Notes on 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

2 Corinthians 5:16‑17  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 7
The sin of Adam ruined creation here below. It fell in its head. Not less but more, as is due to the surpassing glory of His person, has the death and resurrection of Christ changed all gloriously for faith. The apostle draws the consequence for the present characteristic knowledge of the Christian.
“So that we henceforth know no one as to flesh:1 if we have even known Christ as to flesh, yet now are no longer knowing [him]; so that, if one [is] in Christ, [there is] a new creation; the old things passed; behold, they [or, all things]2 are become new.” (Vers. 16, 17.)
Man as he is in his present life with all its objects, pursuits, and interests, is morally judged in the cross of Christ, where alone God is glorified as to sin. Where are earthly rank, grandeur and power? Where are intellectual activity and learned attainment? Where is mental acuteness or far-reaching all-embracing thought? Where the wisdom of the wise, or the understanding of the prudent? Where even are moral exercise, and reverence in religion? All are closed, in death, all proved worthless in presence of perfect holiness and most lowly love. It is no question now of thunders and lightnings, and of Jehovah descending in fire, and every heart quaking in fear. The same God descended in grace, yet all that was of man cast Him out in the person of Jesus; and so death is stamped on all. Man judged himself in judging Him, and proved his own worthlessness in either with the pride of vain knowledge, or in not knowing Him who made the world, in receiving Him not, whom the living oracles attested and every testimony that should have gone home if man had not been deaf, yea, dead. Christ's death under man's guilty hand proved the moral-death of all; and as all played their part in it, so all were sentenced before God by it.
But He is risen; and thus by divine power and grace a door is opened, not of hope merely, but of life and salvation in the midst of a waste of death. Doubtless the mass of men go on as heedless as ever, the Gentiles abusing their power, the Jews striving to drown their judicial misery; but we, if none else, by faith beholding the dead and risen Christ, are in the secret of God now so clearly revealed in His word; we, perhaps primarily the apostle and his fellow-laborers, but we Christians also in contrast with all under death. Beyond question Paul entered into the full truth of all this, as no one else did; but surely it is no apostolic prerogative to know none according to flesh, to value nothing before God which flows not from Him who is risen from the dead.
The apostle goes even farther. “But if even we have known Christ as to flesh, yet now no longer know we him.” This is so strong that it is impossible to go beyond it. For Christ was the just cause of every expectation of blessing here below. In Him all promises centered, not only a rod out of Jesse's stem, but a root of Jesse, to which the Gentiles should seek. All hopes for men living on the earth were buried in the grave of Christ: not because of any defect of power or grace in Him, but because man is dead Godward, and how could He reign at God's expense? How take pleasure in governing a nature at enmity with God? No; He died, not only as the full witness of man's state, but to lay a righteous ground of deliverance to God's glory. No doubt the Jews looked for Him to reign after an earthly sort, exalting the chosen nation of whom He is the chief. But we know Him only as a dead and risen Christ; and if even, as the apostle adds, we have known Him according to flesh, that is, on this side the grave, yet now we know Him so no more. Our association is with Him in that new and heavenly glory, where the death through which He passed has met our evil, and now He is risen and gone on high, and our life is hid with Him in God. The apostle does not say that He ever did not know the Lord thus; but that, if it were even so, we now only know Him as the risen and heavenly Christ. The luster of an earthly Messiah was quite swallowed up in the surpassing glory of His new place and condition. And this it is which imprints its heavenly character on Christianity. “As is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.” Had we been Israelites, of the tribe of Judah, of the family of David, we know Christ now in a brightness beyond the sun at noon-day, which utterly dims the light to which we had formerly turned fondly with all our souls.
Nor is this all; for there is power in Him as well as an object that we know. It is not a question of apprehending Christ no more as Messiah, or even of only knowing Him above. The life that is in Him has won the victory for us already and entitled us to regard and speak of ourselves according to His new estate. “So that, if one is in Christ, there is a new creation: the old things passed; behold, they [or, all things together] are become new.” We do not wait for the kingdom, Still less the eternal state, before we know and can say so if any are in Christ, as every Christian is. A new creation can be predicated of such an one, Christ in risen and heavenly glory being the Head. What is true of Him can be said of His, as being in Him. The old things have passed; behold, all things together (τἀ π.) are become new. Faith sees the end from the beginning and looks for all the consequences according to Christ risen. It is no question, as so many make it, of examining ourselves within and seeing how completely we are changed in principles and path as well as spirit and end, since we believed in Christ, though there is a vital change and self-judgment be incumbent on us. It is what faith knows and can say, because of being “in Christ” and knowing Him only as risen, not connected with man on the earth, for this is closed in His death forever. It is true of “any one in Christ.” Whatever he may have been, Gentile or Jew matters not; if in Christ, there is a new creation, and from the starting-point the end is as sure as the beginning is the great all-including fact in Christ's person.
The marginal reading, “let them be” a new creature, was probably due to Calvin, whose notion at any rate agrees with it; but it destroys all the force and beauty of the passage by making it more than exhortation. On the other hand, it is no question of mere experiences which would reduce the language miserably. It is faith judging and speaking according to Christ, in whom the believer is. Thus new creation has all its scope. But it is of all moment to be ever measuring and forming experience by faith, and not to lower faith by experience.