2 Corinthians 5

Christian Motivation: Ambassadors for Christ
2 Corinthians 5
2 Corinthians 5. Chapters 3, 4 and 5 of Second Corinthians really form one continuous subject. In ch.3 we have the “what”: the Spirit of God is transforming us into the image of Christ. In ch.4 we have the “how”: God has shined the light of the knowledge of His glory into our hearts, and He is breaking down our earthen vessels so it might shine out. In ch.5 we have the “why”: the reasons or motivations for serving Christ and letting that light shine out. This fifth chapter presents, as J.N. Darby remarked; “the assemblage of powerful motives, of pre-eminently important principles; contradictory in appearance, but which, to a soul which walks in light, instead of clashing and destroying each other, unite to give its complete and thoroughly furnished character to the Christian minister and ministry.” 1 These three motivations for service are: the assurance of resurrection and glorification (vv.1-9), the knowledge that we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ (vv.10-13), and the constraining love of Christ (vv.14-21).

1st Motive: The Assurance of Resurrection and Glorification (5:1-9)

The Intermediate State. This passage (2 Cor. 5:1-9) is one of very few places in the New Testament that deal with the intermediate state. When a person on earth dies, they enter a spiritual state, known in scripture as Hades, sometimes translated “hell”. Hades is not exactly a place, but rather a state. Death is the state of the body without the soul, and Hades is the state of the soul apart from the body! Death is physical, Hades is spiritual. Hades can be thought of a “holding place”, as opposed to a permanent residence. We read that “death and hades” will be cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:14). There will be no “intermediate state” in the Eternal State, because there will be no more time! The intermediate state is never held out to the believer as our hope. In fact, in this chapter, that very notion is set aside. Read more…

The Dissolution of the Vessel and Its Glorified State (v.1)


For we know that if our earthly tabernacle house be destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. v.1 The Assurance of a Glorified Body. Paul continues the thought from ch.4, where he was speaking about the breaking down of the earthen vessel, and the eternal weight of glory that is ahead of us. Clearly, the breaking of the vessel has a useful purpose now, but these bodies are incompatible with eternity. We need a glorified body in order to be sustained under that eternal weight of glory.  The link between ch.4 and ch.5 is that which is eternal. Right now, we have the life of Christ as a present possession. That life is eternal, and more permanent than our mortal bodies. The life of Christ is so vigorous and vital that it will “swallow up” (v.4) the mortality of our bodies! What an amazing treasure, though it be an “unseen thing”, and only appreciated by faith (v.7). He speaks of our bodies as dwellings; an apt figure for the human body, which is but a physical dwelling for the soul and spirit. Our mortal bodies are viewed as “earthly tabernacles”… the thought of a tent being a temporary home that is quickly taken down, just as our bodies are fitted for a short, earthly habitation. This is in contrast with “a building from God”… a building or house being a permanent structure; “a house not made with hands”, a spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:44), “eternal in the heavens”, fitted for Divine habitations. Note that the house is distinguished from heaven itself; our changed bodies will be distinct, literal bodies. We must also remember the resurrection body is the same body, but in a new, glorified condition (1 Cor. 15:42-44). It is nice to see that Paul says “if” in v.1. We do not expect death. In fact, Paul himself could say “we which are alive and remain” (1 Thess. 4:15), including himself with the saints looking for the Lord to come. But the glorified body is not an “if”, but a “we have”. It is sure for every believer. The expression “we know” is one of normal Christian knowledge. Paul had already defended the bodily resurrection of the believer from among the dead and its glorious manner in ch.15 of the first epistle. It is not a small detail, but rather a cornerstone of Christian doctrine, and something every believer should be assured of.

