During His earthly sojourn, our Lord Jesus Christ often referred to Himself as the “Son of man”. Our Saviour used this particular self-designation in connection with His earthly mission to “give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20: 28).
The term “Son of man” occurs many times in the Gospels – Matthew (30); Mark (15); Luke (25) and John (12), and twice in the Book of Revelation.
Let us consider some of the contexts of this term, which is mentioned almost 200 times in the Bible:
1) As a reference to Jesus’ suffering, sacrificial death, resurrection, second coming and future glory
“Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom” (Matt. 16: 28).
“And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead” (Matt. 17: 9).
“Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20: 28).
“Saying, The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day” (Lk. 9: 22).
“For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Lk. 19: 10).
“And He saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man” (Jn. 1: 51).
“And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified” (Jn. 12: 23).
2) To affirm Christ’s present office as our Intercessor before God
Besides the Gospels and the Book of Revelation, the term occurs only once in Acts – in Stephen’s speech just before he was martyred: “And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7: 56): Jesus is often portrayed as sitting on the right hand of God interceding for us (Rom. 8: 34; Col. 3: 1; Heb. 12: 2; I Pet. 3: 22).
3) As a reference to Ezekiel and his prophetic mission
In the book of Ezekiel, the title, “Son of man” appears more than 90 times. Consider the following references: “And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee” (2: 1); “Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, eat that thou findest; eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel” (3: 1); “Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, all my words that I shall speak unto thee receive in thine heart, and hear with thine ears. 11 And go, get thee to them of the captivity, unto the children of thy people, and speak unto them, and tell them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear” (3: 10-11).
“It expresses the contrast between what Ezekiel is in himself and what God will make out of him, and to make his mission appear to him not as his own, but as the work of God, and thus to lift him up, whenever the flesh threatens to faint and fail. Thus there was one before Jesus of Nazareth who bore the title, at least in certain moments of his life” (International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia).
4) To highlight the imminent return of Jesus, the Messiah of God
The title is also found in Daniel 7: 13-14 – “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. 14 And there was given him 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”.
In the last day, Christ will return “with the clouds of heaven” in the fullness of His glory to establish “an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed”.
By identifying Himself with the “Son of man,” whose “dominion is an everlasting dominion” and whose “kingdom … shall not be destroyed,” Jesus proclaimed His divine Messiahship and the certainty that, “in spite of the seeming victory of His enemies and the seeming helplessness of His followers, He would ultimately triumph. The Son of man Who humbled Himself to be truly man is at the same time the eternal Victor” (Matt. 24: 30) – New Bible Dictionary.
On another occasion, when the Lord came to Daniel to comfort him, He addressed the prophet as “son of man”: “So he came near where I stood: and when he came, I was afraid, and fell upon my face: but He said unto me, Understand, O son of man: for at the time of the end shall be the vision” (Dan. 8: 17). The Lord God knew what was in the heart of His faithful servant. As the divine spokesman, the prophet faced many challenges and was often discouraged. At the appropriate time, the Lord came to encourage the prophet to stay true to his calling. “It is possible that the Lord used this expression to cheer and encourage His trembling prophet with firm assurances of what was to occur in future times” (Albert Barnes).
(… to be continued)