NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FOURTEEN (Lesson XII)
There was yet another benefit and blessing Paul wanted to emphasize that is given to those whose lives are lived in, through, and for the sake of Christ. He told the Ephesians: “I pray that you will know how great His power is for those who have put their trust in Him. It is the same power that raised Christ from the dead. This same power put Christ at God’s right side in heaven. This place was given to Christ. It is much greater than any king or leader can have. No one else can have this place of honor and power. No one in this world or in the world to come can have such honor and power.”1 This is an amazing reality when you make sure that what is yours, is Christ’s, He will make sure that what is His, is yours. Paul wanted everyone to know that Jesus is Lord of both now and forever.
One of the earliest church scholars, Origen, explains what he thinks Paul is saying here. He is speaking to those who thought that Christ had to die in order to become the Lord of the dead and that He had to rise again in order to become the Lord of the living. But Origen thinks that this assertion can be easily refuted. Christ’s rule over all creation consists of two parts: First, by virtue of His majesty and power as the Creator of all things who rules the universe everything is subject to Him, not only good and holy minds and spirits but also rebellious ones and those whom the Scriptures call “the wicked angels.”2 In this sense, He is known as the Almighty, as John says in his Revelation: “Thus says the one who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.3”
Origen then goes on to give the second reason. Knowing that such a good Son of such a good Father do not want those created in their image who have minds and wills of their own, to blindly bow in obedience to His Law by force, but waits for them to come voluntarily so that they will freely seek what is good freely and not out of fear or obligation.4 They do this because they are persuaded by being taught rather than by being commanded and because they are being invited rather than by being ordered to do so. That’s why Christ was pleased to go even to the point of death to illustrate the best example of living and dying for those who want to die to sin and evil. Christ is, therefore, Lord of both the living and the dead – of the living because He is the head of those who by the power of His resurrection look for a new and more spiritual life here on earth, and of the dead because these same people died with the living Christ in their souls5 after putting to death their sinful nature here on earth6.7
Ambrosiaster also makes a point. For him, even though all creation was made by Christ the Lord, deceit caused it to become separated from its Maker and taken captive by sin. Nevertheless, God the Father sent His Son from heaven to earth to teach His creation what to do in order to escape the hands of its captor so that what He created would not have been done in vain. Ambrosiaster then writes that by doing so Christ turned those who were captives to sin into servants or righteousness.8 And Chrysostom also notes that Christ’s death and resurrection take care not only of the living but of the dead. His lordship extends to the grave and beyond.9 Then Pelagius firmly believes that the return of Christ will find people alive and will bring the dead back to life.10 It does not matter whether He brings you back from death or finds you alive, as long as you appear righteous before Him.11
John Calvin gives his insights on why Paul said what he did in the previous verses. As he sees it, this verse is a confirmation of the fact that since we are the Lord’s while here on earth we will be the Lord’s in heaven. So whether we live or die we are under the power of Christ. When all is said and done and all creation appears before Him on Judgment Day, some He will be invited into the place He has prepared for them and some will be sent away into everlasting torment.12 Paul now shows how Christ rightly claims this power over us since He obtained it by so great a price. By undergoing death for our salvation He has acquired authority over us which cannot be destroyed by death, and by rising again, He has the right to claim our whole life as His personal property.
As Calvin believes, Christ, therefore, by His death and resurrection deserves that we should, in death as well as in life, live in such a way that we cause Him to be admired for who He is and what He has done. The words “arose and lived again” mean that by His resurrection He also attained our continued state of life in Him. That means the life we now have in Him is subject to no change because His dominion over us is eternal.13 What I hear Calvin saying here is that because of the tremendous price Christ paid on the cross for our redemption, and the risk that He ran by going to the grave for our salvation, He has no intention of gaining our temporary allegiance to Him for a short while here on earth. He bought us, and owns us, and claims us as His property both in this life and the one to come.
John Bengel shares with us an interesting grammatical insight to help us understand the impact of what Paul is saying. That is, Christ died that He might have dominion over the dying, Christ revived, that He might have dominion over the living. Christ has died, therefore, death will not separate us from Him. Christ has risen again, therefore, our life in the world-to-come will not separate us from Him.14 If this were not true, then Jesus could have never promised His disciples and all those who follow Him that He would go away to prepare a place for them so that when He came back He would gather them to Himself.15 So, even as they are with Him in this temporal life, they will be with Him after being resurrected to eternal life.
