How Is Jesus the Son of God?
In this segment I’d like for us to think about Jesus as the Son of God, and then in connection with that, think about what Jesus did and what Jesus represents.
What does it mean that Jesus is the Son of God? I believe most Christians think of Jesus as the Son of God in the same way as the biological relationship between a human father and son. For example, just like I am the son of my father, so is Jesus the son of God.
Now granted, most Christians don’t think of it as God having an affair with some kind of goddess or other spiritual being and Jesus resulting from that. People don’t go that far, but I think the main image of Jesus is more or less as the biological son of God just like you are the son or daughter of some human father.
Is that really the way Jesus is the Son of God? And if it’s not, why do people think that way?
Augustine, Anselm, and the Satisfaction Theory of Atonement
It goes back to a way of looking at Jesus that dates from over 1000 years ago.
The idea that Jesus is the Son of God like a human father and son derives from the ideas of two men. We’ve already talked about one of these men—Augustine, who we talked about in connection with original sin. Augustine lived about 1600 years ago. The other is a man named Anselm, who lived about 1000 years ago. The ideas of these two men are responsible for people thinking of Jesus as the Son of God like a human father and Son.
Let’s start with Augustine. We’ve already talked about his doctrine of original sin. Augustine said that since Adam and Eve ate the fruit in the Garden of Eden that God told them not to eat, all human beings from that moment onward are 100% sinners through and through. And, according to Augustine, God decided that the punishment for sin is death, not just death from this physical life, but death in the sense of the soul spending eternity in the torments of hell.
Keep that in mind, and let’s talk about the other man, Anselm. Anselm agreed with Augustine that all people are sinners through and through. He emphasized the idea that when human beings sin, they create a debt to God. God accepts only one form of payment for this debt—a perfect blood sacrifice. A perfect blood sacrifice is the death of a spotless sacrifice—a sacrifice untainted by sin. Unless human beings can pay their debt to God with a perfect blood sacrifice, they will spend eternity in hell. This creates a problem. Human beings can die, which is a blood sacrifice, but it is not a perfect blood sacrifice. It is a blood sacrifice tainted by sin, since all human beings are sinners. So since it is tainted by sin, it is not acceptable to God. It does not pay the debt human beings owe, and as a result of that, they die owing a debt to God, which means they must spend eternity in the torments of hell.
Now let’s stop for a minute and think. God decided that since Adam and Eve ate the fruit that He told them not to eat, He will make all people sinners. And, He decided that because of sin, all human beings will owe a debt to Him. God decided the only form of payment He will accept is a sinless blood sacrifice, and if human beings cannot pay, they will spend eternity in the torments of hell. But yet God, by making all human beings sinners, has made it impossible for them to pay the debt, because everyone’s a sinner.
God has placed human beings in a real predicament. He decided sin creates a debt to Him, and if the debt is not paid, the penalty is to spend eternity in hell. He decided the only payment He will accept is a sinless blood sacrifice. He decided to make all human beings sinners, thereby making it impossible for them to pay the debt they owe to Him, which means that all people will spend eternity in the torments of hell, and there’s nothing they can do about it. They can’t help but sin, because that’s all God made them capable of doing. But yet they can’t pay the debt to God incurred by sin, since they are sinners. It’s a real predicament. God has made it impossible for human beings to get out of the predicament.
According to Anselm, this is where Jesus comes in. Jesus, in Anselm’s view, was the Son of God much like we think of a father and son in the human sense. You can think of it like this: Jesus was up in heaven with God, as God’s Son. Jesus saw the human predicament and took pity on human beings and basically said to God, “Father, let Me go to earth and become a human being. I will live a perfect life, and then I will be killed. This will be the perfect blood sacrifice that You require for sin. And then, since I am Your Son, it will not only be a human perfect blood sacrifice, it will also be a perfect divine sacrifice. If I do that, will You accept My perfect blood sacrifice as sufficient for everyone who believes in Me?” God agreed with this idea, Jesus came to earth as a human being, lived a perfect life, and then was killed. God had His perfect blood sacrifice for sin which He had agreed to see sufficient for the sins of everyone who believes in Jesus.
This was a transaction, more or less, between Jesus, God, and human beings, in which Jesus is a third party between God and human beings. Jesus sacrificed Himself to God in order to provide the perfect blood sacrifice that God requires for human sin. In this idea, Jesus is a separate being from God. The very nature of this transaction requires that Jesus be someone else than God. For this to make sense, Jesus must be a third party, something else than God, in this case, God’s Son.
