To reconcile means to bring back into harmony or cause to be friendly again; also to adjust or settle, as in reconciling differences. In Greek, the words related to reconciliation are derived from the verb al·lasʹso, which, basically, means “change, alter.”
Thus, the compound form ka·tal·lasʹso, while meaning, basically, “exchange,” came to have the meaning “reconcile.” (Ro 5:10) Paul used this verb when speaking of a woman’s ‘making up again’ with her husband, from whom she had separated. (1Co 7:11) The related di·al·lasʹso·mai appears at Matthew 5:24 in Jesus’ instructions that a person should first ‘make his peace’ with his brother before presenting an offering on the altar.
Reconciliation to God. In Paul’s letter to the Romans and in several other letters, he uses ka·tal·lasʹso and a·po·ka·tal·lasʹso (an intensified form) in dealing with man’s being reconciled to God by means of the sacrifice of Christ Jesus.
Such reconciliation to God is necessary because an alienation has existed, a separation, a lack of harmony and of friendly relations, more than that, a state of enmity. This came through the first man Adam’s sin and the resultant sinfulness and imperfection inherited by all his descendants. (Ro 5:12; compare Isa 43:27.) The apostle could therefore say that “the minding of the flesh means enmity with God, for it is not under subjection to the law of God, nor, in fact, can it be [due to its inherited imperfect, sinful nature]. So those who are in harmony with the flesh cannot please God.” (Ro 8:7, 8) Enmity exists because God’s perfect standards do not allow for his approving or condoning wrongdoing. (Ps 5:4; 89:14) Of his Son, who reflected his Father’s perfect qualities, it is written: “You loved righteousness, and you hated lawlessness.” (Heb 1:9) Hence, even though “God is love” and even though “God loved the world [of mankind] so much that he gave his only-begotten Son” on mankind’s behalf, the fact remains that mankind as a whole has been in a state of enmity toward God and that God’s love toward the world of mankind was love toward enemies, a love guided by principle (Gr., a·gaʹpe) rather than affection or friendship (Gr., phi·liʹa).
Since God’s standard is one of perfect righteousness, he cannot countenance, or view with favor, sin, which is the violation of his express will. He is “gracious and merciful” and “rich in mercy” (Ps 145:8, 9; Eph 2:4); but he does not disregard justice in order to display mercy. As correctly observed in M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia (1894, Vol. VIII, p. 958), the relation between God and sinful man is thus “a legal one, as that of a sovereign, in his judicial capacity, and a criminal who has violated his laws and risen up against his authority, and who is therefore treated as an enemy.” This is the situation into which mankind was brought because of the inheritance of sin from their first father, Adam.
The basis for reconciliation. It is only by and through the ransom sacrifice of Christ Jesus that full reconciliation to God is possible; he is “the way,” and no one comes to the Father except through him. (Joh 14:6) His death served as “a propitiatory sacrifice [Gr., hi·la·smonʹ] for our sins.” (1Jo 2:2; 4:10) The word hi·la·smosʹ signifies a “means of appeasing,” an “atonement.” Clearly, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was not a “means of appeasing” in the sense of soothing hurt feelings on the part of God, mollifying him, for the death of his beloved Son certainly would produce no such effect. Rather, that sacrifice appeased, or satisfied, the demands of God’s perfect justice by providing the just and righteous basis for pardoning sin, so that God “might be righteous even when declaring righteous the man [the hereditarily sinful man] that has faith in Jesus.” (Ro 3:24-26) By supplying the means for expiating (making complete satisfaction for) man’s sins and unlawful acts, Christ’s sacrifice made it propitious (favorable) for man’s seeking and receiving a restoration to right relations with the Sovereign God.
Thus, through Christ, God made it possible to “reconcile again to himself all other things by making peace through the blood he [Jesus] shed on the torture stake,” and thereby persons once “alienated and enemies” because of having their minds on wicked works could now be “reconciled by means of that one’s fleshly body through his death, in order to present [them] holy and unblemished and open to no accusation before him.” (Col 1:19-22) Jehovah God could now ‘declare righteous’ those whom he selected to become his spiritual sons; they would not be subject to any accusation, since they were now persons fully reconciled to, and at peace with, God.
