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Yesterday I began looking at how Jesus referred to himself as simply “the Son” in relationship to God, whom he called “Father.” Jesus’ language suggested an unprecedented intimacy with God. Such intimacy was also implied in the baptism of Jesus.
The early church’s memory of Jesus’ baptism also fueled the fire of their high Christology. As Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan, a voice from heaven proclaimed, “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). Given what we have learned about Jewish language for kingship, this statement might at first seem merely to be a recognition of Jesus’ royal calling as Messiah. But the word “beloved” adds a much richer meaning, a meaning we might easily overlook. (Photo: A painting of the baptism of Jesus from a church in Mahon on the Mediterranean island of Menorca.)
There is only one place in the Old Testament where a son is identified specifically as “beloved.” This occurs in one of the most poignant stories of the Bible, when God tested Abraham by calling him to sacrifice his son Isaac. In his instruction to Abraham, God said, “Take your son, your only son–yes, Isaac, whom you love so much–and go to the land of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will point out to you” (Genesis 22:2). The word translated as “whom you love so much” actually denoted Isaac’s uniqueness as well as his father’s love for him. When the Hebrew Scripture spoke of someone as a “beloved son,” this meant both “greatly loved son” and “only son.” Thus when God called Jesus his “beloved” Son in his baptism, this word conveyed both God’s profound love for Jesus and Jesus’ unique status as the only Son of God.
Though the people who heard the voice from heaven identify Jesus as God’s beloved son probably missed the deeper theological nuances, the early Christians did not as they looked back upon Jesus’ baptism. From their perspective, this event foreshadowed what later became much clearer in the light of his life, death, and resurrection. Jesus was God’s only Son, the One who called God “Father,” the One who was uniquely able to reveal God to humanity because he was, not just the Son of God, but also, as John wrote, “God the only Son” (John 1:18).
The story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22, from which we derived the connotation of “beloved,” offers a striking parallel to the story of Jesus in the New Testament. Abraham was supposed to sacrifice his son, yet didn’t do so because God stopped him and provided a ram for the sacrifice. Abraham’s “beloved” son was saved. But, as John 3:16 reports, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Whereas Isaac was delivered from death, Jesus, as God’s beloved Son, chose to die so that God’s life might be given to humanity.
In my next post I’ll begin to wrap of this series, summarizing what we have learned and offering a succinct explanation of why the early Christians believed that Jesus was divine.