Many of us will have experienced a father-son relationship firsthand, either as a son, or as a father, or both. For some, parental relationships may have been dysfunctional or missing altogether and the concept may present a challenge. Rather than the Bible borrowing a human picture to help us understand the profound bond between the Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father, we should remember that God was the author of the father-son relationship in the first place at creation. Consequently, some of the simple features of a healthy father-son relationship allow us to understand deep and unfathomable eternal truths. Let us explore four themes relating to the Lord Jesus as the Son of the Father.
When a woman had a son or daughter, the term ‘begat’ or ‘begotten’, gennao, in the Bible means to give birth. When a man had a child, the term means ‘to bring forth’. On a human level, a son comes forth from his father through the union between a man and a woman. For example, in Genesis we read, ‘And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth’, 5. 3. In this sense, the Lord Jesus was not begotten of Joseph, although Joseph acted as His father with regards to His parental care. In contrast, five times we read of the Lord Jesus as the ‘only begotten [monogenes], of the Father’, or as the ‘only begotten Son’. All these are in the writings of John.1
The term ‘only begotten’ refers, firstly, to the unique relationship between the Lord Jesus and His Father. The expression is used to describe the relationship between Abraham and Isaac, Heb. 11. 17. Abraham also had sons through Hagar and Keturah, Gen. 16. 15; 25. 2, but Isaac alone was the son of promise who was the focus of Abraham’s love, as God said to him, ‘Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest’, Gen. 22. 2. The Lord Jesus, uniquely, is the One who experiences that deep relationship of love with His Father. ‘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.
The term also refers to the Lord Jesus being the same in quality or essence with His Father. Since a father provides approximately fifty percent of the genetic information for his offspring, a father and son share the same nature. A son will usually resemble his father physically and sometimes in respect to his character. The Lord Jesus shares the same nature as His Father as God. This is what the Lord Jesus meant when He said, ‘I and my Father are one [“one in essence”, Newberry]’, John 10. 30, and it is why those who heard these words viewed them as blasphemous, v. 31.
It is important to point out that our understanding is limited by time. On earth, a father-son relationship is temporary. It has a beginning and an end. The Lord Jesus has always been the only begotten Son of the Father. In John chapter 1 verse 18, the term, ‘the only begotten Son, which is [“which always is”, Newberry] in the bosom of the Father’, indicates that He always has been and always will be the only begotten Son.
The love between a father and his son is one of the strongest forces in any human relationship. The first mention of love in the Bible is the love of a father, Abraham, for his son, Isaac, Gen. 22. 2. Love is an evidence for the Trinity - the Father, Son and Holy Spirit - since ‘God is love’, 1 John. 4. 8, and love must, by definition, be directed towards another. The term ‘beloved Son’ occurs twelve times in the Bible, of which eight references directly describe the Lord Jesus.
Three of the eight references relate to His baptism when there came a voice from heaven, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’, Matt. 3. 17.2Here is the love of the Father for His Son in obscurity. For thirty years, the Lord Jesus had moved outside of the public eye. Much of that time would have been spent working in a carpenter’s shop providing for His mother, brothers and sisters. It reminds us that God takes pleasure in a life quietly lived out before Him, in our workplace or place of education, or serving God in a local church yet operating outside of a public sphere.
In the parable of the wicked vinedressers, a final attempt by the lord of the vineyard is made to reach out to the unrepentant husbandmen as he seeks fruit from his vineyard. He reasons, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him’, Luke 20. 13. This depicts the love of the Father for His Son in adversity. The parable reminds us of the pleasure the Father took in His Son as He sent Him into a world of opposition and hatred, ultimately with the Lord Jesus becoming ‘obedient unto death, even the death of the cross’, Phil. 2. 8.
The four remaining references relate to the events on the Mount of Transfiguration when a bright cloud overshadowed the mountain and a voice came out of the cloud declaring, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him’, Matt. 17. 5.3Peter tells us that these events were a preview of the return and reign of the Lord Jesus in glory, 2 Pet. 1. 16-18. Here is the love of the Father for His Son in supremacy. The Lord Jesus has been tested in every domain of life, in obscurity and popularity, under scrutiny and in rejection. In a future day, He will rule over all the earth and will succeed in a sphere where even the greatest men, such as David, Solomon, Asa, and Hezekiah, have all failed.
Children copy the words and actions of their parents. This puts a great responsibility on Christian parents who need the prayers and support of God’s people. The Lord Jesus uses this picture to illustrate the way He acted in complete unison in mind and action with His Father. It is part of a wider theme explored in John’s Gospel - the relationship between the Lord Jesus and His Father. The Lord Jesus uses the term ‘My Father’ thirty-three times in John’s Gospel alone. Examples include:
In Hebrews chapter 1 verse 2, the Lord Jesus is described as having been ‘appointed heir of all things’. The idea of the Lord Jesus as the Heir is closely associated with His title as Firstborn. In Bible times, the firstborn son was not just the first in time, but also first in rank and honour as the leader of the family and the one who carried the family name. The firstborn also received the birthright, a double portion of the inheritance, for example, Joseph received a double portion of the land through his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.4 In some cases, like Isaac, all of the inheritance passed to one son, Gen. 25. 5. But what is the Lord Jesus heir over? What are the ‘all things’ referred to, Heb. 1. 2?
In Colossians chapter 1, the Lord Jesus is described as Firstborn in two spheres:
Since the Lord Jesus takes first place in every sphere, Paul makes the concise yet sublime conclusion in Colossians chapter 1 verse 18, ‘that in all things he might have the preeminence’. What are the implications for us? Does He take the preeminent place in every sphere of our lives? Do we acknowledge that we have been ‘bought with a price’ and that we belong to Him as part of His great inheritance? ‘Therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s’, 1 Cor. 6. 20.
John 1. 14, 18; 3. 16, 18; 1 John 4. 9.
The other two references are: Mark 1. 11 and Luke 3. 22.
The other three references are: Mark 9. 7; Luke 9. 35; 2 Pet. 1. 17.
Reuben forfeited the firstborn rights because of his immorality, along with Simeon and Levi because of their violent disposition, Gen. 49. 4, 5. 1 Chronicles chapter 5 verses 1 and 2 tell us that the birthright with respect to the land of Israel passed to Joseph, whereas the birthright concerning leadership passed to Judah.
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