R. F. Wall.
Pre-Incarnate, Eternal Sonship
There are a number of passages we can turn to that show the Lord Jesus was Son before the incarnation. In Hebrews 1 we read: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners, spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds” (Heb. 1:1-2). It was by the Son, as such, that the worlds were made. Creation is also attributed to the Son in Colossians chapter 1, though there He is presented as the Son of the Father's love. Paul and Timothy give thanks to the Father, “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son (Darby gives here, “the Son of His love”)... Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by Him were all things created” (Col. 1:12-16). We have then, before the incarnation, the One who is the Son, God's Son, the Son of the Father's love.
We might also notice how Hebrews 1 and Colossians 1 distinguish these two aspects of our Lord's pre-incarnate Sonship. As God's Son He has the nature of God. In Hebrews 1 we read that God, “maketh His angels spirits.” That is their nature; they are spirit. “But unto the Son He saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.” The nature of the Son is deity; He is God. In Colossians 1 where He is presented as the Son of the Father's love the emphasis is more upon relationship with the Father and the love that belongs to this relationship. Both the relationship and the love of the relationship are shown to be present before creation. We see this in John 17 too. In verse 5 the Son praying to the Father speaks about the glory which He had with the Father before the world was, and lower down He speaks of the love belonging to this relationship: “Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me: for Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:5, 24).
The pre-incarnate Sonship of Christ is also seen in this, that as the Son He is sent, and comes, from outside of the world, into it. In John 3:17 we read that, “God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.” In John 16 the Lord Jesus says to the disciples: “I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: For the Father Himself loveth you, because ye have loved Me, and have believed that I came out from God. I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father” (John 16:26-28). The sending of the Son does not imply that as the Son He was in any way inferior to the Sender. In Galatians 4 His being sent is put alongside the sending of the Holy Spirit. We read there that, “when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law.” But just a verse lower down we read: “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Gal. 4:4, 6). The Greek word for sending forth is the same in both cases and in both cases the sending was of Divine Persons from heaven into the world.
There is another reference to the sending of the Son in 1 John 4 verse 9: “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.” The expression “only begotten” is a translation of the Greek word monogenees. This is derived from the Greek words monos, meaning only, or alone, and genos. Genos occurs 21 times in the New Testament and is variously translated1. It is rendered “offspring” (x3), “born” (x2), and “generation” (x1). But the Name “only begotten Son” cannot refer to the incarnation because this verse tells us that it was as the only begotten Son that He was sent from outside of the world into it. He was the only begotten Son before He came. What meaning then is to be attached to the expression “only begotten”? The word genos is also translated kind, kinds or kindred (x8) and the writer believes this is its meaning here. The only begotten Son of God is of the same kind as God. He is of the same kind as God because He has the nature of God. And He is the only Son like this. We know that others are called sons of God. The angels are called sons of God and believers during this present dispensation of grace are called sons of God, but the only begotten Son is alone in having the nature of God in all its fulness. As the Son He has not only the moral nature of God but deity too.
1The references are as follows: KIND-Matt. 13:47; Matt. 17:21; Mark 9:29; NATION-Mark 7:26; Gal. 1:14; KINDRED-Acts 4:6; Acts 7:13; Acts 7:19; COUNTRY-Acts 4:36; STOCK-Acts 13:26; Phil. 3:5; OFFSPRING-Acts 17:28; Acts 17:29; Rev. 22:16; BORN-Acts 18:2; Acts 18:24; KINDS-1 Cor. 12:10; 1 Cor. 14:10; DIVERSITIES-1 Cor. 12:28; countrymen-2 Cor. 11:26; GENERATION-1 Peter 2:9.
It is well known that the word monogenees2 occurs nine times in the New Testament. John uses the expression five times, only of the Lord Jesus. In Luke's Gospel it is used three times of only children. In Hebrews 11:17 it is used of Isaac. While Isaac was not the only child of Abraham, he was the only child of his kind-he was the only child of promise.
