When a teacher of Israel, be it Nicodemus or Jesus, spoke of their God’s son, such language would not be restricted to thoughts of messiah and kingship, or to Adam alone. Speaking in such a way would also direct one’s thoughts to Israel itself. This would be in connection with Israel’s most powerful, popular, and deterministic story---that of the Egyptian exodus, which was believed to have been personally conducted by the Creator God via the instrument of Israel’s greatest leader, that being Moses.
In the fourth chapter of Exodus, Moses is given his instructions. He is said to have been told by the Lord God of Israel, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the wonders I have put under your control. But I will harden his heart and he will not let the people go” (4:21). This is the pretext for the especially important statement (for purposes of this study) that follows, which is “You must say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Israel is My son, My firstborn, and I said to you, ‘Let My son go that he may serve Me’”’” (4:22-23a).
So here, quite importantly, as it relates to the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus, and what it is that Jesus seems to be attempting to communicate to Nicodemus about Himself and about His place within the Creator God’s long running redemptive plan for His creation, Israel can be found being referred to as the son of God. With this, Israel, in a sense, is picking up the narrative from where it was left off by the first being to be recognized as the son of God, that being Adam.
The son of God that was Adam, according to the story of Israel, was exiled from the garden and dragged all of humanity and creation down with him. Here in Exodus the reader meets up with the son of God that is Israel, as they find themselves in an exilic state of oppression and subjugation. This son, Israel, is going to be liberated from his bondage. Following the liberation (essentially a restoration and a resurrection), this son of God is going to be brought under a covenant and given responsibilities related to that covenant. That covenant comes to be known as “the law”; and the responsibility with which they have been charged, in essence, is to rightly bear the divine image and reflect their God’s glory into the world in such a way that it will cause all men to seek their God, especially as they see the blessings that are enjoyed by this particular people, Israel (understood as the “only son” of the Creator God).
Israel was to be the representative of the Creator into the world. Like Adam, they were given a realm of dominion that they were to occupy, in which they were to have dominion, and which they were to steward as a foretaste of the renewed creation to come. Whereas for Adam the realm of dominion was the whole of the creation, Israel’s realm of dominion was the land that had been promised to them through the Creator God’s covenant with Abraham---the firstfruits of an entire creation that was to be redeemed (a microcosm of what would eventually come to be true, again, of the entire cosmos).
There, in that place of dominion, they were to be fruitful and multiply. Their successful occupation of their land, and all that went with it, would be accomplished by their adherence to the basic premises of the covenant, which were to avoid idolatry, to reverence the sanctuary, and to keep the Sabbaths that their God had ordained for them. It was understood to be the case that if they succeeded in these areas, they would be blessed. On the other hand, if they failed they would be cursed.
On the whole then, this was a matter of trust. In this area, Israel (son of God) would stand alongside Adam (son of God). Adam’s successful occupation of the land would be accomplished by adherence to the premises of the covenant that the Creator God gave to him, which was to freely eat of all the trees of the garden, save one. Blessing or cursing would result. Of course, the narrative record indicates that Adam chose to violate the covenant, so it would be the curse (rather than the blessing) that came upon him and the creation.