The Son of God
The rabbi’s voice was warm. His eyes were filled with concern as he asked, So please explain, what is this your parents are telling me? You believe in Jesus? Is this true?” He listened quietly as I, one of his own bar mitzvah boys, the son of family friends, told the story of how I came to believe in Jesus. “But explain to me,” he pressed, “how is what you believe now any different from what we taught you here? What do you mean when you say Jesus is the Son of God? In Judaism we believe we are all sons of God.” His questions were difficult for me to answer. Frankly, it was hard because I didn’t know how to articulate the differences. I only wish I knew then what I can explain now.
It is true that the Hebrew Scriptures speak to the issue of “the son of God,” and in most cases, the context clearly defines who is the intended subject. If I could talk to the good rabbi today, I would be able to agree with him and then go on to explain further what our Scriptures say about The Son of God.
“Who has gone up to heaven and come down?
Who has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hands?
Who has wrapped up the waters in his cloak?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and the name of his son?
Tell me if you know!”
The one who penned this section of Proverbs, the Jewish wisdom literature, had reverence for the Lord. He understood the majesty and the glory of God, and he reflected his faith and commitment to the “Worthy One” in these questions. The first four are rhetorical for this very purpose.
He calls to remembrance the self-revelation of God to Moses; that moment when Moses, standing on holy ground, beheld the burning bush which was not consumed. It was then that God revealed His name for all eternity:
“I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” (Exodus 3:14.)
We know what God’s name is, but what is His Son’s name? What Son of God most closely fits this description of the majesty and glory of God, who is “The Father”?
Israel as God’s Son
When God instructed Moses preparing him to speak before Pharaoh, He said,
“Israel is my firstborn son…’Let my son go.'” (Exodus 4:22,23.)
It was God who “fathered Israel.” The Lord called Israel into existence through the Gentile, Abraham. To him was promised blessing and the privilege of being a blessing to all the nations. Israel then is God’s own, a sanctified treasure, a son pre-eminent. For as a people, Israel is called to accomplish God’s purpose. Through Israel’s posterity would come Messiah.
“Sonship” expresses a formal relationship. In Scripture it could signify more than a family tie. It was also used to denote the citizenship of the nation, the membership in a craftsmen’s guild or that one was the disciple of a teacher. Israel was called a son in the family sense.
Yet it was not uncommon, in Old Testament times, for a Near Eastern ruler to claim sonships to one of the gods. Pharaoh was, for example, revered as a divine progeny, the result of a sexual union between the god Ra and the Egyptian queen. While Israel has prayed to “God, our Father,” our people do not claim divine equality. Sonships is understood as a relationship to the Creator, an example of the creature beloved by a gracious God. This relationship is demonstrated again when Moses reminds Israel of God’s fatherly love for the nation in his farewell speech:
“Is He not (the Lord) your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?” (Deuteronomy 32:6.)
One Special Son
The prophet Hosea adds another sense to the idea of sonships. Not only is the nation regarded as God’s son (i.e., “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” Hosea 11:1), but the prophet adds that each of the Israelites are “…the sons of the living God.” (Hosea 1:10.) But this latter picture is of an Israel that is united internally and comprised of a people who, having been chastened, have returned to the fear and love of God.
But of all the Israelites, is there not one special son of God? Through the family of David and the line of the tribe of Judah, a son would come whose throne would be eternal.
“‘When your days are over and you go to be with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom.'”
-1 Chronicles 17:11
Of this one, God says, “I will be his father, and he will be my son.” (I Chronicles 17:13.) Perhaps it was to this individual that the psalmist referred when he proclaimed:
“Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.”
He addresses himself to one called “God” who has been made ruler of the divine kingdom by GOD! Did David have the same idea in mind when he wrote,
“The LORD (Yahweh) says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.'” (Psalm 110:1.)
Could David see the portrait of a son of God, who is actually his promised descendant-The Son of God?
1″Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One.
3 ‘Let us break their chains,’ they say, ‘and throw off their fetters.’
4 The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the LORD scoffs at them.
5 Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
6 ‘I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.’
7 I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.
8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.’
10 Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
The second psalm begins with a description of the earthly rulers in revolt. They have focused their rebellion against God and His Anointed (the Messiah) in verse two. The verse following gives their cry of insurrection. God’s response puts them in their place. The poet describes Him as laughing from heaven (verses 4-6) at the rebels. The ancients haven’t missed the significance of the relationship to the Lord and His Anointed One. As a matter of fact, they remark in a simile where “God, and His Messiah” are likened to a king and “the son of the king.” (Yalkut, pare. 620, p. 90A, line 12 from the bottom.)
Now a third voice comes into the psalm. First we heard the psalmist and then the thundering voice of God. Now comes the voice of God’s Son to tell us the declaration of the Lord: “I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’ ” (Verse 7.) Those very words, “You are my Son,” echo again in later history as God gives story from heaven at the baptism of Jesus adding, “With you I am well pleased. ” (Luke 3:22 b and Mark 1:11 b.)
Here we have that special Son of God, recognized by David as much more than one of his earthly descendants, but also the Anointed One of God. He closes with an admonition to do homage to the Son (verses 11 and 12). Rabbi Ibn Ezra of Spain wrote during the twelfth century, “The exhortation to submit to Yahweh is followed by the exhortation to do homage to Yahweh’s Son.” Yes, the rabbis knew of The Son of God and called Him Messiah.
