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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
2 Corinthians 5

 

 

Verse 1

‘For we know that if the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens.’

Paul now declares his confidence in a bodily future after the resurrection. He tells us that if ‘the earthly house of our tabernacle (that is, our earthly tent house) is destroyed’ we have something more substantial, a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. There is here a deliberate contrast between what is temporary, a tent on the one hand and what is permanent, a building on the other. As a tent maker he was well aware of the temporary nature of a tent, however strong they tried to make it, and that something ‘made by hands’ would never be fully satisfactory or perfect. None knew better than he the problem of combating wind and weather. But the ‘building’ in heaven is made ‘without hands’. In other words it is made by God and is therefore permanent, durable and perfect. It has nothing of earthly imperfections. Its builder and maker is God. There is the contrast between what is destructible and earthly, on the one hand, and what is ‘not made with hands’ and therefore ‘eternal in the heavens’ on the other. All the frailty of earth is replaced by the solidity and permanence of heaven.

In Paul’s mind the use of ‘earthly’ must be seen as reminding us that man was made of ‘the dust of the ground’ (Genesis 2:7), of that which was earthy and corruptible, of that which lived, and struggled, and died. But once we rise again we leave all that is earthy behind, for our bodies are renewed as a spiritual body, permanent, indestructible, and heavenly, and wrought by God Himself.

The ‘that if’ refers to the fact that many will not die but will be caught up in the Parousia (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). They escape ‘destruction’ of the body. Although ‘destroyed’ might signify his own recognition that he might have a violent death, of which he is unafraid. However, in the end all earthly bodies decay and are destroyed, so all are in the end subject to destruction. For ‘a house not made with hands’ compare Mark 14:58. It indicates something made by God, something not earthly, but far superior in form and essence.

So the thought is of a better body, a spiritual body, which is permanent and incorruptible, in accordance with 1 Corinthians 15:20-58. ‘We have -.’ It is promised to us and is the future that is in store for us. It is our certain hope.

Some have taken the permanent building as referring to something similar to the many abiding places of John 14:2, as though the thought is that when we leave these decaying bodies we will have a permanent resting place. Others have referred it to the heavenly Temple or to the heavenly ‘body of Christ’ in which all who are in Christ will have their part, and both are gloriously true, but while they may be true that is probably not the idea here. The contrast with the earthly tent suggests emphatically that the heavenly, spiritual body of the believer is in mind, and this is confirmed by 2 Corinthians 5:4, where we are to be clothed upon and what is mortal is to be swallowed up in life.

So our heavenly building is to be heavenly, permanent, and God-built, which is the guarantee of its perfection.

‘We know.’ (’oidamen). A particular knowledge given in the mind of believers, but the fullness of which is not yet experienced.

‘The earthly house of our tabernacle.’ Our ‘earthly tent house’. That is, as we are, in frail flesh, as opposed to the reality of what shall be. But the tent is ourselves, not just something in which we dwell, although there is more to us than tent, for there is the spiritual seed which will be the foundation of the transformed body (1 Corinthians 15:42-45). The idea of the tent may include the thought that we are but travellers and pilgrims awaiting arrival at our destination (compare 1 Peter 2:11). Others see behind it the idea of the frailty of the Tabernacle compared with the solidity of God’s permanent Temple. Either way the emphasis is on its temporary nature.


Verses 1-10

The Reason Why They Are Setting Their Minds On Things Above (2 Corinthians 5:1-10)

The thought of looking at what is unseen, rather than at what is seen, now leads on to a consideration of the resurrection of the body. Paul visualises the glorious future that awaits all who are His. Not for the Christian the nakedness of death, but a renewed, spiritual, eternal body in the heavens.


Verse 2-3

‘For verily in this we groan, longing to be clothed upon with our habitation which is from heaven, if so be that (or ‘inasmuch as’) being clothed we shall not be found naked.