What, then, can we say of men who served God in times before Christ’s death? This would include men such as Abel, who “had witness borne to him that he was righteous, God bearing witness respecting his gifts”; Enoch, who “had the witness that he had pleased God well”; Abraham, who “came to be called ‘Jehovah’s friend’”; Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Daniel, John the Baptizer, and Christ’s disciples (to whom Jesus said prior to his death, “the Father himself has affection for you”). (Heb 11:4, 5; Jas 2:23; Da 9:23; Joh 16:27) Jehovah dealt with all of these and blessed them. How, then, would such ones need any reconciling by means of Christ’s death?
These persons obviously enjoyed a measure of reconciliation to God. Nevertheless, they, even as the rest of the world of mankind, were still sinners by inheritance and had acknowledged themselves as such by the animal sacrifices they offered. (Ro 3:9, 22, 23; Heb 10:1, 2) True, some men have been more overt or gross in their sinning than others, even being openly rebellious; but sin is sin, whatever the degree or extent. Since all are sinners, all men descended from Adam have, without exception, needed the reconciliation with God that his Son’s sacrifice made possible.
God’s relative friendship toward men such as those considered earlier was on the basis of the faith they showed, faith that embraced the belief that God would in his due time provide the means for relieving them completely of their sinful state. (Compare Heb 11:1, 2, 39, 40; Joh 1:29; 8:56; Ac 2:29-31.) Hence, the measure of reconciliation they enjoyed was contingent upon God’s future provision of the ransom. As shown under the heading DECLARE RIGHTEOUS, God “counted,” “reckoned” or credited, their faith as righteousness, and on that basis, with the absolute certainty of his own provision of a ransom in view, Jehovah could provisionally have friendly relations with them without violating his standards of perfect justice. (Ro 4:3, 9, 10, NW and KJ; also compare 3:25, 26; 4:17.) Nevertheless, the proper demands of his justice must eventually be satisfied, so that the “crediting” would be covered by actual payment of the required ransom price. All of this exalts the importance of Christ’s position in God’s arrangement and demonstrates that, apart from Christ Jesus, men have no righteousness that could qualify them for a standing before God.
Steps necessary for attaining reconciliation. Since God is the offended party whose law has been and is being violated, it is man who must become reconciled to God, not God to man. (Ps 51:1-4) Man does not meet God on equal terms, nor is God’s stand as to what is right subject to change, emendation, or modification. (Isa 55:6-11; Mal 3:6; compare Jas 1:17.) His conditions for reconciliation are therefore nonnegotiable, not subject to question or compromise. (Compare Job 40:1, 2, 6-8; Isa 40:13, 14.) While many translations render Isaiah 1:18 to read, “Come now, and let us reason together, says the LORD” (KJ; AT; JP; RS), a more appropriate and consistent translation is: “‘Come, now, you people, and let us set matters straight [“let us settle the dispute,” Ro] between us,’ says Jehovah.” The fault producing the disharmony lies entirely with man, not with God.
This does not prevent God from mercifully taking the initiative in opening the way for reconciliation. He did so through his Son. The apostle writes: “For, indeed, Christ, while we were yet weak, died for ungodly men at the appointed time. For hardly will anyone die for a righteous man; indeed, for the good man, perhaps, someone even dares to die. But God recommends his own love [a·gaʹpen] to us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more, therefore, since we have been declared righteous now by his blood, shall we be saved through him from wrath. For if, when we were enemies, we became reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, now that we have become reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only that, but we are also exulting in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” (Ro 5:6-11) Jesus, who “did not know sin,” was made to “be sin for us,” dying as a human sin offering, to relieve persons of the charge and penalty of sin. Relieved of the charge of sin, such ones could thus appear righteous in God’s eyes, hence “become God’s righteousness by means of him [Jesus].”