We know, We have, We are. There are several technical expressions that characterize Christian position, knowledge, and identity: “we know”, “we have”, and “we are”.
  • The expression “we know” denotes things that are part of the standard Christian knowledge: Rom. 2:2; 1 Cor. 8:1, 4; 1 John 5:20; Rom. 3:19; 7:14; 8:22; 2 Cor. 5:1; 1 Tim. 1:8; 1 John 2:18; 3:2; 3:14; 3:24; 5:15; 5:19; 5:20.
  • The expression “we have” denotes things that are standard Christian possessions: Rom. 5:1; 5:11; 1 Co 2:12; 2 Cor. 5:1; Gal 2:4; Eph. 1:7; 1:11; 2:18, 3:12; Col 1:14; Heb. 13:10; 1 John 2:1.
  • The expression “we are” or “ye are” denotes things that characterize our Christian identity, both individually and collectively: Rom 8:9; 8:16; 1 Cor. 3:9; 3:16; 3:23; 6:19; 12:27; 2 Cor. 2:15; 5:20; 6:16; Gal 3:26; 3:28; 3:29; 4:6; Eph. 2:10; 2:19; 5:30; Col. 2:10; 1 Thess. 5:5; 1 Pet. 2:9.

The Proper Hope of the Christian (vv.2-4)

2 For indeed in this we groan, ardently desiring to have put on our house which is from heaven; 3 if indeed being also clothed we shall not be found naked. 4 For indeed we who are in the tabernacle groan, being burdened; while yet we do not wish to be unclothed, but clothed, that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. vv.2-4 The believer has the glorified state in view, and therefore we are to groan or yearn for it. All it takes to bring that groan from your heart is just to think for a minute of what it will be like; of being glorified with Christ in our resurrection bodies! Our bodies now are but a hindrance to the full enjoyment of eternal life. The groaning in Romans 8 is different than in 2 Corinthians 5. In Romans we groan because of the effects of sin in the lower creation. In 2 Corinthians we groan (“in this”) because we long (“ardently desire”) to be with the Lord in the glorified state. Groaning is not always a negative thing; it is the expression of longing as well as of suffering. We are permitted by God to groan, but never to grumble. Four states are reviewed in vv.2-4:
  1. The present state of the believer: we who are “in this tabernacle”
  2. The intermediate state of the believer: we do not wish to be “unclothed”
  3. The permanent state of the believer: “clothed upon” with our glorified bodies.
  4. The intermediate and permanent state of the unbeliever: we (believers) shall not be “found naked”
The terms “clothed” and “unclothed” have to do with being in or out of the body, but “naked” is the spiritual condition of the lost. Though a sleeping saint may abide for a time “unclothed”, or without their body, yet a believer will never be found “naked”, or exposed to the judgment of God without a covering for their sins (e.g. Matt. 22:11). Nakedness is never a positive thing in scripture, ever since the fall. Adam and Eve realized they were naked, and sewed an outward covering of fig leaves, but they still hid from God when He came down into the garden. The wicked dead will be raised with their decaying bodies (clothed in a sense), but they will stand naked before the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:12). It is not the Christian’s hope to be in the unclothed state; “we do not wish to be unclothed, but clothed”. This guards against the thought that death is the Christian’s hope. As one older brother used to say, “I’m not looking for the undertaker, I’m looking for the Upper-taker!” For hundreds of years, the Church lost the hope of the Lord’s coming for His saints (the rapture). They began to expect death, rather than the Lord’s coming. As a result, the whole focus of the Church became earthly. The believer’s true hope actually stretches beyond the intermediate state, to the time when we will be “clothed”, when we receive our changed and glorified bodies. In spite of this, the believer is “willing rather” (v.8) to be in that state (absent) then to be here in the body. The truth underlying this whole passage, while never explicitly mentioned, is the coming of Christ for His saints. Why? It is the coming of Christ and His transforming power that will effect this change. The expression “that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” refers to the change that will take place at the rapture (1 Cor. 15:51-54), for both the dead in Christ and the living saints, because even those who are alive and remain have mortal bodies. Only of the Eternal Word could it be said, “in Him was life” (John 1:4). He had life in Himself intrinsically… a life which was “impossible to be held” by the pangs of death (Acts 2:24), like a stubborn flame that refuses to be quenched. But “God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:11). Therefore, since we have the life of Christ in us derivatively, its vigor and vitality will one day triumph over the mortality of our bodies.23 Quite the opposite of the Garden of Eden!

