Scripture refers to the sons of God in both the Old and New Testaments. When we see this term in either place, it has very different connotations and yet, ultimately, the same meaning. It’s very curious how the Bible speaks of this phrase under the two covenants. Why? Human beings are not in view when “sons of God” is used in the Old Testament. Spiritual beings in the OT sense, are not in view in the NT. Let’s unpack that.
In the OT we run across the sons of God in various places, among them Genesis 6:4:
The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.
Also, in Job 1:6 and Job 2:1 we prominently see these beings:
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.
Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord.
They are also referenced in numerous other places because of what Scripture is seeking to convey.
In the Hebrew of the OT, bene Elohim describes the sons of God. Strong’s #1121 conveys no difference between bene – sons as spiritual beings, i.e. children of their Father, Jehovah God, and human children of their earthly father. They are offspring of the one who brought them forth.
When we consider bene Elohim in the Scriptural, supernatural sense, these sons are highly placed, highly favored, intelligent beings. Just as in an earthly kingdom where the king favors his offspring – they are princes and have much authority – so it is with God’s kingdom and His sons.
It’s helpful to know, as well, that there is a hierarchy in God’s kingdom. Just as a hierarchy is in view in the demonic realm that Paul outlines in Ephesians 6:12, so also (and first) is such a hierarchy in God’s assembly of supernatural entities. We know this because there are other beings such as cherubim, seraphim, angels, etc., each having different functions and not necessarily the same authority as the immediate sons of God who are princes in the realm.
Sadly, in the OT, we see that some number of this elite group of sons rebelled against their Father several times. Satan, or the serpent, was the first rebel that we know of. Genesis 6:4 noted above shows us another group who were disobedient to their Father. Deuteronomy 32:8 (ESV translation) is one more very important example:
When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,
when he divided mankind,
he fixed the borders of the peoples
according to the number of the sons of God.
That looks benign enough, but we learn later in Psalm 82 that this group of sons, whom Yahweh placed over the nations, subsequently all rebelled. They set themselves up as the gods over the people that their Father had instructed them to rule in His Name. Instead, they committed the very sin that Satan did as Isaiah 14:13-14 tells us:
You said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’
These sons of God – whether obedient or rebellious – all have great power and authority in the spiritual realm. We know that Satan and all who follow him are already defeated by the victory of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, until the final days play out, the evil sons of God continue to wreak havoc with the world.
Paul writing in Romans 8 lays out an incredible theological reality. He initially discusses how those who live by the flesh versus those living in the Spirit are very different. Living according to the flesh is bondage. Those in that condition are far from God and cannot please Him. Someone living according to the Spirit, having been born again by that Spirit, is set free from the slavery that sin brings. No longer in chains and destined for hell, a person saved by the blood of Jesus is raised to new life and a new reality. Look at what Paul says in Romans 8:14:
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
Here we have Strong’s #5207 huios as the Greek word for sons. Consider this definition: anyone sharing the same nature as their Father – emphasizes likeness of the believer to the heavenly Father, i.e. resembling His character more and more by living in faith – highlights the (legal) right to the Father’s inheritance.
In other words, when we become believers, we truly do become sons and daughters of our Father in heaven. At that point we have been adopted into the family of God. An adopted son has exactly the same rights of inheritance as a natural born son. There is no separation between a son directly born and an adopted son. Both are heirs to all that their Father gives them.
The bene Elohim that we see in the OT as the sons of God are, effectively, the natural born sons. This is why they had such authority. It’s why Yahweh placed them over the nations in Deuteronomy 32:8. At the time, they were trusted heirs. (Of course, their rebellion and disobedience changed things, and they have lost what they were “born” into per Psalm 82.)
As believers, we have been given the authority the heavenly sons already had. We now share with them in all the riches of God. We know, however, that we won’t experience the fullness of this inheritance until after we’re Raptured and given our glorified bodies. At that point, as the Bride of Christ, we enter into the joy of the Father and the Son and are given it all.
Understanding what it means to truly be a child of God is mind blowing. The Lord has promised us such a future! It’s one more reason we need to do all that we can to open the eyes and ears of unbelievers. Rather than spend their eternity in the Lake of Fire, by trusting in Jesus as their Savior and Lord, they also can partake of the goodness of God forever.