Jesus - Son of Man
Fr. Thomas Hopko · May 30, 2009
Why does Jesus refer to Himself as Son of Man when virtually no one else does?
When we read the Gospels, we see that Jesus always refers to himself as the Son of Man. It’s a very strange expression, “the Son of Man,” but he uses that expression all the time when he speaks about himself. No one else in the entire four Gospels ever calls him by that title. They call him “Rabbi”; they call him “Lord”; they call him “Master.” Some even say, “You are the Son of God.” Thomas even says, “My Lord and my God,” but no one calls him “Son of Man.”
But he always calls himself “Son of Man.” In fact, there’s only one place in the entire four Gospels where that term “Son of Man” is used where it is not Jesus using it for himself, but even in that place, it’s used because Jesus has used it, because Jesus has said it, and the person answers back, and I think we should hear that very one and only place. It’s truly an exception, where you find it, the only place in the Scripture where it is used.
It’s in John 12, where Jesus is saying, “Now the judgment of the world, now the prince of this world (or the ruler of this world), will be cast out”—he means the devil—“and I, when I am lifted up from the earth”—he means crucified and taken up into the heavens. It’s interesting in St. John: the lifting up as to do with lifting up on the Cross, and lifting up in the heavens with God; it’s a double meaning. “I will draw all people to myself.” And then it says, “He said this to show by what death he was to die,” meaning that he was going to be crucified.
The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” And then Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer; walk while you have the light.” So it’s the only time you have somebody saying to him, “You called yourself the Son of Man” and “You say that the Son of Man must be lifted up. Who is this Son of Man?” And they say it because he said it.
We should know… And I got this statistic from this author, whom I really love: Martin Hengel, his name is. He is a very elderly man now, a German scholar, of course, Tübingen. And I honestly believe, I’d like to make a big, big—whatever the word would be—commercial pitch here for the writings of Martin Hengel. I think Martin Hengel is the best critical scholar of the Holy Scripture ever, practically. Certainly in our… I would say ever. Because he… Well, I won’t say why. He just is. But he’s got wonderful books. He’s an expert on Palestinian Judaism and Diaspora Judaism and Hellenism at the time of Jesus. And then, of course, he’s an expert on the New Testament.
Well, he tells us in a book of essays on New Testament Christology, where he speaks about [this] title, “Son of Man.” He says that it’s used 81 times in the four Gospels. 14 times in Mark, 25 in Luke, 30 in Matthew, 12 in John, for a total of 81 times. And it’s not used by anyone else but him, and he only uses it for himself.
Since that expression, “Son of Man,” is an Old Testamental expression, it’s an Aramaic expression or Hebrew expression—in fact, Martin Hengel says that probably in Greek the expression “Son of Man” is completely meaningless to people. They wouldn’t know what you’re talking about. It just doesn’t seem to have any explanation. It doesn’t have an obvious meaning, like the term “king” or “judge” or “lord” or “God.” “Son of Man”: what can that mean?
So Martin Hengel called it a “veiled codeword,” a kind of Aramaic insider word for Jews. And maybe that explains why it’s found 30 times in Matthew, because Matthew’s considered to be the Aramaic Gospel, the one originally written for the Jewish Christians, and also, Matthew is not only the Torah Gospel, the one identifying Jesus as the New Moses and connecting [him] to the Law, but also Matthew is considered to be the source of the very sayings of Jesus, that the collection of the sayings of Jesus himself is somehow connected with the Matthew tradition and that you find them first of all through Matthew or in a separate collection that then comes through in Mark and Luke and so on. This is a scholarly problem or a challenge that it’s very hard to explain.
But one thing is not hard, at least to describe—I don’t know how to explain it; we’ll try to explain it here in a minute in some way, primitive, pathetic way—still, the fact of the matter is, the term “ho huios tou anthropou,” the son of the man or “ho huios anthropou” or simply “huios anthropou,” son of man, son of human being, and “anthropos” there means “human being,” son of human being. And “huios” means “son”’ it means a male child, a son: “huios.”
