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:
- 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 monophysites, who 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.