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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary

Son of Man

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Of all the titles commonly used of Jesus in the New Testament, ‘Son of man’ was the one most used by Jesus himself and least used by others. It hardly occurs at all outside the Gospels (Acts 7:56; Revelation 1:13; Revelation 14:14), and inside the Gospels is used almost solely by Jesus. By using this unusual title for himself, Jesus made people think carefully about who he was and what his mission involved (John 12:34; John 13:31-32).

A heavenly figure

The title ‘son of man’ comes from a vision recorded in the Old Testament book of Daniel. In this vision a person like a son of man came into the heavenly presence of God and received from him a universal and everlasting kingdom (Daniel 7:13-14). The idea of the son of man was tied up with that of the kingdom of God, and this provided the background to Jesus’ reference to himself as the Son of man.

With the coming of Jesus, the kingdom of God came visibly into the world. The world is under the power of Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4; 1 John 5:19), but Jesus delivered diseased and demonized people, showing that the rule and authority of God’s kingdom can release people from Satan’s power (Matthew 4:23-24; Matthew 12:28; Luke 10:9; Luke 10:17-18; Luke 17:20-21; see KINGDOM OF GOD). God’s kingdom will reach its fullest expression when Jesus returns at the end of the age to punish evil, remove Satan and reign in righteousness (Daniel 7:13-14; Matthew 13:41-43; Matthew 24:30-31; Mark 8:38).

The vision in Daniel shows, however, that the Son of man shares the kingdom with his people (Daniel 7:14; Daniel 7:27). Jesus therefore promised those who followed him that they would share with him in the final triumph of his kingdom (Matthew 19:28; Matthew 25:31-34; cf. 2 Timothy 2:11-12; Revelation 3:12; Revelation 3:21; Revelation 20:4).

An earthly figure

In addition to this particular usage, the expression ‘son of man’ could be used in ordinary speech to apply to any man. It could be simply a poetic way of saying ‘a person’, and at times Jesus may have used it simply to mean ‘I’ or ‘me’ (Numbers 23:19; Psalms 8:4; Ezekiel 2:1; Ezekiel 2:3; Ezekiel 2:8; Matthew 11:19).

The twofold meaning of ‘son of man’ was especially appropriate as a title for Jesus. It pointed to his deity (he was the heavenly Son of God; John 3:13; John 6:62) and to his humanity (he was a man, a member of the human race; Matthew 8:20). The Son of man was the embodiment of God. In his unique person he carried the authority of God into the world (Mark 2:10; Mark 2:28; cf. John 5:27; see JESUS CHRIST; SON OF GOD).

Jesus’ use of ‘Son of man’ in relation to the kingdom of God likewise combined heavenly and earthly aspects. The heavenly Son of man was in fact an earthly figure born in the royal line of David and having claim to the messianic throne. Because of the Jews’ selfish nationalistic ideas of the Messiah and his kingdom, Jesus rarely spoke of himself specifically as the Messiah (see MESSIAH). By using the title ‘Son of man’, he was claiming to be the Messiah without actually using the title ‘Messiah’. He knew the title ‘Son of man’ could be puzzling, but he wanted people to think about it. He wanted them to consider the evidence of his life and work, and discover for themselves the true identity of this one who called himself the Son of man (Matthew 16:13-16; John 9:35-36; John 12:34).

When the Jewish leaders finally understood Jesus’ usage of the title (namely, that he claimed to be both the Davidic Messiah and the supernatural heavenly Messiah of Daniel 7:13-14), they accused him of blasphemy and had him crucified (Mark 14:61-64). This did not take Jesus by surprise, for he knew that the heavenly Son of man had also to become the suffering servant. He had to suffer and die before he could receive the kingdom (Mark 8:31; Mark 9:12; Mark 10:45; John 3:13-14; John 8:28; see SERVANT OF THE LORD).

If, however, the crucified Son of man was to receive an eternal kingdom, his death had to be followed by resurrection (Mark 9:31; Mark 10:33-34). Therefore God, in a triumphant declaration of the perfection of all that Jesus had done through his obedient life and sacrificial death, raised him up and gave him glory (1 Peter 1:21). The full revelation of that glory will take place when the Son of man returns in the triumph of his kingdom (Mark 8:38; Mark 13:26; Mark 14:62).


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Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Son of Man'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/bbd/s/son-of-man.html. 2004.

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