The focal point: The Son of Man

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A Biblical Theology of Humanity that ends in the Old Testament is one that ends is crushing disappointment.  There had been so much promise to begin with, God’s People were made by him, in his image and commissioned by him to fill and subdue his creation.  They were under God’s provision and protection but still rejected that, seeking to be Gods and kings themselves, they rebelled against the creator. God’s response was to make covenants with specific chosen men: Noah, Abraham, Moses and David but not even these men, chosen and blessed by God, credited as righteous could deal with the problem of sin. So, a true Biblical Theology of Humanity must go forward into the New Testament and discover that the end goal, the telos of humanity is Jesus, the second Adam, The Son of David and Son of Adam.

The Second Adam

Jesus is introduced right at the start of Mark’s Gospel as not just “The Son of Man” but also as “Son of God.”[1] The title Son of God may be seen as hinting at divinity and certainly, John’s Gospel will take the emphasis on sonship in that direction. However, the title points first of all to his humanity (it is worth remembering that in those early theological battles with Arianism and Gnosticism, it was this as much as his deity that was under attack).  This can be seen in the way that Luke’s genealogy of Jesus traces him back to Adam and describes the first man as “Son of God”.[2]

Jesus then is represented as the second, new or replacement Adam who will succeed where the first Adam fell.  In so doing, he stands in for Israel as the new people of God.  Indeed, Hosea 11:1 had described Israel as “God’s Son” and Matthew picks up on this prophecy to describe Jesus and the Holy Family’s return from Egypt as fulfilling the statement “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” [3]

A New Exodus and the true Israel

Jesus  is seen recapitulating the Exodus story.  His family had fled from Herod after the wise men had visited in Matthew 2.[4] Exile is followed by return and there will be a number of moments in the Gospel that allude to and echo the journey through the wilderness.  These include Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan reminding us both of the Red Sea Crossing under Moses and the Jordan crossing under Joshua prior to the taking of Jericho. Unlike the people, when tested and tempted in the wilderness, Jesus remains obedient and faithful.[5] Jesus will also demonstrate that he is one greater than Moses as he calms the sea, walks not just through but on water and feeds the crowds.[6] 

 Jesus as the new Israel will also appoint twelve apostles echoing the designation of Jacob’s sons ans tribal heads.  Just as the land was divided up between the tribes and then Joshua sent out the twelve tribes to capture and subdue their parts of the land, so Jesus sent out the twelve and later the seventy-two.  Of course, that earlier attempt to fill and subdue the land was not completely successful with the inhabitants of the land proving resistant but Jesus’ disciples come back with tales of victory as even demons, the princes of Satan’s Kingdom obeying them.[7]

The Meaning of “Son of Man”

Frequently throughout the Gospels, Jesus is named as “The Son of Man.” In fact, this is a title that I both dominates and is almost unique to the Gospels. Marshall observes:

“It is the phrase used more frequently than any other (except ‘Jesus’ itself) to refer to Jesus in the Gospels. It occurs in all four Gospels and only once outside them.”[8]

Furthermore, it dominates because Jesus chooses the title for himself:

“’The Son of Man’ functions as a self-designation of some kind: it never became a way for other people to refer to Jesus, and it thus played no part in the confession and doctrinal statements of the early church, unlike ‘Christ’, ‘Lord’ and ‘Son of God.’”[9]

The title seems to carry both humility, as Jesus identifies with his human nature and authority.  It is on the basis of this title that Jesus claims both the authority to forgive sin[10] and to be Lord of the Sabbath.[11] We often associate both of those claims to authority with his deity and it is correct to do so, especially given that his hearers and opponents understand him that way. However, the authority is also a human one too. We might understand it as the kind of authority that pre-Fall Adam should have had and so it is in his perfected humanity as both human and divine that Jesus exercises it.  For confirmation of this, notice that sandwiched between Jesus’ claim to have authority to forgive sin and rule over Sabbath Law, Jesus refers to himself as “the bridegroom.”[12]  If Jesus is the bridegroom designate, then this is a grand claim to make because God himself identifies as the husband of his people Israel.[13]