The Twofold Reason for this Assurance (v.5) 

5 Now he that has wrought us for this very thing is God, who also has given to us the earnest of the Spirit. v.5 Two great reasons why we have the assurance of resurrection and glorification are given. First, the One who has provided this future (the swallowing up of our mortality) for us is God Himself. So many times in life we are disappointed. Promises are made, and never fulfilled. A word is given, but never followed though by a work. But “he that has wrought us for this very thing is God”. He will make good on His promise! Second, He has given to us the earnest of the Spirit. As another assurance of our future, God has given us the earnest or down-payment of the Spirit. The gift of the Spirit to indwell us is proof that God is invested – deeply invested – in our bodies, and will have them changed and glorified.

The Earnest of the Spirit (Eph 1:14; 2 Cor. 1:22; 2 Cor. 5:5; Rom. 8:11). The earnest of the Spirit is the guarantee and foretaste in advance of our full portion in Christ. This is evident from the very word "earnest", which refers to the down payment money a person might pay for something they intend to take possession of. For example, if you intend to buy a $300,000 home in a few months, you would pay a certain percentage down, perhaps 10% or $30,000, on the home, up front, to show the seller you are serious about your intention. Why is this necessary? The believer in Christ has two inheritances. First, we have a spiritual inheritance "reserved in heaven for you" (1 Peter 1:4). Paul teaches in Ephesians that we are actually already "seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:6), and therefore we already have access by faith to this heavenly, spiritual inheritance. It is the Spirit who allows us to enjoy those heavenly things right now, "all spiritual blessings in heavenly places" (Eph. 1:3). Secondly, we have a future, material inheritance that we will possess when Christ appears to possess what belongs to Him; "in whom also we have obtained an inheritance" (Eph. 1:11). There is coming a glorious day when the Spirit of God will be poured out on this world for blessing, when the redeeming or “setting free” will take place (Eph. 1:14), and the curse be lifted. That day is not here yet, but we have the very same Spirit within us, allowing us to share in the joy beforehand! The earnest works to keep us from settling for the things of this earth; we have something far better! The Spirit of God is the earnest in two ways: (1) to give us a foretaste of heaven before we get there, and (2) to guarantee that we will get there, then go on to reign with Christ and share all that He possesses! We could summarize the earnest of the Spirit as that which gives the believer the enjoyment of present blessings in Christ, and the guarantee of future blessings with Christ.

Here in 2 Cor. 5, the earnest is more in the aspect of a guarantee that we will be glorified with Christ. Think of it… God chose to put His Spirit in our mortal bodies. He surely cares for our bodies! “But if the Spirit of him that has raised up Jesus from among the dead dwell in you, he that has raised up Christ from among the dead shall quicken your mortal bodies also on account of his Spirit which dwells in you” (Rom 8:11). Read more…

The Twofold Result of this Assurance (vv.6-9) 

6 Therefore we are always confident, and know that while present in the body we are absent from the Lord, 7 (for we walk by faith, not by sight;) 8 we are confident, I say, and pleased rather to be absent from the body and present with the Lord. vv.6-8 We have confidence about the intermediate state. Having the work of God to rest on and the Earnest of the Spirit to assure us, we have confidence, not only about the glorified state, but about the intermediate state. We are equally confident about our state after death as we are about our state in glory. We know that “while present in the body we are absent from the Lord”, not that we do not enjoy the presence of the Lord, who promised “I will not leave thee, neither will I forsake thee” (Heb. 13:5). But we are absent from the Lord in that we are not personally with Him, although we do enjoy His company as we “walk by faith, not by sight”. Another Comforter is here personally instead. The assurance we have about the intermediate state is only had by faith, because obviously we cannot see the “unseen things” (2 Cor. 4:18). The reality to faith of that unseen thing, which we possess in earthen vessels (the life of Christ), gives us confidence about our state should death intervene. We know, as part of common Christian knowledge, that when our spirits and souls leave our bodies, we will be “present with the Lord”. The life of Christ in the believer is no less victorious after death than it is in resurrection. Paul could say elsewhere, “I am persuaded, that” among other things, “neither death, nor life… shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39).
And we to the end shall endure,
As sure as the earnest is given;
More happy, but not more secure,
The spirits departed to heaven.4
9 Wherefore also we are zealous, whether present or absent, to be agreeable to him. v.9 We zealously strive to please the Lord. The second great result of the assurance we have in Christ is motivation to live for God’s glory. Some translations render v.9 in a very dangerous way, which makes the verse seem to support salvation by works; “we work to be accepted by God”. This is false, and runs contradictory to the great New Testament doctrine that “by grace are ye saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8). We don’t labor to be accepted; “he hath made us accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6). But knowing what lies ahead, we want to serve acceptably. The life we have now (“present” in the body) is the same life we will have in the intermediate state (“absent” from the body) [1]. We want our lives practically to commend the treasure that we carry. To walk through this world with the smile of God’s approval is something we should strive for with earnest zeal.
Practical Note. True ministry will always have this twofold effect. Firstly, it will establish the believer is their place of acceptance before God, calm their fears, and encourage them to draw near to God. Secondly, it will stir up the believer to service. 

