by John Riddle, England
THE LORD’S DEATH IN 1CORINTHIANS
THE LORD’S DEATH IN 2CORINTHIANS
THE LORD’S DEATH IN PHILIPPIANS
THE LORD’S DEATH IN COLOSSIANS
THE LORD’S DEATH IN 1THESSALONIANS
The various aspects of the Lord’s death addressed in Paul’s writings are too vast for comprehensive coverage in this chapter, and it will be necessary to be selective. As in the case of every chapter of this book, it is hoped that the Lord’s people will be encouraged to read and meditate further, with deepening appreciation of His love in giving “Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” Titus 2.14.
THE LORD’S DEATH IN ROMANS
The apostle Paul was deeply concerned that the believers in Rome should be established. His great desire was to visit Rome: “For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end that ye may be established” 1.11. He confirms his desire at the end of the epistle: “Now to Him that is of power [‘is able’, J.N.D.] to stablish [same word as “established” in v.11] you according to my gospel …”16.25. The epistle to the Romans therefore sets out the doctrine of the gospel that Paul desired to share with them in person during his intended visit.
The gospel rests absolutely and completely upon the work of Christ, and this is clearly emphasised in Rom.3.21-26. Having stated in these verses that Divine righteousness is available to guilty sinners, v.21, that this righteousness was anticipated by the Old Testament, v.21, and that it is acquired by faith in Christ, vv.22,23, Paul draws attention to the foundation upon which such marvellous provision stands: “Being justified freely by His [God’s] grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus” vv.24-26. Three great Bible words stand before us in these verses: “justified … redemption … propitiation”. We learn two immensely important things about our righteousness before God, namely the blessing and basis of justification.
The Blessing of Justification
V.24, “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:” has been called “the greatest single verse in the entire Bible on the manner of justification by faith”.1 The word “justification” means to be declared or accounted righteous. It does not mean to make someone righteous, or holy (that is called ‘sanctification’ in the Bible); but to account someone righteous. Newell puts it with crystal clarity: “Justification is not a change wrought by God in us, but a change in our relation to God”1. It is a change wrought for us. Amongst the many wonderful aspects of justification is the fact that it is God Himself Who justifies men and women. Our position would be extremely weak if such a declaration came from us! But God is the “justifier” v.26. “It is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith” v.30; “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth” Rom.8.33.
- 1. Newell, W. R. “Romans”. Moody Press, Chicago, 1976.
Paul uses a marvellous word to emphasise that this is wholly Divine: “Being justified freely by His grace”. The Greek word ‘dorean’ means “for nothing, gratuitously, giftwise, as a free gift”1. The same word occurs, and this is a most telling example, in Jn.15.25 where the Lord Jesus said, “they hated Me without a cause (dorean)“. It is translated “for nought” in 2Thess.3.8, and “in vain” in Gal.2.21. We might therefore read, “being justified freely by His grace” as “being justified without a cause by His grace!” The word “grace” emphasises the Divine source of justification. Grace has been defined as ‘the unmerited favour of God’. Preachers often use the acronym ‘God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense’, and after all, this is exactly how the verse continues: “being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”, which brings us to the second important matter.
The Basis of Justification
Paul refers to this in two ways. First of all he refers to the work of the Lord Jesus at Calvary in relation to believers. This is called redemption. Secondly, he refers to the work of the Lord Jesus at Calvary in relation to God. This is called propitiation.
Having stated that justification finds its source in the grace of God, “being justified freely by His grace”, Paul continues by stating that the means by which it is made available is “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” Rom.3.24. as F.E. Stallan points out, “The word used here by Paul for “redemption” (apolutrosis) stresses deliverance. A different word (exagorazo) is used where the emphasis is placed on the cost of redemption”.2 W.E. Vine explains that exagorazo, to redeem, “lays stress upon the price paid”, whereas “apolutrosis lays stress upon the actual deliverance.”3 He continues, “The two sides of redemption should be kept distinct. The purchase price was the blood of Christ. The full redemption is the deliverance accomplished. Here both price and redemption are in view.” Hence we read later, “In whom we have redemptionthrough His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” Eph.1.7. See also Col.1.14. Peter uses an associated word (lutroo): “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ” 1Pet.1.18,19. It is worth pointing out that in 2Pet.2.1, the word “bought” (agorazo) means to buy in the market place. The “false teachers” here are not redeemed! The price was paid for their redemption, but they remained in bondage to sin.
- 2. Stallan, F.E, “Romans – What the Bible Teaches”. John Ritchie Ltd, Kilmarnock, 1998.
- 3. Vine, W E. “Romans”. Thomas Nelson, Inc. Tennessee, 1996.
With reference to “propitiation”, we should notice the work of propitiation and the result of propitiation.
The work of propitiation: “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation”. If redemption stresses the effect of Christ’s work towards sinful men and women, then propitiation stresses the effect of Christ’s work towards a righteous and holy God. Sin has a twofold effect: it is, first of all, dishonouring to God: “Sin outraged His holiness, insulted His majesty, defied His righteous government”.4 Secondly, sin ruins the sinner. God’s claims must be met, before sinful men and women can be cleared of guilt, and the death of the Lord Jesus made this possible. As Newell observes, “We should learn to look at the cross as first of all glorifying God; and not solely from the viewpoint of the blessed and eternal benefits accruing to us thereby!”4 We can only be redeemed because God has been propitiated. This calls for an explanation of the word ‘propitiation’ (hilasterion), and there is no need to be complicated about it. Heb.9.5 is wonderfully simple, “And over it [the ark of the covenant] the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercy seat [hilasterion]“.
- 4. Newell, ibid
We must always remember that on the day of atonement, it was the blood of the goat on “which the LORD’S lot fell” Lev.16.9, that made the “mercy seat” effective. No blood was sprinkled upon the people: it was all sprinkled in the presence of God. Unlike the other sacrifices for sin, this sacrifice was not charged with the personal sin of the offerer. This is why it is called “the goat upon which the LORD’S lot fell”. This sacrifice did not require faith to make it effective. It was not applied to any man, not even the high priest himself. The blood of the slain goat bore witness that death had taken place and that the claims of God against sin had been fully met. God and man could only meet at the mercy seat when it had been sprinkled with shed blood. Otherwise, it spelt instant death to all who dared to approach, but God had said, “There I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat” Ex.25.22.
The Lord Jesus has become the true “mercy seat”, not through incarnation alone, neither by His perfect life alone, but by His death. Hence we read, “Whom God hath set forth [to be] a propitiation through faith in His blood” Rom.3.25 or, “Whom God set forth [to be] a propitiation, through faith, in his blood” (R.V.). Vine points out that the rendering “faith in his blood” is incorrect. “Faith is never said to be in the blood. Faith rests in a living Person. Faith is the means of making the pardon ours; the blood is the means of its effect”.5 Through His shed blood, He has become the meeting-place between God and man. This provision is unlimited. None are excluded from benefit. “He gave Himself a ransom for all” – whether any avail themselves of it or not. God is in a position to save all men. See 1Jn.2.2, “And He is the propitiation [hilasmos] for our sins; but not for ours alone, but also for the whole world“, J.N.D.
