Lesson 1 - According to Mark
Jesus as the Son of God
Son of God in near eastern and other cultures:
The title Son of God was one that was used by rulers in a number of civilizations. Civilizations including China, Japan, Egypt and the Steppe Peoples referred to their rulers as Sons of Heaven or Sons of God. This title was intended to set the ruler apart as being more than human. They were in some sense divine. The Romans, beginning with Julius Cesar after his death, and moving on to Augustus and beyond, saw their Emperors as semi-divine and used the title “divi” rather than “deus” which still implied that they were sons of God (meaning more than ordinary people…but not quite a god in the pantheon of Roman gods).
Son of God in Judaism
The title Son of God was used in reference to the people of Israel (children or sons), angels, judges and kings. Unlike other civilizations there was never any hint that Son of God implied divinity. It simply referred to a particularly close relationship between God and the “son”. God was the parent and the people/individual were the child who was trained, taught, favored and led by God, while the child was supposed to be obedient and imitate the Father. Examples are Genesis 6:2, Exodus 4:22, Psalms 82, 89 and 110. Thus even prior to Jesus’ arrival on the scene the Jewish people had been using the Son of God concept.
Jesus as Son of God
This title is used throughout the Gospels in reference to Jesus. It is used by demons and Roman soldiers as well as the disciples. In addition, Jesus refers to God as his Father. The opening of the Gospel of Mark has the writer declaring “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
We need to note that in all of these cases the term Son of God is not used to refer to divinity but follows the Jewish tradition of someone who has a unique and special relationship with God. So in that sense Jesus is not unique…however, I would offer that there is something very powerful here about the use of the term, as a counter to the claims of the Roman Empire.
The claim by the Gospel writers that Jesus was the Son of God was set against the claim of the Roman Emperors. They claimed to be the Sons of God that would bring light and freedom to the world. The church, in declaring Jesus (crucified and risen) said that the he was the real Son of God who would set the world free; not through domination and murder, but through love, compassion and resurrection. I would argue that no one in the First Century Roman Empire could miss this claim, especially since it was made at the end of Mark by a Roman Centurion who had pledged his allegiance to the Empire and to Caesar.
This understanding then recasts all of the miracles. Jesus’ miracles showed that he was the true Son of God, the one who would change people’s lives and bring about peace in and for them. He and he alone was capable of bringing about a world in which peace could reign. This recasting then also recasts the concept of Messiah as one who suffers, dies and lives again…not for political gain, but in order to inaugurate a new world order.