“For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
The “maker” in the text is God and the one “made” is the sinless man, Jesus Christ. It is God who made Jesus Christ to be sin that “we” His chosen “in” Christ might come to be God’s righteousness.
God made Jesus to be many things to us (1 Corinthians 1:30, and context) and in 2 Corinthians 5:21 Jesus is seen both as a high priestly figure and the sacrifice being offered. Be sure to see Leviticus 16:6-10, and context, where the High Priest makes atonement for Israel’s sin by first offering an offering a sacrifice for his own sins and a sin offering for the entire nation. This priest (Jesus) offers no sin offering for Himself (see Hebrews 9:14, and context in keeping with Leviticus 10:6-10) because He has no sin.
In 2 Corinthian 5:21 it is God who makes Him “sin” (see the literature on harmartian) and note Isaiah 53:10 and context. While there is good reason to think Paul here has “sin offering” in mind (he uses a lot of Isaiah in this entire section) it’s probably a mistake to narrow his thought to that. My own sense of it is that if we asked Paul, “How do we know that Sin is truly dealt with?” he would point at Jesus on the cross and say, “There! There Sin is being dealt with.” That would allow us to gather up numerous aspects of how God dealt with human Sin. And Romans 3:21-26 would help us.
The foundational truth of God atoning for Sin in Christ in 2 Corinthians 5:21 is not the main stress. The stress is on why God did what He did in Jesus–it was “that we might become God’s righteousness. (The hina clause here is manifestly final, stressing purpose rather than simple result.)
“We” who are brought into Jesus Christ become “God’s righteousness!” We become a visible embodiment of God’s righteousness, a visible witness to His being faithful to His promises that are fulfilled in Jesus Christ (see 2 Corinthians 1:20). Our very existence as the body of Christ in which He dwells by the Holy Spirit is a witness to God’s unfolding righteousness (see Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:15, 19 and contexts).
In this 2 Corinthians 5:21 text it isn’t Jesus who is the righteousness of God (that is spelled out in other texts)—here we are God’s righteousness, God faithfulness to His covenants and promises and we are the visible expression of that faithful love only because we are “in Christ”
What a profound privilege, an astonishing honor. Who believes it? Looking at us the worst face of criticism has good reason (it judges) to sneer or at least to find it unbelievable. It isn’t only the world that can’t see it—the Church can’t see it. Can’t you tell that? We don’t know who we are! Much of the time we’re reminded and remind ourselves of our sins and sinfulness and the constant talk and thought about our failures—and they’re real—masks the truth that we are and have been for 2,000 years! Our sometimes pathetic efforts exposes our sinfulness as well as our sometimes outlandish sins. But God dealt with all that, every bit of it in Him who knew no sin. And if skeptical people ask us where our glory is, reminding us what an astounding claim we’re making, we can only say, “Yes it is and astonishing claim, isn’t it?! But it’s astonishing in more ways than one. We have no visible glory. Nothing that would make people look at us and think we’re what He has said we are.”
See Isaiah 53:1-3 and remember that we humans saw Him—Jews and Gentiles—weren’t impressed, treated Him with indifference as well as cruelty and then railroaded Him and slew Him–we slew the Lord of Glory, the Prince of life. It’s no surprise that the world can’t see the glory of God in the Church; even the Church can’t see it.
The almost incredible truth is that God trusts humans to keep the truth of HIS glory before the eyes of a often disinterested and sometimes skeptical world. We know what it means when we hear, “In God We Trust.” But what should we think when we’re told, “In Man He Trusts”?
(Holy One help us to believe all you show us in Jesus Christ. This prayer in His name.)