The Son of Man
A common refrain throughout the Word of God is the term Son of man. In the Old Testament, it is used almost exclusively of the prophet Ezekiel. In the New Testament, it is used exclusively of Jesus, with one possible exception.
Son of man is used no fewer than 192 times in the entire Bible—108 times in the Old Testament and 84 times in the New Testament. In the book of Ezekiel, the term is used 93 times to refer to Ezekiel. Thirteen times the term is used in the Old Testament to refer to mankind in general. In Daniel 8:17 it is used of Daniel. The one additional time it is used in the Old Testament is in Daniel 7:13, where it refers to the future Messianic King and Judge.
In the New Testament Gospels, Son of man is used of Jesus eighty times. The other four references are in Acts 7:56; Hebrews 2:6; and Revelation 1:13 and 14:14. All refer to Jesus, with the possible exception of the verse in Hebrews, which some believe refers to Jesus and others believe refers to man.
The use of the term in reference to Jesus undoubtedly looks back to Daniel 7:13:
I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.
At least three references to the Son of man in the Gospels (Mt. 24:30; Mk. 13:26; and Lk. 21:27) clearly follow the usage of the term in Daniel 7:13 in relation to the person of Jesus. With this information, how are we to understand this term with regard to Jesus? Does it refer solely to the humanity of Jesus? Or are we to understand it to mean more?
The Son of Man and Mankind
As the Son of Man, Jesus identifies with humanity in His suffering. Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of man came, not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Is this not the ultimate purpose in the coming of the Messiah? Did He not come to die for the sins of the world? This verse tells us that the Son of Man came to suffer and die for sins.
Two men in the Word of God are said to be representative of all of mankind. The first is Adam. The second is Jesus. In Adam, we have all been separated from God because of his disobedience. In Christ, all believers will be made alive (1 Cor. 15:22). These two men are representative of the entire world. Through one comes death; through the other comes life. The first Adam gave natural life, but the second Adam, Jesus, gives spiritual life (1 Cor. 15:45).
Romans 5 teaches the same truth. Verses 12 through 21 teach the same basic analogy over and over.
For if through the offense of one many are dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many (v. 15).
Adam and Jesus, in their function, were representative of all mankind. In this capacity, among others, the term Son of man is used regarding Jesus.
The term undoubtedly speaks of His humanity. Its use, however, neither contradicts nor denies His divine nature. In Jesus alone, these two attributes merge in the person of the God-man.
The phrase Son of man used in reference to Jesus’ humanity is unique. In Hebrews 2:14 we are told, “Forasmuch, then, as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same.” Two different Greek words are used in this phrase. “Partakers” is koinonia and “took part of” is metecho. A Greek believer once provided an excellent explanation of the difference between these words. “If I entertain someone in my home,” he said, “we are both partaking of the home environment. I belong, though, since I live there. But you don’t belong since you are just visiting. Even though both of us are partaking of the same benefits at the time, one of us doesn’t really belong to the home.” In the same way, humans share in flesh and blood, with all its liabilities, because we all have a sin nature. Jesus “took on” flesh and blood (metecho) but did not “belong” (koinonia) because He had no sin nature.
Jesus, being the Son of man, identified Himself with humanity by becoming man. This identification was unique in that God had prepared a body for Him (see Heb. 10:5). That body was without sin and would represent all mankind when Jesus went to the cross.
Thus the term Son of man is used in conjunction with His salvation ministry in His humanity. As Luke 19:10 tells us, “the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
The Son of Man and Authority
The term Son of man used in conjunction with Jesus also speaks of His ultimate authority. Two incidents in the Gospel of Mark drive home this truth.
The first is found in 2:1–12. Jesus was inside a house in Capernaum. The crowds had swelled both inside and outside. Four men were carrying a man stricken with palsy. With the size of the crowd preventing entrance through the front door, these four men took the initiative. They carried the crippled man to the roof, made a hole in the roof, and lowered him down on his bed through the hole. On seeing the faith of this man, Jesus pronounced his sins forgiven. The scribes present responded bitterly, “Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God only?” (v. 7).