The Sonship of Christ and His Incarnation
It is important to distinguish between the expression “only begotten” and the words in Psalm 2, “this day have I begotten Thee.” “This day have I begotten Thee” refers to the incarnation, as the New Testament quotations show (Psalm 2:7; Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5; Heb. 5:5). But even in Psalm 2 the order of the words guards against the thought that the Son became such by incarnation. It is not said, “This day have I begotten Thee; Thou art My Son,” but “Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee.” This is consistent with what has been noticed already. In Luke 1, answering Mary's question how she could conceive in the womb and bear a son seeing she knew not a man, the angel says: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). In considering this verse the writer has found it helpful to keep Psalm 40 in mind: “Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not, but a body hast Thou prepared Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast had no pleasure: Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of Me) to do Thy will, O God” (Ps. 40:6-8; Heb. 10:5-7). The words in Psalm 2: “this day have I begotten Thee,” refer to the humanity of Christ. They refer to His human spirit and soul and body. But Psalm 40 shows us the Son, the One that was sent from heaven by God and by the Father, coming to take the body prepared for Him. The Eternal Son, having become incarnate, would “be called the Son of God.”
2The nine references are: ONLY-Luke 7:12; Luke 8:42; ONLY CHILD-Luke 9:38; ONLY BEGOTTEN-John 1:14; John 1:18; John 3:16; John 3:18; Heb. 11:17; 1 John 4:9.
Before proceeding further it may be well to notice a passage in Revelation 2 where there is the greatest possible contrast between Christ as the seed of the woman, the Son of Mary, and Christ as the Son of God. In writing to the assembly at Thyatira John says: “These things saith the Son of God, who hath His eyes like unto a flame of fire, and His feet are like fine brass.” Thyatira represents the Roman Catholic system in its worst excesses. To this assembly, that gave (and gives) such a large and unscriptural place to Mary and thinks of the Sonship of Christ so habitually in relation to her, Christ presents Himself as the Son of God. As Mary's Son He is the Son of man, but as Son of God He is “the Ancient of days” (Dan. 7:9, 13-14, 21-22; Rev. 1:12-16).
It is true to say, and important to maintain, that the incarnation did not change the Person of Christ. He did not for a moment cease to be what He had always been. What did change was the position in which He, the Son, was found. Psalm 40 has shown us that He came to do the will of God. He came not to command but to obey. In Philippians 2 we see the One who is in the form of God taking the form of a servant, and becoming obedient unto death. What is of particular interest in relation to the present subject is the way that Scripture contrasts the Sonship of Christ with these two things; with servanthood and obedience. In John 8, where the word for servant or bondman is the same as in Philippians 2, the Lord says: “the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (Phil. 2:7; John 8:35-36). In Hebrews 3 we have a similar contrast. Moses “was faithful in all His (God's) house, as a servant” (Heb. 3:5). According to Mr. W. E. Vine the word for servant here (therapon) “is a term of dignity and freedom.” Yet the very next verse contrasts the Sonship of Christ with this. “But Christ as a Son over His own house; whose house are we...” (Heb. 3:6). The beginning of Hebrews 3 shows us why this contrast is made. “For He has been counted worthy of greater glory than Moses, by how much He that has built it has more honour than the house. For every house is built by some one; but He who has built all things is God” (Heb. 3:3-4-J.N.D. Trans.). In Hebrews 5 we read that “Though He were Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8-J.N.D. Trans.). Obedience was outside the experience of the Son. He had been the One who was to be obeyed. But now having come into the world He learned in His own experience the cost in suffering that obedience entailed. This verse shows us His perfect obedience, even unto the death of the cross.
