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News and views from the German-language region of Europe

October 23, 2015

The cultural context (2)

Filed under Sabbath Thoughts

Sometimes a knowledge of the cultural context can be helpful in understanding certain statements in the Bible. One of the questions a "Gute Nachrichten" subscriber asked in a recent nearly one hour conversation was: "Was Jesus during His earthly life God or was He just the son of God?"

The reader's question implies that during Jesus' life on earth being the son of God was something different than being God. The reader's question also reveals his ignorance of the Jewish viewpoint at the time of Christ. That viewpoint is clearly shown in the Bible.

The apostle John tells us that the Jews wanted to stone Jesus after He had called God His father. Jesus asked His fellow Jews why they wanted to stone Him: "Many good works I have shown you from my Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?" (John 10:32).

The Jews answered Him: "For a good work we do not stone you, but for blasphemy, and because you, being a man, make yourself God" (verse 33).

Why did the Jews think that Jesus had blasphemed? Jesus gives us the answer: "Do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, You are blaspheming, because I said, I am the Son of God?" (verse 36).

Some months earlier Jesus had healed a paralytic at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath. How did the Jews react to this healing? "For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath" (John 5:16).

Jesus explained what He had done by saying: "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working" (verse 17).

The anger of the Jews was multiplied by Jesus' statement that God was His father: "Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God" (verse 18).

We also see Jesus' statement that He was the son of God being interpreted as blasphemy during His trial before the Sanhedrin:

"The high priest answered and said to Him, I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the son of God! Jesus said to him, it is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven. Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, he has spoken blasphemy!" (Matthew 26:63-65; my emphasis).

Being the son of God and being God were not two separate things for the Jews of Jesus' time – they were one and the same. And Jesus never attempted to correct their understanding. Instead, Jesus knew very well how His statement would be understood when He said that He was the son of God.

Jesus was exactly what His fellow Jews would understand Him to be saying when He said that He was the son of God. He was Immanuel, "God with us" (Matthew 1:23).

With these thoughts I wish everyone a rewarding Sabbath!

Paul Kieffer's blog with personal insights and news from the German-language region in Europe.


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