They knew that the authority to forgive sins belonged to God alone. Where they erred was in their understanding of the person of Jesus. Jesus read their hearts. This action alone must have silenced them, at least temporarily. Jesus then healed the crippled man, proving His authority. He did so for one reason: “But that ye may know that the Son of man hath authority on earth to forgive sins” (v. 10).
The second incident is recorded in 2:23–28. The disciples were walking through grain fields on the Sabbath and began to pluck and eat some of the grain. The Pharisees noticed what was taking place and condemned the disciples for breaking the Sabbath law. After reminding them of the time King David and his men ate of the shewbread from the high priests’ house, Jesus then shared a basic principle: The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Jesus then concluded by saying, “Therefore, the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath” (v. 28). Intrinsic with the title Son of man is authority that is not limited to just an earthly sphere but embraces the realm of deity. The Father has “given him authority to execute judgment . . . because he is the Son of man” (Jn. 5:27).
The Son of Man and the Messiah
The title Son of man as applied to Jesus is not predicated on His physical birth. Rather, it is independent of His human birth into this world and speaks of a greater position than mere physical birth could bestow. Surely, this exalted position is what Jesus alluded to when He said that “no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man” (Jn. 3:13). The Son of man was already in heaven before He came to earth. His physical birth had nothing to do with this title. Jesus taught this fact in John 6:62 when He said, “What if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?” The Son of man was in heaven before. Before what? Before His coming to earth.
His birth in Bethlehem, foretold by the prophet Micah, was separate from and not connected to his title Son of man. Undoubtedly, the birth of the man Christ Jesus was the fulfillment of what the title suggested, but this designation is not limited in scope to His humanity. No, as we have already seen, it carries with it much more than just the concept of humanity.
Neither is the title, in its strictest sense, Messianic. As Sir Robert Anderson stated in his book The Lord From Heaven (Kregel), “‘the Son of man’ is a Messianic title only in the sense that it belongs to him who is Israel’s Messiah.”1 When Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do men say that I, the Son of man, am?” (Mt. 16:13), Peter gave a divinely inspired answer. “Thou art the Christ [Messiah], the Son of the living God” (16:16). He basically answered, “You are more than just a man. You are the Son of man, yes. But beyond that, you are the Messiah as well as the Son of God.”
Likewise, in Matthew 26:63–64, when the High Priest asked Jesus to “tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God,” Jesus identified Himself as the Messiah with authority and power.
Thou hast said; nevertheless, I say unto you, Here after shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.
In essence, He said, “I am the Messiah. Furthermore, not only am I the Messiah, but I am also the Son of man; and this title carries with it both authority and power. I am the one that Daniel spoke of in chapter 7 verse 13. I am the coming Messianic King.”
Jesus the Son of Man
Although the phrase Son of man is not Messianic, it is, nevertheless, illustrative of the Messiah and His person and work. Captured in this title is the work the Messiah would do on earth. A. R. Fausset suggests that “‘the Son of man’ expresses His visible state, formerly in His humiliation, hereafter in His exaltation.”2 His first coming to earth as the suffering servant of Isaiah’s writings would be as the pure, spotless, sinless Son of man who would die for the sins of the world. He would accomplish redemption through His sacrificial death and resurrection. Many of the sons and daughters of Adam would find forgiveness through His work on the cross. He was a man—yes. And His work was necessary, prophesied, and substitutionary. But it was also much more.
His second, visible coming to earth will be on “the clouds of heaven” in power and glory. The long-anticipated Davidic King will appear in all His glory. Because He is the Son of man, He will rule and reign with the power and authority inherent in this title. He will have, as Daniel 7:14 states,
dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.
The designation Son of man implies more than just a man. It is the exalted title of one who is vested with power and authority, who is representative of all mankind. And only Jesus, as the Messiah, can embrace it in the fullness of its meaning.