What Does it Mean that Jesus is the Son of God?

This week I’m hosting Calvary Live, a call-in radio show on GraceFM. One of the questions I received yesterday from a listener is a very common point of confusion:

If the Bible says Jesus is the Son of God, how is it that Christians say that he is God?

I answered this question on the air yesterday, but then got a follow-up question via email. Here are my responses; hopefully they will help others who have similar questions.

Understanding the Term “Son of God”

The term Son of God is used in reference to Jesus many times in the New Testament. In John 20:31, John says: “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” If believing that Jesus is the Son of God is so important, it is essential that we understand what that means.

“Son of Man” / “Son of God” / God the Son

Three different titles are often used of Jesus. Here’s what each of them refers to:

  1. Son of Man: This title is used 88 times in the New Testament, often by Jesus in reference to himself. It is a Messianic title which comes from the Old Testament book of Daniel: Daniel 7:13-14.
    By calling himself the “Son of Man,” Jesus is saying two things about himself: 1) He is the Messiah, 2) He is fully human. This is important, because there are those who are called monophysiteswho believe that Jesus only had one (mono) nature (physis), i.e. that he was either fully human or fully deity, but not both. This position is held by the Coptic (Egyptian) church, but is generally considered heterodox.
  2. Son of God: Refers to Jesus’ authority and deity. Thus by saying that Jesus is the Son of Man and the Son of God, the Bible is teaching that Jesus was at the same time: fully human, the Messiah, and fully God. More on this below.
  3. God the Son: Refers to Jesus as the second person of the Trinity. For great resources on the Trinity and the deity of Christ, click here.

“Son of God” refers to nature and authority, not to origin

Jesus is not the Son of God in the sense that he is God’s “offspring,” rather this term must be understood in light of how the term “Son of ______” was used in ancient, and specifically Hebrew, thinking/language.

One writer puts it this way:

The word “son” was employed among the Semites to signify not only filiation, but other close connexion or intimate relationship. Thus, “a son of strength” was a hero, a warrior, “son of wickedness” a wicked man, “sons of pride” wild beasts, “son of possession” a possessor, “son of pledging” a hostage, “son of lightning” a swift bird, “son of death” one doomed to death, “son of a bow” an arrow, “son of Belial” a wicked man, “sons of prophets” disciples of prophets etc. The title “son of God” was applied in the Old Testament to persons having any special relationship with God.
But the Messiah, the Chosen One, the Elect of God, was par excellence called the Son of God (Psalm 2:7)

So, to be THE Son of God was a title reserved for the Messiah (or Christ in Greek). This is very clear from several verses which equate the term “Son of God” with the Christ/Messiah.
For example: John 20:31 – …so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God…  or Matthew 26:63 – the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”

However, when Jesus answers that question, affirming that he is the Son of God – he is accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death. Why would claiming to be the Son of God be considered blasphemy and worthy of a death sentence? It’s because the Jewish leaders understand exactly what the phrase “Son of God” meant: to be the Son of God meant to be of the same nature as God, in other words: to be God. That claim was considered blasphemy and according to Leviticus 24:15-16, a blasphemer was to be put to death.

We see this very clearly in an interaction between Jesus and a crowd in Jerusalem:

Jesus said… “I and the Father are one.”

Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”

“We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (John 10:30-33)

Hebrews 1:3 expresses this concept that the term “Son of God” refers to Jesus being of the exact nature as God, i.e. Jesus is God:

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.” (Hebrews 1:3)

Not only did Jesus directly claim to be God – which was the very reason why the Jewish authorities demanded that he be executed, but Jesus made several other claims to the fact of his deity:

  1. Jesus invoked the ancient and sacred name of God (I am) in speaking of himself. For this reason, the Jewish people tried to stone him on more than one occasion, for example: John 8:58-59 – Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
  2. Jesus claimed to do things that only God could do, such as forgive sins (Matthew 9:1-8) and resurrect the dead (John 11:25)

So Son of God refers to Jesus nature and authority, not to his origin.

The opening verses of the Gospel of John makes it clear that Jesus did not come into being when he was born as a baby in Bethlehem, but that he had existed from eternity past, as he is indeed God made manifest in human flesh.

