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Why Is Jesus Called the 'Son of Man?'

By Michael Lane, Executive Director, Delve Christian Ministries

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It is not common to hear Jesus referred to as the Son of Man in Christian churches today, however this usage in the Bible is frequent. In the New Testament, the phrase is used eighty-three times. Most often, it is used by Jesus to refer to Himself in the third person and seems to have been his favorite title for himself. Among the many examples are Mark 2:28 ("So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.") and John 12:23 ("The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.")

To understand why Jesus used this term and what it would have meant to the Jews of that time, we need to examine its usage in the Old Testament. The term is used sparingly in Numbers, Job, Isaiah and Psalms and is used to refer to someone who is mortal (i.e son of mankind and not a spiritual being). The term is used ninety-four times in Ezekiel and here too, the term is used to distinguish between the the human author and the divine being who is providing the revelation to him. None of these usages are particularly significant.

In the Book of Daniel, however, we find a very different usage in a passage where Daniel is describing a vision of the end times. Here, the term refers to the One who will come during the final days - the apocalyptic Messiah.

"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


In several instances, Jesus uses similar language to Daniel and his use of this term is clearly meant to evoke the imagery in Daniel's apocalyptic vision. Jesus said, "At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory" (Luke 21:27) and "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)

This passage in Daniel and its meaning would have been very well known to the Jews of Jesus' day and it would have been clear to them what Jesus meant. By using this term, Jesus was making a statement that he was the Messiah. It was His use of this term among other things that the Pharisees would have found blasphemous and certainly contributed to his eventual arrest and crucifixion.

 

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