- 5. Vine, W E. “Romans”. Thomas Nelson, Inc. Tennessee, 1996.
The result of propitiation. The death of the Lord Jesus is the only ground on which God has ever dealt with human sin. Paul therefore looks at the position of men and women before the death of Christ, v.25, and the position of men and women since His death, v.26.
The death of the Lord Jesus declares “His [God’s] righteousness for the remission [passing over] of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God” v.25. However, this did not mean that God had “forgotten or abated His wrath against sin”.6 Those sins must be punished, but God withheld punishment at the time, and it was met in full by the Lord Jesus. God has now “set forth” (made perfectly clear) the ground on which He had withheld judgment, and displayed that He was perfectly righteous in “the passing over of the sins done aforetime” (R.V.). The forgiveness enjoyed in Old Testament times did not rest on animal sacrifice as is clearly stated: “It is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins … sacrifice and offering and burnt-offerings and offering for sin Thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein” Heb.10.4-8.
- 6. Newell, ibid
The death of the Lord Jesus declares “at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” v.26. Very clearly then, sins committed prior to the cross, and sins committed after the cross, have been dealt with on precisely the same basis: the death of the Lord Jesus at Calvary. His death enables God todeal righteously with the question of sin. Without the death of Christ, justification would have been unjust and impossible, but through the death of the Lord Jesus, “God is [firstly] just, and [secondly] the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus”. Vine sums it up: “The two words ‘just’ and ‘justifier’ express, first the character of God as Judge, and then the pronouncement of His sentence consistently with His character as Judge”.7 The final words of v.26 must not be passed over without thought. Faith in the Lord Jesus enables God to pronounce the guilty sinner righteous. Unlike court rulings today, which are liable to reversal or alteration, this can never be overturned. God is the “Judge of all the earth” Gen.18.25, and He sits in the highest and most righteous court of the universe. We can rightly sing:
- 7. Vine, ibid
- Because the sinless Saviour died,
- My sinful soul is counted free;
- For God, the Just, is satisfied
- To look on Him and pardon me.
- (Charitie L. Bancroft)
Thus far, we have confined our attention to the judicial section of the epistle, 1.1 – 5.11, which stresses the righteousness of God. It is vital to understand the doctrine of salvation so that we can be assured that we are right with God, but there is a great deal more to salvation than the certainty that our sins are forgiven, and this, too, involves the Lord’s death. In the moral section of the epistle, 5.12 – 8.39, Paul, having told us how God has dealt with our sins, 1.1 – 5.11, now tells us how God has dealt with us. After all, it is quite inconceivable that people whose sins have been forgiven can then go on sinning! The doctrine of salvation lays the basis for victory over sin in our lives, introduces us to the power by which that victory can be achieved, and reveals that final victory over the ravages of sin involves the ultimate deliverance of all creation. We now learn that while in the love of God, Christ died for us, it is also true to say that we died with Him: “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” Rom.6.3,4. However, we cannot stay with this practical truth.
THE LORD’S DEATH IN 1CORINTHIANS
Amongst other things, the church at Corinth gloried in its wisdom, necessitating Paul to say, “Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise” 3.18. Human wisdom was particularly apparent in the way that the believers at Corinth had become characterised by a party spirit, 1.12, leading Paul to continue, “Therefore let no man glory in men” 3.21. Paul was deeply concerned that their “faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” 2.5, and therefore his teaching was “not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual” 2.13.
With this in mind, the apostle points out in chapter 1 that the wisdom of God is displayed in two ways:in the way in which people are saved; and in the type of people who are saved. In both cases, there is no ground for human glory or wisdom.
In connection with the way in which people are saved, we read: “Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” 1.20-25.
In connection with the typeof people who are saved, we read: “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world, to confound the wise … that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, Who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” 1.26-31. We should notice that Paul discusses what we are not by nature; so there is no reason to glory, vv.26-29, and what we are by grace; so that we can only glory in the Lord, vv.30,31.
This brings us to chapter 2 where Paul shows that his preaching and teaching were in strict accord with this principle, that is, he deliberately excluded human wisdom from his service in the same way that God had excluded human wisdom from His counsels. The chapter may be divided as outlined below.
How Paul Preached the Gospel – vv.1-5
“For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” v.2. These verses emphasise the wisdom Paul did not use: “I came … not with excellency of speech or of wisdom” v.1; “my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom” v.4; “That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men” v.5.
How Paul Taught the Saints – vv.6-16
These verses emphasise the wisdom that Paul did use: “Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect” v.6; “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery” v.7; “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth” v.13.
All this serves to emphasise the principal lesson of the opening chapters, that the death of Christ is the antithesis of human wisdom. This is why Paul constantly stresses, not the death of Christ, but the cross of Christ – see 1.17,18; 22-24; 2.2. Paul “declares that God had demonstrated the bankruptcy of human wisdom, shown it to be folly, by accomplishing what it failed to do, and by doing it in a way that the wise men of this world dismiss as foolish”.8
- 8. Hunter, J. “1 Corinthians – What the Bible Teaches”. John Ritchie Ltd. Kilmarnock, 1986.
Divine wisdom is clearly superlative. The Jews anticipated a victorious Messiah and a visible kingdom established in power. The very idea of their Messiah on a cross was totally unacceptable. “To present to them one crucified as a malefactor as their Messiah was the greatest possible insult”,9 but it is through “Christ crucified” that both Jew and Gentile can be cleansed from sin. Had He come and commenced to reign immediately without making provision for sinful men and women, sin would have triumphed and all men would be eternally lost. No wonder Paul says, “Christ crucified … the power of God and the wisdom of God!”
- 9. Hodge, C. “A Commentary on 1 & 2 Corinthians”. Billing & Sons, London, 1974.
If the means by which Shamgar “slew of the Philistines six hundred men” Judg.3.31 and the means by which David “prevailed over the Philistine” 1Sam.17.50, were alike “foolishness” by all the canons of human wisdom, then the victory of the Lord Jesus was much more so, but, praise God, “through death” He destroyed [brought to naught] “him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” and delivered “them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” Heb.2.14,15.
- Through that which seemed defeat,
- He won the mead and crown;
- Trod all His foes beneath His feet,
- By being trodden down.
- (S. Whitlock Gandy)
If the death of Christ is the basis of our relationship with God, then the cross of Christ is the basis of our relationship with the world. It demonstrates the true character of the world with all its vaunted glory and wisdom. The world was, and is, so wicked that it consigned the Son of God to a stake: the “princes of this world … crucified the Lord of glory” 1Cor.2.8. This being so, Paul said, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” Gal.6.14. The context suggests that Paul is referring here particularly to the religious world.
