Jesus is described as “the Son of God” about 30 times in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Mark’s account begins, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Demons, or unclean spirits, are recorded as using this phrase in addressing Jesus (Mark 3:11; 5:7). Peter confessed of Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Jesus acknowledged the truth of Peter’s words (Matthew 16:17). Jesus declared that he was the Son of God, to a healed man, who had been born blind (John 9:35-38). A centurion, who witnessed the events connected with the cross, concluded, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:37-39 cf. Matthew 27:54).
What does this phrase mean? It depends on the context. This phrase is used in different ways in scripture. (1) Sons of God is used of angels, or heavenly beings, it seems (Job 2:1). Perhaps, this is because they are God’s creation (cf. Psalm 148:1—5; Nehemiah 9:6; Colossians 1:16). Another possible explanation is that they are so called, because they serve God. (2) Son of God is used of Adam (Luke 3:38). He is called this, because he was created by God, not having an earthly father preceding him. (3) Israel is called by God “My Son” (Exodus 4:22). This is likely a reference to relationship, and care. (4) Kings who came through the Davidic seed line, are sons of God (2 Samuel 7:12-16). This is likely a reference to relationship, and care. (5) Those in authority are called, “children of the Most High” (Psalm 82:6). This is likely a reference to authority and position allowed by God on this earth (e.g. Exodus 7:1-2, Exodus 22:28; Ezekiel 31:11). (6) Christians are called “sons of God” (cf. 1 John 3:1-2; Galatians 3:26-28). The reference is to being a part of God’s spiritual family, and heirs of the good things to come (Romans 8:17).
In what way is Jesus the Son of God? (1) He is the Son of God by birth. The phrase is used in connection with Jesus’ birth (Luke 1:26-35). This may be similar to how the phrase is used of Adam (Luke 3:38). (2) He is the Son of God, being the object of God’s love and protective care. Jesus is called God’s son, in the context of God’s protective care (Matthew 2:13-15). [The words of Matthew 2:15 originally applied to God’s love and protective care of Israel (cf. Hosea 11:1-2). The word “fulfilled” is used accommodatingly (see article: Prophecy: Fulfilled by B.H.)]. (3) He is the Son of God, in his submissive relationship on earth to God. Children are to obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1). Jesus did this. Consider these passages: (a) John 5:30, “I do not seek my own will but the will of the Father who sent me.” (b) John 6:38, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me.” (c) John 14:28, “My Father is greater than I.” Guy N. Woods comments, “While here, in the flesh, he was in a subordinate position to the Father” (Guy N. Woods, The Gospel According to John, p. 318). This subordination occurred in the incarnation (cf. Philippians 2:5-8). I know of no clear passages which teaches this Father-Son relationship prior to the incarnation. Kevin Moore writes, “There are only three Old Testament allusions to Jesus as ‘son’ (Psalm 2:7,12; Daniel 7:13), all of which are predictive messianic prophecies” (Moore, Jesus Christ: the Son of God, kmooreperspective.blogspot.com). (4) He is the Son of God, in the sense that he is the Christ. Notice how these terms appear together: (a) Peter confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). (b) Martha confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world” (John 11:27). (c) The high priest demanded, “Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God!” (Matthew 26:26). Jesus replied, “It I as you said” (Matthew 26:64). (d) The rulers and the people, standing at the cross, said, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the Christ, the chosen of God” (Luke 23:35 cf. Matthew 27:39-43). Notice that instead of the phrase “the Son of God” with “the Christ” as in other passages, it reads, “the Christ, the chosen of God.” (e) Then, consider what Saul preached. He proclaimed that Jesus is “the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). He preached proving that Jesus is “the Christ” (Acts 9:22). The terms seem to be equated. (5) He is the Son of God, in the sense of being King. Brad Bromling has written, “Historically the term had a royal connotation for many nations of the Ancient Near East. It was commonplace for Egyptian, Babylonian, Canaanite, and Roman rulers to be called ‘Son of God'” (Bromling, What Does it Mean to say Jesus is “Son of God”?, apologeticspress.org). We have already pointed out that this phrase was used of the kings who descended from David (cf. 1 Samuel 7:12-16). Hebrews 1:5a reads: “For to which of the angels did He ever say: “You are My Son, today I have begotten You’?” This is a quotation from Psalm 2:7. It concerns the coronation of a king (cf. Psalm 2:6-7). This happened when Jesus was resurrected, begotten from the dead (cf. Acts 13:33-34). Hebrews 1:5b reads, “And again, ‘I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to Me a Son’?” This is a quotation of 2 Samuel 7:14. It concerns the kings who would descend through David (cf. 2 Samuel 7:12-16). Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of this (cf. Acts 13:33-34).
Is there another usage in some contexts? (6) Some believe the “Son of God” is used at times in the sense of Jesus being of divine nature (Now, he certain is, whether or not this phrase is used in this way in the New Testament). Remember, earlier in this series, we said that “son of…” can be used for being “of the order” (Zondervan’s Pictorial Dictionary, p. 805). Consider: (a) John 5. Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath (John 5:5-9). Jesus angered certain Jews by doing this on the Sabbath (John 5:16). Jesus told them, “My Father has being working until now, and I have been working” (John 5:17). Then, we are told, “Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was his father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18). It is one thing to say that God can do something. It is another thing to claim that same right. Moreover, the way he used the term “father,” and equated his authority to do what he did with the Father’s authority, caused them to conclude that Jesus was claiming in some sense to be one with the Father (cf. John 10:28-33). Was he? Yes! (cf. John 5:21-23). To them, this was blasphemous. Guy N. Woods comments, “He had thus far been to them merely a man who had broken the laws of the Sabbath; now, he appears before them as one claiming to be the Son of God in a fashion characteristic of no other and also equal with God” (Woods, pp. 100-101). (b) Romans 1:3-4, “…Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” Some believe that the phrase is used in this passage of “Christ” or “King.” Other are convinced that it is being used Jesus’ divine nature (The Bible teaches this divine nature. See: John 1:1 cf. 1:14; Philippians 2:5-8; Colossians 1:19; 2:9). Regardless of how one understands this phrase, as it is used in Romans 1:3-4, known this: The resurrection of Jesus is set forth as “proof of his purity, innocence, and Divine approbation” (Clarke’s Commentary, Vol. 6, pp. 36-37).
Let us summarize. The phrase, “the Son of God” is used in different ways, in different context. It is used of Jesus’ relationship with God on earth (birth, protective care, submission). It is used of Jesus being the chosen one of God (Christ, King). It may or may not be used of divine nature (However, Jesus’ divine nature is taught in Scripture).