When Jesus taught, He often referred to Himself as "the Son of Man." In fact, it was one of His favorite ways to describe Himself:
"You have said so," Jesus replied. "But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven" (Matthew 26:64).
"But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins." So he said to the man, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home" (Mark 2:10–11).
He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again (Mark 8:31).
Why was Jesus so fond of using this term, and what did it mean?
The term "son" in Scripture
Sonship was a vital concept in the ancient Near East. Sons carried on the legacies of their fathers. They inherited their father's estate, took over their father's business, and represented their father's interests.
Over time, the word "son" came to represent those who followed in the footsteps of a certain office, tradition, or people. For instance, Scripture often uses the term "sons of Israel" when Israelites would work fine (Genesis 46:8, Exodus 1:1, 1 Chronicles 2:1). But this communicates that they're Israelites coming from the lineage and tradition of Israel.
Another example is the term "sons of the prophets," which the New International Version (NIV) translates as "company of the prophets."
The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, "The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha." And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him (2 Kings 2:15).
This is a way of saying, "in the order of the prophets." It was used to recognize individuals fulfilling a specific role.
Throughout the Old Testament, we see this term applied to people:
Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness, and for His wonders to the sons of men (Psalm 107:8, New American Standard Bible)!
The English Standard Version (ESV) translates "sons of men" into "children of man," while the New International Version translates it "mankind." Other passages that talk about the sons of man include verses like Psalm 8:4, Ezekiel 31:14, Micah 5:7.
When Jesus takes on the moniker "Son of Man," He is not only embracing His humanity, but He's also telling His listeners that He is here as a representative of humankind. He is fulfilling a role and operating as our representative.
The prophetic "Son of Man"
For those folks who were paying attention, Jesus's title had another critical meaning. And to understand it, we'd have to take a look back at the prophet Daniel.
In a dramatic vision, Daniel was given a prophetic glimpse into the future:
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 nations and peoples 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 (Daniel 7:13–14).
This "Son of Man" that appeared in Daniel's vision represented the Messiah. And it's easy to recognize Jesus in this figure. Like Jesus, this figure is given all authority:
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Matthew 28:18).
All glory was given to Him:
"Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world" (John 17:24).
He also received all power:
The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (Hebrews 1:3).
Like Daniel's Son of Man, Jesus's kingdom is expanded beyond Jerusalem to encompass all nations:
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands (Revelation 7:9).
And His kingdom will never pass away:
The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said:
"The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever" (Revelation 11:15).
Jesus's true identity
For much of His ministry, Jesus was cagey about His identity. When Peter correctly identified Jesus as the Messiah, He affirmed and complimented the disciple—but then He told the disciples to keep this information to themselves (Matthew 16:13–20).
But this doesn't mean that the truth wasn't evident for people truly paying attention. On its face, Jesus's consistent use of the term "Son of Man" pointed toward His humanity as He identified with the people He came to save, but the clues were there for vigilant Jews looking for the Messiah. And the fact that He regularly referred to Himself as the Son of Man was a huge indicator.
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