Sonship in the Gospel of John

Sonship is a key theme in the Gospel of John. There are three titles given to Jesus that use son language – “Son of Man”, “Son of God” and just “the Son”. Each of these holds different implications; “Son of Man” refers to Daniel 7:13 and shows that Jesus is the eternal king of the world. Similarly, “Son of God” refers to Jesus claim to be the messiah. “The Son” holds the most information about the relationship between God and Jesus.

Son of Man

Jesus calls himself the Son of Man 11 times in John's gospel. As in the Synoptic Gospels, this title is one of Jesus’ preferred titles for himself. The title is most likely a reference to Daniel 7:13-14, in which Daniel describes one of his apocalyptic visions.

"I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed." This Son of Man figure was part of the Jewish expectations for the new age and the redemption of God’s people that is foretold by the Old Testament. Many Jews expected the son of man to be the Messiah. As Daniel says, he is to be the ruler of God’s future eternal kingdom (see Son of Man article for more detail). By calling himself the Son of Man, Jesus is claiming to be God’s future King who would rule forever. This title is important in the eschatology of this Gospel, as it is a key clue that God’s future Kingdom was being created through Jesus.

The passages where Jesus calls himself the Son of Man teach key themes of John. The Son of Man in Daniel is given authority to rule over the world. Jesus states that God has given him authority to judge at the Resurrection because he is the Son of Man (5:27). He also has the ability to give life to those who “eat his flesh and drink his blood” (John 6:27, 53). Jesus then calls the man healed from blindness to have faith in the Son of Man, whom he clearly says is himself (John 9:35-37).

In John 3:13, Jesus states that he descended from heaven, and in John 6:62 he states that he will return there. In his statement to Nathaniel in (John 1:51), Jesus refers to Jacob’s dream of a ladder on which angels ascend and descend (Gen 28:12-13). By describing himself as this ladder, Jesus shows that he links both heaven and earth. Only Jesus, the Son of man, can bring heaven down to earth and earth up to heaven. " Son of man, Jesus comes into the world, dies, is exalted, and is given the authority to execute judgment" ^[1]^

In John 3:13-15, after stating that he has come from heaven, Jesus continues saying that he will be “lifted up” so that those who believe in him will have eternal life. He does not elaborate on what “lifted up” means at the time, but this is a clear reference to his crucifixion. In John 8:28, Jesus says that this will be proof of his claims about himself. In his last public speech, Jesus announces that the time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified – by which he means his death and resurrection. By being glorified in this way, he also glorifies God (John 13:31).

Son of God

One of the more contentious titles used in John is ‘Son of God’. It has often been used in parallel to “Son of Man” to prove the parallel humanity and divinity of Jesus. Other scholars argue that that ‘the Son’ and ‘Son of God’ are synonymous. ^[2]^ However, where Jesus uses ‘the Son’ to refer to himself and his mission, the specific phrase ‘Son of God’ is almost always used simply as a title.^ [3]^ Edwards particularly highlights that the title is placed in apposition with Christ twice in the Gospel, and once connected with ‘King of Israel’, possibly as a means of explaining the Jewish term to Gentile readers or expanding the theme.^ [4]^ This suggests that in John, the specific title ‘Son of God’ is not so much a statement of Jesus’ divinity, rather than a statement of his messiahship.

The Son

Jesus calls God ‘the Father’ or ‘my Father’ 107 times and refers to himself as ‘the Son of God’ or simply ‘the son’ in context with ‘the Father’ around 30 times. John 5:18 shows that his contemporaries understood him to be ‘making himself equal with God’. This theme is first raised in the Prologue which uses the word ????????? (monogenes – John 1:14, 18), which also appears in John 3:16-18. The translation of ????????? is contentious, but it is used frequently in the LXX and the Apocrypha to refer to a unique son. The word is used about Isaac, and for adopted sons, so ‘one-of-a-kind’ is a better translation than ‘only-begotten’.^[5]^ This places Jesus in a unique relationship with the Father. This relationship is further emphasized in the latter half of the Gospel when Jesus claims to be one with the Father (Rom 10:30, 38; 14:10-11; 17:11), existing before creation (Rom 17:5), and owning all that God owns (Rom 16:15; 17:10). This is developed further in Jesus’ last discourse, until the disciples recognize in Rom 20:28 that Jesus is God incarnate.^ [6]^. However, in this unity, there is still a distinction held in the Father-Son language leaving us with a united-but-separate view of the relationship. This distinction is most revealed in the ‘sending’ language. Many times Jesus describes himself as being sent by the Father.^[7]^

One aspect of this Father-Son relationship is love. This is introduced in John 3:35 and raised again in 5:20. The Father loves the Son (John 15:9, 17:23-29) and the Son loves the Father (John 14:31). Out of that love, Jesus is obedient to his Father (John 14:31), and he loves the Son because of that obedience (John 10:17). This obedience is already implied in the concept of ‘being sent’, but is further defined in later passages; Jesus obeys the will of the father (John 6:38), does his work (John 17:4) and speaks what he has been commanded (John 12:49-50). Further references to this obedience are evenly spread throughout the Gospel. Even this obedience infers a unity and equality with the Father (John 5:17, 14:10). Jesus’ obedience is reflected in his mission