Jesus - Son of God (part 2)
March 27, 2009 Length: 46:05
Jesus is the ONLY begotten Son and is ontologically related to God the Father unlike any other being.
We established quite clearly, and anyone who reads the New Testament can do so, that Jesus the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, confessed as the Christ is also confessed as the Son of God, the unique, only-begotten Son of God, the only one who is really and truly, genuinely God’s Son. The one who is literally God’s Son, not metaphorically, not like what you would say about some nice man: “Oh, that guy’s really God’s son.” Human beings can be called sons of God for various purposes, but they are not literally, we might say ontologically, God’s son. That expression is used for them in another way.
What we really confess, and this is how we ancient Eastern Orthodox Christians understand the Holy Scripture, is that Jesus is not simply a son of God, he is the Son of God. We spoke about definite articles and not-definite articles and so on, but the confession is clear: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” He is the only-begotten Son, ho monogenēs huios. He is the only one who can call God “Abba, Father,” literally. We may speak about the Fatherhood of God, and we even believe that, by faith and by grace, we can address God as our Father, but only through and by Jesus, only by the Holy Spirit of God, who cries, “Abba, Father,” in us, as St. Paul will write to Galatians and to Romans.
There is this radical difference between Jesus Christ, Jesus the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth the Christ, and every other human being who ever lived. No other one is the only-begotten, unique, literal, ontological Son of God.
What does that mean? What can it mean? What are the various meanings? What are we supposed to understand through that particular title? Well, there are several things. One is that God is literally Jesus’ Father, which means Jesus has no human father. And that would be a dogma of the Holy Scripture, we believe, and of, certainly, the Orthodox Church, and many Christian churches, hopefully. In fact, virtually all of them until quite recently would say that Jesus was born of a Virgin, and he must be, because God is his Father. He doesn’t have a human father.
In saying that, that means that to use the expression “Son of God” in a literal sense, not a metaphorical, but a literal sense, would mean that whatever God is, that, too, Jesus is. Whatever the Father is, so, too, the Son is. And the Holy Fathers of the Church, especially Athanasius the Great and Gregory the Theologian, Basil the Great, and all the great Fathers, especially the Fathers of the fourth century who fought against Arianism, [which] said that Jesus may be called the Son of God, but that’s a kind of metaphorical, honorific title; he’s not really the Son of God, if you mean that he is divine with exactly the same divinity as God the Father has. Well, Orthodox Christianity, ancient orthodox, catholic Christianity said, “Ho no! If, really, he is the Son of God, born of a Virgin, and God is really his Father, and he is begotten of God, then he must be exactly what God is.
The argument is a very simple one, almost too simple, but simple enough if anybody wants to understand it. The Holy Fathers would teach is that if I am begotten of a particular being, then I am what that being is, with no difference whatsoever, except that I’m not that being. So they would say just simple things like this: If you’re a human being and you’re a father and you have a son, the son is human, too. You can’t be a human being and give birth to a son and the son would be, I don’t know, a dog or a horse or a dinosaur or something. If you reproduce, if you express yourself in a manner using the verb “to give birth to” or “to beget,” then what is born of you has to be what you are.
The same thing would have been applied to the mother in creatures. If your mother is human, if that being from whom you are born [is], you must be exactly what that being from whom you are born is. So if Jesus of Nazareth is begotten of the Father and born of Mary, then the confession of faith follows: he, then, is divine and human. He is divine according to his Father and he is human according to his mother. That is exactly a teaching of the Christian faith. Even on the pages of the New Testament, you see that Jesus is really a human being.
Nevertheless, he is not just a human being. He’s a real human being, but he’s not merely a human being. That particular sentence that I just said became a kind of commonplace in Orthodox doctrine, in the teaching of Orthodox theology. In Greek it would go like this: Jesus of Nazareth is truly human, but he is not merely human. He is telios anthropos but not psilos anthropos, in Greek, or gymnos anthropos, in Greek “nakedly human.” In other words, he’s a real human being, but he’s not merely a human being.