So it’s in Matthew and it’s used by Jesus, and this leads people, certainly Professor Hengel, to conclude that it must have been something that Jesus did himself. It’s not something that could be put upon him. Like, you could put on him the title “Christ”; you could put on him the title “Lord”; you could put on him the title “God”; but why would you put on him the title “Son of Man”? Certainly if you’re from the Greek-speaking world, it really wouldn’t make too much sense, such an expression.
And then, the point is also made that outside the Gospels, except when the expression “Son of Man” is used in a psalm, and that psalm is being quoted, like, for example, in Hebrews you have a psalm being quoted that has the expression “Son of Man” in it. And then you have Daniel quoted, and we’re going to see that Daniel is a very important text, where the Ancient of Days is on the throne, and where one “like unto a Son of Man” is presented to him, and he receives all dominion, power, glory, majesty, and so on from God.
When the New Testament refers to the Old Testament places where the expression “Son of Man” is used, and particularly where it’s used where the New Testament author wants to show that, in fact, it has to be applied to Jesus, and that’s probably why Jesus was using that very word himself, then, of course, you can see why that term, “Son of Man,” would be used. But, in St. Paul, for example, Jesus is never presented as the Messiah and the Lord because he is the Son of Man.
And, in fact, “Son of Man” does not become a kind of, how can you say, homiletical or kerygmatic or even doxological term. By using those fancy words following the scholars, what I simply mean to say is: Jesus, by the Christians, is not preached as “the Son of Man” to anybody too much, in fact, if at all. In the New Testament, it’s not at all. He’s preached as God’s Son, Son of God. He’s preached as Lord. He’s preached as Christ. He’s preached as Savior. But he’s not preached as Son of Man. And yet, that’s the title that he uses for himself.
What seems to be the case… Oh, also, yes, we should say that in Orthodox liturgy, in ancient Church liturgy, there are almost no prayers addressed to Jesus as Son of Man. It’s not one of the doxological terms. When we’re worshiping, you say, “O Lord, O Master, O Son of God, only-begotten Son, O Logos of God,” but he’s not really ever prayed to as “Son of Man.”
We’re thinking [about] or trying to understand [the reason for this]; that’s what we’re doing, but I think that to me it seems pretty clear what the reason is. The reason is that Jesus speaks about himself as the Son of Man. And he has a very particular reason for doing that, which we’ll get to. But what he wants from those who hear him is to confess him as the Son of God. What he wants from those who hear him is to confess him as the Lord, Kyrios. What he wants from those who hear him, very particularly, is to confess him as the Christ: “Who do you say that I am?”
It’s interesting: Peter doesn’t say, “You are the Son of Man.” He says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus says, “Right. Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” So it seems that in the four Gospels, particularly, Jesus presents himself as the Son of Man, but he expects those who see him for who and what he really is to confess him as the Christ, the Son of God, and the Lord.
What we will see immediately is that this expression, “Son of Man,” is in the Old Testament Scriptures, but it’s also found outside the Old Testament Scriptures. Hengel tells us that there’s a writing called the Similitudes of Enoch, an apocryphal book which was probably written between 40 BC, 40 years before Christ, or up to maybe 70 [years] after Christ, but here you have the expression “Son of Man” being used, but it is in that particular writing virtually a synonym with “Son of God” and with “Wisdom of God,” the personification of sophia, and it has other meanings in that Similitudes of Enoch.
However, [it is] Martin Hengel who points that out, says there’s no evidence whatsoever that Jesus ever knew anything about the book called the Similitudes of Enoch, but what makes it so intriguing is that maybe the Similitudes of Enoch expresses a kind of a tradition, one of those apocryphal, hidden, secondary traditions among the people, that does have some connection, certainly has connection with the Old Testament, with the Prophets and the Law of Moses and so on; after all, it’s Enoch that is mentioned. But it’s just interesting to mention that, to know that you find that there.
