Christ’s Example of Unjust Suffering: Reconciliation
1 Peter 3:18
1 Peter Lesson #108
October 26, 2017
“Our Father, we are indeed grateful for Your grace, Your goodness, the many things You provide for us, the wonderful weather we’ve experienced the last few days and over the next couple of days, and just the cool air and the dry air.
“Father, we’re thankful for each day You give us to serve You. There are no guarantees we’ll have tomorrow, so we need to redeem the time, each and every day focusing on You, walking with You with a focus on serving You. Whether we serve You in a secular capacity, a secular job, or whether we are serving You in other ministries, whatever area it is, Father, we pray that we might recognize that we are here on this earth with a mission and that is to serve You, to grow to spiritual maturity, and to make an impact for the gospel, make an impact for truth.
“Father, we pray that as we study today, You will help us to understand these very important doctrines that are part of this verse that we’re studying and this section, working our way through a difficult passage and coming to understand some important things as they relate to us. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Over the last three or four lessons, we’ve been focusing on 1 Peter 3:18 as we will today, taking time to look at one important doctrine that is taught in the passage related to salvation, and that is the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, looking at different aspects of that and what that means, so that when you read that word atonement in the Scripture, you will have an understanding of what is being talked about, what is being said. I want to stop a minute and talk about this context a little bit. This is considered a difficult passage.
By the way, next Tuesday is Reformation Day. October 31 is the anniversary, and this one will be the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther was not intending to start a Reformation. He wanted to reform, to debate some issues in the church, but he didn’t think he would be starting a breakaway movement. He nailed ninety-five debate points to the local bulletin board, which was the front door of the church in Wittenberg. Wittenberg is now in East Germany, which was where he served, where he was located. He was an Augustinian monk, and that sparked debates over the role of works in terms of justification. He took his stand on the Scripture, sola scriptura. He said, “On this I stand; I can do no other.” That lit a fire that changed Western civilization, transformed Western civilization.
The nations that were most impacted by the Protestant Reformation were northern France, mostly in Holland, that area, the Scandinavian countries, Germany. The Roman Catholics maintained control in France and in Austria, Italy, Spain, but the countries that were most impacted by the thought of the Protestant Reformation were the nations that later experienced the greatest degree of freedom. The one group of people that was most impacted, that is, they really studied the Word and let the Word transform their lives and their culture more than any other were the English-speaking people, the Brits, the Scots, not so much the Irish. Most of Ireland stayed Roman Catholic. It was the impact of the gospel and the Word of God that transformed that culture and laid the foundation for the development, not the origination but the development, of a free market economy as we understand it in its positive aspects.
It laid the groundwork for freedom. It laid the groundwork, eventually, for the abolition of the slave trade. If it weren’t for white, male evangelicals, we would still have slavery, something that is lost today in the way the liberals are wanting to rewrite history. Liberalism has basically become synonymous with socialism and anti-Americanism and anti-constitutionalism, but the Constitution of this republic is a direct outgrowth of the impact of the thinking of the Protestant Reformation. It is the source of our freedom because true freedom can only come in the realm of reality, and reality is defined by a Creator God Who has revealed Himself to us in His Word. Until we have spiritual freedom, we can’t truly understand or appreciate political or economic freedom.
It is sad today to realize that if you talk to high school or college graduates, the concept of the Protestant Reformation and what happened is totally foreign to them. If it is talked about at all, it is criticized. If they took anything, they don’t have what used to be called Western Civilization. Now they have World Cultures and World History, and it’s dominated by identity politics and gender politics. It bears no resemblance whatsoever to what was taught forty, fifty, sixty, one hundred years ago in terms of world history or Western civilization.
What made Western civilization different from African civilization and Asian civilization and Middle Eastern civilization was biblical Christianity. I’m not saying that everybody did the right thing, but all these attacks on history are basically attacks on Christianity and Judeo-Christian values. It doesn’t matter what the surface causes were because useful idiots are convinced to take a knee when the national anthem is played or to go out and riot, to go out and demonstrate. All these people have no idea that they’re being used by people in positions of power and wealth to attack the stability of this nation and its foundation.
