I was recently invited to speak at Encounter:Worship, a campus ministry at UMKC. They asked me to come and discuss some issues surrounding who Jesus was.
We opened with talking about how we know of Jesus and what are the sources of evidence about who he was. I asked, “Does it matter whether the NT documents are reliable or not? Those who say no will say that the fundamental principles of Christianity are laid down in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere in the NT; their validity is not affected by the truth or falsehood of the narrative framework in which they are set. The teaching ascribed to this figure has a value all of its own, and a man who accepts and follows that teaching can be a true Christian even if he believes that Christ never lived at all. But there is something different about the very essence of Christianity. The Christian gospel is not primarily a code of ethics or a metaphysical system; it is first and foremost good news. Christianity, as a way of life, depends upon the acceptance of Christianity as good news. And this good news is intimately bound up with the historical order, for it tells how for the world’s redemption God entered into history, the eternal came into time, the kingdom of heaven invaded the realm of earth, in the great events of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus.
I then began to look at the Apostle’s Creed, a statement of the orthodox beliefs of the early church. I looked specifically at the statement on Jesus:
I believe in…Jesus Christ, his (the Father’s) only Son, our Lord. who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit born of the Virgin Mary. Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence he shall come again to judge the living and the dead.
Jesus as God’s Son – The Son of God was a term reserved for the anointed kings of Israel in the Old Testament. It signified the adoption by God of the king who represented his people as their head. Some Old Testament references to the king being God’s son are: 2 Samuel 7:12-4, the Lord speaking to David through the prophet Nathan concerning the construction of the Temple: “…I will raise up your offspring to succeed you…He is the one who will build a house for my Name…I will be his Father and he will be my son.” Psalm 2 is referred to as a Royal Psalm that was recited at the coronation of the new king, verse 7: “I will proclaim the decree of the Lord: he said to me, “you are my Son; today I have become your Father (or I have begotten you).” Thus the term Son of God was a messianic term referring to Jesus role as the king in the line of David who would rule his people.
Another aspect of Jesus’ sonship is seen in the term Son of Man. This is a term that Jesus applies to himself in many places in the gospels. Jesus tells the High Priest at his trial before the Sanhedrin “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” (Matt. 26.64). Jesus here is referring to the human figure that Daniel sees in a vision in Daniel 7. This figure like a “son of man” who approached the Ancient of Days and who was given “authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him” (Daniel 7.13-4). This is a figure that receives some of the aspects of the divinity (ability to be worshipped, authority and sovereign power). Thus this is a title that refers to Jesus’ equality with God. Notice that it is at this point that the high priest tears his clothes and denounces Jesus as guilty of blasphemy.