The Gospel is God reconciling himself to the world in Christ. Thus, for Calvin, this opening statement simply expresses the fact that though God has “withdrawn to a distance from us, he has drawn near to us in Christ, and thus Christ has become to us the true Emanuel, and his coming is God’s drawing near to men.” However, the second part of the verse explains more about Christ, namely, the office of Christ. Christ is the divine reconciler. He is the only mediator between God and man.
According to N. T. Wright, it is now generally agreed that an overall theme in II Corinthians is “Paul’s defense, not of his apostolic ministry in itself, but of the particular style or character of that ministry.” For Wright, these arguments concerning the nature of Paul’s ministry form the basic structure of the passage and larger text as a whole. Again for Wright,
Paul’s defense of his style of ministry includes as one important feature the demonstration that the human weaknesses and frailties which characterize it do not undermine its credibility but, on the contrary, reveal precisely its Christlike character (4:7-12, 16-18, 6:3-10). This theme is strengthened further by Paul’s emphasis that he is not sufficient of himself to be a minister of Christ, and that his ‘sufficiency’ is from God (2:16, 3:5-6).
The implication of understanding Paul to be defending his “style or character” of ministry rather than the apostolic nature of it opens the door for Wright to claim that Paul, in II Corinthians 5:18-21, is speaking of his own style of ministry as an incarnation of God’s covenant faithfulness.
In other words, far from being a text teaching the imputation of righteousness to the believer; II Corinthians 5:18-21 simply teaches that in and through his human frailties God has made Paul the embodiment of His own covenant faithfulness. Paul is God’s object lesson in order to encourage other believers. Thus, according to Wright,
This in turn should play back into our understanding of chap. 3: the paradoxical boldness which Paul displays in addressing the Corinthians is organically related to his self-understanding as the “minister of the new covenant,” the one who has “become the righteousness of God.” Indeed, we can now suggest that those two phrases are mutually interpretive ways of saying substantially the same thing.