Is Jesus the son of God?
The Bible says that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. There are many theories as to what this means and this topic has caused a great deal of disagreement among Christians. Jesus is referred to as God’s “only begotten Son,” God’s “firstborn Son,” God’s “first begotten,” and of course, simply as “the Son of God.”
Most Christians have interpreted these statements to mean that Jesus was simply designated as the son of God or labeled as the Son of God, because he had a special kind of relationship with God. Very few Christians have accepted that he was really the Son of God in any literal way. Most believe that God is a Trinity, and in the Trinitarian doctrine, Jesus is absolutely equal to God the Father in every way. They are the same age, equal in authority and absolutely equal in all their abilities and attributes.
Normally, we understand that a son is one who proceeds from the life of a parent. The parent’s life is passed on to the son thus making him another person. This is the key element which makes one person the son of another. It is the transfer of life where the son comes into existence by receiving the life of the parent. The son is is always equal to the parent in nature, and often in abilities and attributes. No true son can ever be equal to his father in age, this is why Trinitarians cannot believe that Jesus is literally the Son of God, because they insist that they are both the same age, with Jesus never having received life from God the Father.
The Trinitarian “Son”
Trinitarians have interpreted Jesus’ sonship in several different ways.
1. Some have said that he only became God’s son when he was conceived of the holy spirit in Mary’s womb.
2. Some have said that he became God’s son when he was resurrected from the dead.
3. Others have claimed that the title, “son of God,” was only a general term used to refer to prophets and other men specially chosen by God.
4. In the classical understanding of the Trinity, as taught by the Catholic Church and many protestant churches, Jesus is God’s son in a very mysterious way. He is God’s son by a process of eternal begetting. This means that he is continually being begotten by the Father. This is not something which God did and which resulted in a son being begotten, it is a process which never ends and which will continue as long as God exists. It has always been this way and it will always be this way. This strange, unexplainable belief has been labeled a “mystery,” just like all the other illogical ideas associated with the Trinity.
Truth and Error
As is the case with most subjects, when there are two different opinions, there is usually some truth and some error involved. When we examine the Bible carefully we find that there is some element of truth in the Trinitarian ideas about Jesus’ sonship, but there is also much error.
The Bible teaches that Jesus actually became the son of God in a very real way, on three different occasions. What is more, as we understand the nature of each occasion on which he was begotten, we see that each time he became the son of God it was critical for the salvation of humanity.
Begotten from the Dead
For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? (Heb 1:5)
I used to read this verse and think that it referred to the time when Jesus was begotten by God, way back in the days of eternity, but a more careful examination of the Scriptures made me revise my opinion. In this verse, Paul is quoting from Psalm 2:7
I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. (Ps 2:7)
The apostle Paul states clearly that this verse in the Psalms is referring to the resurrection of Christ from the grave. In Acts 13:32-33 he says,
And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. (Acts 13:32-33)
He teaches the same truth in Rom 1:4 where he says of Jesus,
And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:
So it is very clear that Jesus became the son of God when he was resurrected from the dead. It was at that time that God said, “thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee.” But the question is, in what way did he become the son of God at the resurrection if he were already the son of God before that time? We will look more closely at this question in a little while. But let us note that in the resurrection from the dead, this was the third time that Jesus became the Son of God. He became the Son of God because God gave him life when he took him from the grave. The origin of his resurrected life was God.
Born into humanity
And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:35)
There is not much room for controversy concerning this event. The angel says very clearly that the “holy thing,” which was to be born of her was to be called the son of God, why? Because he was conceived by the power of the holy spirit, he received life directly from God. All humans are born with a father and a mother, but Jesus had no human father and by the laws of biology he had no right to exist. However, God gave him life by directly bestowing life on him, contrary to the laws of nature and so, in this way God was his Father. His life, as a man, originated in God. So he became the son of God at His conception in Mary’s womb. This was the second time that Jesus was begotten of God.
Born into the universe
The first time that Jesus became the Son of God was when he was born into the universe. This is the begetting that Trinitarians will not accept, but let us examine the biblical evidence. We start with Paul’s statement in Col. 1:15-17:
Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. (Col 1:15-17)
The passage says that he is the firstborn of every creature, then it goes on to prove that statement. How does Paul prove it? He says, “for by him were all things created.” In other words, the proof that Jesus was firstborn in all the universe, is the fact that he created all things! He could not have created all things unless he existed before all things. How did he come to be before all things? He was before all things because he was firstborn of all that exists in all creation.
The meaning of the passage is very evident because at the end, Paul repeats the point he is making: “and he is before all things, and by him all things consist.”
