ST ANDREW’S OCCASIONAL PAPERS
JESUS THE SON …
- Jesus the Son
When Jesus called God Father (Mark 14:36), He meant it in a new and intimate way which had never been heard before. But if He called God “Father” that also meant that He was God’s Son. So that is the idea I would like to explore a little, Jesus as the Son. In particular we will look at four ways that title was used because Jesus was called the Son of David, the Son of Man, the Son of God as well as just the Son. Each of these titles has something to say to us, to tell us more about the unique person, Jesus Christ, the Lord of heaven and earth.
- Son of David – but why David?
David was the greatest king of Judah/Israel. Yet his beginnings were humble, the eighth son of Jesse and acting as a shepherd when he was chosen by God and anointed by Samuel to be the next king after Saul (1 Samuel 16:11-13). Two vital facts are recorded about David: first, that he was “a man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14) and second that “From that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power” (1 Samuel 16:13).
David was an accomplished soldier from the day when he slew Goliath (1 Samuel 17:50) to the time when he conquered the surrounding nations (1 Chronicles 18), but for this reason he was barred from building the temple of God (1 Chronicles 28:3), a task which fell to his son, Solomon.
David was also an accomplished musician, comforting Saul by his playing the harp (1 Samuel 16:23) as well as composing many of the Psalms.
All in all it seems that David could well be judged as a great man, leader and king. Indeed later kings were compared to him (e.g. 2 Kings 22:2) but he was not without his faults, the most glaring of which made him an adulterer and murderer (2 Samuel 11). In fact the author of 1 Kings sums it up: “For David had done what was right in the eyes of the Lord and had not failed to keep any of the Lord’s commands all the days of his life – except in the case of Uriah the Hittite” (1 Kings 15:5).
Thus David was seen as the greatest king – even though, like all men, he was not perfect.
- Son of David – The Jewish Hope
Because of David’s failure “in the case of Uriah the Hittite,” his family became a hotbed of intrigue, jealousy, murder and rebellion, so a literal ‘Son of David’, even when applied to Solomon, David’s son and successor was not the prime significance of the title.
Yet the opening verse of the New Testament reminds us that Jesus was “Son of David,” i.e. descended in a direct line from the great king who reigned some 1000 years earlier.
When Jesus was performing His miracles of healing to the amazement of the people, they asked, “Could this be the Son of David?” (Matthew 12:23) and some of those who wanted Jesus’ attention in the hope that they themselves would be healed used the same title (Matthew 9:27; 20:30,31). When Jesus entered Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday the crowds hailed Him, “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Matthew 21:9), much to the annoyance of the priestly authorities (Matthew 21:15).
So what was the point – and why were the authorities indignant? The answer lies in the Old Testament, in the messages of the prophets.
Isaiah spoke the words sometimes read at Christmas, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…..He will reign on David’s throne” (9:6,7). Jeremiah tells us that “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch…” (23:5). Ezekiel speaks of “one shepherd, my servant David” (34:23). Micah tells of a ruler coming from Bethlehem (5:2) and Zechariah also refers to a “Branch” (3:8).
Thus it had become popular belief that a Messiah, a descendent of David would come to rescue the nation, but this belief had been distorted to expect One who would free the Jews from the dominion of Rome rather than of their sins. Jesus came to fulfil the message of the prophets, but to be a suffering Messiah, One who would die to save His people.
So Jesus did not use the title “Son of David” Himself because He knew it had been misunderstood. However He did respond to it because He was indeed the true Son of David, the Messiah (= the Christ, i.e. the Anointed One).
- Son of Man – The Origins
If Jesus was unwilling to use the title Son of David, He made the title “Son of Man” His own. It is found on His lips some 50 or so distinct times in the Gospels but only once after that (Acts 7:56), so the early church must have thought it something very personal to Jesus. It was not without precedent in the Old Testament. Used very occasionally as just an alternative to ‘man’ (e.g. Psalm 8:4, “what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him”), it is in the writings of the Prophet Ezekiel that the prophet is frequently so addressed by God (e.g. 2:8 “But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you”).
