The Son of Man

In the three synoptic gospels, the term “Son of Man” is the self-designation found most often on the lips of Jesus. It is derived from Daniel’s vision of the one “like a Son of Man” who received the “dominion and kingdom” from the “Ancient of Days.” According to Jesus, “All the tribes of the Earth” will mourn when “they see the Son of man coming on the clouds of Heaven.”

In each use of this term, the Greek text reads “THE Son of Man,” and the definite article or “the” retains its demonstrative force (“this, that”). Rendered idiomatically, he referred to “THAT Son of Man.”

Sun rays on hill - Photo by Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash
[Photo by Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash]

When using the term, Jesus did not refer to humanity in general or to his human nature, but to a specific and known figure, namely, the “
Son of Man” described in the seventh chapter of the Book of Daniel.

In his vision, Daniel saw a malevolent figure called the “Little Horn,” a creature with “a mouth speaking great things.” It waged “war” against the “saints.” His vision concluded with a judgment scene and the appearance of the “Son of Man” who received “dominion” and judgment on behalf of the “saints” - (Daniel 7:13-14).

In the provided interpretation, after this tyrant’s war on God’s people, “judgment was given for the saints” by the “Ancient of Days,” and they therefore “possessed the kingdom.” By itself, “judgment” does not mean punishment, and here, it points to a decision “for” the saints – To their vindication – (Daniel 7:15-27).

Features from the vision are found in Christ’s references to the “Son of Man,” as well as in related passages elsewhere in the New Testament, including:

  • His “coming on clouds.”
  • His approach to the “Ancient of Days” for judgment.
  • His receipt of dominion over “peoples, races, and tongues.
  • The rendering of judgment for the saints.

JESUS AS SON THE OF MAN


According to Jesus, he is the “Son of Man who sows the seed” of the Gospel, a process set in motion that will consummate when the “Son of Man sends forth his angels to gather out of his kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and them that do iniquity.” Then, the “Son of Man will come in the glory of his Father to render to every man according to his deeds” – (Matthew 13:41, 16:27).

However, that same “Son of Man” was also destined to suffer for his people (“For the Son of Man shall be delivered up into the hands of men, and they shall kill him”), though death did not have the final word. “On the third day” after his execution, God resurrected him, and in the “regeneration, the Son of Man will sit on the throne of his glory, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” - (Matthew 17:22, 19:28).

His judgment will include punitive sentences on the same members of Israel who condemned him to death, and this understanding is borne out by his response to the High Priest at his trial:

  • I am he, and you will see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven – (Matthew 19:28, 26:64).

In the preceding passage from Matthew, Jesus combines the phrase from Daniel with a clause found in the Psalms, leaving no doubt that he is the Davidic Messiah appointed by Yahweh to reign over the nations:

  • Yahweh declared to my Lord: Sit at my right hand until I make your foes your footstool” - (Psalm 110:1. See Mark 14:62, Matthew 26:64, Luke 22:69).

The language employed from the Book of Daniel is prominent in passages that describe the future return of Jesus at the end of the age. He is the glorious figure who will appear “on the clouds of heaven”:

  • 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” – (Matthew 24:30).

The description of his “coming on the clouds” appears in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians when he describes how the saints will “meet” Jesus as he descends from heaven:

  • Then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air” – (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Sun rays over lake - Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash
[Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash]

In Daniel’s vision, the “
Son of Man” approached the “Ancient of Days” and received the Kingdom on behalf of the “saints,” as well as the authority to reign over “all peoples, nations and tongues.” However, his vindication occurred only after the “Little Horn” waged “war against the saints and prevailed over them.”

Likewise, the receipt of “dominion” by Jesus came only after his death and resurrection, a sacrificial death on behalf of his people – (Matthew 20:28, 28:18-20).

The authors of the New Testament use several Old Testament images to portray key aspects of the ministry of Jesus, including the “Son of Man.” Whenever he referred to himself as “THE Son of Man,” he intended for his audience to link him to that figure in the Book of Daniel.

The Nazarene employed this term when describing his future return, and to refer to his suffering and death, for the “Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He is “THAT Son of Man.”



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