What does it mean that Jesus is the Son of God? Part 1.
Can I confess something? For a long time, I was scared of the first chapter of Hebrews. I had heard over and over again that it was one of the most powerful texts on the full divinity of Jesus, but when I read it, it sort of seemed to be anything but that:
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. (Hebrews 1:1-4, NIV)
These verses speak of Jesus as the Son of God and the best revelation of who God is, and they speak of Jesus making and sustaining the universe. They speak of Jesus as “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being”. If you have seen Jesus, you have seen his Father. They are One. But the verses also speak of Jesus being “appointed heir of all things” and becoming superior to the angels. That doesn’t sound like he’s fully divine, equal with his Father, it sounds like he became God’s Son at some point in the past. I knew that was theologically incorrect, but I didn’t know how to explain it, so I was scared of these verses.
Then I noticed that Hebrews 1 isn’t the only place in the Bible that talks about this; Romans 1 also does:
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 1:1-4, NIV)
These verses talk about Jesus being appointed, or declared (ESV) “the Son of God in power by His resurrection from the dead”. This is when I really started to realize that I really didn’t understand what the Bible means when it says that Jesus is the Son of God. In fact, the more I read the Bible and paid attention to this, the more I realized that Jesus isn’t the only one who is called the Son of God. Among others, Adam is called the Son of God (Luke 3:38), Israel is called the Son of God (Exodus 4:22-23, Hosea 11:1), and the Kings in the line of David are called God’s Sons (2 Samuel 7:12-13, Psalm 2:7-9).
But what I eventually came to realize (with lots of help from wonderful pastors, scholars, and professors) is that when the New Testament calls Jesus the Son of God, it’s picking up and building on these other references to sons of God from the Old Testament. In Jesus, these previous sons of God find their fulfillment. They were sons of God in an incomplete sense, but Jesus is the Son of God in the fullest sense. In other words, “In the past, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son”. So that means that there are several layers to Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, and unless we understand all those layers, we don’t have the full picture.
The first layer of meaning to Jesus the Son of God is that Jesus is the representative of a new humanity.
Son of God – The New Humanity
When Luke calls Adam the son of God in Luke 3:38, it’s in the context of the genealogy of Jesus, traced through his adopted father, Joseph. A couple chapters earlier in Luke’s gospel, we are given one of the most important references to the Son of God in the Bible:
But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:30-35, NIV)
The angel Gabriel tells Mary that Jesus will be “the Son of the Most High”, and then when he explains the virgin conception, he says, “So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” In the virgin conception, God did something that he hadn’t done since Adam and Eve, he created new life. God created Adam out of the dust and Eve out of Adam’s rib. Ever since then, life came by procreation, not creation. But when Jesus was born, there was no procreation. God overshadowed Mary and created a human life. He used half the raw materials required for procreation, provided by Mary, but he miraculously supplied the other half in a work of creation. Jesus was like Adam, a human directly created by God. A Son of God. And so Jesus, like Adam, was created without sin. But where Adam failed, Jesus did not.
This theme can be taken a step further when we remember that Israel was also called God’s son. The were the people that God chose out of all the nations of the world to be his treasured and holy people (Deuteronomy 7:6). But just like Adam, Israel failed. They couldn’t be what God called them to be, because they were sinful. Jesus, however, as the holy Son of God, could do and be everything Israel failed to do and be. Matthew’s gospel is set up to show how Jesus filled up every area in which Israel fell short. He even quotes Hosea 11:1 (which is about Israel) in reference to Jesus, connecting Jesus the Son of God to Israel, the son of God (Matthew 2:15).
Because Jesus is the Son of God, the new humanity, the new Adam, the new Israel, the perfect holy person, he was fit to bring redemption to sinners. As the new Adam, he is a new representative for the human race. Romans 5:12-19 tell us that when Adam sinned, all humanity was condemned in him. But Jesus is a new Adam who did not sin, and so is the new representative for a new humanity. All those in Jesus are not condemned, but made righteous. As the new Israel, He was able to fulfill God’s law for us, both by completely obeying it, but also by acting as our High Priest and by giving Himself as the once and for all sacrifice that made purification for our sins (Hebrews 1:3, 9:11-14).
That’s the first layer of meaning to Jesus the Son of God. At the virgin conception, when Jesus took on humanity, He became the Son of God. But that’s only layer one, there are two more layers that are essential for us to understand. We’ll discuss the next layer in part 2.
Hope you enjoyed, and God bless my friends!