2nd Motive: The Knowledge of the Coming Judgment Seat of Christ (5:10-13)

The Judgment Seat of Christ. 

In John 5, the Lord Jesus explained that God the Father has chosen to give up His right to judge men, so that the Son of man will have that place exclusively. Judgment as a whole, and in all its forms, is committed to the Son; "that man whom he hath ordained" (Acts 17:31). The reason for the Son's being invested solely with this authority is given in John 5:27; because He is the Son of man. Read more... As the judge of all men, the Lord Jesus Christ will hold a solemn tribunal, or judgment seat. The Greek word is 'bema' (Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10), which means ‘raised platform’, or ‘dais’. The same word is used in Matt. 27:19 and John 19:13 for the raised platform that Jesus stood on accused before the Jews, called Pavement, or in Hebrew, Gabbatha. It is the same word for the platform Herod sat on in Acts 12:21 on that fateful day when he refused to give God the glory. Every bema-seat of worldly monarchs has been corrupt. One day, Christ will have His true bema-seat, and He will judge righteous judgment (Isa. 32:1). Who will stand before that judgment seat? All men, believers and unbelievers, will appear before the judgment seat, and their lives will be reviewed.

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10 For we must all be manifested before the judgment-seat of the Christ, that each may receive the things done in the body, according to those he has done, whether it be good or evil. v.10 The thought in v.9 of living now to be pleasing to the Lord leads the apostle into the subject of the judgment seat of Christ. The “we all” is broader here than in ch.3:18, and it includes all men, believers and unbelievers. This is confirmed by the following v.11, which speaks of the terror of the Lord to be faced by unbelievers at their judgment day. At times the judgment seat is mentioned as a comfort to the believer (e.g. 1 Cor. 4:5), but here it is mentioned to affect the conscience. Some translations read “we must all appear”, giving the thought that we will be called in front of the bema-seat. Certainly, this is true, but the thought is really that “we must all be manifested”, as in having our whole lives revealed before the Lord. The scope of what will be reviewed is very broad; “the things done in the body”. For a believer, that would include even the things done before we were saved. There will be rewards in both the positive and negative senses; and the believer may “suffer loss” but “he himself shall be saved” (1 Cor. 3:15). Sometimes we look back on past events and have difficulty discerning properly what is “good or evil”. Sometimes there seems to be very little good, or a grey mixture at best. But the Lord is able to separate “the precious from the vile” (Jer. 15:19), and all will be made clear then. 
11 Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord we persuade men, but have been manifested to God, and I hope also that we have been manifested in your consciences. v.11 Paul was vividly aware that every person He came in contact with would one day be manifested at the judgment seat; and for unbelievers it will be at the great white throne. Knowing then “the terror of the Lord” that awaits unrepentant sinners, Paul was active in the gospel. He loved souls, and was anxious to persuade them. Persuade them of what? Of their sinful condition, of coming judgment, and of God’s remedy for their need. In contrast to the false apostles, Paul lived in the consciousness that he was manifested, or his state fully known, to God. He could say that he hoped his life was every bit as manifest before the saints as if he stood before the judgment seat of Christ. What an incredible statement! His life was an open book. It was not a different Paul before God than what was seen before men.
12 For we do not again commend ourselves to you, but we are giving to you occasion of boast in our behalf, that ye may have such with those boasting in countenance, and not in heart. v.12 The reason Paul was telling them this, that his life was an open book, was not to commend himself to them, or to boast to them (2 Cor. 3:1). Rather, he knew the opposition that existed there in the assembly, of the false apostles that were making false accusations about Paul and his companions. These false teachers boasted in the outward appearance or “countenance”, in great displays of eloquence, etc. But they cared nothing for the state of the heart, which is what God cares about the most. Paul was nothing to boast of outwardly; his vessel was broken down. But inwardly there was more and more of a conformance to Christ! He wanted to give the believers in Corinth the opportunity to defend the true servants of God, and rebuke the false servants. We should be ready and willing to defend our fellow servants when adversaries try to put them down.