In preaching as he did, Paul’s ministry was in complete accord with Old Testament prophecy: “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received [the New Testament], how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures [the Old Testament]” 1Cor.15.3,4. In each case, whether the death, burial, or resurrection of the Lord Jesus, everything took place “according to the scriptures”. We must never forget that God’s word is “for ever … settled in heaven” Ps.119.89, and “the scripture cannot be broken” Jn.10.35.
There were occasions when the Lord’s life was threatened by the Jews. See, for example, Lk.4.28-30; Jn.8.58,59; 10.30,31. Had the Lord Jesus died on any of these occasions, it would not have been “according to the scriptures”. The Lord Himself made this clear: “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” Matt.26.53,54. Had the Lord Jesus been buried in a common grave, that too would not have been “according to the scriptures”, but Isa.53.9 must be fulfilled, “And [men] appointed His grave with the wicked [plural: ‘wicked people’], but He was with the rich [singular: ‘rich man’] in his death” (J.N.D.).
THE LORD’S DEATH IN 2CORINTHIANS
In this epistle, Paul refers to a number of charges levelled against him, including, evidently, extremism. This certainly seems to be the case in the following: “For whether we are beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause” 5.13. This is a verse of contrasts.
The words, “beside ourselves” are, literally, ‘to be put out of position’ or ‘displaced’. Here, it is ‘to be out of one’s mind’. Compare Mk.3.20,21: “And the multitude cometh together again so that they could not so much as eat bread. And when His friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on Him, for they said, He is beside himself”.
This paints the picture of a man of tremendous zeal in unrelenting service for God. It was not a case of zeal in a good cause, or zeal in promoting himself or his own interests, but in God’s interests. He did not spare himself in service for God. The language suggests that he was being charged with extremism, but if this is the case, then a further charge follows, this time of extremism in the opposite direction:
“Whether we be sober, it is for your cause”. If the words “beside ourselves” mean ‘to be out of one’s mind, then “sober” (sophroneo) means the opposite: to be sober-minded or ‘of a sound mind’ as, for example, in Rom.12.3; Titus 2.6; 1Pet.4.7. The words “whether we be sober” describe the soundness of Paul’s ministry and in particular, his sober assessment of things at Corinth. Therefore, it appears that Paul was charged with excessive zeal on one hand, and excessive heaviness in ministry on the other, doubtless referring to his corrective teaching. Notwithstanding, the charges were completely unfounded.
There was no extremism or fanaticism in his preaching and teaching at Corinth. Whether it was his zeal in gospel preaching or his sober teaching, he could say, “it is for your cause”. Paul had the good of the assembly in view, and both aspects of his service flowed out of his love for them. This was the motive of Paul’s unremitting service for God, and his thoughtful, sober attitude to the Corinthians, which derived from “the love of Christ”: “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again” 5.14,15. The overall teaching is clear: “the love of Christ” for us means that we should “live … unto Him”. However, there is a difference of opinion over the words, “if one died for all, then were all dead”, since “then were all dead” is literally, ‘therefore all died’. It is argued that the apostle is referring here to the effect of Christ’s death (‘therefore all died’, R.V.) rather than the cause of His death (“then were all dead”, A.V.). On this basis the “all” must refer, not to mankind generally, but to believers particularly. Against this, there is evidently a clear distinction between “all” and “they which live”, and this leads to the conclusion that the A.V. has it right! J.N.D. translates as follows: “having judged this: that if one died for all, then all have died”, with a footnote “or ‘had died’” and a comment, “It is the aorist, and refers to the state Christ’s death proved them to be in, in a state of nature. To apply it as a consequence is, I judge, an utter blunder”.
How then will the love of Christ in His death for all be demonstrated in the lives of His people? “That they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them and rose again.” It will become evident in the selfless Christ-filled life of His people: they will “live … unto Him”. However, it is “unto Him which died for them and rose again”. His death without resurrection would have been defeat. A dead Saviour is a contradiction in terms. How could we “live unto Him” if it was His death only that took place? Believers can sing:
- He is Lord, He is Lord,
- He is risen from the dead and He is Lord.
- Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess
- That Jesus Christ is Lord.
- (Author unknown)
What does ‘living unto Him’ mean in terms of preaching? This is discussed in vv.18-21, and we should notice that the words “reconciled … reconciliation … reconciling” occur five times in these verses. It is worth pointing out that while justification has to do with the guilt of sin, sanctification with the filth of sin and redemption with the bondage of sin, reconciliation has to do with the alienation of sin. Furthermore, reconciliation has to do with persons, whereas propitiation has to do with sins. The word reconciliation means, basically, to change. So, as far as persons are concerned, it is to change from enmity to friendship. Man needs to be reconciled: “For if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son …” Rom.5.10. The need for reconciliation arises out of man’s hostile attitude. The enmity lies with man. Reconciliation therefore means to change from enmity to amity. “Primarily, reconciliation is what God accomplishes, exercising His grace toward sinful man on the ground of the death of Christ. On the basis of this, men are invited to be reconciled, that is, to change their attitude, and accept God’s provision”10 Not once is God said to be reconciled. The enmity is alone on our part: we to Him, not He to us. Consider the section as follows.
- 10. Vine, W.E. “Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words”. World Bible Publishers, 1991.
The Enjoyment of Reconciliation – 5.18
“And all things are of God, Who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ.” It has been accomplished entirely by God. “And all things are of God …”, that is, just as the first creation was by Christ, so the new creation is by Him. However, it must be shared with others as follows.
The Ministry of Reconciliation – 5.18,19
“And hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” We should notice the words “hath reconciled us … hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation”. Compare with Col.1.21-29.
The “ministry of reconciliation” is defined as follows: “To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” Firstly, we should notice “That God was in Christ”. “There has never been unanimity as to how the opening clause of this verse should be understood. It may be taken to mean either that ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself’ … or ‘in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself.”11 The past tense supports the latter. God, at a historical moment was reconciling the world unto Himself. Compare Rom.5.9,10, “Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”
- 11. Hughes, P.E. “Paul’s Second Epistle To The Corinthians”. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, 1973.
Secondly, “Reconciling the world unto Himself”. See also Col.1.20, “By Him to reconcile all things unto Himself, by Him, I say, whether they be things on earth, or things in heaven.” This should be compared with the words, “hath reconciled us” here in v.18. Not that God needed to be reconciled because of His enmity and hostility towards us, but His holiness demanded satisfaction for man’s sin.
Thirdly, “Not imputing their trespasses unto them”. “Imputing” has the sense of reckoning. We might be inclined to say that “them” refers to believers, but the context (“reconciling the world unto Himself”) suggests otherwise. The words, “not imputing their trespasses unto them”, mean that God has not yet reckoned with men in connection with their sins. Thus reconciliation had been made available to all; His work is sufficient, but only actual in the case of believers.
The Word of Reconciliation – 5.19
Attention is drawn to the use of logos here: “the word (logos) of reconciliation”. This should be compared with “the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation” Eph.1.13; “the word of the truth of the gospel” Col.1.5; “the word of the cross” 1Cor.1.18, R.V.: “the preaching of the cross”, A.V. According to the competent authorities, the word logos indicates what is true and trustworthy, as opposed to mythos which indicates what is fictional and spurious.
