Resurrection as Christ’s Vindication (and Ours)

October 25, 2016

by Gregory Beale

Resurrection is one of the most highly charged inaugurated eschatological concepts in the New Testament, since, for example, the resurrection that was to occur at the very end of the world has begun in Jesus’s bodily resurrection. Jesus’s own resurrection was an end-time event that “vindicated” or “justified” him from the wrong verdict pronounced by the world’s courts. The vindication of God’s people against the unjust verdicts of their accusers was to happen at the eschaton, but this has been pushed back to Christ’s resurrection and applied to him.

1 Timothy 3:16

Particularly pertinent in this regard is 1 Timothy 3:16:

By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, Was vindicated [declared righteous = ἐδικαιώθη] by the Spirit, Seen by angels, Proclaimed among the nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory.

The phrase “was vindicated by the Spirit” refers to the Spirit’s raising Christ from the dead (as in Rom. 1:4), which was a vindication from the wrongful verdict that had been issued against him by the sinful human court and a declaration of his righteousness. Geerhardus Vos has said in this connection:

Christ’s resurrection was the de facto declaration of God in regard to his being just. His quickening bears in itself the testimony of his justification. God, through suspending the forces of death operating on Him, declared that the ultimate, the supreme consequence of sin had reached its termination. In other words, resurrection had annulled the sentence of condemnation. [The Pauline Eschatology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1953), 151]

Acts 17:31

Acts 17:31 expresses a similar notion: “because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” The proof that God “will judge the world” on the last “day” by his “appointed” human agent is that this agent of judgment has been “raised from the dead.” That is, the logic appears to presuppose that Christ’s resurrection has demonstrated him to be just and, therefore, one who will exercise justice at the last judgment.

Isaiah 50

This thought of vindication by God from an unjust verdict that comes from giving life after death has precedence in Isaiah. For example, the Servant Song in Isaiah 50 portrays the Servant as having been “obedient” to God’s call to suffer unjust persecution (50:4–6) and unjust accusation (vv. 8–9) from which he will be “vindicated” by God (vv. 7–11) and be seen as truly righteous. In this respect, verses 8–9 affirm,

He who vindicates [δικαιώσας] Me is near; Who will contend with Me? . . . Who is he who condemns Me? The Lord “helps” the Servant (vv. 7, 9) to overturn the false condemnation, thus vindicating his Servant.

Isaiah 53

Likewise, the famous Suffering Servant passage of Isaiah 53 makes the same point conceptually, and the Greek Old Testament (LXX) specifies that God will “justify [δικαιῶσαι] the just one [the Servant]” from the wrongful legal persecution under which he will suffer (cf. 53:11 with vv. 7–9, 12), showing him to be absolutely righteous after all. This vindication consists in causing the Servant to enjoy victory even after and despite his own death (vv. 10–12; e.g., v. 12a, “I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong”). Though he would die (vv. 5, 8–9), he would be given this victory, which includes seeing life after his painful death:

He will see His seed [LXX has “long-lived seed”], He will prolong His days . . . He will see [light]. (vv. 10–11)

The New Testament doubtless understands this victory to be resurrection. Since Isaiah says elsewhere that the Spirit was to be the empowering agent of the Servant’s ministry (Isa. 11:2; 42:1; 48:16; 61:1), it is not unreasonable to think that this Spirit would play a role in vindicating this ministry.

This all comes very close to what 1 Timothy 3:16 has said above. Even though Paul likely does not allude here to Isaiah, Isaiah stands as precedence even before the time of Paul for thinking that the Messiah’s “justification/vindication” would consist, at least partly, in his resumption of a prosperous life after his death.

The Meanings of δικαιόω

It is fitting at this point that a word be said about the possible meanings of δικαιόω, which is often translated in Paul as “justify.” The standard lexicon of the Greek New Testament gives the following ranges of meaning: (1) “to take up a legal cause, show justice, do justice, take up a cause”; (2) “to render a favorable verdict, vindicate”; (3) “to cause someone to be released from personal or institutional claims that are no longer to be considered pertinent or valid, make free, pure”; (4) “to demonstrate to be morally right, prove to be right.” All of the uses in Paul can be reduced to “vindicate” or “declare righteous,” both referring to rendering a favorable verdict. This translation is as applicable to Christ as it is to believers. The obvious difference is that the resurrection vindicates Christ’s innocence, thus overturning the unjust verdict against him. On the other hand, the saints were justly accused of sin and guilt and sentenced to death. Nevertheless, they have been vindicated by Christ’s work, declared not guilty but innocent because he suffered the penalty of death due to them and represents them in his resurrected being with his own innocence (i.e., righteousness), which has been vindicated by his own resurrection. In this respect, Michael F. Bird has likewise rightly focused on Christ’s vindication from a wrong verdict by resurrection with which believers are identified: “Thus, believers are justified only for the reason that they share a corporate solidarity with the justified Messiah and what is true of him is true of God’s people,” “because they are ‘in-Christ’”—though, as noted above, unlike Christ, they themselves deserved the guilty verdict.

Romans 4:25

The relation between the believer and Christ’s resurrection as a “justifying” event is reflected in Romans 4:25: “He who was delivered over because of [δια] our transgressions, and was raised because of [δια] our justification.” Some commentators understand the dual use of δι to be identical (“because of”), while others understand the first δια to be causal (“because of”) and the second as final or purposive (“for the sake of,” “with a view to”). Some commentators suggest that Christ’s resurrection is mentioned after his vicarious death because the former confirms that the latter is effective, since he was no longer bound by the penalty of death himself. Though the last clause of this verse has been debated because of its vagueness, Richard Gaffin gives probably the most persuasive assessment of it, arguing that we must do justice to both sides of the parallelism within the context of Paul’s broader theology. Jesus’ dying “on account of our transgressions” identified him with believers in the punishment due for those transgressions. Correspondingly, Christ’s resurrection “on account of our justification” identifies him with saints in the verdict of justification, which was given to him for his establishing of righteousness. The unexpressed assumption in verse 25b, Gaffin argues, is that “Jesus’s resurrection is his justification.” Since Christ’s resurrection justified him, believers are justified in Christ when they identify with his resurrection.

This piece is adapted from G.K. Beale, “The Role of Resurrection in the Already-and-Not-Yet Phases of Justification” in For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper, eds. Sam Storms and Justin Taylor (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2010) 192–196. Used with permission of the publisher.

Gregory Beale

Dr. Beale (PhD, Cambridge) is professor of New Testament and biblical theology at WTS.

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