Great Gospel Words: Reconciliation

Reconciliation is far more than forgiveness. It is a welcome into the very heart and arms of God.

In our consideration of great words in the gospel, we have been arrested by such words as propitiation, forgiveness, redemption, justification, reconciliation, and sanctification. All the words have to do with what is called by the writer of Hebrews, “so great a salvation,” each one presenting a different aspect of that salvation. For example, propitiation refers to the satisfying of all the righteous claims of God; forgiveness (or remission) refers to the sending away of sins and the subsequent deliverance from them; redemption presents the price that was paid and the release from bondage that was effected when that price was paid; and justification refers to our being cleared from every charge of guilt. Reconciliation presents to us a change in a relationship. When reconciliation occurs, peace prevails where once alienation and enmity existed.


One of the clearest illustrations of reconciliation in the Bible is the story of Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, and therefore the grandson of Saul who was David’s enemy. After the death of Jonathan and Saul at the hands of the Philistines, David was anointed in Hebron to be king over the house of Judah (1 Sam 31:6, 2 Sam 2:4). We read that “there was long war between the house of Saul and the house of David; but David waxed stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul waxed weaker and weaker” (2 Samuel 3:1). Following the defeat of the house of Saul, David said, “Is there not any of the house of Saul that I may show him kindness (grace) for Jonathan’s sake?” Through David’s display of grace, Mephibosheth was reconciled to him. When Mephibosheth was assured that all hostility, enmity, and alienation was gone, and he was eating bread at the king’s table, he said, “What is thy servant that thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog as I am!” (2 Samuel 9:8). The relationship had been totally repaired, not through what Mephibosheth had done, but through the gracious act of David!

A second illustration of reconciliation in the Scriptures is seen in the words of the wise woman of Tekoah. When Absalom had taken the life of Amnon, because of the latter’s humbling of Tamar, he fled from the face of his father and was three years in the distant land of Geshur. Joab, attempting to achieve reconciliation, because of the king’s mourning over the alienation of Absalom, sent the wise woman to remind David that God “doth devise means that His banished be not expelled from Him” (2 Samuel 14:1-14). This is reconciliation exemplified.


We have hinted at the definition of reconciliation. Three Greek words found in the Bible are translated by this word, each referring to the repair of a relationship. The words always contain the thoughts of alienation and of an enmity existing. It is interesting that the word translated, “be reconciled” in Matthew 5:24 is diallasso and, according to Mr. W. E. Vine, refers to cases where there is mutual hostility yielding to mutual concession. The word used of the reconciliation of man to God is katallasso. It also refers to a change but is not used of mutual hostility, proving that the enmity between God and man is ever and always on the part of man alone. God is not reconciled to man. His thoughts are always of grace. It is man who needs to be reconciled to God. God effects this reconciliation on the basis of Calvary and offers it freely to the sinner.

We should note that the word translated “atonement” in Romans 5:11, “Through Whom we have now received the atonement,” is katallage and should read, “Through Whom we have now received the reconciliation.” Reconciliation is the result of the atonement. Also, in Hebrews 2:17, when we read, “to make reconciliation for the sins of the people,” the word is hilaskomai, and should read, “to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”

Notice the words in Romans 5:10: “For if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” Enmity existed, but not on the part of God. Reconciliation was effected exclusively by the workings of God in grace. Again, in Ephesians 2:16 we read, “And that He might reconcile both (Jew and Gentile) unto God in one body, by the Cross, having slain the enmity thereby.” Enmity existed between Jew and Gentile and also between man and God. Incidentally, the word used for reconciliation in Ephesians 2:16, and in Colossians 1:20-21, is apokatallasso, a strengthened form of katallasso. In Colossians 1:20 we see that God planned by Him, Who “made peace through the blood of His cross,” “to reconcile all things unto Himself, whether they be things in earth or things in heaven.” There is no proffer of reconciliation to things under the earth. However, we know that “at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).


In a great passage on reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, Paul shows us the manner of reconciliation, the ministry of reconciliation, and the message of reconciliation. The means of reconciliation is stated in the words, God “has made Him to be sin for us; [He] Who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5: 21). The sole, yet sufficient, foundation of reconciliation is the Cross. Paul said that God had committed to him the “ministry of reconciliation” (v 19). He summarized his message as an ambassador of Christ to the world this way: “We pray in Christ’s stead, Be ye reconciled to God” (v 20).

Declaring this message, as ambassadors of Christ, to those who are still enemies of God, is the responsibility of individual believers and of churches.