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"Son of Man"
NT Reading: Jn.12:20-
The expression "son of man" is used nearly 200 times in the Bible. In the OT it appears a little in excess of 100 times and refers nearly always to an ordinary human being. Most of the time there is not the slightest hint that anything other than created humanity is in view. And so we read in the Book of Numbers, for example:
Num.23:19 "God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind."
Again and again (more than 90 times in fact) the expression appears in the Book of Ezekiel where God addresses Ezekiel himself as "son of man".
Daniel however used the expression in a very different setting in the words of our text, Dan.7:13. In that particular text the title is most definitely messianic. The ‘son of man’ in Dan.7:13 did not and could not refer to any man but instead it referred to a very special, exalted and favoured person indeed: it spoke of God’s coming Messiah.
Yet, because of the way in which this description was so often used to refer to mere men in their humanity, this particular title while undeniably messianic remained somewhat ambiguous and did not stir up great passion and emotion – it sounded so somehow ordinary. And that may well be the reason why Jesus chose to refer to himself in this particular way more than any other. It was Jesus favourite way of describing himself.
When we turn to the NT this description "son of man" appears a little over 80 times. It is used by all four of the gospel writers where all but four of the total number of NT references are to be found. What is more it is uniquely Jesus who uses it. (The only exception is when a crowd asked Jesus what he meant when he spoke about "the son of man".) It would seem that most folk at the time did not associate the term "son of man" with the Messiah about whom they had already some powerful but ill-
There are a number of ways in which we can be sure that when Jesus spoke about the son of man he was, in fact, referring to himself.
Comparing parallel accounts:
Lk.6:22 "Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!"
In Matthew’s more familiar version we find:
Mt.5:12 "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account."
Matthew’s "on my account" is the equivalent to Luke’s "on account of the Son of Man." Jesus is therefore referring to himself as the Son of Man.
When Judas came to betray Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus spoke to him with a question:
Lk.22:48 "Jesus said to him, "Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?""
Do you remember the occasion one Sabbath when Jesus healed a man who had been born blind? The formerly blind man was given a hard time by the Pharisees but Jesus found him and spoke with him. Again Jesus asked a question:
We are left in no doubt that Jesus saw himself as the son of man he spoke about.
How did Jesus use the title?
The simple answer as to how Jesus used this title "Son of Man" is to say: very widely indeed.
When we consider the many occasions in which Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man we discover that he employed it in ways that described every aspect of his being and his ministry.
Our reaction to the words "son of man" is probably to focus mainly, if not exclusively, upon the humanity of our Saviour. Now, as we reminded ourselves last week, Jesus was and is a real man and that is a fact that we must tenaciously hold on to. And yet when we look at how Jesus used the title we quickly discover that, while he used it describe the various stages of his earthly ministry, he also used it to describe his status, a status that was far more exalted than that of a mere man:
He used it to refer, for want of a better expression, to the superhuman or heavenly side of his being. He was the One who came from heaven and accordingly possessed an extraordinarily high status:
Jn.3:13 "No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man."
Jn.6:62 "Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?"
According to Jesus, the Son of Man had a kingdom and his own angels whom he could send as he wished:
Mt.13:41 "The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-
Having such a high status implies the possession of great authority and even of divine prerogative. Jesus did not hesitate to declare that the Son of Man had both in abundance:
He declared he had the authority to forgive sins something his hearers knew belonged to God alone:
The Law which the Lord God had revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai provided God’s people with instructions concerning how to keep the Sabbath Day special. But Jesus had no qualms about announcing that he was the One who had the authority to regulate the Sabbath! When the Pharisees accused his disciples for not keeping the Sabbath in the way they thought it ought to have been kept, Jesus not only defended his disciple’s but went on to declare:
Mt.12:8 "For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath."
He didn’t mean by this that somehow men in general could decide what to do with God’s special day he was claiming personal and individual responsibility for himself alone to do this. He would continue to behave on the Sabbath Day in ways that offended his opponents, the Pharisees, as he performed many acts of miraculous healing on that very day.
A further indication of just how exalted Jesus considered the Son of Man to be is discerned from what he had to say about blasphemy. While affirming that it was possible for someone who spoke against him to be pardoned he did nevertheless do so by comparing such an act to "blasphemy against the Spirit":
Another of his outrageous claims was that the eternal destiny of men turned upon the way they related to the Son of Man. How could he say such things if he were no more than a mere man? His enemies and even some of those who had been sympathetic towards him for a time found such things impossible to accept. What did he say?
Jn.6:53 "Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you."
He meant – No Jesus, no life! Have you understood that? Have you acted upon that?
Linked to this idea of the eternal destiny of men being determined by how they relate to him Jesus also made it clear that end-
The astonishing thing is that this exalted Son of Man would willingly submit himself to an extended period of humiliation but that is precisely what we find.
The vast majority of Jesus’ statements concerning his identity as the Son of Man can be divided up into three somewhat overlapping categories:
Jesus came as the Son of Man in order:
To suffer and die (it is impossible and unnecessary to try to separate the notion of suffering from the ensuing victory of the resurrection)
These aspects were accomplished with his first advent. Upon his return another aspect of his ministry will shine forth brightly:
Let’s take a few moments to see how Jesus spoke about these matters. As we do so let us keep in mind that all that Jesus had to say about his humiliation, suffering and glory must be understood in the light of his claims to divine origin and honour.
The Son of Man’s Life of Service
Jesus described the purpose of his coming into the world in terms of service:
Mt.20:28 "the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
He came to give eternal life to others:
Jn.6:27 "Do not labour for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you."
And in coming to do poor sinners good he did not live a comfortable, sheltered life but stooped very low to serve us. He had no permanent home and was exposed to misunderstanding and insults but he kept on going because "the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." (Lk.19:10)
This exalted One could simply say with no fear of contradiction:
Lk.9:58 "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."
He could also say that he was unjustly insulted:
Lk.7:34 "The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’"
The Life of Service culminates in Suffering and Death
As his ministry developed Jesus progressively prepared his disciples for what lay ahead. He taught them with ever increasing clarity what the future held in store for him.
Matthew, Mark and Luke all alike emphasise the fact that Jesus knew what awaited him and all alike record that as he taught his disciples he emphasised that he would suffer as the Son of Man:
Mt.26:2 "You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified."
And so we could continue but this is sufficient to make it clear that Jesus deliberately described his sufferings and subsequent resurrection as the function and purpose of the Son of Man.
The Son of Man will come again in glory
The One who came from a position of glory with the Father to suffer and die has returned to the Father where he now once again enjoys the glory he had previously known. A true and a just recompense for such a wonderful!
Yet Jesus has yet more to say about the Son of Man and his glory!
The world has not seen the last of the Son of Man and the next time he comes it will not be in humility and service but in honour and glory and it will be such a coming that none can miss it:
Mt.24:27 "For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man."
Mt.25:31 ""When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne."
Mt.26:64 "Jesus said... ‘from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’"
Mt.19:28 ""Truly, I say to you, in the new world... the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne,"
We could go on for there are many places where Jesus speaks of the glory of the Son of Man but we have seen enough already.
But what are we to make of all this teaching concerning Jesus as the Son of Man?
Well we are meant to be amazed! We are meant to marvel and worship the One who is so honoured stooping so low to save people like us. We are to rejoice that he won’t forever be scorned but will openly receive the honour and glory that is rightfully his.
In the light of all of this we must realise too that Jesus, the Son of Man, is worthy of our trust and deserves our open acknowledgement. Is this what you are giving him?
Mk.8:38 "For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."