This is another episode in our series on God’s portrayal as a character in the Bible. In this episode Tim and Jon finally (finally!) begin to talk about Jesus. But in order to talk about him, they need to unpack a confusing phrase in the Bible, “the Son of Man.” What’s the story behind this phrase? It comes from a famous vision from Daniel chapter 7.
In part one (00:00-19:45), the guys quickly review their conversation so far. Tim reiterates that God’s portrayal in the Bible is extremely complex, and that’s on purpose because God is complex. The biblical writers want to leave the reader with a sense of mystery about God’s identity. Jon says that it’s fundamentally impossible to completely understand a being that is other than you.
Tim shares a quote from biblical scholar Mehrdad Fatehi, saying that for the biblical authors, “Yahweh cannot be reduced to any one of the manifestations of his presence (Word, Spirit, Wisdom, Angel, etc.). Yahweh is not completely identified with any one of these, but rather dynamically related. Yahweh is the Spirit, in so far as he is relating himself to creation. This is why the biblical writers prefer to speak of Yahweh’s 'spirit,' or 'arm,' or 'glory,' or 'word,' rather than to refer to God himself in a more direct way. By adopting such a procedure, they manage both to express the objective reality of God’s contact with his creation, and at the same time maintain that God himself is always greater than any specific act of revealing himself to someone.” -- Mehrdad Fatehi, The Spirit’s Relation to the Risen Lord in Paul’s Letters, 57-58.
In part two (19:45-38:10), Tim introduces the dream that Daniel has. He notes the design of the book of Daniel by saying that Daniel’s dream is related to the other dreams and events in the book. The dream begins in verse 7:9-10:
I kept looking
Until thrones were set up,
And the Ancient of Days took His seat;
His vesture was like white snow
And the hair of His head like pure wool.
His throne was ablaze with flames,
Its wheels were a burning fire.
10 “A river of fire was flowing
And coming out from before Him;
Thousands upon thousands were attending Him,
And myriads upon myriads were standing before Him;
The court sat,
And the books were opened.
7:11-12: The super-beast is killed and thrown into the fire before the throne
I kept looking in the night visions
And behold, with the clouds of heaven
One like a son of human was coming,
And he came up to the Ancient of Days
And was presented before Him.
“And to him was given dominion,
glory and ba kingdom,
That all the peoples, nations
and languages Might serve (or “worship”) Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
Which will not pass away;
And His kingdom is one
Which will not be destroyed.
Who is this Son of Man? Jon asks if it’s a physical child. Tim explains that it's actually biblical imagery to depict a class of being. This is a “son” similar to the “sons of the prophets/Elijah” depicted in the Old Testament. Tim says the point of the vision is that Daniel represents a summary of the future hope of the Hebrew Bible, and it envisions the coming of God’s Kingdom as the coming of a human figure (“a son of humanity”), who will sit beside God, share in his rule over the beasts (remember the plural “thrones”), and receive worship from all nations.
In part three (38:10-end), Tim says that the Christian claim of God existing “three in one” and the divine complexity is a thoroughly Jewish idea, but Jews have long debated who the actual "Son of Man" is. Tim says there’s a ancient Jewish author called Ezekiel the Tragedian, who believed that the vision of Daniel’s Son of Man was actually referring to Moses. Tim also says that it’s clear that the New Testament authors believed Jesus is the Son of Man, and they combine all of God’s attributes (word, spirit, wisdom, etc) with the idea of a human being elevated to God’s status.