All other human beings who have ever lived on Planet Earth, when you finally have beings that are called human, however that comes about, I’d have to say that today, thinking that today is the birthday of Charles Darwin. We’re going to talk on the radio a bit about Charles Darwin at some point. It’s the 150th anniversary of the publication of the book Origin of the Species, and the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. But in any case, what we see is, theologically, that if you have parents reproducing, the offspring is what the parent is. It is what the parent is, but it is not who the parent is.
So the Holy Fathers would say Jesus is a real human being because Mary is his mother, but he is also a real divine being with a divine nature because God is his Father. And that makes him absolutely unique. We, all the rest of the human beings beside Jesus, are mere humans. We are merely human. We are only human. But Jesus is truly human, really human, fully human, completely human, but not only human, not merely human. He is the human being that is begotten of the Father. He’s the divine human being. He’s called in Greek theology “theanthropos”: the God-man.
The logic of the Fathers was very simple: if Jesus is called “monogenēs huios, only-begotten son”... And by the way, in St. John’s Gospel as we’ll see later, there’s a variant of that text in the prologue, the first chapter, which doesn’t say “only-begotten son”; it says “only-begotten God.” It says “monogenēs theos,” that Jesus is an only-begotten divine being, that God Almighty generates—that would be the English word—another who is divine exactly how he is and what he is ... but not who he is. And this also would be a commonplace teaching in ancient Christian orthodox doctrine, namely, that Jesus of Nazareth is divine with exactly the same divinity and therefore he can be called “God,” just like he is called “human” because of his mother Mary, so he can be called “man.” So he’s God and man.
He is called what he is because of his progenitors, so to speak, but if he is divine with the same divinity as God his Father, he is not the Father, he’s the Son. The Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father. So the way that came to be explained in Christian doctrine is that Jesus, being God’s Son and even the unique Son of God, is exactly what the Father is, but he is not who the Father is. And in theological jargon, that would be to say that he is a distinct Person, or a distinct or another hypostasis, which means an existential reality—that would be St. Basil the Great’s expression: a “tropos hyparxios,” a mode of existence that is exactly what the Father is but not who the Father is.
When we say that, we have to insist that we can call Jesus “God,” because he is God’s Son; and if you’re God’s Son, then you are God, too. Once, one of our daughters was in kindergarten and she was eating her breakfast—Rice Krispies or something—and I was caring for her that morning. She said to me, “Daddy, is Jesus God?” And I wanted to kind of end the conversation [quickly] and get her off to kindergarten, and I said, “Yep, he’s God.” And then she looked at me with her big, wide eyes and said, “I thought God was his Father. I thought Jesus’ Father was God.” And so I had to sit down and have a talk with her, and we cleared it up in about three minutes. I said to her, “Allie”—that’s her name—I said:
You’re Hopko and I’m Hopko, right? Mom and I, we’re your parents. So we gave you birth, and so you are what we are. So we’re human beings. We’re not dogs like our dog Cleo. We’re not animals. We’re not fish. We’re human beings. So if I’m your father and I’m human, and you’re my daughter, you’re my child, you’ve got to be human, too. So if Jesus is really God’s Son, and God is really his Father, then he’s got to be divine, too, because if the Father has a Son, he can’t be different from what the Father is, just like you have to be human and you have to be a Hopko.
And she said, “Okay!” and from that moment she became an Nicene Orthodox Christian, following the Holy Fathers, because that’s basically what it is. In a sense, it’s as simple as that.
When we say, however, that Jesus is the Son of God, therefore he is divine with exactly the same divinity that God the Father is and has. And that’s what “homoousios” in the Nicene Creed means: “I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages, Light from Light, true God from true God”—there you’ve got it.
And then it says, “[homoousion] tō Patri”: of the very same being, the very same nature, the very same substance as the Father, and then, semicolon: “the one through whom all things were made,” the one through whom God the Father created all things. That’s a credal statement, too. We’ll talk about that when we talk about Jesus as the Creator. One of his titles is “the one by whom all things were made.”
