February 23, 2010 by

The Significance of the Son of God


Categories: food for thought, theological questions, Things I Should Probably Not Be Telling You

As a disclaimer/hat-tip, the thoughts I’m about to process began from some things I’m reading in Brian McClaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy. In one of the early chapters, he reflects on some of the issues and controversies raised by Jesus being referred to as the “Son of God”–including some of the concerns it raises in our culture about the presumed “male-“ness of God, or reinforcing the male-dominant theme many have taken from the Scripture–all of which could be debated and discussed into the ground as to what it actually means.

As much as I have discussed gender issues in the church here on this blog–believe it or not, that’s not where this is going today. 🙂 Those previous posts speak for themselves, and because our language includes both male and female in the species called “man” (and because Jesus had to be either male or female, not both), I don’t try to read sexism into God being referred to as a “He”, or Jesus being a Son. It is what it is, and I have too much respect for the Scripture to try to re-write it for political correctness, even if it causes offense. Truth is, if nothing in the Bible offends you, ever, you probably haven’t read the whole thing through. That’s why we tend to ignore or write off the parts we don’t like. 🙂

Anyway…back on topic. What has really captured my interest is when McClaren gets past the sexism discussion and reveals what “Son of God” likely meant in the context of Bible days, and to the first readers and hearers of the term. The phrase “son of” didn’t just mean biological offspring. It meant “carrying the essence of”, or “the expression of” or “emanating from”, almost the same as we refer to a child as the “spitting image” of either parent.

In other words, the meaning behind Jesus the “Son of God” wasn’t just a reference to Jesus’ genetics or lineage. In Jesus, God the Father was revealing Himself. If you want to know what God is like…look at Jesus, the very essence of Him. (There are many other Scriptures that confirm this idea.)

Yeah, yeah, the theology buffs all said. We know all that part. So….?

If you really think about this, the ramifications are staggering, and potentially mind-boggling. If Jesus contains in Himself the expression of God–if by watching Jesus we can see what God is really like–then the gospels really serve as an anchor point for interpreting the rest of Scripture, both before and after.

Think about this. If you read the Old Testament, there are many parts where God seems to function and act as a God of wrath and judgment. (There are parts where His mercy is made plain also, but we seem to recollect mainly the “angry God” portions.) We are troubled when we read that God commanded Israel to wipe out entire cities of people. We see where God allowed foreign nations to invade and plunder His people Israel because they persisted in their idolatry. We see huge signs of His wrath and judgment.

Then Jesus comes on the scene–Jesus, who is the Son of God, the essence of God. Even the Jews are fooled. Based on their own past experiences and interpretations of their own Scriptures, they expect the Messiah to be this political/military hero who beats the Romans to a pulp and rescues the Jews. Instead, He comes as an embracing, loving, peaceful man who has more to say about the Jewish authorities than the Romans, who never once tries to stir political resistance, who washes His followers’ feet, and who refuses to defend Himself, eventually yielding Himself to a criminal’s death. He welcomes sinners and has dinner with them. He lets women of questionable reputation wash His feet with their tears. He talks to Samaritans, heals on the Sabbath, eats without washing His hands, forgives adulteresses, and a whole lot of other things you would never expect from a God of wrath and judgment. And it makes no sense, even to our minds today. This is the God of the Old Testament, who angrily punished people for their sins? This is what He’s really like?

But that’s what the Bible says. That’s what “Son of God” means. (See what I mean by “mind-boggling”?)


How could this be? Did God change His mind? Did He go to counseling to deal with His anger issues sometime between Malachi and Matthew? How could this Jesus be the essence of an Old Testament God of wrath?

I’m not saying we can just do the math on this; it is definitely a puzzlement. But we can’t escape the ramifications of this. If Jesus is the essence of God, and expresses what God is really like, we may have to re-think some of our presumptions about the “angry” God of the Old Testament. We have to face the fact that even though God brought judgment, He still did it as a God of love. He didn’t change His nature. Love and wrath are not opposites, just like a parent doesn’t stop loving a child when he/she gets angry with them. The same God who judged the Jews is the same God who died for them–and for all of us. Yes, it’s the same God. We might not understand it, we might not even like it (and probably we don’t, because it’s liable to mess with our mindsets, which is never comfortable). But if we’re going to take Jesus seriously, and the Bible seriously…we must accept it. This kind, merciful, embracing expression of God found in Jesus was the true heart behind all the wrath we see in the chapters before–and all the wrath that is predicted to come in the chapters afterward, for that matter.

When we start grappling with the reality of this, it might not make it easier to accept, but perhaps it will lend perspective, and even bring a bit of balance to our own views. For example, if we are the type of Christian who justifies war with Old Testament references, we might not be so quick to assume that “God is on our side.” If we take the more liberal approach that God is ever-tolerant, would never hurt anyone, and would never approve of war, we must consider that a God of love must sometimes feel it necessary to act severely toward those He loves. But I think the key to that balance is that Jesus modeled love, and so love is the essence of God. Which means that love had to be involved in every severe act God did, or will do one day. Not love by our definition–love by His.