This is called the “satisfaction theory of atonement,” and it’s how a lot of Christianity sees Jesus and what He did—Jesus sacrificed Himself to God in order to provide the perfect blood sacrifice God requires for human sin.
This is why so many Christians see Jesus as the Son of God in the same sense as a human father and son. This idea, which Anselm popularized, soon became the way Western Christianity looked at Jesus It was, more or less, an addition to the idea of original sin that went hand-in-hand with original sin. This had a tremendous impact on the way Western Christians look at Jesus. The very nature of this transaction requires Jesus to be a third party, and so the third party, Jesus, became defined as the Son of God in basically the same sense as we think of human fathers and sons.
It is true that you can look at selected things the Bible says and come up with an interpretation that agrees with Augustine and Anselm. However, you have to be very careful about what you select, because if you look at the broad sweep of the New Testament, and not just a few selected passages, you will find many things that point in a different direction, to a different interpretation.
Rejecting the Doctrine of Original Sin
So let’s think about a different interpretation. First, think about what Augustine said. In an earlier segment, we talked somewhat about a different interpretation than Augustine’s idea of original sin. We don’t have to agree with Augustine that everyone born after Adam and Eve is a sinner from the moment of birth, incapable of anything but sin. We also don’t have to agree that everyone faces eternity in hell because God decided it should be that way.
We don’t have to go along with Augustine and see human beings as filthy sinners subject to the death and an eternity in hell because God demands it.
Rejecting the Satisfaction Theory of Atonement
So let’s leave that for a moment and go to the other man we want to disagree with—Anselm.
Remember, Anselm said that God requires a perfect blood sacrifice for sin—that a perfect blood sacrifice for sin is the only way to avoid death and hell. According to Anselm, that’s what Jesus’ death on the cross provided. According to Anselm, then, the reason Jesus came to earth was to die on the cross and provide the perfect blood sacrifice for sin. The death on the cross is the most important thing Jesus did—that’s the thing that “saves” us.
But what if Jesus represents something other than a perfect blood sacrifice for sin? Again, in another segment, we’ve already talked a little about that. We talked about Jesus representing the power of God that comes to earth in order to defeat the powers of evil. So let’s keep that and see if we can expand on it a little, find another aspect to it.
Human Beings Separated from God
Consider God and human beings. What’s the main difference between God and human beings? The main difference is that human beings were created, while God was not created. God was not created by anyone. God is from eternity. God always has been. But we have not always been. At some point human beings were made. That’s the difference—we were made, God was not made. That’s why human beings are called creatures in the Bible. Notice the similarity of the word “creatures” to “created.”
That’s the big difference between us and God. God is from eternity, without beginning, but we were created. This is the great gulf, so to speak, the chasm, that separates us from God. We are the created. God is the uncreated.
But let’s say that God doesn’t want us to be separated from Him. God wants to bridge that chasm—that gulf—that separates us from Him. In fact, let’s say God wants us to be like Him.
God Bridges the Gap
Imagine this in your mind. God is over here, on one side, because He is the uncreated. But we are on the other side, because we are the created. We are separated from God.
How can that separation be overcome? How can a bridge be built between us and God? We can’t do it. Only God can do it. Only God can bridge that gap between us and Him.
And how does He do it? He Himself crosses the gap and comes to us. How does He come to us? He comes to us by becoming a human being just like we are. That’s what we see in Jesus—God crossing the gap and coming to us. He does it by becoming a human being just like us. So what we see in Jesus is God as a human being. And it’s really God who’s here as a human being. It’s not some lesser being than God. It’s not some part of God, not some offspring of God, but it’s God Himself.
And what happens to Jesus? He lives. He is killed and buried, but He rises from the dead with His real human body. That’s what the Bible says happened—that Jesus rose from the dead with His real human body. But that’s not all. The Bible also says that Jesus ascends into heaven with His real human body. And there’s the key—Jesus ascends into heaven with His real human body.
What does that do? It bridges the gap between God and human beings. God crosses that gap that separates Him from human beings and comes to earth, becomes one of us, then dies but defeats death and the powers of evil and rises from the grave in His real human body, and then, at the Ascension, takes our humanity back across that gap with Him. This is expressed in human terms by saying that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God. Humanity is now seated in heaven with God.
God has bridged the gap. We are no longer separated from God, and God is no longer separated from us. God and humanity are now on the same side, on God’s side. The Bible talks about this. In Ephesians chapter 2 it says, “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms.”
God Against the Power of Evil
But something else happened here. We talked about how both Augustine and Anselm said that death—our death as human beings—is a consequence of sin because God made it that way. But remember, we’re going to disagree with them. We can disagree with them, because theirs is not the only interpretation possible.
