In one of the most beautiful chapters of Scripture, Paul outlines the majesty of the truth of reconciliation. “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.’ 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” (2Cor 5:20-21).
In the KJV the word “reconciliation” occurs in passages such as Leviticus 6:30 and 8:15, among others. The particular Hebrew word rendered as reconciliation in these passages is more accurately translated “atonement” (Darby). In light of this we will focus on references to the subject in the New Testament. In addition to the doctrine of reconciliation to God, the New Testament also deals with the subject of reconciliation between brethren (Matt 5:24) and between a wife and her husband (1Cor 7:11). There are four contexts in the Pauline corpus of the New Testament that deal with reconciliation to God. These are Romans 5:10-11, 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, Ephesians 2:16, and Colossians 1:19-22. This teaching is conveyed to us by the use of three words. These are katallasso (Strong’s #G2644) and katallage (#G2643) meaning “to change or exchange,” along with apokatallsso (#G604) which means “to reconcile completely or to change from one condition to another.” This change refers to the restoration of a harmonious relationship between parties that had been at enmity. Therefore, the meaning of reconciliation is to change from hostility to harmony, enmity to amity, antagonism to accord.
Mankind was separated from God as the result of sin. In Colossians 1:21 we are described as being “alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works.” In Ephesians 2:16 there is mention made of enmity; this is the enmity or hostility between human beings and God. However, in Romans 5 we find a panorama of our hopeless condition, being described as ungodly and without strength (Rom 5:6), sinners (5:8) and enemies (5:10). It has been noted that the term “ungodly” describes our wickedness, “without strength” indicates our weakness, “sinners” identifies our wretchedness, and being “enemies” portrays our willfulness in disobedience against God. Reconciliation was required to bring estranged sinners back into fellowship with God.
When we think of reconciliation at a purely human level, whether in the political realm, an employment situation, or even a marital problem, two opposing viewpoints are considered. Mediators then decide if there is common ground to bring the two sides together. However, when it comes to the Biblical perspective of reconciliation, the focus is on one side. God did not need to be reconciled, but in His grace He is the One Who reconciles. This is clear from 2 Corinthians 5:19, “to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” This text is not establishing the deity of the Lord Jesus. The doctrine of His eternal and absolute deity is clearly taught in other portions of the Scriptures; it is agency that is in view. We could paraphrase the text as “God was, through Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.” It was God Who initiated the great program of reconciliation; the basis on which He receives sinners is the death of Christ.
As intimated at the commencement of this article, we have the great privilege of representing our risen Lord as “ambassadors for Christ” (2Cor 5:20). In this capacity we are beseeching sinners, or making a plea to sinners on behalf of God, that they should be reconciled to Him. The context of 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 makes it clear that there is the potential in the death of the Lord Jesus to effect the reconciliation of all men. There is no basis in Scripture to restrict or limit what the Savior accomplished at Calvary.
A genuine bona fide offer of the gospel can be extended to all men without distinction or exception. As we preach the message of the gospel, dignity is required in the manner of our presentation, bearing in mind that we are proclaiming the message “in Christ’s stead.”
Ephesians 2:14-16 presents the elevated position we have received having been reconciled to God. As Gentiles we were not subject to the national privileges that Jews enjoyed; we had no prospect of a future inheritance, we had “no hope,” and we were “without God in the world” (Eph 2:12). Through the cross, Jews and Gentiles are brought into common ground as being members together of one body (Eph 3:6). This is confirmed in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” The context of Galatians 3 is different. However, the principle of the unity of Jew and Gentile is clear. Not only have we been reconciled to God but we are fellowheirs in Christ.
The result of reconciliation for the believer is peace: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1). Peace is the actual state of reconciliation and this is what we presently enjoy. In Colossians 1:19-21, Paul presents the great truth of universal reconciliation, demonstrating that in a coming day the whole universe, things on earth and things in heaven, will be brought into accord to the mind of God. There is no mention in Colossians 1:20 of “things under the earth” (Phil 2:10), indicating that things in the infernal realm will be subdued but will not be reconciled. We look forward and anticipate that day of universal reconciliation which will be accomplished by our glorious Savior.