Is the title “the Son of Man” a messianic title?
At least a dozen times in the Old Testament the expression “son of man” designates an ordinary mortal human. The two potentially messianic passages (Psa 80:17; Dan 7:13) use the same form of expression. If we had only the Old Testament, we might wonder if “the Son of Man” designates the Messiah or merely describes a man.
The records of the Lord’s trial before the high priest, however, are conclusive. Matthew (26: 63-65) and Mark (14:61-63) record the high priest’s question, “Art Thou the Christ, the Son of God (Mk: “the Blessed”)?” The Lord’s answer was, “Hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” This is an incontrovertible reference to Daniel’s prophecy (7:13). The Lord used the title “the Son of Man” interchangeably with “the Christ” and “the Son of God,” therefore it is a messianic title.
Luke’s account (22:67-71) adds another detail, confirming that the Jews understood this to be a messianic title. After the Lord claimed to be the Son of Man, all who were with the high priest asked practically the same question as the high priest, “Art Thou then the Son of God?” They understood that His use of the title was a messianic claim.
Why does the Lord Jesus emphasize this title?
In the Gospels, the Lord refers to Himself as the Son of Man on 53 occasions. In all but one of these, the words could be translated literally “the Son of the Man,” a form only used of Christ in the Scriptures. On the other occasion, the form is “Son of Man,” the same construction used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament on every occasion “son of man” appears. To give some perspective, in the gospel records the Lord referred to Himself as “the Christ” on eight occasions. He referred to Himself as Lord on ten occasions. We have five recorded incidents when He stated He is the Son of God.
But why this emphasis? In Daniel’s prophecy (7:13), at least three truths are related to the Son of Man: His authority, His coming, His rejection. In contrast to others whose dominion would be taken from them, the Son of Man receives authority that will never pass away (v 14). His coming is with the clouds of heaven (v 13). That His rejection precedes His coming is evident in linking two other Old Testament passages with this prophecy. He is a man Who comes from heaven. This is parallel to the teaching of Psalm 110 (verses 1-3), where the coming ruler has enemies and his own people are unwilling for Him to reign over them while He is sitting at God’s right hand. Add to that verse 17 of Psalm 80, which appears to be messianic and links “the Man of Thy right hand” (His ascension) with “the Son of Man.”
In at least seven of the recorded 53 occasions, He emphasizes His authority: over the Sabbath, the forgiveness of sins, all judgment, and entrance to the kingdom. Comparing Psalm 8 (v 4) and Hebrews 2 (vv 6-9), we conclude that the dominion over all the works of God’s hands was lost by Adam, the son of man, and now belongs to Jesus, the Son of Man, although all things are not yet put under to Him.
On at least 17 of these 53 occasions, the Lord is referring to His coming again – and always His coming to earth. He is anticipating His coming glory.
At least 26 of the occasions when He calls Himself the Son of Man, the Lord is emphasizing His rejection – including His death, burial, resurrection, or ascension. This is then a predominant thought associated with His title as the Son of Man.
As in Psalm 8 and various other passages, the term “son” does not always refer to physical generation, but refers rather to character (e. g., sons of Belial; see also Eph 2:2 JND and Mat 23:31, JND). The Son of Man embodies all that God ever intended a man to be.
His reasons for using this title so often, then, may be to emphasize His messiahship, coming glory, rejection, authority, and perfection, showing that He was both like, yet distinct from, every other man.
What is the significance of Ezekiel’s being called “son of man”?
The Lord addresses Ezekiel as “son of man” about 93 times. The only other person God addressed in this way was Daniel and on only one occasion (Dan 8:17).
The title, literally rendered “son of Adam,” may express God’s tenderness to Ezekiel, in light of his frailty and the failure surrounding him. The title is linked with favor (Psa 8:4, 5). Psalm 80 would inform Ezekiel that the Son of Man will eventually visit and bless the nation (v 17). While Ezekiel witnessed God’s glory departing, the title may have encouraged him since He was linked with the Messiah, Who would one day bring back that glory.
In addition, Ezekiel had a number of likenesses to the Lord Jesus. The ministry of both began at 30 (Eze 1:1). Neither functioned as a priest in the nation due to the nation’s departure (see Psa 110:2, 4). Each was God’s messenger. Ezekiel spoke to the nation, knowing they would not hearken. The Lord came to “His own” knowing that rejection awaited Him. Both were faithful and foresaw the glory departing from the land (Mat 23:38). How encouraging that those who are faithful to God, yet appear unsuccessful, are a fragrant reminder to God of the faithful Witness (Rev 1:5), Whom some deemed a failure.
God’s addressing Ezekiel in this way so often would be very encouraging. In his difficult service, he was unique and special to God.
Why does no one else refer to Christ as the Son of Man?
Significantly, Stephen did acknowledge Him as the Son of Man (Acts 7:56) at the time of the nation’s willful rejection of Christ. This theme of rejection seems inseparable from this title. Perhaps that is part of the irony that, in the Gospels, no one acknowledged Christ as the Son of Man.