A gracEmail subscriber from New Hampshire asks the meaning of Jesus’ frequent description of himself as the Son of Man.
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This expression, which is Jesus’ favorite self-designation in Matthew and Luke, sparkles with a variety of possible meanings. Throughout the Bible, “son of man” sometimes means “human being” — one who descends from mortal flesh (Num. 23:19; Ps. 8:4). God addresses the prophet Ezekiel this way more than 90 times. Indeed Jesus’ humanity is an important New Testament theme, especially in Luke and in Hebrews, but long before Jesus the expression “Son of Man” had taken on special spiritual significance regarding a very particular “human being.”
For that insight we look to the End-Time vision recorded in Daniel 7:9-28, where the exiled prophet viewed the very throne room of God himself — the Ancient of Days (v. 9-10). Daniel describes God’s splendor in language which John later borrows to portray the Risen Christ (Rev. 1:13-17). From God’s throne, surrounded by millions of attendants, flows a river of fire (Dan. 7:10). Just as the Jordan River culminates in the Dead Sea, so this fiery river apparently flows eventually into a Lake of Fire, which is the Second Death (Rev. 20:14-15). As Daniel watches, court commences and Judgment begins.
Suddenly another person enters the courtroom — “one like a Son of Man” — and is led to God himself. God gives him dominion, glory and an everlasting kingdom (Dan. 7:13-14). Later in the vision, God issues judgment in favor of “the saints of the Highest One,” God’s own people, who are represented by the glorified Son of Man (v. 21-22, 26-27).
Throughout his ministry, Jesus identifies himself with this “Son of Man,” this messianic, End-Time figure, who brings salvation to God’s people in his own journey to glory. It is a hidden claim in a sense, not obvious in its meaning, but Jesus’ adversaries understood it well enough to be horrified and outraged when he used it (Matt. 26:63-68). This scenario is not unfolding as they had ever expected!