Son of Man and Son of God

Theologians have been trying to decode the meaning of the expressions “Son of Man” and “Son of God” for a long time.
Even after long discussions for centuries, interpretation of the terms remains a challenge.

“Son of Man” and “Son of God” are two titles that Jesus used to speak of Himself.
They are not equal or similar terms; their meaning is different and unrelated to each other.
So let us discuss these terms under different categories.
Our intention is to understand the simple, common and accurate meaning of the terms.
What a lay man should understand from these terms when they are used in relation to Jesus Christ?
Let me make it clear, like all my studies, this discussion is also for a believer in Jesus Christ.
This short study has no intention to present deep theological conclusions.
Let us start our discussion with the term, “Son of Man”.

Son of Man

We read that Jesus was called many names throughout the Bible, but Son of Man stands apart for several reasons.
This term appears more in number than other names.
Just as the Lamb of God, this name has a distinct meaning that is easily defined and connected to Scripture.
What is the significance and the implications of Christ being the Son of Man?
Just like other names of God, this name has rich meaning. Let’s explore this powerful name.

The term son of man is used variously in Scripture.

The Hebrew term, ben-adam and the Aramic phrase bar-adam are translated as "Son of man"
The singular Hebrew expression "son of man" (ben-'adam) appears in the Torah over a hundred times.
In thirty two cases, the phrase appears in intermediate plural form "sons of men".
As generally interpreted by Jews, "son of man" denotes mankind generally in contrast to deity or godhead, with special reference to their weakness and frailty.

The phrase “Son of Man” occurs 195 times in the Old and New Testaments.
It occurs 107 times in the Old Testament, but 93 times in the book of Ezekiel.
The use of "the Son of man" in the gospels is unrelated to Hebrew Torah usages.

Jesus is referred to as the Son of Man in the New Testament for 88 times.

The Old Testament background

The phrase is used in the Old Testament at different occasions with different meaning.
The term in the Old Testament highlights the weakness of human compared to God.
The term used in Job 16: 21; 25: 6; and 35: 8 and Isaiah 51: 12 have the connotation of weakness.
Similarly, in Numbers 23: 19, the God who does not lie or repent is contrasted with the “son of man” who does both.
The verse says: “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (NKJV)
Here the term refers to humans. The verse simply says that God is not like us.
He is not a man. Men and women lie and God does not lie.

There is one occasion in Isaiah 56: 2 and two in Jeremiah 50: 40 and 51: 43 the term is used as a euphemism for human.
Some uses in the Psalms fall into this category.

If Jesus was using the term in this sense, He was referring to his weak incarnation as a human.
Jesus certainly was more humble than any man who ever walked the face of the earth.
But during His earthly ministry, Jesus never had to combat unduly lofty perceptions of himself by others.
Jesus had something more serious in His mind.

The meaning implied is different in Psalm 8: 4-6.

4    What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him?
5    For You have made him a little lower than the angels, And You have crowned him with glory and honor.
6    You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet,   (NKJV)

The psalmist marvels that the God who made the heavens has regard for the “son of man”.
And soon he recognizes that God has crowned the son of man with glory and honor, and set him over all God’s works.
The passage clearly alludes to the original Adam when it sings of how the “son of man” is entrusted with dominion over creation.
Here “son of man” refers to power, honor and authority.

Thus the term imparts to us two meanings

1.   Son of man as a title can highlight the frailty of mankind in contrast with God
2.   Humanity’s high status as the image of God and ruler of creation. 

All the above observations about the Old Testament usage is true, but there is more.
There are two other more specific uses of the term “son of man” in the Old Testament. 
The term is used in a specific way in the book of Ezekiel and in another way in the book of Daniel.

So first, we shall read the meaning of the phrase in Ezekiel.

Son of Man in Ezekiel
God called the prophet Ezekiel “son of man” 93 times.
This phrase is seen at Ezekiel 2: 1; 3: 1; 4: 1; 5: 1 and more.

The term is used as a common term to mean a human signifying the humanity of Ezekiel.

God probably chose this manner of address to contrast between the human condition of Ezekiel and the transcendent majesty of God.

In the first chapter of his book, Ezekiel relates a vision he had of God’s glory—a scene full of wheels, eyes, storms, fire and strange angelic creatures.

The prophet realized his own human frailty and limitations in the face of God’s unsurpassable glory.