A similar contrast between His Sonship and the position of obedience which He took at the incarnation is seen in His temptation by the devil. In Matthew 4 the devil twice addresses Him as the Son of God. He knew very well who He was, but he says: “If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” The devil sought to induce the Lord to exercise His own power and will as God and had He done so He would have proven that he was the Son of God. The Lord answers in a way that shows He would not be moved from the position of obedience which He had taken: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:3-4). In the second temptation it was a question of showing that as the Son of God He was the object of the love and care of the Father. “If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down: for it is written, He shall give His angels charge concerning Thee: and in their hands they shall bear Thee up, lest at any time Thou dash Thy foot against a stone” (Psa. 91:11-12; Matt. 4:6-7). It is striking that in the third of the temptations the devil doesn't address the Lord as the Son of God. There is a simple explanation for this. In the third temptation the devil calls on the Lord to worship him. But the Divine Sonship of Christ is connected with His Eternal Personality and deity. As the Son of God He is the One who is to be worshipped and the devil knew that very well. The Lord answers with words from Deuteronomy 6:13: “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.”
Later in Matt. 14, we find that there were those who did worship the Lord Jesus, and they worshipped Him as the Son of God. After the feeding of the five thousand (five thousand men, beside women and children) the Lord had sent the disciples across the sea of Galilee. A storm arose but Jesus came to them walking on the sea. When He came into the ship, the wind ceased, and “they that were in the ship came and worshipped Him, saying, Of a truth Thou art the Son of God” (Matt. 14:22-33).
Those who desire to pursue this study may find the following listing from the New Testament helpful:
There are 47 references to the “Son of God” in the AV, and 42 in the JND Translation. The 42 references occurring in both Translations are as follows: Matt. 4:3; Matt. 4:6; Matt. 8:29; Matt. 26:63; Matt. 27:40; Matt. 27:43; Matt. 27:54; Mark 1:1; Mark 3:11; Mark 15:39; Luke 1:35; Luke 4:3; Luke 4:9; Luke 4:41; Luke 22:70; John 1:34; John 1:49; John 3:18; John 5:25; John 9:35; John 10:36; John 11:4; John 11:27; John 19:7; John 20:31; Acts 9:20; Rom. 1:4; 2 Cor. 1:19; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 4:13; Heb. 4:14; Heb. 6:6; Heb. 7:3; Heb. 10:29; 1 John 3:8; 1 John 4:15; 1 John 5:5; 1 John 5:10; 1 John 5:12; 1 John 5:13; 1 John 5:20; Rev. 2:18. The references occurring only in the AV are: Matt. 14:33-Darby gives “God's Son;” Luke 3:38 (referring to Adam)-Darby gives “of God;” Luke 8:28-Darby gives “Son of the Most High God;” Acts 8:37-Darby omits this verse; 1 John 5:13-Darby omits the first reference.
There are 35 references to Christ as “The Son” (with no other words added which expand or describe that Name) and of these 33 occur in both the AV and JND Translations: Matt. 11:27 (x3); Matt. 21:38; Matt. 28:19; Mark 13:32; Luke 10:22 (x3); John 3:35; John 3:36 (x2); John 5:19 (x2); John 5:20; John 5:21; John 5:22; John 5:23(x2); John 5:26; John 6:40; John 8:35; John 8:36; John 14:13; 1 Cor. 15:28; Heb. 1:8; 1 John 2:22; 1 John 2:23 (x2); 1 John 2:24; 1 John 4:14; 1 John 5:12; 2 John 9. The AV has a reference to the Son in Hebrews 7:28, but JND gives “a Son.” Darby has a reference to (the) Son in Hebrews 1:2, where the King James Translation gives “His Son.”