We saw this in a big way in the late 1960s and early 1970s. A lot of those people who were young then are now older. They have money, and they’re just as radical and just as hostile to Americanism and just as hostile to the Constitution and the founders as they were in the 1960s and 1970s. They do not like constitutional America. They want to change it into something like Europe. The first step, of course, is to attack and get Christianity out of the marketplace of ideas.
Next Tuesday [October 31] is a great day to celebrate. Martin Luther didn’t get a lot of things right. He got a lot of things wrong because he was still so influenced by his Roman Catholic education and background, but he got some things right, and those were that salvation is by grace and we’re justified by faith alone and that the only authority is the Bible. Sola scriptura was one of the key phrases that came out of the Reformation, and sola fide, only by faith. We can be very, very thankful for that.
Martin Luther commented on this passage in 1 Peter 3:18–22. “This is a strange text and certainly a more obscure passage than any other passage in the New Testament. I still do not know for sure what the apostle meant.” I think he got a bit confused on other things. He called James a “right strawy epistle,” which meant that it has no real substance to it. It does.
He also doubted whether Revelation ought to be in the Canon because he couldn’t understand it, and there’s a curse at the end that if you add to it or take away from it, God will curse you and there will be a judgment. He didn’t like that, so he wasn’t sure Revelation should be in the Canon. Like I said, he had his flaws, but if it weren’t for his courage and his willingness to take a stand on the Word of God, we would not have the freedoms and we would not have all the blessings that we have today.
As we look at this particular passage, we need to recognize there are a lot of interesting, interesting things here, things that you may not notice. Looking at the English text, sometimes you might notice them.
Millard Erickson is a contemporary evangelical theologian who has written a three-volume work on evangelical theology, a systematic theology. He has also edited a number of theological dictionaries, things of that nature. He calculated that when you look at all the exegetical possibilities in these five verses, there are at least 180 different exegetical combinations. I think I can go through most of that and at least negate about 150 of them, but some of them are quite challenging to work through. I am making progress. When I get done, you’ll probably say, “Why did you do all that?” Well, because I have to be able to truly understand the text to teach it. I can’t teach what somebody else taught even if it makes sense to me.
If you’re a pastor worth your salt and his education, you can’t cook somebody else’s dinner. There are too many pastors who do that. How would you like it if you went to a restaurant and the guys in the kitchen were getting takeout orders from another kitchen? They were just bringing them in and reheating them in the microwave and then serving that as their own. That’s what goes on in a lot of pulpits in this country because the pastors are uneducated. The pastors don’t have the gift of pastor-teacher, or they’re just plain lazy. This is not a passage for anyone who is lazy, let me tell you that.
It’s one sentence in the Greek. It goes from verse 18 all the way to the end of 22. In one of the Greek texts, they do recognize that in a couple of places, it comes to almost a full stop, so you have several different independent clauses here. At least two or three main thoughts are expressed. It’s the third most significant passage on Jesus Christ in the epistle. The first is in 1 Peter 1:18–21, and the second is in 1 Peter 2:22–25. These passages emphasize the suffering of Jesus.
I think it’s really interesting. In the providence of God, I’m teaching through 1 Peter here at the same time that I’m teaching through Christ’s suffering on Sunday morning. We have been looking at what Christ was going through in the Garden of Gethsemane. We will soon be looking at His physical suffering leading up to the Cross and then His death on the Cross, His spiritual substitutionary death on the Cross. It’s interesting that in those passages as you have gone with me through Matthew, Jesus again and again was predicting that He was going to go to Jerusalem. He was going to be betrayed. He was going to be arrested. He was going to suffer under the hands of the religious leaders. He was going to die—and He used the word for death. He was going to rise again.
When we get to Peter, even though there’s a textual variant here in 1 Peter 3:18 because the word for suffer and the word for dying are very close to one another, just a couple of letters difference that has been changed in some texts, Peter never talked about the death of Christ. He always talked about His suffering. The reason he used a more general term is because he was applying the principle of undeserved suffering to his readers who were being persecuted.
