Over the past couple of months I have been puzzling afresh over Acts 2:36: “Therefore, let all Israel know beyond question that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (CEB).
The clear implication is that Jesus became something that he was not previously: at the resurrection he becomes Lord and Messiah.
This has been judged problematic for Luke’s overall Christology. In particular, the verse sits in uneasy tension with the Gospel of Luke, where the idea of Jesus as lord, in particular, recurs throughout. How can he be made something that he clearly already was throughout his life?
Due to this tension, some scholars have argued that the verse is pre-Lucan, and not his own theology. Alternatively, some have argued that Luke composed it to give verisimilitude to Peter’s speech, but is not something he himself bought into.
This is problematic inasmuch as it does not take the larger context of the sermon into account–or the subsequent sermon in Acts 13. In both, the psalm’s declaration that God will not allow his holy one to see corruption is a clear indication that Jesus, at the resurrection, comes to fulfill the prophecy of an incorruptible Davidic king. In fact, the Acts 13 text cites Psalm 2, “You are my son, this day have I begotten you” in the same connection: Jesus is adopted king, enthroned, made Christ, at the resurrection.
How, then, can we have it both ways? How is Jesus the lord on earth and then made lord at the resurrection?
By taking the death of Jesus with utmost seriousness and by recognizing the resurrection as a fresh and creative act of God.
In an article wrestling with this very issue, Kavin Rowe draws attention to the fact that Jesus is called kurios, Lord, through Luke–right up until Peter denies the lord for the third time and the lord turns to look at him. Then Jesus is not referred to as lord again. Not, that is, until after the resurrection.
Perhaps Acts 13, the other sermon where Jesus’ resurrection is marked as his enthronement as lord and Davidic king, can be of help here.
There, Paul recounts Israel’s story. As he does so, he oscillates between God’s faithful action toward Israel and Israel’s rebellion against God:
God delivered them from Egypt. Then he had to put up with them in the wilderness for forty years.
God conquered nations and gave them judges. And the people came and asked for a king–they God Saul.
God gave them a man after his own heart, David, from whose seed came Jesus as prophesied by John. And the people of Jerusalem killed him by having him executed by Pilate.
God raised him from the dead, adopting Jesus as Davidic King, a king who will never see decay. Now what will you do?(Acts 13:16-41)
The life of the lord Jesus on earth was, in fact, the life of the lord and messiah. It was a divine visitation to the people from within the line of David. And the crucifixion is the rejection of God’s agent by the very people to whom God sent Jesus out of faithfulness, and as a great act of salvation.
The earthly reign of the lord Jesus is finished as he is rejected and killed. He is not called the kurios from Peter’s denial until the resurrection.
But God acts afresh. The man Jesus to whom God had testified while on earth by signs and wonders receives new testimony when God raises him from the dead, enthroning him in heaven as messiah and lord.
In the oscillation between divine act and Israel’s response, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are not of a piece in Luke-Acts. The life is one extended, God-endorsed act of saving presence that is rejected. The resurrection is the next.
When God makes lord the crucified messiah, Israel hears afresh the divine call, now administered through the one who has been given an incorruptible share in the name “lord” by which all people on earth can receive the forgiveness that leads to life.