Jesus is King

Joshua W. Jipp argues in Christ Is King that “kingship discourse” provides the “most helpful framework” (42) for understanding Paul’s teaching on law, salvation, and justice. Greco-Roman political discourse was full of kingship discourse. In this “ideology,” the king is the image of the divine king who comes as a benefactor, to rescue his people, to transform them by his own glory and virtue, and to bring them into a place of harmony of law (21). Paul drew on this discourse and grafted it onto the analogous discourse of Messianism of his own Jewish heritage, in order to express what Jesus had accomplished in His death and resurrection.

Jipp puts this framework to particularly good effect in his final chapter on righteousness and justification. Kingship discourse includes an emphasis on the king’s establishment of justice, which particularly involves protection of the rights of the vulnerable. Within this framework, Jipp rightly shows, there can be no separation of justification from justice, as if the former were a matter of soteriology and the latter a political concern. Paul’s gospel is that Jesus is the embodiment of righteousness who enacts God’s righteousness in His death and resurrection, so as to bring His people into a realm of justice, peace, and life. Justification has to be understood within that frame.

Jipp throws some fresh light on a variety of texts, especially in Romans. He stresses that the revelation of God’s righteousness in the gospel is simultaneously a revelation of God’s wrath against sin (as the parallel of Romans 1:17 and 1:18 suggest): “God’s vindication of his son is also the manifestation of his righteous judgment against the injustice of humanity, who crucified God’s son” (235). At the same time, the resurrection establishes God’s righteousness: “Humanity’s salvation depends upon the revelation of God’s righteousness, namely, God’s deliverance of the righteous king, for their fate is wrapped up in the destiny of their king” (234).

That the death and resurrection of Christ constitute the revelation of God’s righteousness is evident from the sometimes neglected links between Romans 1:2–4 and 1:16–17. Both texts refer to the “gospel”; both speak of power. The “power of God for salvation” of which Paul speaks in 1:16 is the resurrection power to which Paul refers in 1:2–4. The gospel is the power of God because God has installed His Son in a position of power (248). Thus, the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel “has as its content God’s resurrection of his royal son from the dead and the enthronement of this son to a position of powerful lordship over the nations” (249).

On this reading, the resurrection is the justification, the justification of Jesus. Because a dead king cannot save, “God’s justification of humanity is contingent upon the prior act of rightly responding to justify and thereby resurrect God’s unjustly executed Messiah” (252). Like many commentators, Jipp sees this in Romans 4:25 (257–9), but he suggests that Paul makes the same point elsewhere. It’s “worth considering” whether Romans 3:26 “refers to God’s justification of Jesus”: “The context emphasizes Christ’s atoning activity—sacrifice of atonement, his blood, and faithfulness—as proof of God’s righteousness” (263). He finds textual evidence for translating 3:26b as “in order that God might be just and the one who justifies Jesus by means of his faithfulness” (263). That is, justification isn’t in the first instance what happens to believers, but to the Jesus in whom believers believe. 

Jipp thinks it likely that Romans 6:7 makes the same point: “The statement declares compactly that the crucified Christ, who has taken on Adam’s body of sin (6:6), is justified from the dominion of sin and death. Thus, dedikaiotai here almost certainly refers to God’s act of resurrecting the Messiah from the dead,” an event with “apocalyptic ramifications” since “it delivers the Messiah from the dominion of sin.” Paul’s point is that “Christ’s ‘justification’ from sin—which is his acquittal resulting in resurrection and the creation of a new dominion of life and righteousness—is foundational for his people’s justification and future resurrection” (266–7). The “one who has died” who is “justified from sin” is Jesus Himself, in whose justification from sin we share through baptism into His death. Having been Himself rescued from the kingdom of Sin and Death, Jesus the Christ leads His people out of that realm and into a new realm of righteousness and life.

Once we start seeing Jesus’ justification here and there, we might start seeing it everywhere. And that would significantly shift our reading of Romans and Galatians. They would become letters whose primary theme is what has been accomplished in and by King Jesus, rather than what Jesus by His Spirit has accomplished in us. Of course, Paul is always talking about both together, but the question is which determines the direction of his argument.

Two slight criticisms/corrections: Jipp’s treatment would have been cleaner if he had recognized the “deliverdict” character of justification. He sometimes writes as if Jesus’ resurrection is based on a prior acquittal (266: “acquittal resulting in resurrection”). That’s very close, but Paul’s claim is rather than the resurrection itself is the Father’s enacted acquittal of His condemned Son, which means in turn that our acquittal takes the form of resurrection from the realm of Sin and Death. Jipp also strangely neglects talking about baptism, even when expounding on Romans 6. Attention to baptism would have kept his discussion of the Christ’s establishment of His people in righteousness more concrete by keeping it more overtly ecclesial. 

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