1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 1:1-4)
In his letter to the Romans, Paul is seeking to unify the church at Rome around his gospel and to enlist their support for his future mission to Spain. To do this, he has to first introduce himself to them as well as the message he had been called and set apart to proclaim—a message which he calls “the gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1).
This gospel, which was first promised by God through his prophets and preserved in his Word, is ultimately the good news “concerning his Son” (1:2-3). Paul then uses two parallel phrases to describe who this Son is: He is the one who was both “descended from David according to the flesh” and also “declared to be [appointed] the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (1:3-4). And this Son, Paul tells us, is none other than “Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Now it’s tempting to read this and conclude that Paul is simply addressing the two natures of Jesus in turn: first his humanity in verse 3 and then his divinity in verse 4. However, while it is true that he is speaking about Jesus’s two natures—that he is both truly man and truly God—the way he does this is much more profound and glorious. Here, Paul is explaining all that it means for Jesus to be God’s Son, and therefore how he is at the center of God’s good news for the world.
Jesus is the Preexistent Son of God
First, Paul implicitly refers to Jesus as the preexistent Son. Before he was descended from David, before he was raised from the dead, he was already God’s Son. In fact, the verb Paul uses in verse 3 to describe his Davidic lineage suggests “not mere human birth but ‘change in status’ from preexistence to incarnate existence” (cf. Phil. 2:6-7; Gal. 4:4). But how does the one true God—who is spirit, who has no body, and who transcends all creaturely categories—have a Son? It’s crucial to understand here that the words “Father” and “Son,” when talking about God, are relational terms (not physical or biological).
This is part of the mystery of the Trinity: that God is not only Father, but God is also Son. A father must have a son to be a father; and a son must have a father to be a son. So, since Scripture refers to the eternal God as Father, then that same eternal God must also be Son. Jesus is that eternal Son; he is God the Son.
Jesus is the word of God who was in the beginning with God and is himself fully God (John 1:1-3; Rom. 9:5; Col. 1:19; 2:9). In the words of the the Nicene Creed, he is “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.” And Paul is saying that the gospel of God concerns this Son.
In other words, the gospel God designed and promised beforehand is also the good news about God himself and what he has done. He is not only the source of the gospel but its subject!
Jesus is the Incarnate Son of God
This brings us to the next part of verse 3, where we find that it was this preexistent Son who became the incarnate Son. God the Son became truly man! It was the eternal Son—the Son who reigned with his Father from all eternity—who was sent by his Father into the world in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin (Rom. 8:3).
Since the penalty for sin is death, God sent his only-begotten Son to be our substitute. As fully man, Jesus laid down his life on the cross to be the sacrifice we needed for God to both punish our sins yet forgive us. He took the penalty we deserved in full when he gave himself for us. And so the good news is that Almighty God, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, did what was necessary to reconcile his enemies to himself.
But why doesn’t Paul just say that “he took on flesh” here? Why does he say he “was descended from David?” What does King David have to do with the gospel of God? The short answer: everything! In the Old Testament, we read of a son promised to King David whose throne would endure forever (2 Sam. 7:12-16; Ps. 89:3-4; 132:11); who would be full of the Spirit of the Lord (Isa. 11:1-5); who would reign in righteousness (Isa. 32:1); and who would never see corruption (Ps. 16:10).
But when God made his covenant with David and promised him this son, he said through his prophet Nathan in 2 Samuel 7:14: “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.” The Lord also speaks of this son in Psalm 2:6-7: “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill. . . . You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” This king would be God’s son, ruling on behalf of Yahweh and having the assurance of his God’s fatherly care and blessing.
All of God’s promises for his people eventually came to rest upon this one promised son. He would be God’s anointed one, Israel’s Messiah. He would be the king to rescue his people, establish God’s kingdom of peace, and make possible the blessing of belonging to God.
Jesus is the Exalted Son of God
Finally, in verse 4, Paul proclaims that Jesus is not only the preexistent and the incarnate Son of God, but also now the exalted Son of God. By virtue of his humiliation and obedience unto death, because Jesus fulfilled all righteousness and shed his blood as our substitute for sin, God raised him up and appointed him “the Son of God in power.” His resurrection is the definitive proof that he is David’s promised son, Israel’s Messiah, King of kings and Lord of lords.
