The King of Israel, the Son of God and the Son of Man

Address given by Arend Remmers at Canterbury Conference 2013

Arend Remmers

I would propose that we read some verses from the first chapter of the Gospel of John starting with verse 43.

"On the morrow he would go forth into Galilee, and Jesus finds Philip and says to him, Follow me. And Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip finds Nathanael and says to him, We have found Him of whom Moses wrote in the law, and the prophets, Jesus, the son of Joseph, who is from Nazareth. And Nathanael said to him, Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Philip says to him, Come and see. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and says of him, Behold one truly an Israelite, in whom there is no guile. Nathanael says to Him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said to him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered and said to Him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel. Jesus answered and said to him, Because I said to thee, I saw thee under the fig tree believest thou? Thou shall see greater things then these. And He says to him, Verily, verily, I say to you, Henceforth ye shall see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man.” Thus far, the Word of God.

In the evenings before the last conferences we have had introductory lectures on diverse subjects of these epistles, and if my memory doesn't fail me, the last time I had some different titles and names of the Lord Jesus which figure in the first epistle of John. Now we are facing these two last epistles of John and I will by no means try to forestall any of the meditation which we will have upon these precious epistles. I think the Lord put it into my heart to speak again a little bit about our Lord Jesus Himself. Here in the writings of John, as we all know, I suppose, He is presented as the eternal Son of God. It is the first verse of his gospel which reveals that already when it says: “In the beginning was”. This is not the beginning of Genesis 1, the beginning of creation, where something came into existence – In the beginning God created -, but here it says what was, not only in that beginning of Genesis 1:1 but, one might say, if one knew about any other beginning before that, the Word was ever there. In the beginning was the Word. The Word Himself, - grammatically perhaps incorrect but not spiritually – the Word Himself is eternal. That is what is said here. The Word was with God and the Word was God.

And we read in verse 14 of the same chapter, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And we have contemplated his glory, a glory as of an only-begotten with a Father.” That is the Word. The Word speaks of our Lord Jesus as the eternal Son of God long before He was given the name of Jesus when born as man into this world. The eternal Word, the eternal Son, the only-begotten Son of the Father, who became man, became flesh, took flesh and blood as we did, in the similarity of the flesh of sin.

So this gospel speaks of our Lord as no other of the four gospels, as the One who was eternally with God. An unsoundable mystery, by the way, nobody can explain that, but one thing we may know, that the Triune God - Father, Son and Spirit - exists eternally without any change, without any subjection to any influences; active eternally, in light and love. The Son is the divine expression of all that God is, who is Himself invisible.

Twice it is said in Scripture that God Himself, the Triune God, is invisible - Colossians 1:15 “He is the image of the invisible God”. This is one of the very important characteristics of the Son. It is not the Father who became man, it was the Son. It is not the Spirit who came on earth to dwell amongst us. He dwells in those who believe but He has not lowered himself to the place the Son has taken. It was the Son who became man. The second passage where it is said that that God is invisible, is 1 Timothy 1:17. God is invisible and whatever man has seen and can see of God is only in the Son of God, the Word, the full expression of what God is: Colossians 1 – the Son, the image, the visible expression, Hebrews 1 also: the effulgence of His being and the expression of His character. Hebrews 1 begins:“God having spoken in many parts and in many ways formerly to the fathers by the prophets, at the end of these days He has spoken to us in Son.” He has not only spoken by the Son as if the words of the Son were the words of God, which is true, but the Son was the speaking of God, if I may say so. He spoke in Son. “He who has seen me has seen the Father”. In verse 2 it says, “by whom He also made the worlds” – that is the beginning of Genesis 1 verse 1. Everything God did, He did by the Son. It is the Son who was the active part in all the doings of God. And it was always in the power of the Spirit, so the Trinity, if I may say so, is always active as one. The Father created through and by the Son and it was by the strength of the Spirit, who is mentioned in Genesis 1:3: “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters”. But then it is said in Hebrews 1:3: “who being the effulgence of His glory and the expression of His substance and” - at the same time - “upholding all things by the word of His power” – that is the eternal Son, the full expression of all God is. Not only in time, but eternally. The Word, the expression as it were, was in the beginning and it came to us. So this is the subject of John's gospel, more than of all the others. In Matthew He is the King of Israel, in Mark the Servant of God, the Prophet, in Luke the Son of man of which we shall hear later, but in John He is the eternal Son of God. God revealed in flesh, is the truth that pervades the whole gospel from beginning to end.