But what we want to see now is that, if that is true—and we believe it is—then all the characteristics and attributes and qualities that belong to divinity, to God the Father’s divinity, belong equally to the Son of God, or God the Son, if you want to put it that way. And we would even say that they belong also to the Holy Spirit, but that’s a story for another time, that’s a topic for another time.
What we want to see now is that if Jesus really is the ontological, literal, real Son of God, then all the qualities that God the Father has, the Son also has except he’s not Father, and here it’s very important: that fatherhood, or paternity, is not a quality of God. It’s not an attribute of God. You can’t say one of the attributes or characteristics—in Greek that would be “idiomata”—one of the idiomata or properties of God is to be Father. That is not true. If that were true, then the Son of God would not be divine with the same divinity as the Father, and neither would the Holy Spirit.
However, there are qualities and properties of God the Father that we attribute and know belong to the Son of God by just experience, and certainly by what is testified to him on the pages of the Holy Scripture, in the New Testament, namely, that whatever you’re going to say about God you could say about him. Was God ever-existing? Yes. Therefore his Son must be ever-existing, too. As Gregory the Theologian would say, “The generation of the son from the father must be timeless.” Achronos: it has no time to it, because there’s no time in God. It must be eternal, timeless, always existing.
Is God the Father good? Yes, he is good. He is not bad. He is not evil. There’s no darkness in him at all. Is God the Father light? Yes, he is light. He is illumined. Is he merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and mercy? Is he totally faithful? Yes. These are qualities of God the Father. So, we would say, they are also qualities of Jesus. They are also qualities of the Son of God. And even the God-man, Jesus as a man, has all these divine qualities.
In fact, that’s one of the main teachings of the Gospel. In fact, that is the Gospel, you might almost say: that the Gospel is, that there is a man who has all the properties of God! But he’s still a real man! That’s the Christian, orthodox faith.
So we would say, if God is good, perfectly good, ever-existing, always the same, if God is omnipresent in creation—he’s everywhere that anything exists—if he is omnipotent—he has all the power—if God is all-wise, if God is all-merciful, if God is all-loving, if God is anything you want to say about God, you have to say the same thing about Jesus. He has all the qualities of God.
If you were writing a catechism, and you wrote down “What are the properties that belong to God?” That he’s uncreated; he’s ever-existing; he’s totally perfect; he’s even beyond perfection; he’s totally good, even beyond any category of goodness that we could hold. He is totally beautiful, beyond any concept of beauty that we could possibly even fantasize. He is perfect in absolutely every way, and even the word “perfection” doesn’t apply to him because words that are taken from humanity don’t, strictly speaking, apply to God. That’s what apophatic theology is all about.
So all of these are applied to Jesus as the Son of God. And here, by the way, it’s very important to mention, that when we speak what we call apophatically about God, in other words, we say that anything we say positively about divinity has to be negated and transcended, even the very category “being”—yes, God exists, but he is beyond any category of being that we can imagine. He’s completely and totally different. He’s the holy God. He is holy. That’s why Jesus in Scripture, as we will see, is even called the holy one of God, because he has all those characteristics that belong to God and God alone and are given to humanity and are revealed in human form, but first of all belong to God himself and only to God.
When we confess that Jesus is the Son of God, literally, we mean that he has all of the qualities and properties and characteristics that belong to divine nature, that belong to God, that belong to whatever it means to be God. And here we can also say that since he’s Mary’s child, and since he is the son of man—we’ll speak about that later—since he is really human, Jesus has all of the qualities and properties and characteristics that belong to human beings, too.
Jesus of Nazareth is both eternal and in time. He is both omniscient and, in his humanity, he is limited by his human brain and his human body and his human culture. He’s a first-century Jew, and so on. This is the mystery of Christ. But we attribute to Jesus all the properties and qualities that belong to human beings, because he’s really human, but when we confess him as the Son of God—that’s what we’re talking about now—then we have to say that he has all of the qualities and characteristics that literally belong to God the Father. But he is not the Father. He is the Son.
