Intro: Matt 16:13 – When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” Jesus asked His apostles a question about what others thought. He wanted to know how the general public perceived Him. Later He asks the same question to the apostles. The thing we most remember about this exchange is Peter’ exciting and insightful answer: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Mt. 16:16) What a powerful recognition, and a marvelous promise to follow. Jesus is certainly the Son of God (divine). But there is a sense in which Jesus gave an answer in the question itself: “… I, the Son of Man, am?”
- We do not often call Jesus what He called Himself. The Son of Man. What does that mean? Is it significant to our understanding of Jesus’ identity, and His work?
I. What Jesus Called Himself: What others call you and what you call yourself may not always be the same. But certainly, what we call ourselves expresses how we want others to see us. It seems obvious that Jesus wanted His disciples to recognize Him as the Son of Man.
A. The phrase Son of Man is Jesus’ most used self-designation. It is used about 86 times in the NT, and 81 of those are by Jesus Himself. The only 5 exceptions are:
- John 12:34 – The multitude question Jesus’ use of the term
- Acts 7:56 – Stephen use it to describe the One he saw at the right hand of God
- The writer of Hebrews quotes its OT usage in Psalm 8 (Heb. 2:6)
- John uses it twice in Revelation (to refer to Christ; Rev. 1:13; 14:14)
- Jesus never used this phrase to describe another person, only Himself.
B. If Jesus almost exclusively used this expression to designate Himself to others, we need to know what it means. But there is a problem. Neither Jesus or His apostles spent any time explaining what it means, or even why Jesus used the term so often. The frequent use of this designation remains an enigma of sorts. What we can understand must come from a study of its use in the individual contexts in which it is found, both the Old and New Testaments.
II. What Does “Son of Man” Mean?
A. First, the phrase “Son of” is a Hebrew idiom that was used to express the nature of someone. It is common in the Bible:
- The term “Son of wickedness” is used in Psalm 89:22 by the psalmist to describe a wicked person.
- The term “Sons of this world” is used in Luke 20:34 by Jesus to refer to people who were devoted to this world. Therefore, the phrase “Son of” is used to express the nature of someone.
B. Sometimes it simply refers to humanity. Balaam prophecies in Numbers 23:19 – “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. When Jeremiah pronounces God’s comprehensive judgment against Edom he expresses it this way… Jer 49:18 – As in the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah And their neighbors,” says the Lord, “No one shall remain there, Nor shall a son of man dwell in it.
1. In this sense, it was often used in plural form. Psalm 4:2 – How long, O you sons of men, will you turn my glory to shame? How long will you love worthlessness & seek falsehood? Prov. 8:4 – To you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men. In these places, the phrase simply means human beings.
C. Therefore, the title Son of Man refers to the nature of Jesus. He used it for this purpose. It is often concluded that this term contrasts two other designations used of Jesus in scripture, each depicting a view of His nature;
1. Son of God is His divine name and depicts his nature as God.
2. Son of David is His Jewish name and depicts His nature as the promised Messiah.
3. Son of Man is His racial name and depicts His nature as a human being.
D. This is the most widely understood concept involved in “son of man”. He is the Representative Man. This interpretation certainly it does no violence to our understanding of what the scriptures teach about Jesus. As we saw this morning, Jesus was fully human. But is this all that can be said? Is Jesus just expressing His humanity or His association with the human race? There are some occurrences of this title (by Jesus Himself) when this simplistic contrast seems insufficient or even out of place. Times when Jesus’ humanity is not what is in view: Mark 2:28 – “The Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath”; Matt 25:31 – When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. It helps to look at other uses of this phrase. Did Jesus get this phrase from another source?
III. O.T. Uses of “Son of Man” Interestingly, the title/phrase “son of man” is not restricted to the N.T. It is found in the O.T. as well (as we noticed in the Psalms and Jeremiah) this would suggest that it was not of Jesus’ own invention. Its former usage may help understand how or why these words are applied to Jesus.
A. The Psalms: Psalm 146:3 – Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. The Psalmist uses this phrase to point to human frailty and powerlessness. It suggests the inferiority of man as compared to God or even other created beings. Ps 144:3-4 – Lord, what is man, that You take knowledge of him? Or the son of man, that You are mindful of him? 4 Man is like a breath; His days are like a passing shadow. Did Jesus choose this title in reference to its use in the Psalms? Some suggest He did, especially as it is found in two places:
1. Psalm 8 – O Lord, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth, Who have set Your glory above the heavens! 2 Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength, Because of Your enemies, That You may silence the enemy and the avenger. 3 When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, 4 What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him? 5 For You have made him a little lower than the angels, And You have crowned him with glory and honor. 6 You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, 7 All sheep and oxen — Even the beasts of the field, 8 The birds of the air, And the fish of the sea That pass through the paths of the seas. 9 O Lord, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth!
a. This Psalm is quoted by the Hebrew writer in Hebrews 2:6-9. He uses the words of the psalm to point to Jesus as one who was “a little lower than the angels”, yet crowned with glory and honor. Again the OT use points out the human inferiority. Who is man that God should even care about him? And yet Jesus came to be a man (lower than the angels), and God has crowned Him.
b. This helps us understand the low estate to which Jesus descended to save us. On his way to save us He passed up the angels, and even the best of human conditions, and came all the way to our lowest place – the grave, in order to save us. This verse has one of the most astounding statements in the Bible – Christ was crowned with glory and honor in order that he might taste death for every man. Here is set forth the importance and centrality of the death of Christ, not merely for some, but for every man. Christ did not come into this world merely to deliver noble teaching, nor to establish some kind of ideal, but to die on the cross for the sins of the whole world. (from Coffman’s Bible Commentary, Copyright © 1971-1993 by ACU Press, Abilene Christian University. All rights reserved.) His connection with us is in His death.
