… the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
Christianity is unique because it is founded upon a unique person, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Yet it is more than this. Not only is Christianity unique because its founder is unique, it is unique because it is uniquely linked to him, in the sense that you simply cannot have Christianity without the Lord Jesus Christ! J.N.D. Anderson, director of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies at the University of London, has noted that other religions are quite different:
In Confucianism and Buddhism it is the teaching and principles of Confucius and the Buddha which represent the essence of the religion, rather than the teacher who first enunciated them or the facts of his life and death. Even in Islam, the towering figure of Muhammad finds its paramount importance in the divine revelation which it believes was given to mankind through him. It is the ipsissima verba of the Almighty, communicated to the prophet by the Archangel Gabriel and subsequently recorded in the Qur’ân, together with that further teaching provided by the inspired sunna or practice of the prophet, which constitute the essence of the faith; and a Muslim would point to the Book and the Traditions, rather than to Muhammad himself, as the media of revelation.
By contrast, Christianity is Jesus Christ. John R. W. Stott wrote: “The person and work of Christ are the rock upon which the Christian religion is built. If he is not who he said he was, and if he did not
do what he said he had come to do, the foundation is undermined and the whole superstructure will collapse. Take Christ from Christianity, and you disembowel it; there is practically nothing left. Christ is the center of Christianity; all else is circumference.”
Who is Jesus Christ?
Obviously this causes us to ask who Jesus Christ is, and, as soon as we do, we find Paul’s answer in the words “his Son”—Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God.
Today, largely as a result of the religious liberalism of the last century, the term “son of God” is understood in a nearly generic sense, usually meaning only “a human being.” Liberal theology holds that we are all sons or daughters of God. But this is a rather new heresy and one that none of the New Testament writers would have understood. When they used the words “Son of God” they were not referring to any supposed divine characteristics of human beings or even of some special relationship that we are all supposed to have to God. They meant deity itself. They meant that he who was being called Son of God was uniquely divine; that is, he was and always had been God.
Take the great confession of the apostle Peter, recorded in Matthew 16. Jesus had asked the disciples who the people were saying he was. They gave answers that had been making the rounds: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, one of the prophets.
“But what about you?” Jesus asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered for the rest: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). This answer set Jesus apart from the category of those human figures the people were suggesting. It identified him as the divine Messiah. Moreover, Jesus accepted the designation, assuring Peter and the others that this insight had come not as the result of simple human observation but as a special revelation from God the Father. It was God who had given Peter this great discernment.
Jesus explicitly taught who he was: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). He had also said, “Before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58).
When Thomas fell down to worship Jesus after his resurrection, confessing him “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28), Jesus accepted the designation. Then he gently chided Thomas, not for his worship but for his earlier unbelief.
This is the sense in which Paul begins to unfold the content of the Christian message. Already he has called it “the gospel of God,” meaning that God is the source of this great plan of salvation. Now he adds that the gospel concerns “his [God’s] Son.” This means that Jesus is the unique Son of God and that the person and work of this divine Jesus are the gospel’s substance. This is where we start. We do not countenance any modern nonsense about a “Christless Christianity.” We begin with the eternal Son of God, and we confess that everything we believe and are as Christians centers in the person and work of that unique individual.
Jesus is not only unique in his divine nature, however. He is also unique in that he became man at a specific point in human history and now remains the God-man eternally. No one else is like that. No one can ever be.
This brings us to a remarkable section of Paul’s introduction in which every word is so precisely chosen and of such significance that, even apart from Paul’s claims to be writing as an apostle, we ought to think of Romans as more than a “merely human” composition. To begin with, there is an obvious contrast between the two natures of the historical, earthly Jesus. The first is his human nature. In the Greek text the word is sarx, translated “flesh.” But the term is not limited to describing only the fleshly parts of our body, as the word is in English. It means “the whole man.” The translators of the New International Version are therefore right on target when they translate “as to his human nature.” This “nature” is contrasted with Christ’s divine nature, which is described as “the Spirit of holiness.” That phrase does not refer to the Holy Spirit (though many have interpreted it this way), but to Christ’s own spiritual or divine nature, which is holy. In other words, the first important thing about this section is its clear recognition of both the human and divine natures of Jesus.
Note also the contrast between “descendant of David” and “Son of God.” This corresponds to the aforementioned distinction, because “descendant of David” speaks of Jesus’ human nature (it is as a man that he was born into David’s family tree), while
“Son of God” is linked to his divinity.
The really interesting point is the contrast between the word was, the verb used in the first part of this descriptive sentence, and declared, which is the verb in part two. However, I need to point out that “was” is a weak rendering of the word Paul actually used. In Greek the word is ginomai, which means “become,” “take place,” “happen” or, in some cases “be born” or even “come into being.” “Was” describes a past state or condition, but it can be a timeless state. “Became” shows that something came into existence that was not in existence previously. And, of course, this is precisely what happened in our Lord’s incarnation. Before his birth to Mary at what we call the beginning of the Christian era, Jesus was God and always had been God. (That is why the other verb is “declared.” He was declared to be God.) But he became man at a particular past point in history by the incarnation.
In verses 3 and 4, a brief message of only twenty-eight Greek words (forty-one in English), Paul has provided us with an entire Christology.
Great David’s Greater Son
There is a debate among those who have studied Romans as to whether the church to which Paul was writing was predominantly Jewish or predominantly Gentile or a mixture of the two. I believe that it was a predominantly Gentile church and that the epistle should be understood in that light. But, as previously mentioned, it is nevertheless also true that Paul saw the gospel as growing out of its Jewish roots and makes that point frequently.
