19. Son of Man

Focus on Christ Meditations: 19.  Son of Man

Mt 8:20  Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head

We have just gone from considering Jesus Christ being the Logos, the Word, the reason behind all things, to Jesus of Nazareth, the human being, apparently with human origins. Now we come to a description of Jesus – Son of Man – that he uses a number of times of himself. This is worth noting, that this is a description that others don’t use of him but only he uses of himself.

The phrase comes first, I believe, in the psalms: what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (Psa 8:4 also Psa 80:17, 144:3) but its greatest use in the Old Testament is in Ezekiel where 93 times God uses this term to speak to Ezekiel, a term emphasizing the prophet’s humanity as he was addressed by the transcendent God. It also appears twice in Daniel in 7:13 and 8:17. It is interesting to note that whereas in the psalms it is a phrase that refers generally to human beings and comes with small-case ‘son’, in Ezekiel you will find its many uses are as a title with capital-letter ‘Son’ and this is also true of Jesus’ use of the phrase.

The words, “son of” are used literally hundreds of times in the Bible and invariably they show the relational link of son to father (highlighting background or origin) and so when we come to ‘son of man’ we see the emphasis on the relation of the individual to the human race at large. It is a constant reminder that we are frail and limited human beings and distinct from God. It is a little like the use of ‘Israel’ and ‘Jacob’; they are both the same person but the use of Jacob is a constant reminder of his origins – a conniving, scheming, cheating, twister. Israel reminds us of the one who has had dealings with and affirmation by God. When capital letters are employed – Son of Man – it is clearly a title that still makes that emphasis but even more strongly.

But why does Jesus use this term? In Matthew’s Gospel which emphasises the Jewish aspect of the Messiah and of his kingdom, it appears 27 times. (NB. In what follows, I have managed to pick up 78 uses of the term in the gospels, but my Bible dictionary says there are in fact 81 uses. Take my figures as ‘at least’). In Mark it appears 14 times and in Luke 24 times, and even in John whose big emphasis is on Jesus as the universal Son of God and who emphasises the relational aspect of divine Son to divine Father, the words appear 13 times, and so even John remembers its use and therefore its significance. Yet, why was it significant?

For that we have to go back to Dan 7:13,14 – “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 worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” Now there we have lower case indicating just one who looked like an ordinary human being. But notice what we are told about this one.

First of all this is a vision of heaven and this one comes before God – “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.” Second, he is divinely appointed – “He was given authority, glory and sovereign power.”  Third, as a result of this, “all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him.” (You only worship divinity). Fourth, he is made a ruler with an eternal and indestructible kingdom: “His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” That is incredible, a person in human form, who can stand before Almighty God, and who is equipped to be an eternal ruler and who receives the worship of all mankind. No wonder the scribes and the teachers and the religious leaders scratched their heads over this – and no wonder Jesus takes and uses this simple little phrase so many times of himself.

When Jesus eventually stands on trial before the high priest, we see, “the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”  “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mk 14:61,62) where Jesus purposely affirms he is the Christ and then goes on to link it with the prophetic Son of Man clearly linking it to the Daniel prophecy which the high priest understands as a claim to divinity and thus, in his eyes at least, to blasphemy.

In Matthew, Jesus’ use of the term shows us him showing the human side of the term: 8:20 having no home, 11:18,19 eating and drinking with sinners, 12:32 one who can be spoken against, 13:37 one who is a sower of the word of God, 16:13 one over whom questions can be asked, 20:18  & 26:24,45 and one who will be betrayed. Yet equally, if not more strongly, the divine side of the term: 9:5,6 one who has authority to forgive sins and heal, 12:8 one who is Lord of the Sabbath, 12:40 one who will die and rise from the dead after three days, 13:41 one who will judge all sin, 10:23, 16:28, 24:27 one who will return in power, 17:9 one having been raised from the dead, 17:12 after having suffered unjustly, 20:27,28 having given his life as a ransom for many, 19:28 and one who will rule eternally in heaven.

