Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 2:16a “And that he might reconcile. . .”
“Reconcile” is one of the New Testament’s most comprehensive words for describing what God has done for man through the shed blood of Jesus. Rich with meaning, the term “reconcile” deserves our utmost attention.
The word is “apokatallasso.” It appears in exactly this form only here and at Colossians 1:20-21. The term is a compound of three words. “Apo” means to return to something which once existed. “Kata” denotes action downward, a superior working on a subordinate. “Allasso” means to change, alter, transform. Putting the three thoughts together helps unveil the full magnitude and beauty of this concept. Reconciliation is a restoration resulting from downward action which transforms.
Reconciliation involves a return (“apo”) to a former state of concord. Our word “reconcile” in itself presents the idea of a restoration. It is a transliteration of a Latin word meaning to reconcile. Parties conciled once before are re-conciled, brought back to where they were, to full conciliation.
The restoration referred to in the “reconcile” of our text is the harmony which existed between God and man before the Fall. We were originally in full fellowship with God in Eden, but since the Fall, every person has been by nature at odds with God. This estrangement was absolutely hopeless from man’s perspective. We had neither power nor means to make reconciliation. Even worse, we did not wish to be reconciled to a holy God.
God Himself had to undertake the task of reconciliation. It had to be accomplished by downward (“kata”) action.
Oh, the love that drew salvation’s plan!
Oh, the grace that brought it down to man! (Wm. Newell)
Reconciliation is not the result of two equals bargaining and coming to terms. “Reconcile” carries the idea of an alienated superior who takes upon himself the initiative to win back offended inferiors.
Reconciliation is the activity of God, lovingly restoring fallen sinners to a primal unity with Himself, and retrieving for us a beautiful condition which our sins trashed. Jesus died to return to us what we were intended to have from the first. God made man for Himself. We were meant for God. For man to be himself, to find himself, to satisfy himself, he must know God, for man was never made for the world, the flesh, or the devil.
Full reconcilition of sinners unto God can happen. We can be transferred from hostility to true friendship. Reconciliation results in more than mere acquaintance. It produces a true bonding of spirits between man and God. This is not a pipe dream, or wishful thinking. Such intimacy with the Divine is possible, but hinges entirely on the last part of our Greek word–“allasso,” change. One must be willing to be changed by God.
To refuse the transforming power of God is reprehensible. Jesus took our sin into His own body to extend a pardon to sinners in rebellion willing to be changed. To conspire against such goodness is unthinkable. We mock the blood of Christ if we refuse to be reconciled. Rejection of the Savior is sin double-dyed. It is tantamount to a traitor who was under the sentence of death, but after being pardoned by the very king he rebelled against, continues to plot an overthrow of the monarch.
Receive reconciliation now. God returns us to what we were originally created to be, He condescends to do this, He changes us from His enemies to His friends. Dear listener, have you been restored? Has God reached down to you? Have you consented to be changed?
As a lad in our church’s mission group for boys, Royal Ambassadors, I learned our theme song, “The King’s Business.” Its chorus pleads,
This is the message that I bring,
A message angels fain would sing:
“Oh, be ye reconciled,” thus saith my Lord and King,
“Oh, be ye reconciled to God.” (E. Cassel)
Eph. 2:16b “. . .both unto God in one body. . .”
Jesus reconciles “both” groups, Jews and Gentiles, to God “in one body,” the Church. Prior distinctions are swallowed up in a new entity, the body of Christ, of which Jewish and Gentile believers alike are members.
If you are a believer, God views you as one with all other Christians, whether Jew or Gentile, male or female, black or white, rich or poor. All distinctions fade. Believers must also adopt this mindset. We do not agree with all Christians on all points, but must love them, confess our oneness in Christ with them, and strive to live in harmony with them.
As believers, the unity we have with all other believers is deeper and more profound than any bond we will ever know with anyone else in the world. We may not “feel” this, but God has wrought it. He has made us one regardless of whether or not we are of the same class, race, nationality, sex, or whatever.
All share identical lostness. All are saved exactly the same way. Our one sinful race has one Savior, who joins believers in one body, the Church.
In salvation men are first made right with God. As a result of this, they are made right with one another. We express our understanding and acceptance of this fact by presenting ourselves unto God as a united group.
The things achieved in Christ’s physical body are to be enacted and manifested through His spiritual body, the Church. What Jesus accomplished in the blood and flesh of His incarnate body take effect where His earthly body continues. What Jesus did in His blood–“ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh” (v. 13)–and in His flesh–“having abolished in his flesh the enmity” (v. 15)–are now effected in His earthly body, the Church. In the Church, where the blood has been applied, we should see sinners “made nigh” unto God. In the Church, the continuation of Christ’s incarnation, we should see “the enmity” between warring factions removed.
Eph. 2:16c “. . .by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:”
Verse 15 presents Jesus as the One who abolished “the enmity” which separates people from one another. Verse 16 reveals Jesus as having “slain the enmity” between man and God.
Jesus took “the cross,” the instrument of our hatred against God, and turned it into a sword to slay that very hatred. Men find God in the very place where we spilled holy blood and spiked divine flesh, for at the same time in the same place, God put our sins upon His perfect sacrificial Lamb.
“God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (2 C 5:19). Why not “unto them”? Because the Father was imputing our trespasses unto Him, Jesus our Lord. Christ bore the curse, and thereby lifted it from the shoulders of man (GL 3:13).
“Krummacher describes the mysterious Cross as a rock against which the very waves of the curse break: as a lightning conductor, by which the destroying fluid descends, which would have otherwise destroyed the world with its fire. And Jesus, who mercifully engaged to direct the thunderbolt against Himself, does so while hanging yonder in profound darkness upon the Cross. There He is, as the connecting link between heaven and earth; His bleeding arms extending wide, stretched out to every sinner: hands pointed to the east and west, indicating the gathering-in of the world of man to His fold. The Cross is directed to the sky, as the place of His final triumph of the work in redemption; and its foot fixed in the earth like a tree, from whose wondrous branches we gather the precious fruit of an eternal reconciliation to God” (Caughey, in Bib. Ill.).
The very cross which to Jews was a stumbling block and to Greeks foolishness (1 C 1:23), has become for believers the essence of all we hold near and dear. The cross destroyed our hatred and rebellion against God.
The ultimate dilemma of the cosmos was how to win man’s heart back to God. How could God make men serve Him because they loved Him? How could He make us want to run in the way of all His commandments, to make these things our absolute delight and joy?
Could God command love from hearts of stone? That would make us robots, sub-human, less than creatures made in the image of God. Could He threaten to punish us, and thereby force us to love Him? This might stimulate us to bend the knee and feign acts of devotion, but terror cannot be an impetus for true affection. Force may terrify, but can never endear.
Bringing divine wisdom to bear, God found a way to create love for Himself in the heart of man. God formulated a method which aroused the curiosity of even angels. The cross became His appointed way to restore in man a genuine love for God. The crucifixion slays enmity, thereby allowing love to grow in its place. Christ’s shed blood transforms a man’s heart.
What we see at the cross is not merely an event we are to admire and be impressed by. The results of the cross are something into which we enter to be altered. It is true we are drawn by its beauty:
In the old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty I see. (George Bennard)
The cross does allure us by its loveliness, but as we approach it, and begin to appropriate its benefits, we experience more than admiration, we undergo transformation.
We are purged, purified, sweetened by the bond with God the cross makes possible. As we come unto God, enmity cannot live in Him. Hatred dies, love sprouts. We unite with Him and there find love, love for God, love for His ways, and love for His people. The cross changes us entirely.