When we speak about the Son of God, then we have to make another point, namely, that Jesus is divine, but the divinity is first and foremost the divinity of God his Father, that God the Father, eternally, in a divine manner that we cannot even understand, communicates to him in the begetting of him, in the generation of the Son, all that the Father is and has. But the point now is that Jesus’ divinity is first and foremost that of God the Father.
Here, there’s a very interesting technical, theological point. The Cappadocian Fathers, and those who followed St. Athanasius, and those who defended the Nicene Creed, like St. Basil, St. Gregory the Theologian, St. Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose of Milan, Hilary of Poitier, and all of the holy Fathers after them, like John Chrysostom and Maximus and all of them, at the time of Nicaea, they would never have said, as sometimes we say today, that the Father is consubstantial to the Son. You never find such an expression. You have the expression that the Son is consubstantial to the Father, of the same essence, the same divinity as the Father. Why? Because the divinity is first and foremost, and some say it’s essentially, that of the Father that is then communicated divinely to the Son.
The Son of God will say, “Everything I am I have received from my Father. Everything that I know and possess, all my power, all my wisdom, all my glory, all my splendor, all my beauty, all my truth, all that I am: it is given to me by my Father, eternally.” And then, of course, it belongs to the Son when he becomes a man, so Jesus as a man has all of these qualities, but he receives them. And that is why in St. John’s Gospel, where the author, St. John, will say, have Jesus say, “I and the Father are one.” He doesn’t mean one and the same person.
He means they’re one and the same divinity, because the Father is the Father and the Son is the Son and they cannot be merged or conflated, and there were heretics who tried to do that. In fact, some modern Trinitarian theology actually doesn’t really, really affirm the distinction between the Father and the Son. They’ll sometimes even say, “There is one God, who is Father-Son-and-Holy-Spirit.” Technically speaking, that’s heretical. There isn’t one God who, the same God, Father and who, the same God, is Son, and who, the same God, is Holy Spirit. No.
There’s the one God and Father—it’s what the Fathers call the “monarchia” of the Father. Photius the Great, Maximus the Confessor, Mark of Ephesus, they all taught this—Gregory Palamas. But this one God and Father is never in his divinity without his Son and Holy Spirit—who are elements, so to speak, who belong to his very being, his very nature, as God—nevertheless [who] are distinct. This distinction must remain.
And therefore, we would say that there’s a priority to the Father in the Holy Trinity, so called the monarchia of the Father. That’s why, in the Liturgy in our Orthodox Church, we say, “We give glory to the Father who is unoriginate,” who is agenitos, who is not generated and then “to the Son,” who is genitos, who is monogenēs, who is begotten of the Father. So the Son is the same as the Father, and then you can say, and so therefore the Father is also the same as the Son, but, saying that, we have to remember that the Son derives from the Father, because he’s the Son and not the Father.
That’s why you have in St. John’s Gospel Jesus, not only saying, “I and the Father are one” or “Everything that I have, I have received from my Father”—sometimes people are scandalized by this sentence, especially the super-orthodox. They’ll say, “But what about that sentence where Jesus says, ‘The Father is greater than I’?” Is he greater? Well, if you’re in the Arianizing tendency, you’ll say, “Well, if the Father is greater than the Son, then the Son can’t be divine in exactly the same way that the Father is.”
And the Holy Fathers—and here I could give you texts of Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian and those who—St. Athanasius—interpreted Holy Scripture—they would say, “When Jesus says, ‘The Father is greater than I, because he is the Father and I am the Son,’ that’s all he’s saying: He is greater because he’s Father. I am his Son, and therefore, as Son, there’s some sense in which I must confess that he is greater than I, because I come forth from him. He does not come forth from me. I come forth from him. I am his Son. He is not my Son; he is my Father.”
So Basil the Great, for example, will say that if Jesus says, “The Father is greater than I,” he’s speaking about their mode of interrelationship and the fact that the Son comes forth from the Father in a divine manner and is fully and completely divine. And then, even St. Basil the Great said, “If Jesus were not divine with exactly the same divinity as the Father, it would not make any sense for him to say, ‘The Father is greater than I,’ because comparisons can only take place within genuses, between things that are the same thing.”
