The Holy and Righteous Adam

February 06, 2017

by Brandon Crowe

Closely related to Jesus’s identity as the Holy One of God is his identity as the righteous one. Indeed, Luke tightly links these predications for Jesus in Acts 3:14 (ton hagion kai dikaion), where they are best taken not as hendiadys but as complementary perspectives on Jesus’s full-hearted, incarnate obedience that conforms to Scripture.

We begin with righteousness in accord with Mark’s Christology. In Mark, not only is Jesus the Holy One of God but he is also identified as the righteous sufferer, especially in the events leading up to and including the passion. Joel Marcus has outlined what he calls Psalms of the righteous sufferer (e.g. Pss. 10; 22; 41; 69), along with verbal parallels to Isaiah’s servant songs, in Mark’s passion narrative and Jesus’s predictions of his impending passion (e.g., Isa. 50:6; 53:5, 7, 12). Taken together, these underscore the obedience of Jesus as the righteous one in his death. Additionally, the allusions to Psalms and Isaiah are readily applied to a representative figure in light of the royal and corporate dimensions of the relevant texts. Thus the righteous Servant, as a representative, gives his life vicariously for many in Mark (cf. 10:45; Isa. 53:10–12).

Jesus’s full righteousness and holiness was met with the ultimate vindication of life from the dead.

Indeed, a pattern we see throughout the Gospels is Jesus’s identification as righteous in the climactic events pertaining to the cross. In Matthew 27:19, Pilate’s wife identifies Jesus as a righteous man, and Pilate’s ceremonial washing of hands after he refuses to release Jesus (27:24) is ironic since Pilate is guilty of shedding innocent blood (cf. Deut. 21:6–8). Similarly, in Luke 23:47 the centurion confesses that Jesus was righteous (ontos ho anthropos outos dikaios en). Though Jesus’s righteousness is most assuredly implied in the centurion’s confession in Matthew 27:54 and Mark 15:39 in light of the overarching narratives of Matthew and Mark, it is noteworthy that in Luke the centurion explicitly identifies Jesus as righteous. Certainly this righteousness entails Jesus’s sinlessness on the cross, but in Luke-Acts Righteous One is probably a christological title (Luke 23:47; Acts 3:14; 7:52). Additionally, since Jesus’s suffering in the passion is not an entirely new event in Luke but is the culmination of Jesus’s lifelong suffering, and since Jesus’s entire life accords with Scripture and God’s eschatological necessity for salvation, then Jesus must have been the Righteous One throughout the totality of his life (cf. Matt. 5:10–11). Moreover, one should also see the principle of vicarious righteousness in Luke. Since Jesus as the baptized Messiah represents and identifies with people in their sin, he also identifies and represents them in his identity as Righteous One who justifies the many (Isa. 53:11).

In sum, the Synoptics, drawing upon language from Isaiah, portray Jesus as “righteous,” especially in relation to his death (cf. Luke 23:47). However, though proportionally more emphasis does fall on the saving death of the Servant, more needs to be said of the righteousness of the entire mission of the Servant. That Jesus’s righteousness for others extends beyond only his death is further implied in Acts 3:14–15, which identifies Jesus as the Holy and Righteous One who was raised from the dead and to whom we must listen (3:22–23; cf. 2:27). Full of the Holy Spirit (cf. Luke 4:1–13; Acts 10:37–38), Jesus remained holy and fully righteous in both his life and death (cf. Luke 1:35, 75; 23:47). Significantly, Jesus’s status as the Holy One in Acts is consistently tied to his resurrection: Jesus’s full righteousness and holiness in accord with Scripture was met with the ultimate vindication of life from the dead.

This piece is adapted from Brandon D. Crowe, The Last Adam (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, a division of Baker Academic, 2017), 114–115. Used with permission of the publisher.

Brandon Crowe

Dr. Crowe (PhD, Edinburgh) is associate professor of New Testament at WTS.

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