Dr. S. Lewis Johnson comments on the term "Son of man" used in reference to the Messiah. Dr. Johnson explains the Old Testament foundation of the term.
[Prayer] Father, we again thank Thee for the privilege and opportunity of the study of the Scriptures. We thank Thee for the terms and titles by which our Lord Jesus Christ has been designated in holy Scripture. We thank Thee for the body of truth that is connected with them. And we pray that as we consider the terms by which men call him and by which he referred to himself that we may learn more of him and what he is, what he has done for us, what he shall do in our behalf in the future. We pray for each one present. May there be, Lord, response to the Scriptures, a desire to know them and a desire also to follow them. May the Holy Spirit be our teacher and guide in this hour. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
[Message] We are studying in this series of messages the doctrine of Christology. And we’re concentrating at the moment on the titles and names by which our Lord is designated in holy Scripture. The names of our Lord obviously are very important, and many of them contain significant teaching concerning him. Jesus was the name by which he was known as a historical being who was born in Bethlehem and grew up in Nazareth and Galilee.
And we also studied the term Son of God, and we have studied the term Messiah. The term Son of God portrays, among other things, his true deity. And the term Messiah suggests, of course, the work that he shall do as the inaugurator of the kingdom of God and as the ruler over the kingdom of God in the future.
The subject for tonight is the Son of Man. And I’m going to ask you, if you will, to turn with me to Daniel chapter 7 and listen as I read a few verses beginning, instead of at the ninth verse, I want to begin at the 1st verse of this 7th chapter because it will be helpful to us when we come to look at the passage in verse 13 and 14 to have the background of the verses that have preceded.
Now you’ll remember in the study of the Book of Daniel that Daniel the prophet was given a series of visions that have to do primarily with the times of the Gentiles, that is, the period of time from the overthrow of the nation Israel by Nebuchadnezzar to the time of the Second Advent. And in the 2nd chapter, Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, was given a vision of a great figure. And this great figure was a figure that was constructed by the use of four metals. And the four metals were designed to represent the empires that would have significant dominion during that period of time from about 605 BC until the time of the Second Advent.
Now in the 7th chapter of the Book of Daniel we have a very similar vision of the prophet Daniel. Similar in the sense that it portrays a great deal of the same period of time and similar in that it does present four worldwide empires that shall arise during the times of the Gentiles. So let’s begin reading at verse 1, and we read there,
“In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon Daniel saw a dream and visions in his mind as he lay on his bed; then he wrote the dream down and related the following summary of it. Daniel said, “I was looking in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. And four great beasts were coming up from the sea, different from one another. The first was like a lion and had the wings of an eagle. I kept looking until its wings were plucked, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man; a human mind also was given to it.”
Now this is a reference to the Babylonian kingdom. This is parallel with that part of the vision of chapter 2 which Daniel saw in gold. Now the Babylonian empire was characterized by cruelty. And you can sense some of that as you look at the description that is given of it here.
The next empire in the second chapter was represented by the metal silver and was a reference to the Medo-Persian Empire which was characterized by its voracity. Anyone who has ever studied ancient Greek history or has taken classical Greek and read Xenophon’s Anabasis and studied things like this will know, of course, about Darius, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes.
And the thing that characterized these great conquerors was the vast numbers of men that they were able to put under arms. Xerxes, for example, when he attacked Greece had two and a half million men as soldiers according to some counts. And it has been estimated that five million people actually were in the total force that went against the Grecian empire.
We read of this when we read of the Medo-Persian Empire and when we read in verse 5 of the second beast, “And behold, another beast, a second one, resembling a bear. And it was raised up on one side, and three ribs were in its mouth between its teeth; and thus they said to it, ‘Arise, devour much meat!’”
The bear is a voracious animal and so it does represent the Medo-Persian Empire rising upon one side suggesting the Persian aspect, and the devouring of the three ribs, a reference to three particular smaller empires that were devoured by the Medo-Persian one. We need not get into details.
