THE MYSTERY OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

Randall Reed

Drip down, O heavens, from above, And let the clouds pour down righteousness;
Let the earth open up and salvation bear fruit,
And righteousness spring up with it. I, the LORD, have created it. (Isa. 45:8, NASB)

In this scene of precipitation, written hundreds of years before Christ, the prophet Isaiah depicts a peculiar kind of rain, a mysterious rain, whose effect on the earth is a crop of salvation. The source of this righteousness, according to Isaiah, is heaven, and its creator is the Lord Himself. This kind of righteousness is distinct from the righteousness of the Law, with which Isaiah was familiar.

But with the heavenly righteousness Isaiah was not familiar (Rom. 3:21; Eph. 3:5) and was inspired to speak of it only in terms of the mystery. Like Christ, Who is the mystery of God (Col. 2:2-3), hidden for long ages from the generations of men, including God's own prophets (Matt. 13:17), but revealed in these last days in the gospel, this heavenly righteousness was also cryptically and secretly couched m the Hebrew Scriptures.

Consequently, when Christ was manifested as the fulfillment of the Scriptures, according to the gospel, Paul was able to say,

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify (Rom. 3:21, NIV).

And the Law and the Prophets testified to this righteousness from God, not in plain terms, but in a mystery, that is, in types, symbols, and shadows, as in Isaiah's rain of righteousness.

Righteousness and the Gospel

When Paul said,

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to every one who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in. it the righteousness of God is revealed...(Rom. 1:16, 17, NASB),

he was intent on showing the relationship between the righteousness from God and the gospel which reveals that righteousness hidden in the ancient writings (if Paul says it is revealed in the gospel, then it obviously follows that it must've been hidden previously). And what is that relationship? A vital one indeed for Paul says the gospel is God's power of salvation, and what makes the gospel powerful is the righteousness of God (or "the righteousness from God," as the NIV puts it). Paul says, "For in it (in the gospel) a righteousness of God is revealed." Take that component out of the gospel and you eviscerate it; you empty it.

Accordingly, the Christ is shown speaking these mysterious words in the Hebrew writings:

I have proclaimed glad tidings of righteousness in the great congregation; behold, I will not restrain my lips, O LORD, Thou knowest. I have not hidden Thy righteousness within my heart; I have spoken of Thy faithfulness and Thy salvation; I have not concealed Thy lovingkindness and Thy truth from the great congregation (Psa. 40:9-10, NASB).

The expression "have proclaimed glad tidings" in the Septuagint is the word eueengelisameen, which means "I preached the gospel," "I gospelized," if you will. What did the Christ in prospect gospelize? Righteousness. The righteousness of or from God is the essential content of the gospel, the very heart and soul of it, not only in the Law and the Prophets but in the Apostles as well.

Righteousness and the Law

The Jews knew righteousness, and they pursued it strenuously. But they didn't know God's righteousness, that is, God's hidden righteousness, veiled under the mystery of the Law and the Prophets. They knew only the righteousness of the Law, which said,

And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness (Deut. 6:25, NIV).

Hence, their righteousness (which didn't descend from heaven like rain)was conditioned on their performance of the Law, even "all this law." But in their performance of the Law the Jews failed, shattering the old covenant and necessitating a new covenant for the seed of Abraham (Jer. 31:31-34).

This new covenant was really in existence during Abraham's day but, like Abraham's wife Sarah, it was barren for a very long time until the Seed should come to Whom the promises had been made (Gal. 3:16, 19). It is to the new covenant that Paul applies these words m Isa. 54:

Rejoice, barren woman who does not bear;
Break forth and shout, you who Are not in labor;
For more are the children of the desolate
Than of the one who has a husband (See Gal. 4:21-31).

This new covenant was in existence in those days, but like the gospel (Gal. 3:8), the Christ, His cross, and the righteousness from God, it was shrouded in mystery.

