Why Jesus Being the ‘Son of God’ Doesn’t Mean What You Think it Means

Since we’re in the season of Advent, now is a great time to be thinking about Jesus – who he is, why he came, and all that good stuff. So for this post I want to think about a term that seems to be the source of a lot of confusion for us as we think about Jesus – “son of God.”

What does it mean that Jesus is the “son of God”? What do you think of when you read that term in the Bible?

‘Son of God’ does not mean ‘God the Son’

I think that often when we read “son of God” in the Bible, we automatically think, “God the Son”. We’re so accustomed to thinking of Jesus as Divine that it’s hard not to see Him that way. And since the language of these two terms is so similar, we easily conflate them.

Jesus is indeed God the Son, fully Divine, second person of the Trinity. That’s all true. But when a first-century Jew used the term ‘son of God’, they weren’t thinking in those categories. You won’t even find the term ‘God the Son’ in the Bible at all, since it came into usage only centuries later (this doesn’t mean it’s not a helpful term, of course, but we need to see the difference).

The term ‘Son of God’ in the New Testament never refers to Jesus being God, as far as I can tell from all the times it is used. So then what does it mean?

God’s Anointed, the King

For a first-century Jew, the ‘son of God’ was the king of God’s people. Long before Jesus, the king of Israel was referred to as the son of God, because of his unique relationship with God as the one in temporal authority over God’s own people.

You can trace this usage back to 2 Samuel 7:14, where God says of the Davidic king, “I will be his father, and he shall be my son.” The son of God is the King of Israel, from the line of David. Take a moment to read Psalm 2, and you’ll see with crystal clarity how the Jews referred to the King of Israel as the son of God.

And from over half a millennium before Jesus, God sent word through his prophets that He would one day send another king, a king from the royal lineage of David, who would save His people. For centuries, people lived in anticipation of the coming of this king, who they referred to as the Messiah.

Messiah is a Hebrew word which means ‘anointed’, which is simply a way of referring to the king. From the beginning of the Israelite monarchy, the kings were set apart by being anointed with oil. When Israel was to have their first king, Saul, God sent a prophet to anoint his head with oil, as a symbol of the fact that he was set apart to serve God’s people as their king.

So ‘Messiah’ and ‘son of God’ both refer to exactly the same thing: God’s anointed King, who was promised to saved his people.  And by the way, ‘Christ’ is simply the Greek translation of the Hebrew word ‘Messiah’ – they both mean exactly the same thing: ‘anointed’.

When you see ‘son of God’ in the Bible, don’t automatically think ‘God the Son, second person of the Trinity.’

Instead, when you see ‘son of God’ in the Bible, think, Messiah. Think, Christ. Think, God’s anointed, His chosen one, His Saviour-King who will deliver His people. Because that’s what the term ‘son of God’ meant.

Listen to how the Jews mock Jesus when he hangs on the cross, and how they use ‘Son of God’. They say, “Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!… He’s the King of Israel!… He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (Matthew 27:40-43).

Notice how they mock Jesus for claiming to be the Son of God, but not God Himself – and see how they use ‘son of God’ and ‘King of Israel’ interchangeably.

In Matthew 26:63, when the high priest is questioning Jesus, he asks him, “if you are the Christ, the Son of God, tell us!” The ‘son of God’ is the ‘Christ’, the Messiah, the King of Israel.

So during this season of Advent, when you see Jesus referred to as the ‘son of God’ in the Bible, don’t automatically think it’s a reference to him being God. When the New Testament uses this phrase, it’s talking about the long-expected Messiah, the Saviour-King.

Every time you read or hear about Jesus as the son of God, be reminded of the amazing faithfulness of God, fulfilling the promises that He made centuries beforehand about a Saviour-King who would deliver His people. Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah!

9 thoughts on “Why Jesus Being the ‘Son of God’ Doesn’t Mean What You Think it Means

  1. Where do you get it from that Jesus is “indeed” God the Son, fully Divine, second person of the Trinity. No where in Scriptures is mentioned a Trinity and the Creator God who does not tell lies said about the Nazarene Jeshua (Jesus) ‘This is my only begotten beloved son”.

    Jesus is the son of god and not god the son, like many Christians made him and took away the true meaning of his offer and death, because God can not die.

    1. Hi Marcus, we get it from mouth of Jesus himself.

      Jesus claimed to be one with the Father, he claimed authority to forgive sins on earth (which caused the Pharisees to accuse him of blasphemy), and he demonstrated authority over the wind and waves simply by his voice (not by prayer, but by the authority of his own words). To anyone steeped in the תַּנַ”ךְ, Jesus had to be either a liar or somehow Divine.
      I know we’ll disagree on which of these we believe to be true, but I just wanted to answer your question on where it is that Christians get the idea that Jesus was Divine. From his own mouth.

      We know the word ‘Trinity’ is not in the Bible, but that is simply the word we use to best express the reality of what most certainly is in the Bible. You won’t find the word תַּנַ”ךְ in the Bible either, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a helpful term that you still use.

      Thanks for commenting!

      1. When we in our family our one with each other, or CEO’s are one with the company that does not make them into the company or being the one and same person as the workers of the company or as the members of the family.

        Jesus never claimed to be God, but knew that he was authorised by God to do things which he could not do without his Father, who was, is and always shall be always the Most High Who knows every one and every thing. Christ even did not know when he would be coming back and said himself that the Father is greater than him. It was this Father to whom Jesus prayed who made him higher than angels, though at first Christ was lower than those messengers.

        How can God higher Himself and receive the Kingdom from Himself, when it belongs already to Him? (Jesus handing the Kingdom over to his Father.) And how can he mediate between himself? Would it also not be very schizophrenic to pray to himself asking why he left himself (a.o Jesus on the cross crying to his God)?