Not saying I have this all figured out. But it makes ya’ think, doesn’t it? 🙂

Musician. Composer. Recovering perfectionist. Minister-in-transition. Lover of puns. Hijacker of rock song references. Questioner of the status quo. I'm not really a rebel. Just a sincere Christ-follower with a thirst for significance that gets me into trouble. My quest has taken me over the fence of institutional Christianity. Here are some of my random thoughts along the way. Read along, join in the conversation. Just be nice.

7 Responses to The Significance of the Son of God

  1. co_heir

    The more I learn about this God who is my Father,the more my mind gets boggled, and the more I realize that it's not all about knowing facts about God or trying to figure him out. It really is all about the relationship.

  2. Dave Lloyd

    Great post, Jeff.

    The whole thing about "the gospels really serve as an anchor point for interpreting the rest of Scripture, both before and after" is spot on. Back at school I used to hang with OT majors who said things like, "How can one expect to under the New Testament without first understanding the Old." I get that. But the character of the Father displayed in Jesus sheds so much more light back on the OT. God of wrath? Yeah. One so vengeful and ticked off that He laid down His life for us.

    I, on the other hand was more a student of Paul than Jesus. Wanted to understand the finer points of grace and church life. And gee, Jesus just didn't enough about that stuff.

    But then start interpreting Paul in the light of Jesus' life and teachings and your head will explode.

    Interesting that in the church there's such a renewed interest in the teachings of Jesus. Hmmm. What were we even talking about before, and how did we miss the message that Jesus brought?

  3. Al

    Good thoughts, including the thoughts just north of here. I tended to visit Paul a lot more than Jesus too, and never even noticed until various people started writing writing about it.

    Brian visits the same thought again in his newest book, as well as giving an interesting view of why we see things like the violence/wrath of God in the OT. He says it was partly the image of God evolving (or being unfolded) more and more as time went on. As well, he puts part of the blame on the OT writers who wrote as they observed things, not necessarily what God what God was trying to reveal about his character.

    I also like how Brian brings our attention to all of the times in the OT that God didn't do all the violent things he had said he would–in other words, God is more gracious and forgiving in the OT than we tend to give him credit for.

  4. Jeff McQ

    I did enjoy the post. Thanks!

    In a relationship, we spend a lifetime trying to "figure one another out." Although I think God has the distinct advantage in this one. 🙂

    Good thoughts here. I know it was such an eye-opener for me when I first heard the idea that Jesus wasn't just the Messiah, but a sort of apex/culmination of God's revelation to us. Jesus' life is a lens through which to view the rest of Scripture. Throws a whole new sense of meaning on the phrase "the Word made flesh". 🙂

    You said, "Interesting that in the church there's such a renewed interest in the teachings of Jesus. Hmmm. What were we even talking about before, and how did we miss the message that Jesus brought?" I don't know exactly, but perhaps it has something to do with getting more focused on the words of Scripture than the Person behind them. I came from a theological background that made a doctrine of the phrase "God and His Word are one" and perhaps over-interpreted that idea, nearly deifying the Scriptures themselves. When we do stuff like that, I guess it makes it easier to gravitate to our favorite parts of Scripture and interpret the rest of the Bible from that perspective. I like the analogy of a lens. It's sort of like Jesus is 20/20 for viewing the Scripture, but when we shift our focal point, our visual anchor, to another part of Scripture, we lose focus. Do you think that makes sense?

    "I also like how Brian brings our attention to all of the times in the OT that God didn't do all the violent things he had said he would–in other words, God is more gracious and forgiving in the OT than we tend to give him credit for." Amen to that. I have really seen that–time after time when God gave a warning but withheld His judgment anyway, sometimes for generations. He's so often depicted as almost eager to punish, when actually the violence we see in the O.T. was a last resort. There really is a lot more about God's mercy in there than we realize.

  5. turnyourears

    hi jeff! interesting post, because we're studying Jeremiah right now.

    surprisingly to me, if you read back at the OT. God's heart hasn't changed much! He's always more concerned with having His people turn to Him, for there to be a relationship between us, rather than to deliver punishment and judgement.

    i think that much is true from how many times God "changed" His mind and decided not to punish the Israelites. i.e. a God who by His inherent nature cannot stand sin, but still loves His people…

    the more i read the OT, the more i see that His heart doesn't change.

  6. Randi Jo :)

    very interesting to think about – I always say this – but "very powerful".

    It made me think that yes God is a GOd full of love (including disciplinary wrath) and jealousy….but there's such a contrast between OT & NT because God didn't have to 'be' like that anymore when Jesus came… because His plan to give us a way to reconcile to Him was started when Jesus was born…. so Jesus does/did show the essence God becuase at that point there was no longer a 'need' for the wrath. God had found a way for us to be at peace and would no longer have to be jealous over us. He would from now on see us as part of Jesus – not just our sinful selves. Just as GOd said when Jesus was baptized…. "this is my son… with whom I am pleased" (or something like that) — the work would soon be finished and the most beautiful plan on earth to reunite GOd with His creations would be finished. God is pleased. He doesn't see us as us anymore – He sees us through a new lens – which certainly is portrayed in the essence Jesus carried.

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