And in the first verse of the next chapter, God addresses Ezekiel as “son of man.”

“And He said to me, "Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak to you." (Ezekiel 2:1 -NKJV)
God is God, and Ezekiel is but a “son of man.”

Son of Man in Daniel

The phrase “Son of Man” is used in a different meaning in the prophecy of Daniel

Daniel 7: 13 - 14

13 "I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him.

14 Then 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 the one Which shall not be destroyed. (NKJV)

In this verse “Son of Man” has messianic overtones and refers to the person of human descendent.

Daniel saw a vision of “One like the Son of Man” receiving a kingdom, “that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.”
This is a “coming” into heavenly glory and authority, not a coming down to earth.
But a similar appearance can be expected in the end time as Jesus comes again to earth.
As Jesus has repeatedly said he himself would come with the clouds of heaven.

The “son of man” receives dominion specifically over the kingdoms which were shown to Daniel as beasts: a lion, a bear, a leopard, and a dragon.
The scene recalls Adam’s original mandate to rule over the beasts of the earth.
Daniel’s son of man is one who is fulfilling the commission to Adam to “rule” as the image of God.
This is the role of Jesus of Christ.
Jesus Christ is the last Adam, the faithful Israelite, the chief representative of the saints, the perfect image of God, the one who inherits the kingdoms of the world and subdues the creation.
That’s what it means for Jesus to be the son of man.

When Jesus used the phrase “the Son of Man”, He was assigning Daniel’s prophecy to Himself.

The teachers of the Law during Jesus’ time on earth would have readily understood Jesus’ meaning when He applied the title the Son of Man to Himself.

Jesus was proclaiming Himself as the Messiah and the fact that He will fulfill Daniel’s prophecy.
Jesus’ own use of the term is often connected with statements about his “coming with the clouds of heaven”. (Mark 14: 62)

So Daniel serves as the most promising immediate background.

Jesus as “the Son of Man”

Jesus more often used the term, “the Son of Man” than “Son of God”.
An example for use of this term is Mark 10: 45:

"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."  (NKJV)

Jesus calls himself the Son of Man very often, though during the time no one had trouble believing that he was human. 

“The Son of man” was Jesus' favorite self-designation. The term is found in all gospels.
It appears 29 times in Matthew, 14 times in Mark, 26 times in Luke, and 13 times in John.
Gospels record Jesus as speaking of Himself as “the Son of Man”; but there is no evidence that the church went on calling Jesus, “the Son of Man.”
The term did not pass into normal Christian usage or worship after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

But there are some verses outside the gospels where the term, “the Son of Man” is used.
In Acts 7: 56, it is recorded that Stephen saw “the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!"
In the book of Revelation the term appears twice:
In Revelation 1:13 we read, “and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band.” (NKJV)
And in Revelation 14:14, we read, “Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle.” (NKJV)

This does not discredit the phrase but gives it special significance that Jesus really called Him so.
Jesus used the term while He was talking about his miracles, preaching, impending death, kingdom, authority to forgive sin and his Lordship of the Sabbath.
So the use of the term has no particular association with the occasion of the message.

It is true that the application of the title Son of Man highlights the humanity of Christ.
The difference is that He is the Son of Man; that is, He is the epitome of humanity.
Jesus is the Sinless One, humanity perfected, the one to finally reconcile God and man.
And those with ears to hear could hear Daniel 7, in which he was awarded a very exalted role in the history of redemption.

The term refers to a human, but it is also a title for Jesus Christ.
He was a son of man, that is, a human being.
And according to Daniel 7, He is an exalted heavenly one.
And Jesus means to communicate both of those.
Jesus was the ultimate human. He was God in human flesh.

The first instance of record in which Jesus applied to Himself the expression "the son of man" is in His discussion with the timid Pharisee, Nicodemus.

John 3: 13, 14
13 "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.
14 "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,   (NKJV)

These words apply the expression to Himself as a servant.
They mark Him as the Calvary sacrifice, and also identify Him as the Logos who served God before the days of His flesh.
It is a testimony of His prior existence and service in God's heaven, of His invisible interaction between heaven and earth, and of His knowledge of heavenly things.
Though Nicodemus acknowledged Jesus as "a teacher come from God," he was unable to believe all that Jesus told him.
Because of this he did not receive the commendatory assurance which Peter heard after his revealing confession in Matthew 16:17 sometime later.

