Romans (Part 04) – Jesus, the Son of God (1:2–4)
After explaining that he is the slave possession of Jesus, commissioned with a message to deliver, and informing that it is good news (the gospel), Paul in brief speaks of the subject of this message (which the message itself—the rest of this letter—will describe in detail): Jesus the Son of God, the Messiah, the Lord of us all. Paul introduces Jesus as the descendant of David, according to the flesh. We tend to immediately want to line up “according to the flesh” with verse 4’s “according to the spirit,” and recognize a truth about Jesus—that he was both fully man and fully God. And indeed he was. But we need to pay more attention to Paul and his point than just to our previous understanding of Jesus. While it is true—again, that Jesus is fully man and fully God—Paul is discussing Jesus in the good news of his redemptive activity, in his mission as fully human. Therefore, both the statements “according to the flesh” and “according to the spirit” speak of the design and activity of Jesus as human for the accomplishment of the gospel mission in covenant faithfulness. Jesus, as human, was, according to the flesh, descendant of David, who in covenant promise from God would have from his descendants the everlasting kingship of Israel—the people of God. Jesus was from David’s line—according to the flesh—and therefore Jesus fully qualified for this everlasting kingship of the people of God. But Jesus, the human, also fulfilled another covenant that God had set up with humans—faithfulness in trusting God for his care (his TGB). And it was that faithfulness in covenant obligation—that righteousness of Jesus—that was shown by the resurrection. Jesus did not die with the weight of sin making guilty his spirit. As purely righteous, Jesus’s death was not for guilt of sin and therefore, God could justly resurrect this purely righteous Jesus (Acts 2:27). And so it was “according to the spirit of holiness [set apart from sin]” that Jesus the man was resurrected and, importantly, declared to be “the powerful Son of God.”
To ensure a full and iron grasp on this concept of Jesus as human, we must understand how Jesus is the Son of God. Many of us (myself included) slip easily into confusing Jesus’s humanity with his deity because, after all, he was and is deity. The difficulty is keeping hold of the idea of his humanity. The appellation “Son of God” is not a declaration of deity. Son of means one just like. In an earthly sense, we understand well the idea. We often see the father in a son because the son is just like the father. But just because of the similarities, we don’t get confused and think the son actually is his father. We understand there is a difference, and yet we may say the son is the spitting image of his father. And that’s the key. God made humankind to be his image bearers. Calling Jesus the Son of God means that he, although human, perfectly bears the image of God the Father as human beings were intended to do.
This is the story. God had covenanted with himself before the world began that he would create image bearers with whom to have everlasting love relationship. And so he created image bearers and covenanted with them to provide his truth, goodness, and beauty—the basis of relationship with God—as they covenanted with him to trust in his provision. But humanity failed to trust—had broken covenant—and thus came under the penalty of death—everlasting separation from God and his provision. While this everlasting end to relationship with God may have been a just result for humankind’s failure in their covenant obligation, the fact put at risk God’s righteousness based on his initial covenant obligation with himself to create image bearers with whom to enjoy everlasting love relationship. What then was God to do? There was no representative of humankind who was not guilty. We see the despair as the scene is played out in Revelation 5 with the scroll as the covenanted Zion purpose for everlasting relationship and no one is found to take up the scroll from God’s hand. John is in tears, but then the Lamb comes forward.
That Lamb, of course, is God himself. Without a qualified representative among the human image bearers, God himself decides to become human to represent humanity as redeemer. And so Jesus is born into the world. He is born of a virgin to emphasize his divine heritage rather than the cursed heritage from Adam. But he comes as a man—Jesus. Therefore, the understanding that Jesus was God is of utmost importance to separate Jesus from the curse of Adam. But when he then takes on flesh, we must see the redemptive working as being accomplished by our representative—one who is fully human.
Jesus then does what Adam failed to do—he perfectly and faithfully fulfills his covenant obligation as a human: trusting God fully for his care and provision in TGB. In relationship to God, Jesus the human is our perfect representative. And in his relationship to us, Jesus the human acts for us in providing what we owed—a death. Jesus, who had no sin and no guilt—no justification for death whatsoever, laid down his life. His resurrection proved he had no sin of his own. He could not have risen to life again if he had been under the weight of guilt. But this unjustified death could now be given to us who would otherwise end in justified death. With his death given for us, we become righteous. Our covenant punishment is paid. We no longer owe death. In Jesus, he has given us life with God through faith in our new covenant relationship—faith in Jesus.
Image bearers were supposed to be lords of creation (Genesis 1:26–28). In satisfying God’s righteousness, Jesus becomes the one true and only image bearer (the only begotten of the Father) and, therefore, the Lord of all creation. Jesus—the true Son of God—is Lord!