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Jesus is the Messiah. He is also the Son of God.
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:1).
It’s another title. It describes something about who He is. In nerdy grammatical terms, it’s an appellation. Why is this title in the inspired Scripture? Well, on one level, it’s there because John Mark decided to put it there. On another level, however, it’s there because God wanted it to be there and the Holy Spirit moved Mark to include it. So, it’s probably a good idea to figure out what on earth it means, and to ponder what this title tells us about the Trinity.
The Son of God—Kind of a Big Deal
Even a quick look through the New Testament tells you the title “Son of God” is, to borrow a phrase from a certain infamous news anchor, “kind of a big deal.”
John the Baptist thought this title was a vital part of Jesus’ identity:
And John bare record, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, ‘Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.’ And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God,” (KJV, John 1:32-34).1
The demons (i.e. fallen angels) whom Jesus cast out also knew Him by this title:
And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God,” (NET, Mark 3:11).
More than that, they confessed “the Christ” was the Son of God:
Demons also came out of many, crying out, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he rebuked them, and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ. (Luke 4:41).
The angel Gabriel used the title when he announced Messiah’s birth to Mary:
The angel replied, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God,’(Luke 1:35).
Satan knew Jesus (His creator) by this title:
The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread,’ (Luke 4:3).
Jesus’ very first disciples understood and expected that “the Messiah” would be the future ultimate King, and also expected Him to be the Son of God:
Nathanael answered him, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel!’ (John 1:49).
The apostate Jewish authorities also expected the future Christ to be the Son of God:
But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest questioned him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus, “and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven,” (Mark 14:61-62).
Martha had this same expectation:
She replied, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God who comes into the world,’ (John 11:27).
The writer of Hebrews gave Jesus this title:
Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession (Hebrews 4:14).
The Apostle John bluntly stated that you must understand Jesus is the Son of God in order to even have salvation:
If anyone confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God resides in him and he in God (1 John 4:15).
Now who is the person who has conquered the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:5).
Consider the Apostle Paul. He is converted on his way to the Damascus synagogues, where he intends to root out the Jewish believers in Jesus and drag them off in chains to Jerusalem. He feels he is doing God a favor. He reckons his zeal to stamp out this “heresy” is good and appropriate in God’s sight. He dutifully asks for “letters of transit” from the high priest to authorize his mission. Ever the legalist, he is unwilling to commit murder without the proper forms being filled out in triplicate; like a serial killer with a body in the trunk who takes genuine civic pride in obeying traffic laws on his way to dump the corpse.
Paul is knocked off his horse and blinded. Jesus speaks to him as light from heaven shone round about. Paul is told, “stand up and enter the city and you will be told what you must do,” (Acts 9:6). Blinded and mute, his frightened companions lead him by the hand into Damascus, where he remains for three days and nights.
A Christian man named Ananias is sent to restore Paul’s sight. He obeys, and Paul is immediately baptized. He remains with the Christians in Damascus for several days, but look at what he does during that time. “[I]mmediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues” (Acts 9:20). What was the sum and substance of his message? How did he preach Jesus? How did Luke summarize Paul’s sermons? Behold the inspired synopsis:
and after taking some food, his strength returned. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “This man is the Son of God,” (Acts 9:19-20).
Jesus is the “Son of God.” Paul was a very educated Pharisee, and he used this title with a Jewish audience deliberately, expecting they’d understand what he was talking about. He made it the central point of his preaching message to his fellow Jews as He proclaimed Jesus as “the Christ” (cf. Acts 9:22) and the Son of God in the synagogues.
If an eager teenager walked up to you in church this Sunday, pointed to Acts 9:20 and asked, “What does it mean that Jesus is God’s Son?” would you be able to answer? Paul expected his audience to understand what the phrase “Son of God” meant. The Jews understood it. Jewish authorities, at the highest levels, understood it. The writer of Hebrews understood it. Jesus used it when referring to Himself. God used the title to refer to Jesus. John the Baptist understood it. Jesus’ disciples understood it. Martha understood it. Demons understand it. Goodness, even Satan understands it! Do we understand it?
Most Christians today have absolutely no idea what the title “Son of God” means. We’ve been taught that Jesus is co-eternal and co-equal with Father and Spirit, so we’re usually confident that it doesn’t mean that God gave birth to Jesus at a point in time (i.e. in Bethlehem—as the UPCI heretically teaches).2 And yet, we’re not very confident about what it does mean. We’re so used to seeing, hearing and reading the title that we rarely stop to consider - how is Jesus the “Son of God?” What does it mean?
We continue next week.
1 Many textual critics are convinced the phrase ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ (“the Son of God”) is not original, and prefer the variant ὁ ἐκλεκτὸς τοῦ θεοῦ (“the Chosen of God”). I won’t delve into that issue here; suffice it to say that the UBS-5, Byzantine and Textus Receptus each retain the phrase for “Son.”
See Philip W. Comfort, New Testament Text and Translation Commentary (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2008), 259 for an argument against the phrase “Son.” For what it’s worth, Bruce Metzger and the UBS-4 committee gave the reading “Son” a “B” grade for probability (A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. [Stuttgart, Germany: UBS, 1994], 172). The various English translations reflect this difference of opinion.
2 The General Superintendent of the United Pentecostal Church International, David Bernard, is the chief theologian of the movement. He defines the term “Son of God” from Luke 1:35, and wrote, “The word ‘therefore’ announces the reason Jesus is called the Son of God. It is not because He is the incarnation of an eternal second divine person whose name is Son. It is because God caused the conception of the baby Jesus. Jesus is the Son of God for the same reason that any other man is the son of his father— because of the fact of begetting, although in the case of Jesus the begetting was an invisible, supernatural work of God’s Spirit,” (David K. Bernard, The Oneness View of Jesus Christ [Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame Press, 1994; Kindle ed.], KL 639-642).
Tyler Robbins is a graduate of Maranatha Baptist Seminary, a DMin student at Central Seminary (Plymouth, MN) and a pastor at Sleater Kinney Road Baptist Church, in Olympia WA. He’s also an Investigations Program Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist and is the author of What’s It Mean to be a Baptist?