What do I mean by that? It’s not too difficult to understand; just bear with me. If I said, for example—me, Fr. Tom—if I said, “God is greater than I am,” well, you could answer and say, “No kidding! You’re really serious, Fr. Tom? You think God is really greater than you?” Because it would sound like “Of course he’s greater than you!” But you can’t even say “greater,” because if you say “greater,” you mean that there’s some kind of a comparison that can be made between the two of you.
God is incomparable. So you can’t say that. It doesn’t make any sense. Or, if you were really something other than God, you couldn’t say, for example, “I’m a human being, and I’m greater than a donkey” or “I’m greater than a dog.” Well, a dog is a dog; a donkey is a donkey; and I am I. How do you determine greater or lesser in such a way?
But St. Basil the Great was saying what Jesus was trying to say, what he was meaning to say to us when he said, “The Father is greater than I,” he was speaking about the origin of relationship and that the Son is from the Father, and therefore—very important—the Son obeys the Father. The Son even, in some sense, prays to the Father; certainly the human Jesus does. That the Son is obedient to the Father. That the Son does the will of the Father. The Son does the work of the Father. The Son speaks the words of the Father. Because everything that the Son is, he has from the Father. And it’s in that sense, the holy Fathers say, that the Father is greater than the Son.
He’s not greater in the sense that he’s a being who is greater, like, for example, God would be greater than creatures. But here, even the holy Fathers would say, “Be careful even of speaking about that, because if you say, ‘Man is greater than an animal’ ”... Well, there’s a sense in which that’s true, because man has all the quality of the animal, but he has also some that the animal doesn’t have, so that makes him greater. Like, intelligence, for example, or freedom. And when we’re thinking about Darwin these days, we’ll see. There can be chimpanzees, apes, and orangutans, but the human is greater in the sense that the human has more qualities, and other qualities than these particular beings have, and that’s what makes them human.
On the other hand, the holy Fathers would point out, St. John Chrysostom certainly would. He said, “Be careful how you speak,” because, still, a dog is a dog; an animal is an animal; a chimpanzee is a chimpanzee; and a human being is a human being. And each one just has to be what it has to be, and in some sense, there’s no comparison, even, between them.
So this is that distinction that we have to make: The Father is the Father, the one, true, and living God; and the Son is the Son, and he’s the Son of God. What they are is identically the same, because the Son comes forth from the Father, and has and is everything that the Father is. But there is some sense in which the Son of God is, in a sense, lower, if you want to use that term, or “derived”—we don’t want to say “lower,” metaphysically lower—in a sense, you want to catch what we mean here, because he comes forth from the Father, which leads us now to another point.
There are those who argued, including the Arianizers of the fourth century, who did not believe in the absolute identity of the divinity of the Son with the Father. They said, “If you are a son, by definition, you have to be inferior.” By definition, you have to be lower. If you come forth from someone else, or if you owe your existence to someone else, and even if you have a relationship to the other person, of obedience or honor or glory—because the Son glorifies the Father (of course, the Father also glorifies the Son)—you must therefore be metaphysically, ontologically inferior.
Well, Gregory the Theologian argued and said, “That’s boloney! That’s simply not true. You don’t get it.” He said, “Because if you say that God cannot beget a son and communicate to him, in a divine manner from all eternity, all the properties, characteristics, and qualities of divinity, you are not only vilifying in some sense or humiliating the Son, you’re blaspheming the Father!” Why? Because you’re saying that God cannot really express himself perfectly. You’re saying that if God has a son, the Son has to be inferior to him.
Well, the Christian mind would say, “Why do you say that? That’s not necessarily true.” God can be so perfect, so loving, that he expresses himself so perfectly that his self-expression, which is his Logos—his Son, his icon, his image, all of which are titles of Jesus in the Bible—is exactly what he is. He’s a perfect Son, a perfect Logos, a perfect Word, a perfect Image, and that’s why there can only be one of them, because if there’s one God, there can only be one Son.
