by Mark Robinson
A common refrain throughout the Word of God is the term Son of man. In the Old Testament the term is used almost exclusively of the prophet Ezekiel. In the New Testament the term is used exclusively of Jesus with one possible exception.
Son of man is used no less than 192 times in the entire Bible – 108 times in the Old Testament and 84 times in the New Testament. It is used in the book of Ezekiel 93 times speaking of Ezekiel. It is used of mankind in general 13 times in the Old Testament. 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 the term is a reference to the future Messianic King and Judge.
In the New Testament it is used of Jesus 80 times in the gospels. The other four references are found in Acts 7:56, Hebrews 2:6, and Revelation 1:13 and 14:14 with all but possibly the Hebrews verse speaking of Jesus. Some believe the reference in Hebrews 2:6 refers to Jesus and some just to man.
The use of the term in reference to Jesus undoubtedly looks back to its usage in 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 in the gospels, Matthew 24:30, Mark 13:26, and Luke 21:27, are clearly usages of Daniel 7:13 in relation to the person of Jesus
With this information before us how are we to understand this term in its usage with Jesus? Does it refer solely to the humanity of Jesus? Or are we to understand more by this term?
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 first 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 (1 Corinthians 15:22) we have all been separated from God because of his disobedience. In Christ (1 Corinthians 15:22) all [believers] will be made alive. These two men are representatives 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 Corinthians 15:45).
The fifth chapter of Romans teaches the same truth. From verse twelve through twenty-one the same basic analogy is taught over and over again. “…For if through the offense of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many” (vs. 15). Adam and Jesus, in their function, were representatives of all of mankind. In this capacity, among others, the term Son of Man is used with Jesus.
Jesus being referred to as the Son of Man certainly speaks of His humanity. The use of this term though is not in contradiction or denial of His divine nature. These two attributes, His humanity and His deity, merge together in the person of the God-man.
The 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.” There are two different Greek words used in this phrase speaking of “being a part of.” “Partakers” is koinonia and “took part of” is metecho. The difference in these words was once explained to me by a Christian from Greece. If I entertain someone in my home, he explained, 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 alike with all its liabilities because we all have a sin nature. Jesus took on flesh and blood but doesn’t really “belong” because he did not have a sin nature.
Jesus, being the Son of Man, identified Himself with humanity by becoming man. This identification was unique in that God had a body prepared for Him (see Hebrews 10:5). A body without sin, a body He would inhabit that would represent all mankind as He went to the cross.
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 save that which was lost.”
The Son of Man and Authority
The term Son of Man used in conjunction with Jesus also speaks to His ultimate authority. There are two incidents in the Gospel of Mark that drive home this truth.
The first incident is found in Mark 2:1-12. Jesus was in a house in Capernaum. The crowd had swelled both in the house and out. Four men carried a man stricken with palsy. With the size of the crowd preventing entrance in 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. Upon seeing the faith of this man Jesus pronounced his sins to be forgiven. The scribes present responded bitterly. “Why does this man thus speak blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God only?”
In the mind of these men the authority to forgive sins was only God’s prerogative. They were correct. Where they were incorrect was their understanding of the person of Jesus. Jesus read their hearts. This alone must have at least temporarily silenced them. Jesus then healed the crippled man proving his authority. Jesus’ healing of this crippled man was done for one reason. “But that you might know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins” (Mark 2:10).
The second incident is recorded for us in Mark 2:23-28. The disciples were in corn fields on a Sabbath. They began to pluck and eat some of the corn. The Pharisees noticed what was taking place and condemned the disciples to Jesus for breaking the Sabbath law. After reminding them of the time King David ate and shared some of the shewbread from the high priests’ house with his men, Jesus then shared a basic principle. The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Jesus then concluded by saying, “therefore, the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28).
Intrinsic with the title Son of Man when used of Jesus is authority. Authority limited not just to an earthly sphere, but authority that embraces the realm of deity. The Father has “given him authority to execute judgment…, because he is the Son of man” (John 5:27).
The Son of Man and the Messiah
The title Son of Man as it is applied to Jesus is not predicated on His physical birth. It is a title that is independent of His birth into this world as man and carries with it a greater position than any mere physical birth could give. Surely, this is what Jesus was alluding to when He said, “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man” (John 3:13). The Son of Man was already in heaven before He came to earth. His physical birth did not have anything to do with this title. Jesus taught the same in John 6:62 when He said, “What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?” The Son of Man was before in heaven. Before what? Before His coming to earth.
His birth in Bethlehem, promised beforehand 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 Son of Man suggested but this title is not limited in scope to His humanity. No, as we have already seen, this title carries with it much more than just the thought of humanity.
Neither is the title, in its strictest sense, Messianic. As Sir Robert Anderson stated in The Lord From Heaven, “‘the Son of man’ is a Messianic title only in the sense that it belongs to him who is Israel’s Messiah.” When Jesus asked his disciples “Whom, do men say that I the Son of man am?” (Matthew16:13), Peter’s answer was divinely revealed. “Thou art the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 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 of Jesus “…tell us whether thou be the Messiah, the Son of God,” Jesus’ response identified himself as the Messiah with authority and power. “…Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” I am the Messiah was His response. 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, the coming Messianic King.
The Son of Man
The phrase Son of Man is separate from, but, in its comprehensive understanding, 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.” 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, but 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 Son of Man is more than just a man. This is an exalted title of one vested with power and authority and representative of all mankind. It is a title that only Jesus, as the Messiah, could embrace in the fullness of its meaning.