Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in…His Only Son, Our Lord” Part 1

This is blog number 4 from our very own, Tyler Cowden…Now that we have given some consideration to the biblical perspective on faith and belief, let us focus on the person in whom we as Christians ultimately put our faith, Jesus Christ. All of Scripture reveals and points to Jesus, but let’s think about a couple of items the Creed explicitly mentions about who He is. In this post we will consider His name and His unique sonship.

Before moving on to the phrase this post will mostly focus on, let’s look at Jesus’ name. “Jesus” is an anglicized form of Iēsous, which is in turn the Greek form of Jesus’ name, Yeshua, or Yahshua. His name means “Yahweh saves.” The angel who announced the conception and virgin birth of Christ to Joseph told him, “…you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21, ESV). This in itself is a strong verse pointing to Jesus’ divine identity, of which we will say more later on.

“Christ” is not a name but a title, as you may know. “Christ” is a translation of how Greek-speaking, Second Temple era Jews referred to the royal Messianic deliverer they expected to come based on OT promises. It means “anointed one” and points to Jesus’ Messianic fulfilment and ultimate embodiment of the prophetic, kingly, and priestly offices found in the OT. Psalm 2 is a classic passage referring to Yahweh’s “Messiah” or “anointed one” in royal terms.

The next thing the Creed says about Jesus is that He is the “only Son” (of God the Father). But does God really only have one son? Aren’t all believers sons of God? Aren’t there other people who are “sons of God” in a special way in Scripture? Doesn’t God, as one Muslim apologist said in a debate with a Christian apologist, have “sons by the tons” according to the Bible?

There are a number of different senses in which the Bible uses the language of “son of God.” There is a sense in which all human beings are “offspring” of God (Acts 17:29). There is a more limited sense in which only believers in Christ can become the “sons” or “children of God” (Jn. 1:12). In Luke’s genealogy of Christ, he refers to Adam as “the son of God” (Lk. 3:38). There are Psalms that ultimately point to Christ which nevertheless speak of the king of Israel and his descendants (David, Solomon, etc.) as the “son” of God.

Jesus, however, is uniquely the Son of God in several ways. Two of these aspects of His unique identity as the Son of God directly relate to two of the more generic meanings of “son of God.”

First, Jesus is the Son of God in the sense that He has become the ultimate Messianic king and son of David. The Father chose Him to be such, and Jesus claimed to be such before the High Priest at the end of His earthly ministry, making reference to the famous vision of Daniel 7 and the exalted “Son of Man” who exercises divine authority over the nations (Matt. 26:63-64; Dan. 7:13-14).

After Jesus’ atoning death which secured the defeat of the devil (Heb. 2:14), He was openly declared to be the Davidic Son of God by His exaltation, beginning with His resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4), and continuing with His ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit with the “war-spoils” of the charismata of the Spirit (Eph. 4:8ff). Many, including myself, are of the opinion that the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 was also a grand, public demonstration of Jesus’ exaltation in heaven (Lk. 21:20-27; cf. Matt. 24:30, KJV), closing the door forever on a whole previous era of redemptive history, and foreshadowing Christ’s eventual defeat of all His enemies as God the Father’s chosen human king.

Second, Jesus is the unique Son of God in the sense that He is, like Adam was before the Fall—and even more so—the perfect image of God as a man. Luke calls Adam the “son of God” in his genealogy of Christ, and then records Jesus’ victory over the temptation of the devil in the wilderness, which Adam failed to overcome in the garden of Eden. In that account the devil quotes and tempts Jesus to misapply Psalm 91:11-12, by testing God. Perhaps the devil chose this passage because he realizes that the next verse in it speaks of God’s people trampling lions and serpents. This recalls the seed promise of Genesis 3:15 and prophetically anticipates the Messiah crushing the head of the serpent (the devil). Jesus overcomes the temptation, and the serpent departs “until an opportune time” (Lk. 4:13).

Although there were probably many “opportune times” for satanic temptation during the course of Jesus’ ministry, it seems that, based on the conversation the devil has with Him in the wilderness temptations, in which he begins two of his temptations with “If you are the Son of God,” one can see a particularly clear return of the devil at an “opportune time” at the crucifixion. Luke records that the rulers scoff at Jesus, crying out, “…’He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One’” (Lk. 23:35).

The satanic question ever since Jesus’ baptism—at which the Father said, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Lk. 3:22)—is this: Is Jesus really the Son of God? Is He really the One who as a man is going to undo all the mess that Adam, the original man in the image of God, created by his disobedience? The answer for the NT writers, including Paul (cf. Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:45-49), is a resounding yes. I heard Lane Tipton point out these biblical-theological themes from Luke on a podcast at ReformedForum.org.
Through faith we are united to Christ and so become partakers in these very same realities of divine sonship that we have discussed so far, and in fact they are actually intertwined with one another. Drawing together some themes from passages like Genesis 1-2, Psalm 8, and Hebrews 2, we realize that as human beings, we are restored through faith in Christ to true humanity which involves a kind of royal dominion over the earth. We are enabled once again to benevolently rule the creation as stewards and representatives of the one Almighty ruler. This is the essence of the “kingdom of God” theme in Scripture, and it is an emphasis I appreciate very much about the teaching at Christ the King Presbyterian Church.

All of this is possible, though, because of an even more fundamental reality about the person of Jesus Christ. We relationally share in part of this reality, too, to a degree, but it is something we can never fully comprehend or experience as mere creatures. Jesus is the Son of God in the sense that He is fully divine, and has eternally existed in relationship with the Father as a distinct person of the Holy Trinity.
The Trinity is a summary doctrine of Scripture’s teaching on the nature of God, as He has revealed Himself to be one in being and three in person, in one of the greatest mysteries of our faith. The Father is God, the Son is God, the Spirit is God; there is only one true God; the Father is not the Son or the Spirit, the Son is not the Father or the Spirit, etc. For now, though, we are focusing on the divinity of the Son.
Scripture teaches the divinity of Jesus in a number of ways. Roles, names, abilities, and actions are attributed to Jesus (including the word “God” itself—see Jn. 20: 28; Rom. 9:5; Titus 3:12; 2 Pet. 1:1) which could only ever be faithfully attributed to the living God of Israel, Yahweh. We will look at several of these in the next post, on Jesus’ lordship.

It is breathtakingly astonishing that the divine Son of God took on a human nature and came to earth to do the work of dying and rising again for our salvation. One of the most beautiful things about the person of Jesus as the eternal Son, though, is the eternal relationship He has had with the Father in the perfectly satisfying love-community of the Trinity in eternity past. The gospel of John, particularly in the so-called “upper room discourse” of chapters 13-17, gives us a larger glimpse into this relationship than perhaps any other book of the NT. John 17 is worth reading and re-reading often for the purpose of meditating on this great truth.

Jesus’ ministerial application of His relationship with the Father, which we know through John’s pen, is perhaps even more amazing, though. Through faith in Christ, we can ourselves experience a familial relationship with the Father, in the loving bond of the Spirit, because we are united to Christ. There is a beautiful flow to the history of our salvation: because the eternal Son of the Father came to die and rise again as the Messianic Son of David, we can also become true children (and so heirs) of the Father in union with Him!

Our salvation is nothing less than being wrapped up in the loving relationship of the Trinity: we are united with Christ, the Spirit lives in us, and the Father is now our Father. Jesus prayed to the Father, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn. 17:3). Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses need the Father and the Son. You and I continue to need the Father and the Son. “The one who has the Son has life. The one who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 Jn. 5:12).
It is so wonderful to believe not only in “God the Father Almighty,” but also in “…Jesus Christ, His only Son…”