The contrast goes on. In our earthly tent we groan (or ‘in this situation we groan’), we are afflicted, we suffer hardship. We long to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven. The ‘longing for’ stresses that it is still future. That is not because we are sick of life but because amidst the toils of life we look forward to something far, far better. The Greeks who thought about it groaned because they wanted to get rid of their bodies. They wanted to be ‘free spirits’. They thought that getting rid of their bodies would solve their problems. But Paul groans because he wants the perfect heavenly body rather than his imperfect one. He wants to be transformed in himself. He does not want to be ‘naked’.

But then he enters a caveat lest any wrongly assume that such will automatically be theirs whatever the state of their hearts before God. ‘That is if we are one of those who will be so clothed, and not one of those who are found naked, that is without a resurrection body, because we are not in Christ.’ We can compare 1 Corinthians 9:27 for such a sudden application of the thought that none should be presumptious.

The thought of ‘nakedness’ appals Paul. It not only signifies being ‘without a body’, but also signifies ‘laid bare to God’ with no hope of mercy, and no means of atonement. They would be ‘found naked’ at the judgment, deeply and despairingly aware of their nakedness, and their sinful state, as Adam and Eve were in the Garden after they had sinned (Genesis 3:10). Babylon's punishment was to have its nakedness exposed and its shame uncovered (Isaiah 47:3), and fallen Israel’s judgment was that it would be left naked and bare, with its shame exposed to all (Ezekiel 23:29). Compare Isaiah 20:2-4; Ezekiel 16:7; Hosea 2:3. This is the fate of all who do not respond fully to Christ in faith and trust.


Verse 4

‘For indeed we who are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened, not for that we would be unclothed, but that we would be clothed upon, that what is mortal may be swallowed up of life.’

Then he continues and expands on the thought, having very much in mind those who deny the resurrection body (1 Corinthians 15:12). It is true that in our earthly tents we groan because of our earthly state. But our burden and our groaning is not so that we will be released from an unworthy human body, as the Greeks believed, for we do not desire to be unclothed, but rather we desire that our present bodies with their frailty and weakness will be transformed, and that at the resurrection we will be ‘clothed upon’, clothed as with an additional outer garment, and become a superior body.

This is what 1 Corinthians 15:42-49 is telling us, where it says that the resurrection body will be in some ways a continuation of the spiritual aspects of our old body, receiving an eternal ‘covering’ in which it has a part, so that what is mortal may become eternal, ‘mortality swallowed up in (eternal) life’. The picture here is vivid, being swallowed up by ‘life’ like Jonah was by the whale. But in this case we become a part of what swallows us up. We become absorbed into eternal life, and that life becomes absorbed into us. (Just as Jonah would eventually have been absorbed into the whale had he stayed in the whale’s belly). The reason therefore that we groan is that we are awaiting the redemption of our body that we might be swallowed up in eternal life (Romans 8:23).

We must not overpress illustrations that speak of things beyond our understanding. The idea of being ‘clothed upon’ rather indicates that what we have at present is unsatisfactory and comes short and therefore needs enhancing. But it does not mean that we have to be stripped down. God has no intention of unclothing us, Paul says, rather He will improve our situation totally, He will more fully clothe us. Thus death for the Christian is not to be seen as an unclothing, but as resulting in a taking on of something far, far better, which relates to and vastly improves on the old.


Verse 5

‘Now he who wrought us for this very thing is God, who gave to us the earnest of the Spirit.’

And this glorious future is guaranteed to us because God has fashioned us for this very purpose (Philippians 3:21), working in us to will and to do of His good pleasure in ways beyond our understanding (Philippians 2:13), saving us, and moulding us in His image (Romans 8:29), that He might present us perfect before Him (Colossians 1:22; Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 4:13; Ephesians 5:27; Hebrews 10:14). And this is all guaranteed to us because we have been given the Spirit as ‘an earnest’, a sample and guarantee of the future (compare 2 Corinthians 1:22), His seal on us until the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30). That is why if any man does not have the Spirit of Christ he is none of His (Romans 8:9). And the Holy Spirit and all He is to us is a foretaste of the glory that one day we shall know.


