Geoff Bullock's "This Kingdom" says that Jesus is "now glorified, now justified." But Jesus is sinless, he doesn't need to be "justified"! How can Bullock write this way? Isn't it a theological mistake?


What does the Bible say about being "justified"? Is it a term we can apply to Christ?

Old Testament Legal Proceedings

"Justified" is a legal (or "forensic") term. It speaks of someone who is cleared of charges made against them, and found "not guilty" in open court. The term often suggests the sense that there has been an open demonstration and declaration that the person is in the right, or in a word, "vindicated".

The language of "justifying" or "vindicating" is used in the Old Testament to speak of a judge pronouncing the proper sentence to acquit an innocent person falsely charged. (See Dt 25:1, 1 Kings 8:32, Job 13:18, Psalm 25:4-5)

God Judges, and Vindicates

Similar language is found in the Psalms, in prayers of the oppressed (e.g. 26:1, 35:23-24, 27). The psalmist frequently cries out for GOD to vindicate him, upholding his cause against those who falsely accuse him (Ps 27:12, 109:1-3) and seek to triumph over him and (publicly) shame him (Ps 25:2, Ps140:12, cf. 1 Ki 8:45, Isa 34:8, Lam 3:55-59).

God is asked to pronounce judgment against the wicked and for his own (Ps 7:6-11). God's deliverance from the enemy, even from death itself, declares God's favor (Psalm 18:6, 16-24).

These psalms use the language of a legal contest. Some may, in fact, be the cries of those on trial. In that case the calls to God to "vindicate" and "uphold my cause" may be literal. God himself takes part in trials. Judgment takes place in God's presence, where witnesses may even be called on to swear oaths in God's name (Ex 22:11, Dt 19:16-19, 1 Kings 8:31). God himself may be called on the render an immediate verdict, or, as witness and judge, to carry out judgment on the perjurer (cf. Gen 16:5, 31:50, Jdg 11:27, 1 Sam 12:5, 24:12, Jer 42:5).

Frequently the legal language is combined with that of a military contest or threat (Ps 35:1-3). Thus God's people look to him to vindicate them by giving them victory over their enemies, who accuse and assault them in various ways.

All of this language is extended even further. It also looks forward to a time when God himself , as the King and Judge, pronounces final sentence, to "The Judgment" of God. Those found to be the "just" (or righteous) are raised to live with him, and the wicked are brought to shame (Dan 12:1-2). Hence we call this "the resurrection of the righteous".

Just as the psalmists look to God to vindicate them by delivering them from the threat of death, the saints look forward to being raised from the dead as their final victory and "vindication".

Thus God's coming to judge is a source of hope! (Ps 9:7-12, 96:10-13) The OT saints long for the resurrection of the dead (Acts 23:6, 24:15) when they will be "justified" at God's throne of judgment.

Jesus "Justified" (Isaiah 50:5-9, Psalm 24:3-5)

The New Testament declares that this hope, of resurrection and "justification," is something the saints receive in Jesus, when he is "justified" or "vindicated".

How does this happen?

Jesus is the One who is guiltless, yet falsely accused, and condemned to death--the "shameful death" of the cross. He responds by entrusting himself to God, crying out to God for vindication, with the very words of the psalmists (Mt 27:12, 1 Peter 2:22-23, Mt 27:46).

God hears his cry and so delivers Jesus from death itself (Heb 5:7, cf. Ps 18:6,16-19). But God does more than just "deliver" Jesus. He raises him up to sit at his own right hand, and declares that this is his Son in whom he delights (Act 13:32-33).

In other words God has "justified" Jesus; or, if you prefer, he has "vindicated" him (Ps 18:20-24). God has pronounced sentence: Jesus IS righteous, accepted and delighted in by God. Jesus resurrection is his vindication.

This is the message of the apostles, as Peter boldly proclaims in his Pentecost sermon: "God has raised this Jesus to life. . . God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." (Acts 2:36)

We are Justified in Jesus

Now OUR hope is bound up in what has already taken place with Jesus, especially with his resurrection.

This resurrection of Jesus, we discover, is the beginning of the the final judgment and "resurrecion of the righteous" the OT promised. He is the "firstfruits" of that resurrection (1 Cor 15:20-22).

In fact, Jesus' "justification" is not for his own sake. Rather he died "for our sins and was RAISED for OUR justification" (Rom 5:24). So it is that because he is righteous, already "justified" by God, we, though sinners, can be declared righteous and accepted NOW. It is only because we are "in him" --the One who has been declared righteous, the One who has been accepted.

Bullock's song declares that Jesus is "now justified." Immediately before this we are told he is "now glorified." These two are bound together.

In fact, this closely follows Peter's argument in his Pentecost sermon. Jesus' resurrection IS his glorification, and it is BY glorifying him that God vindicates or "justifies" him.

The song expresses a wonderful truth. The solid basis for our great hope is that Jesus is indeed "now glorified, now justified!"

© Bruce L. Johnson, 1999 - 2002

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