Now those who deny that Jesus obtained life by being born from God will go to the verse which follows. It says,
And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. (Col 1:18)
In this verse we see clearly that Paul is speaking of Jesus being the head of the church and he declares that he, Christ, is the beginning of the Church, the head of the body by being firstborn from the dead. There is no question that he is speaking of Christ being begotten in the resurrection, but is this what he is speaking about in the two previous verses? Absolutely not and an honest reader will see the difference easily.
In the first two verses, the focus is on Jesus existing before all created things, because he created all things. In the third verse the focus changes and in fact, Paul begins the third verse (verse 18) with the word “and.” This shows that he is saying something else in addition to what he already said. In addition to Jesus being firstborn in the universe, he is also firstborn in the church, so he is doubly qualified to be Lord of all. This is the point.
This is not the only place where we find Paul making reference in the same passage, to two different times when Christ was begotten. He does it again in Hebrews chapter 1.
For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him. (Heb 1:5-6)
Can we see the two begettings? First he quotes from Psalm 2:7, which as we have seen, is speaking of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. At that time God said, “thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee.” But then he goes on to speak of Jesus’ original begetting because he says, “when he bringeth the firstbegotten into the world.” There he is speaking of a time long before Jesus died, he is speaking of when he was born in Bethlehem and he refers to Jesus at that time as “the firstbegotten.” This description as “firstbegotten” clearly refers to the original birth of Jesus back in eternity, not to when he became a man, because, as a man, he was not firstbegotten. Born as a man, he was the second Adam, and in this identity, Adam was the son of God before Jesus was.
In addition, the Bible tells us in several places (notably John 3:16) that God sent his only begotten Son into the world. Simple reasoning tells us that if God sent his son into the world, he must have had a Son to send. He did not send Jesus and then after he was sent he became the Son of God. No, at the time when he was sent he was already the Son of God. This is how we can measure God’s love, as we see the value of the gift which he gave.
A unique son only once
Let us note that when he was born from the dead, Jesus became God’s son by receiving life from God, but in this sense, he is not the only son of God. He is the firstborn of many brethren. There will be other sons of God who are born by the same experience of obtaining life from the dead.
Again, when he was born into humanity, Jesus was not the only son of God. He was the last Adam, a human who received life directly from God and not from another human. But in this sense, there are two sons of God and Jesus was not the first, he was the second.
However, in his original birth when Jesus came into the universe He was born from the very being of God. In this birth, Jesus is the only begotten son of God. There is nobody, and there never was any, and there never will be any like him in this respect.
Implications of each begetting
As I said earlier, each time that Jesus became the son of God it was an event vital to our salvation. If he had not become God’s true son on each occasion, salvation would not have been possible for the human race. It is not possible for us to explore this fact in depth in such a short article, but I will briefly mention why each begetting was so important.
His first begetting – only begotten: This begetting of Jesus, directly from God’s own life and substance is the guarantee that Jesus was exactly like God, one who possessed the same nature and character as the Father. This was critical to the future mission of Jesus to save humanity, because in order to carry out that task he had to be:
One who could perfectly represent God
One who was good in himself, so that when he took man’s place on the cross and was separated from God, he could still choose God’s way.
His second begetting – as the last Adam: He was God’s son, but not the only begotten in this sense. He was humanity created a second time, to get a second chance. It is because he, as a human being, defeated sin and the devil why we are able as humans, to obtain salvation in him. If he did not become the human son of God, the last Adam, he could not have fought the battle on our behalf.
His third begetting – as the new creation: He was humanity coming back from the dead into a new existence, reborn by the power of God as a brand new race with a different destiny. In this identity he is not unique, there will be others like him. When he became the son of God in the resurrection and was glorified and exalted to the pinnacle of glory, he opened the door for all who believe in him to experience the same privilege, but it is only possible because he first experienced it.
An eternal gift
There is a question which bothered my mind for many years. I heard many answers to this question, but none of them ever really satisfied me. The question was, “what was the sacrifice which God made when he gave his only begotten Son?” The answers were as follows:
He suffered and died on the cross and God suffered terribly when he saw his suffering. But it lasted for a few hours and then it was over.
He lost his intimate fellowship with his son for 33 years when Jesus became a man and was limited as a man, but of course he obtained him back again when Jesus was glorified in the resurrection.
The sacrifice was that Jesus became a member of the human race and will remain a part of this inferior race for all eternity.
It was while I was studying this subject and reading the passages relating to the sonship of Jesus that a thought was suggested to my mind. At first I did not want to accept it, because it seemed too outrageous to consider, something that would have been too much of a sacrifice even for God. But the more I thought about it and looked at the Bible, the more feasible it became.
