Jesus often referred to himself as the “Son of Man”. Have you ever wondered why? He used the term many times in the Gospels, not the least of which is found here:
“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:13-16, NIV)
This particular passage is perhaps better known for Jesus’ answer to Peter’s declaration, in which he told Peter he would receive the “keys to the kingdom” because of his testimony. That statement has been celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church as being their charter and establishing Peter as the original leader for the church in Rome. You could therefore make the case that Peter’s simple declaration changed all of history.
A Common Phrase that was Uncommonly Significant
But to me, the substance of Peter’s confession is even more intriguing than the result. The title “Son of Man” was a phrase that had profound prophetic implications in the Hebrew Scriptures, and it was well-known to any Jewish person looking for the Messiah.
“Son of Man” is used by the prophet Ezekiel 93 times, emphasizing his humanity in the presence of God’s revelation. It is probably best known from its use as a Messianic reference in Daniel 7:13-14: “I looked, and there was before me one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory, and sovereign power; all peoples, nations, and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
The teachers in Jesus’ day had varying opinions about who this prophetic figure represented. Some thought he was one of the prophets; some thought maybe it was John the Baptist. Jesus often used this title to refer to himself (it appears 78 times in the gospels), and it was never attributed to anyone but him in the gospels. Stephen used it while he was being stoned to death to describe who he saw in heaven in Acts 7:56.
A Prophetic Claim
Almost every Hebrew churchgoer had some knowledge of the phrase, and the disciples’ mixed response about it in verse 13 is probably typical of the different opinions people had about who the Son of Man might be. Peter’s bold declaration was a leap of faith, and connected the dots between Daniel’s prophetic vision and the possibility that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.
It’s also interesting that it is Jesus’ most common way of referring to himself: it encompasses his humanity as a son of Adam (which was proclaimed in Luke’s genealogy), but it also refers to his divinity as the Son of God. It is a title expressing humility because he is fully human. But, at the same time it refers to one whose Kingdom will never be destroyed. It is an explicit reference that springs from Old Testament prophecy about Israel, eschatology (the last days), and the Messiah. Peter’s brazen testimony shows that he connected the dots, and that he suddenly gets it.
The only other question is, Have YOU? Do YOU?
Of all the titles, “Son of Man” is one connected to God’s plan,
From ancient prophecies foretold in Scriptures from the days of old…
It speaks of Jesus eloquently: divinity and humanity combined in personality
Expressing his authority for all of human history extending through eternity!
The complex span of God’s redemptive plan, the title of the only one who can
Be fully God–and somehow fully man–the only Son of God, the Son of Man!
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