by Thomas Bentley, Malaysia.
A highly esteemed expositor avers, “The best word in the New Testament to describe the purpose of the atonement is reconciliation.” Sir Robert Anderson says, “Reconciliation is a step beyond redemption even in its fullness as including both righteousness and holiness. Reconciliation is … the fulfilment of the purpose of redemption.”1
The usage of the word in the Old Testament does not substantially help in the exegesis of the New Testament terms, for while the word occurs in the following passages in the A.V. (Lev.6.30; 8.15; 16.20; Ezek.45.15, 17, 20; Dan.9.24), in the R.V. and in J.N.D’s Translation it is translated as ‘atonement’ which more accurately conveys the sense of the Hebrew kaphar. There are those who misuse the translation of the word in the passages mentioned, for they infer that the translators of the A.V. understood reconciliation to have a Godward aspect, suggesting that God required to be reconciled, an interpretation we will strongly contest later. In 2 Chr.29.24 where ‘reconciliation’ occurs, it represents a different Hebrew word. Here again the R.V. conforms to the general meaning of the Hebrew word and translates it as ‘sin-offering’ (See J.N.D. ‘purification’). A passage where yet another Hebrew word is rendered ‘reconcile’ is in 1 Sam.29.4. Unfortunately those who advance the fact that God required to be reconciled as did we, use this passage as illustrating their concept of the subject.
It is necessary to move to an area in which few of the readers of these lines would feel it vital to make reference, but it is essential, for, in these passages of the Apocrypha, many find ground for their concept that God required to be reconciled – see 2 Macc.1.5; 5.20; 7.33; 8.29. Judaism is no different to Hellenistic religion where it is the human being that seeks restoration of the gods’ favour, through whatever the respective system prescribes.
There are two non-doctrinal passages where the word occurs, one is in Matt.5.24 and the other in 1 Cor.7.11. In the passage where Matthew uses the term “first be reconciled to thy brother” we have one of the several usages of one of his key words: ‘first.’ It is a tragedy of fellowship that we can actively address God and offer to Him our worship and thanksgiving yet possibly not be on speaking terms with our brethren. There is then the test of fellowship: “first be reconciled to thy brother”. Whether the difficulty is between me and another brother, or that brother having a difficulty with me, we must conform to the word and the directive of the Saviour and be reconciled. Having done so, then the terms of fellowship are truly realised, “then offer thy gift”.
Paul uses the key word relative to reconciliation when addressing the supposed situation in 1 Cor.7.11, where the wife who has departed from her husband is advised to either “remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband”. Here again it is a matter of conformity to the stipulated requirements of God and His Word that will bring about the desired state of which God approves and ever supplies the grace to conform.
In this chapter we shall consider the doctrinal references in a little more depth. These are:
- His Person, “through Christ” – 2 Cor.5.18–21
- His Passion, “by the death of His Son” – Rom.5.10,11
- His Pain, “through His cross”, (R.V.) – Eph.2.16
- His Price, “through the blood of His cross” – Col.1.20–22
His Person, “through Christ” – 2 Cor.5.18–21
|V.18:||The Acknowledgement of God –||"all things are of God";|
|The Accomplishment of God –||"who hath reconciled us to Himself";|
|The Accomplice of God –||"through Christ" (RV);|
|The Appointment of God –||"and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation."|
Paul is the only New Testament writer that uses the noun katallage, “reconciliation” and the verb katallasso “to reconcile.” The fundamental concept is ‘to change’ or ‘make otherwise.’ In the writings of the apostle, God is always the Reconciler. The issue now rests wholly upon God Who in wondrous grace and power, changes a relationship of enmity to amity. This is gloriously accomplished “through Christ”. The use of dia, “through,” assures us it is right through. Sometimes we sing “No part-way measures doth His grace provide,” which responds to the truth affirmed by the use of this preposition. The reader is advised to note the geometrical presentation of the Biblical use of prepositions as depicted in The Newberry Bible, where ‘dia’ is displayed as signifying something that is ‘right through’ in the concept of a diameter. Not only is this action of God permanent, but it is also precious as it is “through Christ”. As the one Mediator between God and man, the Lord Jesus is the One Who wrought the great work and paid the enormous price of reconciliation. The vitality of this verse is both mighty and matchless for God has done something else that affords our praise, as there is also an ongoing proclamation. We have this vast ministry of love to proclaim to all mankind as later Paul announces the appeal “Be ye reconciled to God”.