We’re not interested in that. What we have to be interested in is that this expression, “Son of Man,” is an Aramaic expression that’s used in various ways in the Old Testament. And it can be used simply as an expression meaning “a man, a human being,” in that sense; simply “a son of man.” Meaning to say, “Here is this man.” But it seems that already in the Old Testament, the expression “like a son of man” or “the son of man” is an expression that wants to say, “This is the man.” When that man comes, that one who has that title, that man that is referred to, then you know that he is the man that we’re looking for, the one that we are looking for.
So when Jesus is referring to himself as “Son of Man,” it can be understood—and I think in fact it must be—what he’s saying is, “I’m the man that you’re all looking for. I am the Son of Man. I am that man. I am the one. I am the human being. There isn’t any other.” Especially when you have the definite article: the Son of Man as a title, which you have all over the place. Practically the whole time it’s “the Son of Man”: “when the Son of Man is lifted up,” “that you may know that I am the Son of Man, do you believe that I am he” and all these kinds of expressions that you have in the holy Scripture.
It seems, though, however, that there is a very particular text in the Prophets that seems to be the main reason why that title is so significant, and it’s the Book of Daniel. And it’s in the Book of Daniel, in the seventh chapter, and this is quoted in Hebrews, and it is quoted in the Book of Revelation, and if it’s not quoted directly, it’s quoted indirectly when you have the most-quoted expression of the Old Covenant of Scriptures being quoted in the New, and that would be the first line of Psalm 110: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I put all the enemies under your feed.’ ” The “Lord” to whom the Lord says, “Sit at my right hand,” is described, at least in Daniel, as one who is like a son of man; he is a man.
And here, I will just read to you the Daniel text that seems to be the text that we have to be interested in the most. Daniel writes (Daniel 7:13): “I beheld in the night vision, and behold, one coming with the clouds of heaven…” That’s important: “with the clouds of heaven.” We’re going to see that that’s really important. “...coming with the clouds of heaven as…” and then it says in the translation I have in English: “...the son of man.”
However, in the original Greek there is no definite article: “hos huios anthropou erchomenos”: “coming as son of man” or “coming as son of man.” Not necessarily even “a son of man,” but “coming as being son of man, being man.”
Then it says, “He came up to the Ancient of Days,” and this “Ancient of Days” is a title for God. In Isaiah, he’s the one who sits upon the throne, to whom the angels are singing, “Holy, holy, holy!” In Daniel, certainly, the Ancient of Days, and Orthodox, in the ancient Church, even have frescoes of this. Sometimes people think we shouldn’t have them, but it shows the Ancient of Days sitting on a throne kind of like an old man. And it describes even how he looks and how he is vested, sitting on this judgment seat, and that same figure appears in the Apocalypse. The one who sits upon the throne, in the Apocalypse, is certainly the one who sits on the throne in Isaiah, and he’s certainly the one who’s sitting on the throne as the Ancient of Days in Daniel. And even it’s depicted how he looks, and in ancient Christian frescoes, in monasteries, they would even paint this in this way, as an old man.
But then they would show this one coming to him, brought to him, presented to him, brought near him, as it says, who is “hos huios anthropou,” as son of man. So this “Son of Man” figure is presented to him. And then in the frescoes, this Son of Man figure is painted like Jesus. He looks just like Jesus. It is Jesus, as a matter of fact.
And then it says, “And to him was given the dominion and the honor and the kingdom; and all the nations and all the tribes and all the languages shall serve him, and his dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall never pass away, and his kingdom will not be destroyed.” So it says, “To him belongs hē archē.” “Archē” means the beginning of everything, and the Revelation Book will say he’s the archē to telos. The Son of Man is the archē to telos, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, which God himself is.
