To understand the “one and only Son”, we need to keep turning to The Father.
In the John 3:16 Podcast, two New Testament experts explore the facets and fascinating detail of the Most Famous Verse in the entire Bible.
As a quick introduction to the enormous subject of the “one and only son”, a good spot to start is considering the unique relationship between Jesus and God the Father.
The term “son of God” is used in the Old Testament to describe angels, kings, and even the nation of Israel as God’s chosen people.
Jesus as the Son of God, though, is in a category of his own.
“No-one in the fourth gospel is ever allowed to call God ‘Father’,” Cass said.
“That is the unique privilege of The Son.”
But the Old Testament’s use of “son of God”, according to Tom, “has helpfully pointed us to the ultimate reality of the one true Son of God”.
“So, God’s son in the Old Testament… who was always meant to be his representative, his image bearer, his heir – he would inherit the earth and what belongs to God.
“This points us forward to Jesus.
“But when we come to talk about Jesus as The Son of God, he is described in ways that no other son of God in the Old Testament is described.
“He is one with The Father and shares the same identity with God.”
The “one and only Son” referenced in John 3:16 distills the unique relationship between The Father and The Son.
As Cass and Tom emphasised, this Father-Son relationship has always existed, as Jesus is divine and shares the same identity as God.
How can The Father and The Son both be the one true God?
In the original Greek language that the New Testament was written in, the word for “one and only” is μονογενής (‘monogenes’).
A “power-packed term”, according to Cass.
Often it has been translated in English as “only begotten” or “begotten”.
“The ‘begotten’ language has, historically, been very important,” Tom said about centuries of Christian thinking about the Trinity (God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit).
“When we talk about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as the one, true God,” Tom said, “The one, true God has always existed in eternity.
“Yet, as we read through John’s gospel, we do get the sense that the Son has eternally come from the Father.”
Tom and Cass said the “begotten” idea strives to demonstrate the eternal relationship between this Father and Son, not suggest the latter was created at some point.
“They are co-eternal and each divine,” Cass said.
“[‘Begotten’] had nothing to do with the Son coming into existence in time and space.
Instead, “a clunky Greek – and now English – expression” has been employed to attempt to “describe something that really can’t be described”.
“The Father and Son have a special relationship… but at no time did the Father exist without the Son [or vice versa].”
Another vivid aspect of John 3:16 is God giving his one and only Son.
This giving means so much more than what you might think.
“Certainly, we are talking about more than simply Jesus entering into the world or becoming flesh,” Tom said.
“The giving of The Son is the giving of him over unto death.
“That he is going to die for us when he dies on the cross.”
The immediate context of John 3:16 points to Jesus’ death and the nature of it (“…the Son of Man must be lifted up” John 3:14).
Rather than reason for distress or lament, we should give thanks to God for his generous gift of salvation.
“This is a wonderful reminder of God’s grace,” Tom said.
“That Jesus’ death on the cross is a gift for us, given to us out of God’s love.”
Cass stressed that God the Father is a “self-offering God” and the giving of the Son is inseparable from the Father’s nature.
“We have got to remember that The Father doesn’t give as the world gives,” Cass said.
God the Father did not just send God to earth in human form as Jesus and walk away.
Eternally co-workers, The Father and The Son do everything in “perfect unity”.
“When we talk about The Father giving The Son, we are talking about The Father not just God giving something outside himself but someone who is within himself.
“God is a self-offering God.”
Listen to the full first episode in the player above and subscribe here to John 3:16 Podcast.
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