2 Corinthians 5

 

CHAPTER 5

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Corinthians 5:1

Paul had much experience at being a tentmaker, and here he readily uses the tent as a symbol of the physical body.  All of us live in tents so to speak.  Our little tents can be taken down in a moment and we then pass on into the eternal realms (cf. Isa. 38:12).

When Israel came out of Egypt she wandered in the wilderness for forty years and lived in temporary structures like tents and tabernacles.  When the command was given to move, people would strike down their tents and be ready to travel on short notice.  The Lord didn’t want Israel to forget this picture of how transient our lives are. Each year, Israel was required to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, and for one week they lived in sukkot or flimsy, removable structures (Lev. 23:42-43).  This celebration still goes on today.  Clearly, God doesn’t want us to get too comfortable in this world.

When our brief journey on this earth is done, God will simply fold up our little tents and we will pass on into the next world.  Thus, we cannot hold on to this world, but instead we must live our lives “ready to travel.”  In light of this, we should get in the habit of holding all the world’s things loosely.

There was an interesting contrast between the Hebrew and Greek ideas of the body, which acts as a tent or covering for our lives.  The Greeks almost despised the body.  It was the delight and joy of the Greeks to finally get rid of the body, which they looked upon as a tomb. Epictetus said concerning himself. “Thou art a poor soul burdened with a corpse.” Seneca wrote, “I am a higher being and born for higher things than to be the slave of my body which I look upon as only a shackle put upon my freedom…In so detestable a habitation dwells the free soul.”  1

The Hebrew, on the other hand, considered the body as made in the image of God.  Thus the body was special and was to be treated in a holy manner.  The Jewish people felt that the body would be resurrected at the last day (Jn. 11:24).  New Testament teaching continued on with this idea and instructs us that we will all receive a new spiritual body in which we will serve the Lord forever in eternity.  Barclay says, “…It is given to the Christian to be a citizen of two worlds; and the result is, not that he despises this world, but that he finds it clad with a sheen of glory which is the reflection of the greater glory to come.” 2

So, the Greek wanted to get rid of the body and dwell in the wholly spiritual realm, while the Hebrew looked forward to a resurrected body, a body not limited by pain, suffering and other earthly things.  It will be a body especially designed for spiritual living in eternal realms.  Both Greek and Hebrew peoples were happy enough to get rid of the body, but for totally different reasons.  The Greeks have had an immense influence on the thinking of the church.  Many today think that they will live in a wholly spiritual realm of heaven, and therefore they pay little attention to earthly things.

We can understand why Paul was emphasizing his life as a tent that could easily be struck down.  He had just experienced a horrible brush with death somewhere in the area of Ephesus (2 Cor. 1:8-10).  We do not know the details of this episode, but it seemed to have made a great impact upon Paul’s thinking.

The immediate problem that Paul was addressing in Corinth was that some of the believers had begun to teach that there was no bodily resurrection (cf. 1 Cor. 15:12, 35). No doubt, this had come about because of the heavy Greek influence on their thinking.3  Paul wanted to set the record straight once for all that there would be a resurrection of the body.  He wanted to make clear that at death the believer would go to be with the Lord and await the resurrection, that he or she would then receive a new body (Phil. 1:20-25).

“Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked” (5:2-3). The Christian life is one of groaning (Rom. 8:23).  We groan or long to be clothed with our new spiritual bodies.  Actually our whole world is also groaning that it might be delivered from the curse of degradation and death (Rom.  8:20-22). There is a very real sense in which the whole creation is waiting eagerly for Christians to get it together in Christ.  The word for groaning is (stenazomen) and can be rendered as “we sigh.” 4

So while we labor here, we are also groaning and longing for the world to come.  We are groaning or sighing for our heavenly dwelling.  Chrysostom makes clear that “The heavenly dwelling is the incorruptible body which we shall put on in the resurrection.” 5 Paul says, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:20-21). We are taught to pray daily for this Kingdom of God to come.

