A Commentary by John Stott
After the abolition of the divisive law and the creation of the undivided humanity came the reconciliation of both parts of the old humanity to God, *thereby bringing the hostility to an end*. Here the ‘hostility’ is clearly between God and men, just as in verse 14 it was chiefly between Jew and Gentile. And just as there the ‘hostility’ was mutual, I think we need to see a certain mutuality also in the hostility between men and God. It is not just that our attitude to him has been one of rebellion; it is also that his ‘wrath’ has been upon us for our sin (verse 3). And only *through the cross* have both ‘hostilities’ been brought to an end, for when Christ bore our sin and judgment on the cross God turned away his own wrath, and we, seeing his great love, turned away ours also. Thus Christ (literally) ‘killed’ or ‘slew’ the hostility. ‘Christ in his death was slain’, comments Armitage Robinson, ‘but the slain was a slayer too’. And the hostility in both directions having been decisively dealt with, the result is reconciliation.
This, then, was the achievement of Christ’s cross. First, he abolished the law (its ceremonial regulations and moral condemnation) as a divisive instrument separating men from God and Jews from Gentiles. Secondly he created a single new humanity out of its two former deep divisions, making peace between them. Thirdly, he reconciled this new united humanity to God, having killed through the cross all the hostility between us. Christ crucified has thus brought into being nothing less than a new, united human race, united in itself and united to its creator.
This does not mean that the whole human race is now united and reconciled. We know from observation and experience that it is not. But then Paul does not claim this either. There is a further stage in the work of Christ which he goes on to mention. It is that Christ *came and preached peace* ( verse 17). Already we have been told that *he is our peace* (verse 14) and that he created a new humanity, so *making peace* (verse 15). But now he *preached peace*, publishing abroad the good news of the peace he had made through the cross (cf. Is.52:7). First he achieved it; then he announced it. And since the achievement was at the cross, and logically the announcement must follow the achievement, this preaching cannot refer to his public ministry. It must refer rather to his post-resurrection appearances, in which the very first word he spoke to the apostles was ‘Peace be with you’ (Jn.20:19-21), and to his proclamation of the gospel of peace to the world through the apostles and through subsequent generations of Christians (cf. Acts 10:36; Eph.6:15). Jesus Christ is still preaching peace in the world today, through the lips of his followers. For it is truly a wonderful fact that whenever we proclaim peace, it is Christ who proclaims it through us.
Moreover this good news was addressed from the start to the ‘far’ and ‘near’, that is, to Gentiles and Jews equality: *peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near*. And many of each community embraced it, and thereby found themselves united to God and to each other. For *through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father* (verse 18). Although ‘reconciliation’ is an event; ‘access’ is the continuing relationship to which it leads. ‘Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access…’ (Rom.5:1-2). *Prosagoge* (access) conjures up the scene of an oriental court, when subjects are granted an audience with the king or emperor, and are presented to him. The flavour of the word remains, but the emphasis changes because our access is not to a king but to a Father, before whom we have ‘boldness and confidence of access’ (3:12). And in enjoyment of this ready access to God, we find we have no practical difficulty with the mystery of the eternal Trinity. For our access is *to the Father through him* (the Son who made peace and preached it), and *in* or by *one Spirit*, the Spirit who regenerates, seals and indwells his people, who witnesses with our spirits that we are God’s children who helps us in our weaknesses and teaches us to pray, and who unites us as we pray. For it is *we both*, Jews and Gentiles, who as members of God’s new society now approach our Father together. Thus the highest and fullest achievement of the peacemaking Christ is this trinitarian access of the people of God, as through him and by one Spirit we come boldly to our Father.