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Sun, May 28, 2000

97 - Jesus the Son of God

John 17 & Psalm 2 by Robert Dean
Series:John (1998)
Duration:1 hr 2 mins 59 secs

Jesus the Son of God; John 17; Psalm 2

 

As we push beyond the normal parameters of a study on the Trinity we need to look at some key terms that are used in the Scriptures. The first is the term Son of God. What exactly does that mean? Second, the Scripture uses the term firstborn, that Jesus is the firstborn of creation. That seems to suggest to us a first in terms of a series, but does it imply something else? The third word we need to lookm at is the Greek terms monogenes [monogenhj], translated "only begotten," that Jesus is the only begotten of the Father.

 

1st, Son of God. This word is used 42 times in terms of the full title, huios tou theou [u(ioj tou qeou], to refer to Jesus Christ, but just referring to Him simply as "the Son" is used many more times. This is a title that is exclusive to Jesus Christ. The problem that we have is that we have a tendency to understand the term "son" is a creaturely sense of derivation. What we import into the term "son" is our frame of reference, so we start being anthropomorphic about God, we start creating God in our image. We have to look at the word "son" in the Scriptures and let the Scriptures define what that means. It is not being used in the same way it is normally used in everyday conversation.

 

This is a problem in the early church in Alexandria where a deacon by the name of Arius began to teach that there was a time when Christ was not. In other words, the Father exists from eternity but Jesus has derived deity, was created at some time and God imparted deity. So he looked at the son as a creature. This was the earliest form of what we now call "Jehovah's Witnesses." What happened when Arius began to teach that was that it raised the question of Jesus' essential relationship with the Father. Basically the question that they were answering was, what was Jesus before He came? What was His nature? The battle centred around three Greek words: a) heteros [e(teroj], plus ousia [o)usia] the word for being; that He was of a different being or different substance; b) homoousias [o(moousiaj], and that was the position that He was the same or identical substance with the Father; c) the compromise position came along and said, no, Jesus is homoiousias [o)moiousiaj]. One little letter, i, made all the difference and that was one of the major fights in the early church: was Jesus of the same nature as the Father or similar nature of the Father.

 

The term "Son" is used to describe various attributes of a person. It is an idiom both in Hebrew and it was used in the New Testament. It is an adjectival phrase. Numbers 17:10 NASB "But the LORD said to Moses, 'Put back the rod of Aaron before the testimony to be kept as a sign against the rebels, that you may put an end to their grumblings against Me, so that they will not die'." In the Hebrew "the rebels" is "sons of rebels." It is talking about the character of these people; they are rebels. It is not that their parents were rebellious, it is that they demonstrate the characteristics of rebels. Psalm 89:22 NASB "The enemy will not deceive him, Nor the son of wickedness afflict him." That is not talking about somebody whose father was wicked, it is talking about somebody whose character is wickedness and they demonstrate that attribute in their life. 2 Kings 6:32 NASB "Now Elisha was sitting in his house, and the elders were sitting with him. And {the king} sent a man from his presence; but before the messenger came to him, he said to the elders, 'Do you see how this son of a murderer has sent to take away my head? Look, when the messenger comes, shut the door and hold the door shut against him. Is not the sound of his master's feet behind him?'" This is not talking about this man's father being a murderer, it is talking about the fact that he demonstrates this attribute or characteristic of murder in his life; he is a murderer. Job 30:8 NASB "Fools, even those without a name, They were scourged from the land." The Hebrew calls them "sons of fools." This individual demonstrates the characteristics of a fool. 1 Samuel 25:17 NASB "Now therefore, know and consider what you should do, for evil is plotted against our master and against all his household; and he is such a worthless man [son of Belial] that no one can speak to him." Belial was a term of extreme derision, almost profanity. This was someone characterised by wickedness. Proverbs 31:5 NASB "For they will drink and forget what is decreed, And pervert the rights of all the afflicted." The Hebrew isn't "afflicted" it is "the sons of affliction." Ezra 4:1 NASB "Now when the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the people of the exile were building a temple to the LORD God of Israel." It doesn't say "people of the exile" in the Hebrew, it says "the sons of the exile," those who were in the exile. Amos 7:14 NASB "Then Amos replied to Amaziah, 'I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet; for I am a herdsman and a grower of sycamore figs'." He is not saying that he is not a prophet nor his father a prophet, that is not his point; he is saying "I am not a prophet, I don't have the characteristics of a prophet." It also describes a person's nature. Isaiah 51:12 NASB "I, even I, am He who comforts you. Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies And of the son of man who is made like grass." Son of man is someone who has the attributes of humanity. Isaiah 19:11 NASB "The princes of Zoan are mere fools; The advice of Pharaoh's wisest advisers has become stupid. How can you {men} say to Pharaoh, 'I am a son of the wise, a son of ancient kings?'" It means he was characterised by wisdom. Acts 4:36 NASB "Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement)." Barnabas was characterised by the attribute of being encouraging. Mark 3:17 NASB "and James, the {son} of Zebedee, and John the brother of James (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means, "Sons of Thunder")." This spoke of their personality. Luke 10:6 NASB "If a man of peace [Gk. Son of peace] is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you." This is a man characterised by peace. Ephesians 2:2 NASB "in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience." This is talking about people who are characterised by rebelliousness and disobedience to God. John 17:12 NASB "While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled." This is the same word used in the Greek in John 3:16 for perishing, apollumi [a)pollumi]. The noun form, the son of perdition, indicates that he was characterised by the fact that he was going to perish and go under eternal condemnation and is lost.

