What Is Significant about the Proclamation that Christ Is the Son of God?

In my last post, we saw that the Christ is not simply Jesus. Nor is the Christ the son of David. Rather, the Christ is the son of God.

What is significant about the early church’s proclamation that Christ is the son of God?

  1. Jesus Christ is the son of God, not Caesar or any other king, politician, or military ruler.
  2. Jesus is the image of God.

Early Christians were making a politically charged and radically revolutionary statement when they declared Jesus Christ the son of God. Why? Because they were living in the Roman Empire. Julius Caesar, the first emperor of Rome, was declared to be a god, which was why statues and temples were to be built in his honor. When Julius Caesar died, his adopted (interesting) son, Octavian, better known as Augustus, became Caesar and known as the son of God. So, to declare that Jesus Christ was the Son of God was to declare that Caesar Augustus, and every Caesar after him, was not the son of God. Instead of pledging allegiance to Caesar, early Christians were pledging allegiance to Christ and the Father.

But, it wasn’t just the Caesars who were declared the son of God. In almost every culture, kings and rulers were thought to be divine and, in some form or fashion, declared to be the son of God. So, the declaration that Christ is the son of God is a statement of allegiance in every culture and every nation at any time because all rulers – kings, presidents, prime ministers, etc. –  believe themselves to be closer to the divine, if not divinity itself, than the people they rule. This is why Jesus Christ said in Matthew 20.25 (and Mark 10.42), “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles, lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.”

As the son of God, a king or military ruler had all power. He needed to be militarily victorious and conquer his enemies with strength and power. These kings did not yield, submit, or surrender. Often, when they died, it was assumed they ascended to heaven and lived forever. And, it wasn’t just the Gentiles that had this kind of king. According to 1 Samuel 8.4-5, “Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, ‘Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.'” Israel wanted a militarily powerful king that would defeat their enemies with strength and power too.

God’s response to Israel’s desire for a king, a son of God, like every other nation was, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” (1 Samuel 8.7) So, Israel got Saul, David, Solomon, and all of their other kings to lord it over them as sons of God like every other nation. Eventually, the Messiah, Israel’s true king, was to come as the son of David. But, remember from my last post that Jesus never affirmed he was the son of David while he did affirm that he was the son of God.

Why is this important?

Jesus Christ did not use power and military force to conquer his enemies. Instead the greatest military force the world had known at that time was used against him to crucify him. Crucifixion was the most shameful death possible and meant to be a political deterrent to those who even had a mere thought of not giving their full allegiance to Caesar, the son of God. Instead of using power and military force to conquer his enemies, Jesus Christ died. Therefore, Paul wrote in Colossians 2.14-15, “…the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”

Not only did Jesus Christ, the son of God, not use power and military force to conquer his enemies, he suffered, which is to say he yielded, submitted, and surrendered to others. This was how Jesus Christ was delivered over to the authorities of the Jews and Gentiles. in Matthew 20.26-28, Jesus Christ also came to serve, saying, “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Caesar, the son of God, or any other king, president, or ruler would never say this. They would never make themselves a slave or servant. Instead, they made other people slaves and servants to them.

All of this feeds into understanding Paul’s opening to his letter to the church in Rome. Paul writing to Christians at the heart of Caesar worship says that Christ, who was crucified is the true son of God, not Caesar. And, even though the one Paul worships and serves Jesus Christ as the true son of God died, Paul is not ashamed of this gospel, this good news.

“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ…For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” (Romans 1.1-6, 16)

Everything that Paul writes here subverts the allegiance and worship due to Caesar as the son of God and transfers it to Christ, the true son of God. Imagine writing this to people in Washington D.C., Moscow, Beijing, Riyadh or the capital city of any other kingdom and then declaring your desire to come to that city to preach the message that the ruler of that nation is really not the one in power, but Jesus Christ is the true president, king, emperor, premier, or prime minister.

Stating that Jesus Christ is the son of God is also significant because as the son of God Jesus Christ is the image of God.

