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Note of the Day – January 3

“God sent His Son”

An important aspect of the Birth of the Son of God (the theme of these Christmas season notes) is the idea of God (the Father) sending Jesus. For a key reference in early Christian preaching, see Acts 3:26 (v. 20 apparently being to Jesus’ future appearance). It also appears numerous times related to Jesus’ earthly ministry (in his own words, as preserved in Gospel tradition)—Mark 9:37 par; Matt 15:24; Luke 4:18 (citing Isa 61:1), 43; 10:16—often in the specific context of salvation (cf. Acts 13:26). In the sayings of Jesus, there is a (reciprocal) parallel to his sending of the disciples (Mark 9:37 par; Lk 10:16; John 13:20; 17:18ff; 20:21, also Matt 10:16; Lk 10:3; 22:35; Jn 4:38). In the Gospel of John, there are dozens of instances where Jesus refers to himself (or “the Son”) being sent by the Father (several of which have already been mentioned):

Jn 4:34; 5:23-24, 30, 36-37; 6:38-39, 44, 57; 7;16, 18, 28-29, 33; 8:16, 18, 26, 29, 42; 9:4; 10:36; 11:42; 12:42-45, 49; 13:16, 30; 14:24; 15:21; 17:3, 8, 18, 21, 23, 25; 20:21

A number of these strongly suggest divine pre-existence of the Son (cf. Jn 1:1ff; 8:58), while others indicate, at the very least, being sent prior to his (human) birth.

Among the most important references to Jesus (as God’s Son) being sent are Galatians 4:4 and Romans 8:3, both of which have been discussed in detail in prior notes (cf. in Advent season and on “Paul’s view of the Law in Romans“):

o%te de\ h@lqen to\ plh/rwma tou= xro/nou e)cape/steilen o( qeo\$ to\n ui(o\n au)tou= geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$ geno/menon u(po\ no/mon
“but when the fullness of time came, God set forth out from (him) his Son, coming to be out of a woman, coming to be under the Law…” (Gal 4:4)

o( qeo\$ to\n e(autou= ui(o\n pe/mya$ e)n o(moiw/mati sarko\$ a(marti/a$ kai\ peri\ a(marti/a$ kate/krinen th\n a(marti/an e)n th=| sarki/, i%na to\ dikai/wma tou= no/mou plhrwqh=| e)n h(mi=n
“…God, sending his own Son in (the) likeness of flesh of sin [i.e. sinful flesh] and about [i.e. for the sake of] sin, judged against sin in the flesh, (so) that the just/right (thing) of the Law should be filled up [i.e. fulfilled] in us” (Rom 8:3b-4a)

 There is a similar passage in John 3:16-17 and the parallel 1 John 4:9-10 (v. 14) which also emphasize Jesus’ sacrificial (and salvific) death—God sends his Son as Savior, through his death and resurrection. Indeed, according to at least one strand of early Gospel preaching (as preserved in the book of Acts), it is specifically through his resurrection (and exaltation) that Jesus was understood to be ‘born’ as Son of God (see esp. the use of Psalm 2:7 in Acts 13:32-33). These two aspects—his death and resurrection—provide the defining structure to the so-called “Christ hymn” of Philippians 2:6-11.

Philippians 2:6-11

This famous passage, which, according to the view of many scholars, is part of an earlier hymn that Paul makes use of in his letter, begins with Jesus’ divine status/position/nature in verse 6—”beginning under [i.e. being/subsisting] in the form of God [e)n morfh=| qeou=]”. It is not possible to examine this difficult phrase in detail, but it certainly indicates some manner of pre-existence. The second phrase of the verse is even more problematic (and controversial), but I interpret the basic idea to be that Jesus did not take the opportunity of seizing equality (lit. “did not lead seizure [for himself] to be equal”) to God—which can be understood several different ways (cf. my earlier note on this passage). More important in terms of Paul’s purpose is the fact that Jesus willingly “emptied [e)ke/nwsen] himself”—a kind of self-sacrifice, referred to in theology as kenosis (from Greek ke/no$, “empty”). This is connected to the doctrine of incarnation—the divine Christ/Son taking on human form, which, of course, cannot be separated from the reality of his (human) birth. Note the phrases which follow in vv. 7-8:

  • morfh\n dou/lou la/bwn “taking the form of a slave” (par. to “the form of God” in v. 6)
  • e)n o(moiw/mati a)nqrw/pwn geno/meno$coming to be in the likeness of men” (note the similar use of gi/nomai as in Jn 1:14; Gal 4:4; Rom 1:3, and of “likeness [o(moi/wma]” in Rom 8:3)
    kai\ sxh/mati eu(reqei\$ w($ a&nqrwpo$ “and being found having (the) shape/appearance as a man”
  • geno/meno$ u(ph/koo$ me/xri qana/toucoming to be obedient [lit. hearing under] until death…” (v. 8)

