May 26 – Why does Jesus call Himself the Son of Man?

May 26, 2021 Randy Bushey

~by Randy Bushey

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven (Daniel 7:13).

Jesus of Nazareth was the most titled Person in all of history.

In His era where a person’s titles were important in conveying something of their history, character, or attributes and authority, much can be learned about the multi-faceted personhood of this most unique One from the labels appended to Him.

Jesus’ most frequent titles in the pages of the New Testament (NT) are Lord and Christ, each appearing over 500 times.

Lord speaks to His being the Master. To the Christ-follower, He is the ultimate Lord directing the lives of His people with the future promise that they will be each granted citizenship in His eternal Kingdom.

Christ – coming into English from the Greek term christos – speaks of One anointed by God’s representative for service to Him. In the Old Testament (OT), kings were anointed as a symbol of their divine selection and commission. Priests too were anointed, as at least one prophet. The Hebrew equivalent is mashiyach from which our English term messiah  is derived.

The Lord Jesus is seen by the NT writers as the eternally and cosmically ultimate Master, the Messiah above all others, the ultimate Christ.

The 3rd most frequent title for Jesus after Lord and Christ, is the term Son of Man. There are several features that make this term special, one of which is that this is Jesus’ favourite self-designation. He uses the term Son of Man when speaking of Himself over 80 times in the Gospel accounts, more than any other of His titles or names.

To Gentile ears, this is a term of humility. In a culture where the father was naturally considered to possess greater dignity than the son, to be a son of man was to recognize generational inferiority; to put one below his father. It is therefore concluded that Jesus was of less esteem than His father, Joseph.

Or, some have concluded that rather than being a Son of Abraham or Son of David, the Son of Man title suggests His racial identity with all of humanity.

Another theory is that the Son of Man title designates Jesus as the Representative Man to replace Adam. Whereas Adam was tempted and fell headlong into sin, Jesus as the Last Adam – or, Son of Adam – was like His first parent tempted to sin, but consistently exhibited moral perfection.

However, none of those suggestions provide adequate explanatory scope, because none of the above accounts for the explosively vitriolic and venomous response of the Jewish elite – the adversaries of Jesus – when He insisted on using this title for Himself.

To understand their response, we need to rewind some centuries to review the OT usage of the term son of man.

Son of man (ben adam in Hebrew) occurs over 100 times in the OT, consistently drawing the contrast of mankind as significantly inferior to Almighty God. Particularly in poetic passages, God is portrayed as Supreme, eternal and omnipotent whereas man – or the son of man – is mortal, dependent, derived and contingent.

But the Jewish audience of the Lord Jesus would know of the one outlier – the one OT usage of son of man that is fundamentally different from the others.

It occurred in Daniel 7 when in a vision over 5 centuries before Christ, Daniel sees the 4 great world empires of human history: the Babylonians (present to Daniel), and the future super-powers of Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome each flickering for a brief period on the stage of history.

This usage of son of man varies from all of the rest of the OT references because it is the only one in the Aramaic tongue; the others are written in Hebrew.

But here’s the key difference: this Daniel 7 reference, far from being a term of humility, is a reference to great exaltation, honour, and acclaim.

In this text, Daniel sees into the throne-room of heaven where over 100 million are gathered to witness the Supreme Court of the Universe. The Ancient of Days is seated as Judge. This term – the Ancient of Days – appearing only in Daniel 7 (3 times) – is a name for the God of Israel declaring His eternal Being.

He is clothed in radiant white with hair white like wool. In a culture where age was highly respected, portraying experience and majesty and inspiring veneration, this elderly Figure is authoritatively installed on a throne projecting flames of fire.

The climactic observation in Daniel’s vision is the introduction of the One who will usher in the 5th kingdom: final, eternal, supreme, superior and universal – the Kingdom of God.

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed (Daniel 7:13,14).

Daniel was hereby illustrating that this One who was given authority, glory, power, worship and everlasting dominion was a heavenly Being, but was also human, or a son of man.

Not to be missed in this examination is the power of the Son of Man title: it graphically demonstrated Jesus as truly human.

But because of His relationship with the Ancient of Days and the eternal glory, power, authority and worship that are assigned to Him, the Son of Man title also evocatively conveyed Jesus’ deity.

It was clear to His audience – particularly the Jewish elite who were familiar with Daniel’s prophecy – that it was in this way that Jesus adopted the Son of Man title.

In other words, it was how Jesus used the title that enraged His opponents.

He was demonstrating that this Heavenly Being in Daniel 7 – this Son of Man standing confidently before the Ancient of Days to receive glory, power, authority and worship forever – is Himself equal to God, because Jesus is God!

Christ was claiming this ancient prophecy as pointing to and identifying Him!

Notice the words of Christ asserting His Deity as Son of Man who is also the Son of God in these key passages in Mark’s Gospel:

8:38  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

13:26  Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clous with great power and glory.

14:62  Jesus said, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

Takeaway: the Jewish opponents of Jesus understood all too well that rather than using a title of humility, Jesus was utilizing a term of grandeur and exaltation and infusing it with even more colourful, impressive and multi-dimensional meaning.

Jesus, the maximal Son of Man was the enfleshment of God – the God-Man – possessing Cosmic Judgeship and Ultimate Authority.

This Son of Man is the ultimate King of the Kingdom of God. It’s currency will be righteousness – that which is just, true, beautiful and it’s citizens will be those who love, follow, obey the Messiah, the King, the Lord Jesus Christ.

He is the Son of God. He is the Son of Man.

That’s at the heart of the Gospel.