That’s so important to understand. Ultimately, to interpret 1 Peter 3:18–22, we have to understand that it was being used as an explanation and illustration of the principle of undeserved suffering. Look in your Bible. Look at how these five verses are bracketed. In 1 Peter 3:17, Peter said, “For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” He illustrated, then, Christ suffering once for sin, that Christ suffered because it was undeserved suffering. He was suffering for doing good rather than doing evil.
The way it begins in the Greek is HOTI. I wouldn’t translate it as “for”. I would translate it as “because”, which is more precise. It’s not GAR, which is a word we would normally see introducing a reason or explanation. It’s a little bit stronger there. The idea of explanation, a reason, is very close to a cause, but he used HOTI.
It was showing that what he said in verse 18 was an explanation, giving the reason or the cause for what he said in verse 17. Then, he seemed to really go off the rails because he started talking about Jesus going and preaching to the spirits in prison. Who in the world are the spirits in prison? Then, he tied that to Noah. Most of you have a pretty good idea that this is talking about the demons that entered into human history in Genesis 6, called the sons of God, who intermarried with human beings. We’re going to have to spend some time talking about that, relating that to the angelic conflict.
There’s an application of Noah—and these other seven who were on the ark—to baptism, which is said to be an anti-type. That means it’s a foreshadowing, or it’s a picture of the baptism that now saves us. But he was not talking about baptismal regeneration.
He ended by talking about the ascension and how Jesus, after this, ascended to Heaven where He sits at the right hand of God. He now is in a position of authority over the angels, over the fallen angels, and they’ve all been made subject to Him. We’re going to have to go back and review some things I haven’t taught in a long time on the ascension of Christ and what that gets us because the purpose for this is to talk about Christ’s victorious ascension. His proclamation to those spirits in prison is a cause for us to look at persecution as something positive. Jesus was persecuted. It looked like the end of Jesus. He was going to die on the Cross, but it wasn’t the end. It was the beginning, and it was His victory. It was His victory over death. The same thing is applied to us.
I talked about 1 Peter 3:17. Ignore the chapter division. The verse that follows this five-verse explanation says, “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.” Notice, it uses the phrase “in the flesh,” just as verse 18 will use the phrase “being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit.” When we look at 1 Peter 3:19–22, we have to understand that Peter was impressing his readers with the fact that Jesus’ death wasn’t a defeat but a victory that elevated Him in authority over all of the angels, that He faced opposition and persecution.
Noah and his family faced opposition and hostility in the world that then was before the Flood, and yet they were the ones who were delivered through the waters and through the Flood; therefore, this was all designed to encourage his readers. No matter what we face in life in terms of adversity, ultimately it is designed to bring us glory. If you turn back to chapter 1, this is the major theme of this whole epistle. 1 Peter 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope—we’re born again to a living hope—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
We look down at verse 11, “He—the Spirit of God—testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.” As we go through this whole epistle, there is this emphasis on right suffering leading to glorification. That’s why we have such great hope and can have such a positive attitude when we look toward opposition and we look toward adversity. Christians are to identify with Christ’s victory and follow in His footsteps, which is what’s emphasized in the text.
We’re focusing on this example of Christ’s unjust suffering. We looked at the general category that He had undeserved-suffering opposition, but it was designed for a purpose.
That purpose was that He “suffered once with reference to sin.” PERI HAMARTION there indicates “with reference to sin,” and that means He died in order to take care of the sin problem. We looked at that last time in Colossians 3, that with His death on the Cross, the certificate of debt against us was nailed to the Cross. We were forgiven. The whole world was forgiven. The slate was wiped clean. The legal penalty was paid on the Cross. That doesn’t mean that we’re no longer spiritually dead. It means the penalty was paid. That real experience—we will talk about that as we go through this—of experiencing new life doesn’t happen until we put faith in Christ.
