NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XVIII)
John Bengel has some enlightening exposition on important words in this verse: “Redemption – from sin and misery. Atonement or propitiation, and redemption result in fundamentally one benefit, namely the restoration of the lost sinner [to God’s favor]. This is the fullest and simplest notion, and it adequately answers to the name, Jesus. Redemption refers to enemies, reconciliation refers to God; here the words propitiation and reconciliation differ. Propitiation takes away the offence against God. Reconciliation may be considered from two points of view; it removes God’s indignation against us, 2 Corinthians 5:19; and our alienation from God, 2 Corinthians 5:20. In Christ Jesus – the name Christ is sometimes put before Jesus for very good reason. In the Old Testament progress is made from the knowledge of Christ to the knowledge of Jesus; in the experience of present faith, from the knowledge of Jesus to the knowledge of Christ.1”2 Bengel’s last point here is that in the OT the Messiah is introduced, and as one goes through prophecies they are led to recognizing Him in Jesus of Nazareth. In the NT one is introduced to Jesus of Nazareth, and as they go through the prophecies, they are led to acknowledging Him as the Messiah.
Adam Clarke put it this way: “So far from being able to attain the glory of God by their obedience [to the Law], they are all guilty. To be saved, they must be freely pardoned by God‘s grace; which is shown to them who believe, through the redemption, the ransom price, which is the sacrifice of Christ Jesus.”3 How clearly Paul shows man’s helplessness in freeing himself from sin’s bondage and how utterly incapable he is in paying the ransom price God requires. That’s why we must see Jesus’ first coming as Messiah on a search and rescue effort. For without it, all mankind would be forever lost.
Charles Hodge adds this: “We do not have the slightest degree of merit to offer [God] as the ground of our acceptance. This is the third characteristic of the method of justification which is by the righteousness of God. Though it is so entirely gratuitous as regards the sinner, yet it is in a way perfectly consistent with the justice of God. It is through ‘the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,’ that is, of which He is the author.”4 And Spurgeon exhorts us: “This is a very wonderful verse, every word of it is full of meaning. ‘Justified’— that is, accounted just, made to be righteous in the sight of God. ‘Justified freely’— without any merit or purchase money. ‘Freely by His grace’— not an act of justice, but an act of mercy has made sinners just in the sight of God. ‘Through the redemption’— there is the foundation of it all, we are redeemed by [His] precious blood: ‘Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.’”5 This is expressed in the lyrics of a song we often hear: “Jesus is the center of it all.”
Charles Ellicott gives us an excellent definition of “Redemption:” He writes: “Literally, ransoming. The notion of ransom contains in itself the triple idea of bondage, deliverance, and payment of a ransom as the means of that deliverance. The bondage is the state of sin and of guilt, with the expectation of punishment. The deliverance is the removal of this state, and the opening out, in its stead, of a prospect of eternal happiness and glory; the ransom paid by Christ is the shedding of His own blood. This last is the pivot upon which the whole idea of redemption turns It is, therefore, clear that the redemption of the sinner is an act wrought objectively, and, in the first instance, independently of any [required] change of condition in him, though such a change is involved in the appropriation of the efficacy of that act upon himself. It cannot be explained as a purely subjective process wrought in the sinner through the influence of Christ’s death. The idea of dying and reviving with Christ, though a distinct aspect of the atonement, cannot be made to cover the whole of it. There is implied, not only a change in the recipient of the atonement but also a change wrought without his co-operation in the relations between God and man. There is, if it may be so said, in the death of Christ something which determines the will of God, as well as something which acts upon the will of man. And the particular influence which is brought to bear upon the counsels of God is represented under the figure of a ransom or payment of an equivalent [in full].”6
Theologian F. F. Bruce has quite a bit to say on what Paul writes that makes it impossible to quote in its entirety, but here are some key points: “Paul’s hope, before he became a Christian, was that, by dint of perseverance in observing the law of God, he might at length be pronounced righteous by God when he stood before his judgment-seat. But in this way of righteousness apart from the law, the procedure is reversed: God pronounces believers righteous at the beginning of their course, not at the end of it. If he pronounces them righteous at the beginning of their course, it cannot be on the basis of works which they have not yet done. Such justification is, on the contrary, ‘an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight.’7 The redemption or ransom is the buying of a slave out of bondage in order to set him free. Here too God’s merciful dealings with Israel provide an Old Testament background to Paul’s language, whether we think of Israel’s redemption from Egyptian bondage8 or of their later deliverance from the Babylonian exile (Isaiah 41:14; 43:1). The grace of God which ‘justifies’ those who believe has been actively manifested in the redemptive work of Christ.”9
Bruce reminds us of a quote from one of Christendom’s most famous writers, John Bunyan, who wrote: “As I was walking up and down in the house, as a man in a most woeful state, that word of God took hold of my heart, Ye are ‘justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’ (Rom. 3:24). But oh, what a turn it made upon me! Now was I as one awakened out of some troublesome sleep and dream, and listening to this heavenly sentence, I was as if I had heard it thus expounded to me: Sinner, thou thinkest that because of thy sins and infirmities I cannot save thy soul, but behold my Son is by me, and upon him I look, and not on thee, and will deal with thee according as I am pleased with him. At this I was greatly lightened in my mind, and made to understand that God could justify a sinner at any time; it was but ‘his’ looking upon Christ and imputing of his benefits to us, and the work was forthwith done.”10
Verses 25-26: God displayed Jesus publicly as the required sacrifice so we could have faith in His blood. This was to demonstrate His doing what was right because, by God’s willingness to forgive, He dismissed the sins previously committed. This was to prove, I say, God’s righteous act at the present time so that He would be both just and the justifier of the anyone who has faith in Jesus.