Now next we read of the Grecian empire. And, of course, Alexander’s empire was characterized by the celerity with which he traveled and by the speed with which he conquered his enemies. In the vision in chapter 2, it is represented by the metal, that part of the image that was brass. “After this I kept looking, and behold, another one, like a leopard, which had on its back four wings of a bird; the beast also had four heads, and dominion was given to it.”
The reference to the leopard stresses the speed of conquest by which Alexander was able to gain dominion. The beast having four heads is a suggestion of the fact that when Alexander died, as is well known from ancient history, his empire was divided into four parts, four of his generals each taking a part.
Some of the weakness of the amillennial interpretation of the passages in Daniel and Revelation is evident when one of the leading amillennial interpreters, Edward J. Young, can find no further significance in the four heads than the four winds of heaven. Whatever that would have to do with what Daniel is talking about, I don’t know.
Then we read of the fourth of the world empires.
“And after this I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong; and it had large iron teeth. It devoured and crushed and trampled down the remainder with its feet; and it was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns.”
Characteristic of the Roman Empire was its brutality. It was the Uganda of the ancient world or perhaps the Cambodia where we are seeing practically a half a nation being destroyed after the dominoes have fallen in the east. And you know things are really bad when Senator George McGovern can call upon a force going in to do something about the situation there. So, brutality characterized Rome. And that’s what we have here in this picture of a nondescript beast. It is so terrible that Daniel cannot even describe it by any of the animals. He says it’s a “fourth beast, dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong.”
Then we read in the 8th verse, “While I was contemplating the horns.” This last beast had ten horns. That’s a surplus of horns for an animal. And so Daniel was contemplating these horns. He says,
“While I was contemplating these horns, behold, another horn, a little one, came up among them, and three of the first horns were pulled out by the roots before it (That is before the little horn.); and behold, this horn possessed eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth uttering great boasts. ( Well now right at this point, the situation changes. He says he ) kept looking Until thrones were set up, And the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow And the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames, Its wheels were a burning fire. A river of fire was flowing And coming out from before Him; Thousands upon thousands were attending Him, And myriads upon myriads were standing before Him; The court sat, And the books were opened. Then I kept looking because of the sound of the boastful words which the horn was speaking; I kept looking until the beast was slain, and its body was destroyed and given to the burning fire. As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but an extension of life was granted to them for an appointed period of time (suggestive of the fact that as these three previous empires have been conquered by the one that followed them, they did remain as an empire for some time. Then in the 13th verse we come to two very significant verses for our study tonight.) I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.”
Now we do not have to read the rest of this chapter because we’re not trying to teach the Book of Daniel. But in the remainder of the chapter, we have the interpretation of the vision that was given to Daniel. And there is a kind of general summary in verses 15 through 18 and then the specifics of the overthrow of the beast, or the little horn, and the accomplishment of the promise of the kingdom to the Son of Man. And Daniel concludes by saying in the 28th verse, “At this point the revelation ended. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts were greatly alarming me and my face grew pale, but I kept the matter to myself.”
The reason, incidentally, that he was disturbed by this was because, according to the chronology that he at that time was acquainted with, this was going to happen in the immediate future. Of course, as history unfolded, Daniel now knows that this is something for the end of time.
Our subject tonight is the “Son of Man.” According to popular understanding, the term Son of Man presents no problem at all. Does not Jesus call himself Son of God, and does not that stress his deity? And if the Son of Man is used by Jesus Christ, and if Son of God refers to deity, is not Son of Man the perfect counterpart of Son of God? And therefore, does not the term Son of Man simply refer to the humanity of Jesus Christ? It all seems so simple. Son of God, a reference to his deity. Son of Man, a reference simply to his humanity. And the desire of individuals to dwell upon the interpretation of the term Son of Man seems to a lot people just another illustration of the tendency of the theologian to muddy clear waters.
