The Love of God Part Four

The previous article focused on the world as an object of God’s love and explained the distinction between agapao and phileo, the two key Greek words associated with God’s love in the New Testament. Now we will focus on other objects of God’s love in the New Testament.

God’s Love of His Son
God’s declaration of agapao love of His Son. God’s love of His Son, Jesus Christ, is expressed 13 times in the New Testament. Twelve times involve forms of agapao, which “expresses a more reasoning attachment, of choice and selection” and continually implies “the notions of respect and reverence.”1

When Jesus was baptized and the Holy Spirit descended on Him, God the Father declared from heaven that Jesus was His “beloved Son,” in whom He was “well pleased” (Mt. 3:17; Mk. 1:11; Lk. 3:22). New Testament scholars claim the word translated “beloved” inclines “strongly toward the meaning only-beloved.”2 That would imply God the Father had such respect and reverence for Jesus that He chose Jesus for a unique relationship with Him not granted to any other person.

Another New Testament scholar asserts that the word translated “well pleased” “is God’s decree of election of the Son, which includes His mission and His appointment to the kingly office of Messiah.”3

The fact that God made this statement concerning Jesus in conjunction with the Spirit of God descending on Him indicates that what transpired was related to the Isaiah 42:1 prophecy concerning the Messiah: “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles.”

If a crowd from Israel was present when Jesus was baptized, if the descent of God’s Spirit on Him was visible to those people, if God’s declaration concerning Him was audible to them, and if they knew the Isaiah 42:1 prophecy, then God thereby publicly identified and presented Jesus to the nation as its divinely appointed, promised Messiah. That divine, public identification and presentation would have eliminated legitimate grounds for rejecting Jesus as Israel’s divinely appointed, promised Messiah.

Later Jesus confirmed His divine election as the Messiah to a great multitude by quoting the Isaiah 42:1 prophecy and applying it to Himself (Mt. 12:14–18).

God the Father also expressed His agapao love for Jesus another time when He said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (17:5). After Jesus had ministered with His apostles for a significant period, He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (16:28).

Several days later He took Peter, James, and John “up on a high mountain by themselves” to give them a preview of His appearance when He will someday come from heaven in His Second Coming to establish God’s Messianic Kingdom rule on Earth (17:1). “He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (v. 2). A “bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!’” (v. 5). God the Father thereby assured these apostles that Jesus is the divinely appointed, promised Messiah who will establish God’s Messianic Kingdom on the earth.

This divine assurance was essential because the apostles anticipated that Jesus would establish God’s Messianic Kingdom in their lifetime (Acts 1:6). The fact that He ascended to heaven without establishing the Kingdom could have destroyed their belief in Him as Messiah.

John the Baptist’s declaration of God’s agapao love of His Son. Among the many things John the Baptist told his disciples concerning Jesus were the following: “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand” (Jn. 3:34–35). This was John’s way of saying that God chose Jesus for a unique relationship with Him not granted to any other person.

Jesus’ declarations of God’s agapao love of Him. There are six recorded instances in which Jesus declared that God the Father loved Him with agapao love (“a more reasoning attachment, of choice and selection” that continually implies “the notions of respect and reverence”).4

First, when confronted by Pharisees, Jesus said, “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father” (10:17–18).

Second and third, Jesus told His apostles, “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (15:9–10).

Fourth, in a prayer to God the Father on behalf of people who would believe on Him, Jesus prayed “that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me” (17:23).

Fifth, in that same prayer, Jesus also petitioned, “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (v. 24). God gave His Son His glory because the Father loved Him with agapao love in eternity past before the creation of the world.

Sixth, Jesus told God the Father He declared the Father’s name to those who believed in Him and would continue to declare it, so “that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them” (v. 26).

The apostle Paul’s declaration of God’s agapao love of His Son. Paul indicated that people who trust Jesus Christ for redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, are delivered from “the power of darkness” and transferred “into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Col. 1:13).

Jesus’ declaration of God’s phileo love of Him. Only one place in the New Testament expresses God’s phileo love of Jesus. The word phileo expresses what “is more instinctive, is more of the feelings or natural affections, implies more passion.”5 Jesus spoke of this type of love when His enemies sought to kill Him for healing a man on the Sabbath (Jn. 5:5–16).

Jesus said to them, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working” (v. 17). The statement incited His enemies all the more “because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God” (v. 18). Jesus responded by saying,

Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel (vv. 19–20).

In this crisis situation Jesus used the word phileo instead of agapao for the Father’s love of Him. That fact may imply the following: Just as a parent who sees his child’s life threatened will experience more instinctively passionate feelings of natural affection for his child (instead of a more reasoning attachment of choice and selection), so God the Father experienced more instinctively passionate feelings of natural affection for His Son when Jesus was confronted with a crisis. Such passionate feelings can be instigated by concern for the welfare of the person who is loved.

God’s Phileo Love of Those Who Love His Son
The night before Jesus was crucified He warned His apostles He would leave them soon to return to the Father and that they would experience sorrow, be scattered, and have tribulation (16:16, 20, 32–33). In the face of this coming crisis, He assured them the Father Himself loved them with phileo love because they had loved Jesus with phileo love during His crisis (v. 27).

God’s Agapao Love of Those Who Love His Son
Jesus told His apostles, ”He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (14:21). He also said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (v. 23). All these words for “love” refer to agapao love.

God’s Agapao Love of Sinners
The apostle Paul wrote, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). God’s agapao love for sinners is a more reasoning attachment of choice and selection that prompted Him to reconcile them to Himself “through the death of His Son” (v. 10). The apostle John expressed this same love of God for sinners in 1 John 4:9–10: “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

  1. Richard Chenevix Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1953), 41–42.
  2. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, eds./trans., “agapetos,” A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (1952: translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur, 4th ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 6.
  3. Gottlob Schrenk, “eudokeo,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, trans./ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, translated from Theologisches Worterbuch zum Neuen Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 740.
  4. Trench, 41–42.
  5. Ibid., 42.

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