Just as the most significant use of the term father has to do with God, likewise the word son gets its highest meaning when used to describe Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The greatest affirmation of Jesus to human listeners came on the occasions of his baptism and his transfiguration. During the former, God said, “This is my Son, whom I love-my So n with whom I am pleased” (Matt 3:17). Later, when Jesus was glorified before three of his disciples, the Father again said, “This is my Son, whom I love and with
whom I am pleased. Listen to him!” (Matt 17:5). Jesus’ final words from the cross tell us how deeply and fully he understood his role as God the Father’s Son: “Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.’ After he said this, he died” (Luke 23:46). From the birth of Cain and Abel to the arrival of Jesus in Bethlehem, God prepared the world to understand his plan for solving the curse of sin by allowing the human race to develop a special interest in the idea of sons.
CUSTOMS CONCERNING SONS
In Bible cultures, a son carried on the name (and, in a sense, the life) of his father, and the first son received the primary inheritance in his family. The killing of the firstborn sons of Egypt as the final punishment by God on that nation struck at the heart of that culture (Exod 11). One of the ways God described the importance of Israel was by calling the people his son: “Then tell Pharaoh, ‘This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son. I told you to let my son go so that he may worship me. But you refused to let him go. So now I’m going to kill your firstborn son’ ” (Ex 4:22-23). Later, Hosea will repeat this fact; then Matthew will refer to it in describing the significance of Jesus’ escape to Egypt from the murderous intentions of Herod: “He stayed there until Herod died. What the Lord had spoken through the prophet came true: ‘I have called my son out of Egypt'” (Matt 2:15; quoted from Hosea 11:1). ‘
THE SON OF GOD
The New Testament includes numerous references to Jesus using the term Son. These uses are considered foundational to our understanding of God as Trinity. But notice that sonship and even the phrase only begotten used in John 3:16 (often shortened to only) are not meant to imply that Jesus was created in Mary or was some temporary form/emanation that God adopted in order to visit earth. Jesus’ place in the Trinity as God is eternal past, and he was present and active in creation. IN the context of the Trinity, Son and Father serve primarily as relational descriptors and point to the intimacy that always has existed within God.
BECOMING GOD’S CHILD
Parallel to the Old Testament understanding of Israel as God’s son, the New Testament teaches that those who follow Jesus and are transformed by him become “sons of God,” a phrase intended to mean “children of God,” since it includes both males and females: “However, he gave the right to become God’s children to everyone who believed in him. These people didn’t become God’s children in a physical way-from a human impulse or from a husband’s desire to have a child. They were born from God” (John 1:12-13). Because we are God’s children, he provides for us as surely as an earthly father provides for his children-in our case, an eternal inheritance: “If we are his children, we are also God’s heirs. If we share in Christ’s suffering in order to share his glory, we are heirs together with him” (Rom 8:17). The glory of gospel is that through the sacrifice of the Son of God, we can be adopted into God’s family as siblings of Christ with all the rights and privileges inherent in that relationship. In the eternal kingdom of God, all symbols, including the idea of sonship, will reach their fulfillment and full understanding. So when all things are renewed at the arrival of the New Jerusalem and the re-creation of a new heaven and earth, God will make his declaration: “Everyone who wins the victory will inherit these things. I will be their God, and they will be my children” (Rev 21:7). Because of God’s Son, we will all be God’s children.