This prophetic term is thus one of the strongest used of Jesus revealing his incredible claims that accord perfectly with the prophetic scriptures. The term emphasizes the humanity of the Messiah on one hand – Son of Man – but at the same time brings to the fore the prophetic being seen in Daniel in heaven. Perhaps we should also add that the use of the term so many times in Ezekiel also implies by Jesus use of the same term, that he was emphasizing his role as God’s prophetic servant. As Jesus uses it so many times, it seems there is a multi-faceted message being conveyed – the prophetic messiah in human form, coming as a prophetic servant, coming to draw alongside us in our humanity while at the same time establishing God’s eternal kingdom on earth. Wow!

To reflect upon: scroll back to the Daniel verses and marvel again at the wonder of this being who is revealed there. Worship him.

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44. Daniel (2)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 44.  Daniel (2)

Dan 1:8,9   But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel,

So we come to the prophetic section of Daniel, chapters 7 to 12. If encounters with God are sometimes referred to as mountain top experiences, here we have another mountain range with a few peaks. It is a confusing area of Scripture with a variety of interpretations given by commentators, so let’s satisfy ourselves with identifying the sections and picking up some highlights within them.

Vision 1: The Four Beasts (7:1-28  Probably 553BC). Possibly the most spiritually significant one of the visions, Daniel is lying down (v.1) when he sees fours beats, representing four kingdoms (v.2-8) but immediately following he is given a picture of heaven with God ruling over all things, shades of the book of Revelation: As I looked, “thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.” (v.9,10) Shortly after, in this vision, is one of the clearest Messianic visions in Scripture: 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 worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (7:13,14) A human figure in heaven, led before God given supreme authority over the world, an everlasting kingdom. None other than the Son of God. Wow! The four beasts represent kingdoms of men on the earth BUT “the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever–yes, for ever and ever.” (7:18) Yes, kings will come and go, but the rule of the kingdom of God through His people is supreme in importance and significance in God’s eyes.

Vision 2: The Ram and Goat and horn (8:1-27  About 551BC)  A vision about ‘the time of the end’ (v.17)

Daniel’s Prayer & Answer: (9:1-27 About 539/8BC) Daniel understands Jeremiah’s seventy years (9:2) so prays and fasts for Israel and confesses the sin of his people (9:3-19). That prayer is a highlight. While praying and fasting, the angel Gabriel comes and reveals something of history’s future. Within it we may surmise the coming of Jesus (v.25), the anointed one, who will eventually be cut off (v.26) and the ruler of the land (Rome) will destroy Jerusalem and the Temple (v.26b as happened in AD70).  Wars and desolations will characterize history of this fallen world (v.26c) until a time of upheaval and change when the Lord will decree the end (v.27). If the talk of ‘sevens’ is confusing, rest in the knowledge that the Lord knows how history will pan out.

Prayer & Revelation of Spiritual Warfare: (10:1-21 Probably 539BC) Daniel prays for three weeks (v.1) until a divine figure appears (v.2-9) who reveals that from the moment Daniel started praying he had been heard (v.12), but there had been resistance from the demonic authority of Persia (v.13) until help had arrived to take over from him to release him to go to Daniel (implied in v.20). Although he says he will explain Israel’s future, he says nothing yet beyond he has to go back to continue fighting the power of Persia after which the power of Greece will come. It is an unclear passage but has insights similar to the apostle Paul’s, “rulers… authorities …. powers of this dark world and … spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12) and which few but intercessors  seem to become aware of.

Vision 3: The Four Kings: (11:2 – 12:4) This is a continuation of chapter ten in as far as it is the explanation by the divine figure of what will happen. There is much detail and some commentators follow it through showing how it corresponds to all that took place in the period from here until the coming of Christ, of which the Scriptures are otherwise silent. Again the message has to be, the Lord knows! It is all according to plan! The final part of the vision – 12:1-4 – some suggest is a reference to the death and resurrection of Christ and the salvation that follows.

Vision 4: The Two Men:  (12:5-13) In this final ongoing vision Daniel sees two men who he questions about all this. He is told, “Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.” (v.10)  A good description of the period of the Church when many get saved and sanctified while many others continue to do evil.

As I look back over these chapters, I ask myself, where are the highlights? Well, it depends. If you want the wonder of God and of heaven, it is 7:9,10. If you want a vision of the coming Messiah, it is 7:13,14. If you want spiritual warfare it is 10:1-20, but the truth is that as you might meditate on individual verses that come alive to you, they might become your highlight verses.