God additionally displays his mercy and love by sending out ambassadors to sinful mankind. In ancient times ambassadors were sent out primarily in times of hostility (compare Lu 19:14), not peace, their mission frequently being to see if war could be averted or to arrange terms for peace where a state of war prevailed. (Isa 33:7; Lu 14:31, 32; see AMBASSADOR.) God sends his Christian ambassadors to men to enable them to learn his terms for reconciliation and to avail themselves of such. As the apostle writes: “We are therefore ambassadors substituting for Christ, as though God were making entreaty through us. As substitutes for Christ we beg: ‘Become reconciled to God.’” (2Co 5:20) Such entreaty does not signify any weakening of God’s position nor of his opposition to wrongdoing; it is, instead, a merciful urging to the offenders to seek peace and escape the inevitable consequence of God’s righteous anger toward all who persist in going contrary to his holy will, destruction being the certain end of such. (Compare Eze 33:11.) Even Christians must be careful “not to accept the undeserved kindness of God and miss its purpose” by failing to seek continually God’s favor and goodwill during the “acceptable time” and the “day of salvation” God mercifully provides, as Paul’s following words show.
Recognizing the need for reconciliation and accepting God’s provision for reconciliation, namely, the sacrifice of God’s Son, the individual must then repent of his sinful course and convert, or turn around, from following the way of the sinful world of mankind. By appealing to God on the basis of Christ’s ransom, forgiveness of sins and reconciliation can be obtained, bringing “seasons of refreshing . . . from the person of Jehovah” (Ac 3:18, 19) as well as peace of mind and heart. (Php 4:6, 7) No longer an enemy under the wrath of God, one has, in effect, “passed over from death to life.” (Joh 3:16; 5:24) Thereafter the individual must retain God’s goodwill by ‘calling upon him in trueness,’ ‘continuing in the faith, and not being shifted away from the hope of the good news.’
In what sense has God ‘reconciled a world to himself’?
The apostle Paul speaks of God “by means of Christ reconciling a world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses.” (2Co 5:19) This should not be misread as meaning that all persons are automatically reconciled to God by Jesus’ sacrifice, inasmuch as the apostle immediately goes on to describe the ambassadorial work of entreating men to “become reconciled to God.” (2Co 5:20) In reality, the means was provided whereby all those of the world of mankind willing to respond could gain reconciliation. Hence, Jesus came “to give his soul a ransom in exchange for many,” and “he that exercises faith in the Son has everlasting life; he that disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him.”
Nevertheless, Jehovah God purposed to “gather all things together again in the Christ, the things in the heavens and the things on the earth.” (Eph 1:10) Though a destruction of those who refuse to “set matters straight” (Isa 1:18) with Jehovah God is required, the result will be a universe in total harmony with God, and mankind will again rejoice in God’s friendship and enjoy the full flow of his blessings as at the start in Eden.
Jehovah God terminated his covenant relationship with Israel as a nation because of its unfaithfulness and its national rejection of his Son. (Mt 21:42, 43; Heb 8:7-13) Evidently the apostle refers to this when saying that ‘the casting of them away meant reconciliation for the world’ (Ro 11:15), for as the context shows, the way was thereby opened for the world outside the Jewish community or congregation. That is, the non-Jewish nations now had opportunity to be joined with a faithful Jewish remnant in the new covenant as God’s new nation, spiritual Israel.
As God’s covenant people, his “special property” (Ex 19:5, 6; 1Ki 8:53; Ps 135:4), the Jewish people had enjoyed a measure of reconciliation to God, though still in need of full reconciliation by means of the foretold Redeemer, the Messiah. (Isa 53:5-7, 11, 12; Da 9:24-26) The non-Jewish nations, on the other hand, were “alienated from the state of Israel and strangers to the covenants of the promise, and . . . had no hope and were without God in the world,” for they had no recognized standing with him. (Eph 2:11, 12) In harmony with the sacred secret regarding the Seed, God nevertheless purposed to bring blessings for persons of “all nations of the earth.” (Ge 22:15-18) The means for doing this, Christ Jesus’ sacrifice, therefore opened the way for those of the alienated non-Jewish nations to “come to be near by the blood of the Christ.” (Eph 2:13) Not only this, but that sacrifice also removed the division between Jew and non-Jew, for it fulfilled the Law covenant and took it out of the way, thereby allowing Christ to “fully reconcile both peoples in one body to God through the torture stake, because he had killed off the enmity [the division produced by the Law covenant] by means of himself.” Jew and non-Jew now would have the one approach to God through Christ Jesus, and in course of time, non-Jews were brought into the new covenant as Kingdom heirs with Christ.