In addition to the above there are 38 other references where Christ is called Son, and these include those occasions when He is called “My Son,” “His Son” etc. References which refer to His being Son of man, Son of David, Son of Mary etc. are not listed. There are 34 references common to both the AV and the JND Translations: Matt. 2:15; Matt. 21:37 (x2); Matt. 22:2; Matt. 22:42; Mark 12:6 (x2); John 3:17; John 17:1 (x2); Acts 13:33; Rom. 1:3; Rom. 1:9; Rom. 5:10; Rom. 8:3; Rom. 8:29; Rom. 8:32; 1 Cor. 1:9; Gal. 1:16; Gal. 4:4; Gal. 4:6; 1 Thess. 1:10; Heb. 1:5 (x2); Heb. 3:6; Heb. 5:5; Heb. 5:8; 1 John 1:3; 1 John 1:7; 1 John 3:23; 1 John 4:10; 1 John 5:9; 1 John 5:11; 1 John 5:20. References included in the AV only are Acts 3:13; Acts 3:26; Heb. 1:2. There is also a reference in the JND Translation in Heb. 7:28.
Some other designations (not included in the references above) are: “My Beloved Son”-Matt. 3:17; Matt. 17:5; Mark 1:11; Mark 9:7; Luke 3:22; Luke 9:35; Luke 20:13; 2 Peter 1:17. “Son of the Living God”-Matt. 16:16; John 6:69 (in John 6:69 Darby gives “holy One of God”). “Son of the Most High God” or “Son of God Most High”-Mark 5:7; Luke 8:28. “The Son of the Blessed”-Mark 14:61. “Son of the Highest”-Luke 1:32. “The Son of His love”-Col. 1:13, JND Translation. “The Son of the Father”-2 John 3.
The Sonship of Christ as Seen in His Pathway
We have seen that the nature of the Son is deity. We have seen that He has an eternal relationship with the Father and that this relationship is a relationship of love. Each of these hallmarks of His eternal Sonship were seen in the Son in this world.
In John 5, having healed the impotent man on the Sabbath day, the Lord was confronted by the Jews. In verse 17 we have the words of the Lord Jesus Himself: “But Jesus answered them, My father worketh hitherto, and I work.” Verse 18 tells us what we are to understand from these words. It is not merely what the Jews inferred from them, but what John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote: “Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill Him, because He not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.” This passage shows that the incarnation did not change the nature of His Sonship. Just as He was not one whit less God after the incarnation than before it, so His Sonship too was unchanged by it (See footnote on next page). John 10 shows this just as clearly. The Lord says: “I and My Father are one.” He is of the same nature, of the same essence, as the Father. The Jews knew very well what the Lord was claiming and they accuse Him of blasphemy, “Because that Thou, being a man, makest Thyself God” (John 10:30-33). As proof of His Divine and eternal Sonship the Lord there refers to the fact that He was sanctified and sent by the Father into the world, and that as having come into it He did the works of His Father (John 10:34-39). These works showed that as the Son He has the nature of God in all its fulness. In John 5 we read that: “The Father loveth the Son, and sheweth Him all things that Himself doeth,” and “What things soever He doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise” (John 5:19-20). As the Son He could be shown everything that the Father was doing, and as the Son He could do the same things Himself. But there is one work in particular which shows that the nature of the Son is deity: He gives life to the dead. “For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom He will” (John 5:21). It is this attribute of Deity that Paul refers to in Romans 1 in proof of the Divine Sonship of Christ: He is “Marked out Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by resurrection of the dead” (Rom. 1:4 — J. N. D. Trans.).
The Lord Jesus has the nature of God in all its fulness, and as the Son He also has an eternal relationship with the Father. This relationship with the Father characterised the Son as come into the world. It didn't begin when He came into the world, and neither did it cease then. The relationship continued without interruption. On only one occasion in the Gospels does the Lord address God, and that is on the cross: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matt 27:46; Mark 15:34). At all other times He addressed God as His Father and this known and enjoyed relationship with the Father was the home of His heart. He referred to it in His first recorded words in this world. Mary and Joseph found Him in the temple and Mary mistakenly reproved Him: “Son, why hast Thou thus dealt with us? behold, Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing” (Luke 2:48). Was Mary forgetting that while legally Joseph's son, the Lord Jesus had been born “before they came together”? (Matt. 1:18). The Lord answered with words to Mary's conscience: “How is it that ye sought Me? wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?” (Luke 2:49). The Father had sent the Son and the Son had come down from heaven, not to do His own will, but the will of Him that sent Him (1 John 4:14; John 6:38).
