“I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” So said the Ethiopian treasurer (Acts 8:37). So say I. And so say most/all of you who regularly read this paper. Perhaps, then, it seems strange to devote this month’s front page article to the content of that confession. But the words of Peter and Paul come to mind. Peter wrote two epistles, he said, to “stir up…pure minds by way of reminder” (2 Peter 3:1). Paul affirmed, “For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe” (Philippians 3:1). Revisiting old ground is in the apostolic tradition. It’s safe and sound.
Revisiting old ground also reminds us of what is important. And what could be more important than Jesus’ true identity? On that, our faith and future depends.
Some have asserted over the years that Jesus never claimed to be the Son of God, that it was others who claimed this for him. But Jesus tells us differently. On one occasion, while in the region of Caesarea Philippi, after being informed what the crowds were saying about him, he asked his disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus’ response? “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:15-16). A ringing endorsement. On another occasion, when Jesus was speaking to a Jewish gathering in Jerusalem, he referred to God as “My Father.” At this, the unbelieving hearers prepared to stone him for what they supposed to be his sin of blasphemy (speaking words that denigrate or defame God). Jesus responded to them by asking, “[D]o you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?” (John 10:36). He had said it; they just didn’t believe it. Yet again, the night before his crucifixion, Jesus stood before the high priest and was asked directly, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” His answer was unequivocal: “I am” (Mark 14:61-62).
So Jesus did say that he was the Son of God. But what did he mean by it? To understand that, we must understand the beliefs of the first-century Jews, beliefs based on their reading of the Old Testament. There, they found this prophecy: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel [literally God with us]” (Isaiah 7:14). They also found this one: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). These prophecies shaped what the Jews understood “Son of God” to mean. For centuries they had believed a “Son” would one day appear, a man who had been miraculously born of a virgin (hence, the son of a woman, but not of a man—God would be his father), and who would also be God in human form (“God with us,” “Mighty God”)! Any Jew who claimed to be “the Son of God” would have been claiming to be the fulfillment of these prophecies.
This is, indeed, what Jesus was claiming, and the Jews did not miss his meaning. As they were preparing to stone him in the aforementioned instance for his supposed blasphemy, they said to him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because you, being a man, make Yourself God” (John 10:33). And when Jesus earlier called God “My Father,” we read: “Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18). One must be a human to be equal with a human, and one must be God to be equal with God. Jesus was, in terms clear to his hearers, claiming to be Divine (“God” in the sense that he is part of “the Trinity”—three in one). Amazing, but true. And this claim was emphasized by other actions of his.
Jesus said and did several things during his ministry that make sense only in the context of him being God. For example, he referred to himself as “I AM,” a designation of eternal, self-sufficient existence that God used of himself when speaking to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14; John 8:58). Jesus also allowed people to worship him. Eight times, the gospel accounts record him accepting worship (Matthew 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 28:17; Mark 5:6; Luke 24:52; John 9:38). This is very significant, since both he and those worshipping him believed that worship is only for God; the Scripture taught and he himself had said, “You shall worship the LORD your God and Him only you shall serve” (Matthew 4:10). Furthermore, Jesus forgave people of their sins—sins they had committed against God. Only the offended can forgive the offender. Those who overheard him doing this understood the significance of his actions; they said to one another: “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7). Finally, Jesus said that he pre-dated the world, a claim that only God (who made the world) can make: “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5).
Jesus’ words and works cried out who he was—the prophesied “Son of God,” “God…manifested in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3:16). This is what we believe. This is what we confess. This is what we must not forget.