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Jesus Is the Son of Man (2)


This is the second part of a three part series on “The Son of Man.” Click here to read part one.

Son of Man in Extra-Biblical Jewish Literature

Outside of the Old and New Testaments the Jewish people produced a good deal of other literature. There are historical, fictional, proverbial, and prophetic writings, which comment on major figures and themes in the Hebrew Scriptures. These sources are helpful to understand how Jewish people around the time of Jesus were thinking about matters in a way similar to someone a thousand years from now observing what movies were most popular in the early twenty-first century in order to understand background information about studying someone in our own time. Two texts in particular that give us a window into how the Son of Man was understood are The Jewish Apocalypse of Ezra and The Similitudes of Enoch.

Written in the first century, the Jewish Apocalypse of Ezra (also called 4 Ezra) provides a glimpse into Jewish thinking about the Son of Man around the time of Jesus. Here is an excerpt:

4 Ezra 13.3-4
3 As I kept looking the wind made something like the figure of a man come up out of the heart of the sea. And I saw that this man flew with the clouds of heaven; and wherever he turned his face to look, everything under his gaze trembled,
4 and whenever his voice issued from his mouth, all who heard his voice melted as wax melts when it feels the fire.

This “figure of a man” goes on to defeat an innumerable multitude with a stream of fire from his mouth which instantly turned them to ashes. Next he calls to himself another multitude of peaceful people who rejoice to see him. Later on when the dream is interpreted the human figure is revealed to be “he whom the Most High has been keeping for many ages, who will himself deliver his creation; and he will direct those who are left” (4 Ez. 13.26). A few verses later he is called God’s son (4 Ez. 13.32). Let me stress that this is not a Christian document nor did the Jews consider it Scripture. It is a fictional work written in apocalyptic style speculating about a famous biblical hero. Even so, it helps us see one way Jesus’ hearers may have understood his self-designation as the Son of Man. But before we turn to the New Testament we will first consider another Jewish non-biblical literary work.

The Book of Enoch (also called 1 Enoch) breaks into several major sections which were composed at different times. The portion of it that interests us is called The Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71) where the phrase “Son of Man” is used seventeen times. Composed in the early first century, this Jewish book speaks of the Son of Man as the agent of God’s final judgment:

1 Enoch 69.27, 29
27 And he sat on the throne of his glory, And the sum of judgement was given unto the Son of Man, And he caused the sinners to pass away and be destroyed from off the face of the earth, And those who have led the world astray….
29 And from henceforth there shall be nothing corruptible; For that Son of Man has appeared, And has seated himself on the throne of his glory, And all evil shall pass away before his face, And the word of that Son of Man shall go forth And be strong before the Lord of Spirits. This is the third Parable of Enoch.

Note that again, like the Jewish Apocalypse of Ezra, the human figure from Daniel is spoken of as a particular person (not just as a symbol for God’s kingdom) who serves as God’s agent of final judgment and reward. Furthermore, in Enoch it is clear that the Son of Man will be the king to rule on the throne of glory before God (the Lord of Spirits). All but one of the usages of “Son of Man” in Enoch refer to the end-times agent of God. For both the authors of 4 Ezra and 1 Enoch, “Son of Man” has become a title for a specific end-times figure, not just another way of saying “human being.”

Next week we will finally delve into the Gospels where the title “Son of Man” features as Jesus’ favorite self-reference…


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