When it came to names for himself, there’s one that Jesus preferred above all, Son of Man. Every time you see this expression in the Gospels, it is Jesus himself speaking. It was important to him, so it must therefore be important for us to find out why it was so important to him.
Why he chose this name has occupied the brains of Bible scholars for centuries but, let’s first consider the reactions of those who he moved among in Judea and the Galilee. After all, the Gospels are telling us the words that Jesus used to those who he met, whether simple fishermen, Pharisees or the Chief Priest. It’s them he is speaking to, not stuffy old academics and theologians, living hundreds of years later, in strange lands over the sea. So, you’re a first century Jew and a miracle working rabbi is calling himself Son of Man. How would you react to this? What would it have meant to you?
In the Hebrew Scriptures, this expression appears in three places. Firstly, mainly in the Psalms, there is a poetic use that contrasts us lowly men with the majesty and greatness of God Himself.
“O LORD, what is man that you care for him, the son of man that you think of him?” Psalm 144:3
Secondly, it’s a personal term of endearment used by God to the prophet Ezekiel, throughout the Book of his name.
“He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” (Ezekiel 2:1)
Thirdly, and most significantly, it’s a term used in the Book of Daniel, one of the few verses written in the Aramaic language rather than the Hebrew of the rest of the Bible. The Aramaic term is bar anash.
“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.” (Daniel 7:13-14)
This passage identifies a majestic supernatural being, coming in the clouds and receiving authority from God, the Ancient of Days and then, incredibly, describes him like a “son of man”. In other words, this apparently divine person appears to be just like you and me, a human being, a “son of man”. A man, yet more than a man.
This single passage has been said to be the clearest announcement of the Redeemer ever developed by ancient Judaism. Then what better scripture to identify with if you are that very Redeemer!
So that is what Jesus did.
Jesus calls himself Son of Man around fifty times, allowing for duplications in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Of those utterances, around 20% emphasise his humanity, his identification with the human race, in the sense that we are all “sons of men”. Of course the issue that plagued Church Fathers concerning the humanity of Jesus was irrelevant to the people who met with him, spoke to him and ate with him, in First Century Judea and Galilee. He didn’t need to remind them of his humanity, but, of his divinity, that was a different matter. And that is why 80% of the times Jesus called himself Son of Man it was in a supernatural sense, either describing his role as redeemer …
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10)
… or in his future role, when he returns to Earth.
“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory”. (Matthew 24:30)
Next week, we will look at another title that he called himself.
(This is an abridged extract from Steve’s book Jesus Man of Many Names)