And “is given to him kai [hē] timē.” “Timē” means “honor.” “Hē vasilia” means “the kingdom.” And “pantes hoi laoi”: all the peoples, all the nations; and all these peoples and all these nations and all the tongues, and all the languages and all the tribes are going to serve him. “And his dominion is going to be an everlasting dominion which will not pass away, and his kingdom shall never be destroyed.”
It seems pretty clear that that’s why Jesus uses that expression for himself, because he is that Son of Man, and he wants people to recognize him as that Son of Man. He wants people to recognize him as the one who is presented to God himself, who is his Father, the Ancient of Days, the one from everlasting, and that he receives, together with the Father, all the glories and honors that belong to the Father.
And it’s interesting that in the Book of Revelation, those honors that are given to him, together with him who sits upon the throne, with God the Father, are even multiplied more than in the Book of Daniel. There’s even more that is said that is given to him than in the Book of Daniel. It says, when he’s sitting on the throne and all the angels are singing, “Holy, holy!” and everyone comes to him who is sitting on the throne with the Father, and sitting on the throne with him means being at his right hand: in power. We spoke about the power of God that he is.
And then when it says that they are singing to him, and they fall down before him, what they say that they offer to him is glory, honor, power, blessing, thanksgiving, and worship. All of these things are offered to him who sits upon the throne together with God. They’re offered to God and, in the language of the Book of Revelation, they are also offered to the Lamb: “and they give glory, honor, and thanksgiving to him who sits upon the throne and lives forever and ever and to the Lamb.” And in the Book of Revelation, this “Lamb” is the one who was dead and is alive again, and he is identified in the very first chapter of the Book of Revelation as the Son of Man by reference to Daniel.
It’s just in the Book of Revelation itself that he is coming on the clouds and they shall all see him, the one who was pierced, and he gets glory [and] dominion forever and ever with God, his Father, and he is the one who comes and he is the alpha and the omega. He is the faithful witness—we’ll talk about that, all these titles that you find in the Book of Revelation. But it also calls him the Son of Man. It’s the thirteenth verse (Revelation 1:13): “And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of Man—ho huion anthropou, as a son of man; it’s similar to son of man—clothed with a garment down to his foot, girt about his breast with a golden girdle,” and his head and hair described like the Ancient of Days, but it’s the Son of Man. And he is the first and the last, the one who was dead and is alive again; he is the Amen of God.
You have this identification with the Daniel Son of Man in the confession about Jesus in the New Testament. And it seems very clear that that is why Jesus himself uses that expression. He is that man that is talked about. He is that one that is talked about. He is the one who appears.
I would just like to magnify this point, or to kind of stress it a little bit further, about this Son of Man, by two other texts of the Old Testament that are very familiar to Orthodox Christians, that Orthodox Christians would really know. They probably know, and if they don’t know, they should know these particular texts.
One of them is also from Daniel, and it’s the story of Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego, whose [Hebrew] names are Azariah and—oh, heavens—[Mishael] and I forgot the third [Hebrew] name, but I’ll get it. But anyway, they’re the three youths in the Babylonian furnace. And these three young boys absolutely refused to worship the golden idol that Nebuchadnezzar has built, the idol that Nebuchadnezzar has set up. And they refuse to do it. And then, of course Nebuchadnezzar says, “Well, if you will not worship this idol as god, whom I have set up, then I will throw you into the fiery furnace and you will be burned.”
And, of course, the three young men absolutely refuse to bow down when the music is played to the idols, and they are thrown into the fire, and they dance in the flames. They dance in the flames, and they are not burned. And they praise God and bless God from the midst of the flames.
Here is what I would like to read to you now. It says this (Daniel 3:21-23):
Then those men were bound with their coats and caps and hose and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace, for as much as the king’s word prevailed. And the furnace was made exceedingly hot. Then these three men, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego, fell, bound, into the midst of the burning fire, and they walked in the midst of the flames, singing praise to God and blessing the Lord.
