6 Forwhile we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Rom. 5:6-11)
Romans 5:6-11 emphasizes the priority of God’s love. In his wonderful Romans commentary, Thomas Schreiner points out how “while we were still weak” highlights the fact that Christ died for us before we made any move toward him. Christ did not die for sinners because he detected in them an inclination toward God or a desire to end the enmity toward him. If Christ had not died for sinners, the great chasm that exists between God and man would not have lessened but would have grown wider. The text’s goal is to show and praise the love of God. This can be seen from how Paul describes the people Christ died for: the weak, ungodly, sinners, and enemies. Christ did not die for worthy, deserving people.
What does it mean that Christ died “at the right time?” Does “at the right time” mean that Christ died at the right time in terms of God’s plan for the world, fulfilling the promises made in the Old Testament or does it mean that Christ died at the right time to save the weak from their peril? Is the emphasis on the people being rescued or the specific time period in salvation history? Both. It’s a false dilemma. God not only planned when Christ would die but also had in mind the people for whom his death would be effective. The emphasis is still on the greatness of God’s love within the text. The nature of the atonement is seen throughout the text. The suffering of Christ was not only exemplary but accomplished atonement for sinners, in that he took the punishment we deserved. All glory to God for the work of salvation!