His last words upon the cross were addressed to the Father. While the Son was in the world, the Father who had sent Him had been with Him. He had not left the Son alone, because the Son had done always those things which pleased the Father (John 8:29). Now that the work was done, and in the unclouded enjoyment of that same eternal relationship, it is to the Father that He sends away His spirit. “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, He said, Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit: and having said thus, He gave up the ghost” (Luke 23:46). The Lord had been hanging on the cross for six hours, yet shortly before those words were spoken He had been able to declare, “It is finished,” with a loud voice (Mark 15:25, 34; John 19:30). How was this possible? Mark tells us that: “When the centurion, which stood over against Him, saw that He so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39). In John's account of the crucifixion we are told that “He delivered up His spirit” (John 19:30). He had power to lay down His life and power to take it again. Even in the circumstances of His death His glory is manifested, and it is the glory of the Son.
This relationship between the Father and the Son was and is a relationship of love. As being one with the Father He can say: “All things that the Father hath are Mine” (John 16:15). Yet as the incarnate Son all things are given to Him by the Father. That the Father gives Him all things is a proof of the eternal love of the Father for the Son: “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into His hand” (John 3:35). In John 5 it is this eternal love of the Father for the Son that leads the Father to show the incarnate Son all things that He is doing: “For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth Him all things that Himself doeth” (John 5:20).
This love for the Son is also seen in the various ways that He is described. He is the Father's “beloved Son” (Matt. 3:17; Matt. 17:5; Mark 1:11; Mark 9:7; Luke 3:22; Luke 9:35; 2 Peter 1:17), “The Beloved” (Eph. 1:6), God's “own Son” (Rom. 8:3, 32), and the Son of the Father's love (Col. 1:13).
The Sonship of Christ in Relation to the Jews
The Sonship of Christ was a central issue with the Jews. We have seen from John 5 and 10 how He pressed it upon them in plain words. Later, in the counsel of the Jews, the high priest adjured Him by the Living God to say whether He was the Christ, the Son of God (Matt. 26:63-64; Mark 14:61-62; Luke 22:70). His answer was “I am” (Mark 14:62).
The Lord also pressed His Sonship upon the Jews in parables. In Matthew 21 He speaks about a certain householder who planted a vineyard. It is a picture of Israel nationally, planted by Jehovah (Jer. 2:21; Jer. 11:17). When the time for fruiting drew near servants were sent to receive of the fruit. Some were beaten, some were stoned and some were killed. Last of all the householder sent his son, saying, “They will reverence my son” (Matt. 21:37). In Mark's Gospel it is added that: “Having yet therefore one son, his well-beloved, he sent him last unto them” (Mark 12:6). But those to whom the son is sent reject him and as a consequence they are themselves rejected and judgment falls upon them.
In Matthew 22 there is a parable that is only recorded in that chapter. A certain King makes a marriage for his son. Those first bidden to the wedding refuse the invitation and others fill up their place. Matthew's Gospel repeatedly contrasts the dispensations of law and grace and this change of dispensation is shown to hinge on the rejection of the Son.
At the end of Matthew 22 the Lord refers to prophetic Scripture. When He had answered the contrived questions of the Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees, He confounds the Pharisees with a question of His own: “What think ye of Christ? whose Son is He?” He refers to Psalm 110, and they cannot answer how, if He is David's Son, David should call Him his Lord, saying, “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou on My right hand, till I make Thine enemies Thy footstool” (Matt. 22:41-46; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44; Psalm 110:1).
