisfaction by the obedience and sufferings of Christ has been committed to faithful ministers of the gospel. We dare to preach it and dare not preach any other message (Galatians 1:8-9; 1 Corinthians 9:16). Inasmuch as Christ is our righteousness, God does not call upon us to produce a righteousness, but to receive his righteousness by faith. Inasmuch as Christ is our Surety and Substitute, God will not require satisfaction from us but accepts us in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6-7).

2 Corinthians 5:20 . Since God has reconciled his sheep by Christ and has given to his ministers the gospel of reconciliation, then they are certainly the ‘ambassadors,’ or representatives ‘for Christ.’ They come sent of him, empowered by him and speaking for him. To hear a true servant of Christ speaking by his Spirit in keeping with his word is to hear Christ (1 John 4:6). The minister of the gospel speaks in the name of Christ, for the glory of Christ and for our eternal good. His message is that God is reconciled in Christ; Christ died for sinners; there is peace and life to be had through faith in Christ: ‘Be ye reconciled to God.’ God is reconciled to us in Christ, but before regeneration and conversion we are still at war with God. Our natural mind is enmity, not subject to God, loving darkness and hating light (1 Corinthians 2:14; Romans 8:7). This is the message of God's ambassador: ‘God is reconciled; lay down your arms of rebellion, kiss the Son and be reconciled to God.’

2 Corinthians 5:21 . Christ our Lord had no sin, knew no sin and did no sin. He was perfect before the law of God (1 Peter 2:22; Hebrews 4:15). Our sins were reckoned to him. He was identified and numbered with the transgressors and, though he personally had no sin, yet by imputation he was the world's greatest sinner and was dealt with as such and died under the wrath of God (Galatians 3:13; Hebrews 9:28; Romans 8:32). All of this was done that we might be made the righteousness of God in Christ and, by our identification and oneness with Christ, justified. Christ, who knew no sin, was made sin for us that we, who have no righteousness, might be made righteous before God in him (Romans 10:1-4). With his spotless garments on, we are as holy as his Son (Isaiah 45:24). Someone said, ‘The gospel can be summed up in two words substitution and satisfaction.’ Christ, as our Substitute, made full and complete satisfaction for us before God's holy law and righteous justice. In him we are wholly sanctified, completely and eternally saved.

Bibliographical Information
Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5". Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hms/2-corinthians-5.html. 2013.
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