Verses 6-8

‘Being therefore always of good courage, and knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord (for we walk by faith, not by sight); we are of good courage, I say, and are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord.’

So Paul is never permanently downhearted. His spirit is always strong. No threat concerns him. He is of good courage. It is true that while we are at home (en-demeo) in the body we are absent, away from home (ek-demeo) from the Lord, that is, absent from Him in His visible presence. For we walk by faith, and not by sight. We enjoy His presence by faith, even though we do not see Him. But one day we will be absent from the earthly, visible body and present with, and at home with, the Lord, something for which we are willing and eager. (‘With’ is pros with the accusative which indicates close personal inter-relationship - compare its use in John 1:1). Then we will enjoy His visible presence. This in itself confirms that he does not see the state after death as one of nakedness. He would not have said that he preferred a state that he looked on with distaste. Nakedness without a body is a state he does not want. All this continues the thought of not looking at the seen but at the unseen.

So our present home is our natural, physical body on earth. But we have an addition to our home that we will one day in the future enjoy in the visible presence of the Lord, our future spiritual bodies which will arise out of what we are now. In 2 Corinthians 5:8 the verbs are in the aorist, indicating the once-for-allness of the situation.

The question in all this is whether we are to see Paul as speaking only of the resurrection body, or as also including our state when we die and are ‘with Christ’ (Philippians 1:23) prior to the resurrection. 2 Corinthians 5:6 would suggest that both situations are in mind, without giving a clear indication of what the pre-resurrection state will be like. For it is the final state that matters.

One thing, however, he does make clear, and that is that even there we will not be just ‘naked souls’. We will not be unclothed. To him that would have indicated not being whole, and he cringed from the thought. We must finally leave the solution of this question with God, although there is possibly a clue in the verb ‘clothed upon’. When a man dies the physical side of his body drops off but the ‘seed’ of the old, which becomes part of the new, remains. He is still in some way clothed in the renewed spiritual aspect of the old body.

And one thing that we can be sure of is that such a state was something that Paul looked forward to and eagerly desired, for he makes that clear in Philippians 1:19-23. It was not yet the best, but it was still far better until the best shall come. However the question of an intermediates state did not seem an important one to the early church for they were constantly awaiting His coming, and so it is spoken of little.


Verse 9

‘For this reason also we make it our aim (aspire), whether at home or absent, to be well-pleasing to him.’

So whether at home in the body, or absent from the body, and present with the Lord, they make it their aim to be well pleasing to God. That is what is central to all life. Being pleasing to God. And their commitment to this while on earth is enhanced by their belief in the resurrection, and their dedication to ‘pleasing Him well’ is strengthened by it.

Alternately ‘at home’ might be thinking of heaven, with our present life as therefore being seen as absent from where we truly belong, as 2 Corinthians 5:8 might suggest.


Verse 10

‘For we must all be made openly revealed (laid bare) before the judgment-seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether it be good or bad.’

Note the ‘we must’. It is a divinely ordained necessity. So why is being well-pleasing to Him their aim? Because they know that one day all Christians must be ‘made openly revealed’ before the judgment seat of Christ. This seat is like the reward seat at the Games. It is a place where those who are His receive the reward for good things done in the body, and experience the sadness at reward lost because of the useless things, because of their failure at times to be fit enough. Compare 1 Corinthians 3:10-15; 1 Corinthians 4:4; Romans 14:10-12. It is a time when all who are His will receive praise from God, for all will have something to offer as worthy of reward (otherwise they are not Christians), and all will be aware that they could have done better.