An example occurs in the words “descendant of David” in verse 3. We have noted that this phrase appears in the long sentence describing the two natures of the Lord Jesus Christ, but it goes beyond what we might have thought necessary for the apostle to say. In contrasting Christ’s human nature with his divine nature, it would have been possible for Paul merely to say, “who as to his human nature was a man [or a true man].” That is indeed the chief point of the passage. But instead of this, he says, “was a descendant of David,” thus bringing in the whole matter of Jesus’ Jewish ancestry.
Why does Paul do this? There are several reasons.
1. By referring to Jesus as a “descendant of David,” Paul gives substance to his main contention, namely, that Jesus was a true human being. It is not that Jesus was merely a man in some vague, mystical way, but that he became a specific man whose existence was grounded in a particular human ancestry. Although we do not have any pictures of Jesus, if we had lived in his day and had possessed a camera then, we could have taken one. His eyes and hair had a certain color. He weighed so many pounds. Furthermore, we could have talked to him as well as to his mother and father, brothers and sisters and friends. He would have had stories to tell about his human relatives.
2. By referring to Jesus as a “descendant of David,” Paul gives a specific example of the things “promised beforehand” by God “in the Holy Scriptures.” There were many things prophesied concerning the Christ—where he would be born, how he would be treated by his people, the nature of his death, the fact of his resurrection. But one of the chief promises was that he would be born of David’s line and would therefore be eligible to sit on David’s throne and reign forever as the true king of Israel. Isaiah said, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse [David’s father]; From his roots a Branch will bear fruit” (Isa. 11:1).
Jeremiah was even more explicit:
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
and do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
The Lord Our Righteousness.”
Jeremiah 23: 5–6
The way in which these prophecies were fulfilled is quite remarkable, because there seemed to be a problem regarding the family from which a claimant to the throne of David might come. The difficulty was that there were two lines of descendency from King David. One was the line of Solomon, who had reigned on David’s throne after the death of his father. Normally, there would be no question but that an elder son of a family descended from King Solomon would reign. But in Jeremiah 22:30, in the chapter just before the one prophesying “a righteous Branch” that would arise in David’s line, a harsh curse is pronounced on a king named Jehoiachin, the last of the actual reigning kings descended from King Solomon: “Record this man as if childless, a man who will not prosper in his lifetime: for none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule anymore in Judah.” Because of God’s curse, no king descended in that line could reign legitimately.
There was another strong line of descent, however. King Solomon had an older brother, Nathan, who would have been king if God had not given the throne to Solomon. Nathan had also produced descendants, but any descendant of this line who claimed inheritance of the promises made to King David would have been challenged immediately by descendants in the line that had actually reigned. How could such a dilemma be solved? There was a lack of reigning kings in one line and a curse on the other.
The way God solved the issue was so simple that it confounds the wisest skeptics. The line of Solomon ran on through the centuries until it eventually produced Joseph, who was betrothed to the Virgin Mary and eventually became her husband, though not until after she had conceived and given birth to the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was not descended from Joseph; otherwise he would have inherited the curse on that line. But when Joseph took Mary under his protection and thus became the adoptive father of her divine child, he passed the right of royalty to him. And since Jesus was also descended from Mary—who, as it turns out, was a descendant of David through the line of Nathan—Jesus combined the claims of the two lines in his unique personhood and thereby eliminated the possibility of there ever being any other legitimate claimant to the throne. In other words, if Jesus is not the Messiah who has descended from David according to the Old Testament prophecies, there will never be a Messiah. For Jesus had no human children, and each of his brothers (who are the only other possibilities through whom another Messiah might descend) had the curse on him and would have passed it on to his children.
Paul’s reference to Jesus’ descent from David in Romans 1:3 is quite brief, of course. But these details of his ancestry, as I have given them, would undoubtedly have formed the substance of much longer expositions by Paul in many teaching situations.
3. By referring to Jesus as a “descendant of David,” Paul prepares the way for the exalted title he is going to give him at the end of this great sentence, namely, “Lord.” One of the problems the apostle faced in his missionary work among the Gentiles is that in the eyes of many people the Jesus he preached was only a common criminal, properly executed, and therefore hardly to be extolled. But Jesus is actually a descendant of the great King David, says Paul. And what is even more important, he is the king announced in prophecy—the king who was also the Son of God. He is, therefore, not merely the King of the Jews, but the King of all men. He is the Lord Jesus Christ, the very essence of Christianity.
The Sovereign Son
This brings me to the last point of these verses, based on something Paul says about Jesus in the second half of his long descriptive sentence regarding the Lord’s two natures. He says that Jesus “was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.” How are we to understand that? Particularly, how are we to understand the phrase “with power”?
The most common way of understanding these words is to relate “with power” to “his resurrection,” as if Paul was thinking of the resurrection as a striking revelation of God’s power. Using this approach, the words “Spirit of holiness” would be seen as referring to the Holy Spirit, viewed as the agent of the resurrection; and this powerful resurrection, accomplished by the Spirit, would be seen as a proof of Christ’s deity. It is true, of course, that the resurrection was accomplished by God’s power and is itself proof of Christ’s claims. But the Bible does not actually speak of the Holy Spirit’s raising Jesus from the dead. The Father is the One who is said to have done that. Even more significantly, we have already seen that the words “Spirit of holiness” refer to Christ’s divine nature—the words kata pneuma (“according to spirit”) parallel the words kata sarka (“according to flesh”)—and not to the third person of the Trinity. That alone seems to exclude the most popular interpretation of “with power.”
