THAT Son of Man

The one like a Son of Man from Daniel is the source of Christ’s self-designation as the Son of Man – Daniel 7:13-14. 

Son of Man - Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash
In the four gospels, the “
Son of Man” is the self-designation found most frequently on the lips of Jesus. The term is derived from Daniel’s vision of the one “like a Son of Man” who receives the “dominion and kingdom” from the “Ancient of Days.” And according to Jesus, “all the tribes of the earth” will mourn when “they see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven.” - [Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash].

In each case in the gospel accounts, the Greek text reads “THE Son of Man,” and the definite article retains its demonstrative force (i.e., “this, that”). Rendered idiomatically, the sense of the clause is “that Son of Man.”

In his sayings, Jesus does not refer to just any man, humanity in general, or to his human nature, but to a specific and known figure, namely, the “Son of Man” described in the seventh chapter of the book of Daniel.

DANIEL’S VISION


In his vision of four “beasts ascending from the sea,” Daniel sees a malevolent figure called the “little horn,” a creature with “a mouth speaking great things.” It wages “war” against the “saints.”

His vision concludes with a judgment scene and the appearance of the “Son of Man” who receives “dominion” and judgment on behalf of the “saints”:

  • (Daniel 7:13-14) – “I continued looking in the visions of the night, when, lo, with the clouds of the heavens, one like a son of man was coming, and to the Ancient of days he approached, and before him, they brought him near; and to him were given dominion and dignity and kingship, that all peoples, races and tongues, should do service to him; his dominion was an everlasting dominion, which should not pass away, and his kingdom that which should not be destroyed.

In the interpretation, the “little horn made war against the saints and prevailed against them.” Afterward, “judgment was given for the saints” by the “Ancient of Days,” and the saints then “possessed the kingdom.” By itself, “judgment” does not mean punishment. And here, it points to a decision “for” or on behalf of the saints - their vindication – (Daniel 7:15-27).

Features from this vision are found in Christ’s references to the “Son of Man,” as well as in related passages elsewhere in the New Testament, including:
  • His “coming on clouds.”
  • His approach to the “Ancient of Days” for judgment.
  • His receipt of dominion over “peoples, races, and tongues.
  • The rendering of judgment for the saints.

JESUS AS THE SON OF MAN


In his teachings, Jesus is the “Son of Man who sows the seed” of the gospel, a process set in motion that will consummate when the “Son of Man sends forth his angels to gather out of his kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and them that do iniquity.” And at that time, the “Son of Man will come in the glory of his Father to render to every man according to his deeds” – (Matthew 13:41, 16:27).

But THAT same “Son of Man” is also destined to suffer for his people (“For the Son of Man shall be delivered up into the hands of men, and they shall kill him”). But death is not the final word.

On the third day,” God resurrects him, and in the “regeneration, the Son of Man will sit on the throne of his glory, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” - (Matthew 17:22, 19:28).

That judgment will include his punitive sentence on the same members of Israel that condemned him to death, and this understanding is borne out by his response at his trial to the high priest when he demands to know whether Jesus is the Messiah or not:

  • I am he, and you will see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven” – (Matthew 19:28, 26:64).

In this declaration, Jesus combines the phrase from Daniel with a clause from the Psalms, leaving no doubt that he is the Davidic Messiah appointed by Yahweh to reign over the nations:

  • Yahweh declared to my Lord: Sit at my right hand until I make your foes your footstool” - (Psalm 110:1. See Mark 14:62, Matthew 26:64, Luke 22:69).

The language from Daniel is especially prominent in passages that describe the return of Jesus. He is the glorious figure who will appear “on the clouds of heaven”:

  • 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 on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” – (Matthew 24:30).

The description of him “coming on the clouds” appears in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians when he describes how the saints will “meet” Jesus as he descends from heaven:

  • Then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air” – (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

In Daniel’s vision, the “Son of Man” approaches the “Ancient of Days” to receive the kingdom on behalf of the “saints,” and the authority to reign over “all peoples, nations, and tongues.” But his vindication occurs only after the “little horn” has waged “war against the saints and prevailed over them.” Only then do the saints “receive the kingdom.”


Cross at Twilight - Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash
[Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash]


So also, the receipt of “dominion” by Jesus only comes after his death and resurrection, and his death is a “ransom for many” – (Matthew 20:28, 28:18-20).

REVELATION


The language from Daniel’s vision is prominent in the book of Revelation. The conclusion of its prologue, for example, refers to the coming of Jesus “on the clouds.” And as is typical in the book, the passage combines language from at least two different verses from the Old Testament:

  • Behold, he is coming with the clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they that pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn over him” – (Revelation 1:7, Daniel 7:13-14, Zechariah 12:10).

The prologue is followed by John’s vision of the “one like a Son of Man” who is seen walking among the “seven golden lampstands,” which represent the churches of Asia - (Revelation 1:12-15).

In the fifth chapter, though pictured as a “slain Lamb,” overtones from Daniel’s vision are evident in the description of his arrival before the throne.

There, the “Lamb” receives the “sealed scroll” from the one sitting on the throne. Immediately, he begins to break open its seals and all creation declares him “worthy” to receive all authority because, “by his blood,” he has redeemed men from “every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation” – (Revelation 5:5-14).

When the seventh trumpet sounds, the sovereignty of the “Lamb” and his people over the kingdoms of the world is proclaimed, once again, echoing words from Daniel:

  • And the seventh angel sounded, and there followed great voices in heaven, and they said: The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ: and he shall reign forever and ever… And the nations were angry, and your wrath came, and the time of the dead to be judged, and the time to give their reward to thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and to them that fear your name”– (Revelation 11:15-19, Daniel 7:14, 7:27).

In chapter 14, Jesus is the “Son of Man” who is “sitting on the cloud” as he is poised to reap the grain harvest of the earth – (Revelation 14:14-16).

During the “thousand years,” Satan is bound in the “Abyss,” and prevented from deceiving the nations. During this period, judgment is made on behalf of the saints:

  • And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given for them: and I saw the souls of them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God, and such as did not render homage to the beast, neither his image and received not the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years” – (Revelation 20:4).
  • I beheld till thrones were placed, and one that was ancient of days did sit… I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints and prevailed against them until the ancient of days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most-High, and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom”– (Daniel 7:9-22).

As in Daniel, so also in Revelation, the “Son of Man” is closely associated with the “saints” and their fate, especially with their vindication at the time of judgment.

And the “saints” do not escape tribulation or death. The malevolent “little horn” wages “war against” them and “overcomes them”; that is, he kills them.

But afterward, the “Son of Man” vindicates his saints, and they participate in his reign. Likewise, the “beast from the sea” in Revelation makes “war on the saints, and overcomes them” – (Daniel 7:21, Revelation 12:17, 13:7-10).

Thus, the New Testament authors use several Old Testament images to portray aspects of Christ’s ministry, including that of the “Son of Man.” Whenever Jesus refers to himself as “THE Son of Man,” he intends for his audience to link him to the figure in the book of Daniel.

And Jesus employs this term when describing his future return in power and glory, and in reference to his suffering and death, for the “Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He is “THAT Son of Man.”



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