Adam Clarke contends that since Christ both died and rose, He has the right to claim us as His own before we die and after we die. It is evident from this – that Christ lived, and died, and rose again that He might be the Lord of the dead and the living. That means, His power extends equally over both worlds: the world on this side of the grave and the world on the other side of the grave. He has sovereign power and authority in both worlds. So why not submit to His authority while we are in this world so that when we rise to go to the eternal world beyond this life we are still under His protection and authority?16
Robert Haldane adds another layer of truth for our understanding. It was after His death and resurrection were completed that Christ became our Lord and Mediator before God. This was done so that all power might be committed to Him. Therefore, He received the keys of the visible state of life and the invisible state of death. That means He governs all His people both during their life and after their death. This makes it possible for Him to order all things done for His glory and our good. Since Christ, then, is Lord of the living; He is also Lord of the dead. It is clear then, He must then be God. This shows, that the dead are alive in their souls while their bodies are dead. It is in this way that Christ reigns over them. It would be absurd to suppose that He reigns over them as mere skin and bones. That’s why God is not the God of the dead but of the living17.18
Charles Hodge continues this same theme: the dominion which Christ, as Mediator and Redeemer exercises over His people, and which they gladly recognize is, therefore, tied to His death and resurrection. By His death, He purchased them to be His own, and by His resurrection, He was exalted to that His position on high which He now occupies as Lord over all. He also received those gifts which enable Him to exercise His authority as Mediator over His universal dominion. The exaltation and dominion of Christ are frequently represented in the Scriptures, as the “reward of His sufferings.”19 This authority of Christ over His people is not confined to this world but extends into eternity.20
Albert Barnes has an interesting way of describing Christ’s continued sovereignty over the believer after their spirits leave their bodies to await the resurrection. They have, says Barnes, gone on to another state of existence. This passage proves that those who die are not annihilated; that they do not cease to be conscious; they are still under the dominion of the Mediator. Though their bodies decompose in the grave, yet the spirit lives on and is under His control. And though the body dies and returns to its native soil, yet the Lord Jesus is still Sovereign over their souls and will raise them up again to be with Him. As the words in the old hymn go:
God my Redeemer lives,
And often from the skies
Looks down, and watches all my dust,
Till He shall bid it rise.21
Barnes goes on to point out that it gives an additional sacredness to the grave when we reflect that the tomb is under the watchful care of the Redeemer. With their souls safe in His arms, as their body dissolve back into dust they have the assurance that in His time He will call their souls to Him with new bodies to be forever in His presence. With this in mind, knowing that we can leave our friends with confidence because they will also be in His arms when they die, we can cheerfully yield our own bodies to ashes or dust because He will all our spirits together from their rest. But it is not only over the “body” that His dominion is established. This passage proves that the departed souls of the saints are still subject to Him.22 He not only has dominion over those spirits but He is their protector and Lord. They are safe under His universal dominion. And it does much to alleviate the pains of separation from our beloved friends because they know that after we depart they should still love and serve the same Savior in purity, not continually harassed by their sinful tendencies. Why should anyone wish to recall their beloved from their perfect rest in God’s arms back to a troubled and imperfect service they would be forced to render back in the land of the living? They are already in the spiritual land of the living.23
1 Ephesians 1:19-21
2 Luke 8:2
3 Revelation 1:18
4 See Deuteronomy 30:19; Isaiah 1:19-20; Jeremiah 11:8; Matthew 23:37; 2 Corinthians 5:20
5 2 Corinthians 4:10
6 Colossians 3:5
7 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 25
10 See Acts of the Apostles 17:31
11 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 John 7:21-23
13 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 352
15 John 14:3
16 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 270
17 Matthew 22:32
18 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 599
19 Philippians 2:8-9
20 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 653
21 From the hymn: And Must This Body Die? by Isaac Watts and Lowell Mason, 3rd stanza
22 Cf. Matthew 22:32; Mark 12:27
23 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.