Following Sunday morning’s sermon, I had the following email interchange to clarify one point from the message on Romans 1:4. The essence of the question is, “just what does it mean that Christ was “declared [a better translation is “appointed”] the Son of God with power?”
Q: I wanted to ask you for a bit of clarity on one of your points in yesterday’s sermon.…You spoke of Him being inaugurated to a new (?) position, seated on His heavenly throne. Are you saying that he obtained a new or different position/status than before? Does this parallel the verse in Acts 2:36 where Peter declares “…God has made Him both Lord and Christ…?” While I have held to the understanding that Jesus voluntarily “set aside” or “emptied himself” of his full rights as deity while on earth, he then returned to his rightful place when he ascended to the heavenly throne. And since we read that he is the same “yesterday, today, and forever” (although this needs to be correctly applied), I was not sure what you meant by being inaugurated to this position upon his return to heaven.
A: I was trying to be very careful about how to say what I was saying. I was attempting to affirm that Christ is and always has been fully God. Nothing in His deity was diminished in any way at the incarnation. However, he did lay aside some of the rights of that deity when He took on flesh, as you rightly noted. At the ascension, he took up all of those rights again.
However, there were additional roles/responsibilities that were added to Christ at the ascension that He did not have prior to the ascension. And what Paul was identifying in this passage was the power in Heaven that He now has as the resurrected Messiah, seated on the Davidic throne. Prior to the incarnation, He could not have that role, as He had not yet fulfilled the plan of redemption. So nothing was added to His nature, but something was added to His role as the second member of the godhead.
The commentator Thomas Schreiner said it in what I thought was a helpful way:
“When he lived on earth, he was the Son of God as the seed of David (v. 3). Upon his resurrection, however, he was enthroned as the messianic king.…While Jesus was on this earth, he was the Messiah and the Son of God, but his death and resurrection inaugurated a stage in his messianic existence that was not formerly his. Now he reigns in heaven as Lord and Christ.” [page 43]
Another commentator says:
“What Paul is claiming, then, is that the preexistent Son, who entered into human experience as the promised Messiah, was appointed on the basis of (or, perhaps, at the time of) the resurrection to a new and more powerful position in relation to the world. By virtue of his obedience to the will of the Father (cf. Phil. 2:6-11) and because of the eschatological revelation of God’s saving power in the gospel (1:1, 16), the Son attains a new, exalted status as ‘Lord’ (cf. v. 4b). Son of God from eternity, he becomes Son of God ‘in power,’ ‘able’ [dunatai] for all time to save those who draw near to God through him’ (Heb. 7:25, RSV). The transition from v. 3 to v. 4, then, is not a transition from a human messiah to a divine Son of God (adoptionism) but from the Son as Messiah to the Son as both Messiah and powerful, reigning Lord.” [Douglas Moo, 48-9.]
I hope that is helpful to you.