27 July 2018
A Commentary by John Stott
So far we have looked at two of the words Paul uses to describe the cross, namely *apolytrosis* (‘redemption’) and *hilasterion* (‘propitiatory sacrifice’). We come now to the third, *endeixis* (‘demonstration’). For the cross was a demonstration or public revelation as well as an achievement. It not only accomplished the propitiation of God and the redemption of sinners; it also vindicated the justice of God: *He did this to demonstrate his justice…(25b); …he did it to demonstrate his justice… *(26a). In order to understand the form that this demonstration of God’s justice took, we need to note the deliberate contrast which Paul makes between *the sins committed beforehand* or previously, which *in his forbearance he had left…unpunished* (25b), and the *present time* in which God has acted *to demonstrate his justice* (26a). It is a contrast between the past and the present, between the divine forbearance which postponed judgment and the divine justice which exacted it, between the leaving unpunished or ‘passing over’ (RSV) of former sins (which made God appear unjust) and their punishment on the cross (by which God demonstrated his justice).
That is, God left unpunished the sins of former generations, letting the nations go their own way and overlooking their ignorance (Acts. 14:16; 17:30), not because of any injustice on his part, or with any thought of condoning evil, but in his forbearance (cf. 2:4), and only because it was his fixed intention in the fullness of time to punish these sins in the death of his Son. This was the only way in which he could both himself *be just*, indeed *demonstrate his justice*, and simultaneously be *the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus* (26b). Both justice (the divine attribute) and justification (the divine activity) would be impossible without the cross.
Here, then, are the three technical terms which Paul uses (*apolytrosis, hilasterion and endeixis*) to explain what God has done in and through Christ’s cross. He has redeemed his people. He has propitiated his wrath. He has demonstrated his justice. Indeed, these three achievements belong together. Through the sin-bearing, substitutionary death of his Son, God has propitiated his own wrath in such a way as to redeem and justify us, and at the same time demonstrate his justice. We can only marvel at the wisdom, holiness, love and mercy of God, and fall down before him in humble worship. The cross should be enough to break the hardest heart, and melt the iciest.
We have considered that the source of our justification is God’s grace and its ground Christ’s cross. Now we turn to the means by which we are justified.