Adam the Son of God: The Old Testament Testimony

by Graeme Goldsworthy

The following excerpt is from The Son of God and the New Creation Copyright © 2015 by Graeme Goldsworthy, Published by Crossway, 1300 Crescent Street, Wheaton, Illinois 60187

The Old Testament begins with the account of creation, which climaxes with the placing of human beings at the heart of the universe. It is far more important than the telling of how we got here and how long it took, for it introduces us to the very heart of the biblical message.

Adam’s Race and the Creation Paradigm1

What I mean by the “creation paradigm” is simply this: the Bible presents a picture of creation that was designed by God to contain the pattern of the structure of his future kingdom. The narratives of creation are much more than merely descriptive. They foreshadow the ultimate purposes of God.

This occurs throughout the whole of progressive revelation and reaches its final goal in the new creation, which is the consummation of all things. Essentially, we see from the outset of the biblical narrative the creation of a situation in which God rules over his people in fellowship with them in the place he has prepared for them. It is, as I have elsewhere described it, God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.2 Every expression of the goal of God’s redemptive action to save his people can be reduced to this basic creation paradigm: God, his people, and the place where the two parties meet and fellowship.

The pinnacle of creation is Adam. He is referred to both positively and negatively in the New Testament. Luke’s genealogical reference to Adam speaks of him as the divinely created progenitor of the line leading to Jesus (Luke 3:38). Luke is explaining what it means that Jesus has been declared to be God’s well-pleasing Son (Luke 3:22). I have already noted that one of the implications of the larger biblical narrative may be the negative one that God’s word of approval at the baptism of Jesus indicates that, up to this point, God’s other sons (such as Adam and Israel) had all failed to be well pleasing to him.

Similarly, Paul’s references to Adam are to his failures, and they function to show that, by contrast, Jesus brings life where Adam had brought death (Rom. 5:12–21; 1 Cor. 15:20–22, 42–49). Adam, as the type, foreshadows Christ, the antitype.3 Adam and Christ are connected in that both are the federal heads4 of their respective races of fallen and redeemed humanities. This headship typology also exists in the reversal from the fallen race to the redeemed people of God. Christ the Son of God fulfills as the antitype what Adam, the type, repudiated. Therein lies the story. Luke tells us that Adam was the first son of God, but when we revisit the narrative we discover how it develops from the fall into sin and through the constant failures of the people of God until the true Son of God appears to bring redemption.

The creation account in Genesis 1 highlights the dignity of Adam’s race. Humanity is created, male and female, as the pinnacle of all God’s creation (Gen. 1:26–31). Although both animals and man are spoken of as living creatures (cf. Gen. 2:7, 19),5 this first account describes humans as unique in that they were created in the image and likeness of God. Greg Beale argues convincingly that image and likeness are terms of sonship.6 Being made in God’s image as his son is strongly connected in the biblical narrative with exercising dominion. That God is ruling Lord over all in creation is simply a consequence of his being the creator. By his word he brings all things into existence from nothing and decrees what shall be in the order of things. By giving mankind dominion over the rest of creation God reveals his own prior sovereignty and designates the human race as his vicegerent.7 Only the supreme sovereign is able to designate or deputize man as ruler over creation. Psalm 8 describes man’s dignity as being created a little lower than the heavenly creatures and being crowned with glory and honor (Ps. 8:5).

In the creation narratives Adam is not directly described as son of God, but we can understand why Luke would call Adam this in the course of Luke’s genealogy of Jesus. As we have indicated above, being made in the image and likeness of God is the unique description of sonship and dominion. We see throughout the Scripture the focus on the human race as central to the purposes of God. Even after Adam and Eve fail to exercise this God-given role, it becomes clear that God never plans to consign humanity to the scrap heap. The promise of a future hope and redemption is given in Genesis 3:15 as God tells the Serpent,

I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and her offspring;

he shall bruise your head,

and you shall bruise his heel.

Furthermore, fallen humanity continues to bear a vital connection with God since we have been created in his image, and this image is marred but not wholly lost in the fall (Gen. 9:6). To kill another human being is to assault the image of God. Humans continue to struggle to exercise dominion, and it is corrupted and only partially effective (Gen. 3:17–19). How far the image of God is affected by the judgment that follows Adam’s sinful rebellion is revealed in the generations following Adam and also in terms of what God needs to do to remedy the fallen condition of humanity. The history of redemption reveals to us the true nature of the fall. The gospel not only reveals the way of salvation as the remedy for human rebellion but also shows how far we have fallen in Adam and to what heights we are raised in Christ. By providing the solution, the gospel shows us the true nature of the problem. We can now recognize the vital link between Adam and Christ, made explicit in the title “son of God.” This link indicates the dignity of Adam’s race in being created in the image and likeness of God and in being restored to sonship in Christ.