Again and again throughout it all, with the talk of enigmatic ‘sevens’ there filters through this sense that a) God knows all the periods of history and b) He has a program of history. It is a combination of the working of the enemy, the working of powerful people (‘kings’) and the working of the Lord Himself. Much of the time the visions spell out orders of events, the unrolling of history, so often focused on rulers, the powerful people who so often appear to influence history, but there are ‘time’ or ‘duration’ elements in some of them but given in very enigmatic ways, e.g. “a time, times and half a time,” (7:25), “seventy ‘sevens’” (9:24), “seven `sevens,’ and sixty-two `sevens.’” (9:25), “a time, times and half a time,” (12:7). Yet, also, there is the occasional sense that everything is happening to a set timetable, for example, “the appointed time of the end,” (8:19, 11:40, 12:4,9) and “an end will still come at the appointed time.” (11:27,29,35) Confusing, yes, but even as the book of Revelation indicates, the supreme authority rests on a throne in heaven. He is the Lord of all, despite the turmoils of history. Perhaps this is THE ‘highlight’ truth that shines through in all this strange prophetic and visionary talk.

43. Daniel (1)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 43.  Daniel (1)

Dan 1:8,9   But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel,

As we now come to Daniel, we come to the third of God’s ‘roving reporters’ of the Exile. Daniel was carried away to Babylon in the first of Nebuchadnezzar’s raids on Jerusalem but unlike Jeremiah and Ezekiel his role was not to speak God’s words to the exiles but was, instead, to speak as God’s mouthpiece to the various kings from Nebuchadnezzar on. The first six chapters of his book are historical, telling how this happened, and chapter 7 to 12 are prophecies or visions he received. Because of this we will take one historical incident for our first study in this book and then one from the prophetic section.

We have chosen verses 8 and 9 above because they are ‘turning point verses’ that impinge on all that follows. They start, as you can see, with a ‘But’ which indicates they flow on from what has gone before, so let’s pick that up first, for it is highly significant in Daniel’s story.

Nebuchadnezzar had carried off King Jehoiakim of Judah (1:1,2) together with members of the royal family and the nobility, young men who clearly had learning (1:3,4a) with the objective that these young men would be taken to Babylon and, for three years, would be taught and trained in the history and ways of Babylon so that eventually the best of them could serve Nebuchadnezzar in his court (1:4b,5). Daniel was one of these young men.

Now part of the perks, or perhaps part of the brain-washing that would transform these brightest of men into good Babylonians, was to provide them with all the rich food and drink that was available in the royal court. Part of the transformation process was to also give each of these young men a Babylonian god-linked name and so Daniel was renamed Belteshazzar which probably means, “Bel protect his life” (Daniel had meant, “God is my judge”) i.e. everything was being done to change these men from being young Israelite noblemen to good Babylonians.

So we come to the point where this rich food is being presented to Daniel and his three friends (v.5)  at which point he determines to resist this transformation process. So note the stating point of his actions: Daniel resolved.” He set him mind on resisting this. However he is basically a slave and not in a good position to say what he will or will not do, so he goes in humility and “he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.” Now we come to the God part: “Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel.” Somehow the Lord had spoken into the officials heart and made him feel good towards Daniel, but that isn’t enough to sway him; he would like to help Daniel (perhaps he too was an ‘import’!) but he was afraid of what the king would say if they looked worse than the others (v.10).

At this point Daniel is not put off and perseveres and gets what today we would call ‘a word of wisdom’ and simply asks the guard, who the chief official had put over them, to let them try out for ten days a menu free from rich food and wine, and then see what they are like at the end of that time. He agrees to this. (v.11-14) At the end of the ten days Daniel and his friends look better than any of the other conscripts (v.15) and so the guard allows them to carry on without the rich food and wine (v.16).

We then see the Lord’s blessing on these four young men: “To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.” (1:17) so that “At the end of the time set by the king …. he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.” (1:18-20) What a testimony!

The lessons of this little incident are clear and powerful. Note first, Daniel is in an alien environment, not one of his choosing. He is powerless in the situation, except he comes from a godly background. Now this is interesting in that the words that came from Jeremiah, and later from Ezekiel, indicate that the spiritual state of Judah and the occupants of Jerusalem was very low – and yet Daniel clearly stands out as one who resolves to remain one of the people of God. So, lesson no.1 – Daniel resolves to hold on to his heritage. When you or I find ourselves in such a situation, can we too resolve NOT to go the way of the rest of the world and remain true to God (how to do that is the problem that follows and is to be addressed). We may need to persevere, but will we do it?

