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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Son of Man.

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This designation, which, like the Son of God, is now chiefly associated with Christ, has also an Old as well as a New Test. usage; it had a general before it received a specific application. In a great variety of passages it is employed as a kind of circumlocution for man, with special reference to his frail nature and humble condition; as, when speaking of God, it is said, "He is not the son of man that he should repent" (Numbers 23:19); and "What is man that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man that thou visitest him?" (Psalms 8:4). For some reason not certainly known, but probably from its being either a mere adoption of Chaldaean usage, or its possessing a sort of poetical and measured form, the designation "son of man" is the style of address commonly employed in Ezekiel's writings when he was called to hear the word of God (Ezekiel 2:1; Ezekiel 3:1, etc.). That Chaldaean usage had, at least, something to do with it may be inferred from its similar employment by Daniel; as, when speaking of a heavenly messenger appearing to him in the visions of God, he describes the appearance as being of one, not simply like a man, but "like the similitude of the sons of men" (Ezekiel 10:16), while in other parts of the description this is interchanged with the simple designation or appearance of a man (Ezekiel 5:18).

Nor have we any reason to think that, as regards the expression itself, anything else is indicated by "son of man" in the vision of Daniel which most directly points to New. Test. times and relations. In that vision, after beholding successively four different monstrous and savage forms imaging so many earthly monarchies, the prophet saw "like a son of man came with the clouds, of heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days; and there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve him" (Ezekiel 7:13-14). The expression here, "like a son of man," is evidently equivalent to one having a human aspect, and as such differing essentially from those beastly and rapacious natures that had already passed in vision before him. The kingdoms represented by such natures, though presided over by human beings, were to be characterized by the caprice, selfishness, and cruelty which were instinctively suggested by those ideal heads; while in the higher kingdom that should come after them, and which was really to attain to the universality and perpetuity that they vainly aspired after, there were to be the possession and display of qualities distinctively human those, namely, which are the image and reflex of the divine. This, however, it could only be by the head of the kingdom himself occupying a higher platform than that of fallen humanity, and being able to pervade this lower sphere with the might and the grace of Godhead. Hence in the vision, not only is ideal humanity made to image the character of the kingdom, but the bearer of it appears coming in the clouds of heaven, the proper chariot of Deity as himself being from above rather than from beneath emphatically, indeed, the Lord from heaven. It may be regarded as certain that in so frequently choosing for himself the, designation of "the Son of man" (in all fully fifty times), our Lord had respect to the representation in Daniel.

It was the title under which, with a few rare exceptions, he uniformly spoke of himself; and it is remarkable how, when acquiescing in his right to be acknowledged by others in the most peculiar sense "the Son of God," he sometimes immediately after substituted for this the wonted designation of "the Son of man" (John 1:49-51; Matthew 26:63-64), as if to show that what belonged to the Son of God might equally be affirmed (when the terms were rightly understood) of the Son of man. This comes out with peculiar force in the latter of the two passages referred to; for no sooner had our Lord confessed to the adjuration of the high priest as to his being the Son of God than he added, "Hereafter ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven," appropriating the very language in Daniel's vision, and asserting of himself as Son of man what belonged to him as the fellow of Godhead. Along with and behind the attribution of humanity, which he loved to place in the foreground, there lay the heavenly majesty. Hence, while the epithet in question may well enough be understood to imply that Jesus was "the ideal man" (which is all that rationalistic interpreters would find in it), it includes much more than that it makes him known as the new man, who had come from heaven, and in whom, because in him the Word was made flesh, manhood had attained to the condition in which it could fulfil the high destiny of exercising lordship for God over "the world to come" (Hebrews 2:5).

By this title, then, to use the words of Luthardt, "Jesus, on the one side, includes himself among other men he is one of our race; while, on the other, he thereby exalts himself above the whole race besides, as in a truly exclusive sense the Son of mankind, its genuine Offspring the one Man towards whom the whole history of the human race was tending, in whom it found its unity, and in whom history finds its turning point as the close of the old and the commencement of the new era." But this, coupled with the authority and power of judgment which he asserts for himself over all flesh as the Son of man, bespeaks his possession of the divine as well as of the human nature. "No rationalistic ideal of virtue can avail us here. To call Jesus the mere prototype, and prefigurement of mankind, will not suffice to justify such language; we are constrained to quit the limits of humanity, and to look for the root of his being, the home of his nature and life, in God himself to explain, the possibility of such declarations. The absolute relation to the world which he attributes to himself demands an absolute relation to God. The latter is the necessary postulate of, the former, which cannot be properly understood but from this point of view. Only because Jesus is to God what he is can he be to us what he says. He is the Son of man, the Lord of the world, its judge, only because he is the Son of God" (Fundamental Truths of Christianity, p. 289, 290). For literature, see Hase, Leben Jesu. p. 127.

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Son of Man.'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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