And here in the beginning we see that the Lord came to the people of the Old Testament - Israel. Let's never forget that - that the first link God had with a people was with Israel. And so John the Baptist was a herald of the Lord Jesus as King of Israel. That was the first instance, the first thing – repent for the kingdom of God is approaching - and that means the king has come. This is what we find in the beginning of the other gospels, the announcement that John the Baptist spoke about the Lord Jesus as the coming king, but in John he says more.

What we read in chapter 1:1-18 is evidently not what John the Baptist said. This is what John the apostle wrote by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit about the character of the Lord Jesus. These things are not revealed by the other evangelists. The Lord Jesus is the eternal Son of God. We know that there are many sects in Christianity who deny that. When we read here, “the Word was with God”, we do not want now to prove the eternal sonship of the Lord Jesus, which is of all importance, because how can God reveal Himself except only by God Himself? That is the point. God cannot be revealed in a mere man. He was revealed in a man but not in a mere man. The Son of God, the Word became flesh.

When John the Baptist is mentioned in this chapter he speaks about the prophets (verses 19-28), but later on in verse 33 he says, “and I knew Him not”. Did he not know Him? He had met Him when he was still in the womb of his mother and had bounced as it were in the womb of his mother when Mary who was also pregnant came to Elizabeth. But what he says here is that he did not know Him as the one He really was, as the One of whom we have spoken in these moments. “I knew Him not. But He who sent me to baptise with water (God), He said to me: upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and abiding upon Him, He it is who baptises with the Holy Spirit. And I have seen and borne witness that this is the Son of God.” This is the witness of John the Baptist. One of the first testmonies. He witnesses many things, but the most important testimony is that Christ was the Son of God. This is as it were the title of the gospel of John, the witness that the Lord Jesus is the eternal Son of God, John 20:31. But the listeners to the preaching of John did not know or understand it. They thought only of the King of Israel.

Now when the Lord Jesus gathered His first disciples, Philip went to Nathanael in Bethsaida and said: “We have found (he does not say we have found the Messiah, which is more or less equivalent to King of Israel, Messiah means the Anointed One) ... Him, of Whom Moses wrote in the law.” But did Moses write about Him in the law? Besides many types, in Deuteronomy 18:15 Moses said to the people of Israel: “Jehovah thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken” etc. A Prophet like unto me - that is the One of whom Moses has prophesied. And that is what Philip is mentioning here when he says: Him of whom Moses wrote in the law, and the prophets. We cannot now go through all the prophecies about the Lord Jesus, although this is a very valuable study, especially for the younger ones among us to look through the prophets beginning from Isaiah until Malachi, and to seek the Lord in the prophets. The Jews knew that the prophets had spoken about the Lord Jesus, the Messiah, the son of Joseph who is from Nazareth. Now this was how the Jews saw the Lord Jesus – son of Joseph from Nazareth, which was not the true characteristic of the Messiah, because He was the son not of Joseph, although legally Joseph is always regarded as the father of the Lord Jesus. There was a legal order, there was no disorder and as son of Joseph, the Lord Jesus was known among the people. Several times this comes to the fore. And from Nazareth – that was not the town of His birth, it was not the town where Messiah should be born according to Micah 5: Bethlehem Judah, Ephrata, but it was the town where He had passed His childhood, and the years until His public appearance. But so He was known among many Jews obviously.

