Dr. Harry G. Arnold presents the second of two letters— written to a Jehovah’s Witness—pointing to Jesus as the eternal Son of God.
LETTERS TO KATHRYN (2)
In my first letter I encouraged you to read the gospel of John and take note of how the disciple points to the deity of Jesus, God’s only begotten Son. If you remember our conversation at all, you will recall that I also suggested that you also go through the First Letter of John in the same way—taking note of all references to Jesus as Son of God. It is not my intention to belabor the wealth of evidence for Jesus’ divine Sonship. Nevertheless, I must say that I myself was surprised by the large number of references to Jesus as Son of God. Some references were explicit in their assertion of His Sonship, while others clearly implied it. So let’s take a quick run through First John and see what we find. The evidence for Jesus as Son of God is revealed in the following passages. Be sure to follow along with me in your Bible as I list them.
1:3—“And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”
1:7—“the blood of Jesus his Son, purifies us from all sin.”
2:22—“Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son.”
2:23—“No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.”
2:24—“See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and the Father.”
3:8—“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”
3:23—“And this is his [God’s] command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ.”
4:2—“Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.”
4:9—“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.”
4:14—“And we have seen and testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.”
4:15—“If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.”
5:1—“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves his child as well.”
5:5—“Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”
5:9—“We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son.”
5:10—“Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.”
5:11—“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.”
5:12—“He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
5:13—“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
5:20—“We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is true God and eternal life.”
There you have it, my friend. Some nineteen texts of Scripture with explicit references to Jesus as Son of God some twenty times, plus several other terms that imply His relationship to God as a Son to a Father (see, for example, 2:22a; 4:2; 5:1). I submit that this is rather hefty evidence in support of Jesus’ claims that He is the Son of God in human nature. With all this scriptural evidence before us, dare we still think of Jesus as merely the first created being, perfect but less than God? I think not! Rather, let us confess Jesus as Who He really is—God’s eternal Son Who took on human nature by the virgin Mary in order “to save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Then we too will be recipients of the apostolic greeting: “Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son . . . in truth and love” (2 John 3). While we embrace God’s blessing, let us also be mindful of the apostle John’s admonition: “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9).
All things considered, Kathryn, the cumulative evidence from the Gospel of John and the First Letter of John establishes the truth that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is none other than God Himself who also took on human nature in the person of His Son. For this reason we give Jesus the same honor and worship as we give to God the Father. It was because Christ perfectly obeyed the Father’s will and fulfilled His earthly saving mission that the apostle Paul holds Him up as an example for Christians to follow in the conduct of their own lives. Thus, he writes to the Philippian believers about how their relationship to Jesus should affect their pattern of living:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (2:5–11).
Now you can understand, Kathryn, why Christians love to sing the Advent song, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Its second stanza so accurately describes the truth of the incarnation that I must set it before you now.
Christ, by highest heaven adored, Christ, the everlasting Lord! Late in time behold him come, offspring of the Virgin’s womb. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail the incarnate Deity, pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel. Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the new-born King” (Charles Wesley, 1739, 1753, alt.).
Having now considered the evidence for Jesus’ divine Sonship from John’s writings in his Gospel and Letters, there is still one more objection to Jesus’ divine Sonship that we must consider and answer. Just as some critics argue that Jesus never claimed to be more than an ordinary man, so other critics say that John wrote his Gospel perhaps sixty years or more after Jesus’ ministry and death. During that time, it is alleged, a wealth of “myth” developed about Jesus’ nature, and that is why John presents Him as God “in the flesh.” How shall we answer that charge?
One answer to that charge might be to note that John’s Gospel—rather than dealing with “myth” as the critics allege—reflects the developed maturity of apostolic teaching about Jesus. However, there is a still more definitive answer that can be given to the critics’ charge. Therefore, please give serious consideration to what now follows. You see, Kathryn, the Gospel of Mark is generally considered to have been written very early after the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Some scholars believe it may have been written as early as AD 40 and no later than AD 65.1 Thus, a look into Mark’s Gospel should give us insight into how believers in Christ regarded Him in the early years of church life. So let’s take a quick look at what we find in Mark’s Gospel.
Mark begins his Gospel this way: “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1). Now admittedly a footnote tells us that “Some manuscripts do not have the Son of God.” Nevertheless, in the minds of the scholars, the textual evidence was sufficiently weighty to consider the phrase as likely to have been in the original manuscript. Mark then moves on quickly to the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. He records the following incident in connection with Jesus’ baptism. “As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (1:10–11) Can anything be clearer than that in confirmation of Jesus as the Son of God? God Himself calls Jesus my Son!
In the second chapter, Mark calls Jesus the “Son of Man”2 As Son of Man, Jesus exercises the power of God Himself as He “forgives sin” (2:5); heals a paralytic (2:11–12); and proclaims Himself to be Lord even of the Sabbath” (2:28).
By chapter three, Mark records Jesus’ growing popularity—with crowds of people following after Him, many seeking to be healed of various diseases. And Mark records this interesting insight into who Jesus really is when he writes: “Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they cried out, ‘You are the Son of God’” (3:11). If the evil spirits confess Jesus as Son of God, do you think God expects anything less from us? Mark confirms the reality of this general statement in chapter three with a specific example of it in chapter five. When Jesus stepped out of a boat after crossing the lake, a demon-possessed man “fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me.’ For Jesus was saying to him, ‘Come out of this man, you evil spirit!’” (5:6–8). Surely, if a demon-possessed man recognized Jesus as Son of the most high God, we also must own Him as such and bow our knees before Him in humble adoration and worship.
