To understand this term, one must also seek to understand other closely related phrases, like sons of men and children of men. Firstly, all of these terms are applied to mankind in general. These terms indicate the difference between God and the human race. The phrase son of man is the strongest way to distinguish between deity and humanity!
Psalm 115:16 (usage – children of men)
Consider the contrast between God and mankind: God dwells in heaven; man dwells on the earth.
Psalm 145:10 – 13 (usage – sons of men)
Here’s another contrast between God and mankind: God is big, strong, powerful and eternal; man is small, weak and temporal.
Jeremiah 32:19 (usage – sons of men)
Again another contrast between God and mankind: God is wise, all knowing and all seeing; man is finite and limited.
Consider the words of the Psalm would said,
Psa 33:13, “the LORD looks down from heaven; He sees all the sons of men…”
Psa 11:4, “the LORD is in His holy temple, the LORD’s throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men…”
Numbers 23:19 (usage – son of man)
Finally, here another powerful contrast between God and mankind: God is immortal, truthful and perfect; man is mortal, fallen, prone to error.
The term son of man strongly attests to the mortality of man and his dependence upon a deity (ala God). It is the distinguishing mark between the divine, eternal and all powerful God.
Psalm 12:1 – 2 (usage – sons of men)
Again, notice how the term applies to the human race – and some within will be godly and faithful whilst other will be wicked and sinful.
Ezekiel 2:1 – 3 (usage – son of man)
The prophet was addressed with the title son of man by YHWH his God some 90 times.
Several reasons have been given:
- to express the great difference between the earth-born mortal and the divine, eternal God
- to express the ideal man (human being)
Here’s a prophetic promise given regarding David’s throne and kingdom – it will be a perpetual reign (v16). This promise would begin with David’s son, Solomon (v12 – 13) and each successive generational son (see the book of Kings and the genealogy in the gospel of Matthew chapter 1). Now notice the contrast between God and the davidic kings:
- they are regarded as men and sons of men
- they can be fallible human being (that may require correction and/or rebuke)
Notice the contrast between God and His Messiah:
- God is the ancient of days (eternal, infinite); His Messiah is the son of man (human being, mortal, finite)
- God gives to the son of man (v14) the kingdom – God is the possessor of all things, man can only receive what is given!
- Hence God’s Messiah is without authority, power and a kingdom – unless God gives it.
Luk 1:32, “the Lord God will give Him (Jesus) the throne of his father David…”
Luk 1:33, “and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end…”
This messianic expectation came to fulfilled in Jesus.
Notice Jesus’ favorite buzz word: it was the son of man; it is used 81 times in the NT.
Matthew 8:20 (usage – son of man)
This text is the 1st time Jesus began to use the phrase. Some scholars believe Jesus’ use of the son of man term was simply used as a substitute for the personal pronoun.
E.g. ”the son of man (I, [personal pronoun]) has nowhere to lay his head”
These scholars, mainly orthodox Jews, reject Jesus’ usage of the son of man phrase in connection with any messianic significance. Yet, Jesus’ use of the term strongly expressed several ideas:
- he was a human being and the ideal man
- God’s chosen servant and the apocalyptic Messiah, intent on consummating God’s plan in the world
“the term (son of man) for the human element in our Lord’s person, the divine element being similarly denoted by the term (son of God)”
Let’s examine the works of the son of man (in contrast to this popular idea)…
Jesus is seen forgiving sins. Does it make him God or was that right given to the son of man (human being) in addition to God?
Matthew 12:40; 17:22 – 23
Jesus speaks of himself, the son of man (human being), would be killed (crucified), buried and then raised to life
Yet the bulk of Jesus’ use of the term son of man came to be centered around the eschatological promise of his position as the davidic king to come. Much of his discourse was an apocalyptic reminder of God’s coming kingdom – with him at the helm, ready to administer it.
Matthew 26:63 – 64
Upon a direct charge at his trial, Jesus’ answer to his accusers echoed Daniel’s vision – that is human being standing among you has been chosen to reign as God’s right hand man – and will one day come back to do so! His answer affirmed his messiahship, kingship, his right to David’s throne and his right to administer God’s kingdom.
In just 1 chapter (Matthew 24), discussing end times, listen to the frequency of this apocalyptic event – regarding his coming!
Matthew 24:27, “coming of the son of man…”
Matthew 24:30, “son of man coming…”
Matthew 24:37, “coming of the son of man…”
Matthew 24:39, “coming of the son of man…”
Matthew 24:44, “son of man coming…”
The 2nd coming of Jesus Christ is the coming of the son of man. This is the ideal human being, God’s right hand man, the davidic king, the governor of God’s kingdom on earth. Nowhere is the son of man spoken as an incarnation of God. This mortal, humble and temptable human being was given immortality, incorruption and exaltation by God!
To conclude, it does not seem that the term of son of man means an incarnation of God, going from deity to humanity. Rather the term distinguishes a human being from God. If you are a son of man, you cannot be God and God cannot become a son of man (ala a human being).
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