In what sense is Jesus the “son of God”?
Previously, I claimed that the phrase “son of God” does not inherently imply deity. This suggestion, however, does not deny his deity. It simply says that deity is not a meaning “built into” the term “son of God.”
In this post, I’ll review a collection of verses that all indicate that the title “son of God” refers to Jesus’ identity as Israel’s king. Other synonymous titles include “Christ” and “Messiah.”
In the next two posts, I’ll unpack why this distinction practically matters for ministry.
What does “son of God” mean?
First of all, let’s look at the text. The “son of God” terminology is rooted in the Old Testament. Here are a few of the most important texts.
2 Sam 7:12–14 (cf. 1 Chron 17:11–14)
“I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.”
Ps 2:2–7 (note the use of terms)
 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed [this is the word for “messiah,” מְשִׁיחֹֽ], . . .  Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying,  “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.
Ps 89:26–27 (cited in Heb 1:5)
“He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’  And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.”
What about the New Testament?
The text couldn’t be more direct. John writes, “Nathanael answered him, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’”
Luke 23:2 and others.
“Son of God” is quite often equated with the title “Christ.” Recall that “Christ” (or “Messiah” in Hebrew) simply is the title given to God’s anointed. Most typically, this refers Israel’s king. This is stated directly in Luke 23:2, “And they began to accuse him, saying, ‘We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king’” (cf. Mark 15:32).
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
John 6:69 (cf. 11:27; 20:31; Matt 26:63)
Martha “said to [Jesus], ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.’”
John 18:33–19:22 (Jesus’ trial with Pilate)This passage is especially insightful and significant. The entire passage intermingles a few key terms synonymously: Son of God, Christ, and King. The key issue at Jesus’ trial and thus the reason Jesus was crucified is that he claimed to be the “son of God” (19:7), “King of the Jews” (18:39).
Therefore, at the climax of the passage Pilate says to the Jews, “‘Behold your King!’ They cried out, ‘Away with him, away with him, crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’” (19:14–15).
This text is striking on this point. Paul says his gospel concerns God’s “Son, who was descended from David . . . declared to be Son of God . . . Jesus Christ our Lord.” Notice the lumping of ideas from throughout the passages above.
In summary, “Son of God” itself refers to Jesus’ kingship.
Because of his divine nature, someone might want to say that he is the eternal “Son of God” or the divine “Son of God.” Nevertheless, we should not forget the distinction between the term “son of God” itself and the qualities that describe Jesus as the unique Son of God. The fact that divinity can be attributed to Jesus does not for that reason change the meaning of the title “son of God.”
Who Needs a King When You Have God?
I know some people are willing to use this title to emphasize deity (even if it doesn’t strictly fit the its inherent meaning). They fear that stressing the kingship or messiahship will cause people to dismiss or minimize deity.
From one perspective, the concern is understandable; people will always find reasons to reject or minimize the truth.
On the other hand, fear must not control us when interpreting the Bible and developing our theology!
Furthermore, consider the opposite danger––– what if we emphasize deity so much that we lose the fundamental meaning of the phrase “son of God”? Isn’t that something to be very concerned about?
I’m certain some people don’t find this possibility all that alarming. However, there are two problems with this lack of concern. First, we simply have no right to minimize the meaning of God’s word, even if we fear others’ manipulation. Second, in many non-Western cultures, this reversal of meaning (from kingship to deity) is important for very practical reasons.
More on that in the next post . . . ..
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