There can only be one Holy Spirit; there can’t be many. Because if there were many, how would they be different? Just like there can’t be many gods. If there are many gods, then none of them are God, because they’re different. But there is a unity to being divine that anyone who is divine must absolutely have. Nevertheless, it is the Christian conviction that God, who is that one God, can express his unity in a divine manner—and he does so, as a matter of fact—in the person of his Son.
So we would say, following the Fathers as they interpret the Bible, that God not only can, but he does have a Son who is exactly what he is, and in that sense, coming from him, the Son can call the Father “greater.” Therefore the Father can, in some sense, call the Son “lesser,” but that doesn’t apply to their essential nature and being. That is identical. That is totally identical, and God can do it, and he does do it.
And here we would even say that if God has a son, and God is God, then that son must be perfectly like the Father is, because God cannot produce an inferior product. He simply cannot do it. The only metaphysically inferior products of God are creatures, but the Son is not a creature. He’s born of the Father. He’s begotten of the Father. He’s born from Mary. He’s not a creature. He’s not merely a creature. Well, he’s a human from Mary, but he’s certainly not a ktisma, he’s not a creature. Inasmuch as God is his Father, then in his divinity, it has to be identical and therefore totally perfect, and in no way inferior whatsoever.
There is a kind of hypostatic subordinationism in the Trinity, but there’s no ontological or essential subordination. That would be a technical, theological phrase that, I believe, would be perfectly orthodox. The Spirit is the spirit of God. The Son is the son of God. They are of God. God is the archē. God is the source of their being, divinely. But God is so perfectly God and so lovingly God and so powerfully God, that he can express himself absolutely perfectly, and he does so in the Person of his Son, God’s divine Son, whom we call now the second Person of the Holy Trinity, is the exact image of the Father’s Person.
That’s an expression of the New Testament. That’s in the Letter to the Hebrews, that God spoke to us in these latter days through a Son, by whom also he created the ages, who is the apavgasma tēs doxis aftou, the radiance of his glory and the charaktēr tēs hypostasis aftou the exact image of his person, of his very being. So the Son of God is exactly what the Father is, coming from the Father, and the Father expresses himself perfectly, divinely in his Person as Son.
You could say exactly the same thing and reason the same way if you speak about the Son of God being the Logos. If the Son of God is the Word of God, that Word has to be perfect. God can’t speak a defective Word. He cannot express himself perfectly in a defect. So if there is a Word of God, that Word of God must be absolutely perfect with no defects in it at all.
The same thing with the term “image.” If you have an archetype and an image. The image is the archetype, right? Now suppose the archetype is perfect and has an image. Then that image has to be absolutely perfect, otherwise it is not an image of the archetype. Therefore, when Jesus is called “the icon of God,” which we’ll get to later, he’s not only huios tou theou, but logos tou theou and eikona tou theou, the image of God, the Word of God; so, as icon, Jesus has to be the perfect image of the Father, lacking nothing of the Father’s divine reality, because if he did, he wouldn’t be the perfect image.
When we confess for now, focusing on son, the Son of God, in that expression “the sun,” what we are saying is that he is absolutely, perfectly what the Father is, coming forth from the Father, but not being the Father. But he is fully, totally, completely what the Father is. St. Paul will put it this way: “In him”—the man Jesus—“dwells the plērōma [tēs theotētos] sōmatikōs”—the fullness of divinity bodily (Colossians 2:9). The fullness of divinity. Fullness. Plērōma [tēs theotētos]. The fullness of divinity, bodily.
So this is what we say and this is what we mean when we say he is the Son of God. But there’s more that can be said. And that would have to do [with] his activity. Because, if Jesus is really the Son of God, [then] everything he does is divine. All his actions are divine. And they are actions that only God can do. But Jesus is also human, so Jesus does actions that only God can do through his humanity and in a human form. And that’s the only way actually that God can reveal himself through creatures. If God is going to reveal himself to creatures, he’s got to do it in creaturely form. That’s why you’ve got to have the Incarnation. If we’re really going to come to know God in and through the instrument of God’s revelation, that instrument has to have created forms and created qualities. In other words, it’s got to be human. Jesus has to be really human.
