The Bible uses many titles to describe God the Son. In preparation for His incarnation, the angel Gabriel told Mary that the Holy One born to her would be ‘great, and … be called the Son of the Highest’, Luke 1. 32, describing Him with a venerable divine title from Old Testament history. It expresses God’s sovereignty, holiness, royalty, and priesthood. It also links two of Israel’s greatest heroes, Abraham and David, whose covenants play a key role in Christ’s future kingdom.1 Only He can fulfil the promises that were made to Israel. The expression ‘Son of the Highest’ unites the greatness of His person and offices, assuring us of the completion of God’s purposes for this world.
In unpacking this name, we must first examine ‘the Highest’ and its importance in the history of the Lord’s interaction with mankind. Genesis chapter 14 verse 18 abruptly introduces the mysterious king of Salem, Melchizedek, identified as ‘the priest of the most high God’. For the first time, the Bible uses the Hebrew name el elyon, which occurs four times in the chapter, vv. 18-20, 22; its New Testament equivalent is ‘the Highest’.2 One linguist defines it this way, ‘To call God “the Most High” emphasizes that, contrary to all other gods that humans create, the God and Father of Jesus Christ is the only true reigning God. There is nothing or no one greater than he, and therefore, humans are called to humble themselves before him’.3Another adds, ‘This name … is used of persons or things to indicate their elevation or exaltation: of Israel, favored above other nations, Deut. 26. 19, of the aqueduct of “the upper pool”, Isa. 7. 3, etc. This indicates that its meaning when applied to God is the “Exalted One,” who is lifted far above all gods and men. It occurs alone, Deut. 32. 8; Ps. 18. 13, or in combination with other names of God, most frequently with El, Gen. 14. 18; Ps. 78. 35, but also with Jehovah, Ps. 7. 17; 97. 9, or with Elohim, Ps. 56. 2 AV; 78. 56. Its early use, Gen. 14. 18f, points to a high conception of Deity, an unquestioned monotheism in the beginnings of Hebrew history’.4In another declaration of majestic power, the Lord is associated with ‘the highest heavens’, Deut. 10. 14; see also Job 22. 12.
In true priestly fashion, Melchizedek prepared Abram for a future tempting offer from Sodom’s king, Gen. 14. 21-24. Christ’s ministry towards the Twelve in the Upper Room similarly prepared them to meet the difficulties that they would face after His return to heaven, John 13-16. His preparation of them is also seen as He predicted Peter’s fall, but also foretold his restoration and subsequent ministry, Luke 22. 28-32. Priestly duty includes teaching people what God is like, Deut. 24. 8; accordingly, Melchizedek reveals one of the Almighty’s previously undisclosed names -one especially suited to remind the patriarch of His control over world affairs, Heb. 7. 1.
Armed with a fresh reminder that God was the Most High, Abram deftly deflects the king of Sodom’s temptation of entangling enrichment, Gen. 14. 22-24. More than a thousand years later, Psalm 110 mentions Melchizedek again, establishing him as the pattern of Messiah’s everlasting priesthood and royal triumph over evil, Ps. 110. 4-6. He is not mentioned again for another millennium when Hebrews cites this figure as Christ’s forerunner king-priest.5 The Most High God’s Son dies and rises again to reconcile people to Himself, thereafter assuming the role of the divinely-appointed judge, Acts 17. 31. He will put away evil and ‘bring in everlasting righteousness’, Dan. 9. 24.
The Psalms describe the same sovereignty exhibited in Abram’s interaction with Melchizedek, Pss. 47, 83, 97. God’s awesome power and wisdom, coupled with His mercy, make Him a formidable adversary towards His people’s enemies. The prophet Jeremiah later recounts this attribute, Lam. 3. 38. The Psalms also envision Messiah’s future reign over the earth, Ps. 89. 27; cp. Rev. 1. 5; 19. 16. Israel experienced incomparable security flowing from His character as the Most High God,6 but His exalted position was often flouted by unbelieving Israel in the wilderness, Ps. 78. 56; 107. 11. Nevertheless, sovereignty is not tyranny, because the Almighty is merciful, loving, and righteous as well as omnipotent.