“He suffered once with reference to sin—or concerning sins—the just for the unjust …” That brings to focus that undeserved suffering. He’s the Righteous One. He did not deserve any suffering whatsoever. He suffered in the place of—HUPER is the preposition there—“the just for the unjust,” for a reason that is stated in the next clause.
That reason was to bring us to God. These are the two prepositions here on this slide, PERI HAMARTION, with reference to sins, and HUPER, the just in the place of or as a substitution for the unjust.
We went through the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. I talked about substitution as illustrated in the sacrifices in the Old Testament. The one who was bringing a sacrifice placed his hand on the sacrifice, recited his sins, and they were transferred to the animal. The animal died in place of the person bringing the sacrifice. The keyword used to describe this in the Old Testament is atonement, that it is substitutionary atonement. I went through a long study showing the misunderstandings of atonement to show that atonement was a made-up word in English to express these many facets.
It is connected to redemption, which is the payment of a price. It is connected to expiation, which is the canceling of the debt. It is connected to propitiation, which is where God’s righteousness and justice are satisfied by Christ on the Cross paying for our sins. It is connected to forgiveness because the debt was canceled. As a result, we see reconciliation, that we are reconciled to God. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself,” as we will see. That’s this next phrase.
This next phrase defines or describes reconciliation. “… that He might bring us to God …” There is something interesting there. Think about that. If Christ was bringing us to God, that means somebody moved. We’re not with God anymore. We had to be brought to God. So, who moved? We moved. God did not move. God is perfectly righteous and perfectly just. He doesn’t desert man. Man deserted Him. The problem is with man, not with God.
I have said something pithy for forty years. Even back in the 1970s when I was in seminary, all these people talked about, “We have to make the Bible relevant.” This has been the problem with all the human viewpoint in theology and especially in churchianity. It isn’t that the Bible isn’t relevant to us. It is that fallen creatures aren’t relevant to God. They have moved. God is the One Who’s done something to restore that relationship. The focal point needs to be understanding Who God is and moving toward Him and not expecting God to move toward us. Because what happens when we have this expectation that God is going to move toward us? Whatever we do and slap the label of “worship” on it, God is supposed to validate it.
Again and again, we see in our contemporary culture something called contemporary worship, which is doing whatever we think impresses God. The basic criterion is, “If I feel like I’m close to God, I must be.” We expect God to come toward us, rather than conforming our thinking to God. All of that is implied in this phrase. We are to move toward God, and that is made possible because “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” Tonight, I want to go through the doctrine of reconciliation, what the Bible teaches about reconciliation.
All right, the doctrine of reconciliation. First of all, what does reconciliation mean biblically?
Basically, the idea of reconciliation is a recognition that there’s a lack of harmony, a lack of peace, a state of anger or resentment or enmity between two people, and they are brought together so that the cause of anger, resentment, bitterness, enmity, or whatever it is, is removed. Biblically, it has much of the same idea, but it has a correct biblical, theological definition.
We would define it this way. It’s all that Christ did on the Cross: redemption, justification, propitiation. All of that took place on the Cross objectively. Expiation, forgiveness, all took place on the Cross, all of that combined—all that Christ did on the Cross to remove the barrier between God and sinful men. Key passages are Romans 5:11–15, which we’ll talk about in a little bit, and 2 Corinthians 5:18–20.
It is basically the work of God, emphasizing that God does the work, not man. We don’t reconcile ourselves to God. God reconciles us to Him. He does the work, not us. It is the work of God in which He changes us from His enemies to His friends. Because we’re sinners, because we have sin natures and we’re corrupt, we are born in a state of hostility or enmity to God, all of man’s religious activity to the contrary. It doesn’t mean that we are really, truly interested in God. Most of that—99.9 percent of it—is just human beings trying to get a relationship with God on their terms rather than on God’s terms. Reconciliation is God’s work in which He changes that relationship, that enmity between man and Himself.
It’s related to propitiation. The way I express that here is that reconciliation is manward. God directs it. He changes the status of man in relation to Himself. Propitiation was that work of Christ on the Cross that was directed toward God’s character. His righteousness has an absolute standard that sin must be punished. Christ bore that punishment on the Cross so that God’s justice was satisfied. God the Father accepted that sacrifice on our behalf.
