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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: What Everyone Needs to Know about Jesus

Don Stewart :: Why Did Jesus Call Himself the Son of Man?

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Why Did Jesus Call Himself the Son of Man?

What Everyone Needs to Know about Jesus – Question 21

While He was on the earth, Jesus’ favorite designation, in referring to Himself, was the “Son of Man.” Indeed, the Gospels record some seventy-eight times that Jesus used this title. For example, when He asked His disciples the question about His identity, He put it to them this way:

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13 NLT)

Though this was the favorite title of Jesus, the New Testament does not define the exact meaning of the title “Son of Man.” What did He mean by this title? Why not call Himself the “Son of God” “the Messiah” or the “Son of David.” Each of these titles was rightfully His. Why this particular designation?

To answer this question, we can make a couple of important observations about the way in which it is used.

1. The Title Is Connected with Jesus’ Earthly Life

To begin with, the title is connected with the earthly life of Jesus Christ. We find that Jesus said that the Son of Man had no place to call home. Matthew records the following:

Jesus told him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” (Matthew 8:20 HCSB)

In this context, there does not seem to be any special meaning to the use of “Son of Man.”

2. It Is Used in Contexts Where Jesus Claims Deity

Yet we find it in contexts when Jesus’ deity is being claimed. For example, we read in Matthew how Jesus used this designation of Himself when He claimed the ability to forgive sins:

But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins—he said to the paralytic... (Mark 2:10 NRSV)

Here Jesus claims authority to forgive sins while using the title “Son of Man” when referring to Himself. Forgiveness of sins is something which only God can do. Interestingly, Jesus claimed this authority but used the title “Son of Man” rather than “Son of God.”

We also find that Jesus claimed that He, the Son of Man, was Lord of the Sabbath. Mark records Him saying the following:

Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath. (Mark 2:28 KJV)

Again, we find this designation of Himself used in a context of rights and privileges which belong to God alone. Indeed, only God Himself could claim that He is Lord of the Sabbath.

Jesus gave the reason for His coming to earth. In doing so, He again called Himself the “Son of Man.” We read in Luke:

“And I, the Son of Man, have come to seek and save those like him who are lost.” (Luke 19:10 NLT)

God the Son, Jesus Christ, came to earth to save the lost. Again we find that Jesus used this title of Himself rather than Messiah, or “Son of God.”

3. The Title Is Connected with Jesus’ Sufferings

We also discover that the “Son of Man” is connected with the sufferings of Jesus on behalf of humanity. We read that Jesus used this title when He began to predict what would happen to Him in the future:

Then He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, be killed, and rise after three days. (Mark 8:31 HCSB)

Thus, Jesus used the title “Son of Man” when referring to His suffering on the cross as well as His resurrection. Again, we do not find Him referring to Himself with His other titles, Son of God or Messiah, when predicting these coming events.

4. This Speaks of Jesus’ Exaltation and Rule

The title “Son of Man” also has to do with his exaltation and rule over humanity. Jesus used this title when He spoke of His return to the earth and His rule:

“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne.” (Matthew 25:31 NLT)

Jesus will rule and reign as the Son of Man. Once again, this is His favored title.

These are the various ways in which the title “Son of Man” is used by Jesus. What conclusions should we make about them? How should we understand this phrase?

Viewpoint 1: Some Believe It Refers to Jesus’ Humanity

Some feel the title “Son of Man” refers to the fact that Jesus was perfect humanity. He, as God, came down and lived among us as the perfect human being. By doing this, He fulfilled the Law of Moses and did what no other human being was able to do. By using this title, He is identifying with the people He had come to save.

Thus, it seems that by using the title “Son of Man” Jesus wanted to convey the truth that He was entirely human. Although He is God Almighty, He became a human being and lived among us for a short time. This is the mystery of the incarnation. This is why Jesus preferred the title “Son of Man.”

Viewpoint 2: Others Believe It Refers to His Deity

There is another point of view which sees the title “Son of Man” as meaning much more than Jesus’ humanity.

Indeed, in the Book of Daniel we read of the prediction that the Son of Man would inherit God’s everlasting kingdom. We read the following:

“In 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.” (Daniel 7:13, 14 NIV)

In this context, the Son of Man is a divine Person who is in the presence of the Ancient of Days; a designation for God the Father. Obviously this cannot refer to an ordinary human being. Indeed, no human being could be in such a position. Therefore, Jesus, by the using title, “the Son of Man” was actually claiming Deity. This seems to be a better understanding of the term.

Furthermore, it fits with the various contexts in Jesus’ public ministry where He used “Son of Man” to claim certain rights which belong to God alone.

Jesus Employed the Designation at His Trial

There is something else. When Jesus was on trial for His life, and was asked if He were the Messiah, He referred to this prediction in Daniel:

Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:64 NRSV)

This statement infuriated the religious rulers. They accused Him of blasphemy for claiming equal authority with God. It was clear to them that Jesus referred to Daniel’s prophecy and hence was claiming to have authority to sit on right hand, or the position of authority, with God. If they understood Jesus was claiming equality with God then we should understand His claims in the same manner. Thus, it seems best to view the title “Son of Man” as a reference to Jesus’ deity.

Summary – Question 21
Why Did Jesus Call Himself the Son of Man?

The Son of Man is a title that was used exclusively by Jesus Christ. Indeed, His disciples never addressed Him as such. Why did Jesus use this particular title of Himself more than other rightful titles such as the “Son of God” “the Messiah” or the “Son of David?” He certainly was all of these things.

Some believed that Jesus used this particular title to emphasize His humanity. In calling Himself the Son of Man called attention to the fact that He was a weak, lowly human being. In other words, though He was God Himself, He humbled Himself to become one of us. The title “Son of Man” reflects that humility.

However, this is not the case at all. The title “Son of Man” actually goes back to the Book of Daniel. This Son of Man would inherit the everlasting kingdom of God. Thus, it is a designation for one who will inherit God’s kingdom. In the context of Daniel, it speaks of someone who could freely enter the presence of God the Father. In other words, it speaks of deity.

Indeed, at His trial, Jesus acknowledged that He indeed was the Son of Man—the one who would bring in God’s everlasting kingdom. When the religious leaders heard this, they accused Him of blasphemy; they accused Him of making Himself equal with God. These leaders, schooled in the Old Testament Scriptures, knew what He was claiming.

Consequently, the Son of Man is not merely a title for a human being. It is a title which belongs to God Himself.

What Are Some Common Misconceptions about Jesus Emptying Himself When He Came to the Earth? ← Prior Section
Did Jesus Ever Sin? Next Section →
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