In What Sense Is Jesus the Son of God?

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Segment of "The Baptism of Christ" by Carl Bloch (between 1865 and 1879).

Introduction

The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. When Jesus was baptised, and the Holy Spirit descended on him from Heaven, God the Father said to him:

“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22b)

St John picked up on this important teaching when he wrote about the importance of confessing Jesus as the Son of God:

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. (1 John 4:15)

However, there are many religious people and cultists in the world who, on the outside, seem to confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but in actuality do not know what this means. Many of them think that Jesus being God’s Son means that God has a wife, or that God created Jesus, or that it is just one of God’s modes. All of these, though, are pagan and demonic ideas which have nothing to do with the clear teachings of the Bible. To find out what Jesus being the Son of God means, therefore, we must turn to the pages of the Word of God, the final authority for all matters concerning the Christian faith.

The Son of God: Equal with God

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5:18)

Here, St John wrote that by claiming to be the Son of God in an exclusive manner (“his own Father”), Jesus had claimed to be equal with God. The Jews were so infuriated with this that they wanted to kill Jesus, because according to their beliefs, no mere created being can be equal with God Almighty (Isaiah 46:5). Yet according to John, Jesus is not a created being; he is God in human flesh, the Creator of all things (John 1:1–3, 14), who came to his own people but was rejected by them (John 1:11). Jesus answered the Jews by justifying both his works on the Sabbath and his claim to being equal with God:

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. 21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. 22 The Father judges no one, but has given all judgement to the Son, 23 that all may honour the Son, just as they honour the Father. Whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him. (John 5:19–23)

Firstly, said Jesus, the Son can only do whatever the Father does, and because the Father chose to heal on the Sabbath, so must he. If they are to accuse him of breaking the Sabbath, then they must also accuse God himself, who works in perfect unison with the Son. Secondly, said Jesus, the reason why the Father gave authority to the Son to judge all people and raise the dead was so that the Son may be honoured in the same way that God himself is honoured, which makes him equal with God. If they are to accuse Jesus of blasphemy for claiming to be equal with God, then they must also accuse God himself of blasphemy, because he wants all people to honour the Son as he himself is honoured.

The Son of God: Not the Father, But of the Closest Relationship with the Father

All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (Matthew 11:27)

Here, St Matthew points out that the Father and the Son share the closest possible relationship with one another, by saying that the only ones who truly know the Father and the Son are the Father and the Son themselves, unless the Son chooses to reveal the Father to anyone. The Son is the Father’s Beloved Child, with whom he is well pleased (Luke 3:21–22), and the Son always does what is pleasing to the Father (John 8:29). In addition, the Bible says that the Father and the Son have been together for all eternity:

And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. (John 17:5)

The Son has always been: “at the Father’s side” (John 1:1, 14, 18, ESV), or as the NRSV puts it: “close to the Father’s heart”, or the NASB: “in the bosom of the Father”. The Father and the Son’s relationship with one another transcends all earthly relationships—it is an inseparable union of perfect fellowship. It is also important to note that the very fact that the Father and the Son have a relationship with one another means that Jesus is a different Person from the Father; yet he is one with the Father in being (essence) (John 10:30; Matthew 28:19), the second Person of the Trinity (Godhead).

The Son of God: God’s Unique Son

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Jesus is God’s “only Son” because he is God’s unique Son; no one else is God’s Son in the same way that Jesus is. The angels are sometimes called sons of God in the Old Testament (eg. Job 1:6), but the Bible says: “to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”?” (Hebrews 1:5) ¹ As we see here, Jesus’ identity as God’s Son is not shared by any of the angels. As for Christians, we are only sons and daughters of God through adoption by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:15–16). Jesus, however, was never adopted as God’s Son; he is God’s natural Son and has been for all eternity (Colossians 1:13–17, note how in the context it says that “the Son” created all things and is before all things).

The Son of God: Has God’s Nature

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:1–3a)

It is a fact that in biblical usage, to be “the son of” something often means to possess the nature of something (eg. Mark 3:17; John 12:36; 17:12). The author of Hebrews clearly stated that the Father and the Son created the world together and are thus both eternal. What’s more, though, is that the Son not only shares God’s glory and upholds the universe, and is therefore all-powerful, but he is even said to be: “the exact imprint of his nature” (ESV). Some Bible versions translate this as: “the exact representation of his being” (NIV). This incredible claim means that everything that makes God who he is (his nature), is exactly what Jesus is. Jesus is God in every way. He is truly human and truly divine.

Conclusion

When the Bible calls Jesus the Son of God, it means several things. Firstly, it means that he is equal with God, and is therefore not a created being. Secondly, it means that he is of the closest relationship with the Father, and therefore, is a different Person from the Father but one with him in essence. Thirdly, it means that he is God’s unique Son and that no one else shares the relationship that he has with the Father. Lastly, it means that he shares God’s nature, meaning that everything that makes God divine is what Jesus is; hence, Jesus is God by nature. Whoever believes this has the following promise:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13)

Notes

1. In this context, “begotten” refers to Jesus being “anointed” or “commissioned” for his ministry on Earth, and it relates to his baptism. It has nothing to do with him being “created”, or becoming something that he once wasn’t, as some false teachers have claimed.

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