God's Only Son

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : John 1:14

A lot of people today approach their religious faith the way an adventurous cook operates in the kitchen – with a strong desire to experiment and come up with a unique personal recipe. But Christians are not free to make up their own beliefs. We have a creed. We confess a faith that is held in common by all true Christians of all times and places. David Bast explores this common faith in a series of programs based on the Apostles’ Creed entitled “What We Believe.”

During the dark days of World War II, an unlikely star emerged on BBC radio broadcasts in Britain. He was an Oxford literature professor named C. S. Lewis, and he was invited to give a series of broadcast talks on what Christians believe. The talks were later published as the international best-seller Mere Christianity, a book that cemented Lewis’ reputation as the premier Christian apologist of the 20th century. In one of the many famous passages from this book Lewis debunks the most popular non-Christian view of Jesus Christ, namely, that he was only a great religious teacher or prophet.

That is one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of thing Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. . . . let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

It is in the Gospel of John that we especially find these astonishing claims on the lips of Jesus Christ. In one section of John 5, for example, Jesus says that everything that he does is an act of God (v. 19), that he has the power to give life (vv. 21, 26), that he is the judge of the universe (vv. 22, 27), that whoever wants to worship God must worship him (v. 23), and that one day he will raise all the dead (vv. 28-29). And the funny thing is, we believe him!

You see, Christians believe and confess that Jesus is much more than a man, more than a great human teacher. We believe, in fact, that Jesus is the Son of God – God’s “only Son.” As we say in the Apostles’ Creed, we believe “in Jesus Christ, [God’s] only Son, our Lord.” That phrase “only son” is found over and over again in the fourth Gospel. We hear it, for example, in these majestic words from the prologue of John’s chapter 1:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. . . . No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

John 1:1, 14, 18 (NRSV)

The Only Son

So what do we mean when we say that Jesus is the only Son of God? We mean first of all that he is uniquely related to God. We often speak of ourselves as being the children of God, don’t we. And in a sense, we all are. As those whom God has created in his own image it is proper to speak of every human being as a son or daughter of God. Addressing a crowd of pagans in the city of Athens, the apostle Paul quoted approvingly from the Greek poets about the God “in whom we live and move and have our being,” the God whose offspring we are (Acts 17:28). So we are all God’s children in the sense that God is every person’s Maker. But Christians also believe that those who come to know God through faith in Jesus Christ become God’s children in a special sense as his adopted sons and daughters in Christ (Romans 8:15-17).

However, when we confess that Jesus is the only Son of God we mean that he is an altogether different kind of being. He is not God’s Son by creation, for he was never created. He is not God’s Son by adoption, for he was never redeemed. He is God’s Son by nature; and that means he shares God’s very being. Jesus is called the Son of God only to distinguish him from the Father, and because, in the eternal fellowship of the Godhead, the Son subordinates himself to the position of the Father – not because he is somehow a lesser being than God.

John’s first chapter culminates in the memorable 14th verse: “And the the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son.” The terms Word and Son are synonymous there. And in the chapter’s opening verses, three great truths about the Word or Son of God are affirmed.

First, John affirms Christ’s eternal existence: “In the beginning was the Word.” Notice what he writes: not “In the beginning the Word came into being,” not “The first thing God created in the beginning was the Word.” No, in the beginning the Word simply “was.” When things began to be created at the beginning of everything, the Word already was. Christ already existed. He always did because he is eternal and uncreated. There never was a time when he was not, when God existed but not the Word, the Father without the Son. “This beginning has no beginning,” as Saint Augustine memorably said.

Second, John expresses Christ’s eternal communion with God: “the Word was with God.” So two distinct Persons are mentioned here. One John calls “the Word” and the other he names “God.” But not two distinct Gods. From before all time the Son and the Father, the Word and God, have enjoyed a perfect communion of life and love. They can be distinguished from one another but yet without ever being separated from each other. From all eternity the Persons of the Godhead are not mingled or confused. Neither are they separated or divided, not two gods, not three gods, but one God forever existing as a fellowship of eternal Persons.

Third, John emphasizes here Christ’s eternal identity as God: “In the beginning,” he says, “was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” While in some ways the Word is distinguishable from God, yet at the same time he is identical to God in his very nature. Jesus Christ himself is the living, true, eternal God. In being, power and character, he is exactly the same as the almighty Creator. And yet he is not another God, a second God. This is what we mean when we say, “We believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son.”

The Word Became Flesh

So this is who the Word is. He is Jesus Christ, eternally one with the Father, God the only Son. But now listen again to what John says has happened: “The Word became flesh and lived among us.” John chooses every single syllable in that great sentence with extreme care. He doesn’t say merely that the Word turned into a human being or became a man; he says that the Word became flesh. What he became is described as “flesh” in order to emphasize the reality of it all. The Word didn’t just assume humanity. He wasn’t some kind of hybrid, half-God, half-man. He became fully human, body and soul, with all the weakness, frailty and limitations that implies, with the exception of sin. He became human while remaining divine. Eventually the church would learn that the best way to describe Jesus was to say that he had two full natures, one divine and one human, which were united in a single person. That is to say, Jesus wasn’t human on the outside but secretly God on the inside. No, he was a man, through and through. But he was also fully God; everything that God is, the Son also is.

We Have Beheld His Glory

“No one has ever seen God,” writes John. “It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” God as he exists in the eternal glory of his being is invisible, unseeable, inknowable. But God as he comes to earth in the person of Jesus Christ shows himself with a human face. “And we have seen his glory,” says John, “the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” Like the tabernacle set up in the middle of Israel’s wilderness camps, with its cloud of glory denoting the presence of God among his people, so the Lord Jesus has come to live with God’s people now. “And we beheld his glory.” Can you catch the note of wonder in John’s report? Now God is no longer invisible, far removed on distant clouds of glory. No, he’s right here with us, and we can look at him and see what he is like. His glory on earth is different from the dazzling brilliance of his glory above. Here below it is the glory of suffering, of sacrificial love, full of grace and truth.