Nathanael, who was a little incredulous, said: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” It does not seem to have been a well known or famous town. Philip simply says to him, “Come and see.” How beautiful, if somebody has criticism about the Lord Jesus, to say, Come and see. But how often, sadly enough, we have not the strength to say “Come and see”, because what do people see in us? It is a very serious remark – “Come and see”. Can I say to everybody in my neighbourhood, “Come and see”, when it comes to the Lord Jesus?

And Philip takes Nathanael and leads him to the Lord. “Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him and He says of him, Behold one truly an Israelite in whom there is no guile”. The Son of God in His omniscience looks right into the heart of Nathanael, looks right into his brain and says: There is a Jew without guile. He knew that he was one who waited for Messiah; he was one of those, of the little remnant of Israel, who waited and prayed that the Kingdom of God should come. Those who believed in the Lord Jesus before He ever came, who waited for Him although they had always to be convinced like Thomas - if I don't see I don't believe. And now the Lord Jesus speaks to him. Nathanael says, ”Whence knowest Thou me?” He understood what the Lord meant by these words, an Israelite without guile – somebody who really, sincerely waited for the Messiah, who believed in God, who followed the law, in the Jewish context in which all these things happened. The Lord answered and said to him, giving another example of His omniscience, “Before that Philip called thee when thou wast under the fig tree (perhaps hidden a little bit), “I saw thee.” He wanted first to see Him, like Zacchaeus, - not to be seen. “Before that Philip called thee when thou wast under the fig tree I saw thee.” Now Nathanael is convinced: “Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God, Thou art the King of Israel.”

Here Nathanael expresses something that is actually what I want to enter into a little bit in more depth. He says here in one sentence what every Israelite knew about the Messiah and he expresses it in full belief: “Thou art the Son of God, Thou art the King of Israel.” But now the Son of God and King of Israel, the One for whom they waited, says, “Because I said to thee I saw thee under the fig tree believest thou?” Nathanael recognised that Jesus had supernatural capacities to tell him right what was in his heart and seeing him when nobody else saw him, but He was going to tell him greater things. There must be more: “Thou shalt see greater things.” And then He continues: “Verily, verily I say to you, henceforth you shall see the heavens open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” That is a greater thing than Nathanael had said. He had said: “Thou art the Son of God and Thou art the King of Israel”, and now the Lord Jesus says there is something greater than that - greater than the Son of God – the Son of man. You shall see the angels first ascending then descending on the Son of Man.

How is this? How can one explain this apparent difficulty - the Son of God, the King of Israel and the greater thing is the Son of Man? It is not said that they were astonished, because all this is to be found in the Old Testament. When Nathanael said of the Lord Jesus: “Thou art the Son of God, Thou art the King of Israel”, you know what he alluded to? - Psalm 2.

Perhaps it seems a little technical, but the first thing which we learn here, is that the expression Son of God does not always mean the same thing. That is very important. When Nathanael said to the Lord Jesus ,“Thou art the Son of God”, he did not know and mean what I explained at the beginning of this meeting. It was not revealed that the Lord Jesus, the Messiah, was the Eternal Son of God. But in Psalm 2, a Psalm about the time of the end, where we find that the “nations are in tumultuous agitation, and the peoples meditate a vain thing. The kings of the earth set themselves, and the princes plot together, against Jehovah and against his anointed”. The Anointed one is Messiah, who has come into this world to put up His thousand years' rule. And then the Psalm speaks about the time, which the disciples later apply to the time when the Lord Jesus was killed (Acts 4,25), but it will come to its full expression in the time of the tribulation, when the peoples of the world will rage against Jehovah and against his Anointed: “Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their cords from us!”