We should make clear here that the Hebrews, with exception to those who had adopted Greek customs, abhorred nakedness in public.  It is certain that Paul looked upon nakedness as an unpleasant thing.6  As the Englishman Peter Pett says, “the thought of nakedness appalls Paul.” 7  There are numerous references to nakedness in Scripture (cf. Gen. 3:10; Isa. 20:2-4; Ezek. 16:7; Hos. 2:3). All through the Bible we see that nakedness was a thing to be covered.

The Scripture often uses clothing as a metaphor for spiritual life (Rom. 13:14; 1 Cor. 15:54; Gal. 3:27; Eph. 4:22-25).8  We are to put on our beautiful spiritual garments, which is a manner of saying that we should put on Christ.  Revelation 6:11 speaks of white robes of righteousness given to the martyred saints in heaven.

Actually, the Bible speaks a great deal about this spiritual clothing.  The risen Christ called the church at Laodicea “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17).  He challenged that church to acquire from him the white robes that they would not be found naked (v. 18).  In Revelation 16:15, he alerts us: “Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.” We cannot help but think of that poor man who showed up at the wedding without the appropriate wedding garment (Mt. 22:11).  We need to be clothed spiritually. Spiritual nakedness is a disgrace and shame for the believer.

The Bible clearly teaches that when we die we will depart this life.  Our physical bodies will be buried and will decay, but we will immediately be with Jesus in a temporarily disembodied state.  Still we will not be unclothed, for we will wear the beautiful garments of salvation, praise and righteousness.  We will, in a very real sense, be clothed with Christ.  The Bible does not provide complete teaching on this stage and leaves many unanswered questions, but it is enough for us that we will be with the Lord during this time.9

“For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (5:4). Not only do we groan; not only does the creation groan; but the Holy Spirit groans within us (Rom. 8:26).  Keener says that this groaning, “may also allude to Exodus 2:23…or it may relate to birth pangs (Rom. 8:22-23), in the light of some Jewish teachings that the resurrection would be preceded by a period of suffering described as birth pangs.” 10   More than that, we groan to get rid of our mortal limitations.

Paul had a great desire to depart the body and be with Christ.  After all his abuse by wicked people he was not doubt greatly desiring his new spiritual body. Keener says that Paul had been experiencing a “gradual martyrdom.” 11  He wanted to be with Christ, but more than that he wanted to remain on earth and labor a little longer for the sake of the church (Phil. 1:23-24).

Let us think for a moment about this new body we will receive.  It is clear from Scripture that we will obtain it when the last trumpet sounds on that last day.  We no doubt remember how Paul spoke in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52: “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, we are given a similar picture of this coming.  Jesus will bring his saints with him (these are the dead in Christ).  The Lord will descend with a loud command, the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God.  The dead will then rise and the living saints will be caught up to meet and welcome the Lord.

It is clear that when that last trumpet sounds, saints still living will be instantly and dramatically changed.  They will immediately have a new spiritual and immortal body.  The same will be true for the dead in Christ who will accompany the returning Lord.  Graves will burst opened and the dead bodies will arise without even a trace of corruption.  They too will be immortal like the immortal body of Christ.  This new body will not be limited by space-time.  It will be perfect and it will no longer be afflicted by sickness, disease, pain, weakness and the like (Phil. 3:21; Rev. 21:4).  These will be fully equipped and perfectly adapted to live with Christ forever in that eternal realm.

Thus, we can understand how Paul longed for this new body.  So, we also long for this new body, especially as we get older the restrictions and burdens of age mount up.  However, flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50).  We must be saved by accepting Jesus as our Lord and Master and by allowing him to begin making heavenly changes in our physical lives, even while we live today.

“Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (5:5). Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that God has planted eternity in our hearts.  We are fashioned in such a way that our bodies can be transformed.  We are fashioned so that we can be changed to live with God.  Augustine expressed it this way:  “…thou hast created us for thyself, and our heart knows no rest, until it may repose in thee.” 12   Guzik says, “What makes heaven really heaven is the unhindered, unrestricted presence of our Lord. The place of heaven would be like hell if we could not be present with the Lord.” 13

Once again, Paul mentions that God has given us the Holy Spirit as a deposit for our eventual redemption.  He dealt with this earlier in 1:22. With the Spirit we are also sealed for the day of redemption (Eph. 1:13; 4:30).  The word here again deposit or earnest is arrabon.  It refers to a pledge or down payment.14  As we have said earlier (1:21-22), this ancient word has continued on until modern times.  It is known in the modern Greek world as an engagement ring, and because it was originally a Semitic word, it shows up in modern Hebrew as one who guarantees a real estate transaction.