13 For whether we are beside ourselves, it is to God; or are sober, it is for you. v.13 The false brethren were accusing Paul of being beside himself one minute, and sober the next. He was “beside himself” when in the enjoyment of Christ, and in preaching and teaching. He was “sober” in dealing with the Corinthian assembly. We see this very thing in this second epistle. He can be speaking of our house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens in vv.1-9, then suddenly turn to speak of the judgment seat in vv.10-13. When Paul was apparently “beside himself” it was “to God”; because he was in the presence of God, and lost in the joy of it. Unbelievers cannot understand that; e.g. Michal “despised David in her heart” when he danced before the Lord (2 Sam. 6:16-23), and Festus said “with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad” (Acts 26:24). But Paul could be very serious as well, and this was “for you”, for the exhortation and correction of the saints whom he loved. Therefore, Paul’s behavior was perfectly suited to a life of service that was spent in communion with God!

3rd Motive The Constraining Love of Christ (5:14-21)

14 For the love of the Christ constrains us, having judged this: that one died for all, then all have died; 15 and he died for all, that they who live should no longer live to themselves, but to him who died for them and has been raised. vv.14-15 Whether beside himself or sober, Paul’s behavior was constrained by the love of Christ. This is the third and greatest motive for Christian service: the love of Christ. When we think of how much He loves us, it stirs us up into action. Paul’s argument follows like this: if Christ had to die for us all, then we all must have been in a universal condition of death. But in that He died for all, we who live (with His life) owe our all to Him who has died for us. The love went out to the dead, and brought with it a quickening power for the elect. The expression “no longer” (v.15) and “henceforth” or “now” (v.16) refers to the time after our conversion. Peter speaks of it as “the rest of [our] time in the flesh” (1 Pet. 4:2). The entire focus of a person’s life before salvation is on self. The entire focus of a person’s life after salvation ought to be on Christ, not on self. This should speak to us. How are we living? Are we constrained by the love of Christ to live 100% for Him?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.5
16 So that “we” henceforth know no one according to flesh; but if even we have known Christ according to flesh, yet now we know him thus no longer. 17 So if any one be in Christ, there is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold all things have become new: vv.16-17 The New Creation. When Christ rose from the dead, He became the beginning and head of a new creation (Rev. 3:14) where sin can never come! God can find all His rest and satisfaction in the Person and work of His Beloved Son! It is into this new creation, far beyond the reach of sin, that we have been brought by our death and resurrection with Christ. That New Creation will be extended out to the physical universe when God’s dispensational purposes are accomplished for the glory of Christ. But we don’t have to wait for the eternal state. Those who have the life of Christ are in that new creation now, and as in the new creation, all our relationships are there. We (believers) “know no one according to flesh”; i.e. our human interactions are not on a natural level. The Jews looked for Christ “after the flesh”, as an earthly Messiah. When a Jew gets saved, the new relationship they gain with God’s Son fully eclipses what they had under the law. Christians know only a dead and risen Christ. All the aspirations of the natural man lay now in the grave of Christ. All the aspirations of the Christian are in the risen and glorified Man at God’s right hand! In fact, in the new creation, natural relationships and distinctions have no place (Gal. 3:28). God’s work of creating us anew in Christ has the effect of erasing natural distinctions; gender, social class, ethnic background, etc. In this new condition of manhood, a distance is placed between the believer and the old creation. So striking is this change, that even if a Christian had known Jesus before the resurrection, in the new creation we don’t know Him that way anymore. Mary Magdalene was told “touch me not” (John 20:17), while Thomas was later told to touch. The Lord was making a point with her. She could not have the Lord in the same way she had previously known Him, “according to the flesh”. A nice example is James, who addresses himself not as the brother of the Lord, but as His servant. Old things are passed away, and all things have become new. This fact extends to all our relationships. Read more… Paul was really dealing with the most serious division in Corinth, the Christ-party. He referred to them in the first epistle as those who said, “I of Christ” (1 Cor. 1:12). They were of Jewish background and had seen or touched Jesus on earth. They thought themselves a cut above the rest. Paul completely sets aside their claims to a higher spirituality.