I mentioned the barrier a minute ago. This goes back to a basic diagram that I’ve used in teaching salvation many, many times. It is familiar to many of you. We see that man is on one side, and God is on the other. This left column here is a breakdown of the different elements related to sin that separate man from God. It begins with the fact of sin itself. God is righteous, perfectly righteous. Habakkuk 1 says that God cannot look on sin, on evil. There is the penalty of sin, the legal penalty of sin. The legal penalty is spiritual death, separation from God.
Then, we have the specifics of God’s character. Because God is righteous, God can have nothing to do with sin. Because God is absolutely just, He must punish sin. God’s love is not free to fully express itself to man if His righteousness and justice are compromised. God came up with a perfect solution, and that was the Cross, whereby He sent His Son to die for us.
We have the problem of our own relative righteousness. No matter how good we are, we never measure up to God’s righteousness. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Isaiah 64:6 says, “And all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” Then, there’s the problem of spiritual death. We’re born spiritually dead. We can’t have a relationship with God. Spiritual death means we’re separated from God, and we can’t have that relation unless He does something to make us alive. Scripture says, our position in Adam is that “in Adam all die.”
Each of these has a solution. Christ’s payment for sin, unlimited atonement, took care of sin. Redemption paid the penalty for sin. Propitiation along with expiation solved the problem of God’s character. At salvation, at faith, we receive the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and God’s justice, therefore, declares us to be righteous because of His righteousness. Our spiritual death is resolved by being born again or regenerated, and we are baptized, identified, with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection, so we are now in Christ. We have all these blessings in Christ, our position in Him.
All this can be subsumed under the term reconciliation. When Christ paid the penalty, God was reconciling us to Himself. Reconciliation is a broad term that covers all these individual aspects. That gives us a basic definition, a basic orientation, of what the Bible means by reconciliation.
Under the second point, we want to look a little bit at the words that were used, especially in the Greek text, to indicate reconciliation. It’s a key subject in relation to salvation, and like most important topics, it develops its own vocabulary so that we can understand it. There’s a verb. There’s a noun. They’re all related as you’ll see in a minute. The verb KATALLASSO means to change something from one state to another. Specifically, it’s the idea of changing someone from a state of hostility into a state of tranquility or peace, where the cause of the hostility is removed. It’s a change from enmity to reconciliation.
God is the subject of this verb. He’s the one who performs the action of reconciliation. Man doesn’t reconcile himself to God or reconcile God to himself. It is God Who reconciles man to Himself as it’s expressed here in this phrase that we are brought to Him by Christ. The change is on the part of one party changing the relationship with another party.
The noun is KATALLEGO. KATALLASSO was the verb. KATALLEGO is the noun. You hear the similarity. It references that state of being reconciled or the state of reconciliation that has been effected, the change from enmity to friendship.
There’s a compound word. You see the main verb here, KATALLASSO. Sometimes, verbs in Greek will intensify or shift a little bit in meaning by the adding of different prepositions as prefixes, and this intensifies the verb. It’s found in Ephesians 2:16 and Colossians 1:22, and it refers in those passages to a change from one state, being spiritually dead, to another state, eternal salvation. Those are the two verbs and one noun that were used.
We have the Greek noun EIRENE, which was translated as peace. That’s often used as a synonym for reconciliation. It emphasizes the result of being reconciled, that because we’re reconciled, we have peace with God. It emphasizes that work of Christ on the Cross of removing the barrier and removing the state of enmity between God and man.
We’ll get into the fact that there are two aspects to reconciliation. Just as we studied last time when we looked at Colossians 2:12–14, there was a forgiveness that occurred at the Cross that was a judicial forgiveness for all mankind. The certificate of debt was canceled. It is not applied individually until a person trusts in Christ as Savior. At that time, he receives a personal positional forgiveness of sin. We looked at the ongoing forgiveness of sin, which is our relationship, our walk, with the Lord, 1 John 1:9, and a forgiveness that relates to members of the body of Christ.