The Son of God

The term "son of God" in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible refers to people with special relationship with God.
In the Old Testament, angels, just and pious men, and the kings of Israel are all called "sons of God."
The terms "son of God" and "son of the LORD" found in the Old Testament generally do not refer to Jesus or the Trinity directly.
In the New Testament, Adam, and Jesus Christ are called "son of God," while followers of Jesus are called, "sons of God."

In the New Testament, Jesus is declared to be the Son of God on two separate occasions by a voice speaking from Heaven.
Jesus is explicitly described as the Son of God by Himself and by various individuals in the New Testament.
When applied to Jesus, the term refers to his role as the Messiah, the King chosen by God.
The contexts and ways in which Jesus' title, Son of God, means something more than or other than Messiah remain the subject of ongoing scholarly study and discussion.

The term "Son of God" should not be confused with the term "God the Son", the second Person of the Trinity in Christian theology.
The doctrine of the Trinity identifies Jesus as God the Son, identical in essence but distinct in person with regard to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.
The Father God and the Holy Spirit God are the first and third Persons of the Trinity. 
Non Trinitarian Christians accept the application of the term "Son of God" to Jesus,, but not the term "God the Son".
They argue that term the Son of God is found in the New Testament while the other term, God the Son is not found in the any part of the Bible.

Rulers and Imperial titles

Throughout history, many rulers have assumed titles such as son of a god or son of heaven.
In history emperors like the Western Zhou dynasty (1000 BC) in China and the Emperor of Japan (600 AD) assumed the title, son of god.
From around 360 BC onwards Alexander the Great claimed that he was a demigod by using the title "Son of AmmonZeus".
Many kings were considered as the son of god throughout the Ancient Near East.
Egypt in particular developed a long lasting tradition on this myth.
Egyptian pharaohs are known to have been referred to as the son of a particular god.
In Greek mythologyHeracles (son of Zeus) and many other figures were considered to be sons of gods through union with mortal women.

Jewish kings are also known to have been referred to as "son of the LORD".
But Jewish kings rarely acted as priests or god and prayers were never addressed directly to them.
Rather, prayers concerning the king are addressed directly to God.

The birth and life of Jesus also had a background of deifying kings.
In 42 BC, Julius Caesar was formally deified as "the divine Julius" after his assassination.
His adopted son, Octavian Augustus thus became the son of the divine Julius or simply son of the god.
Later, Tiberius, the Roman emperor from 14 - 37 AD, came to be accepted as the son of god.
By the end of the 1st century, the emperor Domitian was called the master and god.

Although references to "sons of God" and "son of God" are occasionally found in Jewish literature, they never refer to physical descent from God.
These terms are often used in the general sense in which the Jewish people were referred to as "children of the Yahweh your God".
When used by the rabbis, the term referred to Israel or to human beings in general, and not as a reference to the Jewish mashiach.
In Judaism the term mashiach has a broader meaning and usage and can refer to a wide range of people not necessarily related to the Jewish eschaton.


Jesus as the Son of God

In Christianity, the title the Son of God refers to the status of Jesus as the divine son of God the Father.
The phrase “Son of God” occurs 43 times in the New Testament and it always refers to Jesus.
It means that Jesus is God. It does not mean that He was born of God, nor that He was the offspring of God.
This truth is clearly explained in John 10: 30 - 35.

John 10:30 "I and My Father are one."  (NKJV)

The Greek word that Jesus used here for “one” is heis.
It is a cardinal number such as 1, 2, 3 and so forth.
That is Jesus said that He was the Father and the Father was Himself.
He referred to the concept of the trinity.
Now notice the response of the religious leaders. They understood that He claimed to be God.

John 10: 31 - 33
31 Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him.
32 Jesus answered them, "Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?"
33 The Jews answered Him, saying, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God."  (NKJV)

It is obvious that the Jews understood, Jesus was declaring that He was God.
Here Jesus claimed that He was one with the Father.
That is the meaning of “the Son of God.” Therefore, they accused Jesus of blasphemy.
That means, the phrase “Son of God” means God.