Righteousness and Faith

But the righteousness from God was finally revealed, and it was unveiled in all its explicit detail in the gospel. In the gospel the apostles explained the true bearings of righteousness: the only righteousness available for man as a breaker of law is not the righteousness through law, but the one through God's work, the Lord's own creation (Isa. 45:8).

This relationship between righteousness and faith was hinted at by Isaiah:

Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord:

Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When I called him he was but one, and I blessed him and made him many (Isa. 51.1-2,"' NIV).

When we look to the rock of Abraham and of Sarah, what should we see? What vital lesson is in those two for us? When Abraham was but one person, then God

took him outside and said, "Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them." And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be." Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:5-6, NASB).

Abraham's faith in the Word of God was itself counted as righteousness. Righteousness was reckoned to Abraham while he was still uncircumcised, hundreds of years before the Jewish Law came into existence.

A very rich irony, latent in God's hidden wisdom, is also revealed in the gospel: those pursuers of righteousness, those obsessive strainers after righteousness through the Law, missed their goal, stumbling over the only real source of righteousness, while the Gentiles, who were not even looking for it, and were downright indifferent to it, were the very ones who found it:

What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written,

BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED...

For not knowing about God's righteousness, and socking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law of righteousness to everyone who believes (Rom. 9:30-10:4, NASB).

Righteousness and Life

The pursuers of righteousness assumed this proposition: All people who are righteous are people who shall live. The law itself connected life with the observance of the Law:

Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD (Lev. 18:5, NIV).

But for violators of law this connection isn't possible; life and righteousness must come through another route, an indirect route. And Paul finds testimony to this route in the prophets:

The righteous by faith will live (Hah. 2:4, quoted in Rom. 1:17).

Who, then, are the righteous? Paul affirms the following proposition, taken from the Jews' own writings (Hah. 2:4; Gen. 15:6): All people of faith are people who are righteous. But given the truth of the Jews' major premise, All people who are righteous are people who shall live, coupled with Paul's minor premise, taken from the Jews' own Scriptures, All people of faith are people who are righteous, then what is the necessary conclusion? It has to be that, All people of faith are people who shall live, and this sequence of reasoning is essentially what the book of Romans is about. This sequence of propositions is basically what the Bible is all about.

The Lord Is Our Righteousness

The Jews didn't know the righteousness from God, although their own books testified liberally about it in shadows and in types. This mysterious testimony should have predisposed them to it when it was embodied and manifested in the suffering of Christ on earth; for it was in His blood, symbolized by the blood of the animal sacrifices, that God punished the sins of those under the Old Covenant. Consider the way the NIV translates Rom 3:25:

God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished... (See paresis in Arndt-Gingrich).

But God punished those sins and our sins in Christ's blood, foreshadowed in the animal sacrifices. Thus, it cannot be charged that God is unjust or unrighteousness with respect to punishing sin, for He fully and perfectly punished it in the blood of His own Son. God made Jesus the bronze snake (Num 21:4-9; Jno. 3:14-15), ugly and hideous to look upon but the antidote of our lethal bite; God made Him the scape goat (Lev. 16:20-22), Who carries away all our sins on His own head into the desert, into a solitary place. Like the promised son Isaac, bound upon the wood and looking up trustingly into his father's face as Abraham determined to strike through his son's own heart (Gen. 22), so the Christ in prophecy at His destruction looks up to find that is "Thy hand"--it is Thy hand that has done this!

I was silent; I would not open my mouth, for you are the one who has done this. Remove your scourge from me; I am overcome by the blow of your hand (Psa. 39:9-10, NIV).

It is amazing, isn't it, the love that God has for us sinners? His love eludes comprehension, but we should have no doubts about it for us--for God proves, "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8).

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor. 5:21, NASB)

Amazing words, but they were fully anticipated in the mystery of the Law and the Prophets:

"Behold, the days are coming,'' declares the LORD,
"When I shall raise up for David a righteous Branch;
And He will reign as king and act wisely
And do justice and righteousness in the land.
In His days Judah will be saved,
And Israel will dwell securely;
And this is His name by which He will be called, 'The LORD our righteousness'" (Jer. 23:5-6, NASB).