“Son of Man” is the title Jesus usually applied to himself. It is one of the most often used names for Jesus in the Gospels. It is also the least understood. The following reading offers a brief explanation. (From Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus, pages 47-49, by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg)
One of the most enigmatic phrases that ever came from Jesus’ lips is his unique name for himself, the “Son of Man.” Over eighty times in the Gospels, Jesus uses this phrase in the third-person to refer to himself. What does he mean?
Many Christians have assumed that Jesus is showing great humility by using this phrase. Though divine, Jesus relates to our human condition. Indeed, “son of man” in both Hebrew and Aramaic can be used in an idiomatic way to refer to a human being in general. When associated with Jesus, the phrase could also have pointed to the fact that he is the true fulfillment of what a human being was supposed to be.
Jesus sometimes uses “Son of Man” in an ordinary way. But more often he uses it in a very special sense, making bold claims about his messianic mission. To catch what he is saying, we need to understand how the Jewish people of Jesus’ time interpreted a key messianic prophecy from the book of Daniel about an enigmatic figure called the “Son of Man.” One night Daniel had a vivid dream in which he saw a great, heavenly court in session. Suddenly, he saw “one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven.” Immediately this exalted figure approached the Ancient of Days and was “given authority, glory and sovereign power.” Daniel goes on to say that “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).
In the first century, this passage was universally understood as a reference to the coming Messiah. The book of Daniel predicted the rise of great kingdoms, which would eventually fall to the authority of one supreme king, a king who would rule forever. The pinnacle of Daniel’s prophecy was this scene in which a human-like figure enters God’s throne room, is crowned, and then sits down on the throne to reign.
Jesus also speaks of himself as the Son of Man who will come in glory on the clouds, a clear reference to this passage from Daniel. His audience would know exactly what he is saying…
Once we begin to hear Jesus’ words as though we are his contemporaries, steeped in an understanding of the Scriptures and the cultural context in which they were spoken, the power of his claims becomes both obvious and striking. The enigmatic phrase “Son of Man” becomes a multifaceted summary of Christ’s entire redemptive mission, speaking of his humanity, his coming glory, and his role as Judge and Savior of all the earth. No wonder so many of his listeners responded with either awe or anger at his words!
Luke 19:10 — (Jesus said), “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Matthew 9:6 — (Jesus said), “I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.”
Matthew 16:13-16 — When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples,“Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Matthew 26:63-66 — Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” “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.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” “He is worthy of death,” they answered.
Luke 12:40 — (Jesus said), “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
Our hearts are cold; Lord Jesus, warm them with your selfless love.