But what we want to see is that here all of the activities—like speaking the truth, revealing the truth, showing mercy, doing miracles that only God can do, having powers that only God has—that’s also what it means, that he is the Son of God. And actually, Jesus himself argues this way on the pages of the Gospel according to St. John. He says:
If you’re not going to believe that I am God’s Son, really, by what I say, at least believe it by what I do. You see my works. You see the works that I perform. Now, are those works that a mere human being can perform? They’re works that only God can perform. You hear what I say. When you hear what I say, is that something that a mere man can say? No, it’s only something that God can say.
And we will see that in St. John’s Gospel, Jesus even says about himself, “I am”—which is the divine Name—“before Abraham was, I am. Unless you confess that I am, you will die in your sin.” We will reflect on that expression—Egō eimi, I am—which is the name of God that becomes the name of Jesus, which is usually pronounced in worship “Kyrios” or “the Lord,” because “the Lord” is actually the divine name, “Yahweh,” which means “I am” or “I will cause to be what I will cause to be” or “I will do what I will do.” That belongs to God alone, but Jesus appropriates that. It’s his, too, and it’s his by nature because he is God’s Son. If he were not really God’s Son, he could not say those things, and no mere mortal could say those things.
So when we confess Jesus as the son of God, what we are saying also is that his activities are divine, his words are divine, what he does is divine, that it has its origin in the Father and that there’s a mutual indwelling between the two hypostases or persons: the Father is in him; he is in the Father. And therefore, as it will say in the letters of John, anyone who claims to confess God and does not confess Jesus as the Christ or Jesus as his Son is not really confessing God, because God is essentially the Father who begets his Son.
St. John will say in the Bible, you cannot have God the Father without having God the Son. If you have God, and God is Father, you have to have the Son, too. And if you confess that Jesus is the Son, then you are confessing the Father, too. So he says in the second letter, I believe, “He who has the doctrine of the Father has the doctrine of the Son.” The teaching of the Father is the teaching of the Son. So if you don’t follow the teaching of the Son, you don’t have the teaching of the Father either. You have this Jesus as the agent of all of God’s activities towards creation, the Creator, the Redeemer, the one who saves, the Savior, and the one who does all of God’s work that shows that he is divine.
One of the arguments even that Jesus really is the Son of God is not only because the Scripture says so, but because his activity shows that he is, which leads to one last point for now, and that is the fact that Jesus never calls himself “Son of God” in Scripture. He doesn’t use that expression for himself. When they ask him, “Are you, then, the Son of God?” He said, “I am.” He even says, “Egō eimi,” which is the divine name, and they get all bent out of shape when they hear that. Or he will say, “You have said so” or “Thou sayest.”
But it’s interesting that he doesn’t say it about himself. So you could ask the question: why not? Why not? And here I think that the answer—at least, what I think is the answer; you have to decide yourself—and certainly the teaching of the holy Fathers—I believe—is that it is for us to confess him as the Son of God.
It’s for us to see it and to make that confession of faith.
In fact, if Jesus even told us, which in some sense he has, when he says, “You have said so” or “I am” or “That you may believe that I am who I am” or “that I am the Son of God,” but there’s a sense in which it is the calling of the creatures to confess him as the Son of God; to see him as a man; to hear him as a man; to observe him as a man; as even the son of man; and to observe him as Israel’s Messiah; to observe him as the one whom the Law, the Prophets foretold, and the Psalms. When you see who he is, or we who read the Scriptures hear about who he is, what he does, then we are the ones who must confess him.
