A Look at Messianic Prophecy and The Son of Man Saying in the Ministry of Jesus

Introduction

“Son of Man” was Jesus’ favorite title for Himself throughout His ministry. There is some debate on how to translate Son of Man. In an online article on Bible Gateway Blog, they discuss how the Common English Bible is dealing with this issue. They have translated the Son of Man saying as “Human One.”  They say the following:

People who have grown accustomed to hearing Jesus refer to himself in the Gospels as “the Son of Man” may find this jarring. Why “Human One”? Jesus’ primary language would have been Aramaic, so he would have used the Aramaic phrase bar enosha. This phrase has the sense of “a human” or “a human such as I.”

To read more on this see here:

Anyway, the Son of Man saying is employed to Jesus’ earthly ministry (Mk. 2:10,28; 10:45; Matt. 13:37); Second, the Son of Man was to suffer and die and rise from the dead (Mk. 8:31;9:31;10:33). Third, the Son of Man would serve an eschatological function (Mk. 8:38;13:26;14:62; Matt.10:23;13:41;19:28:24:39;25:31). One passage that stands out in the Gospel of Matthew is the following:

At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath. –Matthew 12: 1-8.

Given the Sabbath was and still is the most important observance in Judaism, for the Gospel authors to make any figure as having authority over the Sabbath would only create another huge stumbling block for Jewish people.

As Ben Witherington III says,

Now in Jewish theology, God of course was the Creator of the universe who set up the sabbatical pattern in the first place, and rested on the seventh day (see Gen. 1). Since God had created the Sabbath, only God was the Lord thereof. Yet here, Jesus’ claims, as Son of Man, to be Lord over the Sabbath, and claims that He can reinterpret the Sabbath to mean, this is the perfect day to give sick people “rest” from their illnesses, even though this activity constitutes work by any Old Testament definition. In other words, as Son of man, Jesus felt He could rewrite the Sabbath rules. Why? Because He was Lord over the Sabbath and its proper observance now that God’s divine saving activity was breaking into human history through Him.[1]

The Son of Man and Blasphemy

One of the most pertinent issues is Jesus’ use of Son of Man in the trial scene in Mark 14.

And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need?  You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows.-Mark 14: 60-65

By Jesus asserting He is the Son of Man, he was exercising the authority of God. It is for this reason that we don’t want to minimize why Jesus earned the charge of blasphemy here. According to Jewish law, the claim to be the Messiah was not a criminal or capital offense. If this is true, why was Jesus accused of blasphemy? Jesus affirmed the chief priest’s question that He was not only the Messiah but also the Son of God, and the Coming Son of Man who would judge the world. This was considered a claim for deity since the eschatological authority of judgment was for God alone. Hence, Jesus provoked the indignation of his opponents because of His application of Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1 to himself.

What about Daniel 7:13-14 and the Son of Man

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.-Daniel 7:13-14

When it comes to this text, the debate is over the referent. In the vision, “Ancient of days” (Dan 7: 9, 13, 22) must be identified with the “Most High” (Dan 7:18, 22,25,27), as God himself. As I said,the Aramaic for “Son of Man” is “bar enosha.” The ESV translates it as “a son of man” while the JPS translates it as “a human being” which is a paraphrase.[2] Some Jewish interpretations have interpreted the text to be about a human collectively (i.e., the people of God who are “personalized as the Messiah”). [3] The evidence for the collective interpretation is seen in the following texts:  

But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.”- Daniel 7:18

And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.- Daniel 7:28 [4]

A quick glance here would seem to indicate that the collective interpretation has some merit. However, a closer reading indicates some challenges with interpreting the Dan 7:13-14 text as referring to a collective group. This text seems to reveal that God is bringing a figure with a status over angelic millions in a heavenly court scene. If anything, the people on earth are supposed to find a tremendous future for themselves in this royal figure. This would makes sense given the context shows this type of vision would be one of hope for the generation of people that would read this text.  The other issue is that the figure in Dan 7:13-14 is coming with the clouds of heaven.  Daniel Boyarin says the following:

From the earliest layers of interpretation and right up to the modern times, some interpreters have deemed the “one like a son of man” as symbol of a collective, namely, the faithful Israelites at the time of the Maccabean revolt, when the book of Daniel was probably written. Other interpreters have insisted that “[one like a] son of man” is a second divine figure alongside the Ancient of Days and not an allegorical symbol of the People of Israel. We find in Aphrahat, the fourth century Iranian Father of the Church, the following attack on the interpretation (presumably by Jews) that makes the “one like a son of man” out to be the People of Israel: “Have the children of Israel received the kingdom of the Most High? God forbid! Or has that people come on the cloud of heaven?”…Aphrahat’s argument is exegetical and very much to the point. Clouds-as well as riding on or with clouds- are a common attribute of biblical divine appearances, called theophanies (Greek for “God appearances”) by scholars. J.A. Emerton has made the point decisively: “The act of coming in the clouds suggests a theophany of [YHVH] himself. If Dan vii.13 does not refer to a divine being, then it is the only exception out of about seventy passages in the Old Testament.[5]

 Ironically, what is interesting is that in relation to the Daniel 7 text is that there is an established tenet in Talmudic times is that there is a splitting of the Messiah in two. This is why it says in the Talmud, “If they [the people of Israel] are worthy of [the Messiah] he will come ‘with the clouds of heaven’ [Dan 7:13] ;if they are not worthy, ‘lowly and riding upon a donkey’ [Zech. 9:9]” (b. Sanhedrin 98a).

 The Son of Man and 1 Enoch

The other challenge to the collective interpretation to of Dan 7:13-14 is seen in the Pseudepigrapha which commonly refers to numerous works of Jewish religious literature written from about 200 BC to 200 AD. Even though these works are not part of the Protestant Canon they are dated just before or around the time of Jesus. Therefore, they help provide the historian with valuable information into the Jewish religious life and thinking patterns at the time of Jesus. The following examples were taken from The Messiah Texts by Raphel Patai.[6]

And there I saw him who is the Head of Days, and His head was white like wool, and with him was another one whose countenance had the appearance of a man And his face was full of graciousness, like one of holy angels. And I asked the angel who went with me and showed me all the hidden things about the Son of Man: Who is he and whence is he and why did he go with the Head of Days? And he answered and said to me: This is the Son of Man who has righteousness, With whom dwells righteousness, And who reveals all the treasures of the crowns, For the Lord of Spirits chose him. (1 Enoch 46:1-3)

He shall be a staff for the righteous. Whereon to lean, to stand and not to fall,And he shall be a light to the nations, And hope for the troubled of heart. And all the earth dwellers before him shall fall down, And worship and praise and bless and sing to the Lord of Spirits. It is for this that he has been chosen and hidden before Him, even before The creation of the world and evermore.(1 Enoch 48: 4-6)

 

I Enoch 51.3: The Elect One will sit on [God’s] throne.

 

I Enoch 52.4: And he said to me, ‘All these things which you have seen happen by the authority of his Messiah so that he may give orders and be praised upon the earth.’

 

I Enoch 62.5: …and pain shall seize them when they see that Son of Man sitting on the throne of his glory.

 

I Enoch 62.7: For the Son of Man was concealed from the beginning, and the Most High One preserved him in the presence of his power; then he revealed him to the holy and elect ones.

 

I Enoch 62.14:  The Lord of the Spirits will abide over them; they shall eat and rest and rise with that Son of Man forever and ever…

 

I Enoch 69.29:  Thenceforth nothing that is corruptible shall be found; for that Son of Man has appeared and has seated himself upon the throne of his glory; and all evil shall disappear from before his face; he shall go and tell to that Son of Man, and he shall be strong before the Lord of the Spirits.

 Conclusion

 While the translation of the  Son of Man may pose some challenges, even if it is translated as “one like a human being” it is clear that while Jesus could still stress both his humanity and divinity by the usage of the Son of Man title.

 Given I have barely scratched the surface with this topic, feel free to read these online resources:

The Background to the Son of Man Sayings by F. F. Bruce: at http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/sonofman_bruce.pdf?vm=r&s=1

THE COMING OF THE SON OF MAN IN MARK’S GOSPEL by Edward Adams

Sources:

[1] Ben Witherington III, Did Jesus Believe He Was The Son of Man? http://www.4truth.net. Did_Jesus_Believe_He_Was_the_Son_of_Man.htm {accessed Nov 10th, 2013}

 [2] C.W Morgan and R.A. Peterson, Theology in Community: The Deity of Christ (Wheaten: Crossway, 2011), 53-55.

 [3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

 [5] D. Boyrian, The Jewish Gospels (New York: The New Press, 2012), 39.

[6] See R. Patai The Messiah Texts: Jewish Legends of Three Thousand Years (Detroit: Wayne State University Press), 1989.

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