Reconciliation is somewhat similar. There’s an objective, a forensic, reconciliation that took place at the Cross because—and we will see this in the verses we look at—it was at the Cross that God was reconciling the world to Himself. It’s the same language there that God loved the world in this way. John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world in this way, that He gave His only begotten Son ...” He reconciled the world to Himself in one event, but that doesn’t mean everybody is reconciled or has applied it. There’s that difference between the objective reality and the subjective or individual application.
The first point had to do with the definition; the second point, with the vocabulary. The third point is that all human beings are born sinners and are enemies of God, Romans 5:10 and Colossians 1:21. Romans 5:10 says, “For if when we were enemies”—stating our original condition. We were reconciled to Christ through faith. Is that what it said? What does it say? We don’t always read it clearly. “We were reconciled to God through the death of His Son.” The death of His Son occurred in AD 33. There was an objective reconciliation of the world to God that occurred in that transaction on the Cross. That’s that first category.
“When we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled”—something that happened in the past—“we shall be saved by His life.” There, he was using salvation in a broader sense than just getting into Heaven when we die because it is “saved by His life,” not by His death. It’s talking about that abundant life that we can have because we have been reconciled to God.
All human beings are born as sinners. Colossians 1:21 is the other verse, and it emphasizes that same thing. We will see that verse in a little bit.
Fourth point. Is the sinner at enmity with God, or is God at enmity with the sinner? That’s a good question to ask. You know, it is so often that we get things sort of turned around, and we make things man-centered or me-centered. The question here is, “Is the sinner at enmity with God?” Look at that—“when we were enemies.” We made ourselves enemies of God by sin. We are at enmity with God. God is not at enmity with the sinner.
In other words, the question is, “Does man reconcile himself to God, or did God do the reconciling?” The answer is that God did the reconciling through the death of His Son. Man was reconciled. It’s a passive verb—he received the action. God did all the work, and man received it. The change was a change of the status of “the world.”
2 Corinthians 5:19 says, “… that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them.” They were imputed to Christ. He was “reconciling the world to Himself.” Then, He “committed to us the word”—the message—“of reconciliation.” There was a change in the status of the relationship of the world to God with what happened at the Cross. That didn’t save people, but it changed the relationship with the Cross.
That’s another dispensational distinctive. In the Old Testament period, the world had not been reconciled to God. What else was different? Sin hadn’t been paid for yet. What else was different? There was no identification with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection, so there was no freedom from the tyranny of the sin nature. Everything before the Cross was radically different than after the Cross because of this transaction.
In Romans 5:10, Paul said, “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God …” We didn’t reconcile ourselves because we are in a state of enmity. God is the One Who reconciled us through the death of His Son. That orients us to the main ideas.
Now, I want to talk about some key passages. There are basically three key passages, Romans 5:6–11, 2 Corinthians 5:17–21, and also Ephesians 2:16. That’s probably the key verse. Ephesians 2:14–17 would be the passage; Ephesians 2:16 would be the main key verse, but you have to look at the whole passage.
Let’s look at a couple these verses. Let’s look at the 2 Corinthians passage first. Turn with me in your Bibles to 2 Corinthians 5, which is just a wonderful chapter. It’s a wonderful chapter because it starts off talking about the fact that our earthly bodies are temporary. We’re temporarily clothed with bodies, but we have a heavenly habitation. When we’re absent from the body, we’re going to be face-to-face with the Lord.
2 Corinthians 5:9–11 talks a little bit about the Judgment Seat of Christ. It connects that to the importance of the gospel and the need to be reconciled to God. Let’s start with 2 Corinthians 5:14 just to get some context. “For the love of Christ compels us ...” God is drawing us through His love, and it was exhibited at the Cross. That doesn’t save us. He said, “… because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died.” There was a universality there at the Cross, that Christ died for all. This is called unlimited atonement.
