Monday, July 4, 2011

Jesus as the "Son of Man"

Fresco of Christ in Majesty (15th century )
Jesus' favorate self-designation wasn't "Son of God" or "Messiah"; rather, it was "Son of Man." Sometimes he used it when talking about his present earthly ministry, speaking of his authority over sin, sickness, or even nature (Wright, Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament, 150; citing Mark 2:10, 28). Sometimes he used it when speaking of suffering, rejection, dying, and rising again, all of which occur after the disciples had  begun to recognize that he’s the Messiah (Wright, Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament, 150; citing Mark 8:31; 9:31; Luke 9:44). But even more often, he used it when talking about his eschatological glory (Wright, 150; citing Mark 14:62; Matt 13:41-42; 19:28).

The Old Testament generally used "son of man" as a poetic expression for "man," "human," or "human being," often with emphasis on human weakness and mortality (Pss 8:4; 80:17; Isa 51:12; and 93x as a self-reference in Ezekiel). But in one place, it takes on the nature of a title (Daniel 7). There the "Son of Man" comes against the beastly kingdoms of this earth to strip them of their authority and crush them.

There we see a potential double point of reference for “Son of Man.” On the one hand, he could represent the saints, that is, all of God’s people throughout history (Dan 7:14 // Dan 7:18). He might do that as their angelic agent (cf. Dan 10:13, 20-21) or perhaps as a corporate representative of them all, which would go well with Jesus’ identification of himself with Israel.

On the other hand, the "Son of Man" might be associated with God himself (v. 13). He's given divine power and authority (v. 14). Indeed some Greek versions even identify the Son of Man with the Ancient of Days, an identification that Revelation echoes (Rev 1:7, 12-16).

In terms of either self-identification, Jesus made a great claim when calling himself "Son of Man." Either he claimed to represent the true people of God, or he claimed to be the one who would receive eternal dominion and authority to act in judgment. And he did that before the Sanhedrin. As Wright notes,
Strong stuff from one who had just been arrested at the dead of night and was himself on trial for his life. But there was worse. For in Daniel 7 the enemies of the son of man/saints of God were the beasts. Who then were these enemies of Jesus? As so often, Jesus did not need to spell out the implications of what he said to Jewish authorities. His meaning and its implied threat were clear and quite intolerable. Chief Priest or Chief Beast? No wonder Caiaphas tore his robes and cried blasphemy, called for the death penalty, and permitted the spitting and beating. The claims of Jesus were enough to burst blood vessels and well as old wine skins. (Wright, 153)

I draw two things from this:
  • Would that the church knew the Old Testament as well as Jesus' opponents! 
  • No matter how well you know the Scriptures, if you don't bow before the Lord of the Scriptures, you only condemn yourself.

Chris J. H. Wright, Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1995) - Available from Amazon

1 comment:

  1. I've always loved referring to the "Son of Man"...thanks for giving me further enlightenment concerning the person of Jesus Christ. Blessings