Jesus as the Son of God

When we reflect upon the title, the Son of God, it is important that we do not interpret it with the reasoning of Greek metaphysics or other foreign concept in mind, but rather seek to understand the title within the bounds of its (OT) Hebrew heritage. We note that in the Bible many were called the ‘sons of God’. We have Adam (Luke 3:38), David (Psa 89:20,26-27), Solomon (1 Chron 22:9-10; 28:6,9), Israel (Exod 4:22; 7:1; Deut 14:1; Ps 82:6; Mal 1:6; 2:10), the people of God in general (John 1:12-13; Gal 4:5-7; 1 John 3:1) and the angels of God (Job 38:7; Luke 20:36; Eph 3:14-15).

However, it is clear that the foundational basis for the NT title of ‘the Son of God’ is related to Jesus’unique conception. This is the way he is intro­duced to us in the scriptural record in Luke 1:30-32: “And the angel said to her, Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favour with God, and, behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call his name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David”. In Luke 1:34, Mary said to the angel: “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”. Then the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that holy one who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (v35). These words refer to concepts which were established and promises which were made in the OT record. We will now clarify some of these.

The announcement at Jesus’ conception shows a very clear connection to the promises God made to King David (2 Sam 7; 1 Chron 17). David was promised a Son and heir to his throne, who would be “of the fruit of his own body” (Acts 2:30). God says of this same Son of David, “I will be his Father, and he shall be my son; and I will not take my mercy away from him, as I took it from him who was before you” (1 Chron 17:13). Although this reference had an application to Solomon (1 Chron 22:9-10; 28:6,9), he was really only a type, pattern or figure of the future Christ, who would be a Son who would be greater than Solomon. We know this, as we are told in the letter to the Hebrews that this reference in the promises to David (Psa 2:7; 1 Chron 17:13; 2 Sam 7:14) speaks about Jesus Christ. For to which of the angels did He ever say, “You are my Son, this day have I begotten you” and again: “I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son” (Heb 1:5)?

After considering this information we learn that the promised Christ and Son of David would also be called God’s Son. This linking principle is also clearly seen in the words of Rom 1:1-4 where Jesus is said to be ‘made of the seed of David ac­cording to the flesh and declared to be the Son of God with power’. John also links these two ideas in John 20:31 when he says, “But these are writ­ten, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God…” When we are aware of this principle in the promises to David we can see what motivated Nathanael to say the following as he tied together the uniqueness of Jesus’ character with the promises made to David of a coming King of Israel. Nathanael is not speaking here about Jesus’ unique conception (John 1:49). Nathanael answered and said to him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” We see this same concept in Peter’s response to Jesus when asked whom he thought Jesus was (Matt 16:15-16). He (Jesus) said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”.

This great confession became one of the foun­dational beliefs among NT Christians. We see it emphasised and repeated throughout the NT writ­ings (Acts 8:37). Believing this statement declares an understanding of who Jesus really is. That is, that this Jesus is the Son and heir to David’s throne as well as the Son of God. This also explains the uniqueness of Jesus and of his power to overcome sin. The fact that Psalm 89:20-27 firstly relates to David – who was found by God and anointed, called God ‘my Father’ and was appointed God’s firstborn – reinforces these conclusions. Yes, Psalm 89 is certainly messianic, but it firstly applies to David as a type of Christ.

Although the primary reason that Jesus is called the Son of God relates to his unique birth as well as being the Christ of God, there are other reasons for this title. The following list summarises the main reasons, which identify Jesus as the Son of God:

  1. His unique conception (Luke 1:31-35).
  2. God declared him such – on two separate occasions (Matt 3:17; 17:5).
  3. His unique character and works (John 1:14; 20:31; Rom 1:3-4).
  4. The promises to David (2 Sam 7:14; Heb 1:5; Psalm 89:26-27).
  5. His resurrection from the dead (Rom 1:3-4; Acts 13:33).
  6. Only a Son of God could destroy the works of the devil, i.e. overcoming sin (1 John 3:8; John 3:16; Rom 8:3; Heb 2:14; Gen 3:15; Gal 4:4).
  7. To fulfil the purpose of God from the beginning (John 1:1-3,14; 1 Cor 15:45-47; Col 1:13-15; 1 Pet 1:19-20).