What was the outcome of this presentation of His Sonship to the Jews? His claims to Divine Sonship were utterly rejected. On the basis of His confession in the counsel of the Jews He was condemned to death (Matt. 26:65-66; Mark 14:63-64). When He was taken to Pilate the Jews said: “We have a law, and by our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God” (John 19:7). He was mocked as He hung upon the cross. Those that passed by reviled Him, “wagging their heads, and saying... If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matt. 27:39-40). “The chief priests mocking Him, with the scribes and elders, said... He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He will have Him: for he said, I am the Son of God” (Matt. 27:41, 43). If, as the Son of God, He has the nature of God in all its fulness, had He not power to come down from the cross? If He has an eternal relationship with the Father and this relationship is a relationship of love, would He not be delivered? Those that mocked Him supplied the answer, though they did so in unbelief: “He saved others, Himself He cannot save” (Matt 27:42). As the Son He had power to lay down His life. This commandment He had received of His Father, and on this account the Father loved Him, because He laid down His life that He might take it again (John 10:17-18).
This really brings us to another point. Since the coming of the Son of God into the world, all blessing hinges upon receiving Him as such. This was true of the Jews when the Lord was here. The man in John 9 who was born blind, had his eyes opened and worshipped the Lord Jesus as the Son of God. He typifies the remnant of the Jews (John 9:35-38). We see the same thing with Saul of Tarsus. When “There fell from his eyes as it had been scales... straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:18-20). This testimony to the Jews as to the Sonship of Christ was continued in the epistle to the Hebrews. And the eyes of the remnant will be opened to this Personal and eternal glory of Christ after the church is taken to heaven.
At the beginning of John's Gospel we read of three days. There is one day, and then “The next day” (John 1:29, 35), and then “The day following” (John 1:43). The spiritual bearing of these days is this. The ministry of John the Baptist and of the Lord on earth is connected with the first day. What marks the second day are the features of Christianity. Christ is known as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and as the Son of God who baptises with the Holy Spirit (John 1:29, 33-34). But what characterises the third day is the opening of the eyes of the Jewish remnant to the Divine glory of the Lord Jesus, even in the face of their long prejudice against Him. Like Nathanael towards the end of John 1 they will confess Him as the Son of God and the King of Israel (John 1:43, 47-49).
The Sonship of Christ and Christianity
The Gospels by Matthew, Mark and Luke are largely occupied with the ministry of the Lord Jesus outside of Jerusalem and Judaea. They record the animosity of the religious leaders toward Him and also trace out the stages in His rejection by the common people. As this rejection becomes more and more apparent a new work comes into view. If He is rejected as the Christ it is upon Him as the Son of God1 that this new work is founded. In answering the Lord's question, “But whom say ye that I am?” Peter confesses, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee... upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:15-18). John's Gospel is more concerned with events in Jerusalem and Judaea. In this centre of Judaism He is rejected from the outset and we are occupied with this new work from the beginning (John 2:18-21; John 3:14-16; John 4:23-24; John 5:23-25; John 6:53-57; John 7:37-39 etc.). We might well call John's Gospel the Gospel of Christianity.
1In the parallel passages in Mark 8:27-9:1 and Luke 9:18-27 He is confessed as “the Christ,” but there is no reference to His being the Son of God or to the building of the assembly.
John's Gospel was written that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that, believing, we might have life through His Name (John 20:31). Eternal life is connected with the knowledge of God, who is made known to us as the Father by the Son (John 17:3; 1 John 1:2; 1 John 5:11). This revelation of God is brought before us in John 1 where we read that “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him” (John 1:18). This verse shows that there are Divine Persons within the Godhead and that these Divine Persons are in relationship with one another: they are Father and Son. Furthermore, this relationship is shown to be a relationship of love. The only begotten Son is in the bosom of the Father. This is how God is declared to us. It is not what God became, but what He has always been. The Holy Spirit is not mentioned here because it is objective revelation. He works in our hearts to give the capacity to receive the revelation (John 3:5-8). The revelation itself is of God the Father by the Son.
