Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things… (Hebrews 1:1-2, ESV)
What does it mean to be God’s Son? Why is it so important to know? If I were to say that I know the president of the United States, but did not know what his full name was, or where he was born, or how many children he has, or his wife’s name, you might question whether I really know him. As Christians, it is incumbent upon us to know as much as possible about our Lord and Savior to make sure that we truly know Him. And the only infallible source for such information is Scripture, what God has revealed about Himself.
This is not to say that having a personal relationship with Him in prayer and listening to Him does not give us knowledge about Him. On the contrary, it is possible to know numerous facts about Jesus and not know Him personally. And that is a tragedy. But if I know Him personally I will also want to know Him factually. And here the author of Hebrews says He is God’s Son.
If a man had more than one son he would normally, in Jewish culture, make the firstborn the one who was given the double portion of the father’s inheritance and the position of patriarch of the family, once the father died, that is. This was to enable the firstborn to make sure that all the family was kept secure, if, in fact, he was an effective leader who carried on his father’s legacy. But Jesus is God’s only Son and, though God never dies, He appointed Jesus heir of all things. His entire “inheritance” belongs to Jesus. This in itself should tell us that Jesus is not a created being. Only the true God can manage to handle “all things”.
Son of God describes Jesus’ original and continuing phase of existence, with an additional phase added on when he became, as well, the son of man. He mentions this first phase in John 17 when He says, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (verse 5). Before Jesus took on human nature (that is before he took the name Jesus) He had a glorious presence with the Father. He always was and always will be the Son of God the Father.
We need to be careful when we talk about this so as not to suggest that Jesus was somehow less than the Father by being His Son. We know from Hebrews 1:3 that “the Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” Philippians 2:6 tells us that he was “in very nature God” and “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” To be the Son is to be the most elevated person in the universe.
Nevertheless, as a Son of the Father He owed His existence to the Father and owed submission to the Father. Though the Scriptures don’t clearly or explicitly tell us this, we may suppose that Jesus’ existence as the Son was something that was continually generated by the Father from all eternity, so that there was never a time that Jesus did not exist or was not dependent on the Father for his personage. The same may be said about the Holy Spirit, though we might suggest that the Holy Spirit was dependent for His personage on both the Father and the Son. Nevertheless, in every sense, all three are equal in terms of possessing the divine essence and attributes.
I bring this up because this is a fact about Jesus that we must ponder and because it is important for us to know that Jesus is quite familiar with the experience all of us have had of being generated by our parents. He understands and relates to our experience of being dependent on our parents and submissive to them. Of course, it is not that Jesus has to “grow up” and become independent of His Father in the same way we become independent of our parents. Rather we might say He came already “grown up” and is delighted with the relationship He has and has had with the Father from all eternity.
He prays for a return to this aspect of the relationship in John 17, a return to the glory of God’s presence and the experience of His own glorious existence as the recognized Son of the Father. This prayer was answered at the resurrection and ascension to heaven. This also gives us a clue to what the second phase of His existence was like. When He took on human nature He of necessity gave up the experience of being recognized as the glorious Son of the Father and gave up the direct experience of the Father’s glory. He did it to live a life we needed to see and to die a death we should have died. We have already seen Jesus’ sacrificial love for us and how far He is willing to let it take Him.