Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Jesus, Son of God

If you have read John's Gospel or his letters (1-3 John), you will notice pretty quickly that his preoccupation is that Jesus is the "Son of God." In fact, this was so central to John's view of Jesus that he wrote entirely so that "you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:31). But what exactly does this title mean? To most evangelicals it means that Jesus is fully divine, that he is God incarnate. And the prologue to the Fourth Gospel validates this: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God" (1:1-2). This Word (Greek logos) is perhaps best seen as the ultimate, cohesive, self-expression of who God is in his very essence. "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling [lit. "tabernacled," as did the shekinah cloud of God's glory] among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known" (1:14, 18). In the Word the eternal, hidden God is revealing who he is and what he is like. (In his book The Challenge of Jesus, N. T. Wright points out that Jesus as the Son embodies God in five primary modes of God's action in the world and particularly through and for Israel: Word, Wisdom, Spirit, Temple, and Torah. Jesus is being and doing in the world what only God can do.) Elsewhere in John's Gospel, Jesus the Son of God is revealed as the one who knows the Father intimately and lives entirely in concert with his desires (3:35; 5:16-28).

But perhaps this declaration that Jesus is the Son of God, while not divorced at all from his deity, has as much--or even more--to do with his role as the human king who fulfills, rewrites, and redeems the history of Israel and, through her, the whole world. You see, John uses the title Son of God interchangeably with the title Messiah (Christ): "Jesus is the Messiah, [that is,] the Son of God" (20:31). The apostles also understood the Son of God as synonymous with the Messiah: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (Matt. 16:10). I have heard the name Jesus Christ explained this way: "Jesus" refers to his humanity as the virgin-born man (Matt. 1:21), while "Christ" refers to his divinity as the virgin-born man. While this is not entirely wrong, are we missing something? I believe we may be, and I hope in the next few posts to flesh out (pun intended) three ways Jesus-as-God's-Son goes beyond "mere" deity and encompasses also his humanity as the true Adam, Israel, and David.

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