the weblog of Alan Knox

Jesus died for unity

Posted by on Dec 7, 2007 in gathering, scripture, unity | 15 comments

Last night I started reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together again. In the first chapter, when he is discussing God’s work in bringing his people together, Bonhoeffer mentions John 11:52. Since I’m planning to take a seminar on the Gospel of John next semester, I stopped reading in order to look up that verse. Here is the verse in its context:

So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. (John 11:47-53 ESV)

I’ve highlighted John 11:52. According to John, at this meeting Caiaphas, the high priest for that year, prophesied concerning Jesus’ death. In that prophecy, there is a two-fold purpose in Jesus’ death: 1) Jesus would die on behalf of the nation (of Israel), and 2) Jesus would die in order to gather together God’s children from all around the world. Literally, that second purpose reads, “But also in order that he might gather the scattered children of God into one.”

Thus, gathering his people together and their unity was one of God’s purposes that he is working through the death of Jesus. I think of many things when I think of the death of Jesus: grace, forgiveness, justice, etc. But I rarely think that because of the death of Jesus I am gathered with brothers and sisters and I can live in unity with them. These are not add-ons to God’s plan, nor are they side-benefits to Jesus’ death. Gathering together and unity are part of God’s purpose in Jesus’ death.

I’ve heard sermons titled, “Jesus died for our sins”. I’ve read books about Jesus’ death and justification. But, I have rarely – if ever – heard anyone teach about how the death of Jesus brings about our unity. Perhaps its time to recognize that we do not choose unity or sound doctrine. Instead, doctrine without unity is not sound doctrine at all. The teachings concerning Jesus and his death – the gospel – must include the unity of his people.


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  1. 12-7-2007

    I think you are right alan – and I think Eph 2:13 (or rather 2:11-22) might support your case.

  2. 12-7-2007


  3. 12-8-2007


    You’re right. Thanks!


    I concur…


  4. 12-8-2007


    I really like Ephesians 4:3 because it doesn’t tell us to strive to gain unity but to maintain the unity.

    being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

    We are warned that there will be a time when people will not heed to sound doctrine.

    For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 2 Timothy 4:3

    If those who will not endure sound doctrine accumalate teachers for themselves, then what should aour attitude to them be? I have always tried to maintain fellowship with any Christian, no matter what their doctrine, because our unity is in Christ not in doctrine! It is as secure as our salvation that is not dependent on whether we believe there are four ministries or five!

    I believe that Jesus’ attitude was always to let the other person decide. That said He did test people’s commitment, As with the feeding of the 5,000. He chalenged them because they were seeing Him as great in human terms.

    So, I suppose I see it that if we are adhering to sound doctrine we will not, ourselves, break the bond of peace, however, is it not inevitable that if we are following sound doctrine others will want to part from us?!


  5. 12-8-2007


    Thanks for writing this post. I have never thought of John 11:52 in quite that way before. John is certainly making a strong statement about the utmost importance of unity among believers.

    I have a related question for you. Let’s assume that a body of believers is striving to be united in all things. What do you think they should do if they come across an issue where there is significant disagreement? I’m not talking about something like whether or not to have AWANA. I’m referring to a situation that might arise where no agreement can be reached, with the disagreeing people all believing that they are being biblical.

    Let’s assume that they all really want to work this out, are seeking the Lord’s will about it, and are treating each other in a Christ-like manner. The issues that come to mind for me are the meaning and practice of the ordinances/sacraments.

    Assuming that this body of believers is determined to remain united, what do you think they do about this type of situation where there doesn’t seem to be a “middle-ground” position?

    I ask this in particular because within evangelicalism we have so much division over the ordinances/sacraments.



  6. 12-8-2007


    You’ve asked some excellent questions. First, I agree that we should attempt to live in unity with other brothers and sisters in Christ. Of course, we can’t force people to live in unity with us, but we can certainly do our part.

    We also should remember that Scripture tells us how to deal with brothers and sisters who are living in unrepentant sin. Unfortunately, many times “sin” is defined as “disagreeing with me”. We also see in Scripture that we should have nothing to do with people who deny the deity/humanity of Christ, who are divisive, who refuse to work, etc. Other than that, we should attempt to listen to one another, humble ourselves before one another, and accept one another.