The Preaching of Reconciliation – 5.20,21
Leaving aside Paul’s reference to the way in which servants of God act as ambassadors, we should notice that the invitation, “Be reconciled”, is accompanied by a declaration of the ground on which reconciliation has been effected and is available: “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God” v.20; or, ‘We are ambassadors therefore on behalf of Christ, as though God were intreating by us” R.V. Paul continues: “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, Who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” v.21.
These are profound words. We should notice exactly what is said here. In the first case, not ‘made a sinner for us’, but “made Him to be sin for us”. It is not so much, as elsewhere, that Christ was made a sin-offering, but “made sin for us”. He was made the subject of God’s judgment for us. He was reckoned to be sin for us. God treated His beloved Son as sin must be treated.
In the second case, we should notice that the Lord Jesus “knew no sin”. Compare with Heb.4.15; 1Pet.2.22; 1Jn.3.5; Heb.7.26. Here, in the current passage, the Lord “knew no sin” in His own consciousness, thus bearing testimony to His sinlessness: “Which of you convinceth me of sin?” Jn.8.46. God from heaven bore testimony, Matt.3.17; Matt.17.5. The Roman governor bore testimony: “I find no fault in this man” Lk.23.4. See also Lk.23.14,22. People at Calvary bore testimony, Lk.23.41,47. He died “the Just for the unjust [the Righteous for the unrighteous’] 1Pet.3.18.
In the third case we should notice the words, “that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” or “that we might become God’s righteousness in Him” (J.N.D.). Not “righteous”, but “the righteousness of God”. It should be noted that “just as Paul does not say that Christ was not made sinful, but sin, for us, so also he does not say that in Him we are made righteous … but righteousness, indeed, even more expressly, the righteousness of God.” 12
- 12. Hughes, ibid
We are reconciled to God only because of the death of Christ. Reconciliation cannot be separated from His sacrifice at Calvary.
- Oh, wondrous cross! Oh, precious blood!
- Oh, death by which I live!
- The sinless One, for me made sin,
- Doth now His wondrous heart within
- Eternal refuge give!
- (W.S. Warren Pond)
THE LORD’S DEATH IN GALATIANS
The Lord’s crucifixion is alluded to on four occasions in this epistle, each with a different connection: legally, 2.20; historically, 3.1; morally, 5.24; socially, 6.14. Crucifixion is not natural or accidental; it is judicial.
Legally – 2.20
The possibility that in vv.14-21 Paul is repeating, or partly repeating, his remarks to Peter at Antioch, gives added significance to his statement: “For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor” v.18. Peter had actually done this in refusing to eat with the Gentiles. Paul now puts himself in the same position and discusses its implications. Peter had implied that he had been originally wrong to abandon the law and works in favour of faith alone, as the principle of justification, and Paul agrees that if salvation really was by “the works of the law”, then he too was a transgressor. “To build again the things that they had so deliberately destroyed was to make themselves transgressors in having destroyed them.”13
- 13. Trew, W. “Galatians and Philippians”. Precious Seed, 1973.
However, Paul had not destroyed the claims of the law: they had been fulfilled in him! Its claims had been fully met. “For I through the law am dead to the law [I am crucified with Christ’, v.20], that I might live unto God” [by faith in the Son of God, v.20]” v.19. The law had nothing to say to a dead man. It condemned Paul to death, and the sentence had been carried out. After all, the law demanded entire obedience, or death. It was a case of ‘do or die’. Since the claims of the law had been fully met and there was no outstanding claim against him, Paul could now live for God’s pleasure and do God’s will. This is the fountainhead from which later teaching in the epistle flows: see chapters 5,6.
The question is, how had the claims of the law been satisfied? The answer follows: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me” v.20. The Lord Jesus actually met the claims of the law: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” 3.13. By trusting in Christ, the claims of the law were figuratively carried out on us too. Crucifixion was an act of judgment. The cross means the end of past life for every believer in Christ. It is a judicial act. The man himself is removed. The verse emphasises identification rather than substitution. It is, metaphorically, ‘co-crucifixion with Christ’.
How does Paul “live unto God?” This follows: “nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” The life of Christ was manifest in him. This is the basis of teaching in chapter 5. The power of Paul’s new life is the indwelling Christ. Whereas before, Paul endeavoured to live by keeping the law, now he lives by the power of the Lord Jesus, and that power is made good by faith. “The life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of [in] the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” Life for Paul did not consist in law-keeping, but the life of Christ was manifest in him. Paul’s contemplation of this leads to praise and thankfulness: “The Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” The title, “Son of God”, emphasises the power of Christ in Paul’s life, but it also stresses the eternity of His love. Paul could say, “the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me”. This underlines the greatness of Paul’s Saviour. To think that One so great should give Himself!
Paul concludes:”I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness came by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” Paul’s ministry as a preacher of justification by faith did not “frustrate the grace of God”. Others were setting aside [frustrate] the grace of God, by returning to law-keeping. If that was the way in which men could be justified, then Christ died needlessly. His death was “in vain” [dorean]: it was ‘without a cause’ and ‘for nothing’. What a chilling conclusion!
Historically – 3.1
“O foolish [‘senseless’, J.N.D.] Galatians, who hath bewitched you [mislead by an evil eye … charm], that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?” This is the first of six questions in vv.1-5. The first refers to the basis of their justification, v.1, and the five other questions refer to the proof of their justification, vv.2-5.
Paul refers to the original preaching in Galatia, with its emphasis on the cross, and therefore upon Divine judgment. He bore the curse. In view of his teaching that “if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain” 2.21, how could they be so senseless as to think that salvation depended on law or works, when Christ who had borne Divine judgment upon the cross, had been preached unto them? Did not His very death proclaim the insufficiency of law-works? The content of Paul’s preaching is made very clear by the words, “before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you.” This was certainly Paul’s practice: “we preach Christ crucified” 1Cor.1.23; “I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” 1Cor.2.2. Gospel preaching must publicly present Christ crucified. The word “evidently” means, in this context, openly or graphically. The underlying word (prographo) means literally, ‘to write before’. It is used elsewhere in Rom.15.4; Eph.3.3 and Jude v.4, but in all probability, the word is used here in its sense in contemporary literature, where it meant to ‘proclaim’ or ‘placard’. A judge would placard his proclamation in a public place. It was used of edicts and laws put up in some public place for all to read.
The eyes [“before whose eyes”] of the Galatian believers had been deflected from Christ crucified to law-works. As noted above, the word “bewitched” means to charm, and in this case it refers to bringing men and women under the power of evil doctrine. While “who hath bewitched you…?” is a rhetorical question, it is interesting to note that “who” is in the singular, which may suggest Satan himself. Compare 5.7,8. “When he [the devil] speaketh a lie, he speaketh of himself: for he is a liar, and the father of it” Jn.8.44.