Not only is Adam chronologically the first of those named as the son of God in Luke’s genealogy; the dignity of his place in creation is indicated by his dominion over it. When Adam fell, the whole creation fell with him. This link between the status of humanity and that of the creation before God is made clear in Paul’s assertion that the redemption of the fallen creation is dependent upon the revealing of the sons of God (Rom. 8:19–23). May we not, then, suggest that Paul here understands Adam as the first son of God?

Son(s) of God in Old Testament History

The structure of redemptive revelation in the Old Testament involves two main stages.

First, there is revelation contained in the historical acts of God as they are interpreted by God. This revelation reaches a high point with Solomon but then continues in the history of Israel’s decline. After Solomon, historical revelation mainly concerns judgment.

Second, there is the revelation in the future redemptive events foretold in the eschatology of the writing prophets. These messages of restoration are given at the same time as the prophetic accusations and threats of God’s wrath on an unfaithful nation.

Within the Old Testament history, there are only a few explicit references to a son (or sons) of God. The earliest reference is in Genesis 6:1–8. The sons of God are attracted to the daughters of man and so marry them. Children are born to them. Whatever is happening here, it is portrayed as an expression of evil that moves God to propose blotting out all living things. Who the sons of God are is not specified, and why their marriage to the women is an evil is not explained. The thrust of the passage is undoubtedly the increase in evil that provokes God to an extreme judgment. Perhaps these sons of God are human beings whose actions display contempt for the dignity of humanity. Their actions would thus demonstrate the rebelliousness of the sons of Adam. The only light at the end of this tunnel is Noah, who “found favor in the eyes of the LORD” (Gen. 6:8).

A couple of similar references to sons of God are found in Job 1:6; 2:1; and 38:7. These are heavenly beings, one of whom is the adversary (Satan) who is allowed to afflict Job. In the last of these passages the sons of God rejoice over God’s created order. In like manner, Psalm 89:6 refers to heavenly beings (literally “sons of God”). Whatever the significance of angelic beings referred to as sons of God, the title as applied to Jesus is too heavily anchored to the line of Adam-and-then-Israel for these references to greatly influence our understanding of his sonship.

Even though they are not explicitly called “sons” or “children” of God in the opening chapters of the Bible, Adam and Eve are clearly presented as the inauguration of human sonship to God. As we have seen, the creation of Adam and Eve in the image and likeness of God indicates not only the dignity of mankind but also the role of exercising dominion over creation that reflects a special relationship to God. It is worth noting at this juncture that this is a position of sonship, which is a reference to status rather than to gender since both genders are included.

So God created man in his own image,

in the image of God he created him;

male and female he created them. (Gen. 1:27)

This non-gender-specific status of sonship is underscored in later references in Scripture to sons of God. Because there is a clear lineage of the human race, beginning with Adam, and marked by a special covenantal relationship to God, we can at least propose that one way of describing this relationship is sonship. Adam’s son Seth marks a new beginning after the slaying of the son Abel. Human wickedness quickly leads to the flood and the destruction of the godless. The son Noah marks another beginning through his son Shem, from whom the godly line eventually leads to Abraham.

Although our concern here is not a biblical theology of covenant, we cannot ignore the role of covenant as a formal way of establishing and guaranteeing the status of an elect race as sons of God. The so-called proto-evangel8 in Genesis 3:15 promises redress for the Serpent’s usurping of the role of God and the consequent marring of humanity’s sonship. This may be understood as implying a covenantal relationship. Christians have always understood this passage as foreshadowing the remedy being achieved by the son of a woman. It soon becomes clear that whenever this son is to emerge, the history of a chosen line of humans will dominate the redemptive process. Covenant and sonship will become a permanent feature of redemptive history.9

A covenant-based structure continues with Noah and his sons (Genesis 6–11). Then the covenant with Abraham recapitulates the Edenic foundations of redemptive history that structures the whole Bible:

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 12:1–3)

Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God. (Gen. 17:4–8)

The promises to Abraham clearly recall the creation paradigm with its mandate of possession and dominion. In the promise of the land we have loud echoes of Eden. Also, sonship continues to be passed down through the generations: God, his son Adam, his son Seth . . . his son Noah, his son Shem . . . his son Abraham . . . and, eventually, his son Israel.