    I think my answer to Richard above is probably how I would answer your questions as well. I think the answer in dealing with certain “doctrines” would be humility and continued conversations. Hopefully, if people are truly children of God, and they are truly living with deference to other brothers and sisters, then they will not come to the point of saying, “No agreement can be reached”. I think many times our disagreements come from trying to describe or explain certain things (such as sacraments) which Scripture does not explain. I think we should allow Scripture to speak. If we want to extrapolate or derive from Scripture, fine. But our extrapolations and derivations are not Scripture, and we should allow and expect other believers to disagree with us.


  7. 12-8-2007


    Thanks for your answer.

    I bring this issue up because the IMB continues to narrow their definition of what a church is and who IMB personnel should be working with.

    Some have gone so far as to say that we should not even work with evangelical missionaries who are not Baptistic.

    It seems that some within the IMB are much more concerned with absolute purity in what they consider to be correct doctrine than they are with unity between Christians on the field.

    Much of the lack of unity centers on the sacraments. Unfortunately, at the IMB there is little discussion of these issues. It is “their way or the highway.”


  8. 12-8-2007


    While this post was not directed at any specific instance, I think you bring up a good example. You said, “It seems that some within the IMB are much more concerned with absolute purity in what they consider to be correct doctrine than they are with unity between Christians on the field.” Again, I stand by my previous statement: “[D]octrine without unity is not sound doctrine at all.”


  9. 12-8-2007

    We have just finished a study on the book of Philippians at our church. Then main theme that our shepherd showed us over and over (and over) again was unity within the church. And several times he showed how unity by believers is only possible through Christ’s death. Indeed He bought us and because we are family, there Must be unity.
    We enjoy reading your blog so much. Thank you.
    Liz Rondeau (and Matt too)

  10. 12-9-2007


    Thank you for the comment and the kind words. I agree that unity is imperative.


  11. 12-9-2007


    I recently posted the following in the comment string on my blog:

    “I think that is a good point about the difference between “unity in all we believe” and “unity in Whom we trust.” As I understand it, Ephesians 4:13 makes this same distinction when it talks about “unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God.” From how I understand it, “unity in the faith” refers to the doctrinal content of what we belief, and “unity in the knowledge of the Son of God” to a personal, experiential knowledge of (relationship with) Jesus.

    The big questions (at least for me) here are:

    1. Is it possible to have one type of unity without having the other?

    2. Does “unity in the faith” include agreement on secondary and tertiary questions? Or is it just unity in the essentials of the Gospel?

    3. How do we reach an agreement on what points comprise the essentials of the Gospel, and what points are secondary and tertiary questions?

    4. Is our unity with those with whom we differ on secondary and tertiary points less than it is with those with whom we are in agreement on all these points?”

    I hate to hijack this discussion (bringing it over here from my own blog), but I think these questions also fit into the discussion here. And, I am really interested in what you and/or your readers might have to say in response to these questions.

  12. 12-10-2007


    I’ve only had a few minutes to look into Eph 4:13. But, I’m not sure that I see that verse as characterizing two types of unity. Instead, it seems to point to a single unity. I need to think about your questions more. I’ll also read the comments on your blog.


  13. 12-10-2007

    Thanks Alan.

    I really would be interested to hear your exegetical insights into Eph. 4:13 and how it relates to these questions.

  14. 12-11-2007


    I may have to respond to your comment in a new blog post in a couple of days.


  15. 12-29-2009

    I’m so excited. I was reading book of John and what Caiphas spoke jumped out at me and I wrote it down, then 12:24 where Jesus spoke about the grain of wheat needing to die. All my life I’d heard “Jesus died for your sins” and it really never made sense, but okay… Then yesterday I got this revelation about WHY He really had to die, to gather together God’s people – under One. It would never have happened, had He lived a ripe old age. So I google other thoughts on the subject and found this site. You nailed it – He died to bring UNITY. He came to SEPARATE believers from NON-believers. He didn’t die for our sins – God is capable of forgiving our sins when we simply repent. Yeah! I’m so excited to find someone else with this revelation.