Does the Bible Say Jesus Is the “Son of God”?

Kevin Zuber
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The expression “Son of . . .” is quite common in Hebrew and Aramaic and is an expression picked up and used frequently in the New Testament. While obviously this was often used to refer to the relationship of an actual son to an actual father, in many instances it is used as an idiomatic expression to express a person’s character or nature. In Deuteronomy 13:13, the terms “some worthless men” is literally “sons (Hebrew benê) of Belial (Hebrew belîyya‘al)” meaning “the men who have the character of Belial.” Jesus gave the nickname Boanerges to James and John, the sons of Zebedee, which means “sons of thunder” (see Mark 3:17). Perhaps this was because they were hot-tempered men or perhaps this is a mild antiphrasis by Jesus, where He gave them a name opposite to their naturally timid demeanor; the metaphorical sense is evident either way.

It is likely that the name or title “Son of God” when used of Jesus had both connotations. It was meant to convey the truth of His (Trinitarian) sonship relation to the Father (minus any notion of physical begetting). And it was intended to express the idea that He had the character and nature of God. Everyone who used this name or title was making a profound claim about the person of Christ—He is God.

The Name/Title Used by an Angel

Luke 1:35
And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.

At the announcement of the birth of the Messiah, to the mother of the Messiah, it is an angel from the Lord who affirms that the child is the “holy Child” and “shall be called the Son of God.”

The Name/Title Used by a Disciple

Matthew 16:13–17
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

In Matthew’s gospel the narrative portions (very broadly) revolve around Jesus’ interaction with three groups—the crowds (see 4:23–25; 14:13–21; 15:29–31), the opposition (see 12:1–8, 9–21; 15:1–9; 16:1–4), and the disciples (see 4:18– 22; 10:1–15). At this point (16:13–20) in Matthew’s narrative Jesus turns His attention expressly toward His disciples. The next several chapters are about Jesus preparing His disciples for His death, resurrection, and departure (see 16:21, 17:9, 22–23, 20:17–19), and this account is part of that preparation.

The location of “Caesarea Philippi” was strategic. This place was about twenty-five miles north of the Sea of Galilee and was always a center of pagan worship. It was technically outside the land of Israel and therefore removed from the crowds and the opposition. Here the disciples were removed from the religious pressure of the opposition, the social stresses of the crowds, and the demands of ministry. This was the perfect setting for rest and reflection and to gauge their faith and understanding of Jesus.

Jesus began with a question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The title “Son of Man” was Jesus’ favorite self-designation (used about eighty times in the NT). It was a title that had clear messianic associations (used in Dan. 7:13 as a title of the Messiah). Jesus probably used it to emphasize His humanity and so also His humility and submission, but beyond that, it meant He was self-aware of His unique person.

The “people” Jesus had in mind are the crowds who had been following Jesus throughout His ministry. The responses of the crowds showed their lack of understanding of Jesus. John the Baptist was a revered figure who had gained a significant following before his arrest and execution. Perhaps some could not accept that he was really dead or perhaps they thought he’d been resurrected (as Herod had, see 14:1–2). Elijah was not as improbable a suggestion as it might seem since the OT account does not record his death and the OT prophet Malachi had foretold his (Elijah’s) return (Mal. 4:5). Jeremiah was a revered prophet and has been called the “weeping prophet” (which may say something about the demeanor of Jesus during His ministry). Some Jewish writings even predicted the return of Jeremiah (see 2 Esdras 2:18; see 2 Maccabees 15:14). The catch-all answer, “Or one of the prophets,” indicates that the crowds could see something of the power and authority of those “men of God” in Jesus’ own ministry. It is notable that none of these views reflect the hostility of the opposition and yet none were so bold as to suggest He was the Messiah. He did not seem to match up to their messianic expectations.

Jesus asked a second question, “But who do you say that I am?” And the response, from Peter (speaking for all the disciples) is ringing affirmation of not just the Messiahship of Jesus, but of His deity: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” In affirming that Jesus is “the Christ,” literally “the anointed” (i.e., the Messiah), Peter had to repudiate the accusations and lies of the opposition (see Matt. 12:22–29), he had to ignore the undiscerning opinions of the crowds, and he had to overcome the disciples’ own shortsighted perception of Jesus (which was not completely surmounted until after the resurrection).

When Peter added, “the Son of the living God,” he was making a statement that was stunning in its implications. The expression “son of” was a well-known Hebraic expression: to be “son of something, or someone” meant “to have the nature of that something, or someone.” Thus, to call Jesus “the Son of the living God,” is to call Him God. For Peter, a pious Jew, committed to the faith of Israel (see Deut. 6:4ff), to utter this stunning declaration is quite amazing. It meant that all that religious tradition taught had to be reconceived, and all that popular opinion conjectured had to be ignored. Jesus, the Son of God, has the nature of God and is God.

That Peter’s great declaration was true and accurate is affirmed by Jesus’ response, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona.”

The Name/Title Acknowledged by Jesus Himself

Matthew 26:63-64
Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”

The Name/Title Applied to the Messiah by Yahweh

Psalm 2:7
I will tell of the decree:
The LORD said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.

Acts 13:33
this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm,

“‘You are my Son,
today I have begotten you.’

Hebrews 1:5
For to which of the angels did God ever say,

“You are my Son,
today I have begotten you”?

Or again,

“I will be to him a father,
and he shall be to me a son”?

Each of these texts cites Psalm 2:7. In this Psalm it is the Messiah Himself who gives testimony that Yahweh declared and affirmed Him as “My Son.” Each New Testament citation of this declaration, when applied to Jesus Christ, is affirming that He is indeed the Son of God, and hence, that He is God.

For Further Reading:

The Essential Scriptures

by Kevin Zuber

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