Jesus is not God’s Son in the sense of a human father and a son.
God did not get married and never had any physical relationship with an earthy women to have a son.
Jesus is God’s Son in the sense that He is God made manifest in human form (John 1:114).
Jesus was conceived in Mary by the Holy Spirit.
Luke 1:35 “And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.”  (NKJV)

Pastor John MacArthur explains these verses in his, The MacArthur Study Bible: “Since a son bears his father’s qualities, calling a person someone else’s ‘son’ was a way of signifying equality. Here the angel was telling Mary that her Son would be equal to the Most High God”. 

During His trial before the Jewish leaders, the High Priest demanded of Jesus:

Matthew 26: 63, 64
63 But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, "I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!"
64 Jesus said to him, "It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven." (NKJV)

By hearing this, the Jewish leaders accused Jesus with blasphemy (Matthew 26:65, 66).
Later, before Pontius Pilate, “The Jews insisted, ‘We have a law, and according to that law He must die, because He claimed to be the Son of God’” (John 19:7).
Why would His claiming to be the Son of God be considered blasphemy and be worthy of a death sentence?
The Jewish leaders understood exactly what Jesus meant by the phrase “Son of God.”
To be the Son of God is to be of the same nature as God. The Son of God is “of God.”
And that was blasphemy to the Jewish leaders; therefore, they demanded Jesus’ death, in keeping with Leviticus 24: 15

Hebrews 1: 3 expresses this very clearly, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.”
This is the exact meaning conveyed by the term, Son of God.

John 17: 12 Judas is described as the “son of perdition.” 
But John 6: 71 tells us that Judas was the son of Simon.
The word perdition means “destruction, ruin, waste.”
Judas was not the literal son of “ruin, destruction, and waste,” but those things were the identity of Judas' life. Judas was a manifestation of perdition.

Jesus is the Son of God. The Son of God is God. Jesus is God made manifest.
And he is the Son of God, in that he has always existed as the Eternally Begotten One who comes forth from the Father forever.
He is the Second Person of the Trinity with all of the divine nature fully in him.

Eternal Sonship
And we have to understand that Jesus was eternally the Son of God.
In other words, there was never a time when He was not the Son of God, and there has always been a Father - Son relationship within the Godhead.
In fact the Sonship is not merely a title or role that Christ assumed at some specific point in history, but that it is the essential identity of the second Person of the Godhead.
That is, Christ is and always has been the Son of God.
He was the son of God before the creation, He was the son of God while He was manifested on earth as a human being and He is the son of God now and will be in eternity to come.
This His heavenly status as one among the triune.
But he was fully a human while he was on this earth as Jesus, so that he can become a ransom for us.
Jesus Christ had a human nature and a human will, but that He overcame and never sinned.
Because of this overcoming life, He was able to overcome death and today He is seated at the right hand side of His Father in heaven.
Because He overcame as a man like us, it means that we can also live the same life that He lived while on earth.
It is completely possible to follow Christ in truth. If we follow Him, we will also end up where He is.

1 John 4: 2, 3
2    By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God,
3    and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. (NKJV)

1 John 3: 8 speaks of the appearance of the Son of God:

“He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.”  (NKJV)

The verb “manifested” means to make visible or to bring to light something that was previously hidden.
The already existing Son of God was made manifest or appeared in order to fulfill God’s predetermined purpose.

John 16:28 "I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father."  (NKJV)

Here Jesus is speaking plainly that He was not sent by His Father on errand as a messenger but that He came forth from the Father and will return to His Father after resurrection.
At His incarnation the Son “came from the Father” in the same sense as upon His resurrection He returned “to the Father.”
Implied in this verse is the fact that if Jesus was the Son after the resurrection, then He was also the Son prior to His incarnation.


So let us conclude that the term, Son of God affirms the divinity of Jesus and Son of man his humanity.
However, while the profession of Jesus as the Son of God has been an essential element of Christian creeds since the apostolic age, such professions do not apply to Son of man.
The proclamation of Jesus as the Son of man has never been an article of faith in Christianity.

Jesus is eternally the Son of God.
Son of God is not a title; it does not imply that God begot a son like human beings.
Son of God reveals the relationship with God the Father.
He did never give up his relationship with His father, because He can never do it.
He was the Son of Man while he was on this earth born as the sacrificial lamb to atone the human sins.
But even during His life in this world, He remained the Son of God.
Son of God is His eternal relationship with His Father.

Let me cut short. 
May God bless you all! Amen!

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