This is arguably one of the most important verses in the Bible. One commentator puts it like this ‘There is no sentence more profound in scripture; for this verse embraces the whole ground of the sinners reconciliation to God.’ Certainly all the other great truths already stated in this chapter are dependent on the truth given to us in 2 Corinthians 5:21.
It tells us what God did … he sent his Son. The biggest question in the Universe must be, why does evil exist? The Bible doesn’t actually give us an answer to that, but it tells us that evil does exist; we see it in the terrible things that happen in the world but we know there is evil also in our own lives. God took an initiative against evil in sending his Son. This means that God was fully involved at the Cross. He made Jesus sin for our sake. See also Isaiah 53:4 and Acts 2:23.
It tells us who Jesus is… he is sinless. One of the most astonishing things about this claim is that Jesus was himself aware that he was sinless. See John 8:46. It is also the consistent testimony of the New Testament. See Hebrews 4:15, 1 Peter 2:22, 1 John 3:5. (3 different writers here). To state that Jesus is without sin is not to be understood just in a negative way; he was utterly righteous. We sin and fail to do the will of God. Who can help us? Only someone who is utterly righteous and without sin. That is the person that God sent. That person is Jesus.
It tells us what Jesus did… he was made sin. This happened at the Cross. This does not mean that Jesus became a sinner. John Stott says the meaning of this is that Jesus bore the legal consequences of our sin. This is beyond illustration for there has never been an event like the Cross of Christ, nor will there ever be. Jesus was punished for our sin and in our place.
Also Jesus dealt with all our sins. Time may be a great healer, but it is not a great forgiver. Only God can forgive us our sins. God sees all our sins past present and future equally clearly because God stands outside our limitations of time. They all stand as a record of charges against us; none of them are expunged because of time. But they are expunged by the death of Christ at Calvary. See Colossians 2:13-14. The something extraordinary happens; God remembers our sins no more. See Hebrews 8:13. This does not mean that God forgets our sins (we do and that is part of our problem) but God chooses no longer to bring them to mind.
It tells us who we are… the righteousness of God. In context this verse is not telling us that we are righteous; because we aren’t! It is telling us that we are covered with Christ’s righteousness and that is how God sees us; dressed in Christ. Christ took our sin; we are covered with his righteousness – an amazing transfer has taken place.
It tells us where we are… in him. To speak of a person being ‘in’ something identifies that person and tells you a lot about them. To be ‘in Christ’ identifies us with all the privileges of being a Christian. ‘In Christ every part of our salvation is complete.’ (John Calvin). There is no small print giving exceptions like you get with an insurance policy, In Christ everything to do with salvation is covered. This includes my sin, my body, my death, my future.
Wesley put it like this:
No condemnation now I dread
Jesus and all in him is mine
Alive in him, my living head
And clothed with righteousness divine.
Bold I approach the eternal throne
And claim the crown through Christ my own.
Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
2 Corinthians 5:21 – no sentence is more profound in scripture.