And then it says (Daniel 3:24-25):
And Nebuchadnezzar heard them singing praises, and he wondered. And he rose up in haste and said to his nobles, “Did we not cast three men, bound, into the midst of the fire?” And they said to the king, “Yes, O King.” And the king said, “But I see four men, loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and there has no harm happened to them, and the appearance of the fourth is like…
And then it says in Greek:
A Son of God. Tetartou homoia huio theou: the fourth one is like the Son of God.
Then Nebuchadnezzar drew near the door of the burning fiery furnace and said, “Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego, you servants of the most high God, proceed forth and come hither.” So Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego came forth out of the midst of the fire. And there were assembled the satraps and the captains and the heads of [provinces] and the princes, and they saw the men and perceived that the fire had not power against their bodies, and their [hair] was not burnt and their clothes were not scorched, nor was the smell of fire upon them. And then Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego.”
Now, in the Christian tradition, certainly in the ancient Christian tradition, that fourth person is Christ. And if you look at Christian frescoes and icons, you’ll see that it is. I have one on the wall in my room and I’m looking at it right now. It was painted for me by Heather MacKean, a wonderful iconographer who is now painting a beautiful church in the state of Washington, and it shows the three boys dancing in the furnace. And it shows the statue, the golden idol that Nebuchadnezzar built. And it shows the Chaldeans getting burned by the fires. And then it shows, in the flame, this angel of the great counsel. It’s Jesus. It’s the one whom God sends. And, of course, that prefigures the descent of Jesus the Christ into Hades, into Sheol, into the realm of the dead, into the fiery furnace to raise up all those who were dead and to come to us.
But what we have to see, even though it says, “the one looks similar to a son of God,” it says there are four andres in the fire, four men. So he clearly appears as a man. It’s a fourth figure of a fourth man that is said in Daniel that is in that fire. That is very important for us, because that figure in Daniel—and Daniel is definitely a very important prophecy for the Christian faith, about the kingdoms with no end and so on, and the fiery furnace story, and the refusal to worship idols, and then how Daniel becomes the king and so on—but that’s a text that certainly can be understood of why Jesus would call himself “the Man, the one,” that figure.
An interesting thing in our time about “Son of Man” is that, because of so-called political correctness and because of not wanting to use male terms, like for God and so on—I think all the listeners of Ancient Faith Radio would be definitely familiar with that tendency—we know that often, when it says “Son of Man” in the Biblical text, some of the new translations of the Bible don’t write “Son of Man.” Well, thanks be to God: the New Revised Standard Version doesn’t dare to change the expression “Son of Man” in the New Testament.
If you tried to translate “Son of Man” which is used 81 times in the four Gospels, 30 times in Matthew alone, if you wanted to use a different word, I don’t know what you would say. Would Jesus say to the people, “Unless you believe that I’m the man, unless you believe that I’m the one, you will die in your sins”? Well, it’s possible, but then the connection is not made to the expression “Son of Man” in the Hebrew Scriptures, which is a purely Hebrew, Aramaic understanding of that figure who is a divine figure, who is a savior, who is an extraordinary man, who is the one who gets all dominion, honor, glory, worship together with him who sits upon the throne, who is enthroned with him who sits upon the throne. You would never get that if you didn’t have the expression “Son of Man” being used.
However, the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible doesn’t use “Son of Man” in the Old Testament. It doesn’t use it. It just says, “The One.” And here I want to give an example of how, well, I would say, how terrible that is. Because it doesn’t allow the reader of the Holy Scripture to understand that that expression “Son of Man” is being used, so that when they hear “Son of Man” coming from the lips of Jesus, they would make the connection and be able to understand what was going on. Certainly, it’s mysterious; certainly, it’s not clear; certainly, to Greek-speaking people it’s a difficulty that they would really have to enter into the Aramaic, Hebrew, Biblical mind to understand. And Jesus himself is the Jew, and he’s the Messiah of Israel, and we’ve got to make that effort. The Savior of the world comes by way of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and so on. That’s our faith. But it would be really wonderful if the expression “Son of Man” were left in the Old Testament, too.