Vine14 suggests that in the expression “before whose eyes”, Paul is continuing his allusion to the ‘bewitching’ power of false teaching (the fascinating power of the “evil eye”). It was common to put up charms on the walls of houses, a glance at which was supposed to counteract an evil influence. Hence, since Christ’s crucifixion had been ‘placarded’ before them, their eyes should have been on Him. Vine sees the possibility of reference here to the “brasen serpent” and the message “look and live” Num.21.8.
- 14. Vine, W.E. and Hogg, C.F. “Notes on Galatians”. Thomas Nelson, 1996.
Morally – 5.24
Paul contrasts the “works of the flesh” v.19, with the “fruit of the Spirit” v.22. Once we “were in the flesh”, and “the motions (pathema, meaning ‘passions’) of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death” Rom.7.5. Now, having “crucified the flesh with its affections (pathema) and lusts”, and receiving life in the Spirit, we are to “walk in the Spirit” vv.24,25. The apostle uses the aorist tense here. Believers have “crucified the flesh” at a particular time. A judicial sentence has been passed: we have said ‘no’ to the flesh, and must always remember what we said in coming to Christ. Compare 2.20 where Paul refers to what God has done to the whole man. Here, it is the flesh. The “works of the flesh” must not characterise us. It is a case of each believer taking “up his cross daily” Lk.9.23.
Socially – 6.14
As he draws the epistle to a conclusion, Paul contrasts the boasting [glorying] of the religious world with his boasting [glorying] as a servant of Christ. “For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh. But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” vv.13,14. To ‘glory in the flesh’ is to honour what God brought to an end at the cross. We must never forget that Christ bearing our sins fits us for heaven, and that Christ on the cross finishes us for the world.The believer and the world (particularly here, the religious world) have passed sentence on each other. There is mutual disassociation. Paul looked at the world (kosmos), and said in effect, ‘so far as I am concerned, the world is crucified’. He regarded it as obnoxious and accursed. The world looked at Paul and said exactly the same: ‘So far as we are concerned, this man is crucified. He is obnoxious and accursed’.
THE LORD’S DEATH IN EPHESIANS
One of the great themes in this epistle is the way in which Christ “is our peace, who hath made both [Jew and Gentile] one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace” 2.14,15. As a result of this, unseen “principalities and powers in heavenly places” now gaze at the church and see in it “the manifold wisdom of God” 3.10.
Gentiles, “who sometimes were afar off” have been “made nigh by the blood of Christ” 2.13, and both Jew and Gentile have been reconciled “unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby” 2.16. We should note the word enmity here and in v.15. This evidently describes the relationship between Jew and Gentile. We have only to think of the animosity of the former to the latter. It could be summed up in the expression (not found in so many words in Scripture), ‘dogs of the Gentiles’. This animosity flowed from the fact that the Gentiles did not have the “commandments” and “ordinances”. The death of Christ brought to an end those things that divided Jew and Gentile. They were “a shadow of things to come; but the body (the substance of the shadows) is of Christ” Col.2.17. Hence, “we (believing Jews and Gentiles) are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” Phil.3.3. There is now no dividing ritual. As a result of the work of Christ, there are a number of common matters, as follows.
He has reconciled “both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby” v.16. Jew and Gentile have not only been reconciled amongst themselves in this way, they have been both, as “one man”, reconciled to God. The cross is the facilitating instrument.
The death of the Lord Jesus enabled Him to come and preach “peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh” v.17. See Isa.57.19, “I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the LORD.” The expressions “He is our peace” v.14, “making peace” v.15, and “preached peace” v.17, should be noted. (There are seven references to peace in this epistle).
“For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father” v.18. There is now no limited access. Here is the evidence that the Lord Jesus has “abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances” v.15. This is in fulfilment of the Saviour’s words: “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice; and there shall be one fold, and one Shepherd” Jn.10.16.
The apostle says something quite beautiful about the Lord’s death in exhorting the Ephesian believers to be “followers of God as dear children”. He continues: “And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour” 5.1,2. While v.1 emphasises our relationship with fellow-believers, v.2 emphasises our acceptance with God. We follow the Lord Jesus in His acceptance with God, and most certainly it is the fragrance of that disposition to God which is emphasised here. The following are important statements to note.
The Practical Reality of His Sacrifice – 5.2
The love of the Lord Jesus for us was not a mere attitude or theory; it was a practical reality. “And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us”. He displayed His love for us at immense, personal cost, and there is a cost to us in following Him in this way: “Hereby perceive we the love of God [hereby we have known love, J.N.D.] because He laid down His life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth” 1Jn.3.16-18.
The Voluntary Nature of His Sacrifice – 5.2
“Christ also hath loved us, and hathgiven Himself for us”. The Lord Jesus taught that “no man taketh it [His life] from me” Jn.10.18. He “gave Himself for our sins …” Gal.1.4; “The Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me” Gal.2.20; “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” Eph. 5.25; “Who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” 1Tim.2.6; “Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity” Titus 2.14. We must never forget that the “good shepherd giveth His life for the sheep” Jn.10.11.
The Fragrance to God of His Sacrifice – 5.2
“An offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.” The words “offering” and”sacrifice” here may be distinguished as follows: “An offering”, is the Greek word prophora, with its Hebrew equivalent minchah, and refers to the meal offering, Leviticus chapter 2. “A sacrifice”,is the Greek word thusia, with its Hebrew equivalent zebach, and refers to the peace offering, Leviticus chapter 3.
The above statement from Eph.5.2, could therefore be said to comprehend the life of the Lord Jesus Godward, He is the true meal offering; and the death of the Lord Jesus saintward, He is the true peace offering and He brings us into fellowship with God. However, it should be noted that thusia is used in the New Testament for the death of the Lord Jesus in a wider sense, Heb.10.5,8,12,26.
The burnt, meal and peace offerings, Leviticus chapters 1 and 3, were burnt as incense, and this is conveyed in Paul’s words: “a sweet smelling (euodia) savour (osme)”. The two words are used elsewhere together: “But I have all, and abound; I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things that were sent from you, anodour(osme) of a sweet smell (euodia), a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God” Phil.4.18; “For we are unto God asweet savour(euodia) of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are the savour (osme) of death unto death; and to the other the savour(osme) of life unto life” 2Cor.2.15,16.
This is far more than an exercise in Greek vocabulary. By linking the three passages, we conclude that the fellowship shown to Paul by the assembly at Philippi, and the preaching of the gospel by Paul and his colleagues, were permeated by the fragrance of Christ! This gives our stewardship and our preaching a very elevated character.
THE LORD’S DEATH IN PHILIPPIANS
This epistle emphasises yet another aspect of ‘The Glory of the Lord’s death’. Bearing in mind the title of this book, we must avoid a detailed exposition of the oft-read and much-loved passage commencing, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus …” 2.5-11. Having emphasised the need for unity at Philippi, 2.2, together with humility, 2.3, and selflessness, 2.4, Paul directs his readers to the greatest example of all.
