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Son of Man

The favorite self designation of Jesus was "the Son of Man." In this chosen term Jesus used it to veil His eternal glory and mark His humanity.

The expression "the Son of Man" is used 80 times in the New Testament and in Matthew 8:20 for the first time. Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”

The term was convenient for Jesus to conceal His Messianic title. Except on two occasions Jesus is only one who uses this title. "“Look!” The martyr Stephen called out, “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" (Acts 7:56, NET)

 The title clearly points to Jesus as the Messiah (Daniel 7:13-14). Yet it conceals it in such as way as to protect Him from the Jewish people of His day who looked for a political messiah.

James Orr notes when we compare these words from Daniel 7:13-14 with the words of Jesus to the high priest during His trial in Matthew 26:64, the echo of the Old Testament words cannot be mistaken. "I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed" (Daniel 7:13-14). "Jesus said to him, ‘You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven”" (Matthew 26:64).  Equally distinct is it in the great discourse in Matthew 24:30, “Then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”

Jesus Christ has many titles in the New Testament, but clearly the title He chose when referring to Himself was "the Son of Man." He used it when speaking of His deity and His humanity. He used it to communicate the two most important truths about His person: His full deity and His full humanity. He is the God-man. He is God with us.

The term "Son of Man" conveys to the hearer that Jesus was fully man. He was a human being with flesh and bones. He was a "man." It was His way of freely identifying Himself with mankind. He was one of us, and He put His emphasis on His humanity. Son of Man basically communicates to us, "I am one of you."

Moreover, Jesus called Himself "the Son of Man" which expressed more than mere humanity. When He used the title "the Son of Man," He was using the title in Daniel to refer to One who will come on the clouds of heaven with the authority of the Ancient of Days and reign with sovereign power (Matthew 26:64). In this sense "the Son of Man" was Jesus' way of saying, "I am the divine sovereign King." It reminds us of Psalm two. There was no mistake about His use of the title in this way because the high priest, Caiaphas, jumped on Jesus' use of the tile and accused Him of blasphemy and condemned Him to death. Caiaphas and the council knew what Jesus was referring to, and that He was relating Himself to Daniel 7:13-14.

A number of scholars point out that Jesus could use the title "the Son of Man" and fill it with fresh new meaning of His own without denying the concealed messianic meaning in Daniel. Jesus used the term when referring to Himself in order to prevent the Jewish people from identifying Him with political ambitions. During the turbulent time in which Jesus lived, Israel expected a political deliverer who would come and save His people from the domination of the Roman Empire. Jesus avoided the misunderstanding of the Jewish people in their use of the term messiah. The title did not convey a messianic claim to the Jewish public.

How did Jesus use the tile "the Son of Man"? What did He mean to communicate about Himself?

Central to the meaning of "the Son of Man" is one who speaks and acts with divine power and authority.

1. Jesus uses the title when referring to His pre-incarnate existence. John 6:62, "What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?" Jesus is referring to the time before He came to earth when He was seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven (Jn.  17:5). "The Son of Man" existed from eternity (cf. John 1:1-3, 14).

2. Jesus used the term "Son of Man" when predicting His suffering, death and resurrection (John 3:14-15; 12:32-34). The Son of Man "must be lifted up." The Son of Man suffered and died to give eternal life to all who will believe on Him (Jn. 6:27). This food remains forever and has the effect of producing life forever. Only the Son of Man can accomplish this.

3. In order for people to be saved they must put their faith in the Son of Man (John 6:53-54). His saving work on the cross must be appropriated by faith in order to be saved.

4. The one who is "like the son of man" means He is also God; He is the God-man (Daniel 7:13-14). Jesus has authority to reign and judge because He is the Son of Man. In the book of Daniel the Son of Man acts like a sovereign Judge (Matt. 10:23; 13:41; 16:27, 28; 17:9; 24:27, 30, 37, 39, 44). He receives "authority, glory and sovereign power." He is God.

5. One day Jesus Christ will return to reign in glory as the sovereign King of kings and Lord of Lords (John 5:25-27; Daniel 7:14; Philippians 2:9-11; Revelation 5-6). The messianic consciousness of Jesus is expressed in Matthew 25:31, “But when the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the angels with him, then shall He sit on the throne of his glory”!

Key Scriptures

Matthew 8:20; 9:6; 12:8, 32, 40; 13:41; 16:13, 27; 17:9; 19:28; 26:64; Mark 8:38; Luke 12:8; 18:8; 21:36; John 1:51; 3:13; 6:27; 12:34; Acts 7:56

Abiding Principles and Practical Applications

1. Since the Son of Man was "one of us" we have a great high priest to whom we can go to in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

2. If we have bowed in submission to the Son of Man we will one day welcome His return as the sovereign King of kings (Philippians 2:9-11).

3. Jesus, the Son of Man, has divine power and authority to rule as sovereign over our lives.

For Further Study

Son of Man
Christ in Daniel
Psalm 8:1-9 The Lord's Glory and Man's Dignity
God Has Spoken
Exodus 14:31 Servant of the Lord
Jesus Christ is God
Jonah 1:17 Something Greater than Jonah is Here
Revelation 20:1-15 The Millennial Reign of Christ
Psalm 2:1-12 The Reign of the Sovereign Son

Message by Wil Pounds and all content on this page (c) 2005 by Wil Pounds. Anyone is free to use this material and distribute it, but it may not be sold under any circumstances whatsoever without the author's written consent. Scripture quotations from the New American Standard Bible (c) 1973, and 1995 Update by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. 

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