 

The conclusion from all of this evidence is to say that titles such as Son of God describe Jesus' essential character of deity. It is not simply a title given to Him but it is a description of His essential character, that He is undiminished deity. The term Son of Man emphasises His humanity and the term son of David indicates that He is among the class of Davidic heirs. So this is not simply a title tacked on to Him but it says something about His essential nature.

 

2nd, Firstborn. To us the term firstborn indicates order of birth or origin. It can mean that but in the Bible it often relates to priority or rank rather than chronological order. The Greek term is prototokos [prwtotokoj] and it is applied to Jesus in five passages: Romans 8:19; Colossians 1:15, 18; Revelation 1:5; Hebrews 1:6.

 

To understand this we have to understand some things about Hebrew background. In Hebrew society there was the operation of the law of primogeniture, i.e. the eldest son received the double portion of inheritance. He is called the firstborn. He was rewarded with honour and prestige and the family name primarily goes down through the oldest son. But if the oldest son fell out of favour with the father he could be replaced by one of the other sons. So the term firstborn could often be applied to any of the other sons based on the inheritance decision of the father. This is the principle that is found over and over in the Scriptures, that often the older serves the younger. The normal procedure was that the younger would serve the older but this was reversed in many instances. For example, Ishmael was born first but he served Isaac. Esau served Jacob, though Jacob was born first. Reuben who was the older of the twelve sons of Jacob served Joseph who was the younger. In terms of nations, Gentiles were on the scene long before Israel but Israel is called the firstborn of God and the Gentiles serve Israel, Exodus 4:22. So from this we see the principle that the elder served the younger and when the younger son is elevated above the older he takes on the title of firstborn in terms of rank. So it is a title of position and honour and prestige, not necessarily indicating chronological order. Conclusion: Christ is the firstborn because He deserves the preferential share in honour and inheritance. He is the heir of God. We become joint heirs with Christ but He is the one who earns the inheritance because of His work at the cross.

 

3rd, Begotten. The Greek term is monogenes [monogenhj]. mono means single; genes comes from the verb genao [genaw] which means classification or time. This comes over into English as genus. genao has to do with classification or time and so it should be translated "unique" or "one of a kind." It is the same term as used in Hebrews for Isaac because Isaac is a unique son to Abraham because he is born as a result of the miraculous intervention of God. So monogenes has the basic connotation of unique. Kittles Theological Dictionary: "In compound with the word genhj adverbs describe the nature rather than the source of derivation. Hence, monogenhj is used for the only child, and more generally it means unique or incomparable."  It is used nine times in the New Testament: three times as an only child, Luke 7:2; 8:42; 9:38; five times it refers to Christ, and one time it refers to Isaac in Hebrews 11. Isaac was a unique son to Abraham, thus this expression indicates status. Christ has status as the unique Son of God.