I want to give an example that could be very familiar and should be familiar to Orthodox Christians. In the Orthodox Church, when a bishop serves the Holy Eucharist, when the Trisagion Hymn is sung, the Thrice-Holy Hymn, which is the “Holy, holy, holy!” of Isaiah, at the Liturgy of the Word, it’s sung in this way: “Holy God, holy Mighty, holy Immortal, have mercy on us. Holy God, holy Mighty, holy Immortal, have mercy on us.” Then it’s sung the third time: “Holy God, holy Mighty, holy Immortal, have mercy on us.” Then the deacon or the priest even shouts, “Power! Dynamis!” We spoke about Christ as the Power of God already. And then they sing it even louder.
Then the bishop comes with his two candlesticks, or his candlestick and his cross, actually, showing about the salvation of the people, and he faces the people in the middle of the singing of the “Holy, holy, holy”—the “Holy God, holy Mighty, holy Immortal”—he faces the people. Anyone who’s ever been to a Divine Liturgy, Holy Eucharist served by a bishop can’t miss this, it’s so central. He looks at the people and he says a line from Psalm 79 (80)—80 in the Hebrew counting, English counting. He says, “Lord, Lord, look down from heaven and behold and visit this vine, this vineyard, which your own right hand has planted and establish it.” And he blesses the people and they sing, “Holy God.”
And in some traditions, he even says that three times. He’ll say, “Lord, Lord, look down from heaven and behold and visit this vine, this vineyard, which your own right hand has planted and establish it.” They sing, “Holy Mighty.” And he does it again, and they say, “Holy Immortal.” And this is a line from the psalm. Now, this psalm begins with the words,
Attend, O Pastor of Israel (Shepherd of Israel), who guides Joseph like a flock, who sits upon the cherubim, manifest thyself. Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manassas, stir up thy power and come to deliver us. Turn us, O God. Cause your face to shine upon us, that we may be saved.
Lord God of hosts, how long art thou angry with the prayer of thy servants? Thou wilt feed us with breads of tears and we’re drinking tears to full measure. Turn to us, O Lord God of Hosts. Cause your face to shine upon us, and we shall be saved.
So the bishop comes out and he says to that same Lord God, “Lord God of hosts, turn, we pray to thee, look on us from heaven and behold and visit this vine and restore that which thy right hand has planted.” Now, what we should know—and I’m absolutely certain that most Orthodox Christians do not know this—I hope they know that that line comes from this psalm, but what does the psalm say in its entirety? How does the psalm continue? And that’s important for our understanding of “Son of Man.”
This is how the psalm continues:
O Lord, Lord, God of hosts, turn, we pray to you, look down on us from heaven and behold and visit this vine which your own right hand has planted and establish it, restore it.
And then it continues: “And look upon the Son of Man.”
Look upon the Son of Man whom thou didst strengthen for thyself.
So the very same sentence says, “And look on the Son of Man whom thou didst strengthen for thyself.”
For the vine is burnt with fire, dug up, it shall perish at the rebuke of thy presence, but let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand—ep’ andra dexias sou—and upon the Son of Man—kai epi huion anthrōpou—whom you did strengthen for yourself.
So we will not depart from you. You will give us life. We will call on your name. Turn to us, O Lord of hosts, and make your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.
So what the psalm says, when praying to God three times [is]:
Turn, O Lord God of hosts, we pray to you, look upon the vine and look upon the Son of Man whom thou didst strengthen for thyself whom thou hast given power—ekrataiōsas seaftō—who has made powerful for yourself.
Let your hand be upon this man of your right hand and upon this Son of Man whom you have made powerful for yourself. And so we will not depart from you, you will give us life. We will call upon your name. Turn to us, Lord God of hosts, make your face shine upon us; we shall be saved.
