Why is Jesus Called “the Son of God”
By: Rev. Sam Harris
|By: Staff Writer; ©2002|
|A question from our email prompted this look at the title “Son of God”. What did the term mean to the Jews of Jesus’ day? What does it mean for us today?|
Why is Jesus Called “the Son of God”?
I am wondering why Jesus is called the Son of God. It makes it seem like He is different than God, less than or under His Father, that He didn’t exist at one time or that He was born at some point. There are so many ways it can be misunderstood and used by people like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They use I John 5:5 where we are told that it is important to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, but of course they add their own peculiar meaning to that phrase. But what really is that name intended to imply?
That is a great question. Let me give you a couple of answers from people who’ve studied this very issue. First, Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible explains that,
Five titles of Jesus reflect something significant of His person and/or work. The name Jesus (which is identical with Joshua and means “God is Savior”) emphasizes His role as the Savior of His people (Matt. 1:21). Christ is the New Testament equivalent of Messiah, a Hebrew word meaning “anointed one” (cf. Acts 4:27; 10:38). This title emphasized that Jesus was divinely appointed to His mission, that He had an official relationship to God the Father—that is, He had a job to do and a role to discharge at the Father’s appointing.
Son of Man was the title used almost exclusively by Jesus Himself (cf. Matt. 9:6; 10:23; 11:19). Some feel He used it because it most clearly distinguished His Messiahship from the erroneous ideas of His time.
The name Son of God was also applied to Jesus in an official or messianic sense (cf. Matt. 4:3, 6; 16:16; Luke 22:70; John 1:49). It emphasized that He was a Person of the triune Godhead, supernaturally born as a human being.
Lord was alternately applied to Jesus as a simple title (somewhat like “Mr.”), a title of authority or ownership, or (sometimes) an indication of His equality with God (e.g., Mark 12:36–37; Luke 2:11; Matt. 7:22).
Today Christians believe that Jesus is both God and man—i.e., that He has two distinct natures united “inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably” in His one person (Chalcedonian Creed, A.D. 451).
Now, let me refer you to a question found at www.bible.org: Question: What would the term “Son of God” have meant to a 1st C., pious Jew?
The answer first lists all the references to “Son of God” in the New Testament. You can find these by using any good concordance. Then the author comments:
I think it is safe to say that in nearly every instance in the New Testament, beingthe “Son of God” meant our Lord was the Christ, the Messiah (see John 1:49; 11:27).
There are hints, however, that as the “Son of God,” Jesus was more than a mere man, a mere “son of David,” who would sit on the throne of His father, David. This is especially clear in the Gospel of John, beginning in chapter 5. It also seems to be clear at the trial of our Lord. When Jesus was asked by the priest if He was the “Son of God,” He admitted that He was, and was charged with blasphemy–claiming to be God (see Matthew 16:63, 65, 68).
In the Old Testament, the coming Messiah, the descendant of David, was to become God’s “son” (2 Samuel 7:12-14a; Psalm 2:7). To be God’s “son” was to be the ruler God had appointed, of the line of David. As Israel’s Messiah, Jesus was the “Son of God.” But Jesus further clarified the matter, demonstrating that He was indeed, God manifested in the flesh, something John is eager for His readers to grasp at the beginning of his Gospel (John 1:1-5, 9-14).
Thus, the first century Jew understood the term “the Son of God” to mean “the Messiah.” And with our Lord’s further claims (John 5, 8), they understood this term to mean that Jesus, as the “Son of God” was not only the Messiah but God incarnate.