The wonderful verses that follow are more than a statement about the humility, vv.6-8 and honour, vv.9-11, of the Lord Jesus. They do contain very important teaching about Him, but this is brought to bear on the problem of disunity and disagreement at Philippi. The Lord Jesus displayed “lowliness of mind” v.3. He looked not “on His own things, but … on the things of others.” Having described the ‘mind of Christ’ towards others, Paul applies his teaching in vv.12-16. “Wherefore [in view of the perfect example of the Lord Jesus], my beloved … work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” In this context, “salvation” refers to deliverance from the difficulty and dissension that had arisen at Philippi. Good relationships between believers can only be restored and maintained where there is humility and a genuine desire for each other’s welfare. The Lord Jesus exemplified this par excellence.
He Humbled Himself by Coming into the World – v.7
He “took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” The very words, “took upon Him the form of a servant”, make it clear that He did not cease to be “in the form of God”. In this, He was so different from angels and so different from ourselves. Angels were created to serve, “are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” Heb.1.14. We were created, amongst other things, to serve. However, the Lord Jesus “took upon Him the form of a servant (doulos)”. Vine15 points out that the word “servant” (doulos) is significant. It denotes a bondman or slave. He was willing to take such a low place in relation to His service for God. The Lord Jesus was never the slave of men; a different word is used (diakonos) in connection with His relationship with those He served on earth: see Matt.20.28. “No man was ever Christ’s master. He surrendered Himself entirely in submission to the will of His Father”.16
- 15. Vine, W.E. “Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words”. World Bible Publishers, 1991.
- 16. Vine, W.E. “Notes on Philippians”. Thomas Nelson, 1996.
He Humbled Himself Whilst in the World – v.8
“And being found in fashion [schema] as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” There is a great difference between “form” and “fashion”. The word “form”, morphe, means all that is essential and characteristic, and the Lord Jesus has the essential nature and characteristics of both God and a servant. “Fashion” refers to what is outward and perceptible: it describes His mode of appearance. He was essentially God [morphe], but He made Himself known in the mode and shape of a man [schema].
Notwithstanding, He humbled Himself even further, “and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross”. The Lord Jesus humbled Himself to become man, and He humbled Himself as man. The words, “He humbled Himself”, stress that He did this voluntarily. The verb ‘to humble’ [tapeinoo, to make low] corresponds to the adjective tapeinos, low-lying. The Lord Jesus therefore perfectly exemplifies the “lowliness of mind” (tapeinophrosune) called for in v.3.
The Lord Jesus was never subject to death. His obedience to the will of God took Him “unto death, even the death of the cross”. The R.V. renders this as follows: “Becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross.” “Obedient” is a servant word. It is used of the Lord Jesus in Rom.5.19, “So by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous”. “The death of the cross” was “reserved for slaves and malefactors of the lowest type. It was a death on which the law of God pronounced a curse, Deut.21.23, and which Gentile writers regard as the most foul and cruel of all punishments”.16 We should notice that the New Testament refers to “the preaching of the cross” 1Cor.1.18, “the offence of the cross” Gal.5.11; “the death of the cross”, here, “the enemies of the cross” Phil.3.18, and “the blood of His cross” Col.1.20.
Bearing in mind that the section commences in v.5 with the words, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus”, we should pause and think about the implications for us in the passage. It is noticeable, first of all, that Paul makes no mention of the sufferings of the Lord Jesus on account of sin. The reason is not difficult to discover. Whilst we are called upon to emulate the Lord Jesus in humble sacrificial service, we cannot emulate His sufferings for sin.
In considering the relevance of the passage to believers, we should notice firstly, that the mind of Christ does not seek or maintain personal position and honour, but is willing to resign this in the interests of others, “Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation” vv.6,7. Secondly, “the mind of Christ” is to be intent on serving others, “And took upon Him the form of a servant” v.7. Thirdly, “the mind of Christ” is willingness to be identified with the needs of others, “And was made in the likeness of men” v.7. Fourthly, “The mind of Christ” involves self-sacrifice for the sake of others, “And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” v.8. See 1Jn.3.16. “He took the lowest form of death so that no person, however low, would be outwith the reach of His service. By going to the cross, He met the crucified thief and responded to his call. He meets the needs of the lowest”.17 The application of these verses could be summed up in the Lord’s own words “I have given you an example, that should ye do as I have done unto you” Jn.13.15.
- 17. Sanderson, W. “Believer’s Magazine”. John Ritchie Ltd, Kilmarnock. July 1970.
THE LORD’S DEATH IN COLOSSIANS
We rejoice in the oft-quoted statement that God has given Christ “the preeminence” in “all things” 1.18. The Lord Jesus is pre-eminent in the sphere of creation of which He is the Creator and Sustainer: “For by Him were all things created … all things were created by Him, and for Him: and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist” 1.15-17. The Lord Jesus is pre-eminent in the new creation, the church, of which He is Creator and Head: “And He is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead” 1.18, but this is not all. The Lord Jesus is not only the Creator of the universe, and Head of the church, He will perfect creation and the church.
On the basis of His work at Calvary, “the blood of His cross”, the Lord Jesus will reconcile creation, 1.20. He has already reconciled His people and will present them “holy and acceptable and unreproveable in His sight” 1.21,22. While in justification God provides the answer to man’s unrighteousness, and in reconciliation He provides the answer to man’s enmity towards Him, reconciliation goes further here and embraces creation itself. The verses can be considered under the following headings.
The Source of Reconciliation
It is totally Divine. God will reconcile creation through Christ. He will harmonise creation. In the same way, God takes the initiative in reconciling man. Man does not make peace with God. God provides peace for man. The very God, Whose “fullness” dwells perfectly in Christ, has made reconciliation available through the death of the Lord Jesus. This is staggering! On the one hand we learn that all the fulness [of the Godhead] was pleased to dwell’ in Him: on the other, we read about “the blood of his cross”. Only the love of God could make possible the close juxtaposition of such statements as these.
The Basis of Reconciliation
“Having made peace by the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself” v.20. Peace and reconciliation with God rest upon a righteous basis. Through the death of the Lord Jesus, provision has been made to deal with the sin that has both invaded creation and alienated men and women from God. Peace has been procured “by the blood of His cross”.
The Scope of Reconciliation
In Respect of Creation
Through the Lord Jesus, God will “reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven” 1.20. At present, creation is ‘red in tooth and claw’. It “groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” Rom.8.22, but not forever. We have only to consider the glowing pictures of peace and productivity described in such passages as Psalm 72, Isaiah chapters 11,12, 35 and Amos 9.11-15. These will be “days of heaven upon the earth” Deut.11.21. The reconciliation of creation will take place, not through human resources or scientific progress, but as a result of “the blood of His cross”. Creation itself will benefit from the death of the Lord Jesus. It will be purged from every trace of misery and decay: “the creature [creation] itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption” Rom.8.21.