And that’s why you have in the Scripture Jesus saying to the Apostles, “Who do you say that I am?” He doesn’t say, “Come here and I’m going to tell you: I’m the Christ.” No, he does these things and then he asks, “Who do you say I am?” because it’s got to be your decision. You’ve got to say it on the basis of your own conviction, your own experience. You have to make this confession of faith. And there is a sense in which, even if Jesus tells us, if Jesus would say, “Take out your notebook: I am the Son of God. I am God. I am the Logos. I am the Messiah,” well, that would all be very nice, but it wouldn’t stop the issue at all, because people could still doubt it. They still have to come to that conclusion themselves.
It’s interesting that that’s how Jesus answers John the Baptist when he, John, sends his messengers to Jesus to ask him: “Are you the one who is to come? Are you really the Messiah? Are you the Prophet? Are you the Christ? Are you God’s Son? Are you the Lamb of God?” Jesus says, “Go ask John what he sees. Go tell him what you see.” Now, maybe that’s only pedagogical. Some people think that John did that just to make that pedagogical point to his disciples. I, frankly, don’t agree with that. I have to say, speaking the truth in love and honestly, I think really John was sitting in that prison, and he really, being a human being, was wondering: Is this really so? What is really happening? But when Jesus answers him, he says, “What do you see? What do you think? What do you know? How do you observe it? How do you read the Scriptures?” even.
John read the Scriptures his whole life. He was a desert-dwelling Essene. He probably knew the Bible of the Old Testament backwards and forwards, John the Baptist. Certainly St. Paul did. But we have to come to this confession ourselves. We have to be able ourselves, “You are the Christ. You are the Son of the living God. You are the Lord.” We have to say it.
So it seems to me that there’s a very important point here in the Scripture of why Jesus doesn’t say these things himself, or at least not at first. Ultimately, we come to see them, and of course the Apostles themselves didn’t fully understand all this until Christ was risen, glorified, ascended into heaven, and the Holy Spirit was sent upon them. Then the Holy Spirit illumined their [minds], not only to understand the Scriptures, but to understand, really, in their depths, what Jesus was doing while he was on the earth, why he did it, and then, for our purpose now, to understand in the depths who and what, even, Jesus is.
In other words, they had to come to see and to confess, themselves, by the Scriptures, by Jesus’ words, by Jesus’ actions, by the Holy Spirit in him, by all the things that Jesus said and did, they had to confess for themselves: You are the Christ. You are the Son of the living God. You are the Lord. And even, ultimately: You are God in human flesh. You are divine. That is something that we all have to do, authentically, ourselves, based on the evidence, not simply based on Jesus’ words. Oh, yeah, we love Jesus’ words, and Jesus’ words even said, “They’re not my words; they’re the words of the Father.” So he gives us the words of God, and he is the Word of God in the flesh. We’ll talk about that, too.
Nevertheless, the point that we want to see now is, in confessing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, we have to come to do that ourselves. We have to do that, not because someone else said so. And here I would go so far as to say we can’t even say, “Jesus loves me, this I know, because the Bible tells me so. Jesus is the Christ—because the Bible tells me so. Jesus is the Son of God—because the Bible tells me so.” Well, the Bible does tell me so, and it’s very important that the Bible tells me so, but we have to come to see it for ourselves, to confess it ourselves, and then it becomes our own, and then we live by it, and then we see its implication for our own very life.
And what that would mean, relative to the title “Son of God,” we realize that everything that Jesus said and did, the very reason why he even became human and became Mary’s child, begotten of the Father as God’s real Son, is to make all of us sons of God, Jews and Gentiles, men and women, slaves and free people in the old days. Everyone is called by grace what Jesus himself is.
So we’re all created to become sons of God. St. John will even say those who believe in him [Jesus] are begotten of God and they become sons of God. St. Paul will say that God made us sons through what Jesus suffered, poured the Spirit out and so we could call, “Abba, Father.”
So we have to confess this, believe it in our heart and confess it with our lips, but we have to also come to know it by our own experience. And we believe that that is possible when we meditate [on] the words of God, and then, by the power of the Holy Spirit, understand them and live by them. Then we can become, ourselves, witnesses and testify to the fact that indeed, truly, Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Son of the living God.