The understanding that the Messiah is in fact God himself, come to the world in human flesh, is found in the Old Testament

Perhaps the best, but certainly not the only example of this is found in Isaiah 9, where speaking of the Messiah, it says:

For to us a child is born, (a human child who will be born)
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end, (eternal).   (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Does Isaiah 53:10 say that Jesus is God’s “offspring”?

The question I got from another listener in response to this answer was asking if Isaiah 53:10 doesn’t actually refer to Jesus as the “offspring” of God.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

The answer is very simple: the “offspring” referred to here is the offspring not of “the Lord,” but of the “suffering servant” (the one whose soul is made an offering for guilt).

What this is referring to is how, through Jesus’ death, many others would come to (spiritual) life.

This is actually referenced to by Jesus in John 12:24, but in order to see this, we have to understand that the word translated into English as “offspring” is literally the word “seed”.

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds (offspring).”  (John 12:24)

Isaiah 53:10 therefore, is not referring to Jesus as God’s offspring, but referring to those who will come to new life as a result of Jesus’ sacrificial death.

I hope this helps make sense of these things! Thanks for reading; if you have any comments or further questions, please write them below.

Advent Meditations: 11 – Zechariah’s Song

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“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David.

Zechariah was a village priest with a barren wife.

To be barren, in those days, was considered to be a curse from God, because of how important children were to several aspects of life. Nowadays it is not uncommon for women to say, “I don’t think I want to have children” – but if a woman were to say this in the ancient world, those around her would be taken back and say, “What? Do you have a death wish?”

Children were necessary economically, to have more workers in your family business, boys in particular were necessary for community security, and most importantly, children were necessary for personal security: in a society with no social welfare system and no social security, one was completely dependent on family and friends to take care of you in old age. Women in particular were at risk, because men had lower life-expectancy, so it was likely that they would live the final years and perhaps decades of their lives as widows, and if they didn’t have children, then their future was very uncertain and scary, because there was no guarantee that someone would be there to care for them and provide for them in old age.

So you can image how excited a woman like Elizabeth would be to find out that though she had been barren for years, now, in some way, advanced in years though she be, God had allowed her to conceive a son.

You can imagine how a man like Zechariah, the village priest, his life always in the spotlight of public scrutiny, must have been overjoyed to hear that finally his wife was pregnant! After years of people whispering and wondering what was wrong in his home that had caused God to “curse” them by not giving them a baby… People can be cruel, and you can imagine the relief and the sense of justification that came with the news that they would finally have a baby.

When Zechariah first got the news that he would have a son, he refused to believe it. It seemed impossible to him that this could actually happen, and as a result of his unbelief, God made him lose his voice for the duration of his wife’s pregnancy.

But when Zechariah finally got his voice back, after months of not being able to speak, and having to write things on a tablet in order to communicate, what was the first thing he did?  Did he complain, that God had taken away his voice for months?  No, HE SANG!  He sang a song of rejoicing and praising God.

And what’s most interesting about Zechariah’s song is this:  he doesn’t sing for joy primarily because he got his voice back, nor does he sing because his reproach has been taken away with the birth of his son. No, Zechariah’s song in Luke 1:67-89 is all about the Messiah!

It is commonly known an Zechariah’s Prophecy, but it is in the form of a song which he sang. The thing that set Zechariah’s heart on fire, was the idea that God was sending the Messiah – Jesus!   Before Zechariah even mentions his own son – who would have an incredibly important role to play as the forerunner to the Messiah – John the Baptist – first Zechariah sings about Jesus, who at this point was still in the womb. And he says: “Blessed be the Lord, for he has VISITED and redeemed his people.”

The coming of Jesus is the visitation of God to the world to redeem his people.

This is the message of Christmas, and Zechariah’s song – one of the first Christmas songs ever sung – was all about that: The visitation of God to this world to bring redemption.

 

 

The Song Sung Over London

Big Ben is the most famous clock in the world. It towers over the city of London, over Westminster Abbey and the Parliament.

What most people, in fact, what most Londoners don’t know, is that the music in the chimes that keep the time of Big Ben are from an old hymn: “I Know that My Redeemer Liveth”, from Handel’s “Messiah”.1

Every day, Londoners set their clocks and schedule their lives based on a tune about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, that sings out multiple times every day over that great city which is arguably the ‘center of the world’.

I will be preaching on the text from which the title of that song is taken this Sunday at White Fields Church in Longmont. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll join us!

White Fields Church lg EASTER 4.10.14-page-001

1. http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-18968027