However it could well be that it is the vision given to Daniel that Jesus had in mind when He chose this title. “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (7:13,14).
- Son of Man – Jesus’ view
We have already noted that this was a favourite title used by Jesus for Himself. However Jesus used the title to emphasise at least three great truths about Himself.
First, while He used it almost instead of saying “I”, (and in so doing underlined the human side of His nature, cf. Mark 6:3) He revealed an authority unlike that of anyone else. When some friends of a paralysed man carried him on a mat to Jesus hoping for his healing, they found their way blocked by the crowd. So they went onto the roof of the house in which Jesus was teaching and let their friend down through the roof in front of Jesus. However Jesus surprised them by telling the paralysed man that his sins were forgiven, rather than immediately healing him. When the authorities challenged Jesus’ right to forgive sin, Jesus replied, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins..” and confirmed His authority by healing the paralysed man and sending him home carrying the mat on which he had been brought to Jesus (Luke 5:18-26).
The second great truth is that Jesus knew He had come to this earth to die as the major part of the heavenly plan to save those who would believe in Him. The opposition of the authorities did not take Him by surprise as some have suggested. He knew what was in store for Him, in fact He forewarned His disciples, “We are going up to Jerusalem,” He said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn Him to death and will turn Him over to the Gentiles who will mock Him, and spit on Him, flog Him and kill Him. Three days later He will rise” (Mark 10:33,34). All of which came exactly true.
The third great truth is exemplified by the reply Jesus made when the high priest cross-examined Jesus at His trial. Jesus acknowledged that He was the Christ, the Son of God and then continued, “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64). So time and again Jesus links His title “Son of Man” with His triumphant return to this earth, something we should all be expecting, all be prepared for and all rejoicing at the thought of it.
- Son of God
We have just mentioned the challenge of the high priest demanding to know if Jesus was the Son of God – to which Jesus confirmed that He was indeed the very Son of God.
One of the great ideas that Jesus emphasised was the thought of God as Father. We have all joined in the words of the Lord’s prayer, both publicly and privately, saying “Our Father….” (e.g. Matthew 6:9). However for God to be a Father there must be a Son! (Or, I suppose, a daughter but I am not going down that route!). It was this Son of God who came to this earth as Jesus Christ (Luke 1:35), who shared the divinity of the Godhead (Matthew 28:19). Very few recognised this divinity at first but we may note that when Jesus healed those who were possessed, the demons cried out, “You are the Son of God!” (Luke 4:41) but Jesus ordered them to be silent. In the great temptation the Devil also addressed Jesus as the Son of God (Matthew 4:3,6). So if fallen heavenly beings recognised Jesus in this way, we should be far more ready to do so.
- Jesus the Son
After Jesus had been baptised by John we are told that “the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.’” (Luke 3:22). The same voice, at the time of the Transfiguration, repeated the thought, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him” (Matthew 17:5).
Surely this reveals a closeness between Father and Son, a closeness which is explained in the words of Jesus, “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him” (Matthew 11:27), and again, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by Himself, He can only do what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son does also” (John 5:19).
It is this unity of purpose along with that of the Holy Spirit which is included in the doctrine of the Trinity and is therefore at the heart of Christianity. It is this unity of purpose which is underlined in the most well known of verses, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16), and again in the words of John and his fellow apostles “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Saviour of the world”(1 John 4:14).
- So if Jesus is the Son?
Our reflections have revealed Jesus as Messiah (Son of David), as One having Authority and Purpose, and who will return to us (Son of Man), as Divine (Son of God) and as One in total unity with the Father (Son). So what does it mean for us today? Perhaps this is best answered in the words written long ago by St. John, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. © 1973,1978,1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder and Stoughton, a member of the Hodder Headline Group. All rights reserved.