Monday, October 08, 2007

All the Promises of God III


The Son of God

If the title “son of man” emphasizes the humanity of the one so named, then it seems natural to suppose that the title “son of God” would emphasize the title bearer’s divinity. A son of God would himself be divine. And so Christians generally see the title “son of God” as a statement about Jesus’ divinity. However, this phrase is not typically used this way in the Old Testament. To be sure, Jesus is the divine Son of God in the sense that He is the second person of the triune Godhead. He was “begotten of His Father before all worlds” as the Nicene Creed puts it. He is the “only begotten” of the Father (John 1:18), the eternal Word (John 1:1).

On the other hand, the title “son of God” is often used to refer to God’s image bearer and representative. When Adam had Seth, we are told that Seth was born in Adam’s own likeness and after his image (Gen. 5:3). Seth was the “son of Adam” because he was Adam’s image bearer. Similarly, God created Adam and Eve “in His own image” (Gen. 1:26, 27). Adam was therefore the “son of God” (Luke 3:38). He was God’s first image bearer. Of course, a true son of God is one who should accurately and faithfully reflects God’s image – the thing that Adam (and man) was originally created to do. Adam’s failure would point toward the need for a truly faithful image bearer.

When God called the Israelites out of Egypt, He did not just rescue a group of people. He “gave birth” to His son. “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me. But if you refuse to let him go, indeed I will kill your son, your firstborn.”’” (Ex. 4:22, 23 cf. Hos. 11:1) Israel was God’s firstborn son. He resurrected the people from the grave of Egypt so that they may bear His image. “You are the children of the Lord your God; you shall not cut yourselves nor shave the front of your head for the dead. For you are a holy people to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” (Deut. 14:1, 2) This was Israel’s calling: to be God’s holy children. But it did not take long for sin and rebellion to interfere with this calling. Numerous books of the Old Testament describe this process in detail. By the time of the prophet Isaiah, the image-bearing sons had become a “brood of evildoers” (Is. 1:2-4). And by the time the prophet John began to deliver his message, the sons had become a brood of vipers.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matt. 3:7-10)

Israel was in bad shape and God’s judgment was about to come. Here we see a theme that we will discuss in more detail later – the “de-creation” process that is produced by sin. Man was created to be God’s son, and redeemed Israel was chosen to fulfill this image-bearing role. But instead of maturing through faithfulness to become the lords of creation that man was supposed to be, their rebellion caused them to regress to the point of being brute beasts. To be more accurate, they had become like the beast – the serpent-beast. They were now his sons.

Jesus answered them… “I know that you are Abraham’s descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father.”

They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.”

Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. But now you seek to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this. You do the deeds of your father.”

Then they said to Him, “We are not born of fornication; we have one Father – God.”

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God… You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do…. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me. Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do no hear, because you are not of God.” (John 8:34, 37-42, 44, 45-47)

Thus was the song of Moses fulfilled:

They have corrupted themselves;
they are not His children,
because of their blemish:
a perverse and crooked generation. (Deut. 32:5)

The son of God is the position of a faithful image bearer. Through rebellion, Israel had lost his claim to be the son of God. Instead, he had become the son of the devil and the “synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 3:9). The ax was laid at the root of the trees.

However all was not lost. For the prophet Jeremiah had foretold of a time when Israel would be restored (Jer. 31:1-8). This would be a rebirth; God’s chosen people would again be His firstborn (Jer. 31:9). In the final genealogy given by God through revelation, Jesus is identified as the true Son of God (Luke 3:23-38). Just like Israel, this Son was called out of Egypt. There was, however, an ironic difference.

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”

When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” (Matt. 2:13, 14)

The prophet Hosea described Israel’s exodus as God’s calling of His son. “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.” (Hos. 11:1) But from the Matthew passage above and the verses that precede it, we see that Herod had become a new Pharaoh who tried to slaughter the infants. And if Herod was a new Pharaoh, then it would seem that Israel would be a new Egypt. And sure enough, God delivered His true Son from this new Egypt. Jesus left Israel to go to Egypt, and ironically, this exodus out of unfaithful Israel fulfilled Hosea’s words regarding the Son’s exodus from Egypt. Thus, the passage from Hosea both looked back to an historical type and looked forward to the promised antitype. And as Matthew stated, Jesus is that antitype – the true Son. This was the Son in whom He was well pleased (Matt. 17:5). All other sons had in fact been imperfect types who foreshadowed the true Son. He is the only fully faithful one, the “express image” (charaktér) of God (Heb. 1:3).

