2 Corinthians 5:14-15 “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 that died for them, and rose again.”
Christians throughout the centuries have differed among themselves as to what these verses mean and the Bible commentators are all over the board when it comes to explaining their significance.
There are basically two views, the Arminian ‘Christ died for all men without exception” and the Calvinistic “Christ died for all men without distinction”.
Let’s first examine the typical Arminian interpretation and then we will look at a more Calvinistic understanding of the passages before us.
The Arminian believes that Christ died for every individual or every man without exception. However there are several problems with this view in light of the rest of this chapter and with numerous other verses found within the pages of the Holy Bible.
Whoever this “all” is - “He died for ALL” - and what it means by the following phrase “then were all dead”, this same “all” is characterized by several other descriptions in the following verses. We read in verse 17 “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things have passed away; behold, ALL THINGS are become new.”
This is a positional truth of who we are in Christ. In our practical walk, there is not one of us who can honestly say that “all things are become new”. We still have indwelling sin and the battle will continue till the day of our deaths or until the Lord descends from heaven with a shout and gathers us together unto Himself.
This same group of people have already been reconciled to God. “And all things are of God who HATH RECONCILED US TO HIMSELF by Jesus Christ”
And in verse 19 we read: “To wit, that God WAS in Christ RECONCILING THE WORLD unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them”.
When exactly did our reconciliation to God take place? The Bible tells us in no uncertain terms that we WERE reconciled to God AT THE CROSS and by the blood of Jesus Christ.
In Ephesians 2:16-17 we read: “And that he might reconcile both (Jew and Gentile as categories of men, or men without distinction) unto God in one body BY THE CROSS, having slain the enmity thereby; And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.”
Colossians 1:20-21 tell us: “And HAVING MADE PEACE THROUGH THE BLOOD OF HIS CROSS, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet NOW HATH HE RECONCILED.”
God reconciled a people unto Himself AT THE CROSS by the blood of Jesus. It is an accomplised redemption. It is not an ongoing process, but a finished work.
Furthermore, we have to ask ourselves what does God mean when He says that He “was in Christ, reconciling the WORLD unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” If “the world” means every individual and all men without exception, then that means that every individual who ever lived has already been reconciled to God and this is what is called Universal Salvation. The Arminian point of view always proves too much.
Let’s compare a few other verses that use similar language found in the book of Romans. In Romans 11:11-15 we read: “I say then have they stumbled (Israel) that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. Now if the fall of them be the riches OF THE WORLD, and the diminishing of them the riches OF THE GENTILES; how much more their fulness? For I speak to you GENTILES, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the GENTILES, I magnify mine office: if by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them. For if the casting away of them be THE RECONCILING OF THE WORLD, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?”
Clearly the word “world” refers to all kinds of people, all categories of people, all men without distinction of nationality; not to every single man, woman and child who was or ever will be born or to every individual without exception. The Lord Jesus Christ reconciled through his death on the cross not only Jews but Gentiles as well = the world.
Another problem the Arminian point of view runs into is found in the same verse that gave rise to our little study. In 2 Corinthians 5:14 it says: “if one died for all, THEN WERE ALL DEAD.”
What death is the apostle talking about here? Well, we were dead in Adam because of his fall, but we also died in Christ when He died on the cross, and then we were raised together with him. I believe it refers to these same truths that are taught in the books of Romans, Galatians, Ephesians and Colossians where we are taught the Positional Truth doctrines of who we are IN CHRIST when He both died and rose again.
The Greek aorist tense often denotes the entrance into a state or condition. The translation of “then were all dead” is that of the King James Bible, Wycliffe 1395, The Great Bible 1540, the Geneva Bible 1587, the Bishops’ Bible 1568, The Beza N.T. 1599, Lamsa’s 1936 translation of the Syriac, the Etheridge Translation of 1849, Whiston’s Primitive N.T. 1745, Wesley’s translation of 1755, the Worsley Translation of 1770, Haweis N.T. 1795, The Revised Translation 1815, The Webster Bible 1833, The Pickering N.T. 1840, The Commonly Received Version 1851, the Sawyer N.T. 1858, the Clarke N.T. 1913, the KJV 21st Century Version 1994, the Third Millennium Bible of 1998, The Resurrection Life N.T. 2005, The Revised Geneva Bible 2005, The Hebraic Transliteration Scripture 2010, The Bond Slave Version 2012 and The Work of God's Children's Bible 2011.