There is no reason why this judgment seat should be differentiated from the judgment at the last day or the great white throne of judgment (Revelation 20). (For details on this go toRevelation 7) The point is rather that the Christian comes to it to be judged on a different level from the unbeliever. The unbeliever is judged on the whole aspect of his rebellion and disobedience to God’s Law. For him it is the criminal court. For the believer that is behind him. The charges have been met and dealt with in Christ. What he must account for is his service as God’s steward. For him it is the employment tribunal. What is good will be preserved. What is useless and worthless will be burned up.


Verse 11

God’s Ministry of Reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:11 to 2 Corinthians 6:2).

Having spoken of God’s work in the heart through His Spirit, and of the new covenant, followed by the revelation of the Christian’s future by means of the resurrection, Paul now goes back to the basis of it all, man’s reconciliation with God. If men are to know these things that he has described there needs to be a new creation. And man needs to be reconciled to God, a reconciliation which is only found in Christ through the cross.

But before he can press home that message he feels he must again bring out his own genuineness in comparison with those who are all outward show.


Verse 11

‘Knowing therefore the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are openly revealed to God; and I hope that we are also openly revealed in your consciences.’

Paul now emphasises, in the light of the mention of the judgment seat of Christ, that what he and his fellow-workers do is through the fear the Lord, not in the sense of terror before a holy God, for that is for unbelievers, but as an evidence of reverence and awe in view of the responsibility that is theirs, and in the light of the One to whom we are all accountable. The Master has sent us forth, he says, and we therefore need to live our lives so as to be ready to give an account of ourselves to Him when He returns and calls us to account for our stewardship (Luke 12:35-48 and often in the ministry of Jesus).

So he stresses that he himself and his fellow-workers do know that awe and reverence. They are constantly aware of the One with Whom they have to do. And it leads on to the fact that they constantly seek to ‘go on persuading’ men in accordance with what their need might be. Some they seek to persuade to the truth, others to right behaviour. And still others, like the Corinthians, they seek to persuade as to the validity of their ministry. They use persuasion in whatever way will further the cause of God, for they want to receive the maximum ‘well done’ from God.

And they do this knowing that, all the time, what they are and what they do is openly revealed to God. Nothing is hidden from Him. Their fear of Him reminds them that He Who will one day bring all things into the open is already aware of those ‘all things’ (compare Hebrews 4:13).

‘But we are openly revealed to God.’ Nothing is hidden from Him. There may also be behind this statement the idea that they deliberately bring their lives before God daily that He might scan them and bring to light any failure of heart or attitude. The idea may be that they encourage in themselves an openness before God in their prayers, precisely because they want to be ‘openly revealed’ before Him so that they might know that the path they take is the right one. And knowing that they are so openly revealed, and that they still have peace in their hearts as a consequence, will satisfy them that that they are on the right path. But in the end it is simply a statement that God knows all their hearts.

‘And I hope that we are also openly revealed in your consciences.’ Confident that God knows all and is satisfied with his ways, he puts it to the Corinthians to now look at their own consciences and come up with their opinion also. He hopes that the consciences of the Corinthians will give him similar clearance to that given by God. He is still sensitive as to the way they had so easily been persuaded to take up an attitude against him. The appeal to their consciences suggests that the appeal is to each individual. Each must judge for himself on the basis of his conscience how they will see things and what view they will have of him (compare 2 Corinthians 4:2).


Verse 12

‘We are not again commending ourselves to you, but speak as giving you occasion of glorying on our behalf, that you may have that by which to answer those who glory in appearance, and not in heart.’

He assures them that they do not speak like this seeking commendation. They are not into trying to get commendation. Rather do they want the Corinthians to recognise their genuineness so that the Corinthians themselves might be able to glory in what they are, both before God and before ‘those who glory in appearance and not in heart’. Paul, they will be able to say in his defence, does not put on an appearance, a preaching show, he speaks from the heart. He is genuine and true.

‘Those who glory in appearance, and not in heart.’ This has in mind his opponents. They put on a great show. But their glorying is in the wrong thing. They consider outward show more important than the message that comes from the heart. So the Corinthians will be able to compare him with them.