We might therefore understand the language of “Son of Man” as both pointing us towards ways in which Jesus is like us. As we will see later, Jesus’ incarnation means that The Son is fully human, he shares our nature.  However, there is a distinction because he is also fully divine.  The phrase originates in Daniel 7. There, Daniel has a vision of four beasts representing empires of this world.  Then, the vision shifts to the throne room of heaven, God as “Ancient of Days”, the eternal one sits on his throne. The beasts have their dominion removed. 

Then someone approaches the throne, he is surrounded by the clouds of heaven and when he approaches the Ancient of Days, he receives authority and honour and power.  It is this one who is described as “like a son of man.”  Notice that, as with the beasts he is described as “like”.  Marshall comments:

“The force of like is that the figure is not a man but is like a man, just as the beasts are ‘like different animals.”[14]

So, when Jesus draws upon the “son of man” imagery, we have to bear this in mind. Yes, from other scriptures, we see that Jesus is truly human but the “son of man” label is saying something more than that he is human.  It is pointing to unique, divine authority.  It’s ironic isn’t it that the name “Son of God” actually points to his humanity whilst “Son of Man” points to his divinity.

The title “Son of Man” as found in Daniel 7 has an eschatological function because it points to Jesus as the one who will bring this world’s empires and institutions to an end so that he can exercise his own eternal reign. Yet for Jesus, the way to this throne is through death and suffering as he emphasises three times in the middle of Mark.[15]

The Son of David

The title “Son of Man” is to do with authority and rule so that it is also a kingly title.  Jesus is also named as the Son of David.  This is the title that blind Bartimaeus ascribes to him as he passes through Jericho and it is how he will be praised as he enters Jerusalem, riding on a donkey.[16]

Yet, as with those other titles, there is something more going on.  Jesus in debate with the religious leaders will point out that the Messiah’s identity, status and nature must surpass that of a mere human descendant of David.  This is the one who David bows to, whom David calls Lord.[17]

Jesus then is the Christ, God’s anointed, chosen king.[18] It is as Israel’s king, the king of the Jews that he is crucified.[19] Yet because he is more than the king, more than the prophet, more than the priest, because he is greater than all of those Old Testament heroes, so that as the Transfiguration demonstrates, Moses, Elijah and all the prophets point to him,[20] Jesus is the one who can conquer death and rise again.[21]


A Biblical theology of humanity, that sees us as God’s people in God’s place is dependent upon Christ as the focal point of that Biblical Theology.  He is the one who fulfils all the prophecies and all the hope perfectly.  So, that it is in Christ that we are raised and exalted to our intended position as heir. It is in him again that we can truly reign and it is only in him that we can once more be in the image of God.

[1] Mark 1:1.

[2] Luke 3:37.

[3] Hosea 11:1.

[4] Matthew 2:13-15.

[5] Mark 1:12-13.

[6] See Mark 4:35-40; 6:30-44 and 6:45 -52.

[7] Mark 2:23-3:6.

[8] I Howard Marshall, “Son of Man”, Pages 775-781 in The Dictionary of Jesus and The Gospels (Edited by Joel B Green, Scott McKnight and I Howard Marshall. Downers Grove, IL.: Intervarsity Press,1992), 775.

[9] Marshall, “Son of Man”, 776.

[10] Mark 2:1-12

[11] Mark 2:23-3:6.

[12] Mark 2:18-22.

[13] See e.g. Ezekiel 18.

[14] Marshall, “Son of Man”, 778.

[15] Mark 8:31-38; 9:30-32, 10:32-33.

[16] Mark 1:1-11.

[17] Mark 12:35-37

[18] Mark  8:27-30

[19] See Mark 15.

[20] Mark 9:2-13.

[21] See Mark 16.

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