Other factors of the narrative reinforce this reconstruction. Genesis 4–11 is dominated by the genealogies of mankind. Ten times the formula “These are the generations of . . .” occurs in the book of Genesis, five of these in chapters 2–11.10 The “godly” line of the elect sons contrasts with the fallen line of godless mankind. Genealogies are here established as a biblical way of showing particular theological relationships that are a part of the revelation of God’s grace in enacting his plan of redemption. Sonship is emerging as one key way of showing how a significant relationship exists and is transmitted through the ages. The gospel of Genesis 3:15 continues to take shape in these developments.

Thus far the sonship theme may appear to be too inferential to hold up under scrutiny. I have suggested a number of factors in the biblical account that cluster together with the notion of the sonship of God. These include humans made in the image and likeness of God; genealogies; the broader motif of covenant; and the dignity, rule, and placement of God’s people in God’s land. All of these are supported by Luke’s genealogy of Jesus, the Son of God.

But with the captivity in Egypt in the opening chapters of Exodus, the covenant people are far removed from the promised blessings in a way that echoes Adam’s exile from Eden. Significantly, Israel is now referred to as the “son of God.” This sonship emerges as an aspect of God’s plan of redemption:

Then you shall say to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, ‘Let my son go that he may serve me.’ If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.” (Ex. 4:22–23)

The plagues visited on Pharaoh and his people put the creation paradigm into reverse by bringing the destruction of all that sustains life in Egypt. The opening chapters of Genesis show creation; the opening chapters of Exodus show de-creation. The miracles of the plagues mock the false deities of Egypt by showing their impotence to preserve their devotees and the land.

So now it has become clear. The relationship between God and Adam with all of his descendants––Seth, Noah, and Abraham––is one that may be referred to in terms of sonship. Many years after the Exodus, the prophet Hosea recalls this event as an expression of God’s love:

When Israel was a child, I loved him,

and out of Egypt I called my son. (Hos. 11:1)

Matthew’s interpretation of this passage (Matt. 2:15), fulfilled in the return from Egypt of Jesus and his parents, may raise some eyebrows since Hosea refers to a historical event, not a prophetic promise requiring fulfillment. Nevertheless, it does show that Matthew understands Jesus as the Son who becomes the focus of the true and final exodus event.

God’s son, then, is collectively the people of God, those who returned from slavery in Egypt. At Sinai, Israel was subject to the word of God that set the parameters for life in the Promised Land. This land is described as “flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:8), a description that echoes Eden. This redemptive event of the exodus is a “new creation” experience for the people of God—complete with the parting of the waters to deliver the people (Ex. 14:21), just as in Genesis 1 God separated earth and sea to make dry land appear (Gen. 1:9). The redeemed are chosen and destined to enjoy the blessings of life in the new Eden.

The necessary new element for sinners is the redemptive event of regeneration or new creation. The captivity and the exodus event are necessary to show that sinners can enter the promises of God only through redemption. In both the creation and the exodus we have the word of God addressing God’s son. In both creation events God’s word sets out blessings and curses predicated on obedience, and both creations are to lead to an inheritance in the place God has prepared for his covenant people. When Adam and Eve heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, they hid from him because of their nakedness (Gen. 3:8–11). Now, with a new redemptive beginning the people of God have the promise set before them:

And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. (Lev. 26:12)

God will once more walk among his people.

Indeed, sonship is only properly experienced when God is with his people and rules them in grace by his word. The covenant relationship is summed up in many places as Israel’s being the people of God. References to God speaking of Israel as “my people” are too many to enumerate here, but the significance should not be overlooked. Abraham and his descendants through Isaac and Jacob are God’s chosen; they are his son. The particular recurring covenant formula emerges in Exodus 6:7 and again in Leviticus 26:12. It is linked with the redemptive act of the exodus and restoration; God states that his purpose in acting to save is to make them his people: “I will be your God, and you shall be my people.” We shall see that it occurs in various forms and mostly in prophetic oracles of future restoration (e.g., Jer. 7:23; 11:4–5; 24:7; 30:22; Ezek. 11:20; 14:11; 36:28; 37:27).

