Did you go to work today wondering why Jesus called himself the Son of Man? I doubt it. Almost certainly, however, by the end of today you will have experienced the reason.
A few members for you. The title “Son of Man” shows up in the New Testament 82 times; 81 are in the Gospels; 80 are spoken by Jesus himself. Paul never uses it, neither do the other letter writers. No one addresses Jesus by the title. 80 times Jesus uses it and he uses it exclusively about himself. Why? What did it mean to him? What did he want it to mean to you – today?
It’s not hard for you to do a Bible study on all the times it was used in the New Testament. Let me give you a few of the first layers of meaning that Jesus used.
It was one way he used to simply say “me” or “I”. Some have thought he used it to show his humanity in contrast to Son of God which showed his divinity. This is a layer but Jesus was not split between 2 he was a unity of the two. In addition, at the time, he didn’t need to convince people he was human – he could see that.
Others thought he was saying “I am THE man”. What some call the archetypal or perfect expression of human. Again this contains a layer of truth but you will need to look a little more to go deeper.
Here’s a clue to capturing the essence of the name (and in fact the essence of many New Testament phrases). It is worth asking what it meant to the hearers. What did they understand it to be saying. Without doubt this title triggered a reminder to the hearers of the book of Daniel. In the seventh chapter Daniel sees a powerful, vivid vision which contains 4 great empires, all appearing as vicious, cruel, violent beast like figures. A lion with wings, a bear with a mouth full of ribs, a leopard with 4 wings and 4 heard and a nameless metallic immensely strong monster. Babylon, Syria, Persia and Greece may well have been the first interpretations of these beasts.
Then comes into the vision the one like a “Son of Man”. This figure is given authority, rule, glory and Kingdom. This Son of Man is in stark contrast to the brutal beast. He is gentle and kind, he is permanent not temporary and he does not rule by terror but by love.
This Daniellic “Son of Man” dripped into the Jewish consciousness as they developed their ideas of Messiah – a deliverer who would set them free. Don’t think, however, that Jewish thought was only influenced by Old Testament writings. Around 70BC a book was created called the Book of Enoch.
This book has a lot to say about the Son of Man. It paints a picture of a man who was divine, super human, pre-existent, sitting beside God as a Judge, battling against enemies of God, destroying Kings, breaking powers, terrifying and fire breathing and unspeakably powerful. It was everything that every mythical super hero in today’s stories is and more so.
So when Jesus said “Son of Man” it conjured up all kinds of images in the minds of his hearers – all of them full of power, strength, invincibility and rescue. Son of Man was the all conquering Messiah in the minds of the listeners.
So how’s your day gong? How was last week? How is your life developing?
Now you are ready to understand the deep layer of “Son of Man”. Listen to two statements out of Jesus 18. “The Son of Man…came to serve”: “The Son of Man must suffer many things”
Of all the internal images carried by first Century Israelis none included the concept of suffering and service. Power, destruction, terror, liberation yes but service and suffering was unthinkable.
That’s the point. Jesus had a habit of taking a current idea and giving it a new twist. His Kingdom was going to be forever, it would be about rescue, it would be kind not about bestial, it would overthrow horror but, and it is a huge but, it would be by service and suffering.
Now you can go back and see that he did use the title for “I” or “me”. He did use it about his humanity and his perfect expressions of manhood. He also used it to show his sonship (of God and man). In doing so he was saying to be human is to serve. To be human is to suffer. To follow the divine path all sons of man (male and female) must suffer.
In his case suffering was unique in that it would open the door to your rescue.
Now do you want to be a follower of this “Son of Man”? He has made it very clear that this will always involve service and suffering.
I don’t know anyone over 30 who is not acquainted with grief and suffering. It has modern names – stress – pressure – strain – and as well as ancient ones involving grief, mourning, loss and sadness. Almost certainly you have tasted this today, last week or recently.
Jesus self chosen title was “Son of Man”. He infused a well known figure with a new flavor. Service and suffering. I wish I could say you could avoid it but Jesus, as Peter discovered, was very clear. The Son of Man must suffer. These are our get out of jail cards. In the meantime the painful, powerful, liberating journey continues as the human, divine, everlasting and loving natures are combined within you at work.
And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
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