I work in a family business. So, I worked in the office with my dad for a quite a long time. We were in lots of meetings together. During one meeting, I noticed that my dad and I were sitting in the same position in our chairs. Then, at the exact same time, we shifted to the exact same position. This happened several times without either one of us consciously deciding to do it. My dad didn’t tell me to do this. I just did it. We were in sync with another because I was his son. I was the image of my dad.

Jesus Christ is the image of God because he does everything exactly as he has observed his Father doing it. He doesn’t consciously try to do it. But, he has been in his Father’s presence so much and watched him for so long that he can’t help but do exactly what his Father is doing exactly when his Father is doing it.

Colossians 1.15, 19 says, “He is the image of the invisible God…For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”

Hebrews 1.3 says, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.”

To declare that Jesus Christ is the son of God is to say that God is exactly like Jesus Christ. We can’t see God, but we can see Jesus Christ. The disciples saw and lived with him for three years in the flesh. Today, we see Jesus Christ in the spirit when we see love in action – feeding the poor, clothing the naked, healing the sick, visiting those in prison, causing the blind to see, and making the lame walk.

But, there’s another aspect to Jesus Christ as the image of God that ties back my first point. In ancient cultures, kings routinely set up images of themselves in far away and foreign lands. While the king could not be physically present everywhere, he could put up an image to represent his authority and rule in that place.

God is invisible. But, Jesus Christ was the physical image of this invisible God. Jesus Christ was what could be looked to to see the authority of God in the earth. And, as we will see in a future post, we are to be images of God to so that his authority is established in us as well as expanded to every place as more men and women become images of God, sons and daughters of God, by pledging their allegiance to Christ and the Father and not the kings and rulers of the world.

When Was the Son of God Begotten?

In my previous post, I asked the question “Who is the Christ?” Of course, Jesus is the Christ, but there is far more to the answer to this question than Jesus. Repeatedly, the New Testament declares the Christ to be a mystery. And, the gospels proclaim the Christ to be the son of God.

Sons (and daughters) are born. So, a natural question would be, “If Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, when was he born?” Or, in more biblical terms, “When was Jesus Christ, the son of God, begotten?” Was Jesus the begotten son of God at his physical birth when he was conceived by the Spirit in Mary’s womb? Was Jesus the begotten son of God at his baptism when the Spirit came down from heaven and rested on him like a dove? Some even argue if Jesus begotten or was he created.

To begin to answer these questions, we need to understand the word begotten. For most of us, I think the word begotten immediately brings to mind someone being born. So, we read John 3.16 in the King James Version, which says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son…”, and assume that it means Jesus was born of God as we were born of our parents. I don’t care to debate whether or not that is true on some level, because I don’t think that strikes at the heart of the idea being expressed about the son of God.

In the Greek, the phrase “only begotten” is the word monogenes. Depending on your Greek dictionary, monogenes can mean only, one and only, unique, only begotten, alone, kind, or the only member of a kin. Many of these definitions move us away from the idea of Jesus being born, or begotten, the son of God toward the idea of Jesus being the one, the unique, the only son of God.

How was Jesus the one, unique, only son of God, the Christ?

A look at the uses of monogenes in the New Testament will help us answer this question.

Monogenes is used just nine times in the New Testament – three times in Luke, four times in John, one time in Hebrews, and one time in 1 John. But, not all of these are in reference to Jesus.

Luke’s three uses of monogenes are not about Jesus, but they each share a similar context that does relate to Jesus. Luke 7.12, 8.42, and 9.38 all mention a son or daughter as the only child of their father or mother. The common thread of these stories about the only child is that the first two were raised from the dead and the third was delivered from an unclean spirit.

What does Luke’s use of monogenes teach us about when Jesus Christ, the son of God, was begotten?

In a sense, all three stories are about resurrection. Therefore, we can understand that Jesus was the son of God when he was begotten at his resurrection. The resurrection was a process of going from suffering to death to life. In other words, the resurrection was a transformation. Jesus was transformed into the Christ, at least from our perspective. Transformation is a key concept about the Christ, the son of God, that I will address in a future post.

