The Son of Man

“Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” —Matthew 16:12

JESUS had many titles, all of which were appropriate in that they either described him or his work. But Jesus referred to himself most frequently as the Son of man. The term is used eighty-four times in the Gospels, and in every case used by Jesus to refer to himself. This title when speaking of Christ always has the article ‘the’ and the word for man in the Greek is anthropos, which simply means a human being. Our word anthropology is derived from it.

When Peter answered our Lord’s question as quoted in the theme text, Jesus said that God had revealed to him (Peter) that Jesus was the Messiah and that upon this statement of deep spiritual truth he was going to build his church. (Matt. 16:13-18) The title “the Son of man” expresses a concept that is obviously closely related to the implementation and development of God’s divine plan of the ages. When Peter answered “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” (Matt. 16:16) Jesus recognized that there was understanding behind the mere statement of words. Christ is the English equivalent of the Greek word Christos which means anointed one. This title corresponds to the Hebrew word Mashiach and is translated in English as Messiah. The Christ, or Messiah, is the one foretold in the Scriptures whom God would anoint with his Spirit to be the universal king. (Dan. 9:25, 26) Jesus did not become the Christ until his baptism in the river Jordan when the Father begat (or anointed) him with the Holy Spirit.—Matt. 3:16,17; Isa. 61:1-3

John, in his Gospel, particularly emphasizes Jesus’ pre-human existence as the Word (Logos) and explains that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-3,14) The Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus was “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature.” (Col. 1:15) The beginning mentioned in John 1:1 cannot refer to the beginning of God, for he is eternal, from everlasting to everlasting. (Ps. 90:2) It must, therefore, refer to the beginning of God’s work which was the creation of the Logos. It can be said of Jesus in his pre-human existence that he was the only begotten Son in that he was the only one of God’s sons, spirit or human, created solely by God, for all others were created through or by means of that first begotten Son.—Col. 1:16,17

Jesus, of course, continued to be God’s Son when born as a human, even as he had been in his pre-human existence. His birth was not the result of natural means. Conception was not from Adamic stock, but by the power of the Holy Spirit of God—God was his father and not Adam. At the age of twelve Jesus recognized his sonship in relation to God when he said to his parents, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”—Luke 2:49, RSV

How then does the title “the Son of man” relate to this arrangement? Adam was the first human son of God because he was created by God. (Gen. 2:7; Luke 3:38) Because of his disobedience, he was evicted from the Garden of Eden and condemned to death as a willful sinner. He was, in effect, disowned by God and lost his sonship. Adam at the first was given dominion over the works of the Creator (Gen. 1:26), but because of his transgression he lost this also, although his sonship and dominion are held in abeyance. Those who descended from Adam have been born with inherited Adamic weaknesses and therefore could not claim the relationship of being a son of God on the basis of birth. The Apostle John points this out when he states, “As many as received him, to them gave he power [or authority] to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born [begotten], not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12,13) The point is that for any of Adam’s race to attain to sonship requires special recognition by God.

Jesus, on the other hand, although flesh, was not of Adam’s lineage and therefore did not inherit Adamic condemnation. He was, however, as God’s son, the prospective second Adam—born of a woman. “When the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law.” (Gal. 4:4; Luke 1:34,35) Jesus had not simply materialized as a human being, but was actually a son of mankind through his mother Mary. As a perfect Son of God in the flesh, he could claim the inheritance lost by the first man Adam.

It was because of this that the Apostle Paul could consider the eighth psalm as prophetic in pointing to Jesus as the second Adam—the Son of man—who was qualified to receive the lost inheritance and by the sacrifice of himself restore it to Adam and his offspring. The apostle’s interpretation of the psalm is as follows: “One in a certain place testified, saying, What is man that thou art mindful of him or the Son of man that thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honor, and didst set him over the works of thy hands: thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him. But we see Jesus [the Son of man], who was [also] made a little lower than the angels [but] for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.”—Heb. 2:6-9

Jesus himself spoke of his place in God’s arrangement as “the Son of man” to restore the lost dominion to Adam and his race. “No man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”—John 3:13-17

Jesus illustrated how the work of restoration was to be accomplished by citing an experience of the nation of Israel in the wilderness. (Numbers 21:4-9) The people had become discouraged because of the difficulties of the way and began to speak against God and against Moses, complaining about the material discomforts. As a punishment God sent fiery serpents among the people and many Israelites died. The people cried out to Moses and Moses interceded with God on their behalf. The Lord instructed Moses to fashion a serpent of brass and set it upon a pole, that everyone who was bitten could look upon the serpent and live. Jesus was illustrating that all of Adam’s offspring—the human race—have been ‘bitten’ with Adamic sin and are condemned to die, but Jesus as the Son of man was a corresponding price for Adam, and he being “lifted up” would provide the means whereby mankind could live. (John 8:28,29; 12:32,33) Then Jesus, quick to recognize the Heavenly Father, shows that the entire arrangement was made possible only because of God’s great love for mankind and his desire to restore them to favor and the blessings of life.

