The two stages of Jesus' sonship
In yesterday's post I made the perhaps surprising claim that Romans 1:3-4 is not really a contrast between the human and divine natures of Jesus. It is, rather, a reference to the way in which he moved from a "fleshly" stage of human existence to a "Spiritual" stage of human existence. In this way (as I also began to explain) Jesus shows what God always intended for human beings: a move from a merely fleshly stage of existence to a fully Spiritual stage. To understand what happened to Jesus is to gain a glimpse into our own destiny as those believe in Jesus and hope for the same human destiny.
But so far I haven't given you more than a number of bald assertions, without any real support for this position... Let me spell out some of the reasons for this interpretation now. I'll begin with some observations on the sonship of Jesus in this passage.
It is first of all important to understand that the contrast is not between Jesus as the son of David (human king) and Jesus as the son of God (divine king). The contrast is between Jesus as the Son of God according to the flesh (as a descendant of David) and Jesus as the Son of God according to the Spirit (by his resurrection from the dead).
We know this because in the Old Testament the son of David is, by definition, the "son of God." This is perhaps most clear in 2 Samuel 7, where the son of David (Solomon is most immediately in view) the one of whom God says, "I will be his father and he will be my son." Here's the larger passage.
12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you.In this passage (and others like Ps 2) it is the descendants of David who are considered the sons of God.
It is important to say, of course, that calling the descendants of David "sons of God" was not intended to mean that they were divine. It simply meant that God had graciously given David and his descendants the fundamental right of sonship in the ancient world: inheritance. The Davidic kings were sons of God insofar as they were his heirs, inheriting the right to represent his rulership in the land. So when Paul calls Jesus the "son [of God], a descendant of David according the flesh," he's simply invoking the thought of 2 Samuel 7 and claiming that Jesus is the rightful Davidic king--or "son of God."
What then does the second half of the contrast mean, that Jesus "was declared to be the Son of God in power, according to the Spirit... by his resurrection?" Perhaps surprisingly, this is still a reference to the human kingship of Jesus, now come to its climax in a startling way. One key here is the language of being "declared" to be the Son of God. Most naturally, this word (in the Greek) implies that Jesus was designated or appointed the "Son of God in power" at a particular point in time. Of course, if "Son of God in power" refers to the divinity of Jesus, that would imply that Jesus became divine at some point (perhaps along the lines of the deification of Roman emperors). That view denies the eternal divinity of Jesus and has been rightly condemned by the church.
So, in what sense was Jesus designated the "Son of God in power" at his resurrection? It seems best to continue to understand "son of God" along OT lines (as human kingship) and then give full weight to the fact that he became the son of God "in power" by virtue of his "resurrection from the dead." In other words, the human kingship of Jesus, already his as a birthright, was completed and fulfilled at his resurrection when he was glorified as a human being and raised as a human being to sit at the right hand of God the Father. Again, this is not to deny the divinity of Christ. That's crucial for our understanding of who he is. It is simply to say that in Romans 1:3-4 Paul is talking about Jesus's movement from being the anointed but not yet enthroned human (and Davidic) king during his life to being the exalted, glorified, and enthroned human king upon his resurrection from the dead.
Furthermore, this is precisely the pattern Paul explicates for those who belong to Christ later in his letter to the Romans. We'll talk more about Romans 8 and the way in which it applies this pattern to believers in the next post.
Categories: Romans, Eschatology, Spirit, Sonship