There was a big debate in church history about whether Christ died only for the elect or if Christ died for all. The Scriptures clearly teach that Christ died for all. John Calvin believed that Christ died for all. John Calvin was not a Calvinist. The rigorous system that became known as Calvinism did not develop until his followers developed this theological system, from the time of his death up through the early 1600s. We are told that “One died for all, then all died.” That was that objective, forensic payment for sin that I talked about last week in Colossians 2:13–14.
2 Corinthians 5:15 says, “and He died for all.” That was substitutionary. “And He died for all”—He died in the place of all—“that those who live”—that is, those who benefit from that death—“should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” The implication of the Cross is that since we have been bought with a price—Christ died for us—then we should live for Him and no longer live as self-absorbed, little, narcissistic sin natures. We are to live for Him. We have been saved for a purpose.
He died for us and He rose again. 2 Corinthians 5:16 says, “Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh,”—that means he knew Him in His humanity—“yet now we know Him thus no longer” because of the resurrection. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ”—there is that key term again, being “in Christ,” our new position in Him—“he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” A radical transformation happens to every believer at the point of salvation.
2 Corinthians 5:18 says, “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us.” God is the subject of the verb. He did the action. We benefit from the action. He “has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” That is going to be developed in verse 19. What does it mean that “He has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ?” What was this ministry of reconciliation? In verse 19, we read, “… that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.”
He was in Christ. He was reconciling the world to Himself. That’s what He means in verse 18, “reconciled us.” He was “reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.”
Here’s a comment written by Lewis Sperry Chafer. I have been going back and reviewing some of these things, reading some things I haven’t read in a while, and this paragraph struck me today. He said about this, “In verse 19 it is declared that the world (KOSMOS, which term is never by any stretch of exegesis made to represent those who are saved out of it) is reconciled to God.” In other words, it pictures the world in hostility to Him. It is reconciled to God. “This vital passage presents the truth that, in and through the death of Christ, God was changing completely the position of the world in its relationship to Himself.” It was never the same again. It’s totally different than it was before the Cross.
“The Bible never asserts that God is reconciled. If it be supposed that God is represented as having changed completely His own attitude toward the world because of Christ’s death, it will be remembered that it is His righteousness which is involved.” This is where it touches on propitiation. “Before the death of Christ His righteousness demanded its required judgments; but after the death of Christ that same righteousness is free to save the lost. His righteousness is thus not changed nor does it ever act otherwise than in perfect equity.”
That tells us two things about reconciliation. There was an objective reconciliation where the world, the inhabitants of the world, were reconciled to God because of the Cross. This didn’t save anyone, but was the result of God’s righteousness and justice being satisfied at the Cross and our sin penalty being eradicated. We learned last time in Colossians 2:13–14 that at the Cross, that certificate of debt, that handwriting of requirements that was against us, was taken out of the way and nailed to the Cross. That historical event happened in AD 33, the cancellation of the debt objectively. Propitiation didn’t infuse a compassion into God, but rather satisfied His judgment so that He was free to bless and interact with the world.
The second thing that we see is that reconciliation isn’t experienced by the individual until there is faith or trust in the gospel. Thus, we are given a ministry of reconciliation. That’s mentioned here at the end of verse 19. He “has committed to us the word of reconciliation,” which is then developed in verse 20.
“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ.” We are given this responsibility. Every believer is given this responsibility to tell people that God has reconciled us to Him, that they need to be reconciled, and that is by trusting Christ as Savior. “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” He reconciled the world. He changed that status because of the Cross, but it doesn’t change the individual. That individual realizes that change only when he trusts in Christ as Savior.
This gets to my solution to this conundrum between limited and unlimited atonement. Three problems face every human being. The first is the legal penalty of sin. There is a legal penalty that has to be paid, spiritual death. Christ paid that penalty for all on the Cross. These false teachers in 2 Peter 2:1, Christ died for them. Christ bought them. They were denying the Lord Who bought them. That phrase “bought them” is redemption. He bought them. He paid the price, 2 Peter 2:1, even for the unbelievers. The legal penalty was paid for by Christ on the Cross. That’s that eradication of the certificate of debt.