Paul now provides an excellent summary of all he has presented so far to the Messianic Jewish leaders in the congregation in Rome on why the believer’s justification, and admission to the family of God, comes only through faith in Christ, not the law. This did not result from some last minute decision, it was all planned from eternity past. On the Day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter made this same point: “Jesus was handed over to you, and you killed Him. With the help of evil men, you nailed Him to a cross. But God knew all this would happen. It was His plan—a plan He made long ago.”11 Why was this important? Because many before Jesus had tried to play the role of Messiah, but there were no Scriptures to support their assertions and no miracles to sustain their claims.
That’s why the Apostles immediately offered all the evidence that would be required to prove that this Jesus of Nazareth was the One they had all been waiting for. When Peter went into the Temple area after the Day of Pentecost, he had this message: “God said these things would happen. Through the prophets He said that His Messiah would suffer and die. I have told you how God made this happen.”12 And when Paul visited Jerusalem, the Apostolic Council brought up Peter’s experience of how this message of salvation was extended to the non-Jews, all because the words of the prophets agreed that it was going to happen. They said: “All this has been known from the beginning of time.13”14
Now Paul goes on to explain that Jesus’ sacrifice was not one of many options, but the only option that would be accepted by God as a reason to forgive sins. Paul uses the Greek word hilastērion that is translated as “propitiation” in the KJV. It is only used twice in the NT: Here, and in Hebrews 9:5, where it is rendered “mercyseat.” The whole purpose for this sacrifice was to satisfy God’s requirements so that the evidence of sins could be expunged from a person’s record, thereby removing any need for punishment. Scholars tell us that this was not done out of obligation, reluctance, or unwillingness, but in a spirit of gratitude for what was accomplished by the One who was sacrificed.
Early church writer Origen gives his commentary on this subject: “Although the holy Apostle teaches many wonderful things about our Lord Jesus Christ which are said mysteriously about Him, in this passage he has given special prominence to something which, I think, is not readily found in other parts of Scripture. For having just said that Christ gave Himself as a redemption for the entire human race so that He might ransom those who were held captive by sin … now Paul adds something even more sublime, saying that God put Him forward ‘as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith.’ This means that by the sacrifice of Christ’s body God has made expiation on behalf of men and by this has shown His righteousness, in that He forgave their previous sins, which they had committed in the service of the worst possible tyrants. God endured this and allowed these things to happen.”15
American theologian R. C. Sproul gives us a clear picture of both expiation and propitiation: “Let’s think about what these words mean, then, beginning with the word expiation. The prefix ex means “out of” or “from,” so expiation has to do with removing something or taking something away. In biblical terms, it has to do with taking away guilt through the payment of a penalty or the offering of an atonement. By contrast, propitiation has to do with the object of such expiation. The prefix pro means “for,” so propitiation brings about a change in God’s attitude, so that He moves from being at enmity with us to being for us. Through the process of propitiation, we are restored into fellowship and favor with Him.”
1 Cf. 1 Timothy 1:15
2 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 242-243
3 Adam Clarke: On Romans, loc. cit.
4 Charles Hodge: On Romans, loc. cit.
5 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, loc. cit.
6 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, loc. cit.
7 Westminster Shorter Catechism, from Answer to Question 33.
8 See Exodus 15:13; Psalms 77:15; 78:35
9 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. 6, pp. 108-109
10 John Bunyan: Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, London, Printed by George Larkin, 1666, §§ 257-258
11 Acts of the Apostles 2:23
12 Ibid. 3:18
13 See Isaiah 45:21
14 Acts of the Apostles 15:15, 18
15 Origen: on Romans, loc. cit.