But the peculiarity of the usage of the term Son of Man is something that we often have failed to note. And the idea that the term Son of Man simply refers to the humanity of the Lord Jesus is a simplistic answer and is insufficient in understanding the significance of the term. Let me show you some of the reasons why.
In the first place, the term Son of Man occurs over fifty times in the gospels, which in itself would indicate that it is a rather important title of our Lord Jesus Christ. This, by the way, excludes the passages that are parallel; that is, it would be more than fifty if we counted the parallel passages in Matthew, Mark and Luke.
But it is the term that is most frequently used by our Lord Jesus Christ as a designation of himself. Now that is a rather interesting thing. You might have thought that Jesus would have used the term Son of God. That’s the way we speak of him probably more frequently than in any other way. We say Jesus was the Son of God.
Now we talked about the Son of God last time. And there is no clear place where the precise expression Son of God is applied by our Lord to himself. Now there are many passages that indicate that he believed he was the Son of God. He uses terms like “the Son” in the context of the Father, and so it’s clear that he thought of himself as the Son of the Father. And it’s also clear that the Jewish people understood him to be claiming that he was the Son of God. And finally at his trial, when he is asked, “Are you the Son of God?” He says, “I am.” But he never does actually use the term and say in a sentence I am the Son of God, although, as I say, he clearly affirmed this.
But now on the contrary, he uses the term Son of Man frequently of himself. Now that should tell us something, or at least it should puzzle us enough to want to discover what is the meaning that lies behind the term Son of Man that makes our Lord use that term so frequently rather than other terms like the Son of God.
There’s something else interesting about it. So far as we can tell, in Matthew, Mark and Luke, the Lord Jesus is the only one who uses it of himself. In fact, it is the opinion of most Bible students that in the four gospels, he is the only one who uses this term of himself. And while John 12:34 might be thought to be an exception, it is the opinion of most scholars that this is a case of the people simply repeating words that Jesus has used himself.
So you see then that it is a case of our Lord using this term of himself almost as his favorite term of himself. And furthermore, that he is the only one who uses it of himself. So the problem of the interpretation becomes a little more complicated. If the Lord used the term often, you might expect him to define it. But he never defines it. He never says now the term Son of Man by which I refer to myself so frequently means this. Unfortunately, he doesn’t give us any such sentence. We would like to have that.
But of course, he has given us some other clues. And for those who are interested in the study of Scripture, and who are not just looking for a simplistic sentence that will help them to find an answer, there are answers, I think we shall see. But he wants us, I’m sure, to study the Scriptures to answer these questions that come to our mind. Why did he use the term Son of Man to describe himself?
Now there is another strange thing about this. After you get through reading the gospels, and then you read the rest of the New Testament, there is a strange absence of the expression Son of Man. As a matter of fact, there is just one clear instance of the term the Son of Man thereafter, one clear undisputed instance. And it’s Stephen’s statement in Acts chapter 7 in verse 56.
It is possible that the term is found in Hebrews chapter 2, verse 6 in the quotation from Psalm 8. It is possible that there are two references in the Book of Revelation to the Son of Man, but it’s not at all certain that those terms “like a Son of Man” are intended to be the same thing that our Lord was speaking about when he says, “The Son of Man came to seek and save that which was lost.”
So here we have a strange thing in the New Testament. We have a term that our Lord used over fifty times of himself. It’s found it’s his favorite term of himself. But when he passes off the scene, it drops out of usage almost entirely. Why is that? Well, that’s one of the things we want to learn by trying to find out the meaning of the term Son of Man tonight.
Now we must first of all turn to the Old Testament usage of the term. Now there is a usage of the term in Ezekiel. And there is a usage of the term in Daniel. And a possible usage in Psalm 80.
Now we don’t want to spend a whole lot of time on the Ezekiel passages and the Psalm passage. We do want to spend most of our time on the Daniel passage when we discuss the Old Testament usage of the term. But I think it’s important that we at least look at the usage in the other places.