A second understanding links “with power” to the declaration of Christ’s deity. That is, it views Paul as thinking of a powerful or effective declaration, one that accomplishes its ends. Charles Hodge and F. Godet held this interpretation.
It is significant, however, that in the Greek text the words “with power” follow immediately after the words “Son of God” so that the text literally reads: “… declared the Son of God with power according to a spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead.” This gives us a third understanding of what is going on in this sentence. In this view the words “with power” are linked to “Son of God,” so that we might more properly understand Paul to be speaking of “the Son of God with power” or “the powerful Son of God,” which he is declared to be by the resurrection. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones takes this view, rightly I think, and explains it like this:
The Lord Jesus Christ … was the Son of God before. He is always the Son of God. He was the Son of God before the incarnation and from all eternity.… Where then is the variation? … It is in the form that he assumes; and what we have been told in verse 3 is that when he came into this world he did not come as the Son of God with power. No! He came as a helpless babe.… He was Son of God—yes; but not Son of God with power. In other words, when he came as a babe, the power of the Son of God was veiled in the flesh.… But what the apostle says is, that in the resurrection he is “declared to be the Son of God with power.” It is there that we realize how powerful he is.
The point of this should be clear to everyone. It is not merely a case of Paul’s declaring that the resurrection was a demonstration of the great power of God or even that the resurrection was a powerful demonstration of the validity of Christ’s claims. It is not that at all. Rather, it is actually a strong declaration about the Lord’s own person—precisely the purpose of this entire section and the point on which Paul will end. It is a declaration that Jesus is the sovereign Son of God and therefore rightly the “Lord” of all men as well as the Savior.
The conclusion of this, which in this study comes at the end instead of being scattered through the chapter, is that Jesus Christ, the very essence of Christianity, is your Lord and that you ought rightly to turn from all sin and worship him. You may dispute his claims. But if they are true, if Jesus is who the apostle Paul declares him to be in this epistle and others, there is no other reasonable or right option open to you than total and heart-deep allegiance. Colonel Robert Ingersoll, the famous agnostic of the last century, was no friend of Christianity. But he saw certain things clearly; and he said on one occasion, though in a critical vein, “Christianity cannot live in peace with any other form of faith. If that religion be true, there is but one Savior, one inspired book and but one little narrow … path that leads to heaven. Such a religion is necessarily uncompromising.”
That statement is true because the Lord Jesus Christ is himself uncompromising. He is uncompromising because of who he is. Is he the eternal Son of God now made man for your salvation? Is he the Lord? If he is, you ought to heed his call—the call of the gospel—and follow him.
… Jesus Christ our Lord.
One of the excellencies of the New International Version is the way it handles the word order of the opening verses of Romans, reserving the words “Jesus Christ our Lord” until the end of verse 4, where they appear as a natural and effective climax. This is an improvement over the King James Version, which does not follow the Greek at this point and inserts the words earlier.
I emphasize this because the words “Jesus is Lord” constituted the earliest Christian creed and were therefore of the greatest possible importance to the early church. From the earliest days it was recognized that if a person confessed “Jesus is Lord,” he or she was to be received for baptism. This is because, on the one hand, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3) and because, on the other hand, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). To us, reading these records at a later date, it may seem strange that “Jesus is Lord” (Kyrios ’Iēsous, Greek) could be so important to our spiritual predecessors, but the reason is that they simply overflow with meaning.
To say that Jesus is Lord implies two things. First, it implies that Jesus is God. Second, it implies that Jesus is the Savior.
The first of these implications is due to the fact that in the Greek version of the Old Testament (the Septuagint), which was well known to the Jewish community of the first century and from which most of the New Testament writers quoted when citing Scripture, kyrios (“Lord”) is used to translate the Hebrew name for God: Yahweh, or Jehovah. This is why most of our English Bibles do not use the name Yahweh but have Lord instead. The disciples of Christ knew that this word was repeatedly used to translate this great name for God. Yet, knowing this, they did not hesitate to transfer the title to Jesus, thereby indicating that in their view Jesus is Jehovah.
We need to be careful at this point, of course, because not all uses of “Lord” in the New Testament imply divinity. “Lord” was a bit like our English word sir. On the lowest level it could be used merely as a form of polite address. That is why, according to the Gospels, apparent unbelievers frequently called Jesus “Lord.” This does not mean that they had received a sudden revelation of who he was but only that they were treating him with the respect due a distinguished rabbi; they were being polite. On the other hand, “Lord” could mean more. When we speak of Sir Winston Churchill we are using “sir” as a title. Similarly, those who called Jesus “Lord” were sometimes confessing that he was their “Master” by this greeting. In the most exalted instances, as in Thomas’s stirring post-resurrection confession, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28), the word was linked to the early disciples’ belief in Christ’s divinity.
This is the meaning of kyrios in the Christological passages of the New Testament. Here are some examples.
1. 1 Corinthians 8:4–6. “… We know that an idol is nothing in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.” The background for this passage is the polytheism of the Greek world, which Paul is refuting here. He is arguing that there is but one God, who is one with Jesus. The parallelism between “from whom all things came and for whom we live” (applied to God the Father) and “through whom all things came and through whom we live” (applied to Jesus Christ) makes this identification plain.