|V.19:||The Initiator,||"To wit, God was";|
|The Mediator,||"in Christ reconciling";|
|The Receiver,||"the world unto Himself";|
|The Announcer,||"given unto us the word of reconciliation."|
The reiteration is not to be ignored, though multitudes do: it is God who reconciles. He is the Initiator of this majestic work of grace, not the recipient. On first reading the next expression “God was in Christ” could lead to a consideration that Paul is referring to the Incarnation of Christ, but the present writer feels it is affirming what we may term the soteriological aspect of the issue, that God used the death of Christ to bring about reconciliation. Hence the expression could be rendered “God was reconciling the world to Himself through Christ”. Thus in the most manifest sense the Lord Jesus is truly the Mediator, it is through His death that reconciliation is realised. Reconciliation exists not on the ground of God counting our sins against us. To “count against them”, logizomenos autois, in today’s language of commerce, is to calculate the amount owed, as is usual, for example in charges on a credit card of which the owner is held legally responsible to remit. Note the significant use of the word ‘trespasses’, which specifies the nature of the sins. For example, the Sin-offering atoned for sins general, but the Trespass-offering atoned for sins specific. Obviously our specific failure can be seen in our disregard to pay back what we owed and above all our total inability to do so. Paul acknowledges the impact of all this in that he, with all reconciled, is given the “word (logos) of reconciliation”. The verb given or committed ‘themenos’ denotes a Divine appointment, displaying again the wisdom and grace of God so that the authoritative message of God’s reconciling grace may be announced deliberately and universally to all mankind.
|V.20:||The Dignified Responsibility,||"we are ambassadors for Christ";|
|The Distinct Ministry,||"God did beseech you by us";|
|The Divine Identity,||"we pray you in Christ’s stead".|
Each believer possesses, as did Paul, this distinct and Divine appointment. Let us respond by giving the world something of the character of our dignified calling as we herald forth the word of reconciliation assured that “None need perish, all may live for Christ has died”. Let us not overlook the terms used by the Holy Spirit as is vitally essential in the word “reconciled” in this verse. What is of essential value in this word, is that it is in the passive voice, hence it is not that we must reconcile ourselves to God, but rather, to accept what God has already accomplished in the work of His Son. Also, the verb is to be understood as being in the imperative mood, denoting the essential and vital message it is ours to announce and affirm. This verse affords us the Dignity, the Reality and the Ministry of reconciliation. Beloved reader, remember that the provision is universal and that the need is as real as the news is vital.
|V.21:||The Grief of the Message,||"For He hath made Him to be sin for us"||His Atoning Sacrifice;|
|The Ground of the Message,||"He who knew no sin"||His Absolute Sinlessness;|
|The Grace of the Message,||"that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him"||Our Accepted Status.|
The R.V. of Rom.8.3 coincides with the truth of the opening statement of this verse: “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending His own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh, and as an offering for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” Compare too the words of Isa.53.10, “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief: when Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin …”. Surely this is what Paul, by the Spirit, is affirming – the holy, sinless Son of God, became answerable and by His death paid our debts and cleared our unpaid (and humanly speaking, as far as we were concerned, unpayable) account with God. “That we might be made the righteousness of God in Him,” confirms the objective nature of our standing, that is, a right standing before God.
His Passion, “by the death of His Son” – Rom.5.10, 11
|V.10:||An Epithet Added,||"enemies";|
|An Exercise Accomplished,||"reconciled to God";|
|An Expense Acknowledged,||"the death of His Son";|
|An Efficacy Affirmed,||"we shall be saved by His life".|
The key term conveying the theme of the foregoing verses, 1–9, is changed in v.10 from justification to reconciliation. This is necessary because of the fourth epithet Paul adds to consummate a gradation begun with the word “weak”, v.6, affirming our impotence; then “ungodly”, v.6, which highlights our impiety; followed by “sinners”, that reveals our imperfection and now “enemies” denoting our impropriety. We were insurgents, rebels, defiant of God’s will and opposed to all that He is in Himself. All evidence points to the active nature of the word here as in 8.7, and in Col.1.21. The word echthroi “enemies,” is used again in Rom.11.28 where it is aligned with “beloved” in the passive. Nothing seems to highlight the generosity of God’s initiative than the enmity we displayed towards Him.
Justification alters our standing, whereas through reconciliation our status is changed. Being justified, the sinner is no longer guilty before God, but being reconciled the enmity towards God is removed. As in one, so in the other, the ground-work is the death of Christ. Nowhere in Scripture is it either intimated or inferred that God required to be reconciled. None of the Divine attributes is at variance, nor can we advance that the hostility was mutual as many do, suggesting and indeed affirming that God required to be reconciled to the sinner. If we infer that, because we were enemies, God required to be reconciled, what can we adduce when faced with the words “weak”, “ungodly” and “sinners”? Thankfully we strongly admit that the graded description of our desperate condition stands over against God’s love displayed and directed to man in the sin atoning death of His Son.