Incidentally, contemporary scholars often find the figure of the Son of Man in ancient mythology. But that’s a very speculative endeavor. And it’s certainly wiser, it seems to me, to find the meaning of the term Son of Man in the Old Testament Scriptures if it is found there. So let’s turn to Ezekiel chapter 2 and verse 1. Ezekiel chapter 2 and verse 1. And I’ll just read a few places here where the term Son of Man is used in the Book of Ezekiel so that you’ll get the flavor of the usage in that book.
In chapter 2 in verse 1 we read, ” Then He said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet that I may speak with you!” ” Now it is clear here that Ezekiel is refering to himself. “Then He (God) said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet that I may speak with you!”
The 3rd verse, “Then He said to me, “Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel, to a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day.”
And then in verse 6, ” And you, son of man.”
And verse 8, “Now you, son of man, listen to what I am saying.”
Let’s turn over to Ezekiel chapter 36. Now there are a number of these instances of the use of the term son of man in Ezekiel, but I want you to see that it does sort of pervade the book. Chapter 36 and verse 1, we read, “And you, son of man, prophesy to the mountains of Israel and say, ‘O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord.”
Chapter 37, verse 1, “The hand of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley.” Now did I have 37? I should have said 3, verse 3, “He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” “
Chapter 38, “And the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Son of man, set your face toward Gog of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him.” And in verse 14 we have another instance of that.
And then chapter 39,”And you, son of man, prophesy against Gog.”
It’s not necessary to look at any other references. You can see from this that the term occurs frequently in the Book of Ezekiel as a reference to Ezekiel the prophet. And the sense of the term there seems to be simply of Ezekiel as a man who is a prophet. It does not seem to have any other sense than simply a man. There may be some relationship to ideal manhood, but most feel that there is simply a reference here to humanity, that is, to a man.
Let’s turn now to the usage in Daniel because we do have something different there. Now we’ve already read the passage, so I don’t need to read it again. This is a very important passage, by the way, for an understanding of the times of the Gentiles. There is a vision in verses 1 through 14, and then there is an interpretation in the words that follow.
And as I mentioned in the Scripture reading, in Daniel chapter 7 we have the counterpart of Nebuchadnezzar’s vision in Daniel chapter 2. Both of them have visions of the times of the Gentiles. But since Nebuchadnezzar is a Gentile king, his vision is quite different from Daniel who is a Hebrew prophet. In the case of Nebuchadnezzar, the Gentile king, he sees the four great world empires in the form of this magnificent awe-inspiring image of imposing rich valuable metals. That’s man’s view of human history. He thinks of the rise and fall of empire as the rise and fall of human greatness. And we look back and we speak about the greatness of the Roman Empire, and the greatness of the Grecian empire, and the greatness of the Babylonian empire. And so man looks at history as a magnificent unfolding of all of the capacities that rest in human nature.
Now God has quite a different idea, quite a different picture of what’s happening down here on the earth because when he gives the Hebrew prophet a vision of that same period of time, he likens those kingdoms, not to precious metals in this giant imposing image, but he likens them to wild beasts, the lion, the bear, the leopard and then one that is so bad that it cannot even be described, a nondescript brutal beast.
So in Daniel chapter 2 we have the outward vision from the standpoint of man. But in Daniel chapter 7, we have the inward vision from the standpoint of God. And what a picture it gives us of human nature. The beasts that sit on the thrones of various world empires are truly beasts. And in the sight of God, most of them qualify for some form of beasthood.
Now when Daniel is looking at these four beasts. You know frequently on our TV screens now, with the skills of the photographers increasing, you often will see four scenes. You will see Jack Nicholas putting on half the screen. And then you will see some duffer trying to getting out of a trap on the other side. Or in a football game, you might be able to see the receiver as well as the passer at the same time.
