Jesus: God or Son of God?


Who does this Scripture describe?


“Not born of any human stock, or by the fleshly desire of a human father, but the offspring of God himself” (John 1:13).


Is the apostle John speaking about a divine, preexistent Jesus?


No, he is describing believers, children of God…you!  Here is the entire passage:


But to all who did receive him [Jesus], to those who have yielded him their allegiance, he gave the right to become children of God, not born of any human stock, or by the fleshly desire of a human father, but the offspring of God himself  (Jn 1:12-13, NEB).


Can such a description, which seems perfectly fitting for Jesus, also define mere human believers? Spiritual begettal in the NT is regarded as a rebirth, as if you were born again but this time of God’s seed (Titus 3:5). To the Pharisee Nicodemus, Jesus presented this spiritual rebirth as a concrete reality absolutely required for entrance into the Kingdom of God. Nicodemus was nonplussed at Jesus’ doctrine and left wondering what it meant (Jn 3:1-9). Was Jesus speaking physically, metaphysically, or spiritually? If spiritually, rebirth to what?

            John answers that last question: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! (‘sons of God,’ KJV) (1Jn 3:1, NIV). Paul quotes the Lord Almighty as saying to his own, “I will be a Father to you and you will be my sons and daughters” (2Cor 6:18).

            Jesus was the unique Son of God in that he was chosen in the plan of God before the foundation of the world, begotten of God’s seed in the womb of Mary, and lived a life that perfectly pleased, honored and fully obeyed his heavenly Father--right to the end. His self-sacrifice for the sins of Adam’s race was accepted by the Father. Jesus then became the firstborn of the dead and was exalted to his Father’s throne and given rulership over the His Majesty’s realm. All other sons and daughters of God are called to follow Christ’s footsteps in Godly obedience and are promised to be likewise raised from the dead to glory and to share Christ’s rulership over creation.

            Jesus, of course, never claimed to be God, rather he worshipped God and called him Father. His favorite term of self description was “Son of Man.” He saw himself as the True Man, made by God, the man, the son Adam never was. He was “the Man of God’s own choosing,” to use the words from Martin Luther’s hymn. As such, Jesus also had the right to claim to be “Son of God,” the firstborn, and archetypical model for all God’s children.

            Divine “sonship” becomes the central NT theme of what it means to be a Christian. To be Christ-like is to be a child of God in the mold of Jesus. What set Jesus apart as the Son of God? There were many things but prime among them were his utter yielding, and dependence upon his Father, coupled with his total and willing filial obedience. This, more than anything else, is what made him a true Son of God. The fundamental Hebraic use of sonship, especially in John’s Gospel, is not to designate an absolute status or title, but a functional relationship marked by character and actions.

            The voice he hears at his baptism (“You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased”—itself given in the context of John the Baptist’s summons to Israel to repent and purify itself), echoes God’s hopeful call to sonship and servanthood for Israel in the OT. The temptations that followed Jesus’ baptism can also be understood in the light of the wilderness call of Israel to be God’s son. As Satan tempts Jesus, in each case Jesus answers with a quotation from Deuteronomy and provides the faithful response which the old Israel had refused.

            The world-renowned theologian and New Testament scholar, John A. T. Robinson, paraphrases and comments upon the temptation exchange between Jesus and Satan:


“If you are the son of God,” says Satan, “prove it by putting God to the test as Israel did: presume upon it and force God’s hand.” “No,” replies Jesus, “sonship is to be proved by filial trust and obedience, for that is the only meaning, and therefore the only verification, of the relationship.” There is no suggestion that the essence of divine sonship is a second superhuman nature that can do and say and know things which ordinary sons of men cannot. Quite the reverse. The only power and knowledge are those that come from the intimate dependence on the Father in which the true son lives.”[1]


            When criticized for calling God his Father, Jesus replied that he “can do nothing by himself: he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son does also. For the Father loves the Son, and shows him all he does” (Jn 5:19-20). Here he is likening himself to an apprentice being shown the Father’s trade by his hands-on, loving Father. His proof to all of his divine sonship was found in how he lived his life in response to God:


They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be, and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him” (Jn 8:27-29).


            His claim of the highest and most intimate union with God is grounded in his utter faithfulness and his listening obedience. “My deeds done in my Father’s name are my credentials” (Jn 10:38), Jesus affirmed.  Later he says, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” because “I am not myself the source of the words I speak to you: it is the Father who dwells in me doing his own work” (Jn 14:9-10). Jesus is the very “exegesis” of the Father (Jn 1:18).


            Perfection, said Jesus, was becoming (a process) like the Father in heaven. This is what Jesus did and what we, as sons and daughters of God, are called to do (Mt 5:48).  Jesus is the unique Son of God, not because of some supposed preexistent divinity or God-man powers, but because he alone allowed God, in every way, to really be his Father. Bathed in God’s spirit and love, Jesus became just like his heavenly Father. We are called to follow him and fulfill God’s great purpose in bringing many sons and daughters to glory (Heb 2:10). As Paul taught young Timothy,


This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men… (I Tim 2:3-5).


The Son of God bids you and me, as fellow children of God, to follow his steps moving Godward. You, like Christ, are called to become a son or daughter of the Most High—becoming like God in heart and character. And Jesus is not ashamed to call you his brother (Heb 2:11), for you too are God’s offspring.


—Ken Westby





[1] John A. T. Robinson, The Human Face of God, The Westminster Press, 1973, pp 190-1.