A significant variation of the covenant formula occurs in the important covenant made with David in 2 Samuel 7. In the context of David’s expressed desire to build a temple for God, we hear the promise that a son of David will build the temple, and this son will be the son of God. The wording of the prophetic promise leaves little doubt that the national covenant made with Israel is now personalized and focused on the son of David.

And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. (2 Sam. 7:11–14)

We see here that the son of David, who is also the son of God, is linked with the climax to the historical replay of the original creation that God described as “very good” (Gen. 1:31). We know it was the climax for two reasons.

First, though significant and glorious, David’s rule was followed by Solomon’s enigmatic decline that caused the corresponding decline in the fortunes of Israel and the nation’s ultimate destruction. Second, more positively, this Davidic covenant that had its first outworking in the kingship of Solomon is not an isolated thing. Solomon as son of God oversees the greatest expression of the kingdom of God in the national history of Israel. He ruled as God’s vicegerent over a new Eden. Never again in the history of the nation do we see a greater expression of God’s kingdom in earthly structures than that of the height of Solomon’s kingdom (1 Kings 3–9).

This is why we view Solomon as the key high point of the Old Testament, after whom things continually get worse until the coming of Christ. For a relatively brief period Solomon ruled over a land “flowing with milk and honey.” It had its focal point in the temple, in the city of David (Jerusalem), and in the land of Israel (concentric circles of dominion and presence). The nation of God’s chosen people was represented by their divinely appointed king. The anointed ministries of prophet, priest, and king mediated God’s word, God’s grace of reconciliation, and God’s rule, respectively. The presence of God among his people was represented by the temple.

But it was not to last. During the decline of the nation after Solomon’s death, the prophets spoke God’s words of indictment against Israel’s covenant-breaking and pronounced God’s judgment. God’s charge against Israel is typified by his word to Hosea concerning his son: “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God” (Hos. 1:9). But the oracle of salvation is not far away as Hosea declares God’s intention to restore his people as his people who will be known as “children of the living God” (Hos. 1:10). And as we saw above, Hosea would later recall the grace of God in redeeming his son from Egypt: “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Hos. 11:1). Hosea’s purpose is to go on to emphasize Israel’s disobedience and idolatry (Hos. 11:2). Yet the grace and faithfulness of God have the last say:

I will heal their apostasy;

I will love them freely;

for my anger has turned from them. . . .

They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow. (Hos. 14:4, 7)

Hosea thus reminds us that prophetic references to the restoration of the covenant people refer to the rehabilitation of the son of God.

The kingdom structure that existed in Eden was governed by the word that created it and was spoken to the first son of God. This word of God set the bounds and character of his kingdom and prescribed the human role within it (Gen. 1:28–30). Subsequent expressions of the covenant reflect the same authority of the Creator and set out the responsibilities of the people of God within the place God is giving to them. The prophetic word about the nation being a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:5–6) describes a people on their way to the Promised Land. The whole redemptive event of the exodus from Egypt is a fulfillment of the covenant promises to Abraham (Ex. 2:23–25). The formal vehicle for conveying the idea of the kingdom is the covenant. Once again we see the essential kingdom structure is God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule. And the point to emphasize is this: we can grasp the idea of “son of God” only when we see that it is inseparable from the whole structure of the kingdom of God. “Son of God” means the people of God in his kingdom.

To sum up: the first son of God is Adam, and his sonship continues through the generations of Adam’s descendants who are marked out as the elect people and who are under the covenant promises and stipulations. The climax of this historical genealogy of sons is David, who is promised a final heir who will be an everlasting son of God (2 Sam. 7:15–16). We begin to see with greater clarity how it is that Jesus could claim that Moses “wrote of me” (John 5:46).

Some Relevant Psalms

The book of Psalms is one of the Old Testament books most quoted in the New Testament. Two psalms in particular are quoted with reference to Jesus as the Son of God.

First, Psalm 2 speaks of the reign of God’s Messiah in the face of organized opposition from the nations of the world.

Why do the nations rage

and the peoples plot in vain?

The kings of the earth set themselves,

and the rulers take counsel together,

against the LORD and against his anointed. (Ps. 2:1–2)

This psalm then goes on to express God’s derision for these vainly plotted schemes. That they are directed at God’s anointed is probably a reference to the nation of Israel and its king. Then the Lord speaks of the anointed one in this way:

“As for me, I have set my King

on Zion, my holy hill.”

