How the Resurrection Changed Jesus
Christians have traditionally thought of God's character and existence as absolutely unchangeable. But in the beginning of Paul's great letter to the Romans, Paul says something shocking: somehow Jesus has changed by his life, death, and resurrection experience on earth - and that this is actually really good news for us.
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, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6 including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, 7 To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul begins his letter to the Romans by setting forth the great theme of the letter, and the great theme of his life - the 'gospel of God' for which God has set him apart as an apostle. The prologue describes the gospel in miniature - the promise of God; the fulfillment of the Old Testament plan; the message of his Son Jesus; the hope of the resurrection; the birth of the church; the conversion of the world. It is, in short, the divine rescue plan, which Paul narrates with increasing wonder throughout this letter.
Of the many accolades that Paul heaps on Jesus throughout the letter, verse 4 is especially striking: Jesus was "declared to be the Son of God in power ... by his resurrection from the dead." What a strange thing to say. Wasn't Jesus already the Son of God in power, from before the foundation of the world? And didn't he claim to be the Son of God throughout his whole earthly ministry? How could it be that he was not Son of God until his resurrection from the dead? In short, has the resurrection changed Jesus?
In a word, yes, it has. No, the change is not a difference in his divinity - he has always been God the Son, from eternity enjoying fellowship with his Father in the unity of the Spirit. Nor is it a change in his humanity – he has been Mary's son, fully man, since he formed his body in her womb.
But it is, remarkably, a change in his office, his status. The word translated "declared" has the sense of "designated" or "appointed." In ways that Paul will elaborate later in the letter (see Romans 3:25-26, 4:25, 8:12-17), the death and resurrection of Jesus give him new authority in heaven to redeem his people.
Like a minister conferring a new status on a man and woman whom he declares "husband and wife," the resurrection gives Jesus a new standing toward us. Or better, the resurrection is like the coronation of the crown prince, the Heir of heaven striding to his royal throne from which he administers salvation.
What difference does this make? It means that Jesus' powers are not dormant in heaven. His infinite love, justice, and might are not idling. His potency to save has no limits; his work of forgiving sin and robbing death is, as it were, fully operational. As another New Testament writer puts it, "He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:25).
It's an image worth our meditation. We know the difference between latent and active powers. An expert surgeon's skill is hidden outside the hospital; a major league ace cannot pitch from the dugout; a virtuoso pianist makes no music outside the concert hall. But when the surgeon takes the scalpel in his hands, lives are saved. When the ace climbs atop the mound, victories are won. When the pianist sets herself to Bach’s concerto, magnificent melodies ring out.
And when Jesus Christ settles onto his throne, his world is redeemed.