Verse 13

‘For whether we are beside ourselves, it is to God; or whether we are of sober mind, it is to you.’

Indeed some of his opponents may say that they were mad. Probably this has reference to his constant statement that they must share the sufferings of Christ, and to the constant dangers they were willing to face, claiming that they were of God. Not being themselves willing to face such outlandish dangers (such as Paul will describe in the following chapters) their opponents rather declared that Paul and his fellow-workers must be ‘mad’ to face them and take up that attitude. Would not God have kept them out of danger? Well, says Paul, we do it ‘to God’. It is God Who leads us and requires this of us, and we can only follow. So they do ‘mad things’ for Him because that is what He has showed them, and because loving Him they are ready to behave with such ‘madness’. It was not the last time that those who heard the call of God and forsook all for him were to be called mad. For some it is true today.

‘Or whether we are of sober mind, it is to you.’ On the other hand their ‘madness’ as they obey God is in contrast with the sober-minded way they deal with God’s people. Their ‘madness’ as described, can be contrasted with a sober mind in ministry. Both arise because of their sole purpose, which is in order to be able to bring benefit to God’s people, including the Corinthians. So let them recognise that while they might be described by some as somewhat ‘mad’ in what they do, let that be left to God’s judgment. It is not a madness that affects their ministry. That is carried out in full sober-mindedness towards its beneficiaries. For you, he says, we are totally sober-minded. Our thought is concentrated on what will benefit you the most.

The suggestion that ‘beside ourselves’ refers to ecstatic worship is countered by the fact that Paul nowhere sees spiritual gifts as any other than controlled. Their use does not result for him in the kind of behaviour that is likened to madness. And as he only uses tongues in private they would not know how he prayed. He would not therefore be likely to speak of them as suggesting he is beside himself for this reason. (Unless of course someone had seized on his statement that he prayed in tongues more than all, and seen it in the light of the behaviour of some in the Corinthian church meetings).


Verse 14-15

For the love of Christ constrains us (‘grips us tightly’), because we thus judge, that one died for all, therefore all died, and he died for all, that they who live should no longer live to themselves, but to him who for their sakes died and rose again.

For what they do, they do because they are constrained by the love of Christ, the love that Christ has for them (it could mean the love that we have for Christ, but the immediate reference to the cross points to His love for us). They are gripped by His love. His love for them, revealed through the cross, moves them to reveal a similar love for others. Was He willing to die for them? So were they willing to die for others. Did He show His love for them? So will they show their love for others.

Indeed the death of Christ was such that they ‘all’ partake in it. He died ‘for all’ (that is for all who believe, whether Jew or Gentile), and 1 Corinthians 15:3 tells us it was ‘for our sins’. And in that fact that He died for all, all died. His death for sins was counted on their behalf. The fact that the latter ‘all’ must refer only to Christians suggests that the first does also.

So the dying figure on the cross suffered for the sins of all who would be His. And as He died, we died in Him. His death comprised in itself a multiplicity of deaths, the deaths of all who would be ‘in Him’. The sentence of death on sin was being paid in Him for that innumerable multitude. That this has substitutionary force cannot be reasonably denied, although we can also include representation. He died in their place and as their representative, and thus they consider themselves as having died with Him (Galatians 2:20). His death is put to their account so that the law cannot condemn them. It has been satisfied by their having died in Him (Galatians 3:10-13) and it can no longer point the accusing finger (Romans 7:6). For if it did we would boldly reply, ‘I have already died in Christ. The price I owe has been paid.’

And the final purpose in His dying for all was so that those who did die with Him may no longer live to themselves, but to Him Who for their sakes died for them and rose again. They are to consider themselves, as they once were, as ‘the old man’, as having died so that their lives no longer belong to them. They must reckon themselves as dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6:11). And they must reckon themselves, as they are as the new man, as having risen with Christ, and therefore as being under obligation to God to live as He lives. For they have been raised in Him into heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6) and must live heavenly lives as citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20).