We’re going to go back to Genesis chapter 3, where Adam and Eve ate the fruit in the Garden of Eden that God told them not to eat. And we’re going to say that there was something about the fruit itself, so that the consequences of them eating that fruit did not come from God, they came from some other spiritual power, which we’ll call the power of evil. The power of evil had made a poison, so to speak, in that fruit, in order to ensnare human beings and bring them under the spell of death.
When Adam and Eve ate the fruit, this trap that the power of evil had set was sprung, and from then on, human beings were poisoned. They became subject to death. But God didn’t want it to be that way, and so He does something to change it. Human beings can’t do anything to change it, because the power of evil is stronger than human beings. But it’s not stronger than God. God is the only one who has the power to change it. But even for God, it’s not easy. Even for God, it takes effort, sacrifice, and suffering to change it. God has to fight and defeat the power of evil in order to change it.
And so that’s what God does. God comes to earth as Jesus, and the power of evil arrays itself against Him. Operating through the Jewish leaders, the power of evil decides it will destroy this Jesus—kill Him. And they do. They succeed in killing Jesus. But Jesus, and remember this is God as a human being, fights against the power of evil, which is the power of death, defeats it, and rises from death in His real human body. The chokehold of death that evil had on human beings is broken.
The Three-fold Work of Jesus: Incarnation, Resurrection, and Ascension
This is the three-fold work of Jesus. It is accomplished not by the crucifixion, as Western Christianity says, but by God coming here as a human being—that’s what’s called The Incarnation—and by the resurrection—when God defeated death as a human being and rose from the grave in a real human body. And then at the Ascension—when Jesus was taken up into heaven in His real human body—the work was complete. The gap between God and human beings has been bridged. Death has been defeated. And now humanity is on the same side as God—humanity is united with God over on God’s side, where the power of evil has no sway.
There used to be a separation between God and human beings. And, human beings were under the sway of the power of evil—subject to death. But God crossed that gap, and became a human being—that’s who we call Jesus. Jesus was killed by the power of evil but defeated the power of evil and rose from the grave in His real human body. And then He crosses back over the gap to God’s side not only as God but as God and a human being—God and humanity united in one, seated in heaven, “seated at the right hand of the Father.”
God has bridged the gap between Him and us. He came over as God, became a human being, defeated death, and crossed back over as both God and a human being. What this has done is make humanity like Him. God has elevated us. He has changed our lowliness into His glory. Philippians 3 says this, “who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body.”
Second Corinthians 3: 18 says this, “We all, with open face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image by the spirit of the Lord.”
First John 3: 2 says this, “Beloved, now we are the sons of God. It does not yet appear what we shall be like, but we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him.”
Jesus Was God, Not “God, Jr.”
When God crossed the gap and became one of us is what we call the Son of God. When God became a human being just like we are, that is the Son of God. It wasn’t God, Jr.; it wasn’t some other kind of spiritual being that came here as Jesus. It was none other than God Himself.
God as a human being, defeating death, rising from the dead, and ascending into heaven with the human body, and, to use the phrase as the Bible uses it, sitting at the right hand of the Father—this is the way we are sons of God. John 1: 12 says this, “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become sons of God,” or, another way to put it, to become like Him.
The Result of What Jesus Did
All this was made possible because God came here and became one of us, died but defeated death as a human being and rose from the grave, then ascended into heaven as God and a human being, taking our humanity with Him, and placing it there in heaven with Him.
God bridged the gap between us and Him by taking our humanity back over that gap. Jesus is the bridge by which we are elevated, so that we can become like God. The bridge is there because of God coming here as Jesus. This is the bridge that unites us to God, that makes it possible for us to become like God.
This is what is really meant by “Jesus is the only way to salvation.” God made the bridge as Jesus. It is the bridge between us and God. Our humanity has already been taken over that bridge.
That’s why the Bible tells us we are citizens of heaven. Philippians 3: 20 says, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” That’s why Jesus told His disciples they are not of this world. The book of First John tells us not to love this world.
I think that’s what “born again” really means. We are born again as citizens of heaven. We are no longer of this world. As the Bible says, “We are a new creation.” We are now seated in heaven with God—right now. It might not seem like it, but it’s true. We already have eternal life.
An early Christian named Origen, who lived about 200 years after Jesus, wrote this, “If you believe that Christ has risen from the dead, you must believe also that you yourselves have likewise risen with him; and if you believe that He is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, you must also believe that you yourselves are situated no longer in the earthly but the heavenly scene.”