Doesn’t Jesus call himself the Son of God? That’s a good question, because, interestingly, in the whole of the Gospels, Jesus rarely mentions this term and, in the following situation, demonstrates his preferred name.
“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.” (John 5:24-27).
Amazingly, every other mention of Son of God is by a whole cast of characters, a true cross section of Gospel personages, including Satan and his demons, Jesus’s disciples, the High Priest, a Roman centurion, an angel, John the Baptist, Martha and the Gospel writers themselves. But not Jesus himself, he always preferred Son of Man.
The reason, again, was Jesus’s very real need to authenticate his ministry by identifying with a concept already familiar to those around him. Son of Man was a familiar concept to his Jewish listeners. Son of God would have meant nothing to them theologically as it appears nowhere in the Old Testament.
That said, there are twenty two mentions of Son of God in the Gospels, by the people already mentioned. Where did they get this concept from? Plucked it out of the air? Well, eight mentions are from angels or demons, who would have had special knowledge “from the horse’s mouth”, so to speak. Three mentions are by the Gospel writers, writing many years after the event, so familiar with the concept by then.
That leaves eleven declarations to account for. What is clear is that, whenever Jesus was declared directly the Son of God, he never actually denied it, so he certainly identified with it.
In Matthew 26:63, the High Priest proclaimed, “tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” This is how Jesus answered:
“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
So he didn’t deny it, merely corrected their phraseology. Similarly with Nathanael, who, full of faith, declared “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel“. Jesus responded:
“You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Again, no denial, merely a correction. Jesus was merely intent in getting his message across through every means possible.
Even though we read of no clear instance where Jesus declared himself the Son of God, he was certainly identified with this concept because of the sheer variety of people who called him by this name. In fact, humanly speaking, Jesus would have had every reason to keep schtum about its use. Because … this is what, ultimately, got him crucified!
Blasphemy! How dare he call himself God, or the Son of God or whatever. Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.
Perhaps this is why the demons were very vocal in their use of this term? They wanted him to get into trouble. Perhaps this is how people like Nathanael and Martha got to hear of the term? Perhaps Jesus was concerned that his Earthly mission may be brought to a halt if his true divine nature was seized upon by the religious authorities prematurely. It matters not because Jesus never denied being the Son of God and even actively went around proving that he was divine by his words and his actions.
Let us build up the case for the prosecution at Jesus’s trial before the Sanhedrin. The High Priest would surely need evidence for this declaration:
“I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
He had to be sure of his position, because, if Jesus had declared himself the Son of God, this was blasphemy, punishable by death, in the eyes of the Jewish court.
(This is an abridged extract from Steve’s book Jesus Man of Many Names)