Though a difference exists between justification and reconciliation, a parallel pertains, as each is followed by an assurance of a future salvation. The phrases “by His blood” and “by His life” are not contradictory but complementary. Consideration must be given to the preposition ‘by’ which in the text is ‘in’ [en] and is translated in the R.V. Margin as ‘in’, hence the preposition is instrumental, denoting the valued safety His present life affords and will until the Day of Redemption. God has accomplished a mighty work in reconciling us by the death of His Son, surely, we add reverently, it is comparatively easy for God to effect final and full salvation for the reconciled through the same One, now risen and glorified.
|V.11:||An Additional Cause for Praise,||"we also joy in God";|
|An Accepted Mediator for Praise,||"through our Lord Jesus Christ";|
|An Assured Bestowal for Praise,||"through whom we have received the reconciliation", (RV).|
Paul gathers up the key elements of the preceding verses as in one single sentence he draws in the pivotal terms from the beginning and end of the paragraph. These are, “rejoicing”, vv.2,3 and “reconciliation”, v.10, and above all, he reiterates the glorious reality that this rejoicing and reconciliation are through (see the use of dia, ‘through,’ in vv.1,2,9,10 and 11) the Lord Jesus. What is it, we ask, that sets in motion this boast in God? Doubtless we consider all that He has accomplished for our spiritual and eternal good, hence we certainly can rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. But to rejoice in God surely is to rise above the blessings, great and vast as they are, and to find absolute joy in the God Who has blessed us.
Having reached the zenith of the paragraph, which consummates in the adoration of God, the apostle repeats his references to the mediatorial ministration of the Lord Jesus by yet another mention of “through”, ‘dia’. A return to the full administrative title of our Lord Jesus Christ gives effectuality to His function on our behalf. The “now” is reminiscent of Rom.3.21 and of 5.9, and denotes that the fruit of the Saviour’s death exists in all its fulness. All believers who, by a decisive act of faith in the Lord Jesus, are now historically, personally and eternally in the good of reconciliation, rejoice in it. The aorist “received” signifies these blessed realities. The expression used in Rom.11.15, “reconciling the world”, refers doubtless to what the apostle is expounding in these verses.
His Pain, “through His cross” (R.V.) – Eph.2.16
|The Peace,||"so making peace", v.15b;|
|The Purpose,||"that He might reconcile";|
|The People,||"them" (RV);|
|The Price,||"the cross";|
|The Prize,||"having slain the enmity thereby."|
In the verse before us, the word of our subject is used and it finds itself surrounded by a realm of truth that would be useful to expound and hence enjoy. However, due to the theme strictly before us, perhaps it will suffice for the reader to note the context and some descriptive titles suggested by the writer.
|Our Past Identification:||"without Christ"||= No Pardon;|
|"strangers"||= No Privilege;|
|"having no hope"||= No Prospect;|
|"without God"||= No Power;|
|Our Present Inclusion:||"but now"; "made nigh"; "in";|
|Our Peace Indescribable:||"He is our peace"; "so making peace";|
|Our Position Inimitable:||"both one."|
A twofold aspect of reconciliation presents rich areas of truth in the verse before us. Doubtless both the Jew and Gentile of whom Paul speaks have known reconciliation not only to God but to one another. The verb apokatallasso, meaning ‘to reconcile’ is found only here and in Col.1.20, 22, confirming again that strict adherence to the word of Scripture prevents any suggestion whatsoever that God required to be reconciled. Make sure the use of the word “one” is not overlooked in vv.14-16. The word before us in vv.14,16 is in the neuter gender, indicating clearly that Paul is referring to the work of Christ which has made two positions one. With the word ‘one’ in v.15 being in the masculine gender, Paul is making clear that the two persons, namely Jew and Gentile, are one. This confirms that in v.14 there is no difference between those reconciled, while in v.15 there is no diversity and in v.16 there is no distance. While we rejoice in the marvellous wisdom and kindness of God to effect such mighty changes, let us not forget the cost of it all as here again we are reminded that the work was accomplished by Christ on the cross. What a Price it truly was. Note it is dia, ‘through’ or “by means of” the cross. In v.13 the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross is referred to as “by the blood of Christ” while in v.14 it is “in His flesh”. It is manifestly clear that reconciliation exacted a cost no human resource could meet. Finally the term “having slain the enmity thereby” must not be construed with the enmity mentioned in v.15. There it speaks of the enmity between Jews and Gentiles, but in v.16, it denotes an enmity or hostility between God and human beings. Again it must be clearly understood and readily accepted that Paul is referring back to the cross.