Just like Luke’s three uses of monogenes, the one time the word is found in Hebrews does not refer to Jesus. Hebrews 11.17 says that when Abraham was tested he was in the process of offering up his “only” son. Of course, Isaac was not Abraham’s only son as Abraham had an older son, Ishmael.

What does this teach us about Jesus Christ as the only begotten son of God?

That Jesus was the only begotten son of God doesn’t mean that God does not have other sons and daughters, for example you and me. In Acts 17.25-28, when Paul was witnessing to the Greeks at the Areopagus, Paul quotes Greek poets to declare that all people are children, sons and daughters, of God. However, it does mean that there is a special sense in which Jesus Christ is the son of God and we are not.

(Yet.)

It is this special sense of Jesus Christ being the son of God that comes through in the gospel of John and 1 John. We need to remember why John wrote. John 20.31 says, “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name.” While we all may be children of God, Jesus is the Christ. In this sense, he is unique. Even in John’s statement for his purpose in writing the gospel we can understand what made Jesus Christ unique – life.

John 1.14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only [monogenes] Son from the Fahter, full of grace and truth.”

And, John 1.18 says, “No one has ever seen God; the only [monogenes] God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”

Jesus Christ, and perhaps more accurately just the Christ, was unique because he had the glory of the Father and has always been at the Father’s side throughout eternity. This means that Christ shared the Father’s life. As John 1.4 says, “In him was life.” This life, this Word, became flesh and dwelt among us.

Another way of thinking of this is that the Christ became Jesus. Of course, this is from God’s perspective. From our perspective, Jesus became the Christ. Again, we have the idea of transformation. This idea comes through in the very word monogenes. Genes is from the Greek word ginomai, which means to be, to become, to come into being. Jesus is the Christ in the sense that he is the only (mono) one who has come into being, or into the life of God, who is being and life itself.

John 3.16, 18 and 1 John 4.9 all speak of the “only” (monogenes) son of God as being given or sent. Jesus, the man, was born in a particular time and place. He was not sent or given by the Father. But, the Christ, the son of God,, was given or sent by the Father. And, the Christ, the son of God, dwelt among us in the person of Jesus.

While I believe the Christ was always in Jesus, we did not recognize this until the Christ had suffered, died, and was resurrected. In other words, we do not recognize the Christ as begotten in Jesus until his process of transformation is revealed in us by the Father.

So, when was the son of God begotten?

At the resurrection when we understood Jesus to have become the Christ, the son of God, which is why we see such a distinction in the use of “Jesus” and “Christ” in the New Testament in the gospels (pre-resurrection and focused on Jesus) and the letters (post-resurrection and focused on Christ) that I wrote about in a previous post. Again, this stresses the idea of transformation through resurrection, which is an idea that, for the most part, seems to have been lost to Christianity.

Next, we will look at what it means that the Christ is the son of God or what it means that Jesus became the Christ, the son of God.

Who Is the Christ?

Who is the Christ?

The obvious answer is Jesus.

But, as I wrote in my two previous posts, the New Testament seems to clearly provide a distinction between Jesus and the Christ based on its language. Further, while the gospels seem to be about Jesus because “Jesus” is the overwhelming focus of the stories, their structure actually reveals the writers were really focusing on “Christ.”

So, is the obvious answer that the Christ is Jesus the best and  most complete answer to the question “Who is the Christ?”

Galatians 3.28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus was a Jew and not a Greek. But, in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek.

Jesus was a slave and not free. But, in Christ, there is neither slave nor free.

Jesus was male and female. But, in Christ, there is neither male or female.

So, when we answer the question “Who is the Christ?” with Jesus, we have unnecessarily and artificially limited the Christ to a Jewish male slave. But, the Christ is not just a Jewish male slave. The Christ includes all people. So, our vision of the Christ tends to be too small.

So, who is the Christ?

Romans 16.25 says, “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages.”

According to Ephesians 1.9, God is “making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ.”

Ephesians 3.4 says, “When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ.”

In Ephesians 5.32, Paul says “this mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”

Colossians 2.1-2 tells us that Paul struggled for his newly created communities so “that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ.”

