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Theology > Jesus > Life and Teaching > Self-Designation


Jesus often referred to Himself as the “Son of Man”; in fact, approximately eighty times He used this designation (Matt. 8:20; 16:13; Mk. 2:10, 28; Lu. 9:18; Jo. 1:51), and there is no record of any other individual addressing Him by this title during His life on earth (see Jo. 12:34, where the crowd used these words of Jesus, and Acts 7:56 where Stephen refers to Him in this manner). The Self-designation chosen by Christ to refer to Himself more than any other was the title, “Son of Man”.

In the early history of the Church, the Fathers understood the title to speak of the humanity of Christ; there was hardly any contemplation of Messianic associations. Jesus was both God and man, as was evidenced by the respective titles of “Son of God” and “Son of Man”; in these two designations, therefore, was support for the Deity and humanity of Christ.

More recent commentary regarding the title has focused on the Messianic intention conveyed by the designation. While Jesus did not identify Himself as the Messiah, perhaps because of the common and erroneous interpretations associated with the concept, He did refer to Himself as the Son of Man. But are there Messianic implication within this title?

Note the usage in the Old Testament of these words:

What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him? (Ps. 8:4);

And He said to me, “Son of man” (Ezek. 2:1; see: 1:3, 6, 8; 3:1, 34; more than ninety times Ezekiel is addressed in this manner);

I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then 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 the one which shall not be destroyed (Daniel 7:13-14; in 8:17 Daniel is addressed as “son of man”).

In Psalm 8:4 the psalmist is simply referring to man and his identification with all men. The usage here is like the usage in Ezekiel: the intent is to specify man in his humanity.

Surely in Ezekiel the title simply identifies the prophet as a person, a member of the human race. It is a reminder to Ezekiel of his humanness, and that as an individual he is entrusted with a message for other individuals. As a person Ezekiel stands before God. It does not seem convincing that these references to Ezekiel have anything to do with the Self-designation used by Christ, although there is a connection in that both were prophets, that is, they each spoke God’s Word, and both were men.

However, in Daniel the three words refer to Deity. The Son of Man appears before the Ancient of Days and comes on the clouds of heaven (see: Ps. 104:3 and Isa. 19:1); He is given dominion, glory, and a kingdom that is everlasting; and the people of all nations will serve Him (Dan. 7:13-14).

Christ’s use of this designation most certainly is intended to associate Him with the passage and personage in Daniel. To think otherwise is incomprehensible. The High Priest asked Him: “Are You the Christ the Son of the Blessed?”; Jesus responded: “I am, and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mk. 15:61-62). Note the similarity to Daniel: in both there is a reference to the Son of Man; in both He is associated with God (Ancient of Days and Power); in both there is a reference to clouds; and in both He is coming (coming to receive a kingdom in Daniel, with the kingdom unstated in Mk. but obviously intended). Both passages, Daniel and Mark, remind the student of the passage found in Revelation 19:11-16 (see: Matt. 24:29-31; 25:31; Jo. 1:50-51).

It is proper to conclude that the Self-designation conveys two truths: first, and most important, Christ is the heavenly Son of Man who will sovereignly rule over the people; and second, with lesser emphasis, through the Incarnation He is of the earth—He is man. Therefore, both the humanity of Jesus and His position as Messiah with all that is implied are intended by the title.

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