Just as God spoke from heaven at Jesus’ baptism, so Mark records that at the transfiguration—when “a cloud appeared and enveloped them”—indicating a manifestation of God’s presence, “a voice came from the cloud: This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him’” (9:7). Again, God speaks of Jesus as my Son. What further evidence of Jesus’ divine Sonship do we need? God’s very own voice and testimony should be more than sufficient to convince us.
Yet there is still more evidence to be considered as recorded by Mark’s Gospel. As indicated earlier, Jesus referred to Himself by the Messianic title “Son of Man.” That the term includes the idea of divine Sonship is evident from the powers that Jesus ascribed to Himself and also exercised as “Son of Man.” Some aspects of these powers may be discerned in the following passages in Mark’s Gospel.
9:9—“Jesus gave them [Peter & John] orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”
9:31—“The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.”
10:33—Jesus again predicts His betrayal, suffering, and death as the Son of Man. But He adds: “Three days later he will rise.”
10:45—Jesus states that as Son of Man He “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
10:47–48—Blind Bartimaeus addresses Jesus by the messianic title “Son of David.” He cries out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
12:35–37—Jesus taught that David, “speaking by the Holy Spirit . . . calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his Son?” That is to say, therefore, that David spoke of Jesus, the Messiah, as God’s Son—worthy to be called Lord!
13:26–27—Jesus makes clear that He—as Son of Man—will be coming in clouds with great “power and glory” to effect the final and complete redemption of “the elect.” In this event Jesus is clothed in the “power and glory” of God. This corroborates Jesus’ words in
John 5:25–27—“I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.”
14:21 & 41—Jesus reveals that as Son of Man the betrayal by Judas did not take Him by surprise. As God’s Son and Messianic Son of Man, He was fully aware of all things.
In addition to all of the above evidence, Kathryn, we must not forget that Mark records the testimony of Jesus Himself—under oath—before the high priest. You will find that Jesus was asked point blank by the high priest, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the blessed One?” (Mark 14:61). The form of expression used by the high priest was the equivalent of one being put under oath in a court of law, which requires a truthful answer. So what the high priest was really saying to Jesus is something like this: “I charge you before God, [i.e. under oath] tell us if you are the Messiah, God’s Son” (See Matthew 26:63). To that question Jesus gave an unequivocal answer: “I am” (Mark 14:62). That Jesus affirmed His divine Sonship in His answer was immediately understood by the high priest who then made the charge of “blasphemy” against Jesus (14:67).
Finally, let us not fail to note that Mark records the statement of the centurion who personally observed the events of Jesus’ crucifixion and death. Since he was in charge of the soldiers who carried out the crucifixion, this centurion observed carefully all details surrounding it, especially noting Jesus’ words and the manner of His dying. What the centurion observed evoked from him this unsolicited testimony: “Surely this man was the Son of God” (15:39). Remember, dear friend, that Mark is recording what happened at the time of Jesus’ death, long before any time had passed to allow for “myths” to develop about Him. Mark is here recording history as it was happening. And this is the testimony of an unbiased observer, one who was neither a disciple of Jesus nor a member of the group of Jewish leaders who opposed Jesus. The centurion was a Roman, and likely a pagan at the time, who gave his unbiased testimony about Jesus and His being God’s Son—just from what he had observed from the events about the cross. That’s a powerful testimony! This is the kind of witness that lawyers love to have testifying for them in a court of law—unbiased, simple, and direct eyewitness testimony. Such is what the centurion gave at the cross of Jesus.
So what have we learned from Mark’s Gospel? The same truth about Jesus as John presented at a later date when he wrote his Gospel of John. Mark begins his Gospel by affirming Jesus as Son of God. He continues by recording events of Jesus’ ministry that reveal Him as exercising powers that belong only to God—forgiving sin, calling Himself Lord of the Sabbath, using the Messianic title “Son of Man” in reference to Himself, casting out demons, accepting the divine title “Lord” as applying to Himself, and positively affirming under oath that He is God’s Son. Further, not only did God affirm Jesus as His Son, twice over; even a Roman centurion could observe His divine nature in the manner of His dying.
And so, Kathryn, you may put to rest whatever critics may say about some supposed “myth” of Jesus being considered Son of God only after some time had passed. The truth is that Jesus has always been confessed to be God’s one and only eternal Son by those who have come to know Him by the power of His Holy Spirit. With the apostle Peter, the church has always confessed Jesus to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). The Scripture is clear both from its earliest record in the Gospel of Mark and from its latest record in the Gospel of John—Jesus is God’s Son and Lord!
Our responsibility now is simply to receive, believe, and obey this gospel in order to be saved and become heirs of salvation and life everlasting.
May God grant you, dear friend, the gift of faith and salvation in Christ, the Word made flesh.
Cordially yours in Christ’s behalf,
Dr. Harry G. Arnold
1. For dating of Mark’s Gospel, see Hendriksen, William; NTC—MARK, pages 14–16.
2. “Son of Man” was Jesus’ favorite designation of Himself as the God-sent Messiah.
Dr. Harry G. Arnold is a retired minister in the Christian Reformed Church living in Portage, Michigan. He is a member of Grace Christian Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan.