Jesus was often called the Son of Man in the New Testament, but what does that title mean? The source of this title is found in the Old Testament prophets. A look at their uses of the term offers a rich perspective regarding the meaning and significance of this particular title.
How is Jesus the Son of Man?
In Daniel, the term is used in an important prediction that reads, "I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And 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 one that shall not be destroyed" (Daniel 7:13-14). It is clear in this passage that the title Son of Man was used in reference to the coming Jewish Messiah.
Certain characteristics of this Son of Man are made clear in these verses. They include: 1) He would come on the clouds of heaven, 2) He has authority over all people and nations, 3) He receives worship, 4) He is eternal, and 5) His kingdom will never be destroyed. Though some aspects of this prediction are still future in relation to Christ's second coming, Jesus has made clear His authority, receives worship, and affirms His eternal dominion as the Son of God who defeated death at the resurrection (Matthew 28:1-10).
In other places in the Old Testament, "Son of Man" is also used in reference to a person rather than to the Jewish Messiah. For example, Ezekiel frequently used the reference "son of man" to identify a person, emphasizing this aspect of the term by utilizing the phrase 93 times in his writing.
With this background, the Jewish people who heard Jesus refer to Himself as the Son of Man would have both understood the title as a general reference to Jesus as a human being as well as a claim as the Jewish Messiah. Both are accurate descriptions of Jesus, who is divine (John 1:1; Colossians 1:28; Philippians 2:5-11) and fully human (John 1:14; Philippians 2:7).
Also, Greek scholars note that the use of the definite article ("the") with "son of man" is used exclusively of Jesus; it does not appear outside of the New Testament or Christian writings in reference to Jesus. Christians clearly identified Jesus as the Son of Man who fulfilled the prophecy of Daniel. In this sense, Jesus was more than another human being but unique from all others as the divine Son of God and Son of Man.
In summary, the title "Son of Man" includes both a human and divine aspect in the Bible. Jesus fulfills both meanings of this title. As a human, He became a "son of man" and walked the earth. As Messiah, He is "the Son of Man" who holds all authority and power, including victory over death. His coming offered salvation to all who would believe, an invitation that continues still today (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9).
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