The clause “he lowered himself” (e)tapei/nwsen e(auto\n) beginning verse 8 is parallel to “he emptied himself” (e(auto\n e)ke/nwsen) at the start of verse 7. In traditional theological/christological language, this emptying/lowering is referred to as the humiliation of Christ—the first of two so-called “states of Christ”. It is followed by the second state—his exaltation—in vv. 9-11:

  • V. 9a: “God lifted/raised him high” (o( qeo\$ au)to\n u(peru/ywsen)
    —V. 9b: “and showed favor [e)xari/sato] to him (with) the name th(at is) over every name”
  • V. 10-11: this powerful compound clause depicts Jesus’ exalted status in heaven—as ruler/judge

There is a clear Christological chiasm expressed in these verses—moving from divine/heavenly (pre-)existence, and back to an exalted status (as God/Lord) in heaven:

  • God sends his Son from him (i.e. from heaven)
    • to be born (lit. come to be) of a woman (Gal 4:4)
      • into the suffering/slavery of the human condition (v. 7a)
      • suffering/death on the cross (v. 8)
    • through the resurrection, Jesus is “born” (i.e. firstborn of the dead)
  • God exalts him to heaven, at his right hand, as Son of God (cf. Ps 2:7 / Acts 13:32-33) and Lord

This same sequence is indicated, in simpler form, by the four main aorist verbs that guide the syntax of the passage:

  • e)ke/nwsen (“he [Jesus] emptied [himself]”)—his ‘departure’ from heaven and birth/incarnation as a human being
  • e)tapei/nwsen (“he lowered [himself]”)—his suffering and death
  • u(peru/ywsen (“[God] lifted [him] high”)—Jesus’ resurrection and ascension/exaltation
  • e)xari/sato (“[God himself] showed favor [to him]”)—”with the name over every name”, as Lord and (Son of) God in heaven

Phil 2:9-11 shows the importance of Jesus’ name and titles—which, according to the ancient/traditional mindset, indicate and represent his essential identity. In this regard, the name and titles used in the Lukan Infancy narratives are especially significant:

  • Jesus/Yeshua ( )Ihsou=$)—v. 10; Luke 1:31; 2:21 (cf. Matt 1:21 for the traditional etymological association with salvation)
  • Lord (ku/rio$)—traditionally used to render YHWH, and almost certainly the “name” granted to Jesus in vv. 9-10; cf. Luke 1:43, 76; 2:11
  • Son of God (o( ui(o\$ qeou=)—Luke 1:32, 35; not used in Phil 2:6-11, but note the parallel to Gal 4:4; Rom 1:3-4 and the general context of vv. 6, 9
  • Anointed (xristo/$)—Luke 2:11 (also v. 26); note the traditional juxtaposition of “Anointed” and Jesus/Yeshua at the end of v. 5, right before vv. 6-11 (the relative pronoun o%$ [“who”] at the start of v. 6 refers specifically to “[the] Anointed Yeshua”)

Finally, it is worth noting the association of the expression “coming to be (born) of a woman” (Gal 4:4; cf. similar use of gi/nomai [“come to be”] in Rom 1:3; Jn 1:14 and here in Phil 2:7) in terms of the suffering of the human condition, including a specific connection with sin. On this sensitive point, see my previous notes on Gal 4:4ff and Rom 8:3. In Phil 2:6-11, this is referred to under the common Pauline motive of slavery (“taking the form of a slave“, v. 7). Consider the parallel (and at least partly synonymous) expressions:

  • “under the Law” (Gal 4:4)—”God sent forth his Son, coming to be… under the Law”
  • “in the likeness of flesh of sin” (Rom 8:3)—”…sending His own Son in the likeness of flesh of sin” (cf. also 2 Cor 5:21)

However we may interpret these difficult passages—i.e. in terms of the connection between Jesus’ incarnate human nature and sin—they must be understood primarily from the standpoint of Jesus’ sacrificial and atoning death. This is also the context of the occurrence of genna/w (“come to be born”, cognate with gi/nomai) in John 18:37, in his dialogue with Pilate prior to the crucifixion: “unto this have I come to be (born), and unto this have I come into the world.” Here, as in several other passages which we have looked at in these Christmas season notes, the birth and death of the Son of God come together—two sides of the same Gospel message.

 

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