A Brief Survey of
(The Second Person of the Triune Godhead
"No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, the One ever being (existing) in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him" (John 1:18, literal rendering from the Greek).
Jesus Christ is God. He has eternally existed. In the inspired Scriptures He is clearly identified as the Son of God. At the incarnation He became a Man. These are solid, indisputable Bible facts upon which our faith may be fixed.
The key question which must be answered is this: When did He become the Son of God? The doctrine of eternal Sonship declares that the Second Person of the Triune Godhead has always existed as the Son. There was never a time when He was not the Son of God. He did not become the Son. He was, is and ever shall be the Son.
Those who deny this vital doctrine teach that He became the Son of God at some point in history. Some would say He became the Son at His baptism, others would say at His resurrection, some would even say at His exaltation, but most of them would say that He became the Son of God at the incarnation. Regardless of different understandings concerning the time and event marking the beginning of His Sonship, they would all agree that there was a time when He was not the Son of God.
The controversy surrounding Christ's Sonship hinges on certain key questions: Has there always existed a Father/Son relationship between the first and second persons of the Godhead? Is Jesus Christ the eternal Son of God, or did He become the Son of God at some point in history? Is the expression "Son of God" just a title that He received, a role that He played, a function that he assumed at the incarnation, or is He essentially and eternally the beloved Son of the Father? Is He the true and proper and actual Son of God intrinsically or did He become the Son at the incarnation? Was the Son of God always and eternally in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18)? Is it wrong to refer to Him as "the only begotten of the Father" prior to His conception at Nazareth and His birth at Bethlehem? Before the creation of the world was Christ the Son?
God's Word provides solid and satisfying answers to all such questions. We approach this study with much caution and reverence, for we are speaking of the blessed Son of God, our Saviour and Lord. May nothing be written which would bring shame or dishonor to His Holy Name and to His blessed Person.
"No man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him...I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes" (Matthew 11:27,25). May the Father open our eyes and reveal these things to us clearly that we might worship and adore and serve His Son.
For a detailed defense of the doctrine of eternal Sonship see The Doctrine of the Eternal Sonship of Christ. But for now an overview of the evidence will suffice. We will begin our survey at the resurrection and go backward in time to before the world was created, to see if we can find evidence suggesting that the Second Person of the Trinity existed as the Son.
Let us begin with the resurrection. It was here that Jesus Christ our Lord was "declared to be the Son of God with power" (Rom. 1:4). He did not become the Son at this point in time, but He demonstrated that He was the Son. The resurrection was the promised "sign" (John 2:18-19; Matt. 12:38-40) which vindicated His claims and proved that He was exactly Who He said He was.
As we go further back in time we come to the transfiguration. It was here on the holy mount that the Father spoke audibly and declared His Sonship: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him" (Matt. 17:5). Traveling back to the beginning of His public ministry we hear a similar declaration on the occasion of His baptism: "And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:17).
The next stop in our trip backward through time will be at Jesus' birth. The angel spoke these words about the One who would be born: "Therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35). Jesus was Lord at His birth (Luke 2:11) and He was King at His birth (Matt. 2:2) and He was the Son of God at His birth (Luke 1:35)!
As we go back into the Lordís pre-incarnate history, is there any evidence that He was identified as Godís Son? In John 16:28 the Lord Jesus said this, "I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world." Such a passage clearly indicates that before coming into this world He was with the Father, strongly implying that there was a Father/Son relationship prior to the incarnation. Also those many passages which speak of the Father sending the Son (John 3:17, etc.) suggest that He existed as the Son prior to His mission. The Father did not send One who would become His Son, but He sent One into the world who was already His Son.
Do we find mention of the Son of God prior to the New Testament? It must be recognized that the Old Testament says very little about the distinct Persons of the Trinity. There are some passages, however, where His Sonship is mentioned, or at least hinted at. Isaiah predicted that there would come a day when Godís Son would be given (Isaiah 9:6 and compare John 3:16). In Psalm 2:12 the kings of the earth are told to "kiss the Son." In Daniel 3:25 Nebuchadnezzar was astounded to see a fourth Person in the fiery furnace, the form of which "is like the Son of God." Regardless of Nebuchadnezzarís understanding of who was in that furnace, from our perspective we can identify that fourth Person as the pre-incarnate Christ, Godís unique Son. [Dr. John C. Whitcomb identifies this fourth Person as the pre-incarnate Son of God even though he says that "Nebuchadnezzar would not have been capable of identifying Godís Son even if he did see Him." See John C. Whitcomb, Daniel (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985), p. 60.] Another fascinating passage is Proverbs 30:4 which speaks of the Creator and also the Creatorís Son! All of these passages suggest that in the Old Testament period the idea of God having a Son was something that could be found in the Scriptures, though the full revelation of this awaited the New Testament period.
Let us now go all the way back to the time of creation. In Colossians 1:16 (compare with verse 13) and in Hebrews 1:2, we are told that all things were created by the Son. These passages point to the fact that He was the Son of God at the time of creation. These verses do not say that all things were made by One who would become the Son of God at a later time.
Finally we come to that time before the universe ever existed. We can know nothing of this time apart from divine revelation. The Lord Jesus has given us a remarkable glimpse into those past ages of eternity in His prayer to the Father: "And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I (the Son) had with thee (the Father) before the world was...for thou (the Father) lovedst me (the Son) before the foundation of the world" (John 17:5,24).
Having taken this backward trip through time, we conclude that before the world ever was, there existed a marvelous love relationship between the Father and the Son. The eternal Son of God was ever the delight of His Fatherís heart. Before the foundation of the world the only begotten of the Father was constantly abiding in the Fatherís bosom (John 1:18). We are reminded of the Fatherís words, "This is my beloved Son!"