Why Did Jesus Call Himself The “Son of Man”?

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By James Bishop| According to our best evidence, Jesus’ favourite self-designation was that of the “Son of Man” (bar enasha). In fact, this might leave one to assume that Jesus was just a man. Some have tried to use this to prove he never claimed to be divine.  Why did he call himself this?

Jesus applies the Son of Man title in affirmation of a person prophesied in the Book of Daniel.  It reads: “With the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.

And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” – Daniel 7:13-14 (ESV)

So far from a claim to be human, Jesus was claiming to be a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy of someone who would rule and reign as a glorious king.

This is known by scholars to be a claim to divinity

Scholar Ben Witherington explains that “This son of man figure is given power and authority over all peoples and he is said to be worshipped by all peoples, In addition it is said that his dominion or kingdom will be forever” (1). Scholar Dan Wallace provides a fair examination of the title:

“The title “Son of Man” was Jesus’ favorite way to describe himself; it refers to a human being, much the same as the phrase “son of Mike” would refer to a child of Mike. However, we aren’t dealing with a matter of either human or transcendent as the title implies. For in Daniel 7, the Son of Man rides the clouds.

In the Hebrew Scriptures riding the clouds is something only God does—or something foreign gods are described as doing (Ex. 14:20; 34:5; Num. 10:34; Ps. 104:3; Isa. 19:1). In other words, this human figure is unique in his possession of characteristics that reflect the transcendent divine. Jesus as the Anointed One, the Christ, represents both God and man” (2).

This is what Jesus referred to himself as.  As Witherington outlines: “This phrase is found in all the source layers of the Gospels whether we think of distinctively Markan, Lukan, Matthean, or Johannine material, or even in the sayings source that Luke and Matthew seem to have both drawn upon. By the criteria of multiple attestations this phrase has the highest claims to have been spoken by Jesus of Himself and used frequently” (3).

According to New Testament historian Mike Licona: “Jesus mentions the words Son Of Man 14 times in Mark. It is crystal clear on how he refers to himself. Some ambiguity exists 3 times when he mentions Son Of Man.”

Thus Jesus’ use of the title “Son of Man” would suggest that he thought of himself as more than just a human.  The “Son of Man” was a term that indicated divinity, worthiness of worship, an absolutely sovereignty over creation.

References 

1. Witherington, B. Did Jesus Believe He Was the Son of Man? Available.
2. Wallace, D. 2010. Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ.
3. Witherington, B. Ibid.
This articles was originally featured on the website of James Bishop and was used with permission from the author.
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