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Sometimes, people use titles to communicate something about themselves to other people. We see them in social media bios, where people use words like “mom,” “influencer,” or “doctor” to tell others what they do and who they are. When we look at Jesus, we see a man who had several titles. We see titles like “Prince of Peace,” “Messiah,” “Son of David,” “Son of God,” and “Teacher.”

However, the one that Jesus Himself used most often was Son of Man, but why? What was Jesus trying to say about Himself? There’s a surprising answer if we look at the Old Testament. “Son of Man” was how Jesus most often referred to Himself, using the title in all four Gospels, so there are several references. Some of the most famous examples include Matthew 8:20, Matthew 20:28, and Luke 5:24. Other examples include John 3:13-14, Matthew 17:9, and Mark 2:28.

What biblical authors wrote about the Son of Man?

The phrase “son of man” appears numerous times in the Old Testament, both for humans in general or one man. However, there’s one Old Testament author who used the term differently. During the Babylonian exile, Daniel the Prophet was taken into captivity. God used Daniel to make His will and Himself known to the Jews and Babylonians in exile. In Daniel 7:1-14, we read that Daniel records seeing a vision of four beasts rising to overpower the earth. Then, the Ancient of Days takes His seat of judgment and takes away the power of all four beasts. After that, Daniel sees “one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven.”

This man stands before the Ancient of Days, who gives him power over all languages, nations and peoples of the world for eternity. Understandably, Daniel was confused by what he’d seen, so he asked someone, presumably an angel, what the dream meant. In verses 17-27 of Matthew, the angel replied, saying that the four beasts represented four kingdoms that would rise and rule the earth. The final beast was the most terrifying and brutal of them all. This fourth beast would speak against the Lord and dominate His people. Ultimately, the Most High would judge all of Earth’s kingdoms, the fourth beast would be crushed, and the kingdoms of the world would be given to God’s people. As is typical with prophetic literature, many possible identities of the four beasts have been suggested.

There might be multiple correct interpretations regarding them. However, the part to focus on is the identity of the Son of Man described in verse 13 of Matthew. Verse 27 implies that this Son of Man represents God’s people as a whole, who will be given dominion and power over God’s kingdom once the beasts are defeated. With this in mind, we can look to the New Testament, where Jesus gives our understanding of this prophecy.

What did being the Son of Man say about Jesus?

The Jews from Jesus’ day understood the Son of Man in Daniel 7 to be a messianic figure. When Jesus called Himself the Son of Man, he claimed to be the one who would give dominion and power after the four kingdoms represented by the four beasts were defeated. In Jesus’ words, we see affirmations of the imagery from Daniel’s vision. Passages like Mark 16:26 and Matthew 26:64 describe Jesus, the Son of Man, coming on the clouds of heaven at His second coming, and there will be no question when the Son of Man comes again. It would be as apparent as lightning in the sky.

When Jesus returns, He’ll judge the righteous and the unrighteous. Then, the righteous will inherit the kingdom of God, according to Matthew 16:27. Still, not all of what Jesus said about being the Son of Man fulfilled the Jew’s expectations. As previously mentioned, the Jews believed the Son of Man represented the Messiah, but they didn’t believe the Messiah was divine, so when Jesus came claiming that He, as the Son of Man, was the Lord of the Sabbath and had the power to forgive sins, it didn’t sit well, particularly with religious leaders. Another way Jesus switched their expectations was by coming first to suffer and die. Using the Son of Man title, Jesus foresaw that He would be arrested by the chief priests, beaten, and crucified, then rise from the dead.

These predictions went entirely against the expectation that the Messiah would be a magnificent military leader who would defeat Rome and reestablish the Davidic monarchy, as detailed in 2 Samuel 7. Jesus used the title Son of Man to communicate an essential truth about Himself. At the time, He used it to correct the misconceptions surrounding Him. By calling Himself the Son of Man, Jesus suggested to listeners that He was the Messiah they’d been seeking. However, by using it in correlation with statements about His humility and His deity, Jesus destroyed and reshaped the preconceived ideas of who He was and what He’d come to do.

Why is it Good News that Jesus is the Son of Man?

When Jesus walked the earth, several people rejected Him because He wasn’t the Son of Man they’d hoped for. However, the irony is that Jesus was only able to secure the hope of Daniel 7 because He wasn’t the Son of Man that His peers wanted. What the Jews missed was that unknown oppressors weren’t ultimately their most significant issue. The problem, the one for everyone else on earth, was sin. Sin separated every human from God because God is holy and can’t allow sin because He is just. Therefore, He must punish sin. The sin problem isn’t just a Gentile or Jewish issue. In Romans 3:19-23, the apostle Paul reminds us that all have fallen short of God’s standard.

How could there be hope for a glorious future if God’s justice required judgment for sin? The Son of Man came to answer that question. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, left heaven to become one of God’s creations, live a perfect life, and die an atoning death to pay the penalty for sin. God raised Jesus from the dead three days after His death, proving that His sacrifice was enough to fulfill God’s wrath. Jesus gives salvation to anyone who comes to Him in faith. If we turn away from our sins and trust Jesus’ sacrifice to save us, then death and sin no longer stand between us and God, and Daniel’s vision of glory isn’t only possible but inevitable.

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