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?
- Jesus Christ is the son of God, not Caesar or any other king, politician, or military ruler.
- 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.