Why Did Jesus Call Himself "Son of God" and not "God"?
I've been meeting with some Jehovah's Witnesses for the last few months. These thoughts were born out of those interactions:
"Jesus never said he was God...Jesus said he was the son of God...The son of God is NOT the same as God...."
I think it is a fair statement, but I think Jesus gives a fair reply.
Firstly, it is essential that one acknowledge that when Jesus called himself the Son of God, the religious leaders interpreted this to mean that Jesus was claiming to be equal in nature to God, and therefore God.
John 5:19 bears this out "he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God."
When Jesus called himself the Son of God, this was interpreted as blasphemy, and was the primary reason Jesus was put to death.
John 19:7 "We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God."
Enter now a semi-confusing passage: John 10:29-39
Again, the Jews accused Jesus of blasphemy because he called himself the Son of God. They said "because you, a mere man, claim to be God."
Jesus replies "Is it not written in your Law, 'I have said you are gods'?" (vs. 34)
The point Jesus is making is that calling oneself "god" is not grounds to accuse of blasphemy. There is an appropriate sense in which someone who is in a position of authority could be called god in accordance with the passage Jesus is quoting from (Psalm 82:6).
This is why Jesus didn't go around saying "I am God" - because according to Scripture, an authoritative teacher/prophet could rightly refer to himself as god without committing blasphemy. Jesus could call himself god without claiming any sense of divinity.
BUT "what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world?" (vs. 36)
Jesus quickly distinguishes himself from a normal person who could rightly have the title of god. Jesus is unique from those persons because:
1.) he has a unique relationship to the Father that nobody has
2.) he was sent into the world - inferring that he existed before he
entered into the world
These are the facts that are implied by "Son of God" that are not inherently implied by the title "god".
Jesus then tells the people how they can test if he really can call himself Son of God. "Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does....that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father." Jesus affirms that calling oneself Son of God would be blasphemy if the person were not truly God, but since Jesus was truly God, it was not blasphemy.
I have heard it said that in these verses Jesus is trying to dispel the Jews' confusion - trying to tell them that he wasn't really claiming to be God. The problem with this interpretation is that Jesus never tries to change their mind about their perception of the title Son of God. Instead Jesus tries to offer them proof why he deserves the title Son of God. If Jesus was trying to say that the term Son of God can refer to a normal person, why does Jesus affirm that it will be difficult for them to believe it? What would be difficult to believe about Jesus affirming that he is just a normal man?
Lastly, if Jesus was trying to clear up some confusion in these verses, he must have been a very bad communicator, because rather than calming the accusing Jews through clarification, they were all the more enraged by Jesus explanation, and they tried to seize him (vs. 39). The Jews understood what was implied by the title Son of God - it is only those who don't believe Jesus claimed divinity that don't understand the true impact of this title.