By Frank Walton.
Jesus of Nazareth is a historical figure, a man who changed the world by his life and teaching about 2000 years ago. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is known as “the Son of Man” (John 1:51) as well as “the Son of God” (John 1:49). What are the distinct meanings of each, to help us understanding His saving nature and work for mankind?
The Son of God
Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Luke 2:10), as predicted by Micah 5:2, but “His going forth is from eternity” (NASB). So, Jesus is more than just a man. He is also “God” who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). He is also called God’s “only begotten Son” (John 3:16) and “the Son of God” (John 20:31), in whom there is eternal life “in His Name.”
What is conveyed by the title “the Son of God” or “the only begotten Son”?
First, “son of” doesn’t mean Jesus’ person was created or sired by God the Father, because Jesus is the eternal Word, who was God the Father’s agent to bring all created things into being (John 1:1-3, Heb 1:2-3, Col 1:15-17, Rev 3:14).
Second, “Son of God” in John is used to describe His being one in nature with “God,” and is used as an equivalent of being “God.” This means He is in the divine family with the Father (John 10:30-36). “Son of” is a Hebraism that means “partaker in the qualities of,” which we see in the designation “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36) or “son of perdition” (John 17:12). Hence, Barnabas had the full qualities of (or a son of) “encouragement” and Judas had the full qualities of one (or a son of) being lost in perdition. So, Jesus as “the Son of God” claimed to be “one” in the fully divine nature with the Father, who is Deity. Both Jesus and the Father should be accorded the same honour (John 5:23), hence Jesus is worthy of worship (John 20:28, Matt 28:17, Eph 5:19). Nathaneal confessed Jesus as “the Son of God” (John 1:48), as did Peter (Matt 16:16), upon which fact the church is built upon the divine identity and saving power of the risen Christ.
Jesus is often called “the only begotten Son” (cf. John 1:14, 3:16, 18), which points to his unique relationship with God. Those who are born again may be a son of God through Christ our elder brother, but none of us are the unique “only begotten Son.” The underlying term translated “only begotten” (KJV) or “one and only” (HCSB) is monogenes, which means, “unique, one of a kind, incomparable.” It does not specifically refer to the virgin birth, but the word itself refers to Jesus’ unique role in the scheme of redemption. For example, Isaac was called Abraham’s “only begotten son” (Heb 11:17), although Abraham had sired other sons, like Ishmael and two sons through Keturah (Gen 25:1-4). Yet, Isaac was a unique child of promise in the scheme of redemption that no other son of Abraham could fulfil.
So, I may be a son of God by obedient faith in Christ, but no human is in the same category as Jesus as the only begotten Son of God. We must remember the same words, like “son of God” or “elder” or “deacon/servant,” can mean something different depending on the context. Only Jesus as the Son of God, who is the divine Saviour, is full of “grace and truth” (John 1:14) and can bring us back to God the Father. “Whoever has the Son has life, he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:14, cf. 5:20).
Third, “Son of God” also depicts in Scripture, Jesus’ role of submission to God the “Father.” A son should obey or submit to his father’s authority and direction. This submissive role is thereby noted in John (5:26; 8:28, 10:36). ”So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19). So, “the Son of God” refers to Jesus being both fully divine as His Father but also but in submission to His Father’s leadership. Jesus is our example of perfect submission to divine authority, without quibble or evasion.
The Son of Man
Jesus is unique, because He has a dual nature. ”The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The title “the Son of Man” is the most common self-designation of Jesus (Matt 16:13, Mark 10:45 et al). “Son of man” is used in the Psalms as synonymous parallelism with being a “man,” hence as such it would be identifying Jesus as being fully human (Psalms 8:4, 80:17), because He “became flesh” (John 1:14). “Son of man” is a frequent title of Ezekiel, who is the human prophet used to instruct the remnant of God’s people in captivity. Jesus certainly is God’s prophetic instrumental to save a remnant from out of this sinful world.
Also, referring to the coming Son of Man, Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 predicted the Messiah’s sufferings in his body as a man (cf. Heb 10:5). ”The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!” (Matt 26:24). ”...How is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?” (Mark 9:12; cf. Luke 9:22).
More importantly, the designation of a “son of man” in Daniel 7 prophecies of the coming Messiah. This “son of man” would be a man who came from the eternal God, designated in contrast as “the ancient of days” (Dan 7:13-14). This human representative of God, a “son of man”, would receive an everlasting, worldwide kingdom, which no earthly empire could destroy (Dan 7:17-28). Jesus, who was fully God from all eternity, took on flesh and came as a lowly servant and also suffered to the uttermost, yet God highly exalted Him with highest name of Lord of lords (Phil 2:5-10) and gave Him the rule as “the Son of Man” over His kingdom, the church (Matt 16:28, Acts 7:56). Such a humble man, as God’s servant, would be elevated as “the Son of Man” to rule over this Messianic kingdom forever (Matt 19:28, 25:31; John 5:27). He deserves our ultimate respect of His authority to rule our lives today.
In summary, the Son of God became the Son of Man, in order to make the sons of men the sons of God.