Confirmation by the Father
and behold, a voice out of the heavens, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” (3:17)
All the Trinity participated in Jesus’ baptism. The Son had confirmed His own kingship by saying, “It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (v. 15), and the Spirit had confirmed His right of messiahship by resting on Him (v. 16). The final aspect of Jesus’ coronation, or commissioning, was the Father’s confirming word. For a sacrifice to be acceptable to God it must be pure, spotless, without blemish (Ex. 12:5; Lev. 1:3; Deut. 17:1; etc.). Of this One who willingly identified Himself with sinners by His baptism and who was marked by the Holy Spirit as the dove of sacrifice, the Father now said, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.
No Old Testament sacrifice, no matter how carefully selected, had ever been truly pleasing to God. It was not possible to find an animal that did not have some blemish, some imperfection. Not only that, but the blood of those animals was at best only symbolic, “for it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:4; cf. 9:12). But the sacrifice Jesus would make on the cross would be “with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:19). Thus God could say He was well-pleased with the perfection of Jesus Christ (cf. Matt. 17:5; John 12:28, where God repeats this superlative commendation).
Beloved (agapētos) connotes a deep, rich, and profound relationship. It is used here of the Father’s great love for His Son, but it is also used elsewhere of His love for believers (Rom. 1:7) and for what believers’ love toward each other should be (1 Cor. 4:14). Jesus is the Father’s beloved above all those He loves, the beloved apart from whom no other could ever be beloved (cf. Eph. 1:6). Only in His Son could the Father ever be fully well-pleased (eudokeō). God had examined, as it were, His beloved Son, who would offer Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of those with whom He was willing to identify Himself. No imperfection could be found in Him, and God was delighted.
As believers, we too are a delight to the Father, because we are now in the Son. Because the Father finds no imperfection in His Son, He now by His grace finds no imperfection in those who trust in Him (cf. Rom. 3:26; 5:17, 21; Gal. 2:20; 3:27; Eph. 1:3–6; etc.).
The fact that Jesus Christ is the Son of God is central to the gospel. In no passage is that made more clear than in Hebrews 1:1–8:
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. For to which of the angels did He ever say, “Thou art My Son, today I have begotten Thee”? And again, “I will be a Father to Him, and He shall be a Son to Me”? And when He again brings the first-born into the world, He says, “And let all the angels of God worship Him.” And of the angels He says, “Who makes His angels winds, and His ministers a flame of fire.” But of the Son He says, “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom.”
Jesus Christ is the fullest expression of God, superior to and exalted above everything and everyone else. He is the beginning of all things, Creator; the middle of all things, Sustainer and Purifier; and the end of all things, Heir (see also Rom. 11:36; Col. 1:16).
The Son is the manifestation of God, the radiance of God’s personal glory, the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4). In Him all deity dwells (Col. 1:15–19; 2:9). Because of His deity, He is superior to the angels who worship Him. (For a fuller explanation of Jesus’ sonship, see the author’s Hebrews [Chicago: Moody Press, 1983], pp. 27–29.)
Even God’s title as Father is a reference to His essential relationship to Jesus Christ. God is presented in the New Testament more as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 11:27; John 5:17–18; 10:29–33; 14:6–11; 17:1–5; Rom. 15:6; 2 Cor. 1:3; Eph. 1:3, 17; Phil. 2:9–11; 1 Pet. 1:3; 2 John 3) than as the Father of believers (Matt. 6:9).
When Jesus called God “Father,” He was not emphasizing primarily submission or generation but sameness of essence—that is, deity. John 5:23 sums it up by demanding “that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father.” No one can worship God unless he worships Him as the God who is one with King Jesus—“the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
17 Some see in the “voice from heaven” the batqôl (lit., “daughter of a voice”), the category used by rabbinic and other writers to refer to divine communication echoing the Spirit of God after the Spirit and the prophets through whom he spoke had been withdrawn. The point, however, is stronger than that. This voice is God’s (“from heaven”) and testifies that God himself has broken silence and is again revealing himself to human beings—a clear sign of the dawning of the messianic age (cf. 17:5; Jn 12:28). What heaven says in Mark and Luke is “You are my Son”; here it is “This is my Son.” The change not only shows Matthew’s concern only for the ipsissima vox (not generally the ipsissima verba; see Notes) but also assumes someone besides Jesus heard heaven’s witness. There may have been a crowd; if so, that does not interest Matthew. But John needed to hear the Voice confirm his decision (v. 15).
Despite arguments to the contrary (e.g., Hooker, Jesus and the Servant, 70ff.), the utterance reflects Isaiah 42:1: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit upon him”; and this has been modified by Psalm 2:7: “You are my Son” (cf. Gundry, Use of the Old Testament, 29–32; esp. Moo, Old Testament in the Gospel Passion Narratives, 112ff.). The results are extraordinarily important.
- These words from heaven link Jesus with the Suffering Servant at the very beginning of his ministry and confirm our interpretation of v. 15.
- God here refers to Jesus as “my Son”; implicitly the title “Son of God” is introduced and picked up immediately in the next chapter (4:3, 6). Psalm 2 is Davidic. Though it was not regarded in the first century as messianic, the link with David recalls other “son” passages where David or his heir is seen as God’s son (e.g., 2 Sa 7:13–14; Ps 89:26–29).
- Jesus has already been set forth as the true Israel to which actual Israel was pointing and as such God’s Son (see comments at 2:15); now the heavenly witness confirms the link.
- At the same time, the virginal conception suggests a more than titular or functional sonship: in this context there is the hint of an ontological sonship, made most explicit in the gospel of John.
- These things are linked in the one utterance. At the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, his Father presented him, in a veiled way, as at once Davidic Messiah, very Son of God, representative of the people, and Suffering Servant. Matthew has already introduced all these themes and will develop them further. Indeed, he definitely cites Isaiah 42:1–4 in Matthew 12:18–21, which ends with the assertion (already made clear) that the nations will trust in this Servant.
“Son of God” has particularly rich associations. Therefore it is hard to nail down its precise force at every occurrence. As it is wrong to see ontological sonship in every use, so is it wrong to exclude it prematurely. (For more adequate discussion, see, in addition to the standard dictionaries, Blair, Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, 60ff.; Cullman, Christology, 270–305; Kingsbury, Structure, 40–83 [though he exaggerates the importance of the theme in Matthew: cf. Hill, “Son and Servant,” 2–16]; Ladd, Theology of the New Testament, 159–72; Moule, Origin of Christology, 22ff.)
The Spirit’s descent in v. 16 needs to be understood in the light of v. 17. The Spirit is poured out on the servant in Isaiah 42:1, to which v. 17 alludes. This outpouring does not change Jesus’ status (he was the Son before this) or assign him new rights. Rather it identifies him as the promised Servant and Son and marks the beginning of his public ministry and direct confrontation with Satan (4:1), the dawning of the messianic age (12:28).