We then saw that the Lord was clearly with Daniel in that He made the chief official favourable towards Daniel.  Lesson no.2 – recognize that wherever you are the Lord is with you (Heb 13:5b) and He will be working for you (Rom 8:28). In what follows it is clear that Daniel has the wisdom of the Lord. Lesson no.3 – in such times always turn to the Lord and ask Him for His wisdom to know what to do (Jas 1:5) Simple isn’t it!

We will see further examples of such things in Daniel as the book unfolds. In chapter 2 Nebuchadnezzar has a dream which he demands his astrologers and wise men to tell him about, and their failure would mean their death (2:1-13) – which includes Daniel and his friends. When Daniel is told about this, he speaks to the commander of the king’s guard who has been sent to execute them all: “Daniel spoke to him with wisdom and tact.” (2;14) This opens up the way for him to ask the king for time (2:16) and then he gets his three friends to intercede before the Lord (2:17,18) and the Lord gives him the answer!

As a result of this Nebuchadnezzar, “placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men.” (2:48) Amazing! And so it carries on. If you are not familiar with Daniel, you must read how in chapter three his three friends make a further declaration of their commitment to God: “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (3:17,18) and there’s more to follow. It is an amazing story, this story of this young prophet who became senior counselor to king after king. And why? What were his characteristics? His faithfulness to God, his resolve, his humility, grace, wisdom and tact and his prayer life, a true child of God whose example is to be followed. Wow! Go for it!

18. Son of Man

Jesus in John’s Gospel : 18 : Jesus, the Son of Man

Jn 1:51 He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.

There are times in Scripture when we read words, phrases or sentences and take them granted and really don’t think much what they really mean. This phrase, ‘Son of Man’ is one such phrase.  Matthew’s Gospel uses this phrase over 30 times, the less prophetic and shorter Mark’s Gospel, 13 times, the longer Luke’s Gospel, 23 times and John’s Gospel portraying the ‘big picture’ only 12 times.

To take the phrase at face value, pretending we had no other knowledge about it, we would say it simply means a human being, a son of a man. C.S.Lewis in his Narnia stories refers to the children as “sons and daughters of Adam.” We can take that to simply mean human children.  Now one of the interesting things about this phrase is that when it comes up in the New Testament it is always Jesus referring to himself, so we might say that this is Jesus emphasizing his humanity.

However, there was also a very strong Messianic sense in which it was being used. In the Old Testament, the only times it was used were in Ezekiel (over 90 times) and in Daniel. In Ezekiel it is used of Ezekiel himself by God, very much a reminder to Ezekiel of his humanity and weakness.  In Daniel we find: “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 worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed (Dan 7:13,14) The other reference in Daniel (8:17), like Ezekiel is simply referring to Daniel’s humanity.  Thus we have one unusual single reference which the Jews built upon to refer, with many other prophetic verses, to the Messiah. Look again, therefore, at the content of that significant verse.

There is, first, a figure appearing who has human likeness. Second, he comes with the clouds of heaven which means he comes from heaven. Third, he has access to God himself. Fourth, he is given great authority and glory and supreme (sovereign) power. Fifth, people from every nation worship him. Sixth, his rule will be for ever and seventh, it will never be destroyed (or be over come by another – implied). This amazing picture is of a human figure with eternal dimensions to be an all-powerful ruler. No wonder the Jews were excited by this prophecy!

Now Jesus clearly applies this title to himself, but there were two responses to it. In John 12 we find: Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified… when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself’…. The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ will remain forever, so how can you say, `The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this `Son of Man’?” (Jn 12:23,32,34) i.e. questioning unbelief. Now consider the blind man in John 9: Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ ‘Who is he, sir?’ the man asked. ‘Tell me so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said, ‘You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.’ Then the man said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him.” (Jn 9:35-38), i.e. open-hearted belief.  Read again the Daniel 7 verses above. Have you ‘seen’ Jesus like this – and worshipped him?