Jesus the Son of God (Mark 1:1b)

Read the series so far.

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.

Notes

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).

2431 reads

There are 7 Comments

TylerR's picture

Editor

I always love reading the accounts in Acts of the early apostolic preaching. It's so different from much of what we hear these days:

  • It makes extensive use of the Old Testament prophetic passages. One well-meaning, but ill-trained (he now admits this, I'm not being rude!) Pastor once told me, "You can preach Christ from the OT, but's it's hard!" That's not what the folks in Acts thought.
  • There is a relentless focus on the resurrection as part of the Gospel. This is missing from many contemporary presentations of the Gospel. Pick up an average tract and consider if the resurrection is ever mentioned or emphasized . . .
  • There is strong emphasis on Jesus being "the Christ" or "the Messiah," emphasizing the continuity with the OT Scriptures. As I mentioned in the last article in this series, many Christians today tend to think of "Christ" as a last name only. Even if we know the distinction, we often use it as a last name in churchy conversations. I'm trying to change this in my own patterns of speech.
  • There is a strong focus on Jesus being God's Son. This kind of usage requires a strong OT foundation to even be understood. As I mentioned here, I really don't think most Christians even understand what this term even means. They probably instinctively think in terms of procreation, but quite rightly shy away from applying this to Jesus. Consequently, they don't know what to do with the title. Yet, Paul made it the sum of his preaching in Damascus!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

T Howard's picture

TylerR wrote:

  • There is strong emphasis on Jesus being "the Christ" or "the Messiah," emphasizing the continuity with the OT Scriptures. As I mentioned in the last article in this series, many Christians today tend to think of "Christ" as a last name only. Even if we know the distinction, we often use it as a last name in churchy conversations. I'm trying to change this in my own patterns of speech.

This is because the Jews were not expecting the type of Messiah that Jesus proved to be. Thus, the Apostles were seeking to convince their Jewish counterparts that Jesus truly was/is the Messiah spoken of in the OT. Their gentile audience had no frame of reference for a Christ let alone "the Christ." Notice, for example, that Paul doesn't use the term Messiah/Christ on Mars Hill in Acts 17:22-31. Even today, gentiles who hear the gospel for the first-time have no understanding of a messiah; however, many Jews (even those who have rejected their faith) still have a certain cultural framework of Messiah.

TylerR wrote:

  • There is a strong focus on Jesus being God's Son. This kind of usage requires a strong OT foundation to even be understood. As I mentioned here, I really don't think most Christians even understand what this term even means. They probably instinctively think in terms of procreation, but quite rightly shy away from applying this to Jesus. Consequently, they don't know what to do with the title. Yet, Paul made it the sum of his preaching in Damascus!

What I find interesting is that to the Romans, the reference to "Son of God" was a reference to Caesar Augustus (Imperātor Caesar Dīvī Fīlius Augustus). So, when Christians referred to Jesus as "the Son of God" there is an immediate understanding of a claim of divinity, both for the Jew and the Gentile. There is also the implication that Jesus is the true Son of God versus the claims of Caesar.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Your first point

This is because the Jews were not expecting the type of Messiah that Jesus proved to be. Thus, the Apostles were seeking to convince their Jewish counterparts that Jesus truly was/is the Messiah spoken of in the OT. Their gentile audience had no frame of reference for a Christ let alone "the Christ."

raises the interesting issue of how far we ought to accommodate ourselves to culture when we preach the Gospel. You obviously have to establish some groundwork before the Biblical categories even make any sense. But, you'll have to get to the Biblical categories pretty quickly. Paul, for example, still emphasized the resurrection - even to an audience that he knew would scoff at such an idea. I wonder how much further he would have gotten if he hadn't been interrupted. I'd like to think he would have started introducing OT categories pretty soon.

If we divorce our Gospel presentation too far from the Biblical context in order to help it "make sense" to a secular audience, then we eventually won't be preaching a Gospel at all. I think Paul was laying some basic groundwork so he could get to the Biblical categories, but was unfortunately interrupted before he could connect all the dots. The fact that he emphasized the resurrection makes me believe he wasn't afraid to bring in Biblical categories, no matter how "foolish" it appeared to the Greeks or how much a stumbling-block it was to the Jews. 

Your second point

What I find interesting is that to the Romans, the reference to "Son of God" was a reference to Caesar Augustus

is why I didn't include the centurions' confession (Mk 15:39) in my list. I think the centurion's confession was more about a generic, polytheistic acknowledgement of divinity. I don't think he meant "Son of God" in the Biblical sense.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

T Howard's picture

TylerR wrote:

I didn't include the centurions' confession (Mk 15:39) in my list. I think the centurion's confession was more about a generic, polytheistic acknowledgement of divinity. I don't think he meant "Son of God" in the Biblical sense.

What if Mark uses the centurion's confession as a bookend to his gospel? He begins his gospel by himself declaring Jesus to be the Son of God and he ends his gospel with an unbelieving Roman soldier (who is loyal to Rome) declaring that Jesus is the true Son of God. What a dramatic impact that would have on Mark's gentile readers.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Maybe. I haven't looked at it that closely!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

I was preaching through the Book of Acts before I left my last Pastorate. I'd got to Acts 13, so I'd covered a large amount of the early sermons from Acts. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was very convicted about the need to try and bring my own preaching more into line with the apostolic example. Christ is a title, not a name. Son of God is a title that needs to be understood. The resurrection is a key component of the Gospel and must be emphasized and stressed during evangelism and in evangelistic materials. I've been pondering a few things during the last few weeks:

  • I wonder if "Messiah" should be emphasized in NT translations, over the word "Christ." Both are accurate translations, but if you use "Messiah," you immediately emphasize continuity with the OT prophetic passages. Many Christians, by default, think of "Christ" as a name, and using "Messiah" in translation of sermon references makes that very hard to do. Sort of like dropping "church" in favor of "congregation." Can you imagine somebody saying, "I'm goin' to congregation tonight!" It forces you to understand and use the word more appropriately. So it is with "Christ," which is more a title than a name. I'd have to dig into the NT epistles in Greek and see how the term "Christ" is used.
  • Why is the resurrection rarely mentioned in evangelistic encounters? I once asked several people in my church, "Why did Jesus have to rise from the dead? Isn't it enough that He died? Isn't His death what everybody focuses on?" Few people could answer. Not because they were unintelligent, but because they'd never considered that question before. Obviously, the resurrection has profound implications for Christ's deity (especially the one good instance in Mark where Christ uses a direct middle verb to indicate He will raise Himself!) and the doctrine of the Trinity.  

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

T Howard's picture

TylerR wrote:
I wonder if "Messiah" should be emphasized in NT translations, over the word "Christ."

That's the approach the HCSB translation took:

Matt 22:41-45 wrote:
41 While the Pharisees were together, Jesus questioned them, z 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose Son is He?”

“David’s,” they told Him.

43 He asked them, “How is it then that David, inspired by the Spirit, calls Him ‘Lord’ :

44 The Lord declared to my Lord,

‘Sit at My right hand

until I put Your enemies under Your feet’?

45 “If David calls Him ‘Lord,’ how then can the Messiah be his Son?”46 No one was able to answer Him at all, and from that day no one dared to question Him anymore.

TylerR wrote:
I'd have to dig into the NT epistles in Greek and see how the term "Christ" is used.

Based on the study I did last week, the NT authors use "Christ" both as a title and a name, depending on the context.

TylerR wrote:
Why is the resurrection rarely mentioned in evangelistic encounters? 

I agree with you that speaking to Jesus' resurrection is vital in personal evangelism. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, we cannot be saved from our sin (1 Cor 15).

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.