Reconciliation (Col. 1:20-22; Eph. 2:16; Rom. 5:11; 2 Cor. 5:18-19) has to do with God's work of bringing lost and guilty sinners back to Himself. Reconciliation deals with alienation, and the feelings of enmity that are in the heart of the sinner. Alienation and enmity are the result of man's sin. The fault is on our side... God's heart has remained unchanged! God does not need to be reconciled to man, but man needs be reconciled to God. Alienation is the moral distance between God and man. How does alienation occur? First, in Eph. 2:3 we find that man is at a distance from God; "by nature the children of wrath". Second, in Col. 1:21 it says we were "alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works". Not only is man at a distance from God by nature, but he travels farther away by his own actions. The alienation is on both sides: we couldn't be in God's presence, and He couldn't be in ours. Enmity is the opposition that arises in a sinner toward God. To emphasize, God had no enmity toward man, but man does toward God. How does enmity arise? Man commits "wicked works", and then has a bad conscience about those works. He then begins to think of God as his enemy. That is why men are called "haters of God" (Rom. 1:30) when God has done nothing against them. The enmity is in "the mind" of man. Therefore, reconciliation to God is needed.

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18 and all things are of the God who has reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and given to us the ministry of that reconciliation: 19 how that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their offences; and putting in us the word of that reconciliation. 20 We are ambassadors therefore for Christ, God as it were beseeching by us, we entreat for Christ, Be reconciled to God. vv.18-20 The Ministry of Reconciliation. Not only are all things “new” but all things “are of God”; ordered according to His mind, as opposed to the mind and ways of man. Moreover, He is the God who has “reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ”. Reconciliation is the work of God to bring lost, alienated sinners back to Himself, and to work in our hearts to reverse the enmity that has come in through sin. That change is effected by the power of God’s love, through the Holy Spirit. When we understand what God has done for us, it totally transforms our thinking, such that we can stand in His presence with fullness of joy. God has “given to us the ministry of that reconciliation”, and we are responsible to carry the good news out to the world. This ministry of reconciliation began with God sending His Son into the world; “how that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself”. God was here on earth, in the Person of Christ, working to reconcile the world to Himself. It is not the death of Christ only, but His whole life here on earth. Rather than bring down the curse of a broken law on the Jews or the judgment of God against the Gentiles, the Lord came “not condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17). We see this so clearly in the prayer of Christ on the cross; “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”. His heart was to forgive man his sins; “not reckoning to them their offences”. God has put into our mouths that same message (or “word”) of forgiveness and reconciliation. Christ is no longer on earth, but we are here as His ambassadors. We act in His place, and “entreat for Christ” (on His behalf) with the following message; “Be reconciled to God”.6 We can carry this message to the whole world on the basis of the propitiatory work of Christ; His being “made sin”. But it is really God working through us, just as He did through Christ 2000 years ago: God is “beseeching by us”. What a ministry! We have been given the very ministry that Christ had; to manifest the heart of God to a world of sinners. Note that the Spirit says “as it were”, carefully guarding against the thought that we are absolutely the replacement of Christ.
Ambassadors for Christ. The idea of “ambassadors” is markedly fitting for the believer’s place on the earth. An ambassador is a visitor from a foreign country who represents the interests of that country abroad. For instance, the US Ambassador to Canada is not a Canadian citizen, and does not involve himself in the political affairs of Canada. The US Ambassador to Canada represents the interests of the United States, and helps Canadians who want to emigrate. This is precisely our role on earth as ambassadors for Christ. We are citizens of heaven, and our politics are in heaven; “from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20). Yet we represent the interests of heaven on earth; as an epistle of Christ, as a sweet savor to God, and also as those who proclaim the word of reconciliation.