I will tell of the decree:

The LORD said to me, “You are my Son;

today I have begotten you.” (Ps. 2:6–7)

There is some general agreement among commentators that the account of God’s words at the baptism of Jesus is a reference to Psalm 2:7 (e.g., Matt. 3:17). The same applies to the similar words from heaven in Luke’s report of the transfiguration of Jesus:

And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)

In Acts 4:24–26 the threats of the religious authorities evoke a prayer from the harassed Christians. They apply Psalm 2:1–2 to their situation and ask for boldness to continue to witness. Clearly, they understand the psalm to have its fulfillment in Jesus as the Son of God. In Hebrews 1:5 this passage is quoted along with 2 Samuel 7:14 to show Christ’s superiority to the angels. And Hebrews 1:8–9 refers to Psalm 45:6–7, as the Son is addressed as God.

The second example of a messianic psalm passage that is quoted a number of times is Psalm 110:1, which is also the most-quoted passage from the Psalms in the New Testament:

The LORD says to my Lord:

“Sit at my right hand,

until I make your enemies your footstool.”

This passage is relevant to our study because Mark puts it in the context of the Davidic covenant. The son of David is the son of God.

And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared,

‘The LORD said to my Lord,

Sit at my right hand,

until I put your enemies under your feet.’

David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” (Mark 12:35–37)

This passage from Psalm 110 is generally seen as the source of references to the ascension of Jesus to sit at the right hand of God (e.g., Mark 16:19). In his Pentecost sermon Peter quotes this passage when referring to the ascension and follows it with the description of Christ’s exaltation and honor:

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. (Acts 2:36)

In 1 Corinthians 15:25, too, we find an apparent reference to Psalm 110:1 in the context of Paul’s teaching on the resurrection from the dead, where Paul speaks of Christ reigning “until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” Similar statements are made elsewhere (Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12–13; 12:2). Enough has been said about these passages from Psalms for us to see that the New Testament understands them to refer to the son of David, who is also the Son of God.

We have also seen that the Old Testament background to Jesus’s being called “Son of God” involves us in a study of the redemptive history of the covenant nation of the Old Testament. Significantly, one of only two psalms with Solomon named in the title, Psalm 72, begins with the words identifying the king as “son”:

Give the king your justice, O God,

and your righteousness to the royal son! (Ps. 72:1)

In various ways Psalm 72 points to different aspects of the covenantal blessings of the Adamic race. The royal son is the new Adam and the recipient of the promises to Abraham:

May he have dominion from sea to sea,

and from the River to the ends of the earth! (Ps. 72:8)

May all kings fall down before him,

all nations serve him! (Ps. 72:11)

May his name endure forever,

his fame continue as long as the sun!

May the people be blessed in him,

all nations call him blessed! (Ps. 72:17)

This king inherits the blessings of the Davidic covenant as God’s son. But verse 17 suggests he also stands in line with Abraham and brings rule and blessing to the nations as well as to his own people (Gen. 12:3).

Psalm 89 is another that extols the covenant with David:11

You have said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one;

I have sworn to David my servant:

‘I will establish your offspring forever,

And build your throne for all generations.’” (Ps. 89:3–4)

The significance of the covenant with David is that it concerns his descendant who is the son of God and thus can cry to God as his Father:

He shall cry to me, “You are my Father;

my God, and the Rock of my salvation.”

And I will make him the firstborn,

the highest of the kings of the earth.

My steadfast love I will keep for him forever;

and my covenant will stand firm for him. (Ps. 89:26–28)

This psalm makes no explicit claim to deity in this relationship of sonship, but it remains one of the important pointers to Jesus as Son of David and Son of God. Even though there are no clear New Testament quotes from either Psalm 72 or 89, they both reflect on the dignity and dominion of David’s son, all of which is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus.

Son(s) of God in Prophetic Eschatology

The Assyrian overthrow of the northern kingdom of Israel (722 BC) and the Babylonian destruction of Judah (586 BC) together mark the demise of the glories of David’s and Solomon’s kingdom as the historical Israelite expression of the kingdom of God. The sons of God are the people of God, but neither of these descriptions is complete without the other elements of the kingdom of God: God ruling his people in the place prepared for them. For the son of David to be the son of God, he must stand as the focal representative of Israel, the corporate son of God. Although the original promises in 2 Samuel 7 are not there explicitly designated as covenant, they are clearly of a covenantal nature and come to be understood as such (e.g., Ps. 89:3–4; Jer. 33:19–21).

