In Christ, God “create[s] in himself one new man in place of the two.” Paul puts this new spiritual reality and new spiritual identity in the strongest of terms when he says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek . . . for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). This does not mean that there are no more cultural distinctions or practices that distinguish members of different ethnic groups. What it does mean is that our union with Christ produces a union with one another that transcends any of our other associations in this fallen world. As blood is thicker than water in our natural relations, so the Spirit is stronger than both in our union with Christ.
We would sell ourselves short if—in our consideration of the vertical dimensions of the cross—we focused only on the way in which God reconciles different people together in Christ. The Apostle Paul takes the vertical dimension of the reconciliation accomplished at the cross to the cosmic and consummative realm when he intimates that Jesus died to reconcile “all things in him, things in heaven and on earth” (Eph. 1:10). While the Scripture rejects any idea of universalism (clearly teaching eternal damnation of fallen angels and unregenerate men and women), it gives us the picture of the cosmic reconciliation of unfallen angels and redeemed mankind. The Scottish theologian John Eadie captured the essence of this aspect of the cross when he wrote:
The one Reconciler is the head of these vast dominions, and in Him meet and merge the discordant elements which sin had introduced. The breach is healed. Gabriel embraces Adam, and both enjoy a vicinity to God, which but for the reconciliation of the cross would never have been vouchsafed to either. . . .Thus all things in heaven and earth feel the effect of man's renovation.
While Jesus did not die to redeem unfallen angels (Heb. 2:16), His death has implications even for their being secured in holiness and reconciled to the redeemed humanity for whom they served as ministering spirits. James Henley Thornwell explained this idea when he wrote:
In his public character as the representative of men and unfallen angels [Christ’s] mission upon earth was to redeem the seed of Abraham and confirm the angels that kept their first estate. His work was much more extensive than that of Adam. The benefits of Adam’s obedience we have no reason to believe would have transcended his own race; those of Christ’s were to extend to principalities and powers, to angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim.
Cosmic, consummative worldwide peace is entirely dependent on Jesus’ death on the cross. The effects of creaturely reconciliation are felt for all of eternity on account of His saving works. The vertical reconciliation of fallen men to God is foundational to the horizontal reconciliation of man to man. The former necessarily accomplishes and secures the latter. Our union with Jesus in His death and resurrection reconciles us to God. And, since we are redeemed by the same Christ, united to the same Christ, and made the beneficiaries of the same benefits of union with the same Christ, we are thereby united to one another in the same body.
We must be exceedingly careful not to reverse the order or else we will inevitably fall into the snare of a humanitarian gospel—which is no gospel at all. All forms of the social gospel that pervaded the mainline churches in America throughout the twentieth century were built on the idea that Jesus’ death was primarily concerned with world peace and the reconciliation of men to men through the example of Christ. This is not the teaching of the Scriptures. The Scriptures do not teach the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of men. Rather, Scripture holds out to us a far more glorious picture of reconciliation through the atoning work of Christ.
The cross of Christ provides everything that we need as individuals before God as well as everything we need as creatures living in relationship with other created beings. The cross is God’s great solution to all of the problems of this fallen world—whether it be our sin, the power of the evil one, the opposition of the world, the unrighteousness of the world, or the hostility of men toward one another. There is nothing that cannot be remedied by the work of Jesus on the cross at Calvary. May God give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand that we may turn to Him and be forgiven, healed, delivered, preserved, and made the beneficiaries of all the blessings that Jesus purchased for us on that cross.
Editor’s Note: This post was first published on October 5, 2018.