“I believe in Jesus Christ, his only-begotten Son, our Lord.” We discussed the meaning of the name Jesus, Saviour. We learned that he is the Anointed One, God’s ultimate agent in this world, our chief Prophet, only High Priest, and eternal King. Now we consider his last two titles in the Apostle’s Creed: only-begotten Son of the Father, and our Lord.
God’s Son; our Lord. Placing them side by side underscores the key message of the gospel: that Jesus the Mediator, the connection between God and us. He joins heaven and earth together, and because of that, he brings us into a most wonderful and intimate relationship with God.
God’s Son, our Lord.
1. His origin in heaven
2. His lordship on earth
3. Our spiritual adoption
His origin in heaven
In the New Testament, Jesus is called “the Son of God”. The angel announced it to Mary: “He will be called the Son of the Most High; the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” (Luke 1:32, 35) The voice from heaven proclaimed it at Jesus’ baptism: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22) And the letter to the Hebrews makes a powerful point by saying that, after God communicated in many different ways, we now finally live in a time where God has spoken his ultimate word by his Son. (Heb. 1:1)
Of course, the title “the Son of God” is a title of the greatest honour. It marks Jesus out as special, uniquely important. And yet… how special is he, exactly? In what way is he the Son of God? In q&a 33, the Heidelberg Catechism asks that question as follows: Why is he called God’s only-begotten Son, since we also are children of God?
This is a good question. After all, God called the nation of Israel “my son” (Hos. 11:1). The Holy Spirit himself tells believers that they are children of God. (Rom. 8:16) At the end of this lesson we will explore this in more detail.
But Jesus is the Son of God in a unique way. That is the point of the word only-begotten, a word the New Testament sometimes uses, but it is often simply translated as “only”, or “one and only”. For instance, Jesus said that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son (John 3:16). Not to deny that we are children of God; but Jesus is the Son of God in a special, unique way.
It is important that we emphasise this. Around the years 300 AD, a bishop by the name of Arius undermined the uniqueness of Jesus. He agreed that Jesus Christ is special, he had no problem with the title “only Son of God”—and yet, he did not give our Lord the special honour he deserves. Arius claimed that Jesus as the Son of God was the most important creature, whom God created first, maybe even before time began.
But the church said: no, that is not enough. We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God in the fullest way possible. This is why the language developed of Jesus as the only-begotten Son of God. “Beget” is an old word for the conception of a child, especially from the perspective of the father. The best way to describe how close Jesus Christ is to God, is by saying that God brought him forth like a Father brings forth a Son. It means that Jesus Christ shares essentially in what it means to be God. He is “of the same essence” as God the Father, and shares in his being. He shares the Father’s divine life, his divine perfection, his holiness, his majesty, his eternal existence and perfect bliss. The catechism says it in simpler, less theological language: Christ alone is the eternal, natural Son of God.
When a human father has a son, that son is also human; “kind begets kind,” as the old saying has it. In the same way, if Jesus Christ is indeed the natural, only-begotten Son of God, he too must be God. This realisation is at the heart of the old Christian teaching of the Trinity: Jesus Christ is the second “Person” in God. That makes him special in a way that we are not, and cannot ever be. The Bible goes as far as saying that we “become partakers in the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4) but we will never be a fully divine Person as Jesus Christ is.
The Son of God is, in his very being, not from earth but from heaven. In John 3:11-13, Jesus blames the Jewish teacher Nicodemus for not believing in him. Jesus says that he is teaching heavenly things, because he is the one “who descended from heaven.” This makes Jesus uniquely qualified to speak about God and reveal heavenly truth. It makes him the ideal ambassador from heaven to earth, and therefore the perfect Mediator and Saviour.
That is why it is so important to stay away from Arius’s way of thinking. If we think of Jesus as just a special creature of God, as just a unique man, we have lost the most important thing: we lost the direct connection between earth and heaven, between our Saviour and our God, between the Son and the Father. The gospel is only real good news because Arius was wrong, and Jesus is indeed, in the fullest sense of the word, the only-begotten Son of God and therefore God himself. Jesus is not a shining example of an earthly being who managed to climb up to God; rather, he is God himself, who came down to earth to lift us up to heaven.
His lordship on earth
“Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:11) is probably the oldest creed of the church. The Apostles’ Creed makes it more personal, when it calls Jesus “our Lord.” The Son of God is not only connected to heaven; he is also connected to the earth, to humankind, to us, as our Lord. What does that mean?
In the Bible, the word “Lord” is a title especially reserved for God. The special name of God in the Old Testament, Yahweh, is often translated as “the LORD”. When we call Jesus “our Lord”, we are saying that he is like God to us. When Jesus had risen from the dead, disciple Thomas cried out to Jesus: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) In 1 Cor 8:6, Paul says: “for us there is one God, the Father—and one Lord, Jesus Christ,” placing the words “God” and “Lord” parallel to each other.
In the secular world, the title “lord” was also common. It was especially used for the Roman emperor. When the early church made their confession that “Jesus is Lord,” it was not only a choice for Jesus but also against the emperor. We often talk about “the Lord Jesus”, but if you lived in that time, the simple declaration that Jesus is Lord was politically charged and it could cost you your life.
