By Pastor Don Strand
In Romans 12, Paul tells us that our only logical, reasonable and appropriate response to the gracious gift of saving faith is “your rational service.” This “rational service” in the original language is to hold someone or something in high esteem, to honor, to love and respect, in other words, to exalt. Last week, in part one of Exalting Christ in Your Life, I wrote that we exalt Him because Jesus is the “Son of God,” a title used in Mark 1:1, John 1:14 and several other New Testament passages. This week I want to look at the phrase that Jesus used to describe Himself, the “Son of Man”, and why He did so. For this title helps us understand the meaning of His first coming and gives us confidence that our Redeemer and Savior is worthy of our allegiance, worship and exaltation.
The source for Jesus of this title is most likely Daniel 7. In verses 13 and 14, Daniel writes this: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, 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.”
The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that Daniel’s writings were popular among first century Jews. When Jesus used this term to describe Himself, it would have drawn the original hearers back to the time in their national history when the nation was exiled to Babylon and under intense pressure to worship the Babylonian king Belshazzar. Daniel is given a vision of four beasts rising out of the sea to attack God’s people. The fourth and most terrifying beast had ten horns and out of these horns arose another smaller horn. It had eyes like a man and raged against God and His people (Daniel 7:8, 19-25). As they attack, the Heavenly court is seated in judgment against them. Thrones are set in place and God (the Ancient of Days) takes His seat (Daniel 7:9-10). Then Daniel sees “one like a son of man”; a human looking figure who is given authority, glory, sovereign power, the worship of people from every language and an eternal kingdom. All things that are reserved for God. This one “like the son of man” is brought into the presence of God and treated like His equal.
Daniel’s vision is one of suffering and of exaltation. Though the “little horn” makes war against the people of God, they are at the same time, given a kingdom, with its sovereignty and power. Jesus used Daniel’s “one like the son of man” to communicate the ideas of suffering and victory without using the politically charged terms “Messiah” and “Son of David” which would have added to the people’s expectation of a coming one who would overthrow the oppressive Roman rule and bring Israel back to its position of world power. That was not what Jesus’ first coming was about. As Jesus said: “… the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28, ESV).
The use by Jesus of the term “Son of Man” demonstrates the connection with the themes of suffering, kingship, enthronement and authority that are central to Daniel’s vision. Jesus saw His authority to act on God’s behalf. He forgave sins (Luke 5:23). He claimed to be Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28). By the using the term “Son of Man”, Jesus brings to mind His authority to act on God’s behalf that is given to the figure in Daniel 7.
Jesus often used the “Son of Man” language to refer to His second coming (Matthew 13:41-42; 24:27). And while the term pointed to the suffering of this Son of Man and His people (Daniel 7:25), it also points to the vindication after His suffering. This is seen clearly in the Gospel of John where we see Jesus declare: “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” (John 3:13), that He has the authority to judge because He is “the son of Man” (John 5:27), that God the Father has placed His seal of approval on the Son (John 6:27), and that only when the Son of Man is lifted up will His disciples understand who He was (John 8:28).
The title “Son of Man” was never a confessional title among the disciples of Jesus. The only time “Son of Man” is found as a title in the New Testament from someone other than Jesus comes from Stephen as he dies a martyrs death (Acts 7:56). This use by Stephen points to his trust in Jesus’ ability to vindicate him through his suffering as a martyr. Later, in Revelation, John twice describes Jesus as “one like the Son of Man” (Revelation 1:13; 14:14). The first reference uses the imagery of Daniel 7, of woolen hair, white raiment, and blazing fire (Daniel 7:9-10; Revelation 1:13-15), and the second as the one enthroned at the right hand of the Father—God’s equal—and his authority to harvest (Revelation 14:14).
Who is He? He declares He is the Son of Man, a title reserved for the One who sits at the right hand of the Father and is given authority to judge all of mankind. So we exalt Christ because He is God. He claims the title of the One Daniel saw 700 years before the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. When Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples finally realized Who he had been following for over three years, he said: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). And as Thomas understood, we too should understand that Jesus is worthy of being exalted and placed at the center of our lives because He is the Living God and the savior of the world.