Copyright © 2001, TruthQuest Publishers
"In my vision, there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven."
Jesus claimed to be the divine Son of God, His favorite
self-designation by far was "Son of Man." How do we know that Jesus
actually referred to Himself as the Son of Man and what does it mean?
we ask how we know that "Son of Man" was a title Jesus claimed for
Himself (rather than a legendary title later ascribed to Him by the
Gospel writers), we ask this for the benefit of the skeptic. The
skeptic is one who does not accept the Bible by faith. He is the one
who wants "just the facts." It is for this person that we ask the
questions, "Can we know whether Jesus actually referred to himself as
the Son of Man?" And "What does it mean?" So we begin.
skeptical scholars believe that Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of
Man, because it is unlikely to have been an invention of the early
Church. For example, in the Gospels, "Son of Man" is Jesus' favorite
self-designation. Yet in the epistles, it is never used of Jesus. In
fact, the term appears in the New Testament only 4 times outside of the
Gospels and never in extra-biblical Christian writings during the first
120 years following Jesus. The point is: How likely is it that the
Church originated the title Son of Man as Jesus' favorite
self-description, when the Church itself did not refer to him in this
So what did Jesus mean
when He called Himself the Son of Man? Some surmise that the term
places an emphasis on Jesus' humanity compared to "Son of God" which
places an emphasis on His divinity. But this fails to take into account
the significant historical context in which Jesus uses the term and how
He understood it. How Jesus understood the term "Son of Man" is
important, since He used it of Himself more than any other term.
To find the answer, let us go back to the Old Testament and look at what the prophet Daniel said.
my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of
man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of
Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and
sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language
worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not
pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed."
speaks of the "son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. . . . He
was given authority, glory and sovereign power . . ." With this in
mind, consider these statements of Jesus in the New Testament Gospels:
as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have
life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is
the Son of Man." (John 5:27 [italics mine])
that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all
the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man
coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory." (Matthew
24:30 [italics mine])
on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time. But in those
days, following that distress, 'the sun will be darkened, and the moon
will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the
heavenly bodies will be shaken.' At that time men will see the Son of
Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his
angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the
earth to the ends of the heavens." (Mark 13:24-27)
"At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory." (Luke 21:27)
It seems obvious from these scriptures that when Jesus spoke of Himself as being the Son of Man, He had Daniel 7 in mind.
In addition, some first century Jews identified the Son of Man as also the Christ or Messiah.
had just spoken of His death by crucifixion as being "lifted up." The
crowd responded, "We have heard from the Law that the Christ will
remain forever, so how can you say, 'The Son of Man must be lifted up?'
Who is this 'Son of Man?'"
also believed the Son of Man, the Son of God, and the Messiah (Christ)
were the same person. Not only did He claim to be all three separately,
but in an interesting passage He responds in the affirmative to the
Jewish leadership's linking both Son of God and Christ, then adds Son
"The high priest said to him, 'I charge you under oath by the living God:
Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.' 'Yes, it is as you
say,' Jesus replied. 'But I say to all of you: In the future you will
see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and
coming on the clouds of heaven.' Then the high priest tore his clothes
and said, 'He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses?
Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?' 'He is
worthy of death,' they answered." (Matthew 26:63-66)
Finally, Jesus understood the Son of Man to exist prior to His human birth:
"No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man." (John 3:13)
"What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!" (John 6:62)
summary, Jesus' favorite term to refer to Himself was "Son of Man." He
understood the designation to refer to the divine Son of Man of Daniel
7 who would rule with glory and power. Moreover, He understood the Son
of Man also to be the pre-existent Son of God and Messiah. Who did
Jesus think He was? Clearly He thought He was the divine Son of Man.