The Messiah Would Be the Son of Man

Jesus often called himself “the Son of Man.” But what did that mean?

by Jews for Jesus | January 01 2018

Reference: Daniel 7:13–14
Fulfillment: Matthew 9:6, Matthew 12:8, Matthew 13:41, Matthew 16:13, Matthew 16:27, Mark 8:31, Luke 6:22, Luke 9:22, John 1:51, John 3:13–14, Acts 7:56 and many others

“Son of Man” is the way Jesus referred to himself numerous times in the gospels. Only three times elsewhere in the New Testament do others refer to him that way as well (Acts 7:56; Revelation 1:13; 14:14).

While “Son of Man” may sound like it emphasizes Jesus’ humanity, it is actually one that speaks about his deity and his exalted nature. It derives from Daniel 7:13–14, where Daniel receives a vision at night. On the “clouds of heaven” he sees “one like a son of man,” who appears before God—the “Ancient of Days.” To him God gives an everlasting kingdom in which all the nations of the earth serve him.

Jesus clearly references Daniel 7 when he responds to the high priest: “But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64). In verse 65, the high priest responds, “He has uttered blasphemy.” He clearly understood the divine overtones of the title “Son of Man.”

But he uses this title in many other contexts, and it became one of the main ways he referred to himself. Here are some samples::

But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins—he then said to the paralytic—Rise, pick up your bed and go home.
Matthew 9:6

For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.
Matthew 12:8

The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers.
Matthew 13:41

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
Matthew 16:13

For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.
Matthew 16:27

He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.
Mark 8:31

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!
Luke 6:22

The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
Luke 9:22

He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
John 1:51

No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.
John 3:13–14

He said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Acts 7:56

Why did Jesus call himself the Son of Man rather than just saying he was the exalted, divine Messiah? Throughout his ministry, he was always wary that people would misconstrue the title “Messiah” and his miraculous deeds. For that reason, he often instructed people he healed, for example, not to tell who had healed them. Too many people would have wanted Jesus to present himself as a powerful king who would destroy Israel’s enemy, Rome. But his mission at his first coming was to suffer and die as an atoning sacrifice. To forestall the wrong kind of messianic fervor, he used a less direct title, one which nevertheless indicated that (1) he would indeed receive kingship over the earth some day, and (2) he was more than just another human being, but an exalted, divine figure.