 

Psalm 2:7 NASB "I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, 'You are My Son, Today I have begotten You'." To which time does this refer? The word "begotten" is the Hebrew yalad which has a variety of meanings, but monogenes in the New Testament tells us specifically what is meant here and that has the idea of uniqueness. The first part of this verse refers to the decree of God. The decree of God is referred to theologically as one decree, we don't talk about the decrees of God. Even though there are many facets to the decree of God it is considered one decree. The decree of God is eternal. This indicates that sonship must also be eternal. Some people will look at this and say Jesus becomes the Son at His return in victory at the second coming. But there are problems with this in the way it is used in other passages. It is related to the declaration of a king, the idea relates to the promise in the Davidic covenant in 2 Samuel 7:14 NASB "I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me…" People will say that indicates when he comes at His incarnation. The problem is that in 2 Samuel 7 the sonship there is referenced to the sonship of David, not the Son of God title. So that is a creation title of the Lord, not His eternal title. The context of Psalm 2 indicates the second advent when Jesus returns to the earth as King of kings and Lord of lords. However, Acts 13:33 relates it to the resurrection. NASB "that God has fulfilled this {promise} to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, 'YOU ARE MY SON; TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU.'" Paul is speaking there and he relates Psalm 2 to resurrection. He seems to suggest that Jesus gets this title at His resurrection. He doesn't get the title at the resurrection but the resurrection confirms the title. That is the point that needs to be made. The resurrection is God's stamp of approval, His public proclamation to one and all that Jesus is indeed God. This is seen further in Romans 1:3, 4 NASB "concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord." So the resurrection is a public declaration that He is the Son of God, it doesn't say that He became the Son of God at the resurrection.

Israel rejected Jesus as the Messiah is part, believing that no Son of God could be crucified because of the Old Testament prophesy that "cursed is anyone that hangs on a tree." They could not believe that God could curse His own Son. But the resurrection is the fulfilment of the Psalm 2:7 decree in the sense that it is the public confirmation and proclamation that God indeed accepted the sacrifice, that God is the one who cursed Jesus in terms of the condemnation of sin, and that Jesus was indeed full deity. Psalm 2:7, therefore, refers back to the divine decree and foretells that God will declare this decree by the resurrection and bring it into complete fulfilment at the Second Advent. The decree is made in eternity past: "You are my Son." This is demonstrated in time through Jesus' birth, through His crucifixion, through the resurrection, and then its ultimate fulfilment comes at the return of Christ at the Second Advent where he fulfils the promise and establishes the Davidic kingdom as the son of David. So it is a title that refers to Jesus in His deity which allows Him to fulfil all of these things. That is why the Psalm seems to be applied to different aspects of Jesus' life, because all of these individual instances relate to the overall backdrop of who he is as the eternal Son of God.

Hebrews 1:1-5 states this: NASB "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. For to which of the angels did He ever say, 'YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU'? And again, 'I WILL BE A FATHER TO HIM AND HE SHALL BE A SON TO ME'?"

Hebrews 5:5-7 NASB "So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, "YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU"; just as He says also in another {passage,} "YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER ACCORDING TO THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK." In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety."

Conclusion: Jesus Christ is decreed eternally to be the Son of God, indicating eternal generation, and this in turn reflects His true undiminished deity. This was declared to be so by God the Father by the resurrection and will then be recognised at the second coming by all humanity.

Since Jesus is undiminished deity He is eternal and the divine decree is also eternal. The divine decree means that Jesus is eternally begotten, i.e. the eternal unique Son of the Father.