The Son of Man 



Logo Some people say there is nowhere in the Hebrew Bible from which a reader could cull a description of the Messiah as a heavenly being:

"So too, when Jesus talked about a messiah, he actually meant 'messiah.' The messiah for first-century Jews was not some kind of spiritual being who resided with God in heaven. And it certainly was not someone who was to be executed and then raised from the dead. Jews had no concept of any such messiah. . .For Reimarus, Jesus thought he himself was that future king. He certainly had no idea of being a ruler who was to sit at the right hand of God on a throne in heaven." (Bart Ehrman, Jesus Before the Gospels, p. 54).

Where might somebody have got such an idea? What does the Bible actually say about the heavenly figure of the Son of Man?:


Daniel's Vision I the Son of Man
Common Sense Rabbi Akiba
The Other Beloved Son
Psalm 80 Psalm 8


LogoDaniel's Vision

The prophet Daniel saw, in a vision, one like a Son of Man approach the Ancient of Days, and receive from Him a kingdom:


Byzantine Icon of the Pantocrator



  • “I watched till thrones were put in place, and the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame, its wheels a burning fire;
  • “A fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him. A thousand thousands ministered to Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated, and the books were opened. . .
  • “I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him.
  • “Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.”

  • (Daniel 7:9-14).



thriceholy.org

On several occasions when He alludes to the 'Son of Man,' Jesus plainly has Daniel's end-times Messianic figure in mind, because he mentions distinctive features of that vision, such as the 'clouds:'

“For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matthew 24:27-31)

“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven.” (Mark 13:26).

Language similar to this describes God's theophany:

"The burden of Egypt. Behold, the LORD rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it." (Isaiah 19:1).

"Clouds and darkness are round about him: righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne." (Psalm 97:2).

"Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind. . ." (Psalm 104:3).

The 'Son of Man' is He who comes back to earth to gather His elect. Given these very specific and detailed citations of Daniel, it is really not defensible to claim Jesus' use of the self-designation 'Son of Man' is unrelated to this familiar earlier prophecy.

“Jesus said to him, 'It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.'” (Matthew 26:64).

“Again the high priest asked Him, saying to Him, 'Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?'
“Jesus said, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:61-62)

There is a school of Bible scholarship whose glory is make God's words meaningless and inconsequential. Some of these folks think that the 'Son of Man' is a fulsome circumlocution, meaning no more than 'I.' They point out that Ezekiel is also called the 'Son of Man' without any hidden significance. However, it can scarcely be coincidence when Jesus brings up multiple features of Daniel's vision, both the 'clouds of heaven' and the title, 'Son of Man,' in conjunction. What are the odds of that?

'Man,' simply, is also a title of the Messiah, at least in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures: "I will point to him, but not now; I bless him, but he draws not near: a star shall rise out of Jacob, a man [ανθρωπος] shall spring out of Israel; and shall crush the princes of Moab, and shall spoil all the sons of Seth." (Numbers 24:17). But these people think they are doing something wonderful and mighty if they take a rich allusion, to Daniel's Son of Man, and turn it into nothing of any consequence.

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I the Son of Man

Others of this tribe say that Jesus was referring to someone else, not Himself, when He spoke of 'the Son of Man.' But the disciples plainly thought it was He who was the Son of Man, returning on the clouds of heaven:

“And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.  Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.” (Revelation 1:5-7).

Moreover Jesus speaks of 'I [με], the Son of Man,' a fairly straight-forward self-identification:

“When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?'” (Matthew 16:13).

In a passage like Luke 5:24, it is very difficult to sustain the theory that, in referring to the Son of Man, Jesus is talking about someone else, not Himself:

“But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, He answered and said to them, “Why are you reasoning in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise up and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the man who was paralyzed, 'I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.'” (Luke 5:22-24).

He, not some future heavenly redeemer, is the One who healed the paralytic. He is the Son of Man. Not everyone knew this, nor did He Himself say so openly at first, but nevertheless in His time He makes it unmistakably clear. When He asks Judas at his betrayal,

"But Jesus said unto him, Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?" (Luke 22:48).

. . .is it really conceivable He is prophesying about some (other) future figure whom Judas will also betray with a kiss, just like he is doing right now?

The 'Son of Man' references are not segregated and applied only to the Second Coming, as some people claim; in the first advent, the Lord came in humility, in the second, in glory, and here He plainly says it is the 'Son of Man' who is crucified:



  • “When Jesus was ready to go up to Jerusalem, he took
    with him only the twelve, and said to them as they set out,
    We now are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; and he will be delivered up to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified; and on the third day he will rise.”
  • (Matthew 20:17-19).



Logo The crucified one is the Son of Man: ". . .the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:28).

The people were plainly confused by the Lord's use of this title, it was not an alogether familiar concept with a ready-made content:

"The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man?" (John 12:34).

Nevertheless, if there ever was a 'Son of man' secret as there was indubitably a 'Messianic secret,' it is plain that this is the Lord's self-identification, He is not pointing to another figure. Jesus' disciples were accused of profaning the Sabbath:

“Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. . .Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:23-28).

The relevancy of the Lord's defense is not apparent, if the Son of man is understood to be some other party.

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LogoCommon Sense

Some Christian Bible-readers understand the phrase 'Son of Man' as a reference specifically to Jesus' humanity, the flesh He took on in the incarnation. After all, it is plain common sense, looking at the simple and literal meanings of words, to take 'Son of Man' to mean 'man.' What else could the son of a man be but a man himself? By the way, has anyone noticed that, by the same logic as 'Son of Man' means 'man,' 'Son of God' must mean 'God?' However, sometimes common sense can get you into trouble, as with this verse,



  • “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?
  • “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.”
  • (John 3:12-13).




Logo

The "Son of Man" who was in heaven before cannot be the 'flesh' or 'humanity' of Jesus of Nazareth, which was never in heaven prior to the birth of a baby boy in a manger. Although Christian exegetes often perceive a certain symmetry in assigning the titles 'Son of Man' and 'Son of God' to Jesus' human and divine natures respectively, the Bible does not respect any such neat and tidy arrangement nor does it obey any such rule consistently. The two natures do not have their own proper names.

Having issued this very necessary disclaimer, however, there is after all something to the idea. The 'sons of the prophets' are themselves prophets, members of the college or fraternity: “Now a certain man of the sons of the prophets said to his neighbor by the word of the LORD, 'Strike me, please.'” (1 Kings 20:35). "Simply, the sons of the prophets were prophets. . .Messiah's being the Son of Man means, therefore, that He is in the class of humanity; He is human. . .As He is God, so is He man. Given the significance of the title, it is not surprising that it was our Lord's favorite self-designation, seeing that He was not ashamed to call us His brethren (Hebrews 2:11)." (Michael P. V. Barrett, Kindle location 3342). Jesus speaks of peaceful persons as 'sons of peace:' “And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on it; if not, it will return to you.” (Luke 10:6). Those illuminated are 'sons of light:' “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” (John 12:36). Those who partake in a certain nature or belong to a certain order or rank are 'sons of' that character; by this logic, 'Son of God' refers to Jesus' divine nature, 'Son of man' to His humanity.

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Rabbi Akiba

Rabbi Akiba, oft quoted in the Talmud, is a Jewish rabbi who acclaimed Simon bar Kochba as the Messiah in the second century A.D. This led to a certain amount of awkwardness with the Jewish Christians, who were not about to acknowledge this upstart's claims, and so Simon, offended, slaughtered the Jewish Christians when he came across them. Therefore, because Rabbi Akiba cannot be suspected of 'softness' on Christianity, his testimony that Daniel's Son of Man is the Messiah bears a certain weight:



  • “One passage says: His throne was fiery flames; and another Passage says: Till thrones were places, and One that was ancient of days did sit! — There is no contradiction: one [throne] for Him, and one for David; this is the view of R. Akiba. Said R. Jose the Galilean to him: Akiba, how long wilt thou treat the Divine Presence as profane! Rather, [it must mean], one for justice and one for grace.”
  • (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Haggigah, 14a, Tractate Sanhedrin 38b).



Logo Other Rabbinic interpreters have also perceived Daniel's 'Son of man' as the Messiah, for instance,

"R. Alexandri said: R. Joshua opposed two verses: it is written, And behold, one like the son of man came with the clouds of heaven whilst [elsewhere] it is written, [behold, thy king cometh unto thee … ] lowly, and riding upon an ass! — if they are meritorious, [he will come] with the clouds of heaven; if not, lowly and riding upon an ass." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 98a).
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The Other

The Talmud knows of a legal authority referenced not by name,— though he has a name, his name is Elisha ben Abuyah,—but by the sobriquet 'the other,' aher, because, while a reputable legal scholar, he was a heretic of no mean stature. What was the heresy? He has been variously accused of atheism, gnosticism, and. . .[gasp, hack]. . .Christianity. Aher perceived that there were two powers in heaven:



  • “Aher mutilated the shoots. Of him Scripture says: Suffer not thy mouth to bring thy flesh into guilt. What does it refer to? — He saw that permission was granted to Metatron to sit and write down the merits of Israel. Said he: It is taught as a tradition that on high there is no sitting and no emulation, and no back, and no weariness. Perhaps, — God forfend! — there are two divinities! [Thereupon] they led Metatron forth, and punished him with sixty fiery lashes, saying to him: Why didst thou not rise before him when thou didst see him? Permission was [then] given to him to strike out the merits of Aher. A Bath Kol went forth and said: Return, ye backsliding children — except Aher. [Thereupon] he said: Since I have been driven forth from yonder world, let me go forth and enjoy this world. So Aher went forth into evil courses. He went forth, found a harlot and demanded her. She said to him: Art thou not Elisha b. Abuyah? [But] when he tore a radish out of its bed on the Sabbath and gave it to her, she said: It is another [Aher].”
  • (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Haggigah, 15a.)



Logo Two deities, God forbid, is polytheism, but two 'powers' are what is implied in Daniel's vision. Some people, then and now, can't tell the difference: "Israel's oldest religion was not monotheistic. It is not possible to say how it survived, but the fact that it can be seen in both Daniel and Philo, which are dateable texts, shows that it did not disappear." (Margaret Barker, The Great Angel, p. 162). So Daniel is not monotheistic? This is not possible; the Holy Spirit is not of two minds as to basic theology. To this modern author, any talk of aspects or persons is indistinguishable from polytheism. Since polytheism is illegal, the Ancient of Days and the Son must be the same God. Still, the 'Son of Man' is not the same as the Ancient of Days: He approaches near to Him, and He receives the gift of the Kingdom. If a gift, then a giver, and a recipient; count 'em, two. Here is a relationship with two terms. And yet He cannot be a foreign entity, or the monarchy is divided. Rather, "But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God." (1 Corinthians 1:24).

One strategy which might seem a way out of the dilemma,— that is, to demote the 'Son of Man' to a lesser rank of divinity, in order to avoid any perception of rivalry with His Father,— is in reality a fatal trap. Far from preserving monotheism, it leaves those who resort to it casting about to find some point of differentiation between themselves and the pagan polytheists, because every pagan pantheon is hierarchically ranked, just as strongly as is that of the Jehovah's Witnesses, who resort to this avenue of escape. Pagan pantheons are never anarchic nor even democratic; they are always ranked and graded; therefore fabricating a ranked pantheon out of the monotheistic raw materials of the Bible enlists the fabricator in the ranks of the heathen,— that's just the same as what the polytheists believe. As the history of the Arian controversy would prove, those who sought refuge from incipient polytheism by embracing hierarchies in the skies had not found an escape route, but had only trapped themselves in a labyrinth from which there was no escape.

When the orthodox accused the Arians of polytheism, this was not mere polemics; differentiating the Arian pantheon from contemporary pagan pantheons is an exercise in finding a distinction where there is no difference. The pagans also confessed one supreme god. . .and lots and lots of lesser gods. When is there not a head honcho presiding over the pantheon?— Zeus, Jupiter, et al. Polytheism cannot be the remedy for polytheism. Fleeing polytheism by demoting Jesus, they end as polytheists themselves, openly confessing 'many gods.' Rather they should study this vision and conclude that there are two powers, attributes, characters. . .persons, you might say,— of the one God. This is Holy writ; it can't be tossed aside. If the Rabbis cannot accept it, they should find another line of work.

Why two, and not three? When Justin Martyr debated the non-Messianic Jew Trypho, the topic under examination was the status of Jesus the Son, not the Holy Spirit. The Jews do not deny the Holy Spirit. So the topic, it may be, never came up in Aher's disputations with his former co-religionists.

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Book of Enoch

The 'Book of Enoch' is not accepted as scripture by any Christian Church save, reportedly, the Ethiopian Church, which has a compendious and fluid conception of the canon of scripture. Like the rest of the apocryphal literature, this book is a mixture of good things and bad things. The author shares the Christian identification of Daniel's 'Son of Man' with the Messiah, the anointed King of Israel:

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  • “And there I saw one who had a ‘Head of Days’ and his head was white like wool. And with him there was another whose face had the appearance of a man and his face was full of grace like one of the Holy Angels.
  • “And I asked one of the Holy Angels, who went with me and showed me all the secrets, about that Son of Man, who he was, and from where he was, and why he went with the Head of Days.
  • “And he answered me, and said to me:
    'This is the Son of Man who has righteousness and with whom righteousness dwells. He will reveal all the treasures of that which is secret, for the Lord of Spirits has chosen him, and through uprightness his lot has surpassed all others, in front of the Lord of Spirits, forever.
  • “And this Son of Man, who you have seen, will rouse the kings and the powerful from their resting places, and the strong from their thrones, and will loose the reins of the strong, and will break the teeth of the sinners.
  • “And he will cast down the kings from their thrones, and from their kingdoms, for they do not exalt him, and do not praise him, and do not humbly acknowledge from where their kingdom was given to them.”
  • (Book of Enoch, Chapter 46:1-5, pp. 64-65)


  • “And at that hour that Son of Man was named, in the presence of the Lord of Spirits, and his name brought to the Head of Days.
  • “Even before the Sun and the constellations were created, before the Stars of Heaven were made, his name was named in front of the Lord of Spirits.
  • “He will be a staff to the righteous and the Holy, so that they may lean on him and not fall, and he will be the Light of the Nations, and he will be the hope of those who grieve in their hearts.
  • (Book of Enoch, Chapter 48:2-4)


  • “And he sat on the Throne of His Glory and the whole judgment was
    given to the Son of Man and he will cause the sinners to pass away and be
    destroyed from the face of the Earth.”
  • (Book of Enoch, Chapter 69:27).



LogoBeloved Son

Jesus is not only the Son of Man, He is also the Son of God. Both of these phrases find meanings clustered around a high end and a low end. Just as 'Son of Man' may mean no more than 'man,' as when God addresses Ezekiel by that designation, so too 'Son of God' can have a very weak sense, meaning no more than 'created being:' ". . .for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising." (Acts 17:28-29). In the same vein, just as 'Son of Man' need not convey only a weak and common meaning but can refer to a figure so exalted as to discomfit the rabbis, so also 'Son of God,' accompanied by a suggestion of exclusivity, can form the basis for a charge of blasphemy: "Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God." (John 5:18).

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The First-Born

Only-Begotten

His Own Son

Declare the Decree

The Beloved

I am

Peter's Confession

Apostles' Confession

The First-born

My Father

Out of Egypt

The Vineyard

Messianic Secret

No Consort

Overshadow




LogoPsalm 80

Psalm 80 is another productive source for the 'Son of Man' designation, intertwining with the 'Sit at My right hand' complex of Psalm 110:

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  • “Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand, upon the son of man whom You made strong for Yourself.
  • “Then we will not turn back from You; revive us, and we will call upon Your name.”
  • (Psalm 80:17-18).



LogoPsalm 8

One among many psalms that the New Testament authors take in a Messianic sense is Psalm 8, a hymn to God as creator. At first, the modern reader reacts with perplexity, because unlike those psalms that speak plainly about a future king who will sit on David's throne, there is nothing in this psalm that clearly indicates a future time frame:



  • “Psalm 8
    To the Chief Musician. On the instrument of Gath. A Psalm of David.
  • “O Lord, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth, Who have set Your glory above the heavens!
  • “Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength, because of Your enemies, that You may silence the enemy and the avenger.
  • “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
  • “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?
  • “For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor.
  • “You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet,
  • “All sheep and oxen— Even the beasts of the field,
  • “The birds of the air, and the fish of the sea that pass through the paths of the seas.
  • “O Lord, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth!”


  • (Psalm 8).




LogoThere is no obvious clue in the language of the psalm that projects it into the Messianic Age, and yet the New Testament authors plainly do so perceive it. The letter to Hebrews cites it:

“For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels. But one testified in a certain place, saying: 'What is man that You are mindful of him, Or the son of man that You take care of him? You have made him a little lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor, and set him over the works of Your hands. You have put all things in subjection under his feet.' For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.” (Hebrews 2:5-9).

Paul also applies this psalm to the Messiah,

“For 'He has put all things under His feet.' But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:27-28).

The apostolic generation took a very high view of scripture,— they thought scripture was altogether and entirely true,— and so when they encounter a verse which does not yet seem to be entirely true, they apply it to the future, to the world to come, the Messianic era. For example, David is promised eternal life in Psalm 16: “For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:10-11). However, as Peter pointed out on the day of Pentecost, David had died, he could even point out his tomb: “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.” (Acts 2:29). And yet the promise still must hold true, only not to that David, but to the greater David.

Likewise, Adam was placed in the Garden to hold dominion over nature; but he failed and the situation deteriorated. When we look about us, do we see all things laying supine under our feet? Is the realm of nature in subjection to man? No, even to this very day, we turn on the TV and watch people running full tilt away from tsunamis, we see crops blasted by drought, we see villages laid low by deadly diseases; nature is not under our feet. Not now, and not to us; we have fallen, and that world collapsed; its restoration is not yet complete. But the promise was never negated. So under whose feet will nature lay peacefully in repose? Under His feet, the second Adam: the Son of Man.

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