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Jesus is the Son of God

Reconciling his eternal sonship with his begetting as Son in time

Chapter 9 in About God
this chapter by Ian B. Johnson.


Problem: Jesus, the Son, always proceeds from the Father and has been God's Son for all time, yet was begotten on a specific day

As was shown in the last two chapters, Jesus is above time, just like the Father, and always proceeds from the Father. He always has been the Son of God. There never has been a time when Jesus was not, or when He acted independently of His Father. Throughout all time and eternity, Jesus and His Father have shared one Spirit, one Word and one purpose. Though distinct, they are not separate, and Jesus has never been anything other than the Son loved by His Father.

Yet the scriptures also declare that there was a "day" when the Father begot the Son:

Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.

Psalm 2:7; quoted in Acts 13:33, Hebrews 1:5 and Hebrews 5:5. This creates a problem: namely, how can Jesus be the Son eternally, yet have been begotten as Son on a fixed day in time? This chapter will present a consistent approach to this question.

The day when Jesus was begotten -- The Christmas story, revisited

The only day of human time on which it can properly be said that Jesus was "begotten" was the day he was begotten in Mary's womb. As the angel explained to Mary, on this day the Holy Spirit came upon her, the power of the Most High overshadowed her, and she conceived in her womb one who would be called the "Son of God" and the "Son of the Most High." Luke 1:31-35. It is noteworthy that both the Father (the "Most High") and the Holy Spirit were involved in forming the Son within Mary. It is also important to note the manner in which Jesus was conceived: God spoke to Mary, and she believed. An angel, a spirit messenger of God, appeared to Mary and told her what God had said. When she believed and submitted herself to God's words, Luke 1:38, they were accomplished. Thus, Jesus, as the Word of God, was present at his own begetting.

The reason that Jesus was begotten in time in this way is revealed in the names he was given around the time of his conception and birth. He was begotten to reveal the Father and the deliverance intended by the Father to us. For instance, while Mary was told that Jesus would be called the Son of God, she was also told to name him Jesus (Yeshua), a name which means "deliverer". Luke 1:31. Similarly, after explaining to Joseph that the baby in Mary's womb was "of the Holy Spirit," God told him to name the baby Jesus "for it is he who will save his people from their sins." Matthew 1:21 (NASB). Matthew then proceeds to explain that, when God instructed Joseph to name the baby Jesus, this fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that, when a child would be born of a virgin, "'they shall call his name Immanuel,' which translated means, 'God with us.'" Matthew 1:23. Thus, Jesus was begotten, and became God with us, for the specific purpose of delivering His people from their sins. This emphasis upon Jesus being born for the purpose of delivering his people is reiterated in the words of the angel to the shepherds on the night of his birth, as well as the prophecy of Zacharias and the blessings stated over the baby Jesus by Simeon and Anna. Luke 1:68-79 and 2:10-12, 29-32, 38.

Other scriptures showing it was for us Jesus was begotten as God's Son

On the other hand, a number of scriptures state that Jesus was begotten for the purpose of revealing the Father to us. For instance, John 1:14 declares that, because the Word, the eternal Son, became flesh and lived among us as the only begotten (monogenes) of the Father, we have seen the Father's glory, full of grace and truth. Four verses later, John again calls Jesus the only begotten (monogenes) of the Father, now declaring that no man has ever seen God, but the only begotten Son, who is at the Father's side, has made the Father known to us. John 1:18. Similarly, in a most familiar passage in the third chapter of his gospel, John twice again identifies Jesus as the only begotten (monogenes) of the Father, given to reveal the Father's love to the world and so to save it:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him. He that believeth on him is not judged: he that believeth not hath been judged already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God.
John 3:16-18 (ASV)

To similar effect is I John 4:9-10, declaring that God reveled His true loving nature to us by sending his only begotten Son into the world as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

However, Jesus was begotten to reveal the Father in all ways, not only as an atoning sacrifice. For instance, in Hebrews 5:5, the writer quotes Psalm 2:7 to the effect that God had begotten Jesus "today," to show that Christ did not take the priesthood upon himself but that God had made him a priest forever on the day he was begotten. Thus, when begotten by God, Jesus became both our sacrifice and our representative, the priest who would offer the sacrifice for us to his Father. On the other hand, Psalm 2:7-10 speaks of the Son as a king whose right to rule the nations arises from being begotten by God. Moreover, this theme that Jesus was begotten to be king merges with the themes that he was begotten to reveal the Father and to be our sacrifice in Hebrews 1, which contains the most complete summation of the subject:

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by [his] Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him. And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.
Hebrews 1:1-8 (KJV)

Jesus declared God's Son by his resurrection

Jesus was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead. Romans 1:4. By raising His Son from death, God proved what he had done in begetting His Son into the womb of Mary. This connection is also made in Acts 13:32-35, in which Psalm 2:7 is quoted side by side with Isaiah 55:3 and Psalm 16:10, and is said to be the promise God made to Israel and fulfilled by raising up Jesus from the dead. Although Jesus was begotten as God's Son in Mary, the proof of that relationship to the world and the fulfillment of its purpose happened when Jesus rose from the dead. It is through the resurrection that we are given new birth into a living hope, the fulfillment of the purpose for which Jesus was sent into the world. I Peter 1:3.

God's perspective on time, revisited

God does not view time the same way we do. Instead, He is above time, and is present at every point in time simultaneously. This was discussed at length in Chapter 1, a discussion which will not be repeated here. However, an application of this principle must here be made to the problem of God's Son being begotten at a fixed time in human history. Jesus was begotten the Son of God for us on a date which the best scholarship seems to indicate (although the Bible doesn't say) was in approximately 4 BC. Before that, He had not yet been sent into the world to reveal the Father, to bring deliverance, to rule, or to do any of the other things on our behalf for which He was begotten into our world to do. That is, there is clearly a time before which, as we see time, Jesus was not the begotten Son of God. However, even before Jesus was begotten into our world, into our time, even from the beginning of time God was already present with Mary at the time of Jesus' begetting, and was already present on the day of his resurrection. God had already begotten his Son from the beginning of time, he simply had not been manifested to us, limited as we are by time. The problem of the "preincarnate Christ" exists only for us, not for God; it is a result of our limited frame of reference. Though the incarnation happened at a point in time, Jesus has always been the only begotten of the Father.

Ian Johnson
Please do email me!

© 1998, 2005 Ian Johnson

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