The further significance of the cross is that those who come to receive the benefit of it in forgiveness of sin and in salvation (‘for our sins’), then recognise that as He died on the cross so did they, and they therefore recognise that being dead to sin they must live as dead to sin. They must die to all that put Christ on the cross. They must crucify the flesh with its affections and desires (Galatians 5:24). And they must see themselves as having risen in Him to a new life, so as to please the One Who Himself also died and rose again for their sakes. They must let Him live through them. In the words of Paul elsewhere, “I have been crucified with Christ. Nevertheless I live. Yet it is not I who live, but Christ Who lives in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God Who loved me and gave Himself up for me’ (Galatians 2:20). He recognised that Christ was now living in him, and desired to live through him. Thus his life from that time was a life offered to the One Who loved Him. This is why the Corinthians can recognise the genuineness of his message and of his concerns.


Verse 16

‘Wherefore we henceforth know no man after the flesh: even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know him so no more.’

The result of recognising what Christ has done for us in dying and rising again is that we look at everything differently. From now on we do not judge men from a human point of view. From now on we see them from the point of view of heaven. We see them as either believers or unbelievers. We see even the most righteous as sinners before God. We see the once depraved sinner who has been converted as a child of God, pure in God’s eyes. Nor do we differentiate men into Jew or Gentile, dividing men on the basis of race or religion. We know all men in terms of whether they are believers, whether they belong to Christ and are God’s true people, or not.

We even see Christ differently. We may previously have seen Him in terms of His earthly sojourn, and what He was then. We may have judged Him on our own prejudices. But now we see Him totally differently We see Him as the risen Christ, as the Lord of all. We know Him as the One in Whom we died, thus finding deliverance from sin, and from Whom we have received new life. A failure to see Christ like that was probably one of the failures of the later mentioned ‘pseudo-apostles’ (2 Corinthians 11:4).


Verse 17

‘Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new (or ‘the old has passed away, the new has come’).’

As a result of that if any man is in Christ he is a new creature, newly created in Christ. When a man is ‘in Christ’ through his response to the word of the cross everything is changed for him. All the old things, his old life, his old ambitions, his old aims, are passed away. He is a transformed person. His whole life has become new. He is a new creation. He lives only for Christ, and as it were allows Christ to live out His life through him (2 Corinthians 5:15). He is born anew of the Spirit (John 3:5-6), and made a partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

Alternately this could be translated, ‘there is a new creation’. Both translations are equally possible, and the word does normally refer to ‘the creation’ elsewhere. But the meaning then is almost the same. It means that for the man in Christ the whole creation becomes new. He looks at everything in a different way, and from a different point of view. He has entered into the new beginning, the Kingly rule of God over His ‘new’ creation, which has come in Christ.

However, the continuation from 2 Corinthians 5:16, and the statement in 2 Corinthians 5:15 strongly favour that we see it as meaning ‘a new creature’. The point there is that such a one is different, and that is why he sees things so differently. He is a totally new person. On the other hand the transition to ‘all things’ in 2 Corinthians 5:18 has been suggested as favouring ‘a new creation’, (although ‘all things’ can probably there mean something else).

The word ‘new’ means ‘something different from before’. It means here totally new. He is a transformed person. What is common to both interpretations is that for the man in Christ life changes. He has a new perspective. He lives a new life. He is thus a ‘new’ person.


Verse 18-19

‘But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses, and having committed to us the word of reconciliation.’

Having been tightly grasped by the love of Christ, and having experienced the powerful effect of the word of the cross, and having been made one with Him in His death and resurrection (2 Corinthians 5:14-15), we see both men and Jesus from different perspectives to what we had before (2 Corinthians 5:16), and we have become new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). And now he stresses that all this is of God.

‘All things are of God.’ Whether it be our salvation in Christ, the newness of our thoughts, or the new creatures that we have become. All that happens to us spiritually (‘all things’), is because God has taken the initiative and reconciled us to Himself through Christ Jesus.

