In Jesus’ day, the Roman cross was the symbol of Rome’s power of death over the lives of its subjects. It was an instrument of terror and domination. Because Israel was still in subjection to a foreign power, they still correctly considered and understood themselves to be in exile and under their God’s cursing. Thus, the cross, and it’s use against members of the Jewish populace, was an incredibly stark reminder of the curse of covenant failure.
In the twenty-eighth chapter of Deuteronomy, for violations of His covenant with them, the Creator God promised to His people to “raise up a distant nation against you, one from the other side of the earth as the eagle flies” (28:49a). Now, numerous nations had carried the eagle as a symbol, and the eagle was also the symbol of Rome’s Senate, its people, and of imperial Rome. It is said that approximately twenty years prior to Jesus’ birth, King Herod the Great placed an eagle, in deference to Rome, over an entrance to the Temple. For multiplied reasons, not the least of which was the fact that it reminded the people of Rome’s domination (and therefore their God’s cursing) as well as passages such as that of Deuteronomy above, this mightily offended large numbers of the people of Israel.
So through an understanding of the power of Rome and the cursing that was part of Israel’s narrative that was symbolized by the cross, along with the eagle in conjunction with Rome’s military might, as well as the Psalmist’s insistence in regards to rescue from a hostile army, one can make a realistic analysis and re-construction of Jesus’ mindset as He considered His role in regards to the establishment of the kingdom of heaven, on behalf of His people and the world.
While Jesus did not rise up to conquer Rome (as many in His day expected of Israel’s messiah), by being raised up from the dead after having been put to death on the Roman cross, He was rescued from that which represented the oppressive subjection of the world’s power, which was the cross. Not only that, it must also be said that Jesus went directly into that which His own people saw as a representation of being accursed by God, which was being hung on a tree (a cross), that He traversed death in the grave, and that he came out the other side, completely vindicated by the covenant God’s power and faithfulness.
With that vindicating Resurrection from the grave clearly in mind, the Apostle Paul, also operating under the influence of messianic ideas and the inspiration of the Psalms and the prophets according to the historical narrative of the covenant people, writes that Jesus “was appointed Son-of-God-in-power according to the Holy Spirit” (Romans 1:4a). This title, of course, was one held by the Caesar. Paul indicates that this man, Jesus, that had been subject to a violent and gruesome form of death in which the world’s power clearly overcame Him in a way that was visible to all people, contrary to any reasonable or rational way of thinking, had come out the other side of death and was now in the position of true power.
His Resurrection from the form of death that represented the power of death over life, showed the world that it was Jesus, and not the Caesar, that now had the power of life over death. This point is even more significant when one remembers that it is made in a letter to the believers that lived under the nose of the one looked to as the son-of-god-in-power. Among a number of other things, this improbably Resurrection vindicated His claims as Israel’s Messiah. It is with this in mind that Paul now insists that all that was said to be true of that messiah throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, must now be said to be true of Jesus.