        Did God tell lies when He said Jesus was his beloved son? Did Jesus tell lies when he said god was his Father and we should not pray to him but only to his Father the Only One God?
        Why was Scripture than not clear and told us that God, Father, Son where the same person and did not tell God came down on earth? But for what reason came he than down and did something which is not possible and abominable according to Him, to have an incarnation? Why did He let the people suffer such a long time when He could have solved it strait ahead in the Garden of Eden?

        Please do have a look also at those misleading texts in case “Jesus is God” or should say “when God is Jesus”?

        “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law,” (Galatians 4:4 KJ21)

        “30 And the angel said unto her, “Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favor with God. 31 And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb and bring forth a Son, and shalt call His name JESUS. 32 He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David, 33 and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His Kingdom there shall be no end.” 34 Then said Mary unto the angel, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” 35 And the angel answered and said unto her, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee. Therefore also that Holy Being who shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:30-35 KJ21)

        “21 ¶ Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized. And while He prayed the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from Heaven, which said, “THOU ART MY BELOVED SON; IN THEE I AM WELL PLEASED.” 23 And Jesus Himself had become about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, who was the son of Heli,” (Luke 3:21-23 KJ21)

        “Then answered Jesus and said unto them, “Verily, verily I say unto you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do; for what things soever He doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.” (John 5:19 KJ21)

        “Ye have heard how I said unto you, ‘I go away and come again unto you.’ If ye loved Me, ye would rejoice because I said, ‘I go unto the Father,’ for My Father is greater than I.” (John 14:28 KJ21)

        “But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God.” (1 Corinthians 11:3 KJ21)

        “And when all things shall be subdued unto Him, then shall the Son Himself also be subject unto Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:28 KJ21)

        “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.” (Acts 10:38 KJ21)

        “who has gone into Heaven and is on the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him.” (1 Peter 3:22 KJ21)

        “20 which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come. 22 And God hath put all things under His feet, and hath given Him to be the head over all things to the church,” (Ephesians 1:20-22 KJ21)

        “Therefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name,” (Philippians 2:9 KJ21)

  2. The Son of God being interpreted God the Son, was a problem I had when I first encountered the phrase. Good explanation. As to the Heretic attempting to pass off Jesus as not-God, notice how the abundance of scripture quotes lacks those texts that declare him as God. But, when push comes to shove, scripture nullification is usually the route. Good article.

  3. Neither Jesus nor his apostles and other disciples ever thought Jesus was God.
    Remember there is a difference between a god, like there are may high placed persons, idols and stars (still today) and the Divine Creator God.
    You may find lots of characters called “god” in Scriptures but we do hope you shall not take the Pharaoh, Moses, angels to be The God.

    Also remember that God is an eternal Spirit, who has no flesh, blood or bones and can not seen by man. Jesus was born (had a beginning) was tempted more than once (God cannot be tempted), could sin but did not (God can nots sin) and as such did not tell lies when he said he knew a lot of things not (God knows everything). Jesus also died (God cannot die) and was taken out of the dead after three days in hell. (God can not come into hell specifically though he is everywhere so also there – you could say.)

    1. Hi anonymous Christadelphian, thanks for your comment. Your claim about none of Jesus’ apostles thinking that he was God is an interesting one, but it just doesn’t seem to line up with the Bible. For example, the apostle John writes in his gospel that the Word (Jesus) was God, and that the Word (Jesus) then became flesh. So he pretty clearly thinks that Jesus is God.

      And again, for Jesus Himself, there are many places you could look at in the New Testament to see that he clearly thought of himself as God, but for just one, can I encourage you to grapple with Jesus’ self-identification as the Son of Man from Daniel 7:13-14, the mysterious figure who is has all authority, glory, sovereign power, and is worshipped by all people? Or simply read the book of Revelation, and the identification of Jesus as God as clear as day.

      I don’t expect to persuade you on any of this, but I still think it appropriate to respond to your comment by encouraging you to take another look at what the Bible really says about Jesus. Thanks again for your comment.

      1. First of all, we are not anonymous. We are a religious denomination in Christianity and you can find enough information on us on the web and in the printed literature. You also can click on our avatar and come on our website to find out more about us.

        as you say the apostle John writes about the Word, which is a speaking an utterance of a voice and not as such a person. The apostle John writes his book like the Old Testament starting by the Genesis, but this time not the beginning of the Old World but the beginning of the New Word, where Jesus is the 2° Adam.

        So there is not written that Jesus is God but is said that it was God Speaking and by Him Speaking Jesus came into being in the flesh. God is Spirit and has no flesh, blood or bones, whilst Jesus had all that and proved to his apostles that he was not a spirit by showing his wounds after his resurrection.

        Yah Chanan (#Jo 1:1-3): In the beginning the Word having been and the Word having been unto God and God having been the Word he having been, in the beginning, unto God all through his hand became: and without him not even one being whatever became. (Aramaic New Covenant; ANCJ Released: 1996 Contents: New Testament Source Used: Exegeses Bibles (1996) Location: Tyndale House, Cambridge, United Kingdom)

      2. …I know who are Christadelphians are, I was referring to you specifically, the person who wrote the comment, and since I don’t know your name and the only thing I do know about you is that you are a Christadelphian, I called you ‘anonymous Christadelphian’. Sorry about the confusion.

        In the passage from John’s Gospel that you quoted, surely you can see that it is saying that God and the Word are equated with each other? “the Word was God” (as your translation puts it, “God having been the Word”… which is a very strange translation of “θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος”).

        You’re ignoring the fact that in John’s prologue, Jesus IS the Word (look at vv14-15). Jesus himself is the Word by which God created the universe (John 1:3, also see Colossions 1:16ff.).

        John is saying that the Word is God, and Jesus is that Word.

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