What did Jesus mean by Son of Man?

Over eighty times in the New Testament Jesus refers to himself as “Son of Man.” So what did Jesus mean by Son of Man, and what did it mean to his Jewish audience?

Packer writes that the name, Son of Man referred to Jesus’ role as Savior-King, fulfilling the messianic prophecy of Isaiah 53.[7] Isaiah 53 is the most comprehensive prophetic passage of the coming Messiah, and clearly depicts him as the suffering Savior. Isaiah had also referred to the Messiah as “Mighty God,” “Everlasting Father,” Prince of Peace” Isaiah 9:6, indicating that the Messiah would be both man and God.

In context, it seems clear that Jesus was referring to himself as the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy about the “Son of Man.” Daniel prophesies that the Son of Man will be given authority over mankind and receive worship:

I looked, and there before me was one like a Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. (Daniel 7:13, 14)

Jesus said that when he returns to earth he will fulfill Daniel’s prophecy of the Son of Man.  

Then everyone will see the Son of man arrive on the clouds with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27). 

So who is this “Son of Man,” and why is he being worshiped, when God alone is to be worshiped? Both his claim to be the “I AM,” and his claim to be the Son of Man point to his deity.

What did Jesus mean by Son Of God?

Jesus also claimed to be the, “Son of God.” This title doesn’t mean Jesus is God’s biological Son. Nor does it imply inferiority any more than a human son is inferior in essence to his father. A son shares his father’s DNA, and although he is different, they are both equal as men. 

Scholars say that the term “Son of God” in the original languages refers to likeness, or “of the same order.” Jesus meant by it that he has divine essence, or in 21st century terms, the “DNA of God”. Professor Peter Kreeft explains.

“What did Jesus mean when he called himself the ‘Son of God’? The son of a man is a man. (Both ‘son’ and ‘man,’ in the traditional language, mean males and females equally.) The son of an ape is an ape. The son of a dog is a dog. The son of a shark is a shark. And so the Son of God is God. ‘Son of God’ is a divine title.”[8]

Jesus continually referred to his Father as God. And in John 17 Jesus refers to his Father as “the one true God.” However, in the same passage, Jesus speaks about the glory he and his Father shared before the world began. How could Jesus have existed eternally with the Father unless he and his Father shared the same divine essence?

Packer explains what Jesus meant by using the term, “Son of God.”

When, therefore, the Bible proclaims Jesus as the Son of God, the statement is meant as an assertion of his distinct personal deity.[9]

Jesus’ use of the names, “I AM,” “Son of Man,” and “Son of God,” all point to the fact that he was claiming equality with God. Certainly that’s the way the Jewish leaders understood him.

But if Jesus was truly claiming to be God, did he make it known in other ways? In order to find out, we need to examine Jesus’ actions during his three-year ministry. Did he speak and act with the authority of God? Or did he simply speak for God like Moses and other prophets?

Endnotes

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