By Aaron Berry, Crosswalk.com
Without a doubt, the most well-known Bible verse is John 3:16, which begins with “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” For Christians, the term “Son of God” is a familiar and cherished title. But for those who are new to Christianity, the term might present some confusion. What does it mean when we say that Jesus is “the Son of God?”
What Does the 'Son of God' Mean?
When we hear the term, son, we typically think of biological offspring. However, when used in reference to Jesus Christ, the title takes on a multi-faceted meaning and carries great significance.
In the New Testament, Jesus’ sonship highlights his relationship to the Father, his messianic role, and divine nature.
As the Son of God, Jesus exemplified a perfect relationship with the Father. Born of a virgin with no earthly father, Jesus’ purpose while he was on the earth was to do the will of his heavenly Father (John 4:34).
His sonship was also connected to his role as the chosen Messiah, prophesied to bring salvation to men. The term Son is often used to designate a chosen vessel for an important task. Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel explain in “Son of God” in the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, that King David was called a “Son” (2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 2:7), acting as the “prophetic prototype of the ‘essential’ sonship of Jesus, David’s royal son.”
In John 1:49, Nathanael equates Jesus’ sonship with kingship when he says, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” As such, Jesus has the preeminence and authority over Creation, being the eternal Son of God.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the term “Son of God” speaks of Jesus’ deity. Jesus spoke clearly that he and the Father were equal in nature and essence (John 10:30; John 14:11). In Colossians, Jesus is described as God’s “beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13) and is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Hebrews describes him as the “radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). When Jesus’ disciples saw him calm the storm in Matthew 14, they worshipped him and called him the “Son of God.” Their worshipful response indicates that they viewed Jesus as the Son as God himself.
Jesus did not become the Son of God at the moment of his earthly birth. The Bible describes him as the preexistent Son of God whom the Father sent into the world (John 3:17; John 11:27). The title also does not mean that God the Father created God the Son, as is the teaching in Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormonism. John 1:3 states that Jesus was the creator of all things and “without him was not anything made that was made.” This phrase clearly designated Jesus as an uncreated being, since all created beings were made through Jesus.
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Where In the Bible Is Jesus Called the 'Son of God?'
The title is used 47 times throughout the New Testament, primarily in the four Gospels. In the Epistles, the authors frequently use the phrase to speak of Jesus’ deity and preeminence, inviting us to confess and place our hope in him (Romans 1:4; 2 Corinthians 1:19; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 4:13; Hebrews 4:14; Hebrews 6:6; Hebrews 7:3; Hebrews 10:29; Revelation 2:18)
The Epistle of 1 John has the most frequent mentions of “Son of God” outside the four Gospels, calling Jesus the “Son of God” seven different times (1 John 3:8; 1 John 4:15; 1 John 5:5, 1 John 5:10, 1 John 5:12, 1 John 5:13, 1 John 5:20) and emphasizing the importance of our belief in his person and work.
Does Jesus Call Himself God?
Because Jesus is the Son of God, he is God himself. It is quite common for people to consider Jesus as “just a good a person,” not as God himself who demands our worship. But Jesus himself did not leave any room for doubt regarding his own identity.He clearly attested to his own deity in the four Gospels. When Jesus stood before the council preceding his crucifixion, the elders asked him pointedly, “’Are you the Son of God, then?’ And he said to them, ‘You say that I am.’ Then they said, What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips” (John 22:70-71). To the chief priests and elders, Jesus calling himself the Son of God was no different than calling himself God.
Most clearly in the Gospel of John, Jesus made several direct statements regarding his deity (John 8:56-58; John 10:30-33; John 12:44-46; John 14:6-9). If Jesus were just a good teacher and not God-in-flesh, he would not have made such direct and stunning claims.
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Why Christians Refer to Jesus as God's Son
For many Christians today, discussions about Jesus as God’s Son are typically in connection with the Christian concept of the Trinity. The Bible describes God as existing eternally as three distinct persons in one inseparable essence: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:16-17; Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14; 1 Peter 1:2).
Therefore, when Christians talk about “the Son of God,” they are often doing so to highlight Jesus’ deity and identification within the Trinity.
Prayer of Gratitude to the Son of God
Thank you for sending your Son, Jesus Christ, to save me from my sins. In him, we see your nature. Through him, we can be reconciled to you. Thank you for drawing near to us through Jesus Christ. For reaching down into our world and revealing your glory in human flesh. Through him, help us draw near to you. Amen.
Aaron Berry is a co-author for the Pursuing the Pursuer Blog. You can read more articles from Aaron and his colleagues by subscribing to their blog or following them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Aaron currently resides in Allen Park, MI with his wife and two children, where he serves in his local church and recently completed an MDiv degree at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary.