If you thought “Christ” was Jesus’ last name or the title he gave himself, think again! The title Jesus most often used for himself is the "Son of Man.”
Son of Man
If you thought “Christ” was Jesus’ last name or the title he gave himself, think again! The title Jesus most often used for himself is the "Son of Man.” In this video, we’ll explore the meaning of this fascinating phrase and see how it invites us into the larger biblical story.Video Details
One of the most common ways that Jesus is referred to in the New Testament is with the title “Christ.” This word means “anointed one” or “messiah,” and it refers to the Jewish hope of a royal savior who comes to save the world from death and evil. The four Gospel accounts are full of moments where people acknowledge Jesus as “the Christ,” and the Gospel of Mark even includes the word in the book’s first sentence: “The good news about Jesus the Messiah, the son of God” (Mark 1:1) It makes sense that Jesus would be called by this title, but it does leave one surprising and essential fact unexplained. Jesus almost never uses this title to describe himself. Instead, he regularly uses another title, “the Son of Man.”
Jesus repeatedly referred to himself as the "Son of Man", or Human One.
This odd phrase is actually the most common and consistent title Jesus uses to refer to himself throughout the four Gospel accounts in the New Testament. What’s also strange is that no one else ever uses this title when talking to or about Jesus. It seems to have been Jesus' own unique way of talking about himself. And this raises the question: Why? Why did Jesus avoid the Messiah title to instead adopt the phrase Son of Man? Welcome to an ancient puzzle, and the rabbit hole goes quite deep! Jesus adopted the phrase from chapter 7 of the Old Testament book of Daniel, but it’s clear that for Jesus, this chapter summarized a theme that runs throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. It’s about the hope for a new humanity who will finally realize the ideal purpose that God has for the human family. It’s a storyline that begins on page one of the Old Testament and culminates with the book of Daniel and in the Psalms. It’s precisely this storyline that Jesus is activating with the title Son of Man, and it’s this scriptural hope that he claimed to bring to fulfillment.
The biblical story begins with God appointing humans as his royal images, that is, representatives who will rule creation on his behalf and in partnership with him. Humanity is a glorious being, destined for even greater glory––to rule over heaven and earth and all its animals as an expression of the love and creative power of God (Genesis 1:26-28). But tragically, humanity forfeits this destiny when we are deceived by dark spiritual powers and lured into embracing our own self-destruction. Humanity seizes the authority to define good and evil by our own wisdom. And as the Cain and Abel story shows (Genesis 4) humans are now threatened by the power of sin, which is described as an animal that wants to devour us. Cain gives into this animalistic urge and murders his brother, and so begins the descent of humanity from their true calling. Instead of ruling the animals, they’ve now become animals, fighting and killing each other in order to survive and exalt themselves at the expense of others.
The beast within...
Animal imagery is one of the most common metaphors to describe human violence and evil in the Psalms and Prophets. But all is not lost. God made a promise (Genesis 3:15) that a human would come one day, a son of the woman who would crush the serpent on its head, while also being struck by the serpent. This theme develops throughout the biblical story as God continues to raise up unlikely deliverers like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Deborah, Samuel, and David. Each one of these characters is both heroic and compromised. Each one can become a glorious human representative of God or a deceptive and selfish agent of evil and violence. And so the patient reader of the Old Testament must wait for the next generation to produce the promised human.
Daniel turns up the volume on this imagery.
When we come to the book of Daniel, we’re introduced to the key metaphor of human kingdoms as senseless beasts. In Daniel chapter 4, the king of Babylon refuses to acknowledge God as his authority, and he is reduced to the status of a mindless animal. It’s a reversal of Genesis 1, as a human ruler is brought low to the level of the beast. And we know what beasts do. They fight to survive; they kill when necessary with no regard to humanity. And so in Daniel chapter 7, Daniel has a dream about wild and terrible beasts that symbolize the mighty empires that ravage God’s good world. But then Daniel sees a human figure called the Son of Man whom God exalts above the beasts to rule beside him on a divine throne. This Son of Man is raised to glorious rule and is worshiped alongside God as the divine King of creation. This dream summarizes the entire biblical story up to this point: God desires that humanity be unified with him to rule creation as his wise, image-bearing partners. But humanity has turned out to be a beast, so all we can hope is that a human will come and do for us all that we cannot do for ourselves.
If you can’t see the outline of Jesus’ life and mission in Daniel 7, take some time to re-read the four Gospels! Daniel 7 is one of the most important Old Testament stories for understanding what Jesus is all about, and it makes perfect sense why Jesus adopted the Son of Man title to describe himself. He is the divine-human partner that we all need to overcome the animal inside our nature and raise humanity back to the glorious destiny that God created us to experience. Jesus’ death was God’s condemnation of our animal-violence and the resurrection was his loving victory over the powers of death and evil. In and through Jesus, God has become what we are, so that we can become what he is and share in his divine life and love. This is the story of the Son of Man, and it’s the story of all of us as well.
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Welcome to episode two of our series discussing the biblical theme of the Son of Man. In this episode, Tim and Jon discuss humanity's role in relation to other parts of creation, specifically animals.
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