But then comes the Divine reaction, “ He that dwelleth in the heavens shall laugh, the Lord shall have them in derision. Then will he speak to them in his anger, and in his fierce displeasure will he terrify them: And I have anointed my king upon Zion.” God speaks about His King in Zion, our Lord who is presented in this chapter as standing in front of Nathanael who tells Him, “Thou art the King of Israel.” God had anointed Him and He will come and reign as King, there is no doubt about it, God will laugh at all these people, who think they can do without Him. How we see that at present, that people think everything can be done without God. But God laughs at them. His King will come, He has anointed Him already. “ And I have anointed my king upon Zion, the hill of my holiness. I will declare the decree”, the writer says now, “Jehovah hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.” King of Israel, Son of God – that is what Nathanael spoke of.

And here, dear friends, we do not read in Psalm 2:7 about the eternal Sonship, the eternal Son of God. God speaks to His Son as born into this world as man, as the King of Israel – “Thou art my son, this day I have begotten thee”.

The eternal Son was never begotten. Even if He is called in English and in German the only-begotten Son, the sense is not any begetting, it is “unique and the only one of its kind”. But here we have the begetting, the creation of a being which has not thus been there before, a man in this world. And if we go to the gospel of Luke, which presents to us the Lord Jesus as the Son of Man, we will find this confirmed. In Luke 1, the angel comes to Mary and announces to this young woman, the virgin, Mary: “You shall bear a son.” This wonder, “this day I have begotten thee” comes true, this miracle of the incarnation of the eternal Son of God - “This day I have begotten thee”. And this young virgin, Mary says in Luke 1:34, “How shall this be since I know not a man. And the angel answering said to her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee and power of the Highest overshadow thee”. That is, “this day I have begotten thee” in Psalm 2:7. And therefore the holy thing, this little child, this unique child, which shall be born, shall be called Son of God. This holy thing, coming to this world by the creative action of God, begotten of God, should as a man be called Son of God. It is very important, to make this difference between the eternal Son of God, the eternal Son of the eternal Father and the man Christ Jesus, who is not only Son of man, because He is the son of Mary, but also Son of God because begotten by God. As man the Lord Jesus was Son of God. We have the same thought and knowledge in Martha, the sister of Lazarus and Mary (John 11). Lazarus was ill and died. We see that when the Lord Jesus meets Martha and she in her way, reproaches Him a little, He says, announcing to her and everyone as it were the gospel, “Everyone who lives and believes on me shall never die, believest thou this?” She says to Him, ”Yeah, Lord, I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, who should come into the world.” Here again (and we can say practically everywhere in the gospels, except the passage in John 1:1-18) as in the words of Nathanael, the Son of God is Christ as Man. This is not identical with His eternal, almighty sonship. Because this sonship of God is linked with His coming down as Philippians 2 tells us, He was in the form of God and He took the form of man. As generated by God, he was Son of God, but as man on earth. And that is what the Jews knew. Psalm 2 told them that.

So the titles King of Israel and Son of God mentioned in Psalm 2 are very close together. That is what Nathanael meant to say. But the Lord Jesus has not only come as King of Israel. He has come, not only to save Israel, as King of Israel and Son of God, but He came to save the whole world. As King of Israel in Psalm 2 it is said of Him, “thou art my Son”. We have read that “I this day have begotten thee”, is clearly the beginning of the life of the Lord Jesus in this world as a child of Mary. And then it says in verse 8, ”Ask of me”. God says to the King of Israel, to His Son begotten this day, “Ask of me and I will give thee nations for an inheritance and for thy possession the ends of the earth.” When the Lord Jesus came to his people, was He accepted? No. They rejected Him and yet God will make come true this prophecy, You will have as an inheritance the ends of the earth. And we know, as far as we have a little knowledge of prophecy, and I suppose most of us will have that, that the Lord as King of Israel will have the rule until the ends of the earth in the Millennium.

But how is it possible - perhaps it becomes clearer now -, that the Lord Jesus says to Nathanael, You shall see greater things than that, greater things than Me ruling as King over the earth? That was the hope of Israel but it is not our hope. We are not included in that Psalm 2. It is a Psalm for Israel. And therefore, when the Lord Jesus says - and He also mentions a thing which could be known to Nathanael, “Thou shalt see greater things” and mentions “the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man”, He is speaking of another Psalm, Psalm 8.This Psalm, too, is very important for the understanding of the ways of God.

