Paul claims that just as the gospel is the revelation of God’s faithfulness, so it is also the revelation of God’s wrath, not just to the gentile, but also to the Jew. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men…” (Romans 1:18) This means that the cross is God’s revelation from heaven, from his realm of power, of his judgment. The word “revealed” here comes from the Greek for “apocalypse” and it refers to the cross, in which the true nature of God is revealed and settles everything, both judging and forgiving mankind. God’s self-giving love reveals the injustice and self-centredness of the world.
Paul’s point here is that the cross reveals the sin of “all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men,” whether Jewish or gentile ungodliness. This is another one of those “to the Jew first and also to the gentile” statements. It isn’t just the ungodliness of the gentile, but also of the Jew, that Paul is laying emphasis on. In chapter 1 Paul outlines the ungodliness of the gentle fallen world, and then in chapter 2 he turns to the ungodliness of the Jewish people of his time.
The sinfulness of the gentile world was well known by Israel. Especially their idol worship, which leads to all kinds of sinful behaviours, which in turns brings about destruction within their lives and within the whole creation. Reading Romans 1 is like reading Jonah’s prayer, when he was in the belly of the whale. Jonah rehearsed all the sin of the gentiles, in his selfrighteousness as a Hebrew, non-idol worshipper. All the Jews who read Romans 1 would have given a hearty “amen.” The Jewish believers in the Roman church would have also. Paul’s condemnation of the gentile world would have strengthened Jewish superiorly in the church. This superiority, of one group against another, is a theme that Paul keeps coming back in his letter to the Romans.
But hold on a minute. The cross doesn’t only reveal the pagan sin of violence and cruelty, but also the sin of the Jews, who handed Christ over to be crucified. The Jew was fond of going into the temple and thanking God that he wasn’t a sinner like the gentile. (Luke 18:9-14) But the cross shows otherwise. It reveals from heaven, from God’s act in Christ, that the Jews are as sinful as the gentiles. Not only as sinful, but even more sinful, since they had the law and they knew what was good and just. The cross shows God’s judgment against the Jews also… and through the cross the Jews need to accept God’s free forgiveness, which they do by forgiving their gentile neighbour. Forgiveness is available to the Jew, by them forgiving the ones they hate. This is God’s way. Paul is showing this to lay the foundation for non-arrogant, caring relationships between Jews and gentiles in his churches.
As Paul explains in chapter 3, this doesn’t mean Israel had no special relationship to God. They did have, as being the ones chosen by God to carry forward his witness to the world. They were the ones through whom God had chosen to heal the sin of Adam, to restore the priesthood of Adam and Eve to the world. This wouldn’t be an easy task, as we shall see later in Romans. But this call doesn’t mean Israel are exempt from judgement. If they were not subject to judgment, then how could God righteously judge the world?