Verses 1 and 2, taken together, reveal that Paul saw his preaching as an extension of the ancient Old Testament message: Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures. His task was not to proclaim a theological novelty. The gospel was in the Old Testament Scriptures. Paul longed to announce “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the (Old Testament) Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3). According to verses 3 and 4 his task was to preach that Christ was both human and divine. Verse 3 stresses Christ’s humanity by avowing that He “was descended from David according to the flesh.” Verse 4 equally stresses His divinity by saying, “(He) was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit (or His Spirit) of holiness by His resurrection from the dead.”
Who Is Jesus Christ? We find Paul’s answer in verse 3 “his (God’s) Son.” We can also look to the great confession of the apostle Peter, recorded in Matthew 16. Jesus explicitly taught who He was in John 8:58 and 10:30; and 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 gently chided Thomas, not for 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 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. 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.
The God-Man: Jesus is not only unique in His divine nature, 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. In verses 3 and 4, a brief message of only twenty-eight Greek words (forty-one in English), Paul has provided us with and 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. 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. 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. When Paul says “the descendant of David,” it brings in the matter of Jesus’ Jewish ancestry. There are several reasons for this: 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. 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.” 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.”
The Sovereign Son: This brings us 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 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 a proof of Christ’s deity. But the Bible doesn’t actually speak of the Holy Spirit’s raising Jesus from the dead. 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. It’s significant, however that in the Greek, 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.
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 study 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 Paul’s 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 heart-deep allegiance and to heed His call – the call of the gospel – and follow Him!
Romans 1:2-4 Reflection Questions:
Who is Jesus Christ to you?
Do you think of Romans as a “merely human” composition or as “God breathed?”
What type of church do you think Paul was writing to, was it predominantly Jewish or predominantly Gentile or a mixture of the two?