We often think of our Lord Jesus as our Saviour, and it is true, if we don't have Him we have nothing. But it is said in different passages of the New Testament that we should grow in the knowledge of His Person. Peter ends his second epistle with the words, “... grow in the grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus”. And these things belong to that growth in the knowledge of the Person. The knowledge of the Person of the Lord Jesus has two sides. The one side is that we love Him more and more and know Him personally and practically in our lives. But the other side is that to understand Scripture we should know His different glories, His diverse characters and titles, which are before us in this short passage.

When the Lord Jesus said, “You shall see greater things than Me as the King of Israel and as the Son of God as man”, and continued, “you shall see the Son of man”, how is it that this is greater than the first two titles? Let us turn to Psalm 8:3. There David said, “When I see the heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast established; what is man that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and splendour . Thou hast made him to rule over the works of thy hands; thou hast put everything under his feet. Sheep and oxen, all of them, and also the beasts of the field; The fowl of the heavens, and the fishes of the sea, [whatever] passeth through the paths of the seas. Jehovah our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!”

This Psalm goes much further than Psalm 2. David does not speak about mankind or man in general, when he says, “What is man?” The New Testament gives abundant testimony of the fact that he is only thinking of the Lord Jesus. The verse which we read, verse 6, “Thou hast made him to rule over the works of thy hands; thou hast put everything under his feet”, is mentioned or alluded to at least three times in the New Testament: In Ephesians 1:22 He has put all things under His feet, He has made Him head of all things and given Him as such to the assembly, the fullness of Him, who fills all things. In 1 Corinthians 15:27 we see the Millennium. The Lord Jesus as the raised man in resurrection rules over the whole universe. All things are put under His feet. And then the exception is made, that only God who has submitted, subjected all things under His feet is excepted. The third time is Hebrews 2, where we see both sides.

The title Son of God has two distinct meanings, firstly as we have seen, speaking of His eternal sonship, and secondly of His sonship as man and especially as King of Israel in this world. So the title “Son of man” has two different aspects, too. It is very important to understand, that the title “Son of man” means the same person in two absolutely different positions. The first position we see in the words, “What is man, ... thou hast lowered him a little below the angels”. That is the humanity of Christ in His coming into this world. Of this we read in Hebrews where this Psalm is explained. Let me just mention that in Hebrews 1:5 we have an allusion to Psalm 2, “Thou art my Son, this day I have begotten Thee, and again, I will be to him a Father”. That is the Lord Jesus clearly as man.

But then in the second chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews we find Psalm 8. Hebrews 2:5: “For He has not subjected to angels the habitable world which is to come, of which we speak; but one has testified somewhere (that is David in Psalm 8), saying, What is man, that thou rememberest him, or son of man that thou visitest him? Thou hast made him some little inferior to the angels; thou hast crowned him with glory and honour, [and hast set him over the works of thy hands;] thou hast subjected all things under his feet.” Now follows the explanation: “For in subjecting all things to him, he has left nothing unsubject to him. But now we see not yet all things subjected to him, but we see Jesus”.

So here clearly the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews explains the eighth Psalm to his readers and says, We see now that this has not yet been fulfilled. This is not in contradiction with Ephesians where the same Psalm is mentioned and where it is said He has put all things under his feet. In Ephesians we have the counsel of God. The counsel of God is that all things are to be put under the feet of the glorified Christ, and when God takes a counsel it is as good as accomplished. But here in Hebrews 2 the writer speaks about the time aspect, and therefore says, at present the Lord Jesus is at the right hand as in Ephesians, but we do not yet see all things visibly and practically subjected under His feet.