 

AT HOME WITH THE LORD

 

Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.  For we live by faith, not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:6-7 

Simply put, as long as we live in this body we cannot have full fellowship with the Lord.  Those who are really “at home” in the body (those who live only in the flesh) will not know his fellowship at all.  The just will live by faith and walk by faith. As Scripture says, “Your eyes will see the King in His beauty; They will see the land that is very far off” (Isa. 33:17 NKJ).  As Kretzmann notes, the saints of God have “a homesickness for heaven, which always characterizes the believers…”  They long for him, “… at whose right hand there are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).” 15   Coffman adds: “Like the bird be thou that for a moment rests upon the topmost bough. He feels the branch to bend and yet as sweetly sings, knowing he hath wings!” 16

We see the world to come as people viewing it through a mirror dimly (1 Cor. 13:12). With that, we are far better off than those saints of the Old Testament.  Death and the world to come remained a deep mystery to them, because it was only Jesus who would bring life and immortality to light by his gospel (2 Tim. 1:10).  Because this Scripture is mysterious, Barker and Kohlenberger state: “No passage in 2 Corinthians has prompted more discussion than this one…” 17

So, we are to be of good courage, knowing that when this earthly journey is finished, we will be present with the Lord.  In the meantime we walk on by faith.  The Latin church writer, Fulgentius (fifth & sixth centuries) said, “The one is of faith, the other of sight…What the saints believe now, then they will see.” 18

“We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (5:8).  Comfort states, “This verse straightforwardly asserts that to be away from the body means being at home with the Lord…Phil 1:23” 19  Wesley adds, “The happiness of saints (upon their death) is not deferred until the resurrection.” 20   The verse clearly does away with the idea of “soul sleep,” that saints will be in some unconscious state until the resurrection.  It likewise does away with the Catholic idea of Purgatory, as a place of spiritual perfection.  Paul’s idea is not that of immediate resurrection, but seems to be that of Incomplete Resurrection, where the believer arrives at a place of blessedness in the presence of the Lord and waits there for the resurrection of the body.  Comfort sees this as the view most commonly held by Christians today.21  Utley says, “This is such a wonderful verse for Christians. It asserts that we will be with the Lord in some sense at death.” 22

“So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it” (5:9).  Paul was always quick to connect doctrine to duty; orthodoxy to orthopraxy. He never forgot the Christian walk, or what we might call in Hebrew the Christian halakhah. Paul wished to be “well-pleasing” (euarestoi) to the Master.  This was his goal and his life ambition.  Peter put it another way saying, “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul” (1 Pet. 2:11).

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (5:10).  This verse at first sight is a shocker.  All people, including the saints of God, will have to appear before the judgment seat of Christ (cf. Rom. 14:10).

Many evangelicals have taught that this judgment seat is different from that of the Great White Throne judgment mentioned in Revelation 20:11.  Actually, I have thought this myself in the past.  However, upon a closer examination of Scripture, I no longer believe that there is a firm foundation in the word of God to make this distinction.  In John 5:22 we read: “Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son…”  From this verse we realize that there is not a judgment of Jesus and a separate one for God the Father.  The Son of God will do all the judging. Also, in Matthew 25:31-33, we see that the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne and judge all people.  He will place the righteous on his right hand and the wicked on his left.  Obviously, the two are being judged at the same time.  Also, in Romans 14:10, mentioned above, our judgment is said to be before God’s judgment seat.  Coffman says, “Not even once in the New Testament is there any reference to more than one judgment.” 23

Utley says,  “It is a universal principle that humans are responsible for their actions and will give an account to God (cf. Job 34:11; Prov. 24:12; Eccl. 12:14; Jer. 17:10; 32:19; Matt. 16:27; 25:31-46; Rom. 2:6; 14:12; 1 Cor. 3:8; Gal. 6:7-10; 2 Tim. 4:14; 1 Pet. 1:17; Rev. 2:23; 20:12; 22:12).” 24  This judgment will include thoughts, words and deeds.  This may have sounded impossible for previous generations, but more and more in our technological age, we are finding that cameras in the streets, in businesses and in smart-phones are capturing our deeds and words with alarming thoroughness. Also, many things in people’s lives (including some detestable things) are being displayed permanently on the web. If such can happen in the natural realm, we can certainly believe that our lives are fully recorded in the spiritual realm.  In Matthew 12:36 Jesus promises, “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.”

