Sonship of God, Messiahship, and Miracle Working
The title “son of God” has been linked with another two of Jesus’ titles: Christ and king of the Jews. The association with the latter is seen when one enthusiastic believer hails Jesus saying: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49).
The Gospels associate the title “son of God” with the “Christ” in four passages. In one passage John tells his readers that he recorded Jesus’ miracles so that they believe “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31). Mark (1:1) starts his Gospel with: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” When Jesus asks Lazarus’ sister whether she believed that the one who believes in him will live even if he dies and that the one who lives and believes in him will never die, she replies “yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (John 11:27). This link between the titles Christ and son of God is also clear in the high priest’s accusation of Jesus: “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matt. 26:63).
The Gospels also contain a number of passages that indicate that the son of God was perceived to be a miracle performer. For instance, reminding Jesus that he was the son of God, the Devil tempted him to turn stones into bread (Matt. 4:3; Luke 4:3). The Devil also tempted Jesus to throw himself from the highest point of the temple and rely on his sonship of God to be saved (Matt. 4:6; Luke 4:9). A demon-possessed man (Mark 5:7; Luke 8:28), who appears as two possessed men in Matthew (8:29); Jesus’ disciple who had just witnessed him walk him on the water and still the wind (Matt. 14:33); unclean spirits who saw him (Mark 3:11); and demons that came out of people (Luke 4:41) all called Jesus the “Son of God.”
When Jesus stopped the wind, people proclaimed that he was the son of God (Matt. 14:33). Lazarus’ sister believed that Jesus could have prevented the death of her brother because he was the son of God (John 11:27). Indeed, Jesus went on to bring Lazarus back to life. Jesus had already revealed that Lazarus’ sickness was not fatal but that he was made to die in order for Jesus to miraculously revive him “so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4).
Because the son of God must have miraculous power, the crucified Jesus was sarcastically challenged to prove his sonship of God by coming down from the cross (Matt. 27:40). When the Roman centurion saw the miracles that occurred immediately after Jesus’ death, he proclaimed that “truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39; also Matt. 27:54).
Even Paul started to teach that Jesus was the son of God after his vision was miraculously restored by one of Jesus’ disciples, Ananias (Acts 9:20). John also states that Jesus’ miracles proved that he was the Christ and the son of God:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
The implication that performing miracles indicates that the person was the son of God is also found in apocryphal gospels. When a man found out that his possessed son was cured by touching the swaddling clothes of the infant Jesus, he concluded that “perhaps this boy is the son of the living God” (AraIn. 4:21).
The fact is that the link between the title Messiah, sonship of God, and performing miracles is a first century Christian invention that had no origin in Judaism. It is the result of calling Jesus, whom Christians believed to be the Messiah, “son of God” and at the same time portraying him as a miracle worker (Sanders, 1995: 132-133, 160-162).
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