Well now if you can imagine looking at Daniel chapter 7 with a divided screen. And below the unfolding on rise and fall of these beasts, and then you can see one after another. And as the fourth arrives on the scene, if there suddenly is a divided screen, and there is placed above the throne of God, and the angelic hosts that are gathered round described here, and the saints that are there, and the Son of Man approaching the throne, and the one that called the Ancient of Days sitting on the throne giving to the Son of Man the kingdom everlasting dominion, we would have a picture of what is described here in Daniel chapter 7.
So we have the term Son of Man. Now notice it in verse 13,
“I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came to the Ancient of Days (Luther called him “der alpha,” that is, the old man, the old person, the Ancient of Days. It’s a reference, of course, to the eternal God, the eternal Father.) And was presented before Him.” (Now notice, he is presented before the Father). And to Him was given (by “der Alpha” or the Ancient of Days) dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.”
What’s the meaning of the term Son of Man then? Literally, the Aramaic text at this point has a Son of Man. So, “One like a Son of Man” has come. On the basis of this, some commentators, for example, Wilhausen, sought to claim that the early Christians misunderstood the meaning of this. And they put in the mouth of the Lord Jesus the expression “the Son of Man” when really all that was being said here was that “a man” came. They should have understood that this meant simply a man. And that when they said that the Lord Jesus called himself “the Son of Man” they just misunderstood the Old Testament Scripture not knowing Aramaic as they should have.
A strange kind of a claim that someone in the nineteenth century could understand more about a language which was more, much more like their language better than they could. But anyway, it’s a very unlikely interpretation and Gustaf Dalman, a great Hebrew scholar, proved conclusively some time ago that Wilhausen was clearly wrong.
Now the text says that he is the Son of Man who shall become king. Now that adds something to the term Son of Man that the popular understanding of the term often forgets. You can see from this passage, that there are several elements about the term Son of Man. First of all, there is the element of humanity. We do not deny that when the Lord Jesus calls himself the Son of Man that he’s suggesting he’s not a man. Why of course he is including the idea of humanity.
We remember that in the Bible, in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.” And he gave them dominion over the earth. So man was created in order to be a king. He was created to be the king of the earth. But of course, he lost his kingdom by virtue of the fall in the Garden of Eden.
Now in order for that throne to be regained for man, there must come a man, a representative man, who will be able to stand for men bearing their judgment and at the same time securing for them a righteousness that enables them to regain their rightful place as king over the earth.
Now that, of course, our Lord Jesus has done. So, when we read of the Son of Man we are to think of the Lord Jesus as a human being. We’re to think of him as the representative man, in fact, the man who by right of his successful accomplishment of the work of redemption shall receive for himself dominion and shall share that dominion with all whom he represents. So he’s the representative man who shall rule. So the idea of humanity is involved in that term but also the idea of royalty. So when we think of Son of Man we are to think of man but we are to think of royal man, representative man.
Gustaf Dalman, whom I mentioned just a moment ago, said, and I think he was correct, “Jesus called himself bar-nasha (Now that’s the Aramaic expression for Son of Man) not indeed as the lowly one, but as that member of the human race mentioned in his own nature impotent whom God will make Lord of the world.” In other words, he is man but he is royal man and thus king to be. He is representative man because he stands as the representative of those whom he will with himself give the rule.
There is one final thing. When we say representative or royal man, we are thinking then of the Son of Man as a man who is representative man, who is royal and who is human.
Now let’s leave it at that for the moment. And I’m going to ask you to turn with me to Psalm 80. And we’ll just take a quick look at this verse because we do have the expression here and you might puzzle over it when you read this Psalm. This is an interesting Psalm, and it would be nice to be able to consider it more fully. But I think we can handle what we need to handle by just reading the 17th verse. “Let Thy hand be upon the man of Thy right hand (the psalmist writes), Upon the son of man whom Thou didst make strong for Thyself.”