Alternatively he may simply be making a general declaration that everything (‘all things’) that happens is of God, and especially His reconciling work.

Either way he is declaring that it was God and God alone who brought about the means of reconciliation and, as a result, our reconciliation to Him. It was God Who took the initiative, through Christ, as a result of which the consequences he has described followed. Paul probably has very much in mind the way that God arrested him on the Damascus road (Acts 9). His mad career was brought to a sudden halt by the sovereign power of God, Who reconciled him to Himself. Yet in the end it is true for all who come to Him. He chooses whom He will reconcile, and then brings about the reconciliation (indeed in one senses has already brought it about) through Christ (see Ephesians 2:13-18; Colossians 1:20-22). All we can do is respond to His initiative, as Paul did.

The need for ‘reconciliation’ suggests that there is enmity and hostility to be dealt with (Colossians 1:21). Once Paul had not thought of himself as hostile to God. He would have sworn that he was God’s true servant. That was why he had persecuted the Christians. But God had been forced to show him that his attitude to Christ demonstrated his enmity against God. He was rejecting what God really was. He was at enmity with God’s demands (compare Romans 8:7; Ephesians 2:15-16; James 4:4). The same is true for all men. They may have a general belief in God. But their hearts are not with Him. Their hearts too are at enmity with Him as is proved by their lives (Romans 1:18 following). All therefore need to be ‘reconciled’ if they are to know God (see Romans 5:10). And that does not just mean that they are willing to be reconciled, it means that somehow God has to become reconciled to them and what they are.

For God is ‘hostile’ to us because of what we are, because of our sinfulness and rebellion. It is not that He wishes enmity, it is that in us there is that which arouses His abhorrence, that which He cannot overlook, because it is contrary to His nature. So the result must be that God has a moral antipathy towards us because of our sin. That being the case provision has somehow to be found for the removal of sin, that sin which is abominable in God’s eyes, for while our sins are still reckoned to us God cannot be reconciled to us because He is holy and just. But through His death Christ has made it possible for our sins not to be reckoned to us, simply because once we believe in Him they are reckoned to Him. Thus can we be reconciled to God, and He to us, by believing in Him.

And having reconciled us to Himself God has now given to us the ministry of reconciliation. Are we now reconciled to Him? Then He wants the offer of reconciliation to be taken to others. It is not for us, and for us alone. There are more whom He would call. And what is the message? It is that ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses (misdeeds, that in which men fall short)’.

‘God was in (or ‘through’) Christ.’ This may mean that God was actually acting in Christ, that Christ was to be seen as God at work. But had the incarnation been specifically in mind we might perhaps have expected reference to ‘Jesus’. So if we translate ‘in’ the emphasis is more on God being in Christ in His pre-incarnation being (1 Peter 1:20), predetermined to die from the foundation of the world (Acts 2:23) as the One determined from the very beginning, although resulting in the incarnation and crucifixion. Alternatively we may better see it as meaning that God was Himself acting ‘through and in Christ’ in His work of redemption.

The offer now being made to ‘the world’ makes it clear that God has established a means of reconciliation which is open to the whole world. If man was to be reconciled to God, brought back into acceptability and friendly relations with Him, a means which made that reconciliation possible must be established. It was not just a matter of man laying down his arms. What he had done in the past, which had aroused God’s antipathy to sin, had somehow to be dealt with. And it was in Christ that God did all that was necessary for that reconciliation to be made possible, so that it could be offered to men and so that their sins might not, if they believed in Christ, be ‘reckoned against them’. He dealt with the cause of enmity, the law of commandments contained in ordinances (Ephesians 2:1; Romans 7:11) which pointed the finger at us and our sin, by bearing the punishment in His own Son. He Himself paid the price of sin (1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Peter 1:18-19; Titus 2:14). He made a way of atonement, of ‘at-one-ment’, a means by which what was contrary to Him could be removed (Romans 3:24-25; 1 John 2:1-2), so that we could come to Him. And He accomplished it through the death of His Son.