Versions like the NIV, NASB say “therefore all died” while the ESV has “therefore all have died”. “that if One died for all, then all died.” NKJV
Romans 6:6-8 says: “For if we have been planted TOGETHER IN THE LIKENESS OF HIS DEATH, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, THAT OUR OLD MAN IS CRUCIFIED WITH HIM, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For HE THAT IS DEAD is freed from sin. Now IF WE BE DEAD WITH CHRIST, we believe that we shall also live with him.”
Notice that this is not an ongoing process. The text does not say “our old man IS BEING CRUCIFIED with him” but rather “is crucified with him”. This is an aorist passive verb describing the entrance into a state or condition of being. It is an accomplished fact and it happened at the cross and its results continue into the present.
Ephesians 2 tells us: “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in tresspasses and sins (this would be our spiritual death because of the fall of Adam)...and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ.”
The same truth is taught in Colossians 2:13-14 - “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, HATH HE QUICKED TOGETHER WITH HIM, HAVING FORGIVEN YOU ALL TRESPASSES; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, NAILING IT TO HIS CROSS.”
In Colossians 3 the apostle writes to “the elect of God” (3:12) telling us “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. FOR YE ARE DEAD, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”
Wait a minute? I thought we were alive in Christ. Yes, we are, but we also “are dead” because we died in Him and with Him at the cross.
It was at the cross that God saw us as being IN Christ, where we both died WITH Him and were raised WITH Him. “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.” Galatians 2:20
These truths in Scripture that we have already been reconciled to God and have already died in Christ and been raised from the dead with Christ and are now seated in the heavenly places are not presented as only being “potential” or as something God “offers to do IF you believe”, but are presented as accomplished facts and spiritual realities. The gospel is not about something God wants to do or hopes to do, but about what He DID at the cross of Calvary. “It is finished.” John 19:30
The last point I would like to mention has to do with 2 Corinthians 5:20-21. Here we read: “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.”
As a side note, that little word “might” in the phrase “that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” is in the subjunctive mood in both the English and the Greek. It does NOT mean “maybe” or “perhaps” but rather it expresses the idea that someone did something in order to achieve a particular purpose. As in “I refused a party invitation so that I might spend Sunday with you.” See the MacMillan Dictionary of the English Language.
Or as the Bible frequently uses this little word - “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed” Romans 4:16 and Romans 5:20 “Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound.” and 2 Corinthians 8:9 “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich. “ or Galatians 1:4 “Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father.”
What does it mean then in verse 20 where it says “we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.”? Paul and the other apostles went about preaching the gospel about what God had done in Christ to accomplish our redemption and that we might receive the forgivness of sins. He says here that they besought these pagan Gentiles to “be reconciled to God”.
You will notice that the verb used here is a passive verb in both the English and the Greek. We cannot reconcile ourselves to God; it is not something that we can do by our own efforts. Someone has to do it for us. As I understand the phrase “be ye reconciled to God” he is calling upon us to recognize, yield to and rest in what God has already done for us His elect in Christ at the cross where Christ in fact did reconcile us to God by His shed blood. Realize that the work of redemption has already been accomplished on our behalf by Him who loved the church and gave Himself for it, and there is nothing more that needs to be added to it. “It is finished”; “Salvation is of the LORD”.
I believe that a more Biblical view of the phrase “if one died for ALL, then were ALL dead” refers not to every individual who ever lived without exception (you run into way too many problems and contradictions with this view) but rather to all men without distinction of nationality. God visits “the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his name” (Acts 15:14) and the song that will be sung to the Lamb in heaven is “Thou are worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us unto God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” (Revelation 5:9)
All praise and glory to the Lamb by whom we have already been reconciled to God and made the righteousness of God IN HIM who loved us and gave Himself for us.
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