The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’ ‘You have said it,’ Jesus told him” (Matthew 26:63–64). But what does it mean to call Jesus the “Son of God”?
Does it mean that God the Father created God the Son? This is the heresy of Arianism (modern Jehovah’s Witnesses). Arius taught that there was a time when the Word was not. Arius taught that Jesus is a creature like other creatures. Arianism can’t be the answer.
“sons of God” in the Old Testament
The phrase “sons of God” refers to different things in the Old Testament. It refers to the king. It refers to the people of God. So Moses wrote that the people are “sons of God” (Exodus 4:22).
There is an important distinction to be made. While the people are “sons of God,” Jesus is “The Son of God” (Jn. 3:18). These similar descriptions help us to see how Jesus is the head and representative of God’s people. The phrase “sons of God” also refers to the heavenly host.Angels are described as “sons of God” (Job; Genesis) per their relationship to God through Jesus. Jesus is the LORD of angel armies.
“The Son of God” in the Old Testament
There are hints of “The Son of God” in the Old Testament. Psalm 89:3-4, 26-29 and Psalm 2:7 (Acts 13:33) describe the coming Messiah King as “The Son of God.” These texts help us to be ready to understand and appreciate Jesus’ identity as he is revealed in the New Testament.
“The Son of God” in the New Testament
In the New Testament, Jesus described himself as “The Son of God.” Jesus described himself this way because he is The Son of God and because he wanted to be certain that we make the connection with the Old Testament expectation that was being fulfilled in Jesus.
- John 5:25, “Truly I tell you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”
- John 10:36, “do you say, ‘you are blaspheming’ to the one the Father set apart and sent into the world because I said: I am the Son of God?”
- John 11:4, “This sickness will not end in death but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Those who knew Jesus recognized he was the Son of God. To describe someone as “The Son of God” was no little matter. The priests condemned Jesus for blasphemy when he confessed to being the Son of God. The people around Jesus acknowledged that Jesus was the Son of God—the coming King Messiah.
- Mark 1:1, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
- John 3:18, “anyone who does not believe is already condemned because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
- John 20:31, “that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”
- John 1:34, “I have seen and testify that this is the Son of God.”
- John 1:49, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”
- Matthew 16:16; “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Not only did the people openly confess that Jesus was “The Son of God,” God the Father declared that Jesus was “The Son of God.” Matthew 3:17, “and behold a voice out of the heaven saying, ‘this is my Son, the one I love and in whom I am well pleased.” The demons also described Jesus as “The Son of God.” Mark 3:11, “the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God!”
What Does it Mean to Be “The Son of God?”
The Divine Quality of Jesus, the Son of God
The sonship of Jesus is about the quality of his eternal divine essence. “Son of” is a common phrase denoting quality or essence. There are similar titles in the Bible: “Son of man;” “Son of perdition;” “Man of lawlessness.” These “of” titles all describe the quality of someone or a group of people. For example, “son of man” simply describes someone who has a human nature. “Man of lawlessness” is a description for someone who is characterized by lawlessness.
When Jesus is described as “The Son of God,” this is a description of his divine nature. Jesus is described as “The Son of God” to declare his equality with God the Father. In Mark 14:61-62, this is why Jesus was accused of blasphemy (John 3:13; 8:38; 17:24). Jesus, “The Son of God,” is the image of the Father. This is what Hebrews 1:3 and Colossians 1:15 teach. Jesus is the full reflection of the Father. He is exactly like the Father, but he is not the Father. Jesus is eternally the Son (Psalm 89:19-29; Galatians 4:4-5; Roman 8:3-4; John 3:17; 1 John 4:9, 14). He did not become the Son when at the incarnation. He did not become the Son at his baptism. Jesus eternally related to the Father as the Son.
This helps us to see how the sonship of Jesus in his relationship with the Father. This is a close relationship between equals who enjoy slightly different roles in their cooperative work fulfilling the same purposes. The equality is demonstrated by Son being the image of the Father (Hebrews 1; Colossians 1). The intimacy of the relationship is seen in how Son knows the Father—John 1:18; 3:35-36; 5:19-26; 6:40; 8:35-36; 14:13; 17:10.
The difference in roles does not imply a difference in quality. The Father and Son are equals, but the Son has different roles than the Father. The Son is obedient to the Father—Luke 22:42. The Son is sent by the Father—John 17:1-5. The Son serves the Father—1 Corinthians 15:28.
The Kingly Quality of Jesus, the Son of God
The Sonship of Jesus is about his Kingship. In Mark 9:7 God said, “this is my beloved Son, hear ye him.” Jesus is presented as the authoritative divine Spokesman. However, it is also a reference to Psalm 2:6-9. The Psalm is a prophecy of God’s Messianic King. It says, “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. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” The New Testament preachers treat Psalm 2:6-9 as a prophecy about Jesus (Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; 5:5).
Psalm 89:26-27 is another passage which prophesied the Messianic King and described him as “The Son of God.” The Psalmist said, “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.” Verse 29 described Jesus again as the prophet recorded the words of the Father, “I will establish his offspring forever and his throne as the days of the heavens.” In verse 35 again God said, “I will not lie to David.” Luke 1:32-35 built on this Psalm to describe Jesus at his birth. The angel said, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.
Therefore, we see that descriptions of Jesus as the “Christ” or “Messiah” are references to his kingship which is a part of his being “The Son of God.” Passages like Matthew 26:63-64, Matt. 16:16, Luke 1:32, and John 1:49 show that Jesus is the Son of God—the Messianic King. Jesus is the Son of God, the King, who the Jews were awaiting. Since he is the King, the church is his kingdom. The same relationship is described in the terms sons of God and Son of God as we see in the King (Christ) and kingdom (church).
The Sacrifice of the Divine Son was necessary for Our Salvation
It is impossible for mankind to earn salvation (Ephesians 2). It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin (Hebrews 10). Only the sacrifice of The Son of God is magnificent enough to cover the horrible sins of mankind. John 3:16-17; 10:11; 11:51-52; 1 John 4:10. To atone for sin, it was necessary for God to die in our place because only the sacrifice of God himself would be magnificent enough to atone for the vile sins of the world.
When we look at the cross, we see The Son of God, who took on human nature to become the Son of Man. We see the King. We see the sacrifice of God. When we look at the cross remember who is hanging there. Remember who took your place. It was the eternal Word—the Son of God.