Then he explains the whole passage of Psalm 8. He says, ”We see Jesus who was made some little inferior to angels on account of the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour.” The Lord Jesus is presented as Son of Man in the first place as the one, who was put so low, that He was below the angels. That was in His death. During His life, I don't think we can say that He was below the angels, because all the time the angels served Him. They were His servants. But the moment He went into the suffering of death He was lowered below the angels. Angels don't die, but the Lord in His own free will took that choice, took that pathway to obey His God and Father, according to whose counsel He had to die for us. The Son of Man has come not to be served but to serve and lay down His life as a ransom for many. That was His lowering, the lowering of the Son of Man, according to Psalm 8, “below the angels”.

Suffering is the character of the Son of Man in the gospels. The Lord Jesus practically always calls Himself the Son of Man, although He was God to be praised in eternity. And when He had taken this place which we have seen already prophetically in Psalm 8, “Thou hast made Him a little lower than the angels and hast crowned Him with glory and splendour” - that is the place the Lord Jesus has taken after His not only shameful but atoning death for us. After His death and resurrection God has raised Him not only from the dead, but He has placed Him at His right hand and crowned Him with glory and honour. This wonderful Person, may I say so and underline that, whom we see at the right hand of God is our Lord and Saviour as the glorified Son of Man. He is not there as God, He is ever God and as the eternal Son He never left the bosom of the Father. Let's never forget that. We cannot fathom that; we cannot understand that. He could say when He was in this world, “the Son of Man who is in heaven”, John 3:13. He was one and the same Person, which we cannot divide. As Son of Man He spoke to Nicodemus in that night, on this earth, and yet at the same time as Eternal Son He was in heaven. As Son, as the only-begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He never left the bosom of the Father. “I and the Father are one.” And yet as Son of Man He was in this world. He accomplished all the pleasure of God by His work on the cross. Men said, “We don't want this man.” God said, “I want Him- come sit down at my right hand, the place of glory, the place of power, the place of honour. Sit Thou at my right hand.” And there the Lord Jesus is now as the glorified Son of Man. As eternal Son of God He is eternally in the bosom of the Father. God does not sit at the right hand of God, it is the glorified Son of Man.

That is what we find in Psalm 8 {and Psalm 110}. The Lord says it is greater - perhaps not so astonishing any more now - than to be called the King of Israel and Son of God as man in this world. For the titles “King of Israel” and “Son of God” in this special character will come to an end when the old world shall pass away and the new world will be introduced. There will be no Israel any more in the new world, the eternal world. There will be no King of Israel in eternity. This is the sense of the words, “You will see greater things”. When the Lord has finished His thousand years' rule, He will pass the rule back to God who gave it to Him. But as the glorified Man He will be eternally the object of our adoration. That is why “You will see the Son of Man and angels ascending and descending” is a greater thing than to see Him as King in this world - great as it is.

It is one of His glories, but greater is the glory that the One who came down from heaven in love for lost man, who humiliated Himself and became obedient until death as Son of Man, was glorified and will eternally be at the right hand of God, as the glorified Man. That is why He says, It is greater. So it is quite a story to see that the same words, Son of God, Son of Man do not always convey exactly the same meaning in different passages. That is why I have tried to bring before you tonight a little glimpse of these glories of our Lord, these different aspects. Like a diamond which has been polished to show on every side one glory next to the other. That is our Lord and we will never come to an end with His glories.

I hope it was useful for the younger and perhaps all of us to see a little more of these glories presented to us in Scripture, which only open up when we dig into it a little more deeply. May the Lord Jesus in His glory, in these two practical epistles which we have before us during this conference, go with us so that, as I thought at the beginning of this meeting, when the disciples were on the mount of transfiguration with the Lord it is said they saw none but Jesus alone. But then they came down to the valley and the Lord says, “You need prayer and fasting”. So let us hope that the Lord on the mount will be put before us so that we may see none but Him alone and thereby receive strength to continue in the valley in prayer and fasting until He comes.