2. Luke 2:11. A second example is from the Christmas story. In this verse the angel tells the shepherds, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” The important thing here is that “Lord” is in the nominative case, as is “Christ,” rather than being in the genitive case. If the word had been a genitive, the announcement would have concerned “the Lord’s Christ,” which would have been perfectly correct but would have meant no more than that Jesus was a specially chosen man, like one of the Old Testament kings, priests, or prophets. Because the word is in the nominative case, the statement actually goes beyond this to mean “Christ [who is] the Lord.”
3. Psalm 110:1. On one occasion, recorded in Matthew 22:41–46, Jesus asked his enemies who they thought the Christ was to be. They replied, “The son of David.” This was true as far as it went; but they were thinking of an earthly, human Messiah, and Jesus wanted them to see farther. So he referred them to this Old Testament text, asking, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.” ’ If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” (vv. 43–45). Jesus’ point was that if David called the Messiah “Lord,” it could only be because the Messiah was to be more than just one of his descendants. He would have to be a divine Messiah, which is what the title “Lord” indicates.
Peter had this text in mind when he told the Sanhedrin, “God exalted him [Jesus] to his own right hand as Prince and Savior …” (Acts 5:31).
Paul was also thinking of this when he wrote, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your heart on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1).
The author of Hebrews used the text early in his letter (and also at two later points): “After he [the Son] had provided purification for [our] sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Heb. 1:3; cf. 8:1; 12:2).
4. Philippians 2:5–11. The great Christological hymn of Philippians 2 is the clearest textual statement that “Jesus is Lord,” that is, one with God.
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
What is the “name that is above every name”? It is not the name “Jesus” itself, though the wording seems to suggest this to the English reader. It is the name “Lord”; for that is God’s own name, and no name can be higher than that.
The meaning of this title shows why the early Christians would not apply the name “Lord” to any other. If they had done so, they would have been repudiating Christ. One famous case is that of the aged Bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp, who was martyred on February 22, a.d. 156. As he was driven to the arena, two of the city officials, who had respect for him because of his age and reputation, tried to persuade him to comply with the demand to honor Caesar. “What harm is there in saying, ‘Caesar is Lord,’ and burning incense … and saving yourself?” they asked. Polycarp refused. Later, in the arena, he explained his position, saying, “For eighty-six years I have been [Christ’s] slave, and he has done me no wrong; how can I blaspheme my king who saved me?” Polycarp refused to call Caesar “Lord,” because “Lord” meant “God” and there can only be one God. If Polycarp had called Caesar “Lord,” then Jesus could not have been “Lord” for Polycarp, and Polycarp could not have been a Christian.
Those who recorded Polycarp’s story shared his convictions, for they concluded by saying: “He [Polycarp] was arrested by Herod, when Philip of Tralles was high priest, and Statius Quadratus was governor, but our Lord Jesus Christ was reigning forever. To him be glory, honor, majesty and eternal dominion from generation to generation. Amen.”
Lord and Savior
The second implication of the title “Lord” is that Jesus is the Savior. This is linked to his lordship because, as John R. W. Stott writes:
The title “Lord” is a symbol of Christ’s victory over the forces of evil. If Jesus has been exalted over all the principalities and powers of evil, as indeed he has, this is the reason why he has been called Lord. If Jesus has been proclaimed Lord, as he has, it is because these powers are under his feet. He has conquered them on the cross, and therefore our salvation—that is to say, our rescue from sin, Satan, fear and death—is due to that victory.
In recent years it has become customary in some parts of the evangelical world to distinguish between the lordship and the saviorhood of Christ in such a way that one is supposed to be able to have Jesus as Savior without having him as Lord. This is the view, for example, of Charles C. Ryrie, former Dean of Doctoral Studies and Professor of Systematic Theology at Dallas Theological Seminary. Reacting to statements by Arthur W. Pink, J. I. Packer and John R. W. Stott in a variety of publications, Ryrie argues that any attempt to link “Jesus as Lord” to “Jesus as Savior” is the equivalent of adding “commitment” to “faith” in salvation. And since “the message of faith only and the message of faith plus commitment of life cannot both be the gospel … one of them is a false gospel and comes under the curse of perverting the gospel or preaching another gospel (Gal. 1:6–9).”
There are two serious mistakes at this point. One involves the meaning of faith, which Ryrie seems to detach from commitment. Is “faith” minus “commitment” a true biblical faith? Hardly! Biblical faith involves three elements: (1) knowledge, upon which it is based; (2) heart response, which results from the new birth; and (3) commitment, without which “faith” is no different from the assent of the demons, who only “believe that and shudder” (James 2:19). Faith without commitment is no true faith. It is a dead faith that will save no one.
The second mistake is even more serious, because it involves the person and work of Jesus himself. Who is this one who has saved us from our sins? He is, as Paul has it, “Jesus Christ our Lord.” No true Christian will add anything to the finished work of Jesus. To do so is really to proclaim a false gospel. We direct people to the Lord Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, he is the Lord Jesus Christ. This Lord is the object of faith and its content. There is no other. Consequently, if faith is directed to one who is not Lord, it is directed to one who is a false Christ of the imagination. Such a one is not the Savior, and he will save no one.
Is He Our Lord?
At this point it is easy for some of us to sit back and congratulate ourselves on having a sound theology. Of course, we know that Jesus must be Lord to be Savior. Of course, we know that true faith involves commitment. But is Jesus really our Lord? Are we truly committed to him? In the study of Christ’s lordship by John Stott, from which I quoted earlier, six implications are suggested:
1. An intellectual implication. If Jesus is our Lord, one thing he must be Lord of is our thinking. He must be Lord of our minds. On one occasion, when the Lord called disciples, he said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me …” (Matt. 11:29), meaning that he was to be the disciples’ teacher. He is to be our teacher today.