We need to examine some of the prophetic references to sonship. I suggest that we can go beyond the explicit “son of God” passages to examine some references that involve a special mediating figure of the covenant promises. For example, Isaiah makes some important references to the Davidic covenant:

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given;

and the government shall be upon his shoulder,

and his name shall be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and of peace

there will be no end,

on the throne of David and over his kingdom,

to establish it and to uphold it

with justice and with righteousness

from this time forth and forevermore.

The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isa. 9:6–7)

Here is a promise concerning the true and final son of David. That he is called “Mighty God” has been taken by some to mean that he is the “son of God,” who is understood to be merely a human king. He is thus described as God’s legitimate representative on earth.12 I must agree with Barry Webb, however, who concludes, “The language of verse 6 can apply only to one who is God incarnate.”13 The language of adoption reflected in Psalm 2:7 may well have been how Isaiah’s contemporaries would have regarded it. If so, we must follow the progression of redemptive revelation to its declaration of Jesus as the God-man.

Isaiah employs another messianic term that other prophets also use: “the branch”:

In that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel. And he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning. Then the LORD will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy. There will be a booth for shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain. (Isa. 4:2–6)

Some would limit “the branch of the LORD” simply to that which God causes to grow. J. A. Motyer, however, is justified in understanding this as a reference to the Messiah coming from dual ancestry, since “he belongs in the ‘family tree’ of both David and the Lord.”14 This cleansing judgment that is integral to redemption clearly recalls the exodus from Egypt, while Jerusalem and Zion point to the second exodus from Babylon.

Another significant passage in Isaiah gives assurance that the blessings relating to David’s line will not be lost.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,

and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,

the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,

the Spirit of counsel and might,

the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. (Isa. 11:1–2)

The stump of Jesse, David’s father, would appear to be a reference to the family tree of David that has been cut off by the Babylonian exile. Isaiah assures us that the dynasty promised to David will certainly not be at an end but will sprout again. Thus, the shoot is a reference to a son of David who shall be endowed with all the qualities of an ideal king. When he comes, the land will be transformed into a new Edenic paradise:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,

and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,

and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;

and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze;

their young shall lie down together;

and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,

and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.

They shall not hurt or destroy

in all my holy mountain;

for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD

as the waters cover the sea. (Isa. 11:6–9)

Echoing the promise of Genesis 12:3, Isaiah declares that the nations will seek him, and a remnant of Israel will be recovered.

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious. In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea. (Isa. 11:10–12)

Both Matthew and Luke use their genealogies to trace the dynasty of David through to Jesus. The miracles recorded in the Gospels are a foretaste of the transformation of the creation that the Son of David brings.

Jeremiah too uses this imagery of the branch of David who will come on the day of salvation:

Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the LORD. Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.” (Jer. 23:3–6; see also Jer. 33:14–22; Zech. 3:8–10)

The name of the branch is significant: “The LORD is our righteousness” (23:6; also 33:16). Before this climax, which clearly anticipates the New Testament exposition of justification by faith, several important messianic themes emerge. Preceding these verses there is a condemnation of the false shepherds, the rulers of Judah who have led the people to destruction (23:1–2). Then follows a reference to the remnant, the faithful ones who emerge from the apparent destruction of the nation (23:3). What is predicated of them clearly recalls the situation of Adam in Eden: they shall be fruitful and multiply (Jer. 23:3, cf. Gen. 1:28). The good shepherds will care for God’s people so that none is missing (23:4). Then the Davidic “Branch” will reign over them (23:5). Jeremiah places all of this in the context of a new exodus, which he indicates is the return from Babylon, “the north country” (Jer. 23:7–8). That the king will rule wisely recalls the place of wisdom in Solomon’s reign before his decline, and as a trait of the Davidic child of Isaiah 9:6–7 and 11:1–3.

