“…the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 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, 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, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ” (Romans 1.1-6)
As I mentioned previously, Paul’s letter to the Roman church may be one of the most theologically rich texts in all of the New Testament, so it’s no surprise to see that his opening greeting is just as rich. With his greeting to Titus coming in as a respectable runner-up, none of Paul’s other greetings come close to the depth that this one displays. You may be wondering why I would take a greeting and split it into 2 parts. Does that feel like overkill? Am I digging too deep? Fear not, I don’t plan to make this the pattern of every installment. However, because there are so many different concepts that Paul throws into his greeting, and since this is the beginning of our own study through this letter, I wanted to set the groundwork and introduce these concepts that we’ll see more of as we proceed. These are the “gospel roots”, the very foundation of what sets the Christian faith apart from every other religion known to man.
“The gospel of God”
Admittedly this may be one of those religious phrases that you’ve heard a bunch but have never really grasped. What exactly is “the gospel”? The Greek word breaks down as “good message”, or more commonly, “good news”. In New Testament terms, it points back to Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, and how that affords us the opportunity to have a right relationship with God the Father – good news indeed! There’s no need to go much deeper at the moment; Paul goes VERY deep with the concept of the gospel in the chapters to come, so stay tuned. For now though, the quick and easy (and accurate) definition we’ll work with is “the good news of Jesus.”
“Which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures”
This short phrase speaks to the biggest meta-theme in all of Scripture, that the good news of Jesus Christ could be found at the very beginning and running through the entire history of Israel. The Old Testament is replete with prophesies about the Christ, or “Messiah”. Immediately after the fall of Adam and Eve, God was already proclaiming this good news (Genesis 3.15). The coming of Messiah, the one who would set all things right, was not an old fable or a new fad. It was a well-documented and highly-anticipated event that all Jews were awaiting.
“Concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh”
The son-ship of Jesus Christ is a subject that deserves much more depth than time and space can afford at this point, but we will cover it more in the next section and further into Romans as well. That Jesus is the Son of God cannot be overstated and is foundational to the gospel. Declaring that he is also the son of David sounds confusing at first, but it’s crucial to two other messianic truths.
First, and in the immediate context, it’s a reference back to Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. Genealogy was very important to the Jews, and Messiah’s roots were no exception. His was to trace all the way back to Abraham, the father of the the faith (see Genesis 12.1-3 and Genesis 15) . There were other requirements that he would need to meet, but probably none bigger than his relation to king David. In 2 Samuel 7 we find God’s promise to David that Messiah would come through his lineage. This was a key point that all Jews understood and were looking for. The fact that Jesus’ family tree met all of these requirements (see Matthew 1.1) was a major declaration of his messianic rights.
Secondly, having a human heritage speaks to Jesus’ unique nature of being both fully God and fully man. Without diving too deep into theology and church history, just understand that this view of Christ is a non-negotiable. If we can’t wholeheartedly affirm this truth, then the gospel falls apart. Jesus wasn’t who he said he was (if not fully God), and his sacrifice on our behalf wasn’t adequate (if not fully man). Again, we’ll dig into this more as we move along.
Hang on to these thoughts for next time, as they tie in directly to what comes next.
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