Israel’s leaders were to reflect His holiness, even to the point of being called ‘sons of the Most High’, Ps. 82. 6 ESV. Sonship expresses likeness in character and action, Matt. 5. 9, 44, 45.7 God is righteous and requires the same conduct from His servants. His acts are just and good; thus, He deserves His people’s praise and thanksgiving. As David said, ‘I will praise the Lord according to his righteousness: and will sing praise to the name of the Lord most high’, Ps. 7. 17.
Nebuchadnezzar was an absolute monarch, possessing the power of life and death over his subjects, Dan. 5. 19. Over a period of years, God systematically revealed Himself to this megalomaniacal ruler, Chh. 1-4. Witnessing the miraculous deliverance of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace, he referred to them as ‘servants of the most high God’, 3. 26. God warned him through a dream that his pride would result in his humiliation. He soon forgot the message and so was reduced to the level of a beast until ‘7 times’ passed over him. Both his sanity and office were restored when he realized ‘that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will’, 4. 32. He subsequently proclaimed to Babylon that the Most High raises up and deposes rulers at will. One of his successors - Belshazzar -ignored this historical lesson, and deliberately blasphemed the Lord by sacrilegiously using some of the temple’s vessels, 5. 2-4, 18-28. Consequently, God decreed his death and gave his realm to the Medo-Persians. Verses 18 and 21 remind the reader that the ‘most High God’ orchestrated these events. In chapter 7, when Daniel saw the vision concerning God’s future kingdom, the angel repeatedly calls God’s people ‘the saints of the most High’, vv. 18, 22, 25, 27. This offers them great security as they contemplate the future convulsions of the last days. Even amid tumultuous political upheaval, God’s people are sheltered by the highest being in the universe, Ps. 91. 1, 9, 10.
In view of this title’s illustrious history, calling Jesus ‘the Son of the Highest’, Luke 1. 32, unites sovereignty, priesthood, and royalty, as well as deity, in His marvellous person. Speaking of His greatness, Henry asserts, ‘He shall be great, truly great, incontestably great; for he shall be called the Son of the Highest, the Son of God who is the Highest; of the same nature, as the son is of the same nature with the father; and very dear to him, as the son is to the father’.8 Christ’s deity is further revealed in verse 35, where the process of incarnation occurs within the virgin womb by the Holy Spirit’s power. He would be David’s illustrious descendant and simultaneously the Bethlehem shepherd-king’s Lord. The angel proclaimed His enthronement on ‘the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end’, v. 32. The Davidic covenant of 2 Samuel chapter 7 would be fulfilled in Christ, who is destined to reign over the nations from His capital, Jerusalem. Zacharias’ son, John, would enjoy the honour of serving as ‘the prophet of the Highest’, Luke 1. 76, but Jesus would possess the greatness of incarnate deity as ‘the Son of the Highest’. By saying ‘He … shall be called’, v. 32, Gabriel’s prophecy alludes to the day when every knee will bow and every tongue shall confess Christ’s Lordship, Phil. 2. 9-11.
What difference does the Lord Jesus Christ’s identity as ‘the Son of the Highest’ mean to believers today?
With such a God as our Saviour and Lord, we may join Paul in saying, ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?
For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen’, Rom. 11. 33-36.
Matt. 1. 1; Rom. 1. 3; 2 Tim. 2. 8.
Numerous modern translations render ‘the Highest’ as ‘the Most High’, Luke 1. 32, e.g., ASV, NAS, ESV, NIV’11, and NET.
He goes on to write, ‘For those who walk humbly and righteously before the Most High God, there is the incredible promise that they will become the children of the Most High, Luke 6. 35’. William Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words, Zondervan, 2006, pg. 334.
Edward Mack, ‘God, Names Of’, James Orr (ed.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Howard-Severance Company, 1915, pg. 1267.
Heb. 5. 6, 10; 6. 20; 7. 1, 10, 11, 15, 17, 21.
Pss. 21, 57, 87, 91.
This is also evident in New Testament nicknames like Boanerges - ‘sons of thunder’, Mark 3. 17 - and Barnabas - ‘son of consolation’, Acts 4. 36.
Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hendrickson, 1994, pg. 1823. [Italics original].
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