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.