The Key to the Trinity: “God Has Made Him Lord”

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain” – the preacher knew to make his final sentence count – “that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Act 2:36).[1] Some endings dull the sermon’s impact. Peter’s cut straight to the heart.

But what about its theology? At the climax of his message, Peter said that God made Jesus Lord. Does this mean Jesus wasn’t Lord before His resurrection? If so, we may need to throw out this series of articles and start over. I’ve been arguing that often when the NT calls Jesus “Lord,” it identifies Him as Yahweh. But if Jesus was truly Lord in that ultimate sense, He couldn’t be made Lord, could He? When anti-trinitarians look at Acts 2:36, therefore, they see not just the end of a great sermon but of trinitarian theology. For them Peter’s words spell the end for the doctrine of the Trinity.

“What shall we do?” We find ourselves asking the same question Peter’s first audience asked (v37). On the one hand, it’s tempting to weaken the word “made” into something like “recognized.” But the Greek word won’t let us. God didn’t merely recognize Jesus to be Lord after the resurrection; He made Him Lord.

On the other hand, it can’t be denied that Luke calls Jesus Lord before He rose again. In fact, Luke speaks of three names/titles that Jesus receives at His exaltation – Lord, Christ, and Savior (2:36; 5:31) – even though he’s been applying these names to Jesus all along. As early as the birth narrative, for example, the angel announces to the shepherds that there was born to them “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luk 2:11). As the Christmas carol puts it, “Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.”

We are caught between the horns of a dilemma. We cannot soften the word “made.” Something did change at Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation – God made Him Lord. But nor can we deny the fact that before God made Him Lord, Jesus was already Lord! Trinitarians want to emphasize the latter and minimize the former. Anti-trinitarians do the opposite. What shall we do? Let’s consider two questions:

In What Sense Did God Make Jesus Lord?

To answer this, we must begin by noticing how tightly connected Peter’s closing sentence (v36) is to the rest of his sermon. The word “know” creates an inclusion with his sermon opening (v14), and the word “therefore” shows that his whole argument has built to this point.[2] To understand what he means by God making Jesus Lord, we need to pay careful attention to all he’s said before.

What caused the multilingual outburst of praise to God that day? The flowing of spirits? No, it was God’s pouring out of the Holy Spirit, as He had promised through the prophet Joel (v17). The last days had finally arrived.

God had kept other promises too. The nation’s rejection and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth was part of God’s predetermined plan. They had killed Messiah, but God had raised Him and exalted Him to the throne of heaven and given Him “the promise of the Holy Spirit,” which Jesus had now poured out (v33). This phenomenon they were witnessing was nothing less than the end-times gift of the Spirit, made available by the Messiah’s death, resurrection and exaltation. The ancient words of Psalm 110:1 had come to their fulfillment: the Lord God had invited David’s Lord to sit at His right hand in heaven and reign (vv34-35).

It is in this sense that we must understand verse 36. God made Jesus Lord when He installed His Messiah on the divine throne. Something significant changed at Jesus’ exaltation – He began to reign. At the same time, nothing changed in our Lord Jesus ontologically. “Just as there are several important stages in the life of a king, from birth as heir to the throne, to anointing … to actual assumption of the throne, so in the life of Jesus according to Luke-Acts.”[3] Or switching to an American analogy, the president is president-elect for some time before exercising the right of his office. His term only begins when he is sworn in on January 20. In a similar way Christ, during His earthly ministry, “was rightly identified as Messiah …. But it was only when he was enthroned in heaven that he began to exercise the full prerogatives of the office.”[4]

The dilemma is resolved then. The fact that God made Jesus Lord at His exaltation in no way implies that Jesus wasn’t Lord before. Thus, anti-trinitarians cannot use this verse to undermine other NT verses that identify Jesus as Lord in the full Yahweh sense. In fact, if we consider our second question, we’ll see that Peter’s Pentecost sermon makes the same identification.

Who Is the One that God Made Lord?

Answer: He is none other than Yahweh, the one God of Israel, as the following lines of evidence show:

First, Luke repeatedly identifies Jesus as Lord/Yahweh in Luke-Acts. The evidence is too extensive to present here. See the persuasive case by Alan Thompson.[5]

Second, never mind Luke-Acts. In this very sermon Peter identifies Jesus as Yahweh. The same thought-flow and coherence that determine the meaning of 2:36 also reveal something deeper about the identity of the man God made Lord. God’s promise that He, Yahweh, would pour out His Spirit (vv17-18) is fulfilled when Jesus pours out the Spirit (v33). And Peter further identifies Jesus as Yahweh in his quotation of Joel that “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (v21). We’ve seen Paul apply this Yahweh text to Jesus.[6] Here Peter does the same, sounding a note that will be played again and again in the apostolic preaching that follows: salvation is to be found in no other name than that of Jesus Christ (2:38).[7] “Because it is Jesus who now grants forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit (2:33,38), the name of the Lord (Yahweh in Joel), who must be called upon in order to be saved from judgment on the ‘day of the Lord,’ is the Lord Jesus, David’s Lord who sits at the right hand of the Lord (2:34).”[8]

As David Gooding reminds us, “the Holy Spirit is an uncreated, divine Person. No mere human, even if sinless, could impart Him to others. If Jesus Christ has poured out the Holy Spirit – and He has – the whole house of Israel might know beyond all doubt that Jesus of Nazareth is not only Messiah; He must be God incarnate.”[9]

God incarnate. These were the two qualifications Christ must meet in order to receive the divine invitation of Psalm 110. He had to be David’s son and thus fully human (2:22-23,34); He needed to be David’s Lord and thus fully God.[10] Peter’s words in Acts 2:36 describe a shocking development in heaven: “At his ascension and enthronement … Jesus began to do as man what he had always done as God: reign over all.”[11]

[1] Bible quotations in this article are from the ESV.

[2] Robert C. Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation, Volume 2: The Acts of the Apostles (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994), 37-38.

[3] Tannehill, 39.

[4] R.B. Jamieson and Tyler R. Wittman, Biblical Reasoning: Christological and Trinitarian Rules for Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2022), 175.

[5] Alan J. Thompson, “The Trinity and Luke-Acts,” in The Essential Trinity: New Testament Foundations and Practical Relevance, ed. Brandon D. Crowe and Carl R. Trueman (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2017), 68-90.

[6] See the article on Romans 10:13.

[7] See for example 3:6,16; 4:10-12,17-18,30; 8:12; 9:15; 10:43; 22:16.

[8] Thompson, “The Trinity and Luke-Acts,” 83.

[9] D.W. Gooding, True to the Faith: Charting the Course through the Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids, MI: Gospel Folio Press, 1995), 64.

[10] For the argument that Messiah is a theandric office, requiring Jesus to be divine and human, see R.B. Jamieson, The Paradox of Sonship: Christology in the Epistle to the Hebrews, Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2021), 122-42. This book deserves to be widely purchased and read!

[11] Jamieson and Wittman, Biblical Reasoning, 176.