Indeed, Jesus is Lord. There are many people in the world, including powerful world leaders, who don’t know that, or deny it. They ignore him, they are hostile to him. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that he is Lord. Psalm 2 describes the situation beautifully. Nations and people plot against the Lord and his Anointed One, to be free from his rule. But, God has given to his Anointed Son “the nations as his heritage and the ends of the earth as his possession.” So we have a clear message to the world:
Now therefore, o kings, be wise; be warned, o rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled. (Ps. 2:10-12)
On the surface of things, we may have reason to fear the powerful of the earth. But above them rules Jesus Christ as the supreme Lord of all, and in the end they all must fall in line and bend down for him.
Jesus is Lord—that means that he is Lord, and in charge of all things, “the ruler of the kings on earth” (Rev. 1:5). But we can make it more personal, especially if we realise that the word “lord” also used to apply in every-day relationships between people. That is a bit foreign to us; we don’t have a society with slaves and masters (as had ancient Rome), or serfs and Lords (like in the Middle Ages). We are not officially beholden to a “lord” or “master” who tells us what to do. We may have an employer, but he is not supposed to act like a “master”…
If Jesus is our Lord, he “owns” us. We owe him our loyalty, our time and energy, our life. This is where the catechism started in Lord’s Day 1: “I belong, body and soul, to my faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ.” Q&a. 34 repeat a good part of that answer: he has ransomed us (that means, he bought us and paid for us), body and soul, from all our sins, not with silver or gold, but with his precious blood. Once again, the catechism reminds us of the alternative. If Jesus were not our Lord, then the devil would be our master. By making us his and becoming our Lord, Jesus Christ has freed us from all the power of the devil.
What does this mean for our practical, everyday life? If Jesus is our Lord, he is in charge of our lives. He tells us what to do and what not to do. Our confession that “Jesus Christ is Lord” means little if we don’t actually listen to him. Jesus made the point in the Sermon on the Mount: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mat. 7:21)
If “Jesus is my Lord” is one side of a coin, then the other side is: “I am his servant.” In the Bible, Paul happily introduces himself to churches as “Paul, a servant (or slave) of Christ Jesus.” (e.g. Rom. 1:1) As the servant of Lord Jesus, the focus of my life should be to serve him to the best of my ability. As Psalm 116 says: “O Lord, I am your servant; you have loosed by bonds. What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord; I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.” (Ps. 116:16,12-14)
Our spiritual adoption
Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God who himself is God, is our Lord and in charge of our lives. He has set us free from the devil’s power. He takes care of us and we may do our work for him.
But that is not all. While Jesus Christ is our master and we owe him everything, he does not treat us like slaves. Jesus said to his disciples: “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15)
In fact, if we belong to Jesus we are even more than friends. Our Lord and master, Jesus, is so generous that he makes us part of his family—not the slave section of the household, but as dearly loved children. We are children of God by adoption, through grace, for Christ’s sake. Remember the parable of the Prodigal Son: the young man came back home, aware that he had forfeited all his rights, and asked to be a servant in the house. But his father pretended not even to hear it, and received him back as a son. (Luke 15:21-24) So the Lord treats us all. We should already be glad to be his servants (instead of the devil’s), but we actually become sons and daughters of God.
Just like our society, the ancient world was familiar with the idea of adoption: someone who is not physically your offspring, officially becomes your child. “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12) Paul explains in Romans 8:15-17:
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear,
but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons,
by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,
and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ,
provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Our salvation is much more than having our sins forgiven and being set free from the power of evil. It is much more than being able to serve God in a perfect, fruitful way (as Adam was created to do). Our salvation is so great, that we become, just like our Lord Jesus, children in the household of God the Father; and all the bliss and treasures of heaven are ours.
Jesus Christ is the only-begotten Son of God, which means that he is no less than God himself. This makes him the perfect Saviour, who not only rescues us from the devil but brings us as children into the Kingdom of his Father.
At the same time, we recognize that Jesus Christ is our Lord, the master of our life. We serve him, not in a slavish way, but as thankful people who get to share in everything he has. We live to honour him. We follow in his footsteps. We do the work that he gives us to do.
In the end, the whole world will bow down and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. We, who have been set free and adopted as sons and daughters of heaven, should be the first ones on our knees to praise him: “My Lord and my God!”
- What does the word only-begotten mean?
- Why is it important to emphasize that Jesus is the only natural Son of God?
- In the time of the New Testament, who was often called “Lord”?
- What are we saying when we call Jesus Christ “our Lord”?
- In what way are we “children of God”?
- Why is it important to know that you are a child of God?
Suggested Bible reading schedule
|Monday||Hebrews 1:1. In what ways is the Son of God superior even to other heavenly beings?|
|Tuesday||John 3:1-14. Jesus not only insists on his own heavenly origin, but on our need for a “heavenly” birth. If we are “of the earth”, what do we miss out on?|
|Wednesday||Romans 8:1-17. What is true about every child of God? (v. 14) How do you know that you are a child of God? (v. 16)|
|Thursday||Jeremiah 3:11-23. When the Lord calls himself “master” (v. 14) and “father” (v. 19), what kind of relationship does he desire between him and his people?|
|Friday||1 Corinthians 8. What strong contrast does Paul make here between pagan religions and Christianity? (v. 5-6)|
|Saturday||John 13:1-20. If we are serious in calling Jesus our “Lord and Teacher,” how should that affect our lives?|