In Respect of Believers
“And you, that were sometime alienated … hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight” vv.21,22. The reconciliation of creation is still future. The reconciliation of Christians is already accomplished: “yet now hath He reconciled”. In the words of Wm. Kelly, “I do not doubt there is an intended contrast. The reconciliation of all things is not yet accomplished. The foundation for all is laid, but it is not applied. But meanwhile it is applied to us who believe.”18 We have been reconciled “in the body of His flesh through death”. Reconciliation was not accomplished by the incarnation of the Lord Jesus, but by the death of the incarnate Son of God. His incarnation could not save us. His perfect life could not save us. We are saved by His sacrificial death. It was with this in mind that He became incarnate. His perfect life enabled Him to offer “Himself without spot to God”. Compare Heb.10.4,5. The reality of Christ’s humanity is stressed in both Colossians and Hebrews. It is stressed in order to counter the gnostic teaching that Christ was not a real man.
- 18. Kelly, W. “Lectures on Colossians.” Morrish, London, 1869.
This leads us to observe that New Testament churches were often troubled places. We have only to think of the numerous problems at Corinth and the way in which the churches in Galatia were attacked by false teachers who “would pervert the gospel of Christ” Gal.1.7. There has been great discussion on the precise nature of the heresy confronting the church at Colosse, and whilst Paul does not formally state the errors he opposes, it does seem that these took two forms. The first was the error of gnosticism, or mysticism, and the second was the error of Judaism. As far as the former is concerned, it is significant that Paul should say, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit” 2.8. The combination of “philosophy” and “vain deceit” should not be overlooked! As for the latter, attention is drawn to Paul’s observations in connection with “the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us”. This has been taken “out of the way” and nailed “to His cross” 2.14.
This is yet another wonderful statement. The words “blotting out” 2.14, are literally, ‘having blotted out’. They refer to a decisive act. The phrase was used for wiping out a memory of an experience, or for cancelling a vote, or annulling a law, or cancelling a charge or debt, or washing out writing on a papyrus. See Isa.44.22. While some commentators explain “the handwriting of ordinances that was against us” as a signed statement of indebtedness, a written acknowledgement of debt, it seems more likely that Paul is referring to the demands of the law which find “all mankind hopelessly in debt and totally guilty before God”.19 The law was against us. It was hostile towards us by making it clear that we could not meet its claims. The words, “took it out of the way” are in the perfect tense, emphasising the abiding significance of what happened at the cross. His work has permanent value. Christ has completely removed the “handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us”. He has taken it “out of the way”: it does not stand between us and God. He has done this by His death on the cross, which publicly demonstrated that the required sentence has been carried out.
- 19. Bentley, T. “Colossians – What the Bible Teaches”. John Ritchie Ltd, Kilmarnock, 1983.
The Lord’s death on the cross was a tremendous victory over sin, but it was also a tremendous victory over theunseenhostile forces which opposed Him in accomplishing this work: “And having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it” 2.15. There can be little doubt that this refers to the powers of darkness, acting under Satan, Eph.6.12, which gathered against Christ at Calvary. In various ways, Satan had endeavoured to prevent the death of the Lord Jesus on the cross. In the wilderness, he offered Him glory without death, Matt.4.8,9. When Peter rebuked the Lord Jesus, “saying, Be it far from Thee, Lord: this shall not be unto Thee”, the Saviour replied, “Get thee behind me, Satan” Matt.16.22,23. With the cross immediately before Him, the Lord said, “This is your hour, and the power of darkness” Lk.22.53. When the Saviour was on the cross, “they that passed by” cried, “If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross”. The chief priests, scribes and elders said the same: “If He be the King of Israel, let Himcome down from the cross, and we will believe Him”. The thieves added their voices: they “cast the same in His teeth” Matt.27.39-44.
What would have happened if the Lord Jesus had “come down from the cross”? Satan and his hosts would have won a devastating victory, and we would all be eternally lost, but the Lord Jesus was totally victorious. Satan’s ‘last ditch’ attempt to thwart God’s intention to secure our eternal salvation was defeated. He “spoiled principalities and powers”. Once again, every word counts! The word “spoiled” (apekduo) also occurs in Col.3.9, “put off the old man with his deeds”, and as a noun (apekdusis) in Col.2.11, “putting off the body of the sins of the flesh”. The Lord ‘put off’ or ‘stripped off’ from Himself the “principalities and powers” which attacked Him. He “made a shew of them openly (it was a decisive victory) triumphing over them in it”, referring to the work accomplished on the cross. He cried, “It is finished” Jn.19.30. The cross was His consummating triumph. What seemed to human eyes a mighty defeat, was in fact a mighty triumph.”Through death”, He destroyed “him that had the power of death, that is, the devil”, and delivered “them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” Heb.2.14,15. Through the death of the Lord Jesus, Satan no longer has the power to retain the “spoils” Lk.11.22, and we can be “more than conquerors” Rom.8.37.
THE LORD’S DEATH IN 1THESSALONIANS
In bringing consolation to bereaved saints at Thessalonica, Paul directs them to the coming of the Lord, saying, “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him” 4.13,14.
The resurrection of ‘sleeping saints’ is guaranteed by the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. There is no doubt about it. This is confirmed by the little expression, “even so”. It means, ‘in exactly the same way’. This is why Paul does not say ‘Lord Jesus’: he says “Jesus”: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again”. This is most important. It emphasises the Lord’s humanity. A Man went into death and came out of death, and because that Man died and rose again, every man or woman who dies trusting in Him will also be raised from the dead to enjoy eternal glory. The scholars point out that the words “sleep in Jesus” should be rendered, ‘sleep through (dia) Jesus’. This has been variously interpreted. Possibly it means that whilst all the dead “sleep” (see Dan.12.2) only the believer ‘sleeps through Jesus’. Every believer is assured of a glorious resurrection (unlike the resurrection of the unbeliever) because of the work of the Lord Jesus. His resurrection is the pledge of our resurrection, see 1Cor.6.14.
THE LORD’S DEATH IN 1TIMOTHY
In dealing with behaviour in “the house of God” 3.15, Paul places prayer first: “I exhort therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men” 2.1. In this connection, he stresses the welfare of the unsaved. This is strongly emphasised in 2.1-7, and should provoke some careful thought. 1Timothy deals principally with local church matters, but here, right at the beginning, we are told that prayer in its various forms is to be “made for all men” 2.1, because God “will have all men to be saved” 2.4, and to that end, the Lord Jesus “gave Himself a ransom for all …” 2.6. In connection with the last of these (“gave Himself a ransom for all”), we should notice the following:
Why it is Possible for All Men to be Saved?
It is because “there is one God” and therefore there is one Divine purpose for all humanity. He is not a local, tribal or national god, with only local, tribal or national interests. He is not one of many such gods. See 1Cor.8.4-6. The fact that “there is one God” means that He is in a position to bless all humanity: “Is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith” Rom.3.29,30. The Thessalonian believers turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God” 1Thess.1.9.
How it is Possible for All Men to be Saved?
“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave Himself a ransom for all …” 2.5,6.