What, then, can we make of the son of David, the branch, being called “the LORD is our righteousness”? Jeremiah says that the Lord will one day be identified not as the God of the exodus from Egypt but of the new exodus from the north country and from all the lands of the Jewish dispersion (Jer. 23:7–8). The exodus, as Israel’s paradigmatic event of divine deliverance, has clearly become a symbol for redemption and regeneration.15 Both exodus events constitute expressions of the grace of God: it is always God who acts with great power to achieve the redemption of his helpless people. Jeremiah’s words anticipate the fullness of justification by grace that depends on the imputation (accounting) of the righteousness of God as he justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5). The son of David, who is also the son of God, is thus a key player in the redemption of the people of God. The exile to Babylon, as with the captivity in Egypt, represents the death of the nation because it involves the removal of the kingship and the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. It is another ejection from “Eden,” another descent into Egyptian captivity. The promises to the Davidic son of God involve the restoration of all these things and are, therefore, a kind of resurrection.

Jeremiah’s description of the Davidic covenant expresses his conviction that God is always faithful to his covenant, even in the midst of exile. It is as certain as night following day (Jer. 33:19–22). The covenant promises are as certain as the created order. Jeremiah has been assured that God is faithful in a way that builds on earlier expressions of the grace of God. Genesis 15:6 records that Abraham believed God’s promises and that, in believing, he was justified by having righteousness counted to him. Moses told Israel, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today” (Ex. 14:13).

Every declaration that God is their salvation emphasizes that salvation is by grace alone: God acts to save his people. Now Jeremiah is told that “the LORD is our righteousness.” This adds the further refinement in that we are told that redemption is achieved by the very righteousness of God being attributed to his people (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21).

Summary and Conclusion

Luke’s genealogy directs us all the way back to the very beginning of the biblical story without which we will not understand the significance of the title “son of God.” Whatever the divine overtones in New Testament usage of the title, our attention is drawn first and foremost to the creation paradigm of the kingdom and the sonship of Adam and his descendants who stand under the covenant of grace as the objects of God’s saving plan.

We follow the pattern of sonship from Adam in creation to Israel and then to the representative Israelite, Solomon, its king and nominated son of God. The covenant with David establishes the title of “son of God” on his dynasty. This is the high point of the Old Testament.

When we turn to the prophetic projections for the future kingdom of God, the Davidic covenant is prominent. Over and over again the promised blessings are couched in terms of the promises to David, so that a Davidic prince is frequently described as the mediator of the redemption of Israel from captivity and of the future blessedness of the people of God.

This focus on David and his son links the title “Son of God” as applied to Jesus to his descent from David “according to the flesh” (Rom. 1:3). The focus on David, then, also links “son of God” to the notion of a new creation that is closely associated in the prophets with the restoration of the Davidic throne. After the fall recorded in Genesis 3, Eden’s renewal is found in the promise to Abraham of a land; in Israel’s possession of a land “flowing with milk and honey”; and in the prophetic promises of a new land which is described as a new Eden. The Son of God is the one who brings regeneration and resurrection.


1 I use the word paradigm rather than a more general word such as pattern because paradigm conveys better the idea of deliberate purpose in establishing such a pattern.

2 Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom, in The Goldsworthy Trilogy (Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2000), 53ff.

3 The word type refers to a person, event, or institution that foreshadows a greater future reality. The antitype is the solid substance that is foreshadowed by the type.

4 By “federal head” I mean representative leadership or headship, by which the one stands for the many (without blurring the distinction between the representative and the ones represented).

5 In both cases the Hebrew nephesh ayyah is used, literally, “living souls.”

6 G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011), 401. Beale refers to Gen. 5:3, “When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.”

7 One who exercises delegated power on behalf of another; a deputy.

8 Or “protoeuangellion”; so called because it contains the first “gospel” announcement.

9 A forthcoming volume in Short Studies in Biblical Theology will address the theme of covenant exclusively.

10 Gen. 2:4; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27. See also Gen. 5:1.

11 The passages quoted above are probably alluded to in John 7:42; 12:34; 1 Pet. 1:17; Rev. 1:5.

12 So Otto Kaiser, Isaiah 1–12 (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1972), 129.

13 Barry Webb, The Message of Isaiah (Leicester, UK: Inter-Varsity, 1996), 69.

14 J. A. Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: Inter­Varsity, 1993), 65.

15 The fact that it is now an exodus from Babylon, not Egypt, indicates that the typology is not static. More than one expression of the type may precede the fulfillment in the antitype.




From The Son of God and the New Creation Copyright © 2015 by Graeme Goldsworthy

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