Paul preached this to the Jews in Acts 13:32-33: “And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.'” This is how Jesus was given the eternal throne of his father David (Luke 1:32-33).
It should be clear that this verse is not saying that somehow Jesus became the divine Son of God. He is God the Son from all eternity! Rather, the point Paul is making here is that the one declared Son of God in power is the God-man, Jesus Christ our Lord. He is the Son who became “Son”—the eternal Son who became the enthroned, Messianic Son.
Remember, Adam is referred to as “son of god” (Luke 3:38). The nation of Israel is also called God’s son (Ex. 4:22-23; Hos. 11:1). And the son promised to David was to be a son to God (2 Sam. 7:14). But Adam failed to bear God’s image. Israel failed to be an obedient son. David’s offspring failed to rule on behalf of God in true righteousness. In each case, a mere human “son of God” simply could not live up to such a glorious, weighty title.
But Jesus is the true Son of God. He is the last Adam, who succeeded where the first failed. He is the true Israel, who obeyed his Father with all his heart. He is the promised Davidic King, who conquered death with his sovereign love and now reigns in righteousness. The Reformer John Calvin writes:
It was his task to swallow up death. Who but the Life could do this? It was his task to conquer sin. Who but very Righteousness could do this? It was his task to rout the powers of world and air. Who but a power higher than world and air could do this? Now where does life or righteousness, or lordship and authority of heaven lie but with God alone? Therefore our most merciful God, when he willed that we be redeemed, made himself our Redeemer in the person of his only-begotten Son.
So, to say that Jesus has been appointed Son of God in power is to say that Jesus, the God-man, is the Savior King. He has been enthroned as Lord of all, invested with all power, and appointed judge of all the earth. And he alone is now able to save to the uttermost!
This is also made clear by the phrase “according to the Spirit of holiness,” a Hebrew way of referring to the Holy Spirit. In verse 3, Paul had previously said that he was descended from David according to the flesh. In other words, when it comes to what the flesh has to say about Jesus, he is the son of David, born in frail humanity.
But what the Spirit says about Jesus is that he is the powerful Son of God! Romans 8:11 says that God raised Jesus from the dead by his Spirit. So, Paul is contrasting how Jesus was the incarnate Son in the weakness of human flesh with how Jesus is now the exalted Son—raised by the very Spirit of God, and also the one who also now pours out his Spirit in power. As Peter preached on Pentecost: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).
In short, what Paul is saying in these opening verses to the Romans is what we find in Philippians 2:5-11. Though Jesus was in the form of God (as the preexistent Son), he was born in the likeness of men (as the incarnate Son) and was obedient unto death. And now, because the eternal Son has taken on flesh and accomplished our redemption, God has highly exalted him by his resurrection from the dead. He has been given the name above all names. He is Jesus Christ our Lord.
God’s good news for the world is that his Son has been enthroned as the risen King. Apart from this gospel, we will be left with the false gods and futile kingdoms of this world. We will be stuck with their “gospels,” which are not gospels at all. We will be left longing for true joy and lasting peace, looking to anyone and anything for hope.
But because of what God has done in Christ, we can be saved from his holy wrath. Since Jesus died and rose again, and has been enthroned as God’s Son, we can be reconciled to God. And God has promised to deliver all who trust in his Savior King in repentant and obedient faith, who confess him as the risen Lord.
- R. B. Jamieson, The Paradox of Sonship: Christology in the Epistle to the Hebrews, Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture (Downers Grove, IL; InterVarsity Press, 2021), 164.
- Ben Myers, The Apostle’s Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism, Christian Essentials (Bellingham, WA; Lexham Press, 2018), 22.
- John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 466.
Matt Bedzyk serves as lead pastor at Emmanuel Community Church where he has faithfully served in many capacities for most of his life. He received his Master of Divinity from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Matt and his wife Brianna have three children: Lorien Grace, Owen James, and Vivian Jane. In his spare time, you can find him reading, brewing coffee, enjoying music, and supporting Manchester United and OG esports.