The Uniqueness of the Mediator
“For there is one God, one mediator also between God and men, Himself man, Christ Jesus” (R.V.). The word “mediator” means, literally, ‘a go-between’, but Vine observes that in this verse, “more than mere mediatorship is in view, for the salvation of men necessitated that the Mediator should Himself possess the nature and attributes of Him towards Whom He acts, and should likewise participate in the nature of those for whom He acts (sin apart)”.20 The Name “Christ Jesus” stresses both His deity and His humanity. He is the answer to Job’s cry, “Neither is there any daysman [‘umpire’, J.N.D.] betwixt us, that might lay his hand upon us both” Job.9.33.
- 20. Vine, W.E. “Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words”. World Bible Publishers, 1991.
The Uniqueness of His Death
“Who gave Himself a ransom for all” 1Tim.2.6. His death was unique in that He “gave Himself“. We speak about men who ‘gave their lives for their country’ but, without the slightest disrespect for brave, and often heroic, men and women, the sad fact remains that when death came, they had no option. They were subject to power beyond their control. The Lord Jesus was absolute Master in all circumstances, including His own death: “I lay down My life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” Jn.10.17,18.
His death was unique in that He “gave Himself a ransom for all”.The word “ransom” (antilutron) means the price paid by another to obtain the release of a slave. The scope of Christ’s work is emphasised in the words “for all“.None are excluded from His work at Calvary. He gave Himself on behalf of all men. “There is no one of all humanity excluded from the scope of that work, its value is universal.”21
- 21. Allen, J. “1 Timothy – What the Bible Teaches”. John Ritchie Ltd, Kilmarnock, 1983.
This should be compared with Matt.20.28; Mk.10.45 (the latter reads): “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many“. The difference is important. In 1Tim.2.6, the work of Christ is “for all” and as already noted, this emphasises the scope of His work. The preposition huper (“for all”) is important: it indicates, not that the Lord Jesus died in the place of all men, for that would mean universal salvation for all irrespective of faith, but that He died on behalf of all men, so making salvation available to all men. However, in Matt.20.28 and Mk.10.45, the work of Christ is “for many”. This indicates the effect of His work, and the preposition (anti: instead of) “for many” is again important. It indicates that the Lord Jesus died in the place of all who believe. Commenting on these verses, the renowned Greek scholar, W.E. Vine, states, “In the phrase ‘for all,’ the word ‘for’ translates huper, which means ‘on behalf of.’ In Matt.20.28 and Mk. 10.45 the preposition is anti, which is of substitutionary significance, and there the accompanying phrase is ‘for many’. Christ died on behalf of all men; the validity of His sacrifice is universal; but not all men avail themselves of the benefit. It may not be said that Christ died (anti) in his stead; it can be said that He died on his behalf (huper) …”.22 J. Allen helpfully states, “… the price … was paid “on behalf of” (huper) all, and it is effective in the case of those believing who appropriate its value; it is thus ‘instead of (anti) the many’. The ‘many’ is limited to those availing themselves of the provision.”23
- 22. Vine, W.E. “The Epistles to Timothy and Titus”. Oliphants Ltd, 1965.
- 23. Allen, ibid.
THE LORD’S DEATH IN 2TIMOTHY
Having referred to God’s “purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesusbefore the world began” 1.9, Paul continues with reference to the way in which God’s “purpose and grace” have been made known to us in time. God’s purpose had been hidden in the past, but now it has been “made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, Who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” v.10. We should notice at least three things that the gospel proclaims.
The Coming of Christ
“The appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ” 1.10. The word “appearing” (epiphaneia), means ‘a shining forth’, and is used of both the first and second comings of Christ. See Titus 2.11,13. As always in Scripture, the context in which the word appears determines its meaning. In this passage, the Lord’s “appearing” evidently refers to His whole life on earth including, of course, His incarnation.
The Death of Christ
He has “abolished death“.This is better rendered, “‘annulled death” (J.N.D.). He has done this through His own death, as explained in Heb.2.14,15, where the same word (katargeo) is used: “that through death He might destroy him that has the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage”. The word “abolished” (katargeo) does not mean that death has now been eliminated, but that its power has been broken, or ‘reduced to inactivity’24. Paul refers here to physical death, and the believer can confidently say, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” 1Cor.15.55-57.
- 24. Vine ibid
The Resurrection of Christ
“And hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” v.10. If the Lord Jesus has annulled physical death, then it now seems logical to look for physical life, and this is certainly the sense of “immortality”, which is better translated “incorruptibility”, J.N.D. See 1Cor.15.42,50,53,54. While we have “eternal life” now, Paul evidently refers here to physical life at resurrection, and to the quality of that life; it will be incorruptible. So completely different to life at present!
THE LORD’S DEATH IN TITUS
Having spoken about “this present world” 2.12, the apostle turns to the future. The Lord Jesus came in grace to this world in which we now live, but He will come again in glory. As D.E. Hiebert observes, “In v.11 we had the past epiphany in grace; here the future epiphany in glory.”25 When the “blessed hope” 2.13, is realised, we will gaze with wonder at “the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ: who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity and, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” 2.13,14.
- 25. Hiebert, D.E. “Titus and Philemon”. Moody Publishers,1957.
What He Has Done For Us
He “gave Himself for us.” As already noticed, He gave Himself voluntarily. Compare, for example, Gal.2.20; Eph.5.2. D.E. Hiebert puts it like this: “It was a definite, voluntary act on His part (“who gave Himself for us”); it was an exhaustive act (“who gave Himself for us”); it was substitutionary (“who gave Himself for us“)”.25
Why He Gave Himself For Us
We can look at this negatively and positively. In redeeming us He broke the power of sin. In purifying us He removed the pollution of sin.
Negatively. “To redeem us from all iniquity” 2.14. The word “redeem” (lutroo) means to release on payment of a ransom. The word “from” (apo) means ‘away from’, and “iniquity” (anomia) means ‘lawlessness’.
Positively. “And purify (katharizo) unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” The aorist tense is used here. The word “purify” means to cleanse from admixture. We have been given a new standing before God. We have been suited for His presence. Sin makes us guilty and dirty. The words “a peculiar (peripoiesis) people” mean ‘to make us His own people … His own possession’. See also 1Pet.2.9, which cites Ex.19.5.
On His part, He has redeemed, purified, and made us His own. We must now supply our part and be “zealous of good works”. Vine points out that the word “zealous” (zelotes) is actually a noun meaning “an uncompromising partisan”.26 The ‘zealots’ were an extreme section of the Pharisees, bitterly antagonistic to the Romans. To this sect Simon, one of the apostles, had belonged, Lk.6.15; Acts 1.13. This should give us some idea of the way in which we should pursue “good works!”
- 26. Vine, ibid
We are going to see the One Who died for us. There is, therefore, every reason to live for Him between the two appearings,that is, “in this present world” 2.12. When we see Him we will surely exclaim with Paul, He “loved me, and gave Himself for me” Gal.2.20.