Identifying as Sons

The identity of the Son is truly the most important part of identifying ourselves in Him. We know that this was a significant title applied to our Lord Jesus and communicated His special relationship to God the Father. Keeping this in mind, this title, however, is not unique and applied to others in the scriptures (Genesis 6:2). This is especially the case when appropriated to Israel. In His command to let the people go, the Lord refers to Israel as His son (Deuteronomy 14:1) and even His firstborn son (Exodus 4:22). The importance of identifying the Sonship of Israel with Jesus is crucial to understanding the fulfilment of this Sonship and its expansion in the New Testament in Christ and in His people.

Exodus From Egypt

The story of Jesus’ flight to Egypt is a significant identifier. We read In Matthew 2:13-15:

Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord *appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.” 14 So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. 15 He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”

Egypt had been known in scripture as a place of refuge for the descendants of Jacob, but, later, also as an oppressor of its people. This ancient nation was well known as a place of idolatry. In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ flight to Egypt, he quotes from the text of Hosea 11:1 which reads: When Israel was a youth I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son. Notice that Matthew states that the word of the Lord was “fulfilled” in Christ’s return. This was originally referring to the Exodus and the original subject was OT Israel. In this segment, however, Matthew is focusing upon the return from Egypt rather than going into Egypt. In the context of Hosea 11, we read of God’s lament over Israel, His son, for their sacrifices to Baal after God had provided blessings to them (v.2). The language of v.3 is that of a father taking care of his son and one who saves them from oppression (v.4). He then switches the terminology of Egypt as oppressor to Assyria (v.5) focusing upon the upcoming Assyrian exile would be their Egypt. In v.8, God suddenly speaks of His compassion upon them by stating that He will not destroy them and that they will eventually return from Exile (v.11). This “return” is, in essence, a new exodus from exile. While the Jews did come out of exile, Matthew speaks of something new, of a new Son who would come out of Egypt. This Son would not act like the Egyptians or Israel and commit idolatry because He would be the faithful Son. The fulfillment of this new exodus would be in Jesus, the true Son. The application of the verse concerning “Israel” to the Lord Jesus demonstrates a final exodus of the faithful Israel. When Jesus “came out of Egypt”, that was to be the signal for a new exodus in which Jesus would fill the role not only of the God-sent deliverer but also of God’s “son” Israel himself[1].

The Wilderness Experience (Matthew 4:1-11)

When Israel left Egypt, lead by Moses, they experienced the hardships of the wilderness. They were a large group who traveled with little food or water. They grumbled at Moses because they didn’t have any water and the Lord provided them with water (Exodus 15:22-25) but there He made for them a statute or regulation and there He also tested them: And He said, if you will give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD you God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statues, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians. (vs. 25b-26). They were to obey the voice of God to be free from God’s judgment. They then, in an act of continuous dissatisfaction, complained that they had no meat or bread (Exodus 16:2-3) and the Lord provided Manna and quail for them (vs.13-16). The purpose of their adversity in the wilderness was to test them to see if they would trust the Lord who had lead them out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 8:2). The test demonstrated their failure in that they grumbled when they became hungry & thirsty even turning their back on the Lord who had brought them out of Egypt in the worship of an idol. These things were done so that He humbled you and let you be hungry and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 8:3).

The episode of the Golden calf showed their true heart against the Lord. After all they saw, the pillar of clouds and pillar of fire and the parting of the sea, they still believed that a man, rather than God took them out of Egypt and requested to worship like the Egyptians (Exodus 32:1). They built a golden calf and worshipped it then made sacrifices to it (v.8) for which Moses needed to intervene so that Yahweh didn’t destroy them. They kept choosing the things of Egypt over the things of God! Once again, the Israelites turned against the Lord due to their thirst. During their encampment at Rephidim, they quarreled with Moses over no access to water (v.2) and complained again about returning to Egypt (v3). The Lord provided them with the rock that was struck and produced water (v.6). Moses calls this place Massah and Meribah because the quarrel of the sons of Israel and because they tested the LORD saying “Is the LORD among us, or not”. (Exodus 17:7). We have here Israel testing the Lord during their wilderness experience. 

The testing that the Lord Jesus experienced is largely identical to that of Israel. He experienced hunger and thirst by fasting for 40 days and 40 nights (which is paralleled with the 40 years of Israel’s journey) and the devil attempted to persuade Him to worship him but He remained faithful to His God. What the former son of God (Exodus 4:22) failed to do, the faithful Son of God (Matthew 3:17) succeeded. His foundation for answering the devil came from the authority of scripture.

Holwerda writes:

Consequently, Jesus chooses to reject the temptations by quoting texts from Deuteronomy 6 & 8 which are part of a lengthy sermon in which Moses rehearses Israel’s history of sin and failure during the wandering in the wilderness and uses that history to admonish Israel and to encourage obedient living when Israel enters the promised land. Thus Jesus must be tempted as Israel had once been tempted to see whether he is in fact obedient Israel, the Son with whom the Father is well pleased[2].

The responses to the devil are descriptive of how Israel should have responded in the wilderness. Firstly, the Israelites should have lived by faith in the Lord, “from ever word that comes out of the mouth of God”. The hunger they experienced was to “humble them” (Deuteronomy 8:3) so as to understand that they must live, not primarily by the sustenance of food such as bread, but by the words that God provides to them in faith.

The second temptation of the Lord Jesus was to produce a test of whether or not God would be faithful if He threw Himself down. The devil even quotes scripture (Psalm 91:11-12) to validate the temptation. There are two aspects to this temptation, one that He should prove His sonship and two that He should test the Lord His God. The Lord Jesus would not adhere to the wishes of the devil since it would have been a means to test God. The scriptures are clear that while God can test man, humans are never to test God. In Israel’s wilderness experience, when they did not receive water, we are told that they tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us, or not?” (Exodus 17:7)

The third temptation was in offering of kingdoms of the world if only Jesus would worship the devil. While Christ would inherit the nations through His suffering, He refused to take a shortcut to inherit the kingdom of the world. (Carson P. 115).  The Lord remained faithful, and His response was that only Yahweh is to be worshipped. This was the opposite case for Israel. It wasn’t long that they were worshipping a golden calf at the foot of the Mountain of the Lord. Even once they entered the promised land, and after the warning of Deuteronomy 6:10-15, they would eventually worship Baal (Hosea 2).

Christ was the faithful Son and the true Israel, heir to the promises of Abraham’s covenant. The fulfillment of the Sonship and identity of the true Israel is found in the fulfillment of the responsibilities of Israel in Christ.

The New Covenant Children

The identity of Israel sonship to God is expanded in the New Testament. The sons of God in the New Testament are as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13). John also expands the sonship of Israel outside the borders of Israel he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. (John 11:51-52). The sign of our sonship came in the form of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:16) through adoption (Romans 8:15). The new birth in Christ guarantees our sonship and results in these children practicing righteousness (1 John 3:1-11) and this sonship and inheritance is available for both Jew and Gentile alike.

[1] The Gospel of Matthew, New International Commentary on the New Testament, R.T. France, Page 81

[2] Jesus & Israel: One Covenant or Two?, David E. Holwerda, WM B. Eerdmans Publishing, Page 45


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