His Price, “through the blood of His cross” – Col.1.20–22
|V.20 (RV):||The Medium,||"and through Him";|
|The Ministration,||"to reconcile";|
|The Material,||"all things";|
|The Mercy,||"having made peace";|
|The Means,||"through the blood of His cross";|
|The Measure,||"by Him…things in earth…in heaven".|
Paul again is emphasising the role of the Saviour as Mediator. He is the Divine means by which the vast and vital work of reconciliation is righteously accomplished. The word for reconciliation used by Paul in this verse is the same as in Eph.2.16, as we have seen above. It is an intensive word, which W. E. Vine explains as “to change from one condition to another, so as to remove all enmity and have no impediment to unity and peace.” In Ephesians chapter 2 we recognise the ethnic nature of reconciliation relating to people, but in Colossians it is its cosmic nature, hence the expression “all things”. Peace was made but at a tremendous price “through the blood of His cross”. This is one of five mentions Paul makes of the cross in what are generally called the Prison Epistles. They are as follows:
|Eph.2.16,||"the cross"||= Its Distinctiveness;|
|Phil.2.8,||"the death of the Cross"||= Its Depth;|
|Phil.3.18,||"the cross of Christ"||= Its Dignity;|
|Col.1.20,||"the blood of His cross"||= Its Demand;|
|Col.2.14,||"His cross"||= Its Devotion.|
|V.21||The People,||"and you";|
|The Plight,||"that were sometimes alienated";|
|The Process,||"yet now hath He reconciled."|
The apostle is affirming that the Colossians shared in the blessings of reconciliation when they received Christ. The participle “alienated” or ‘estranged,’ apellotriomenous, bears witness to the Fall. When Adam sinned he removed himself from God, cp. Eph.2.12,13. Hostility in a most active sense is denoted in the word “enemies”, cp. Matt.13.28; Rom.8.7. The mind [dianoia] is the source; the works [ergois] the sphere, and evil [ponerois] the strength. There appears to be considerable textual authority to begin v.22 after the word “works”. See J.N.D. However, we observe readily that God is the Reconciler. The present period of grace is in view in the word “now”. Not so much as, at the present moment, but in the economy of God’s saving grace, that characterises this era, and is constantly presented in the Gospel.
Coming to V.22, the following can be observed:
|V.22||The Channel of Reconciliation,||"in the body of His flesh";|
|The Cost of Reconciliation,||"through death";|
|The Consummation of Reconciliation,||"to present you holy"||= Beyond Contagion;|
|"unblameable"||= Beyond Charge;|
|"unreprovable"||= Beyond Change;|
|The Centrality of Reconciliation,||"in His sight".|
This reference with its special notice of “body” and “flesh” accomplishes a double purpose:
- It distinguishes the physical body of Christ (as Rom.7.4) from the mystical body of Col.1.18;
- It combats error:
- The Gnostics viewed all matter as evil,
- The Docetic error postulated that the Lord Jesus existed on earth only as a phantom.
The verity of the Incarnation is established beyond doubt, not without intention as the Spirit of God foresaw the errors that would beset the saints of God then and now. The close relationship between the incarnation of Christ and His sacrificial death is also declared in this incomparable passage. It tells us:
- That Christ’s body was real – not a phantom:
- That Christ’s body was subject to death, having in mind Phil.2.6–9:
- That His death reconciled man to God.
The infinitive parastesai, “to present,” reveals the ultimate purpose of God in His work of reconciliation. He will place us before Him free from every trace and taint of sin. Three adjectives are used to denote our complete and irrefutable standing before Him. William Lincoln2 distinguishes them as: holy before God, blameless before others and unreproveable before Satan. While this may be so, the central and crucial issue with which Paul, by the Spirit of God, closes the verse is “in His sight”.
As we consider these wonderful truths we can sing more intelligently:
- I am a stranger here, within a foreign land;
- My home is far away, upon a golden strand;
- Ambassador to be of realms beyond the sea,
- I’m here on business for my King.
- This is the message that I bring,
- A message angels fain would sing:
- “Oh, be ye reconciled,”
- Thus saith my Lord and King,
- “Oh, be ye reconciled to God.”
- This is the King’s command: that all men, everywhere,
- Repent and turn away from sin’s seductive snare;
- That all who will obey, with Him shall reign for aye,
- And that’s my business for my King.
- My home is brighter far than Sharon’s rosy plain,
- Eternal life and joy throughout its vast domain;
- My Sovereign bids me tell how mortals there may dwell,
- And that’s my business for my King.
- (E. T. Cassel)
- 1. Sir R. Anderson "The Gospel and It’s Ministry". Kregel Publications, 1978.
- 2. William Lincoln "Lectures on the Epistle to the Colossians". John Ritchie Ltd.