At the time of Jesus’ first advent the Jews generally believed that when Messiah came the kingdom would be established. They expected that Messiah would be a strong leader much on the order of David, who with God’s help would conquer their enemies, release them from servitude, and establish the long-promised kingdom. Jesus did not fulfill these expectations for he was meek and lowly of heart, a man acquainted with sorrows and grief. Because of this the Jews rejected him as their deliverer. (Isa. 53:1-4) They overlooked the prophecies which said that Jesus must first suffer and die and then come into his glory.—Luke 24:25-27

The disciples came to accept the fact that Jesus must die and be resurrected the third day, and they apparently accepted the fact that as a resurrected spirit being Jesus would be invisible. In the account in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew they asked Jesus what would be the sign of his presence, for even though he would be a spirit being they expected that he would set up his kingdom then and it would be to their advantage to know when he was present to accomplish the work. Jesus then proceeded to give them some signs or evidences that would mark his presence.

As one of the signs of his return and presence he quoted in part from a prophecy about himself in Daniel 7:13,14: “I saw in the night visions, and behold one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.”

Storm clouds are foreboding and from them comes distress. This is the symbolic use of clouds in this prophecy. In other words, the prophecy is saying that when the Son of man came there would be trouble and distress in the earth, and that this would be associated with the preparation for the establishment of the kingdom. The words of Jesus in alluding to this prophecy are as follows: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”—Matt. 24:29,30

Jesus, when brought before the high priest, quoted this same prophecy from the Book of Daniel. When asked if he was the Christ, the Son of the Blessed, Jesus answered, “I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”—Mark 14:61,62

The sign of the Son of man referred to by Jesus is the trouble and distress that comes upon the earth because Jesus, as the Arm of Jehovah, is breaking down and destroying the old system in preparation for the establishment of the new system—the kingdom. Jesus described the reason for the distress and trouble thus: “For the powers of heaven shall be shaken.” (Luke 21:26) In the Matthew account it states that both the heavens and earth will be shaken. The reference is to the controlling power of earth’s ecclesiastical systems and institutions and the mores of the people. Jesus spoke of this controlling power as Satan, “the prince of this world.” (John 14:30; see also II Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2) His influence must be destroyed before the kingdom can be established.—Rev. 20:2

We believe that we are in the midst of this time of shaking, that the Son of man is present directing the issue, and that erelong the distress and trouble will be ended and earth’s long weary night of sin and death will be over. Then the kingdom for which the world has so long prayed will be established.

We realize that we have considered only one of the several signs Jesus gave his disciples which would mark his presence, for the signs continue throughout the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth chapters of Matthew. The concluding act which relates to his presence and the work he is to do as the Son of man is recorded in Matthew 25:30-46 from which we quote in part: “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory and before him shall be gathered all nations; and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats. And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”—vss. 31-34

This ‘coming’ of the Son of man obviously refers to a phase of the work Jesus is to accomplish during his second advent, for he will have been present all down through the harvest of the Gospel Age and his influence manifested in the many and great works that will have been accomplished during that time. But the time of this prophecy is after the harvest is ended, because accompanying Jesus to help in the work of judging the world are his holy angels—the church. In Matthew 19:28 we read, “Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel [the world of mankind].”

The word ‘judging’ in the above text is the Greek word krino which carries with it the thought of a trial and then a judgment. The thought seems to be expressed in Isaiah 26:9, “When thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness,” and again in Psalm 98:9, “With righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity.” In the prophecy quoted from Matthew, the thought expressed as “he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats” is the same thought. It is a process of shepherding as the Shepherd trains his flock.—John 10:16

The essence of the work which will be accomplished during this time of the mediatorial reign of Christ and his church is that they will write God’s law in the hearts of the people and those who heed the Good Shepherd’s voice will receive life and dominion in the kingdom of the Father.

The title the Son of man serves to identify Jesus as the great kinsman of mankind, the one who had the power to redeem them and release them from the bondage of sin and death. But the meaning attached to the title does not end there, because the work of elevating the world of mankind back to perfection will take the entire time of the kingdom reign. It is only then that dominion and life will be restored to Adam and his race. The prophecy in Daniel and the sign of the Son of man given by Jesus relate to the preparation and establishment of the kingdom, the concluding work of the Son of man.

Dawn Bible Students Association
|  Home Page  |  Table of Contents  |