The second problem is God’s righteousness. God is righteous, and we are unrighteous. That problem of God’s justice had to be taken care of. That’s propitiation. That’s 1 John 2:2. He propitiated the whole world. That’s universal. We have unlimited atonement in terms of unlimited redemption and unlimited propitiation. What limits it? What keeps everybody from being automatically saved? We are still born spiritually dead. We are born unrighteous and spiritually dead. By faith, we are given the righteousness of Christ, and that’s justification by faith. In regeneration, we are made spiritually alive.
In John 3:18, we read, “He who believes in Him is not condemned.” We are born condemned. He doesn’t condemn us secondarily. We are born condemned. “But he who does not believe is condemned already, because” his sins have not been paid for. Is that what it says? That’s what limited atonement would say. “He is not elect. His sins were not paid for.” But it says, “No, He is condemned because he doesn’t believe.” Why is that important? Romans 4:5—that’s why I put it up here—says, He who “believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.”
That last problem is a lack of righteousness and being spiritually dead. That’s not resolved unless we believe on Him.
We’re born in a state of condemnation, and we stay there unless we believe. The atonement is unlimited in terms of redemption and propitiation, but it’s limited by our volition in terms of its application.
When we believe on him who justifies the ungodly, we’re declared just. Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace ...” That’s the personal realization of reconciliation. “… we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In this section of Romans 5, specifically getting down into Romans 5:9–10, we read in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners”—that is, in a state of enmity with Him—“Christ died for us,” and the world was reconciled to God.
Romans 5:9 says, “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood”—that is a figure of speech for His death—“we shall be …” Notice the past tense. We were justified by His blood. Did that happen when we trusted in Christ as Savior? We can be justified and not saved. That is what the passage says. Justification is past. We have been justified by His blood. We shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him? Being saved is talking about phase two, our spiritual growth and spiritual life. “For if when 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.” Reconciliation and justification were by His death, but being “saved by His life” is talking about our spiritual growth and spiritual life. His resurrection life is the basis for our newness of life.
Another couple of key passages. Colossians 1:21–22 says, “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled—again, God reconciled us to Him—in the body of His flesh—that’s Christ’s physical body on the Cross—through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight.”
Peace is a synonym for reconciliation. With reconciliation, man was no longer at enmity but at peace with God. When man trusts God, that peace is realized, Romans 5:1.
We see this in passages like Ephesians 2:14–17. “For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one …” There, he was talking about the fact that Jews and Gentiles were separated. There was a wall of separation between them. The first application is that Jew and Gentile were brought together by Christ. He brought peace between Jew and Gentile. “Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace.” That’s a horizontal peace between Jew and Gentile now brought together in the church as a new entity in Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, Jew nor Gentile. It is not an issue anymore.
In addition, He “might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross.” That barrier between God and man has now been abolished by reconciliation. “… by it”—that is, the Cross—“having put to death the enmity.” It’s a legal enmity. It’s not a personal hostility or anger toward God. Christ “came and preached peace to you who were afar off”—that would be Gentiles—“and to those who were near”—that would be Jews. That’s how Christ brings us to Himself.
Next time, we’re going to get into—not so much—the weeds because when all is said and done, we’re going to be pretty close to everything I’ve already said and taught and you’ve heard before. We’re going to have to understand what’s going on with this next phrase, “put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit.”
If you’re using a New King James or King James Bible, Spirit is capitalized, which is an interpretive decision that that refers to the Holy Spirit. If you’re looking at a New American Standard and maybe a few others, it’s a lower case “s,” and they think it’s the human spirit—or maybe just spiritually. We will have to deal with that next time.
Then, we will get into the really fun part, “By which also”—or by it also—“He went and preached unto the spirits in prison.” Then, we will get into a whole other area, understanding the angelic conflict and this demonic invasion that occurred at the time of Noah.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study, to reflect on Your Word, to think through what You have revealed to us, to come to understand so much of what is meant by the fact that the Just died for the unjust that He might bring us to You, realizing that so much is summarized in those simple phrases.
“Father, we thank You for all that was done and all that was planned and performed in order that we might be brought to You. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”