For to which of the angels did He ever say:

“You are My Son,
today I have begotten You”?

And again:

“I will be to Him a Father,
and He shall be to Me a Son”?...

But to the Son He says:

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;
a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom….”

But to which of the angels has He ever said:

“Sit at My right hand,
till I make Your enemies Your footstool”? (Heb. 1:5, 8, 13)

This passage from Hebrews shows an dimension to the “son of God” title, a dimension that goes back to the first man. “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’” (Gen. 1:26) Integral to man’s creation in God’s image is the responsibility of bearing that image, and as we saw earlier, and important aspect of this is the task of taking dominion over the earth. The writer of Hebrews shows that the true and faithful man Jesus fulfils this task because He has been exalted to the throne at God’s right hand where He has received His kingdom.

The first quote within the Hebrews passage above is from Psalm 2. The “begetting” it describes is not Jesus’ eternal generation from the Father. Rather, as the psalm itself makes clear, the reference is to the Messiah’s enthronement as King. The Messiah would be the son of God whose inheritance would be to rule the nations. The second quote refers to the prophetic message that Nathan was to give to King David. “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his Father, and he shall be My son.” (II Sam. 7:12-14) Solomon was the type to which this immediately applied, but Jesus is the antitype – the ultimate recipient to which the type pointed. The writer of Hebrews has made it plain for us: Jesus is the son of David and thus, the Son of God. He is therefore the promised King and His kingdom will last forever. The third quote comes from Psalm 45 and its kingly message is straightforward. The fourth quote is from the Old Testament passage that is quoted most often in the New Testament: Psalm 110. This psalm is the announcement of the Messiah’s kingly reign. The connection between it and Paul’s words in I Corinthians 15 mentioned in a previous post should be clear.

With this series of quotations, the writer of Hebrews has brought us full circle. Jesus is the true Son of God and this means that He fulfills the dominion mandate and reigns as King. The “birth pangs” of the resurrection (Acts 2:24) led to His begetting as the Son of God. He was “declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” (Rom. 1:4) The Son was begotten as King at the resurrection.

But He is not the only son. With the end of the old order, many sons (but not all of course) were cast out of the covenant to receive what their rebellion had earned. But many others – gentiles – came from the east and the west to inherit the promises (Matt. 8:5-13 cf. Rev. 21:7). Now that the true Son has come, those who are in Him, the Christians, are the sons of God (Matt. 6:9; John 11:49-52; I John 3:1, 2). Their status as sons is determined by their faith-filled baptism into the true Son. It is not determined by race.

He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:11-13)

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free – and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. (I Cor. 12:12, 13)

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Gal. 3:26-29)

Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God, without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation… (Phil. 2:14, 15)

They are the true sons just because they have been adopted into God’s family through faith in Jesus (Gal. 4:4-7; Eph. 1:5). Moreover, this adoption as sons means that Christians are joint heirs with Christ of all things (Rom. 8:14-17 cf. Heb. 1:1, 2). They are in Him and thus, they share in His calling as the Davidic Son-King.

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness?...

Therefore

“Come out from among them
and be separate, says the Lord.
Do not touch what is unclean,
and I will receive you.”
“I will be a Father to you,
and you shall be My sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.”

Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (II Cor. 6:14, 17, 18; 7:1 quoting Is. 52:11 and II Sam. 7:14)

We saw above that according to the writer of Hebrews, Jesus is the true Davidic Son-King. Solomon’s sonship was a prophetic type that was fulfilled in the true Son Jesus. And now, the same promise of Fatherhood and title of son (and daughter) are given to Christians because they are in Christ. Christians are the sons of God and thus, they are the kings/kingdom of God (Rev. 1:6) and joint heirs of all things. The dominion mandate will be fulfilled in them because Jesus is the new Adam, Son of Man, and Son of God by whom the mandate will be fulfilled. He has all authority on heaven and earth now (Matt. 28:18), and all things will eventually be placed under His feet (I Cor. 15:22-26). They are in Him. Thus, His status is their status, His authority is their authority, and His mission is their mission.

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