2. Psalm 80:17-18 –Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand, Upon the son of man whom You made strong for Yourself. 18 Then we will not turn back from You; Revive us, and we will call upon Your name. The term son of man is connected with the Psalmist’s call for the coming of a national hero who will revive the people back to God. Could this be the passage Jesus wanted to bring to mind when he called himself the Son of Man?
B. Ezekiel: Ezekiel: Ezek 2:1 – And He said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak to you.” This is the first of over 80 occurrences of the phrase in connection with the prophet Ezekiel. It is always applied to the prophet himself and pointed to his prophetic mission. Although, again, we are not directly informed as to why God chooses to call Ezekiel a “son of man”, it appears to be limited to just he and Daniel among the prophets (both Exilic prophets)
1. Some suggest that this title was to remind Ezekiel of his lowliness and frailty before God. He was a recipient of God’s visions of the future, and may have needed to be reminded that He was just a human. One writer suggested this purpose: “It expresses the contrast between what Ezekiel is in himself and what God will make out of him, and to make his mission appear to him not as his own, but as the work of God, and thus to lift him up, whenever the flesh threatens to faint and fail.” (ISBE)
2. Unger says… “As used of Ezekiel, the expression “the son of man” suggests what the prophet is to God, not what he is to himself. As “the son of man” the prophet is chosen, spiritually endowed, and delegated by God. These factors are also true of the Messiah as the Representative Man, the new Head of regenerated humanity.”
3. Although its use in Ezekiel clearly connects it with the work of the prophet chosen by God (and Jesus was certainly a Chosen Prophet), there is more.
C. Daniel: Daniel 7:13-14 – “I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him. 14 Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed. This text clearly associates the title “son of man” with the coming Messiah and the establishment of God’s eternal kingdom. The “Son of Man” in Daniel’s vision is the One who rightfully is King over His Kingdom. He comes from and returns to heaven (Ancient of Days; God, the Father)
1. It is from this passage that the term son of Man came to be recognized as a title for the coming Messiah, and connected with the coming kingdom of God. Jesus came preaching “repent for the kingdom is near” (Mt. 4:17) Jesus was given kingdom authority when He ascended back to the Father (sits on the throne of David now). The kingdom of the son of man will never be destroyed.
2. Jesus made a direction connection for Himself to this vision during His trial before Caiaphas. Matt 26:63-65 – And the high priest answered and said to Him, “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!” 64 Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, “He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses? Look, now you have heard His blasphemy! Caiaphas asked if He was the Son of God; Jesus answered with an OT passage about the Son of Man – pointing to Himself. They knew what He was claiming.
D. Some conclusions for the OT usage: It would seem that the title of Jesus’ choice pointed in several directions, all of which pointed directly at His mission.
1. The son of man was human. Jesus’ incarnation was vital to His mission, and Jesus came to live and die as a perfect man to redeem man.
2. The son of man was a prophet. Jesus came revealing the message and He was the “mouthpiece” of God.
3. The son of man was the Messiah King to come. Jesus’ use of the title pointed directly back to Daniel’s vision and the promise of the kingdom.
IV. Jesus’ Use of the Title, Son of Man. Why did Jesus chose this designation, and what did it signify about Him in the context of its use.
A. The OT images that we just viewed are all part of the answer (as best we can give it). The title cannot be divorced from its basic meaning of humanity. Jesus chose to be indentified in a manner that connects Him with us.
B. But Jesus used the self-designation in circumstances when His deity was clearly being emphasized. He used the title: (1) in connection with his power to forgive sins (Matt 9:6); (2) of his lordship over the Sabbath (Matt 12:8); (3) of his resurrection (Matt 17:23); (4) of his seeking and saving that which is lost (Luke 19:10); (5) and of his coming in the final judgment (Matt 26:64). Contrary to being a title in competition to His divinity, Jesus used it to confirm it. Burton Coffman concluded… “Jesus meant by the title “Son of man” to affirm his deity and Godhead just as dogmatically as the title “Son of God” could have done it, but with the additional advantage of stressing his unique relationship to the human race as well. It is evident that THE Son of man cannot be any mortal being.” (from Coffman’s Bible Commentary)
1. Consider the exchange between Nathaniel and Jesus in John 1:47-51 – Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!”48 Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
a. Again we see Nathaniel using the Messianic designations, “Son of God”; “King of Israel”; Jesus responds with a designation of himself as the Son of Man. Jesus does not reject the other designations, He simply points to His preferred one. The Son of Man is the Son of God, is the King of Israel.
2. In practically every instance where Jesus’ predicts His betrayal, trial and death on the cross, He uses Son of Man. It seems that Jesus used the words to point directly toward His mission.
C. Another thought: Jesus also may have used this title to both reveal and conceal: The words were clearly associated with the Messiah, but not as prominent among the common people as the title “Son of God” (They were confused about Jesus using the title to speak about the coming death if He was the Messiah) Son of Man did not depict the image of the coming King as much as the “Son of God” (Nathaniel used then together). So to prevent the people from forcing Him to be King, He used the title Son of Man. A Messianic reference, but not as emotionally charged.
Conclusion: “The Son of God became the Son of man that you who were sons of men might be made sons of God” (Augustine, Serm. 121).
Jesus is truly the Son of Man – He is Prophet; He is King; He is the Messiah. And in all of this He was one of us. Fausset’s Dictionary says… “Jesus is one of our race, yet above the whole race, the One Man in whom mankind finds its unity, the turning point of history at the close of the old and the beginning of the new era. His absolute relation to mankind requires an absolute relation to God. He could be the Son of man only because He is the Son of God.”