|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
3:21-26 Must guilty man remain under wrath? Is the wound for ever incurable? No; blessed be God, there is another way laid open for us. This is the righteousness of God; righteousness of his ordaining, and providing, and accepting. It is by that faith which has Jesus Christ for its object; an anointed Saviour, so Jesus Christ signifies. Justifying faith respects Christ as a Saviour, in all his three anointed offices, as Prophet, Priest, and King; trusting in him, accepting him, and cleaving to him: in all these, Jews and Gentiles are alike welcome to God through Christ. There is no difference, his righteousness is upon all that believe; not only offered to them, but put upon them as a crown, as a robe. It is free grace, mere mercy; there is nothing in us to deserve such favours. It comes freely unto us, but Christ bought it, and paid the price. And faith has special regard to the blood of Christ, as that which made the atonement. God, in all this, declares his righteousness. It is plain that he hates sin, when nothing less than the blood of Christ would satisfy for it. And it would not agree with his justice to demand the debt, when the Surety has paid it, and he has accepted that payment in full satisfaction.
Verses 24-26. - Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood. Δικαιούμενοι agrees with πάντες in ver. 23. "Repente sic panditur scena amaenior" (Bengel). Δωρεὰν and τῆ αὐτοῦ χάριτι are opposed to the impossible theory of justification by law. And, as all sinned, so all are so justified potentially, the redemption being for all; cf. especially Romans 5:18. But potential justification only is implied; for the condition for appropriation is further intimated by διὰ τῆς πίστεως following. The means whereby it becomes objectively possible is "the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." Here, as throughout St. Paul's Epistles, and in the New Testament generally, the doctrine of atonement being required for man's justification is undoubtedly taught, Christ being viewed as not only manifesting God's righteousness in his life, and reconciling believers through his influence on themselves, but as effecting such reconciliation by an atoning sacrifice. The word itself (ἀπολύτρωσις) here used may indeed sometimes denote deliverance only (cf. Romans 8:23; Luke 21:28; Ephesians 1:14; Ephesians 4:30; Hebrews 11:35); but certainly, when used of the redemption of man by Christ, it implies atonement by the payment of a ransom (λύτρον or ἀντίλυτρον); cf. Ephesians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 6:20; Galatians 3:13; 1 Timothy 2:6; Revelation 5:9; Matthew 20:28; the ransom paid being said to be himself, or (as in Matthew 20:28) his life; Τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ λύτρον ἀντὶ πολλῶν. It does not follow that all conceptions of schools of theology as to how the atonement was efficacious for its purpose are correct or adequate. It must, from the very nature of the subject, remain to us a mystery. It may be enough for us to believe that whatever need the human conscience has ever felt of atonement for sin, whatever human want was expressed by world-wide rites of sacrifice, whatever especially was signified by the blood required for atonement in the Mosaic ritual, - all this is met and fulfilled for us in Christ's offering of himself, and that in him and through him we may now "come boldly to the throne of grace," having need of no other Προέθετο ιν ´ερ. 25 ("set forth," Authorized Version), may bear here its most usual classical sense of exhibiting to view ("ante omniam oculos possuit," Bengel); i.e. in the historical manifestation of the Redeemer. It may, however, mean "decreed," or "purposed" (cf. ch. 1:13; Ephesians 1:9). The word ἱλαστήριον seems best taken as a neuter adjective used substantively, there being no instance of its application in the masculine to a person. Its ordinary use in the LXX (as also Hebrews 9:5) is to designate the lid of the ark (i.e. the mercy-seat), the noun ἐπίθεμα (which is added Exodus 25:17; Exodus 37:6) being supposed to be always understood, though the usual designation is simply τὸ ἱλαστήριον. Hence most commentators, including the Greek Fathers generally, understood ἱλαστήριον in this sense here, Christ being regarded as the antitype of the mercy-seat, as being the medium of atonement and approach to God. The main objection to this view is that it involves an awkward confusion of metaphors, it being difficult to regard him who was at once the Victim whose blood was offered, and the High Priest who offered his own blood, at the mercy-seat, as being also the Mercy-seat itself. (Thus, however, Theodoret explains: "The mercy-seat of old was itself bloodless, being without life, but it received the sprinkling of the blood of the sacrifice. But the Lord Christ and God is at once Mercy-seat, High Priest, and Lamb.") The difficulty is avoided if we take the word here in the sense of propitiatory offering, which in itself it will bear, a noun, such as θῦμα, being supposed to be (cf. 4 Maccabees 17:22; Josephus, 'Ant.,' 16. c. 7; Dio Chrys., 'Orat.,' 11:1). Whatever its exact meaning, it evidently denotes a true fulfilment in Christ of the atonement for sin undoubtedly signified by the type; as does further ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι, which follows. For a distinct enunciation of the significance of bleed under the ancient ritual, as reserved for and expressing atonement, see especially Leviticus 17:11. The meaning of the whole sacrificial ritual is there expressed as being that the life of man being forfeit to Divine justice, blood, representing life, must be offered instead of his life for atonement. Hence, in pursuance of this idea, the frequent references in the New Testament to Hebrews physical blood-shedding of Christ (cf. Hebrews 9:22, "Without shedding of blood there is no remission"). It is not, however, implied that the material blood of Christ, shed on the cross, in itself cleanses the soul from sin, but only that it signifies to us the fulfilment in him of the type of an atoning sacrifice. As to the construction of ver. 25, it is a question whether ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι is to be taken in connection with διὰ τῆς