How does Jesus do this, seeing that he is not with us physically as he was in the time of the disciples? The answer is that he teaches us through Scripture. That is why we must be men and women of the Book—if we truly are Christ’s followers. Left to ourselves, we will stray into many kinds of false thinking just as the world does. But if we regularly read and study the Bible, asking the Holy Spirit to interpret it for us, and then try to live out what we understand, we will increasingly come to think as Christ thinks and discover that we have an entirely new outlook on the world. We will see people from God’s perspective, and we will not be taken in by the world’s false ideas.
2. An ethical implication. In the study I referred to earlier, Stott points out that Jesus is not just Lord of our minds. He is Lord of our wills and of our moral standards also.
It is not only what we believe that is to come under the lordship of Jesus but also how we behave. Discipleship implies obedience, and obedience implies that there are absolute moral commands that we are required to obey. To refer to Jesus politely as “our Lord” is not enough. He still says to us, “Why do you call me Lord and do not the things that I say?” In today’s miasma of relativity we need to maintain unashamedly the absolute moral standards of the Lord. Further, we need to go on and teach that the yoke of Jesus is easy and his burden is light, and that under the yoke of Jesus we have not bondage but freedom and rest.
3. A vocational implication. If Jesus is Lord, then he is not only Lord of our minds, wills, and morals, but he is also Lord of our time; this means that he is Lord of our professions, jobs, careers, and ambitions. We cannot plan our lives as if our relationship to Jesus is somehow detached from those plans and irrelevant to them.
Paul is an example at this point. Before he met Christ on the road to Damascus and bowed before him, Paul was pursuing a vocation of his own choice. He was a Pharisee and intent on rising high in the intellectual and ruling structures of Judaism. He knew where he was going. When he met Jesus all this was redirected. The first words Jesus uttered after he had stopped Paul cold by asking, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4) and by identifying himself as Jesus, were: “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (v. 6). Paul obeyed Jesus and was indeed told what he was to do. He was to be Christ’s apostle to the Gentiles. Later, when Paul gave a defense of his activities before King Agrippa, he quoted the Lord as saying to him, “I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God …” (Acts 26:16–18). Paul concluded, “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven” (v. 19).
This is precisely the way we must regard our vocations. We may not be called to be apostles, as Paul was. Only a few are called to what we term “religious work.” But whether we work in a church or a factory, in a hospital, a law firm, or our own small business, whether we are homemakers or builders of homes—whatever our calling, we must regard it as a form of Christian service and know that we are obeying our Lord Jesus Christ as we pursue it.
4. An ecclesiastical implication. Jesus is also head of the church. This truth can deliver us from two banes. One is disorder. It occurs when those who are members of the church pursue their own course—including what they wish their church to be—without regard to the guidelines for church life laid down in the Bible or without proper consideration for those who are their brothers and sisters in the Lord. The second is clericalism. It occurs when laypeople abandon their God-given roles in the church or when pastors tyrannize the church without acknowledging that they are servants of the people as well as servants of Christ and that they must serve the church as Jesus served it.
5. A political implication. Today, when we talk about the lordship of Christ, we face a battle on two fronts. One is an intra-mural contest, which goes on within the Christian fellowship. It is the battle I was speaking about earlier when I repudiated certain attempts to separate the saving work of Christ from his lordship.
But there is another battle also, and it is extra-mural. That is, it is outside the church’s fellowship. It comes from those who, in a certain sense, may be quite tolerant of religion, but who insist that religion must be kept in its place—“on the reservation”—and that, above all, it must not intrude into our national life. We are fighting this battle every day. And we are saying—I hope we are saying—that Jesus is not only our own personal Lord and not only Lord of the church that he founded; he is also Lord of all life, the life of nations included. He is not merely our King; he is the King of kings. He is not merely our Lord; he is the Lord of lords. Therefore, we who are Christians stand as his representatives in history to call this world to account. We are here to remind the world that this same Jesus Christ whom we serve has spoken from heaven to reveal what true righteousness is, both for individuals and nations, and that those who disregard him do so at their own peril and must one day give an account.
Yet this must be done correctly. First, it must be done humbly. For none of us is perfect—we, too, must appear before Jesus—and those we speak to are ultimately answerable to him and not to us. Second, we must know that our mission is to be by example and word and not by force. Otherwise we will become triumphalists. We must remember that the Lord did not come to set up an army or even a political organization, but rather a witnessing fellowship. Whenever the church has departed from the Lord’s pattern in this area, it has always done so to its harm.
6. A global implication. If Jesus is our Lord, the final implication flows from the Great Commission by which, on the basis of his own authority, the Lord sent disciples into the entire world to make and disciple Christians everywhere (Matt. 28:18–20). The lordship of Jesus is the most powerful of missionary incentives. It is as Lord of our lives that he tells us to go; because we know him as Lord, this is exactly what we do. Because we love him, we want everyone to become his disciples.
I close with the questions I asked at the beginning of this list. Is Jesus your Lord? Are you truly committed to him? If you are, your life can never be what it would be otherwise. If he is your Lord, no other can ever take his place.
which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, (1:2–4)
After introducing himself as the preacher of the good news of God (v. 1), Paul then tells of the promise (v. 2) and the Person (vv. 3–4) of the good news.
The Promise of the Good News
which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, (1:2)
The gospel, which originated with God, was not a divine afterthought, nor was it first taught in the New Testament. It does not reflect a late change in God’s plan or a revision of His strategy. It was
promised by God beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, that is, in what we now call the Old Testament.