21 Him who knew not sin he has made sin for us, that “we” might become God’s righteousness in him. v.21 A Dual Exchange. Now we come to one of the deepest verses in the Bible. Paul is continuing the thought from v.20, where he brought out that we have been given Christ’s place as His ambassadors. In v.21 we have the necessary work to reconcile us. What has God done? He has made Christ – who Himself was spotless, without even the principle of sin in Him – to be sin for us. This doesn’t mean Christ was transformed into sin intrinsically; His perfect holiness was never compromised. In the three hours of darkness, Christ was made to be the very expression of what we are (“made sin”). He stood in the place of sin, and God judged the man Christ Jesus as sin in His sight. This is the aspect of propitiation. We read of propitiation for sins and substitution (sin-bearing) for sins, but when the issue of sin (singular) is dealt with – the whole principle – it is in the aspect of propitiation. Propitiation is that aspect of the work of Christ in which the character of God is perfectly satisfied and glorified with respect to sin. Read more… In response to the finished work of Calvary, God has glorified Christ, and by our standing “in him”, God has justified and will yet glorify the very ones Christ suffered for (“for us”). This resulting glorification is the expression of the perfect “righteousness of God”. Read more… In that sense, we have been made the expression of God’s righteousness. The argument made here is exquisite: God has made a double substitution through the work of His Son. First, He has made Christ in our place to be the expression of what we are (“made sin for us”). Second, He has made us in Christ’s place to be the expression of what He is (“made the righteousness of God”)! To think, God has bundled the reconciliation of sinners up with the full verification of His own righteousness! Every time God looks at the believer, He sees in each one of us the expression of His own righteousness. For all eternity, the principalities and powers and heavenly places will learn in us, not only the “the exceeding riches of his grace” (Eph. 2:7) but also His perfect righteousness. We are the object-lesson that God will use to declare His righteousness and His grace to the universe. For further study, note that this truth is an extension of what Jesus taught in John 16:10.
  1. Darby, J. N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible. G. Morrish, 1940.
  2. “Hence it is said here ‘that what is mortal shall be swallowed up by life,’ not merely raised up out of death, but the mortal in us yielding to the superior and all-transforming power of the life in Christ, the body no longer as it was in Adam, but as in the Second man coming again from heaven.” – Kelly, William. Notes on the Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians. Bible Truth Publishers, 1975.
  3. “Therefore the apostle desired, not to be unclothed but clothed upon, and that that which was mortal in him should be absorbed by life, that the mortality that characterised his earthly human nature should disappear before the power of life which he saw in Jesus, and which was his life. That power was such that there was no need to die.” – Darby, J. N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible. G. Morrish, 1940.
  4. Toplady, Augustus M. As Debtors to Mercy Alone. Little Flock Hymnbook #326. 1740-1778.
  5. Watts, Isaac. When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. Psalter Hymnal, 1987.
  6. It is quite a serious error to hold that the message “be reconciled to God” is addressed to believers, although some translations give that impression. To make this mistake is to fall into the error that our reconciliation is not a settled thing, and that our security is dependent on daily confessions and re-reconciliations. John Calvin himself fell into this error, teaching on 2 Corinthians 5; “… that, as we daily sin, so we might also by a daily remission be received by God into His favour.” – Calvin, John. John Calvin’s Bible Commentaries On St. Paul’s Epistles To The Corinthians, Volume 2. Translated 1858, p.142.