The vine is saved by the Son of Man that the Lord has made powerful for himself and has put on his right hand. That’s very important. And do you know that in the New Revised Standard Version translation of the Bible, they don’t even say “Son of Man” in that text? In my opinion, it’s just terrible, just really awful. You know what they say? “Look upon the one whom you have strengthened.” Well, it’s okay, because Jesus is that one. Sometimes they just say, “Look upon the man whom you have strengthened.” They don’t say “Son of Man.”
But those who don’t want to say that he is a male, just say, “Look at the one.” But there’s a problem even with that, because the word that’s used in the psalm is “huios”—which means a male child, not a female child—”anthropou.” And it says “andres”: “the man,” and that word means a male human being. It doesn’t mean just a human being.
“Anthropos” means just a human being, but “huios [anthropou]” is a son of a human being. And “andros” means a man, a physically male man, just like the first psalm of the Bible when it says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly.” We sing it every Saturday night at the first psalm of our vespers and vigil service in the Orthodox Church. It doesn’t even say “anthropos”; it says “man, andros.” It says “muzh” in Slavonic; that’s a male human being. And we interpret it as meaning Jesus Christ.
So these sentences in the psalms refer to Jesus Christ as the Son of Man, as the male human being that God has strengthened and seated at his right hand so that, through him, the whole world could be saved. That’s the Christian teaching, and that’s what is contained in that expression “Son of Man.”
Now just one thing that we already mentioned when we were speaking about divine power which we must, absolutely, repeat. And that is this: in the four Gospels, when Jesus is undergoing his Passion, and he’s being interrogated in front of the high priests, and then again in front of Pilate, when he’s being interrogated by the high priest who is a Jew… Pilate may have had some trouble with the expression “Son of Man.” In fact, probably a Roman citizen wouldn’t have known at all what the heck “Son of Man” would mean. You know, “filios hominis” or something in Latin. He wouldn’t have known what the heck it means.
But Jesus is being questioned by the high priest, by Ananais, by Caiaphas, and this is, again, the high priest, says to Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. He says, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus said, “I am”—and that is, of course, a powerful expression because “I am” is that divine name, the [Tetragrammaton] that was given to Moses. Then he said, “You will see the Son of Man”—and here it definitely has a definite article: the Son of Man, the Man, the One if you use [the] New Revised Standard Version [translation]—the Man, seated at the right hand of power and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
Now do you remember in Daniel, how it spoke about “the one like unto a son of man coming on the clouds”? The clouds are mentioned there. No Jew, knowing Scripture, could hear that sentence without thinking of Daniel: “the son of man coming on the clouds in power,” in God’s power, in the power of the Ancient of Days, in the power of him who sits upon the throne, to whom is sung, “Holy, holy, holy. Holy God, holy Mighty, holy Immortal, have mercy on us.”
So Jesus said, “You will see the Son of Man”—he uses that expression again—“seated at the right hand of power and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And it says in Mark, “The high priest tore his garments and said, ‘Why do we need anything more? He blasphemes. He’s got to be crucified.’ ”
Now that very same happening is recorded in St. Matthew’s Gospel in this way:
The high priest says, “Have you no answer to make?” Jesus is silent. The high priest says to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
Now, notice, he uses the expression “the Christ, the Son of God,” because that’s what they wanted to pin on Jesus.
Jesus answered, “You have said so, but I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man...”
Again, definite article: “the Son of Man.”
“...seated at the right hand of power, coming on the clouds of heaven.”
So there you’ve got it again: seated at the right hand, the right hand of the throne of God. We mentioned already how this has to evoke also Psalm 110:1: “The Lord said to my Lord, the Kyrios, ‘Sit at my right hand in power.’ ” To be at the right hand is to be in power. Now it’s the Son of Man who is seated at the right hand of power, coming on the clouds of heaven. And again in Matthew, the high priest tears his robe and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. Why do we still need anything more? Let him be crucified.”