Perhaps especially for the sake of his Jewish critics, Paul emphasizes in the very beginning of the epistle that the good news did not originate with him or even with Jesus’ earthly ministry. He was frequently accused of preaching and teaching against Moses and of proclaiming a revolutionary message unheard of in ancient Judaism (cf. Acts 21:20ff). But here he makes clear that the good news he teaches is really old news of the Hebrew Scriptures now fulfilled and completed in Jesus Christ.
Paul’s use of prophets refers to the Old Testament writers in general, all of whom were spokesmen for God, which is the basic meaning of prophets. Moses, for instance, was the great lawgiver, yet he also considered himself a prophet (Deut. 18:15). Paul’s reference to the holy Scriptures was probably to contrast the divinely-inspired Old Testament from the many rabbinical writings which in his day were studied and followed more zealously than was Scripture. In other words, although the rabbinical writings said little or nothing about the gospel of God, the holy Scriptures had a great deal to say about it. They did not originate with men or reflect the thinking of men, but were the divinely-revealed Word of the living God.
Most Jews of that day were so accustomed to looking to rabbinical tradition for religious guidance that the holy Scriptures were looked on more as a sacred relic than as the source of truth. Even after His three years of intense teaching, Jesus had to chide some of His own disciples for failing to understand and believe what the Scriptures taught about Him. Before He revealed His identity to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25). And as He proceeded to teach them about His death and resurrection, He expounded Scripture (v. 27, cf. v. 32).
It was a defective traditional Judaism that was revolutionary, man-originated, man-centered, and that was not grounded in the holy Scriptures. And it was the proponents of that man-made perversion of Judaism who most strongly opposed Jesus. He denounced the religious devotion of the scribes and Pharisees as being hypocrisy rather than piety and their theology as being the false tradition of men rather than the revealed truth of God.
The phrases “You have heard that it was said” and “You have heard that the ancients were told” that Jesus frequently used in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:21, 27, 33, 38, 43) did not refer to the Old Testament but to rabbinical traditions that contradicted and invalidated the Old Testament (Matt. 15:6).
It is estimated that the Old Testament contains at least 332 prophecies about Christ, most of which were fulfilled at His first coming. The Old Testament is filled with truths that predict and lay the groundwork for the New.
Jesus taught nothing that was either disconnected from or contrary to the Old Testament. “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets,” He declared; “I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5:17–18).
Throughout the history of the church Jews have resisted the gospel by arguing that to embrace it would be to deny their heritage. On the human level that is true, because since long before Jesus’ day, popular Judaism has been based more on human tradition that on divine revelation. To become a Christian certainly demands denial of a heritage such as that. But for a Jew to embrace the gospel is for him to truly inherit what his scriptural heritage has always promised. The Jew’s greatest heritage is the promise of God’s Messiah, and Jesus is that Messiah, the fulfillment of that promise. Every Jewish prophet, directly or indirectly, prophesied of the ultimate Prophet, Jesus Christ. Every Jewish sacrificial lamb spoke of the ultimate, eternal Lamb of God who would be sacrificed for the sins of the world.
Confronting that same issue, the writer of Hebrews opens his letter by declaring, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Soft” (Heb. 1:1–2). Peter also accentuated that same truth in his first letter:
As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven-things into which angels long to look. (1 Pet. 1:10–12)
The prophets spoke generally of the anticipated new covenant (cf. Jer. 31:31–34; Ezek. 36:25–27) as well as specifically of the Messiah who would bring that covenant (cf. Isa. 7:18; 9:6, 7; 53:1–12).
The Person of the Good News
concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, (1:3–4)
Both of those verses emphasize the divine sonship of Christ. There is a great mystery in the concept of Jesus as God’s Son. Although He is Himself God and Lord, He is yet the Son of God. Because Scripture plainly teaches both of those truths, the issue has to do not with whether He is the Son of God but in what sense He is God’s Son.
Clearly, in His humanness Jesus was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh. Both Mary (Luke 3:23, 31), Jesus’ natural mother, and Joseph (Matt. 1:6, 16; Luke 1:27), Jesus’ legal father, were descendants of David.
In order to fulfill prophecy (see, e.g., 2 Sam. 7:12–13; Ps. 89:3–4, 19, 24; Isa. 11:1–5; Jer. 23:5–6), the Messiah had to be a descendant of David. Jesus fulfilled those messianic predictions just as He fulfilled all others. As the descendant of David, Jesus inherited the right to restore and to rule David’s kingdom, the promised kingdom that would be without end (Isa 9:7).
The second Person of the Trinity was born into a human family and shared human life with all other humanity, identifying Himself with fallen mankind, yet living without sin (Phil. 2:4–8). He thereby became the perfect high priest, wholly God yet also wholly man, in order that He could “sympathize with our weaknesses, … one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). That is the gospel, the great good news, that in Jesus Christ God became a Man who could die for all men, a substitute sacrifice for the sins of the whole world (Rom. 5:18–19).
Even secular history is replete with reports of Jesus’ life and work. Writing about a.d. 114, the ancient Roman historian Tacitus reported that Jesus was founder of the Christian religion and that He was put to death by Pontius Pilate during the reign of Emperor Tiberius (Annals 15.44). Pliny the Younger wrote a letter to Emperor Trajan on the subject of Jesus Christ and His followers (Letters 10.96–97). Jesus is even mentioned in the Jewish Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 43a, Abodah Zerah 16b-17a).
