Declared to Be the Son of God by His Resurrection

Jack J. Peterson

Resurrection! What is it? You haven't experienced it, at least in the physical sense. Many of you have experienced it in a spiritual sense, though--and you know that resurrection is a radical transformation. You have been raised from being dead in sin to being alive in Jesus Christ. You have been transformed from being a sinner to being a saint.

What Is Resurrection?

If you are a child of God, you are anticipating your own resurrection, and you expect a rather radical transformation. It is not just that you will get rid of your glasses. You will also be able to get rid of the upper and lower plates, as well as those aches and pains.

But resurrection is more than just coming back to life—there is a difference, a distinction. Between what? Between resuscitation and resurrection. The contrast is seen in Lazarus: he was brought back to ordinary, physical life—resuscitated—but he wasn't really resurrected. Some time later, undoubtedly, he died again. But there is a radical transformation in resurrection from death to eternal life.

We often think—at least I did, until I started to dig into the Scriptures—that when Jesus was resurrected, he just came back to life again. But if that is what you think, you haven't read the Scriptures carefully. Why? Because resurrection is radical transformation.

In Romans 1:3-4, Paul refers to God's gospel "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." Literally translated, that last phrase is "by resurrection of the dead." By those words, the apostle indicates that Jesus' resurrection and the resurrection of others at his second coming are both part of the same category of resurrection. Elsewhere he says, "Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Cor. 15:20).

Our resurrection is going to be a radical one. Christ "will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body" (Phil. 3:21). We may not grasp all that that entails, but this shell of ours is going to become as glorious a body as Jesus has.

From Humiliation to Exaltation

Let's look more closely at Romans 1:3-4. Here Paul is speaking of "the gospel [God] promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures" (vs. 2). This is the gospel "regarding his Son" (vs. 3). It is the good news of which he later says: "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes" (vs. 16). That gospel has to do with Jesus Christ, the Son of God (vs. 3). Literally, it pertains to "his Son according to the flesh, a descendant of David." Then verse 4 adds, literally: "and who according to the Spirit of holiness was declared to be the Son of God with power by his resurrection from the dead." With respect to the flesh, God's Son was a descendant of David, but, with respect to the Spirit of holiness, he was declared to be the Son of God. This has commonly been understood to contrast the human and divine natures of Jesus. That contrast is most certainly taught in the Bible—but not here!

What the apostle Paul is saying is that the Son of God became the incarnate Son according to the flesh. God sent him into the world at the proper time as a descendant of David—born of a woman, born under the law (Gal. 4:4). With respect to his flesh, he is a descendant of David. Jesus' humanity is real: he has a family tree that can be traced. In fact, it is traced for us in Scripture. Jesus, the Son of God, became—"according to the flesh"—the seed of David.

His humiliation reached its climax in his obedience unto death, sacrificial death, on the cross. Romans 1:4, then, describes the stage of exaltation: he was "declared to be the Son of God with power by his resurrection from the dead."

What happened to Jesus in the Resurrection? It is not just that his flesh and his spirit reunited, so that he became alive again. That did happen. But there was more: he moved from one stage of his ministry to another—from humiliation to exaltation. He was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven, where he was seated on the throne of God. Jesus, by his resurrection, is invested with kingly power, so that all authority is given to him. Jesus could stand on a hill in Galilee after his resurrection and say, "All power is mine" (see Matt. 28:18).

The kings of the earth take counsel against the Almighty and against his Anointed One (see Psalm 2). They don't want his chains. They don't want to be bound by his power, and they say, "We will break away from him." At first the Lord laughs! But then that laughter turns into anger: "I have set my King on Mount Zion." This is King Jesus, who is enthroned when, by his glorious resurrection, he enters the exaltation stage of his ministry.

God declared Jesus to be the Son of God with power by his resurrection from the dead. That was the theme of Peter's sermon on Pentecost: "God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). Oh yes, he had those titles before. It is not that he became God, for he was God before that. But, because he was obedient as his servant, the Lord granted him the fulfillment of the promise, saying: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet" (Ps. 110:1). That enthronement scene began in Jesus' resurrection from the dead!

King Jesus

Jesus, who lives today, who sits at the right hand of the Father, and yet who through his Spirit is present with us now, is the all-glorious, all-powerful Son of God. Yes, there is a sense in which we speak of him as Jesus, meek and mild. But now he has been invested, by his resurrection, with authority and power and might. That love is there, and it still invites sinners to come to him. But he is the embodiment of saving power! As Paul sums it up, he is "Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 1:4). Savior! Master! Messiah! King!

This is the Jesus who still calls to sinners, "Come to me, you who are weary, who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (see Matt. 11:28). This is the Jesus who calls his own people as their Shepherd, and says, "Follow me. I will be with you in every need you have. In every trial you undergo, I am there."

This is also the Jesus who, if you reject him, will reject you. To any sinner who wants to pay for his own sin in hell, Jesus will say, "Go!" But don't wait until then. Jesus, this all-powerful figure, this Savior, this Messiah, this Prophet, Priest, and King, this risen embodiment of saving power, cries out to you, "Come to me! Come to me and I will give you rest!"

The author recently retired as pastor of Grace OPC in San Antonio, Tex. Reprinted from New Horizons, March 2002.