William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

The Love From Which Nothing Can Separate Us (Romans 8:31-39)

8:31-39 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? The very God who did not spare his own Son but who delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall impeach the elect of God? It is God who acquits. Who is he who condemns? It is Jesus Christ who died, nay rather, who was raised from the dead, and who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trial, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it stands written, "For Thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are reckoned as sheep for the slaughter." But in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor the present age, nor the age to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creation will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is one of the most lyrical passages Paul ever wrote. In Romans 8:32 there is a wonderful allusion which would stand out to any Jew who knew his Old Testament well. Paul says in effect: "God for us did not spare his own Son; surely that is the final guarantee that he loves us enough to supply all our needs." The words Paul uses of God are the very words God used of Abraham when Abraham proved his utter loyalty by being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac at God's command. God said to Abraham: "You have not withheld your son, your only son, from me" ( Genesis 22:12 ). Paul seems to say: "Think of the greatest human example in the world of a man's loyalty to God; God's loyalty to you is like that." Just as Abraham was so loyal to God that he was prepared to sacrifice his dearest possession, God is so loyal to men that he is prepared to sacrifice his only Son for them. Surely we can trust a loyalty like that for anything.

It is difficult to know just how to take Romans 8:33-35 . There are two ways of taking them and both give excellent sense and precious truth.

(i) We can take them as two statements, followed by two questions which give the inferences to be made from these statements. (a) It is God who acquits men--that is the statement. If that be so who can possibly condemn men? If man is acquitted by God, then he is saved from every other condemnation. (b) Our belief is in a Christ who died and rose again and who is alive for evermore--that is the statement. If that be so, is there anything in this or any other world that can separate us from our Risen Lord?

If we take it that way two great truths are laid down. (a) God has acquitted us; therefore no one can condemn us. (b) Christ is risen; therefore nothing can ever separate us from him.

(ii) But there is another way to take it. God has acquitted us. Who then can condemn us) The answer is that the Judge of all men is Jesus Christ. He is the one who has the right to condemn--but so far from condemning, he is at God's right hand interceding for us, and therefore we are safe.

It may be that in Romans 8:34 Paul is doing a very wonderful thing. He is saying four things about Jesus. (a) He died. (b) He rose again. (c) He is at the right hand of God. (d) He makes intercession for us there. Now the earliest creed of the Church, which is still the essence of all Christian creeds, ran like this: "He was crucified dead and buried; the third day he rose again from the dead; and sitteth at the right hand of God from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead." Three items in Paul's statement and in the early creed are the same, that Jesus died, rose again, and is at the right hand of God. But the fourth is different. In the creed the fourth is that Jesus will come to be the judge of the quick and the dead. In Paul the fourth is that Jesus is at God's right hand to plead our case. It is as if Paul said: "You think of Jesus as the Judge who is there to condemn; and well he might for he has won the right. But you are wrong; he is not there to be our prosecuting counsel but to be the advocate to plead our cause."

I think that the second way of taking this is right. With one tremendous leap of thought Paul has seen Christ, not as the Judge but as the lover of the souls of men.

Paul goes on with a poet's fervour and a lover's rapture to sing of how nothing can separate us from the love of God in our Risen Lord.

(i) No affliction, no hardship, no peril can separate us. ( Romans 8:35 .) The disasters of the world do not separate a man from Christ; they bring him closer yet.

(ii) In Romans 8:38-39 Paul makes a list of terrible things.

Neither life nor death can separate us from Christ. In life we live with Christ; in death we die with him; and because we die with him, we also rise with him. Death, so far from being a separation, is only a step into his nearer presence; not the end but "the gate on the skyline" leading to the presence of Jesus Christ.

The angelic powers cannot separate us from him. At this particular time the Jews had a highly developed belief in angels. Everything had its angel. There was an angel of the winds, of the clouds, of the snow and hail and hoarfrost. of the thunder and the lightning, of cold and heat, of the seasons. The Rabbis said that there was nothing in the world, not even a blade of grass, that had not got its angel. According to the Rabbis there were three ranks of angels. The first included thrones, cherubim and seraphim. The second included powers, lordships and mights. The third included angels and archangels and principalities. More than once Paul speaks of these angels ( Ephesians 1:21 ; Ephesians 3:10 ; Ephesians 6:12 ; Colossians 2:10 ; Colossians 2:15 ; 1 Corinthians 15:24 ). Now the Rabbis--and Paul had once been a Rabbi--believed that they were grudgingly hostile to men. They believed that they had been angry when God created man. It was as if they did not want to share God with anyone and had grudged man his share in him. The Rabbis had a legend that when God appeared on Sinai to give Moses the law he was attended by his hosts of angels, and the angels grudged Israel the law, and assaulted Moses on his way up the mountain and would have stopped him had not God intervened. So Paul, thinking in terms of his own day, says, "Not even the grudging, jealous angels can separate us from the love of God, much as they would like to do so."

No age in time can separate us from Christ. Paul speaks of things present and things to come. We know that the Jews divided all time into this present age and the age to come. Paul is saying: "In this present world nothing can separate us from God in Christ; the day will come when this world will be shattered and the new age will dawn. It does not matter; even then, when this world has passed and the new world come, the bond is still the same."

No malign influences (powers) will separate us from Christ. Paul speaks about height and depth. These are astrological terms. The ancient world was haunted by the tyranny of the stars. They believed that a man was born under a certain star and thereby his destiny was settled. There are some who still believe that; but the ancient world was really haunted by this supposed domination of a man's life by the influence of the stars. Height (hupsoma, Greek #5313 ) was the time when a star was at its zenith and its influence was greatest; depth (bathos, Greek #899 ) was the time when a star was at its lowest, waiting to rise and to put its influence on some man. Paul says to these haunted men of his age: "The stars cannot hurt you. In their rising and their setting they are powerless to separate you from God's love."

No other world can separate us from God. The word that Paul uses for other (heteros, Greek #2087 ) has really the meaning of different. He is saying: "Suppose that by some wild flight of imagination there emerged another and a different world, you would still be safe; you would still be enwrapped in the love of God."

Here is a vision to take away all loneliness and all fear. Paul is saying: "You can think of every terrifying thing that this or any other world can produce. Not one of them is able to separate the Christian from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ, Lord of every terror and Master of every world." Of what then shall we be afraid?

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

- William Barclay's Daily Study Bible