Writing in a.d. 90, before the apostle John wrote the book of Revelation, the familiar Jewish historian Josephus wrote a brief biographical sketch of Jesus of Nazareth. In it he said,
Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call Him a man: for He was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to Him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned Him to the cross, those that loved Him at the first did not forsake Him; for He appeared to them alive again the third day as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning Him. And the tribe of Christians so named from Him are not extinct at this day. (Antiquities, vol. 2, book 18, chap. 3)
An even more reliable witness was the apostle John, who wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world” (1 John 4:2–3).
John was not speaking of merely recognizing the fact of Jesus’ humanity. Countless unbelievers throughout history have been quite willing to concede that a man named Jesus lived in the first century and that He lived an exemplary life and generated a large following. The deist Thomas Jefferson believed in Jesus’ existence as a man and in His importance to human history, but he did not believe in Jesus’ divinity. He produced an edition of the Bible that eliminated all references to the supernatural. Consequently, the accounts of Jesus in Jefferson’s “gospels” pertained to purely physical facts and events.
That is hardly the kind of recognition God’s Word demands. The apostle was referring to believing and accepting the truth that Jesus was the Christ, the promised divine Messiah, and that He came from God and lived as a God-man among men.
It was at the time that He became a human being, Paul says, that Jesus was declared the Son of God. Though the plan was eternal, the title Son is reserved as an incarnational term, applied to Jesus in its fullness only after He put on the robe of humanity. He was the Son of God in the sense of oneness of essence and in the role of dutiful, loving submission to the Father in His self-emptying incarnation. There is, of course, no question that He is eternally God and eternally the second Person of the God-head, but Paul says He was declared God’s Son when He was supernaturally conceived in Mary and was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh. We could say, then, that Christ was the Son of God from eternity in expectation and was declared God’s Son in fulfillment at the incarnation and forever.
Horizō (declared) carries the basic idea of marking off boundaries. From that term comes our English horizon, which refers to the demarcation line between the earth and the sky. In an infinitely greater way, the divine sonship of Jesus Christ was marked off with absolute clarity in His incarnation.
Quoting Psalm 2:7, the writer of Hebrews explains that in that text God was declaring to Christ, the Messiah, “Thou art My Son, today I have begotten Thee.” In the subsequent quotation from 2 Samuel 7:14, the Father goes on to say of Christ, “I will be a Father to Him, and He shall be a Son to Me” (Heb. 1:5). Both verbs in the last quotation are future tense, indicating that, sometime after the psalmist’s time, Christ one day would assume a title and role He had not had before.
Psalm 2:7 is also quoted by the apostle Paul in Acts 13:33. This passage points to the resurrection as the declaration of that Sonship. This is not a contradiction. From God’s viewpoint He was begotten as Son when He came into the world. The reality of that oneness with God and the perfection of His service to God was publicly declared to the world by the fact that God raised Him from the dead! (For a more detailed discussion, see the author’s commentary on Hebrews, pp. 24–29.)
Christ was given and took upon Himself the fullness of the title of Son of God when he divested Himself of the independent use of His divine prerogatives and the full expression of His majesty, graciously humbling Himself and becoming fully subservient to the will and plan of the Father. In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul explains that, “Christ Jesus, … although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, …
being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5–8).
In His high priestly prayer Jesus said to the Father, “Glorify Thy Son, that the Son may glorify Thee,” and a few moments later implored, “Glorify Thou Me together with Thyself, Father, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was” (John 17:1, 5). Christ has existed from all eternity. “He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:2–3). But in accord with the divine plan of redemption, which He Himself planned with the Father and the Holy Spirit, Christ “became flesh, and dwelt among us” (v. 14a). He still possessed some of His divine glory, the “glory as of the only begotten from the Father” (v. 14b), but the glory He retained was a glory veiled in human flesh that could not be observed with human eyes.
As Paul goes on to explain, the most conclusive and irrefutable evidence of Jesus’ divine sonship was given with power by the resurrection from the dead (cf. Acts 13:29–33). By that supreme demonstration of His ability to conquer death, a power belonging only to God Himself (the Giver of life), He established beyond all doubt that He was indeed God, the Son.
According to the spirit of holiness is another way of saying “according to the nature and work of the Holy Spirit.” It was the Holy Spirit working in Christ who accomplished Jesus’ resurrection and every other miracle performed by Him or associated with Him. In the incarnation, Jesus Christ was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit, the spirit of holiness.
Immediately after Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, “the heavens were opened, and he [John the Baptist] saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens, saying, ‘This is My beloved son, in whom I am well-pleased’ ” (Matt. 3:16–17). All members of the Trinity were eternally equal in every way, but as mentioned above, in the incarnation the Second Person of the Trinity willingly divested Himself of the expression of the fullness of divine glory and the prerogatives of deity. During His humanity on earth He willingly submitted to the will of the Father (cf. John 5:30) and to the power of the Spirit. The descent of the Holy Spirit upon Him at His baptism was Jesus’ initiation into ministry a ministry totally controlled and empowered by the Spirit, so much so that Jesus characterized willful rejection of Him as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:24–32).
Here, then, is the Person of the good news. He is fully man (a descendant of David) and fully God (declared to be the Son of God). Throughout His ministry, both Jesus’ humanness and His divinity were portrayed. When asked to pay taxes, Jesus complied. He explained to Peter that, as God’s Son and the rightful ruler of the universe, including the Roman Empire, He was rightfully exempt from taxation. “But lest we give them [the tax collectors] offense,” He went on to say, “go to the sea, and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a stater. Take that and give it to them for you and Me” (Matt. 17:27). In His humanness He willingly paid taxes, but in His divinity He provided the payment supernaturally.