Summary

As we have noted above, there are a number of important reasons why Jesus is called the Son of God. None of these are based on Jesus being God or God’s equal. Throughout the book of Acts and the NT Scriptures in general, Jesus is never presented as being ‘God the Son’ or God. He is always presented as “a man approved of God” (Acts 2:22) and that God signalled that approval by raising him from the dead and exalting him (v24). Furthermore, Jesus in all his various roles, ie as Son, Lord, King, Priest, Mediator, Sacrifice, Second Man, is always presented as ‘the man,’ ‘the Son of God’ in his Father’s image (Acts 2:22; 13:38; 17:31; Rom 5:12,15; 1 Cor 15:21-23,47; 1 Tim 2:5; Heb 3:3; 7:24; 8:3; 10:12). What is noteworthy is that there are no references or concepts in the Bible which present these or any title of Jesus as pertaining to ‘underived divinity’ or ‘total equal­ity’ with God his Father. Those are foreign ideas and concepts. They are not found in the scriptural record. Importantly, Jesus is identified as “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature” (Col 1:15). The context of this reference has many clear echoes back to Genesis. Adam was made in the image of God and it is clear that Adam was to be the firstborn of every creature. The term ‘firstborn’ does not only refer to order of birth, but more importantly to birthright. In a related mat­ter, we note that the genealogy of Christ, found in Luke 3:21-22, 38, is significantly bookended by Jesus and Adam, both of whom are called “the son of God.” We should not miss this connection.

Furthermore, in ancient times the firstborn son had three principal privileges over his brethren. This is clearly seen in the sons of Jacob, where Reuben, his natural firstborn son, lost the privilege of his birthright because of his immoral behaviour (Gen 49:3-4). His privileges were distributed to his brethren as follows:

  1. Pre-eminence over his father’s house as its lord went to Judah (Gen 49:8-10).
  2. The priesthood was given to Levi (Num 8:14-18).
  3. The double portion went to Joseph, whose sons Ephraim and Manasseh were numbered as full tribes in Israel (Gen 48:3-6).

The concept of the firstborn is also seen in many other places. It is noteworthy that none of the firstborn sons of Abraham, Isaac or Jacob in­herited this privilege by order of birth alone. In the case of Isaac’s and Jacob’s sons, the natural firstborn forfeited his position as a result of sinful behav­iour. Again, this is a cameo of Adam forfeiting his natural right to be God’s firstborn. This underlying principle seems to be built into many of the OT stories. For example, David and Solomon were not firstborn sons. From these examples we can clearly see that the privileges of birthright do not depend on order of birth.

Conclusion

From what we have considered it should be clear that there was an underlying model regarding how and why NT disciples used the language they did to describe Jesus. Although he certainly did come into the world to die for our sins (1 Tim 1:15; Rom 5:6-8; 1 John 2:2; 2 Cor 5:15), he was much more than just a sacrificial offering for sin. To them, he was the fulfilment of everything that was purposed from the beginning.

Once we perceive this model, we can see that the first occurrence of the Gospel message being preached is located in Gen 1:26-28. These words are about a man (a married pair), who would be in God’s image and likeness and who would exercise complete dominion over all God’s creation. Their God-given task was to multiply and extend the principles of God embedded in the garden until all the earth was brought under the dominion of God. This was to be accomplished through people who would be in God’s image and likeness. This grand purpose is one and the same message which the NT calls the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and the Name of Jesus Christ (Acts 8:12).

The Genesis account is also a prophecy of all that will be realised in God’s wonderful work in the Lord Jesus Christ. He came to establish a new creation consisting of men and women, who, now through faith and baptism, would fulfil all the original creation was intended to accomplish (Eph 2:10; Col 3:10; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15). To this end he came to reconcile all things to God (Col 1:20) and will eventually bring to an end the vanity to which the whole creation was made subject because of sin. We, along with the whole creation, now groan under the burden of sin’s dominion, awaiting the appointed time determined by the Father. On that day, God’s work of salvation will bring the re­demption of the body at the resurrection of the just (Rom 8:18-23; Matt 24:36; Acts 1:7; Luke 14:14). Jesus and his bride will then inherit the world and renew it according to God’s original intent (Rom 4:15; Matt 25:34). Only then will the whole world come to know God and to know true and lasting peace (Isa 2:1-5).