“[Jesus] was delivered over for our transgressions, and was raised for our justification.” (Romans 4:25)
Our focus will be on the second half. We shall determine which action causes the other. Meaning, did Jesus’ resurrection cause our justification? or did our justification cause Jesus’ resurrection?
You see, some may take “He was raised for our justification,” to mean that Jesus’ resurrection played a role in justifying us. For example, the NLT interprets it “…raised to life to make us right with God,” or the ISV also, “…raised to life to justify us.”
That may seem like the correct interpretation at first glance. However, let us examine four reasons why I believe the text means that our justification was the cause of His resurrection, rather than the other way around.
1. The Greek word ‘dia’ used for ‘for’
“He was raised for our justification,” is a common way it is translated. However, the word means because (as in NASB), or through. This will put the causality on the justifying rather than the raising, thus placing the time of our justification at the cross (or at least before the resurrection). Also, the word ‘justification’ is a noun, and therefore translating it into a verb (to justify us) is not faithful.
2. The parallel with the first statement
The second reason comes from the parallel between this statement and the first half of the sentence. He says that Jesus was delivered over because of (again, dia) our transgressions, and that He was raised because of our justification. This will even bring more clarity because (1) Christ did not die in the place of our sins, or for the benefit of our sins; the obvious meaning of for in the first use would be because of; and (2) a title wave of other Biblical passages teach us that our sins were the cause of Jesus’ death.
Therefore, when we read He was “raised for our justification” the cause-and-effect logic must be the same as in the prior statement. Thus, in the same way that our sins were the cause of Jesus’ death, so also was our justification the cause of His resurrection.
3. The context points toward a different time scheme
The context itself does not lead us to place His resurrection as the cause of our justifying. When reading the flow into the next chapter, the role verse 25 plays is describing the person and work of Jesus Christ. The sentences just before, and just after are strongly paralelled. Verse 24 “to whom it will be credited,” is the “we, having been justified” of 5:1; and “those who believe,” in 4:24 is the “by faith,” in chapter 5. Verse 25 is smack dab in the middle, but does not seem to play a role in the flow of argument.
Also interesting to note is what Paul could have added to change his meaning. For instance, he does not rope verse 25 into the argument with those connecting words he enjoys, such as for, therefore, because, or so that. If he had said, “Righteousness will be credited to those who believe because Jesus died for sin and rose for justification,” that may give us a much different meaning. However, as said before, verse 25 is linked back to Jesus our Lord in verse 24, rather than to the discourse on justification in the surrounding context.
4. Justified because of death.
The fourth reason is that throughout the rest of the epistle, Paul places our justification at the time of Christ’s death. And so, if something more needed to be added to His work on the cross, then that dimishes the power of His blood. Also, texts which say that we are justified by His blood would be incorrect. In fact, this verse would even be in conflict with itself if the resurrection caused our justification, for it already tells us that everything pertaining to our unrighteousness was taken care of in His dying!
We shall quickly examine three instances in Romans.
One, in chapter 3 he says that we are “justified…through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus,” (Rom. 3:24). From that context we know (a) that the justification spoken of is the same as in 4:25, and (b) that the event is the same. We know that the justification is the same because both passages mention the imputation of a foreign righteousness to the believer. In chapter 3:21, the righteousness of God mentioned is clearly the keeping of the entire Mosaic Law, since the previous discussion is how humanity has failed to do so; and in chapter 4, just before our verse of discussion, there is said that both Abraham (Rom. 4:22) and all who believe in Christ (v. 24) will be counted as righteous in God’s sight.
We know that the same event is spoken of because chapter 3 mentions Christ as a propitiation in His blood (Rom. 3:25), thus the redemption in verse 24 by which we are justified took place at the cross; and so in chapter 4, the term delivered over, as it is used elsewhere in the Scriptures, is a giving over to death (see Gal 2:20; Eph 5:2, 25).
In Romans 5:9 we read that those who believer are justified by His blood. Thus, all work that was necessary for God to make His people righteous was accomplished by the time of His death. Therefore the event is again the same. Again, we know this is the same justification as before because the thought is a continuous flow from chapter four.
So then, how should we link the resurrection with our justification? When we think of the resurrection, rather than seeing it as the cause of our justification, let it be known as the evidence of our justification. The fact that Jesus Christ did not stay in the grave is solid proof that when I put my trust in Jesus I am counted righteous before God. If I were to hear that Jesus claimed to be sent from God–and even God Himself–and to be the second Adam who will fix what our first father ruined, and yet when He died He remained dead like the rest of us, what possible assurance could I have that God was truly pleased by His obedience? But no, praise God that our Savior did rise again–that God was pleased by His fulfilling of every command I fail. Because Christ was raised I can now know that God is pleased with me and sees me as righteous when I put my trust in His Son.