“Apocalypse,” or “revelation,” is a thread that runs through the first several chapters of the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Romans. There are three particular instances I’d like to examine in this post.
Two of them come in adjacent verses in the first chapter:
16 Οὐ γὰρ ἐπαισχύνομαι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, δύναμις γὰρ θεοῦ ἐστιν εἰς σωτηρίαν παντὶ τῷ πιστεύοντι, Ἰουδαίῳ τε πρῶτον καὶ Ἕλληνι· 17 δικαιοσύνη γὰρ θεοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ ἀποκαλύπτεται ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν, καθὼς γέγραπται· Ὁ δὲ δίκαιος ἐκ πίστεως ζήσεται.
18 Ἀποκαλύπτεται γὰρ ὀργὴ θεοῦ ἀπ’ οὐρανοῦ ἐπὶ πᾶσαν ἀσέβειαν καὶ ἀδικίαν ἀνθρώπων τῶν τὴν ἀλήθειαν ἐν ἀδικίᾳ κατεχόντων…
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith,5 as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”6
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
At the present time, there are two things belonging to God (θεοῦ) that are being “revealed”: righteousness and wrath. They both find their starting-point in the same thing: the Fall of man into sin and misery. Man’s rejection of God brings forth the ὀργὴ θεοῦ, the wrath of God, against his unrighteousness and wickedness, because, although he “knew” God (vv. 18, 21, 28), he refused to honor him as such. As Paul goes on to say in 5:12-21, Adam’s sin brought death and the reign of death into the world. God would have been perfectly just to leave man in this state forever as the due reward (cf. 1:27) for his disobedience and refusal to glorify God.
But God is gracious, and sent a second Adam to defeat the death brought about by the first Adam. Paul treats this parallel in the same passage of ch. 5 noted above. Thus, there is the theme of the reception of the “gift of righteousness” (5:17) running in tandem with the reception of wrath. This δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ, the righteousness of God, is at the core of Paul’s εὐαγγέλιον, his “gospel.” It too is being “revealed” at the present time.
Where the wrath of God is revealed “from heaven,” his righteousness is revealed “in the gospel.” Where the wrath of God is revealed “against all ungodliness and unrighteousness (ἀδικίαν) of men,” his righteousness is revealed “from faith for faith” (ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν).Where a refusal to acknowledge God exposes one to the wrath of God, the instrument that places one under the protection of Christ and grants to him the righteousness of God is accessed by faith. Wrath is what we deserve; righteousness is good news.
It makes sense that, in the times between, faith is what unites one to the righteousness of God in Christ, for, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:7, we walk by faith, not by sight.
Paul states this elsewhere as “seeing in a mirror dimly” and “knowing in part” (1 Cor. 13:12). But one day it shall not be so: we shall see “face to face”; we shall “know fully.” As Paul writes in Romans 5, we shall reign together with Christ, even though we do not currently “see” all things in subjection to Christ or to man-in-Christ (Heb. 2:8). For the time being, we, if we have been set free (ἠλευθέρωσέν) by “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ,” walk “according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4).1
One day, however, as Paul goes on to say in Romans 8, that freedom will be extended to the rest of creation. The manifestation of the restoration of man and creation is the third of Paul’s “revelations.” He writes in 8:18-19:
18 Λογίζομαι γὰρ ὅτι οὐκ ἄξια τὰ παθήματα τοῦ νῦν καιροῦ πρὸς τὴν μέλλουσαν δόξαν ἀποκαλυφθῆναι εἰς ἡμᾶς. 19 ἡ γὰρ ἀποκαραδοκία τῆς κτίσεως τὴν ἀποκάλυψιν τῶν υἱῶν τοῦ θεοῦ ἀπεκδέχεται·
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
While the first two revelations currently proceed in parallel, in the proclamation of the gospel and in the fallen and corrupted world, at that third revelation righteousness and wrath will be consummated. On “that day” (Rom. 2:16), God will judge the secrets of men “according to [Paul’s] gospel,” the “sons of God” will be revealed, and the creation will receive the freedom (ἐλευθερωθήσεται; ἐλευθερίαν) already enjoyed in the Spirit by those sons.
Thus what was marred by the fall in Romans 1, provoking the revelation of God’s wrath, will be restored at the revelation of God’s sons: those who believe in the gospel Paul preaches, where one finds the revelation of God’s righteousness.
- For Oliver O’Donovan, the work of the Spirit now, already, through restored human life “gives substance to the renewed creation in Christ, giving it a historical embodiment in present human decisions and actions, so that it becomes partly visible even before its final manifestation” (Resurrection and Moral Order., p. 104). The “not yet” impinges upon the “already” and adumbrates the shape of things to come.