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Issues Facing Missions Today: 35 Jesus, Son of God

Issues Facing Missions Today: 35 Jesus, Son of God

Just what does it mean to call Jesus ‘Son/Son of God,’ and for Jesus to call God ‘Father’?  The question is particularly important in missional contexts involving other monotheistic religions (Judaism and Islam), not least when the language is misunderstood as referring to generation.  This concern has been an issue for Bible translators, some of whom have proposed changing the language of ‘Son/Son of God’ so as not to convey the wrong understanding in such contexts.  The following brief study examines this issue for the Gospel of John.

Alterations of metaphors often lose something—perhaps much more than they might gain through clarification.  While such matters need to be considered on a case by case basis, the following study of the language of ‘Son/Son of God’ in John’s Gospel demonstrates the importance of this language for Johannine theology.  That theology, moreover, includes a missional understanding of the role Jesus, Son of God, plays in salvation history because of his relationship with God the Father.  I would suggest that the following ten points (with quotations from the NRSV) capture significant aspects of what it means in John’s Gospel for Jesus to be called the Son of God.

1 Jesus partakes of the Divine Identity
John 1:1, 14, 18 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….    14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth…. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.

2. The Son knows and represents the Father.  He makes the Father known.
John 5:20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing.
John 6:44-46 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.  45 It is written in the Prophets, 'And they will all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me-  46 not that anyone has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father.
John 17:26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."

3. All that the Father has, the Son has.
John 16:15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

4. The Son does the Father’s will and the work of the Father.
John 3:16-18 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
John 5:21-22 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.  22 The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son,
John 5:43 I have come in my Father's name….
John 8:28 So Jesus said to them, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.

5. The Father responds to the prayers of those who ask in the name of the Son.
John 16:23 Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.

6. The Son and the Father share in and seek each other’s glory.
John 12:28 Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven: "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again."
John 14:13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
John 17:1, 4-6 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you ….  I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.  5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.  6 "I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

7. The Father and the Son are perfectly united with one another, and this relationship is eternal (hence, Jesus has always been the Son).[1]
John 17:22-24 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,  23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.  24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

8. The Father loves the Son, lets him see the work He is doing, and entrusts everything into his hands.
John 3:35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.
John 5:20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing.

9. People are to honour (and believe in) the Son as they honour the Father.
John 5:23 ... that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.
John 6:40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day."

10. Those who keep Jesus’ word are brought into the relationship of love and obedience of the Son with the Father.
John 14:21, 23 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him." …. Jesus answered him, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
John 15:10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.
John 17:26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."

John’s use of ‘Son/Son of God’ language for Jesus expresses more than his role in mission.  It expresses his relationship with God the Father.  Out of this relationship flows Jesus’ mission.  The language of ‘Son-Father’ captures Jesus’ divine identity and the unity, love, honour, and glory that Jesus, Son of God, shares with God the Father.  It captures the depths of Jesus’ personal relationship with God.  Out of this relationship and identity, Jesus is able to make the Father known and do His works.  All that the Father has, the Son has, and thus Jesus is in a position to give to his disciples what is the Father’s.  As Son of God, he does the Father’s will.  He brings others to the Father (through prayer), and even brings them into the relationship the Son has with the Father.  Quite simply, there is no other notion than ‘Son/Son of God’ that can capture these dimensions of Jesus’ eternal relationship with God the Father and his earthly mission.

[1] The question arises whether we are to understand the Father-Son relation in John’s Gospel more as having to do with Jesus’ relationship with God the Father or as having to do with Jesus’ role or function in God’s salvation history.  On the latter option, Marianne Meye Thompson writes,

My contention is that Jesus’ address to God as Father does not in the first instance bear witness to his own “experience” of God but, rather, to his conviction that God’s renewal and restoration of Israel—a hope depicted in the prophets as the return of the exiles to their home and as the return of the children of Israel to God as Father (Isa. 64:8-9; Jer. 31:9)— were being effected through his mission. That Jesus spoke of God as Father was not a matter of private experience; it was a matter of public mission.[1]

I would suggest, however, that the negation—that this is not a matter of private experience—misses an essential element of Jesus’ Sonship in John’s Gospel.  Indeed, it is precisely out of Jesus’ relationship of ‘being in the bosom of the Father’ (Jn. 1.18) that his mission of revelation and salvation make sense.  We may have here an eleventh point to make about Jesus’ role as ‘Son,’ that he takes on himself the role of Israel as God’s son, but this does not negate what else must be said of Jesus’ relationship with God the Father.