πίστεως, meaning "through faith in his blood" (an unusual expression, though grammatically correct, cf. Ephesians 1:15), or with ἱλαστήριον. The emphatic position of αὐτοῦ, such as apparently to signify "in his own blood," favours the latter connection (cf. Hebrews 9:12-25, where the offering of Christ is distinguished from those of the Law in being διὰ τοῦ ἀδίου αἵματος, not ἐν αἵματι ἀλλοτρίῳ). Thus the meaning will be that he was set forth (or purposed) as an ἱλαστήριον, available for us through faith, and consisting in the offering of himself - in, the shedding of his own blood. For showing of his righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime in the forbearance of God, in order to the showing of his righteousness in the time that now is, so that he may be righteous, and justifying (the word is δικαιοῦντα, corresponding with δικαιωσύνην and δίκαιων preceding) him that is of faith in Jesus. This translation differs materially from that of the Authorized Version, which is evidently erroneous, especially in the rendering of διὰ τὴν πάρεσιν by "for the remission." Our translators, in a way very unusual with them, seem to have missed the drift of the passage, and so been led to give the above untenable rendering in order to suit their view of it. It is to be observed that two purposes of the setting forth (or purposing) of Christ Jesus as ἱλαστήριον αρε here declared, both denoted by the word ἔνδειξιν, which is repeated, being governed in the first clause of the sentence by εἰς, and in the second by πρὸς. Some say that the preposition is changed with no intended difference of meaning. But it is not St. Paul's way to use his prepositions carelessly. Αἰς in the first clause may be taken to denote the immediate purpose of the propitiation, and πρὸς in the second to have its proper significance of aim or direction, denoting a further intention and result, consequent on the first. The first purpose, denoted by εἰς, was the vindication of God's righteousness with regard to the ages past, in that he had so long passed over, or left unvisited, the sins of mankind. The propitiation of Christ. at length set forth (or, as may be expressed by προέθετο, all along purposed), showed that he had not been indifferent to these sins, though in his forbearance he had passed them over. Cf. Acts 17:30, Τοὺς μὲν οῦν χρόνους τῆς ἀγνοίας ὑπεριδὼν ὁ Θεὸς; also Hebrews 9:15, where the death of Christ, as the Mediator of the new covenant, is said to have been "for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant," the meaning and efficacy of the "death" being thus regarded, in the first place, as retrospective (cf. also Hebrews 9:26). But then there was a further grand purpose, expressed by the πρὸς τὴν ἔνδειξιν of the second clause that of providing a way of present justification for believers now, without derogation of the Divine righteousness. Such appears to be the meaning of this passage.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Being justified freely by his grace,.... The matter of justification is before expressed, and the persons that share in this blessing are described; here the several causes of it are mentioned. The moving cause of it is the free grace of God; for by "the grace of God" here, is not meant the Gospel, or what some men call the terms of the Gospel, and the constitution of it; nor the grace of God infused into the heart; but the free love and favour of God, as it is in his heart; which is wonderfully displayed in the business of a sinner's justification before him: it appears in his resolving upon the justification of his chosen ones in Christ; in fixing on the method of doing it; in setting forth and pre-ordaining Christ to be the ransom; in calling Christ to engage herein; in Christ's engaging as a surety for his people, and in the Father's sending him to bring in everlasting righteousness; in Christ's coming to do it, and in the gracious manner in which he wrought it out; in the Father's gracious acceptation, imputation, and donation of it; in the free gift of the grace of faith, to apprehend and receive it; and in the persons that partake of it, who are of themselves sinners and ungodly. The meritorious cause of justification is,
the redemption that is in Jesus Christ: redemption supposes a former state of captivity to sin, Satan, and the law, in which God's elect were by nature, and is a deliverance from it; it is of a spiritual nature, chiefly respects the soul, and is plenteous, complete, and eternal: this is in and by Christ; he was called unto it, was sent to effect it, had a right unto it, as being the near kinsman; and was every way fit for it, being both God and man; and has by his sufferings and death obtained it: now, as all the blessings of grace come through redemption by Christ, so does this of justification, and after this manner; Christ, as a Redeemer, had the sins of his people laid on him, and they were bore by him, and took away; the sentence of the law's condemnation was executed on him, as standing in their legal place and stead; and satisfaction was made by him for all offences committed by them, which was necessary, that God might appear to be just, in justifying all them that believe: nor is this any objection or contradiction to the free grace of God, in a sinner's justification; since it was grace in God to provide, send, and part with his Son as a Redeemer, and to work out righteousness; it was grace in Christ, to come and give himself a sacrifice, and obtain salvation and righteousness, not for angels, but for men, and for some of them, and not all; and whatever this righteousness, salvation, and redemption cost Christ, they are all free to men.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
24. justified freely—without anything done on our part to deserve.
by his grace—His free love.
through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus—a most important clause; teaching us that though justification is quite gratuitous, it is not a mere fiat of the divine will, but based on a "Redemption," that is, "the payment of a Ransom," in Christ's death. That this is the sense of the word "redemption," when applied to Christ's death, will appear clear to any impartial student of the passages where it occurs.
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