This revelation is at the very heart of the gospel. God is “in the light” (1 John 1:7). He no longer dwells in the thick darkness which concealed Him before Christ came (Ex. 19:9, J.N.D. Trans.; 1 Kings 8:12; Ps. 97:2). It is in this light that our sin is exposed. There is at the same time the manifestation of all that can be known about God, and the manifestation of the truth about ourselves. Yet God is revealed as One who loves us and who provides for the need which He shows to exist. The Father sends the Son to be the Saviour of the world. (1 John 4:14). It was in this that the love of God toward us was manifested, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him (1 John 4:9). And when expressing the love of God to the world it is not said that God gave the Son of man, but that He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:14-15). He gave the One who was the eternal and always worthy object of His love and delight.
Those that believe on the Son have eternal life. They receive it when they receive Him, for “He that hath the Son, hath life; and He that hath not the Son of God, hath not life” (1 John 5:12). He is “that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us” (1 John 1:2).
Just as the initial receiving of eternal life is bound up with the receiving of the Son, so growth in the divine nature is connected with the knowledge2 of the Son. In 1 John 2 it is this that marks the fathers, those who are spiritually mature. They know the Son, the One who is “from the beginning” (1 John 2:13, 14). The gifts given by an ascended Christ have the same end in view: “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect (full-grown) man” (Eph. 4:13). There can be no advance from this knowledge, as the two references in 1 John 2 show (Verses 13 & 14). It is knowledge that is gained as we keep company with Him. Like the disciples of old we can see where He abides (in the Father's bosom), and abide with Him (John 1:38-39). We can contemplate His glory, “a glory as of an only begotten with a father” (John 1:14 — J.N.D. Trans.).
2In Matthew 11:27 we read, “All things are delivered unto Me of My Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him.” The Greek word for “knoweth” is the same in both places (epiginõsko). Since the Father, who is not incarnate, can be known by those to whom the Son reveals Him, it does not seem that the Lord is here referring to the impossibility of the creature comprehending God (1 Tim. 6:16). Rather, it is the incarnate Son who cannot be comprehended-it is impossible for us to understand how Deity and Humanity can be united in His Person. This is a great mystery (1 Tim. 3:16). Such verses as these should not be used to deny or oppose what is revealed (Matt. 16:16-17). The same word (epignõsis) is used in Ephesians 4:13, “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”
These and other verses show that the Sonship of Christ has a vital bearing upon everyday Christian living. It is certainly not an abstruse point of doctrine with which we need not concern ourselves. This is also seen in Galatians 2:20: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” The law did not give life and because of what we are according to the flesh, it was really a ministry of death and condemnation (2 Cor. 3:7, 9). It set no object before the soul, apart from the obedience which it required, and it imparted no power in order that that obedience might be rendered. The verse here in Galatians 2 shows that these three things are connected with the Son of God. Paul had received Christ, the Son, and life in Him. And the Son of God was the constant and sustaining object of his faith. The love of the eternal Son of God was set on him, and Paul had a deep, present, consciousness of it. He had given Himself for Paul and having Him before his soul he was furnished with the power that enabled him to live such a victorious and exemplary Christian life.
The One who came from heaven and gave Himself for Paul and for every believer, is coming again. The life of faith will then be at an end. Are we waiting for His coming? The believers at Thessalonica had “turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God; And to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:9-10). Is there not a parallel between this verse and Galatians 2:20? The other references to the second coming in this epistle all speak about the “Lord Jesus Christ” or “the Lord” (1 Thess. 2:19; 1 Thess. 3:13; 1 Thess. 4:15; 1 Thess. 5:23). He has absolute authority and we are accountable to Him, but the reference in the first chapter seems to lay particular stress upon the Person who is coming. The love of the Son for them was such that there was no question of their being left in the world when the day of the Lord should be present (2 Thess. 2:2, J.N.D. Trans.). He had delivered them from that coming wrath. Having Him as their object and hope, the One in whom the love of God and of the Father had been so perfectly manifested, they were kept in peace. We know from the second epistle that it was this hope that the enemy sought to shake, but Scripture clearly teaches that the saints will be caught away from the world before the hour of trial comes upon it (1 Thess. 4:16-17; 1 Thess. 5:2-5; 2 Thess. 2:1-8; Rev. 3:10).