Now you have exactly the same thing in the Gospel according to St. Luke. We just heard Mark; we just heard Matthew. Now what do we find in Luke? This is how it’s written in Luke (Luke 22:66-71):
When the day came, the assembly of the elders and the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes.
Now these people knew the Bible, right? They knew the Prophets. They knew Daniel. They knew the Psalms. They knew the expression “Son of Man.” They had heard it many times. They knew that it could be a general term, like Ezekiel uses it: “O son of man, prophesy!” but then there is this special Son of Man, the Man. You know, like you’d say about a certain person. When I was a child, Stan Musial, the baseball player, was called “Stan the Man.” They’ll say, “He’s the man!” Well, that’s what a Jew would know, hearing that expression, reading the Bible: the Man. God’s man, so to speak. The man who does it all. The man who sits on the throne with God. So here we have it:
The chief priests and scribes led him away to their counsel and they said, “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer.”
And how many times do we hear Jesus saying, “What do you think? You look at me; you saw me. You see what I’ve done. What do you think? Why are you asking me? Why are you asking me, the Son of Man. You tell me who the Son of Man is.” And of course, he wants them to say, “You are the Son of God. You are the Lord. You are the Christ.”
So he says, “But from now on”—that means “after this Passion, after this crucifixion which will result in the Resurrection.”
“From now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.”
“The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand.’ ” And in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, that is the text that gets Jesus arrested. When he asks the scribes and the elders and the high priests, “Why does David call him “Lord” if he’s David’s son? For it is written”—and David wrote, inspired by the Holy Spirit: “The Lord says to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand.’ ”
So here in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says, “But from now on, after this, the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” And they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” Notice it! It’s fantastic! Jesus says, “You will see the Son of Man, seated at the right hand of the power of God,” and their response is, “Are you the Son of God, then?” Because for them, the Son of Man was the Son of God. The Son of God was the Son of Man. The Son of Man was the Man who is the Son of God, and therefore the anointed, the Christ; therefore the chosen; therefore the righteous; therefore the holy one; therefore the Lord; and therefore, God himself in human flesh, if you go all the way with it.
So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.” And they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his very own lips.”
So there you have it. Jesus calls himself the Son of [Man] and the scribes and the elders and the high priests, knowing the Scripture, they know exactly what he means. They know exactly what it means.
The Greeks later, like you and me, and the Gentiles, we had to learn what it meant. We had to learn what it meant, but a Jew did not have to learn what it meant. He knew that that expression, “the Son of Man,” was tantamount to the Messiah. It even is tantamount to being God’s Son. It’s tantamount to be the one who sits on the throne, and who receives all honor, glory, dominion, majesty, blessing, power, and thanksgiving—evcharistia, evlogia, timē, proskēnesis—all these words are given to him, and, certainly, to God, and to this Son of Man.
So the expression “Son of Man” is what Jesus calls himself. And it’s the only thing that he calls himself. But once he is confessed… Let’s put it this way: Once the Son of Man—the man, the one whom God has chosen, raised up, sent, who is his own Son begotten of God before all ages, who already in Daniel is presented with the Ancient of Days to sit upon the throne—once that Son of Man comes, then he is to be given all glory, honor, and worship as the Christ, the Lord, the Savior, the Man at the Father’s right hand, the one who sits enthroned with him, God’s very own Son, and God himself in human flesh.
All of this is what’s contained in the expression “ho huios tou anthropou, huios anthropou, Son of Man.” “Bar ěnoš” in Hebrew; I think that’s how you would say it. (I don’t think I said it right.) But anyway, it’s an Aramaic, Hebrew expression that the Jews knew very well, what it meant. And Jesus keeps calling himself that in order that we would confess him for who he truly is: our Lord, our Savior, our Christ, God’s Son, God’s Logos, God’s Wisdom, God’s Power, God’s Icon, and, indeed, God from God, God himself in human flesh. This is Jesus of Nazareth, who called himself always and without exception “Son of Man.”