One evening after a long day of teaching Jesus got into a boat with the disciples and they set out for the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus soon fell asleep, and when a storm arose and threatened to capsize the boat, the frightened disciples awakened Jesus, crying, “ ‘Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?’ And being aroused, He rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Hush, be still.’ And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm” (Mark 4:38–39). In His humanness Jesus was exhausted just as every person becomes exhausted after a hard day’s work. Yet in His divinity He was able to instantly calm a violent storm.
As He hung on the cross, Jesus was bleeding and in severe agony because of His humanness. Yet at the same time, in His divinity He was able to grant eternal life to the repentant thief who hung nearby (Luke 23:42–43).
This Son of God and Son of Man who was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit was Jesus Christ our Lord, Paul declares. Jesus means Savior, Christ means Anointed One, and Lord means sovereign ruler. He is Jesus because He saves His people from their sin. He is Christ because He has been anointed by God as King and Priest. He is Lord because He is God and is the sovereign ruler of the universe.
2 Before the historic events providing the basis for the gospel message unfolded, God “promised” the good news in the prophetic Scriptures (16:26). Promise means more than prophecy, because it commits the Almighty to make good his word, whereas a prophecy could be just an advance announcement of something that would happen. The concept of promise and the associated idea of God’s faithfulness permeate Romans (see, e.g., 4:13–25; 9:4; 15:8). God did not invent the gospel to cover up disappointment over Israel’s failure to receive Christ. The gospel was God’s purpose from the beginning (cf. 1 Pe 1:20). Nor did Paul create the gospel, which was “his” (Ro 2:16; 16:25) in an entirely different sense (cf. Gal 1:10). The reference to “the Holy Scriptures” prepares the reader for the rather copious use of the OT in Romans, beginning with 1:17. For Paul, as for the early church, the gospel is the fulfillment of the OT expectation.
3–4 The gospel above all centers in God’s “Son,” who at the end of v. 4 is referred to as “our Lord.” These two verses appear to enshrine and adapt an early liturgical confession. This seems evident not only from the weighty content of the material but especially from the balanced, antithetical form: (lit.) “born of the seed of David according to the flesh”; “appointed Son of God according to the Spirit [or, possibly, his spirit] of holiness.” In the original manuscripts all the letters were capitals, and hence it is not clear whether the word “Spirit” here should be capitalized—i.e., whether this is a reference to the human spirit of Jesus or a reference to the Holy Spirit. The balanced construction of kata pneuma (GK 4460) over against kata sarka (GK 4922), may suggest “spirit” in contrast to “flesh,” perhaps making the point that the human nature of Jesus was so holy, so absolutely free of sin, that death could not hold him (cf. Ac 2:24). If one takes this statement as a flesh-spirit antithesis, this would be a reference to the twofold nature of Jesus Christ: as to his humanity a descendant of David; as to the holiness of his spirit, his deity, the Son of God. More probably, however, “Spirit of holiness” is a Hebraic way of referring to the Holy Spirit rather than to Jesus’ spirit, and these two clauses are to be understood as sequential. That is, in the humility of the incarnation Jesus was born a descendant of David, but now through “his resurrection from the dead” he has been appointed Son of God in power by means of the Spirit.
There may be a suggestion here that Jesus, anointed and sustained by the Holy Spirit in the days of his flesh, was acknowledged by the fact of the resurrection to have successfully endured the tests and trials of his earthly life, having been obedient even to death. By resurrection he has become a life-giving spirit (1 Co 15:45). His rising was indeed “from the dead.” But Paul says more: “of the dead” (the simple genitive nekrōn, GK 3738), suggesting that Christ is the forerunner of others in this transformation (cf. 15:20–21).
“As to his human nature,” i.e., becoming a man, he became not only an Israelite (9:5) but a son of David (Mt 1:1; Lk 1:32; Ac 13:22–23; 2 Ti 2:8), a qualification he needed as Messiah (Isa 11:1). With the affirmation of the divine sonship of Jesus at the beginning of v. 3, Paul guards his whole statement from doing service for a heretical, adoptionist Christology. We have here a three-stage Christology (cf. Php 2:6–11). The period of Christ’s earthly life and ministry was followed by another phase—that which resulted from his resurrection. The point of “declared” or “appointed” (horisthentos, GK 3988) is not that Jesus here became the “Son of God” for the first time but rather that his sonship, veiled by the incarnation, is made unmistakably plain by the resurrection. “With power” (en dynamei, GK 1539) may belong with “declared,” but it may with greater warrant be joined with “Son of God,” indicating the new quality of life Jesus had after his resurrection (Php 3:10; Col 1:29).
Appropriately, Jesus Christ is now described as “our Lord” (tou kyriou [GK 3261] hēmōn). Though the title was fitting during his earthly ministry, it attained more frequent use and greater meaning following the resurrection (Ac 2:36; 10:36). Notable is the fact that in this initial statement about the gospel nothing is said concerning the redeeming work of Christ, which is reserved for later consideration (Ro 3:21–26; 4:25; 5:6–21). It was the infinite worth of the Son that made his saving work possible.
 Boice, J. M. (1991–). Romans: Justification by Faith (Vol. 1, pp. 37–52). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1991). Romans (pp. 11–18). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Harrison, E. F., & Hagner, D. A. (2008). Romans. (T. Longman III &. Garland, David E., Ed.)The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.