In his epistles John shows a similar concern for those who were in danger of being deceived. It was not deception connected with wrong teaching about the timing of the day of the Lord, but what is even more serious, deception flowing from wrong teaching about the Person of Christ. Does not the apostle John insist upon the vital nature of the doctrine of Christ? In his first epistle he especially warns the little children. “Who is a liar, but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: but he that acknowledgeth the Son, hath the Father also. Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father” (1 John 2:22-24). In these verses we have again the same elements that we have seen before. He is the Christ, the Son of God and of the Father. Like the Thessalonian believers, the little children that John addressed knew that Antichrist was coming (1 John 2:18a) but he warns them that, “even now are there many antichrists” (1 John 2:18b). What constituted them antichrists was the denial of the truth as to Christ's Person. They professed themselves to be Christians while at the same time denying the revelation of the eternal God that has come to us in the Son. The safeguard of the little children was to abide in the teaching of the apostle's concerning Him. They were to receive no new, no novel teaching about the Person of Christ. The Unction (the Holy Spirit) which they had from the Holy One (the Lord Jesus) would enable them to continue in the Son and in the Father (1 John 2:20, 24).
In his second Epistle John writes to “the elect lady.” She too was vulnerable. It was not the man, but the woman who was deceived by the serpent and John writes that “many deceivers are entered into the world” (1 Tim. 2:14; 2 John 7). It was the doctrine of Christ that was to be the touchstone, and if those who professed to bring something brought not that doctrine she was not to receive them into her house: “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed, is partaker of his evil deeds.” (2 John 9-11).
In closing let us call to mind again how the Sonship of Christ is interwoven with every strand of Christian truth. It is by the Son as such that God is revealed to us. “The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him” (John 1:18). We receive this revelation when we believe the gospel and the gospel of God concerns “His Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 1:1-3). Believing the gospel we are delivered “from the power of darkness,” and translated “into the Kingdom” of God's “dear Son” (Col. 1:13). Those so translated form part of the church that Christ is building on the unshakeable foundation of His own Person as “the Son of the Living God” (Matt. 16:15-18). While that building continues we are waiting for God's Son from heaven and while we wait it is our portion, like Paul, to live by faith, “the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (1 Thess. 1:10; Gal. 2:20). It is clear from these and many other passages that the Sonship of Christ is not peripheral to Christianity. Indeed, how can anything that is so vitally bound up with His Person be peripheral? To maintain that it is so is to depredate His glory and to manifest that Laodicean spirit which is such a dishonour to Him. Christianity is centred in Christ, the Christ of the Scriptures, and any false idea we have of Him is not only fatal in itself, but will also (eventually) show itself in a wrong idea of Christianity, and in wrong practice (1 Cor. 15:33).
May the Lord grant us a deepening appreciation of His glory and the desire to be faithful to His Name.
R. F. Wall.
Were you to apply the directions given for judging immorality to fatal error touching our Lord's person, you would have a very insufficient measure of discipline. False doctrine does not touch the natural conscience as gross conduct does. Nay, you may too often find a believer drawn away by his affections to make excuses for those who are fundamentally heterodox. All sorts of difficulties fill the mind where the eye is not really single. Many might thus be involved who did not themselves hold the false doctrine. If I accept the principle of dealing with none but him who brings not the doctrine of Christ, it will not do; for there may be others entangled by it. What is any individual, what is the church even, in comparison with the Saviour, the Son of the Father? Accordingly, the rule laid down by the Spirit for vindicating Christ's person from blasphemous assailants or their partisans, is infinitely more stringent than when it is a question of moral corruption, be it ever so bad.
W. Kelly-Lectures on the Gospel of Matthew, page 324.