The names and titles of the Lord Jesus gave us wonderful insight into His identity. Some of these names were attributed to Him and some He used to describe Himself. But the most common title that He applied to Himself was the title “Son of Man,” so it is important that we understand the significance of this name.

Notice first some of the widely divergent situations in which He used this title. The first occurrence in the New Testament is in Matthew 8:

And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”

Matthew 8:20

Jesus was warning those who wanted to follow Him that it could mean hardship and depriving oneself of the normal comforts of home.

On another occasion, Jesus said to a paralysed man, “Son, be of good cheer your sins are forgiven you,” (Matthew 9:2). Some were scandalised because they rightly understood that only God can forgive sins. Then Matthew records:

“Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5 For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’? 6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—then He said to the paralytic, “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.”

Matthew 9:4-6

Here He claims the right and the power to do what God alone can do and proves it by healing the man. But as He does so, He identifies Himself as the Son of Man.

In explaining one of His parables to His disciples He tells them:

The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 13:41-42

So the title is associated here with the judgment that He will bring at the end of the age.

One final example will suffice:

Now while they were staying in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, 23 and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up.” And they were exceedingly sorrowful.

Matthew 17:22-23

Here He tells us of the necessity that the Son of Man suffer and die, but also that He will rise again.

As we consider these passages, we have to ask why Jesus used this title so often and why the usage is in such widely different contexts: discipleship, authority, judgment, and His death.

The first thing that we need to understand is that in the Bible the expression “son of…” is often used to identify characteristic qualities. While it can speak of someone being the literal son of a man, it can also be used as a figure of speech to describe some defining characteristic. So we find that wicked men were called “sons of Belial” (Judges 19:22, KJV); James and John are nicknamed “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17); and Barnabas is nicknamed “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36). These all speak of the character of these men.

In the Old Testament, we discover that God addresses the prophet Ezekiel more than ninety times with the title “son of man”, identifying Ezekiel as a typical or representative man.

When we come to the prophecy of Daniel, there is a highly significant prophecy of the coming Messiah. God revealed to Daniel the future of the nation of Israel and showed him that there were four great empires that would oppose and dominate them: the Babylonian Empire, the Medo-Persian Empire, the Greek Empire, and the Roman Empire (Daniel 2:31-45; 7:3-27). But in both of these passages, God revealed that in the last days He would set up a kingdom that would destroy and replace the kingdoms of this world. Listen to what Daniel records:

“I was watching in the night visions,
And behold, One like the Son of Man,
Coming with the clouds of heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days,
And they brought Him near before Him.
14 Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
Which shall not pass away,
And His kingdom the one
Which shall not be destroyed.

Daniel 7:13-14

The Ancient of Days is clearly a reference to God, who is seen sitting upon His heavenly throne (vv. 9-10). Then “One like the Son of Man” comes before the Ancient of Days and is given the authority to rule an everlasting kingdom. While we might think that this Son of Man is simply a representative man with all the characteristics of mankind (like Ezekiel), the fact that this Son of Man enters the throne room of heaven and receives an everlasting kingdom, points to One who is eternal and sovereign, like God Himself. So when Jesus came declaring that the “kingdom of heaven” had come, the Jews rightly understood this as not only a Messianic claim, but as a claim to deity and that He would rule over them forever.

When Jesus calls Himself the Son of Man, He is combining both of these ideas together. First, it speaks of the true, representative humanity of Jesus; and second, it speaks of His right to rule forever as One who is truly God.

God had purposed that this world would be ruled by mankind, but sadly, Adam’s refusal to acknowledge God’s rule caused him to lose his dominion (Genesis 1:26-28; 3:1-24). Ever since, Satan has ruled this world (1 John 5:19) and is called by Jesus “the prince of this world,” (John 12:31; 16:11, KJV). Since all of Adam’s race were now sinners and under the curse that sin brings, God intervened by sending His Son into this world to become a man and start a new humanity with Christ as its head. Jesus came to destroy not only the works of the devil (1 John 3:8) but to destroy the devil himself (Hebrews 2:14-15). At the cross, the Lord Jesus struck a fatal blow to Satan, though he is still active, and goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). But when Jesus returns, He will first bind Satan in the bottomless pit and then establish His kingdom for a thousand years (Revelation 20:1-3). At the end of those thousand years, Satan will be released for a brief period and lead a final rebellion against Christ before finally being condemned to the lake of fire, where he will be tormented forever and ever (Revelation 20:7-10).

Not long before He went to the cross, Jesus gave His great prophetic discourse on the Mount of Olives in which He said:

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

Matthew 25:31-34

Jesus of Nazareth is the long-awaited Son of Man. As the only One who is truly human and truly God, He is able to be the Last Adam and the glorious King. At His first advent, the Son of Man came to seek and save that which was lost (Luke 19:10) by suffering and death (Matthew 20:18-19). At His second advent, the Son of Man will come “on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30), send out His angels to “gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 13:41), and establish His everlasting kingdom, “…that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him,” (Daniel 7:14).

We are living in the time between these two comings of the Lord Jesus. Those who acknowledge Him now will be part of that coming kingdom (John 3:3). Those who reject His rightful claim as King now, will be cast into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:41-42).


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