WHY IS JESUS CALLED “THE SON OF MAN?” DOES THAT MEAN HE WAS A MERE MAN, AND NOT GOD?
by Shawn Brasseaux
The title appears some 210 times in the Holy Bible. Just under half of those occurrences—93 to be exact—are God addressing the Prophet Ezekiel himself. One verse applies it to Daniel the Prophet (8:17). Most of the instances of “the Son of Man” concern the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Occurring 81 times in the Books of Matthew through John, it is actually His preferred self-designation. Why is Jesus called “the Son of Man?” Does that mean, as sometimes assumed, that He is not God? What is the significance of the appellation, especially as it relates to Jesus Christ?
Of course, at the bare minimum, the expression “the Son of Man” highlights one’s humanity. Certain Bible passages make this apparent, especially those in Ezekiel and Daniel (as stated earlier). Moreover, “man” and “son of man” are nearly synonymous in Isaiah 56:2; Jeremiah 49:18,33; Jeremiah 50:40; and Jeremiah 51:43. (There is a subtle difference, and we will delineate it in this study.) The term is also applied to a human when being compared to Almighty God. Let us look at a few sample verses.
“God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19). “How then can man be justified with God? or how can he be clean that is born of a woman? Behold even to the moon, and it shineth not; yea, the stars are not pure in his sight. How much less man, that is a worm? and the son of man, which is a worm?” (Job 25:4-6).
“Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help…. Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God” (Psalm 146:3,5). “And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith” (Ecclesiastes 1:13). “I, even I, am he that comforteth you: who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass” (Isaiah 51:12).
Two key Bible passages identify the significance of the title “Son of man.” The first is Psalm 8: “ O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens.  Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.  When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;  What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
“ For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.  Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:  All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field;  The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.  O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!”
“Son of man” is associated with God appointing mankind—Adam and his children (us)—as His king or ruler over the Earth. It is man functioning in accordance with God’s will for him. We compare this to Genesis 1:26-28, the final day of the Creation Week before the first Sabbath: “ And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.  And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”
The Book of Hebrews provides us with even more light. Read chapter 1: “ God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,  Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;  Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;  Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.  For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?  And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.  And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire.
“ But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.  Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.  And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands:  They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment;  And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.  But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool?  Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?”
Now, Hebrews chapter 2, the second passage: “ For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak.  But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man that thou visitest him?  Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands:  Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him.  But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.  For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”
Under the Holy Spirit’s guidance, the writer of Hebrews applied Psalm 8 to the Lord Jesus Christ. What Adam and his children failed to do because of sin, Jesus Christ will do for Father God’s glory. In the Garden of Eden, Adam handed over to Satan his political authority in the Earth (Genesis chapter 3). Satan thus boasted of his earthly power: “Again, the devil taketh him [Jesus] up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him” (Matthew 4:8-11).
Here is a great Bible theme: just as Adam is the federal head of the human race (leading to condemnation), so Christ is the federal head of a new human race (leading to justification). Read all of Romans chapter 5. See 1 Corinthians 15:45-47, which also compares Christ and Adam: “ And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.  Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.  The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven.” It is expected that, in order to head the new human race, Jesus Christ’s humanity or relation to Adam must be stressed (although He is certainly God as well—verse 47 in a King James Bible, unlike the modern English versions, says He is “the Lord [JEHOVAH God] from heaven”).
Again, Jesus Christ will accomplish what sinful Adam refused to do. Christ will reign in the Earth for Father God’s glory, functioning as Father God’s King of the Earth. Read Daniel chapter 7: “ I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.  And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” Here is Jesus Christ approaching the throne of Father God, the Father anointing Him as King. This loops back to Hebrews chapter 1 (which also ties together Psalm 2, Psalm 45, Psalm 104, Psalm 97, Psalm 110, and so on). This will all occur at Christ’s Second Coming in Revelation chapter 19, Christ actually reigning in chapter 20.
It is also important to note that, when Jesus presented Himself to Israel as her King—as Earth’s King—Israel refused Him. She preferred to have Satan continue ruling her! “And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). “And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). Matthew 8:20 is the first occurrence of the title in the New Testament Scriptures. The term appears one final time in the Bible in Revelation 14:14: “And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle.” Notice again the “crown,” His right to reign as King!
We will now look at various other supplementary verses to reinforce our understanding thus far. Remember, the term “Son of Man” as touching Jesus Christ deals with His governmental authority, His Kingship, His political power or might, His God-given right to be Ruler over creation.
- Matthew 13:41: “The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;….”
- Matthew 16:27-28: “ For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.  Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.”
- Matthew 19:28: “And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
- Matthew 24:30: “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”
- Matthew 25:31: “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:….”
- Matthew 26:64: “Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”
- Mark 13:26: “And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.”
- Mark 14:62: “And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”
- Luke 21:27: “And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”
- Luke 22:69: “Hereafter shall the Son of man sit on the right hand of the power of God.”
- John 1:51: “And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”
- John 5:27: “And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.”
- Acts 7:56: “And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.”
Lest there be any misunderstanding, we close with an important remark. Never should we suppose that Jesus calling Himself “the Son of Man” is in any way a denial of His Deity. He is both “the Son of God” and “the Son of Man”—undiminished Deity and full humanity. Actually, He used the term “the Son of Man” in the very same sentence He claimed to be God in human flesh. “For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day” (Matthew 12:8). “Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath” (Mark 2:28). “And he said unto them, That the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath” (Luke 6:5). The Greek word for “Lord” here is “kurios;” the Hebrew equivalent is “Jehovah” (“LORD” of the Old Testament). Even as the Son of Man, Jesus also claimed to be the JEHOVAH God who created everything and then rested on that first Sabbath Day (Genesis 2:1-3)!
» Did Jesus ever claim to be God?
» Why is Jesus Christ called “the Word of God?”
» Was God “unfair” to punish us for Adam’s sin?