Before we panic, there is a very positive side to this judgment.  Strangely, this is not mentioned in most commentaries.  All judgment seems to happen after the sounding of the last trumpet (1 Cor. 15:52) and the appearance of Christ.  Indeed, the White Throne Judgment of Revelation 21 seems to happen well after the first and second resurrections, and even after the thousand-year Millennium.  Obviously, the saints will already have their resurrected and immortal bodies. They will therefore stand before the Lord’s judgment already in the likeness of Christ.  The resurrected wicked will find themselves also standing before the judgment seat, but their resurrection will be one of damnation (Jn. 5:29).

So, the good news then is that we will already be in our glorious resurrected bodies before we face the judgment.  We will already be raised in the likeness of Christ.  This information alone should take all the dread out of this judgment. Yet, we should approach the judgment with holy fear, awe and deep respect.  Comfort says, “…this judgment before Christ will not determine believers’ eternal destiny…Christ will reward Christians for how they have lived on earth.” 25 Barker and Kohlenberger say, “The person thus scrutinized will then receive an equitable and full recompense…each Christian’s obligation to ‘give an account of himself of God’ (Ro. 14:12)…His judgment is concerned with the assessment of works and, indirectly, of character, not with the determination of one’s eternal destiny…” 26   Barnes says, “Before we receive our eternal allotment it is proper that we should render our account of the manner in which we have lived, and of the manner in which we have improved our talents and privileges…see Romans 14:10.” 27

It is clear that some believers will lose most of the reward they could have gained.  They will be like those escaping from the fire.  They will have very few rewards for their Christian lives, but the Bible is clear that they will be saved because they have placed their trust in Jesus (1 Cor. 3:15).  The Scripture says, “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” (Matt. 19:30).

It is clear in Scripture that Christians will not all receive the same reward.  There will be 30, 60 and 100-fold rewards (Matt. 25:14-30).  Each person will be rewarded properly and fairly (Eph. 6:8; Col. 3:25). Guthrie assures us that “because of the redemption in Christ the day of judgment has lost its terror for the man in Christ (1 Jn. 4:17).  But this tribunal will assess, with complete justice and impartiality, the worth of our Christian lives…” 28

Before we move on, perhaps we should take a look at the judgment seat that is mentioned.  The Greek word is bēmatos.  This comes from the Greek bema and it referred to a platform in Greek cities where legal decisions were handed down by rulers or where orations were made (Acts 18:12; 25:6).  A similar thing was found at the Olympic Games and it was used to hand out rewards for the victors.29

 

BEING OUT OF OUR MIND IN MINISTRY TO OTHERS

 

Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 2 Corinthians 5:11

Paul knew how to fear the Lord.  We should make clear that this fear, although it is the Greek word phobos, is not the slavish or scary kind of fear.  The Bible says that the fear of the Lord is clean or pure (Psa. 19:9).  The fear of the Lord is also the beginning of both knowledge and wisdom (Prov. 1:7; 9:10).  We can thus say that a lot of so-called knowledge and wisdom today is neither.  It is only a puffed-up pride in scholarly attainment.  The fear mentioned here is more like a reverential awe or a healthy respect for God.30   We can read more about the fear of the Lord in Ecclesiastes 12:13; Acts 9:31; Romans 3:18; 2 Corinthians 7:1; and Ephesians 5:21. Paul makes clear that if we have the proper fear of God we should try to win others to the Lord.

Paul’s fear of God and his continued labor for the Lord should have been plain to the Corinthian church.  Men and women of good conscience should have perceived how pure and true the ministry of Paul was.  Alas, it was not to be.