It should be noted that elsewhere Scripture makes perfectly clear that all will not be reconciled. The point is not that all will be reconciled, but that what He has done is qualitatively sufficient for such reconciliation, yes, more than sufficient. If need be it would have been sufficient for a thousand universes. It is infinite compared with the finite. So if men refuse it they only have themselves to blame.


Verse 20

‘We are ambassadors therefore on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we plead on behalf of Christ, be you reconciled to God.’

‘Therefore’, because a way of reconciliation has been made possible, we who are His, and reconciled already to Him, have a responsibility as ‘ambassadors’, as those sent to represent Him, bearing His authority. We go on behalf of Christ, just as though God was entreating through us, and our message is, ‘We plead, on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.’ Our ministry is a ministry of reconciliation. Not a reconciliation between man and man, although that will follow, but a reconciliation with God. And Paul is making clear that he himself is such an appointed ambassador.

This ‘plea’ is not a plea in weakness. It carries behind it an implied threat. Peace has been offered. An amnesty is available. But if they are not willing to truly believe and be reconciled they must bear the consequences.

This may be seen as simply a general description of what his message and purpose is all about, that as God’s ambassador his is a ministry offering reconciliation with God to the world, as God entreats through him, or as a specific plea to certain of the Corinthians, whom he perceives by their behaviour to be in a doubtful position, to make sure of where they are with regard to God (compare 2 Corinthians 6:1; 2 Corinthians 13:5).


Verse 21

‘Him who knew no sin he made sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him.’

And finally he gives the full basis of that reconciliation. It is because the perfect One, the sinless One Who knew no sin (1 Peter 2:22; Hebrews 4:15), was ‘made sin’ for us. Our sin was in some way absorbed by Him. Just as in the Old Testament the offeror laid his hand on the sacrifice indicating that his sin now lay on the sacrifice, so was our sin laid on the greater Sacrifice, to be borne by us no more. There lies behind this the idea of the sacrificial suffering of the Servant in Isaiah 53:10, and indeed in the remainder of Isaiah 53. Being made sin He bore the consequences of sin. He suffered for sin, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). And the result is that we become the righteousness of God in Him. Rather than being full of our sin, which has been laid on Christ, we become full of God’s righteousness (either His righteousness or the righteousness which He has provided in Christ), which enclothes us and possesses us (Romans 5:19). Just as Christ absorbed our sin, so do we absorb His righteousness. Now we can approach God without fear of rejection, because we approach Him radiant in the righteousness of Christ. Thus are we fully reconciled to God.

‘Him who knew no sin.’ The verb means to ‘know in experience’. In the Garden the tree was the tree ‘of knowing in experience good and evil.’ In the first man, the earthly man, all partook of that tree, and became sinful (Romans 5:12-14). And in a sense all men continually taste of that tree for all being aware of good continually choose to experience evil, proving that they are sinful. But Jesus, the second man (1 Corinthians 15:47), the man from Heaven, knew no sin. It was something outside His experience. He knew only good. That was why He could be the unblemished sacrifice (1 Peter 1:19). The introduction of this idea here stresses the source of the righteousness of God which can be imputed to us. It was the Righteous One.

‘The righteousness of God.’ God is the standard of all righteousness, and therefore the righteousness of God is righteousness in all its perfection, it is perfect righteousness. And it is that righteousness that is required for reconciliation. And in Christ it is not only accounted to us but implanted within us by His Spirit, the one to ensure our acceptance with God, the other to write it in our hearts that it might be revealed in our lives (2 Corinthians 3:3). For the similar idea of righteousness imputed and imparted to us in Christ see 1 Corinthians 1:30 where ‘He is made to us -- righteousness’. See also Philippians 3:9.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/2-corinthians-5.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, July 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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