In Colossians 4.3, Paul asks the churches he planted to pray for him and his co-workers “that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ.”

Jesus was a Jewish man that lived like a slave under King Herod and the Roman Empire. Jesus’ life is attested to by many ancient writers. It’s actually quite shocking how much is written about Jesus outside of the New Testament given who Jesus was. Therefore, Jesus is fairly well known.

But, the Christ?

As the scriptures above declared, the Christ is a mystery. But, there is something we can definitively say about who the Christ is.

So, who is the Christ?

In Matthew 22.34-46 (Mark records a similar account in Mark 12.28-37), Jesus is engaged in discussion with the Pharisees. Jesus had just silenced the Sadducees, but one of the Pharisees, a lawyer, asks Jesus which is the greatest commandment. Jesus responds that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And, he says there is a second commandment – to love your neighbor as yourself – that is like the first. All of the law and prophets depend on these two commandments.

Having given this answer, Jesus asks the Pharisees a question. “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” Jesus didn’t ask them “Who am I?” or “Who do people say that I am?” His question has clued them the Pharisees in to the fact that he is the Christ. And, Jesus has clued the Pharisees in to the fact that he is a son. The question is whose son?

The Pharisees respond that Jesus is “the son of David.” There are several instances in Matthew, the gospel of Jesus as king, where Jesus is referred to as the son of David. But, take note of Jesus’ response to the Pharisees answer that he is the son of David. “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet?”‘ If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”

Jesus did not affirm the Pharisees’ answer that he was the son of David. Rather, Jesus calls that answer in to question. For, if Jesus was the son of David, why would David call Jesus Lord? Since David called Jesus Lord, Jesus indicated he must be someone else’s son. So, he asked the Pharisees how he was David’s son. And, the Pharisees had no answer.

Why did Jesus not affirm that he was the son of David even though the Jews called him that in Matthew, Mark, and Luke?

I believe because David was a man of war. Speaking of David, 1 Samuel 16.18 says, “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the Lord is with him.” As a man of war, David was deemed to be like the Lord because Exodus 15.3 says, “The Lord is a man of war, the Lord is his name.”

However, because David was a man of war, David was not allowed to build a temple for God. In 1 Chronicles 22.8, David says to Solomon, “But the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘You have shed much blood and have waged great wars. You shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood before me on the earth.”

We should pay careful attention to the fact that Matthew records the Pharisees’ declaration that Jesus is the son of David, and therefore a man of war, immediately after Jesus says the two greatest commandments are love for God and neighbor and that indeed all the law and prophets depend upon love. Therefore, by not affirming the Pharisees’ answer that he is the son of David, Jesus is rejecting the notion that he is a man of war because he is rejecting that he is the son of David, meaning that he is like David and will act like David. The Jews expected the Christ to be a king like David. But, Jesus is telling the Pharisees that the Christ does not wage war and does not shed blood. For, if the Christ did those things, then he would not be able to build a house for God.

Interestingly, Jesus is not called the son of David in the gospel of John, and it will become clear why in a moment and in future posts. Further, the phrase “son of David” is never used in the New Testament outside of the first three gospels. Jesus, in physical lineage, may have been the son of David, but in reality, in truth, as the Christ he was not David’s son.

If Jesus is not the son of David, then whose son is the mysterious Christ?

In Matthew 16.16 , Simon Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Mark 1.1 says, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

When Jesus laid his hands on people and healed them, Luke 4.41 says the “demons also came out of many, crying, ‘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.”

In John 11.27, Martha said, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

John tells in John 20.31 that he wrote his book “so that you may believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” John’s entire gospel was written to reveal that Jesus was the son of God, which is why the phrase “son of David” is never used by John.

Jesus is the mysterious Christ, the son of God. The Christ, the son of God, is far bigger, far grander, far more marvelous than a Jewish male slave.

When was the son of God begotten?

What does it mean that the Christ is the son of God?

What was the significance of the early Christian proclamation that Christ was the son of God?

These questions will be explored in upcoming posts.