“We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart” (5:12). The Judaizing false apostles were majoring on outward things, no doubt on things like trying to keep the letter of the law, or certain physical attainments.  On the inside, they were full of corruption and greed.  Like the cults of our day they were preying on new Christians rather than trying to get converts of their own.  No doubt their outward appearance and their “knowledge” were impressive.  We read in the Bible however that God does not look on outward appearance but he looks on the hidden things of the heart (1 Sam. 16:7).  The Corinthians should have seen the true heart of Paul and they should have taken their pride in that.

“If we are ‘out of our mind,’ as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you” (5:13).  Sometimes, God’s workers may seem out of their minds in their zeal for the Lord.  We remember that Jesus’ own family thought he was losing it and came to take him back home (Mk. 3:21; Jn. 10:20).31  Wiersbe, who pastored the Moody Church in Chicago, tells how the people of that city often called the great evangelist Dwight L. Moody “Crazy Moody.”  Today we do not remember those people who laughed in scorn but we certainly remember D.L. Moody.32  Barclay adds, “The real enthusiast always runs the risk of seeming crazy to lukewarm people.” 33   Obviously, some in Corinth considered Paul a little touched in the head.  It is indeed a bit strange that the world often considers God’s people as unbalanced, while they may consider truly unbalanced people as perfectly sane.

 

COMPELLED BY CHRIST’S LOVE

 

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 2 Corinthians 5:14

The Greek word for “compels” is sunechō and it means “to hold together, to press together, to shut up; then to press on, urge, impel, or excite.” 34  Other translations have the word as “controls” (NASB); “constrains” (NKJV); or “overwhelms” (NJB).  Simply, the love of Christ compelled, urged, excited, constrained and even overwhelmed the apostle. It compelled him to reach out to the lost. We must ask if the condition of lost people in our world is having this kind of effect upon us today?

We have here one of the basic truths of the gospel.  We were all dead in trespasses and sins against God (Eph. 2:1).  This was and is true of the whole human race.  We should have died eternally for our transgressions (Rom. 6:23), but although we were dead in our trespasses and sins (Col.2:13), Christ died in our place that we may live eternally (Rom. 5:8).  That is the gospel in its beauty and simplicity.

It is clear here that Christ died for all humanity.  There is no idea of a “limited atonement” in this verse or in many other verses (cf. Matt. 20:28; Jn. 3:16; 7:37; Heb. 2:9; 1 Jn. 2:2; Rev. 22:17).  Christ died for everyone, but everyone will not receive him.  To those who will receive him he will grant eternal life (Jn. 1:12).

“And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (5:15). This is surely a difficult message for our current “Me Generation.”  In recent years in the west the whole emphasis has been upon the individual to the exclusion of everyone else.   Comfort says, “Paul is insistent that Christians have no right to live selfishly…This biblical idea attacks today’s culture head-on…popular magazine titles were once named Life, Look and Time. However, as the new millennium approached, magazine titles in our increasingly ego-driven society began to reflect names like, People, US, and Self.” 35

Wiersbe tells how in 1857, Frances Havergal visited Germany and noticed in a pastor’s home a picture of the crucifixion with these words under it, “I did this for thee.  What hast thou done for Me?”  She quickly took a piece of paper and wrote a poem on this theme.  However, she was not satisfied with her poem and threw it into the fire.  When the piece of paper didn’t burn, her father suggested that she publish it.  Later, Philip P. Bliss turned the poem into this beautiful hymn:

I gave my life for thee,
My precious blood I shed,
That thou might’st ransomed be,
And quickened from the dead;
I gave, I gave my life for thee,
What hast thou given for me?  36

 

THE NEW CREATION

 

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 2 Corinthians 5:16 

It is easy for us to regard all the lost people around us from a worldly point of view.  We can look at them as just folks we bump into; we can look at them just as those who are supposed to serve us; we can look at them as a nuisance; we can look at them as hopeless and disgusting pagans.  Somehow, we need to see all those around us as people who need to hear the gospel and be saved.

As Paul speaks here, he must have suddenly remembered that before his conversion he had looked at Christ in some of these ways.  He confesses this and repudiates it. Paul seems to be indicating in this verse that he had at least seen Christ while he was living as a Pharisee in Jerusalem.  He had undoubtedly formed some very mistaken ideas of Jesus.37

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (5:17).  The expression “in Christ” is a favorite of Paul. John McKay calls it “the very eye of Christianity,” and he points out how the apostle used the expression the equivalent of 169 times.38

New creation in the Greek language is kainē ktisis.  We discussed the word kainos (kainē) in 3:6, saying that it meant new in quality.39  God, with the redeemed soul, is making something entirely different, something new in quality.  So, believers are not just mended or patched up.  They are wonderfully and gloriously remade.

 

A MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION     

 

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 2 Corinthians 5:18

The Greek word for reconciled is katallaxantos. “The word basically means to exchange or change and thereby to bring together that which was alienated.” 40  After the fall in Genesis, God had a holy displeasure against the human race because of its sin.  Though the First Adam fell into sin, the Last Adam (Jesus), by his sacrificial death on the cross, removed God’s enmity and brought all those who would receive it into a restored relationship with God (Rom. 5:10-11; 1 Cor. 15:45; Col. 1:20-22).41

We will never know the awful price Jesus paid to redeem us.  Eliz­a­beth Clephane in 1868 wrote the beautiful hymn, The Ninety and Nine, with these touching and heart-rending words:

But none of the ransomed ever knew
How deep were the waters crossed;
Nor how dark was the night the Lord passed through
Ere He found His sheep that was lost.

God found the straying sheep and restored it to the flock.  Now, those who have been reconciled or restored to God have been given a ministry of reconciliation toward the lost.

Now those who are reconciled to God through Jesus will never again be confronted by their sins.  They are forgiven in Jesus our Savior (Psa. 32:1-2; Rom. 4:1-8). All sins are removed from them and from us.  They are removed from all believers as far as the east is from the west (Psa. 103:12).

Paul says, “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation” (5:19).  Utley notes: “We must tell the truth; we must preach the gospel; we must lift up Christ; we must offer a free salvation to a lost world…A lost world is not on the doorstep of a powerless, loveless God, but is on the doorstep of an apathetic, unconcerned church. We have the message; we have the keys of the Kingdom (cf. Matt. 16:19; Rev.1:18; 3:7).” 42

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (5:20).  Paul uses the Greek word presbeuomen here, meaning “ambassadors.”  These were the men who administered Rome’s imperial provinces on behalf of the Emperor.  The Latin word which it translates
is legatus. 43

So we can see that an ambassador was a person of high position. The ambassador had the task of arranging peace terms with conquered peoples, as well as determining boundaries, drawing up a constitution, and other tasks.  He then worked with the Roman senate until the terms were ratified.  Paul seems to be thinking of himself as bringing people to terms with God.  Barclay says, “There is no more responsible position than that of ambassador…The honor of a country is in its ambassador’s hands….”  44

While the ambassadors of Christ preeminently applied to the apostles themselves, there is surely a sense in which this verse applies to every Christian today.  We are to pray in Christ’s stead that lost people be reconciled to God.  We are to announce the King’s amnesty.45

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (5:21).  One thing is crystal clear in the Bible and that one thing is that Jesus had no sin (Lk. 1:35; Jn. 8:29; Heb. 4:15; 7:26; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 Jn. 3:5).  Yet, we see here that Jesus was made sin for us.  How do we reconcile these things?  The statement probably has roots as far back in the Bible as Isaiah 53:10.  In this passage the “Servant of Yahweh is made (or makes himself) an asam (RSV ‘an offering for sin’).” 46  We see this same idea brought forth in Romans 8:3: “For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh…”

So, Jesus who had no sin went to the cross to be offered up as a sin offering for us.  For that moment, he became as sin.  Even the face of God was turned away from him because God cannot look upon sin (Matt. 27:46; Hab. 1:13).  Pfeiffer and Harrison say, “The Sinless One became (by imputation) sin for the sinner, that the sinner might become (by imputation) the Sinless One.” 47  Christ literally took our place. He died for us.  He made what the theologians call “a substitutionary atonement” (cf. 1 Pet. 2:24; 3:18).  Now, because of the cross, his righteousness has become imputed to us.

Continue to Chapter 6