From the Talmud, Sukkah (52a):
“Our rabbis taught, The Holy One, blessed be He, will say to the Messiah, the son of David (May he reveal himself speedily in our days), ‘Ask of Me anything, and I will give to Thee,’ as it is said (Psalm 2:7,8): ‘I will tell of the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, ‘Thou art My son; this day I have begotten Thee. Ask of Me and I will give the nations for Thine inheritance.'”
And in the mystical writing of the Zohar:
“Behold Jehovah, rideth swift upon a cloud.”
“…it is the Son, of Whom it is written, ‘Kiss the Son’; Thou art the Son, the faithful shepherd; of Thee it is said, ‘Kiss the Son.’ Tho Thou art the Governor of the universe, the Head of Israel, the Lord of the ministering angels, the Son of the Highest, the Son of the Holy and blessed One, yea the very Shechinah.”
-Part 3, folio 307, Amsterdam edition
The early Jews for Jesus connected this second psalm with Jesus. After being harassed by Temple officials for preaching the Messiahship of Jesus in the holy sanctuary grounds, Peter and John are released. They report to the other believers in Jerusalem just what happened. As they all pray together, the first two verses of Psalm 2 are recalled as a promise to King David, acknowledged by him and fulfilled in Jesus (Acts 4:25-27).
Jesus, the Son of God
Later, Paul will quote from the psalm. In doing so he answers an enigmatic question from verse seven where it says, “Today I have become your father.” Just what day was the psalmist referring to? It is the day when God demonstrated conclusively the full acceptance of His anointed redeemer. It is the day when the promised son of David would be proven fit to rule on the throne forever. Through Paul, we are told that it is the day of RESURRECTION:
“…the gospel of God—the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ (the Messiah) our Lord.”
Paul was telling this truth from the very early stages of his ministry. When he first went to the synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia, he announced the fulfillment of what God had been promising all along:
“We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.'”
That Scripture testifies to more than one possibility, for qualification as a Son of God is not disputed. That it points toward one individual who was to be glorified as the Son of God is also quite clear. The Jews of Jesus’ day were on the alert for just this One. Thus, the Galilean skeptic, Nathaniel, blurted on first meeting Jesus, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” (John 1:49.)
There is no Jewish reason why Jesus can’t be the Son of God. I only wish my rabbi knew that being the Son of God in the way Jesus is means much more than my rabbi could let himself imagine.
But then, perhaps you, dear reader, are willing to allow yourself to discover more than what the rabbi could allow himself to consider possible.
Tuvya Zaretsky is one of the founders of the Jews for Jesus ministry. He was the first field missionary beginning his service in February 1974. Tuvya continues to serve the Lord, now as the Director of Staff Development internationally, based out of the Los Angeles office. He also chairs the Board for the Jews for Jesus branch in Tel Aviv, Israel. Tuvya was raised in Northern California in the institutions of American Judaism. During his bar mitzvah at age thirteen, Tuvya read from Isaiah 6:1-8 and declared with the prophet, Hineni-Here I am, send me!" However, his search for God and spiritual truth didn't come into focus until ten years later, when a Christian colleague encouraged him to seek God in the pursuit of truth. Tuvya came to believe in Y'shua (Jesus) on December 7, 1970. Ever since, he has been joyfully saying to God, "Hineni-Here am I." The full story is available by that title, in a booklet form here. Tuvya has provided the leadership of Jews for Jesus branches and evangelistic campaigns in major cities of the US and in Israel. He headed up the Las Vegas Behold Your God (BYG) campaign in 2005 and co-led the 2006 BYG outreach in New Jersey. He is now also an administrator for the website www.JewishGentileCouples.com. In April, 1989, Zaretsky was present at the Willowbank Consultation on the Christian Gospel and the Jewish people, that produced the watershed Willowbank Declaration. Tuvya has presented missiology papers at the Evangelical Theological Society, the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (LCJE) and at the Global Diaspora Missiology Consultation in 2006. He currently serves as president for the International Coordinating Committee of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism, a networking body of Jewish mission agencies. He was editor of the Lausanne Occasional Paper 60, Jewish Evangelism" A Call to the Church in 2004. He was a contributing author of Israel the Land and People edited by H. Wayne House (Kregel Publishers, 1998). His doctoral dissertation, co-authored with Dr. Enoch Wan, was published as Jewish-Gentile Couples: Trends, Challenges and Hopes (William Carey Library Publishers, 2004). He authored or edited articles for the June 2006 issue of MISHKAN themed, "The Gospel and Jewish-Gentile Couples" (Jerusalem) . And in 2008 he was coordinator and contributor for the World Evangelical Alliance Consultation that produced "The Berlin Declaration on the Uniqueness of Christ and Jewish Evangelism in Europe Today". In 2013 Zaretsky was appointed to serve as the Senior Associate for Jewish Evangelism by the International Lausanne Movement. Tuvya has an M.A. in Missiology concentrating in Judaic Studies from Fuller Seminary's School of Intercultural Studies and the Doctor of Missiology degree from the Division of Intercultural Studies at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He is married to Ellen, who is also a Jewish Believer in Jesus. They have three young adult children: Jesse, Abbie and Kaile.