The first thing I noticed was that each time Jesus became the Son of God, it was as a new identity. The first time it was in his origins, when he first came into existence. His identity was then, the only begotten son of God. The second time it was as a man, a member of the fallen race. His identity was then, the son of Mary, the second Adam. The third time was as the first of the new creation, the victorious, redeemed humanity, elevated to the pinnacle of glory and power by God.
When Jesus became a man, what happened to his original identity as the begotten Son of God? Here is what Paul says in Philippians chapter 2:
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: (Phil 2:5-9)
Jesus, the son of God, being in the form of God, became a man. He did not pretend to be a man, he did not simply assume a disguise, He became a man. This was his new identity, it was who he was. Yes, he was a man with a divine character, he was a good man, but he was still, fully a man, just as limited as all men are. When he became a man he left his old identity behind forever, it was not a loan, it was not a temporary change, God gave his son and he gave him forever, but there is more to it than that.
When Jesus became a man, it is clear that he came into this new identity as all men do. He was first a fetus in Mary’s womb, then he was born as a little child and grew up as all little children grow up. It is obvious that as a baby, he had no awareness of who he was, but as he grew older, he increased in wisdom and knowledge and somehow, he began to realize that he was a special person with a special mission. Eventually he came to realize that he was the pre-incarnate son of God. But the question is, how did he come to know this? Did he at some point regain his omniscience? Did he suddenly recall all that had transpired before he became a man? Was he suddenly restored to his former identity?
The Bible makes it clear that Jesus knew who he was by faith. It was not something he remembered, nor was he restored to that former state. He came to an awareness of who he was because it was gradually revealed to him during his life. Maybe it was through dreams and visions, it probably was partly due to his study of the word of God, but he came to this realization by faith, it was not by a restoration to his former self. This is why Satan tried to shake his confidence in who he was in the wilderness temptation. If he knew inherently who he was, Satan’s temptations would have been meaningless, but they were powerful, because he knew only by faith, and faith can be shaken.
I now realize that when Jesus became a man, the experience can best be likened to the concept of reincarnation. Reincarnation is a false doctrine taught by many eastern religions, yet, I believe it has a basis in truth. According to the doctrine, a person is born again into a different life, with a different identity with no awareness or recollection of the former life. The spirit in the person is the same spirit, but without any knowledge of that former life. As I said, this is a false doctrine, but I believe it is true in one instance. It happened only one time in the history of the universe.
I believe this is what happened to Jesus when God gave him to us, he gave up his identity forever and became a man. He gave up his awareness of his former life, he gave up his memories, the ages of association he had had with God, he gave it all up forever, in order to save the human race! He did become a man, it was not pretense, nor a temporary transition! The only thing which he took with him when he became a man was his spirit of infinite purity. This spirit dwelt in a human body, but without its memories, powers, awareness etc. In effect, Jesus was a human being with a divine character. It was in this new identity that he began to build a new relationship with God the Father. The old one was gone forever.
So effectively, God did lose his son, forever. If we want to understand what this really meant, just think of your wife or husband or your son, losing memory forever. He or she may begin to rebuild a different life with you, but the former memories are something which you alone will share. Effectively, you are starting all over again with a stranger. That person can only hear you speak of the past, but will never know it. This, I believe, is what happened when Christ chose to save us. In effect, he gave his life away forever, and started again as a human being. This is the pain and the loss that it cost God and His son to save us!
Could even God make such a sacrifice? And what of his Son, could he have agreed to such a thing? Yes, he would know that he would be born again, that he would develop another relationship with the Father just as close as before. He would be aware that he would still exist in a sense, but to lose the past forever, is inconceivable.
What a love! It is beyond comprehension that even God would consent to such a sacrifice, but when I understand this, then I can begin to see the incredible love of God in giving his son. Finally, for me, it makes sense.
Amazingly, Jesus had to die again as a man, and in a sense, this too was an eternal death – not in reality, but in a sense, because he again faced the same crisis on the cross when he thought that he would be dead forever. In effect, he made again the same sacrifice which he had made when he became a man. But this time, he was resurrected in the same identity, only, now he was given life again, as we will be given life, and was elevated to the pinnacle of power and glory and made Lord of the universe. But notice, it was not as the only begotten son of God that Jesus was made Lord of the universe. As the only begotten son of God, Lordship of the universe had been his by right, but he gave this up when he became a man and he gave it up forever. Now, it is as a victorious man, one who has defended the name of God, who has defeated the enemies of God, that he is exalted to the place where he is Ruler of the universe. At his name, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus is once again the Lord of all creation, but notice it is in a new identity and on a different basis.
(Source: Restoration Ministry)