Son of Man

The “one like a Son of Man” from the Book of Daniel is the source for Christ’s self-designation, the “Son of Man”Daniel 7:13-14

Son of Man - Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash
In the gospel accounts, the “
Son of Man” is the most frequent self-designation found on the lips of Jesus. The term is derived from Daniel’s vision of the figure “like a Son of Man,” the one who approached the “Ancient of Days” to receive the kingdom. At the end of the age, “all the tribes of the earth” will mourn when him “coming on the clouds of heaven” - [Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash].

In each instance in the four gospels, the Greek text reads “the Son of Man,” and the definite article in Koiné Greek had demonstrative force, that is, he is “the” or “that Son of Man.” Jesus did not refer to just any man or humanity in general, but to a specific and known figure, the “Son of Man” from the seventh chapter of Daniel.

In his vision of the four “beasts from the sea,” Daniel saw a malevolent figure called the “little horn” that appeared from the fourth “beast.” This figure had “a mouth speaking great things,” and it waged “war” against the “saints.” The vision concluded with the judgment scene when the “Son of Man” appeared and received “dominion” and judgment for 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,” and then “judgment was given” for them by the “Ancient of Days.” Thereafter, they “possessed the kingdom.” “Judgment” in that context referred to the decision rendered on behalf of the “saints” - their vindication.

Features from Daniel’s vision are found in Christ’s references to the “Son of Man,” as well as in related passages found elsewhere in the New Testament:
  • 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.
In his teachings, Jesus is the “Son of Man who sows the seed” of the gospel, a process set in motion that consummates when the “Son of Man shall send forth his angels to gather out of his kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and them that do iniquity.” 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” was 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”). However, death was not the final word, for, “on the third day,” God raised him from the dead. 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).

This judgment will include punishment on the same members of Israel that condemned Jesus to death, and this is borne out by his response at his trial to the high priest when he demanded whether he was 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 that declaration, Jesus combined the phrase from Daniel with a clause from the Psalms, leaving no doubt that he was the Davidic Messiah destined to reign from the throne of Yahweh - “Yahweh declared to my Lord: Sit at my right hand, until I make your foes your footstool” - (Psalm 110:1. See Mark 14:62Matthew 26:64Luke 22:69).

The language from Daniel is prominent in passages that describe the return of Jesus at the end of the age. 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).

Likewise, the description of him “coming on the clouds” appears in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians when he described 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”).

In Daniel’s vision, the “Son of Man” approached the “Ancient of Days” to receive the kingdom on behalf of the “saints,” as well as the authority to reign over “all peoples, nations and tongues.”

But his exaltation occurred only after the “little horn” had waged “war against the saints and prevailed over them.” Only then did the saints “receive the kingdom.” So also, the receipt of “dominion” by Jesus only came after his death and resurrection, and his death was a “ransom for many.”

The imagery from Daniel is prominent in Revelation. For example, its prologue concludes with the promise that Jesus will come “on the clouds.” That 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 the book’s first vision, the “one like a Son of Man” walking among the “seven golden lampstands,” that is, the seven churches of Asia:
  • And I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands and among the lampstands one like unto a son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about at the breasts with a golden girdle. And his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire. And his feet like unto burnished brass, as if it had been refined in a furnace; and his voice as the voice of many waters” – (Revelation 1:12-15).
In the fifth chapter, though pictured as the “slain Lamb,” overtones from Daniel’s vision are evident in the description of his victory and arrival at the “throne.” He approached the “throne” to receive the “sealed scroll,” and immediately, he began to break open its seals. All creation declared him “worthy” to receive all power and authority because “by his blood” he redeemed men from “every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation” – (Revelation 5:5-14).

When the seventh trumpet sounded, the sovereignty of the “Lamb” and his people over the kingdoms of the world was declared, and 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 for ever 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).
  • And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” – (Daniel 7:14).
  • And the kingdom and the dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most-High: his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him” – (Daniel 7:27).
During the “thousand years,” Satan was bound in the “Abyss” and prevented from deceiving the nations. At that time, judgment was made on behalf of the saints, once again, echoing Daniel:
  • 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 judgment. They do not escape tribulation and death. Just as the “little horn” waged “war against” the saints of Israel and “overcame them,” so, likewise, the “Dragon” and his earthly vassals “waged war against the saints” and killed them – (Daniel 7:21, Revelation 12:17, 13:7-10).

Thus, Jesus saw his own ministry and final victory in Daniel’s vision of “one like a Son of Man.” Consistently in the New Testament, the fulfillment of that prophecy began in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and this will culminate when he returns in glory “on the clouds of heaven” to gather his saints to himself.



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