It’s my feeling that this passage is often overlooked. It is generally referred to the nation Israel only, that is, Israel is the son of man. But I think that the targums, that is, the Aramaic paraphrases with which the Hebrews were familiar, I think they come much closer to the meaning for they interpret this passage Messianically, that is, they refer the Son of Man to the Messiah. “The man of Thy right hand, Upon the son of man whom Thou didst make strong for Thyself.” So I’m inclined to believe that this is a Messianic reference in Psalm 80 verse 17 as the psalmist passionately prays for national revival for the nation Israel to be fulfilled in the latter days as the remainder of the psalm indicates. But, since it’s a disputed passage, we won’t try to make any points by the use of it.
Let’s turn now to the usage of the New Testament. Let me summarize the New Testament usage because we don’t have time to look up over fifty passages and survive by 8:30 so you can go in and buy a book or two. Let me sum up what the New Testament says about these fifty passages. And then we want to look at a couple of passages that are, I think, illuminating in understanding what Son of Man means.
You can take all of these fifty passages and generally throw them into three categories. First of all, there are references to Jesus Christ’s earthly life. Let me give you a simple illustration of that in Mark chapter 2 and verse 10. Mark chapter 2 and verse 10. This is a very commonly used illustration of this, and I think it’s a good one. He says in the healing of the paralytic, “But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So there the term Son of Man refers to authority, as you might expect because he’s a royal man. But it’s authority to forgive sins and it’s authority to forgive sins while he is on the earth. So this is a reference to our Lord’s earthly life. In other words, he was the Son of Man in his earthly life.
Now the second class of reference is a reference to our Lord’s sufferings, death and resurrection. Let’s turn over to Mark chapter 8, verse 31 since we’re already in Mark and read a verse there. Now he has just received the confession of Peter, “Thou art the Christ.” And he warned them to tell no one about him. In verse 31 he continues, “And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
Now, you’ll notice here there is something different. While in the first occurrence in Mark 2, verse 10 there’s a clear reference to his humanity, and there is a clear reference to his humanity here, because God does not die, still we have here something different. We have here the Son of Man suffering. Now it’s very difficult to find sufferings in Daniel chapter 7 for the Son of Man. So this seems to be something that our Lord has added to that term by reason of the historical context of the New Testament. In other words, this king of the Old Testament who’s going to given dominion is going to get his dominion through sufferings. But that is revealed here.
Now there’re other Messianic figures in the Old Testament that reveal that the Messiah would suffer, such as the servant of Jehovah or such as the Messiah. So this is no new revelation being unfolded. But it’s new in connection with the term Son of Man.
The third type of reference in the New Testament is references that have to do with our Lord’s coming and his forensic activities, that is, his judgment activities. Let’s turn over to Mark chapter 13 and verse 26. Mark chapter 13 and verse 26.
Now here in the Olivet discourse, the Lord is unfolding the things to come. And we read in verse 26, “And then they shall see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” There the Son of Man, the term is connected with our Lord’s coming.
And turn to chapter 14 in verse 62. Here we have a similar reference, “Jesus said, “I am (the Son of the Blessed One); and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” “
So, here we have three types of references: References that refer to his earthly life; references that refer to his sufferings, his death, burial, resurrection; references to his second coming and his activity of judgment. So these are the types of references in which the term Son of Man is found.
Well, now we want to look at two of these in more detail. So, turn first to Matthew 24, verse 30. Now we could use the one in Mark, but I have already put in my notes 24:30, so we’ll turn over to chapter 24 and verse 30.
Now the reason I want to turn to these two passages is that in these passages our Lord himself refers to Daniel chapter 7 and verse 13. Let me show you so that you can see it with your own two little eyes. So, look at verse 30 now of Matthew chapter 24. “And then” Now the Lord Jesus again is unfolding answers to questions concerning the second coming among other things.
“And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn.” By the way, where did he learn that? That the tribes of the earth would mourn when he comes at his second coming. Well, of course, he learned that from, in his human nature, Zechariah chapter 12, verse 10. “They shall look upon me whom they have pierced; and they shall mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son.” So he is putting together Zechariah, a passage that has to do with his sufferings, with a passage that has to do with his second coming. “And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.”
Now where does that text come from? Well, it comes from Daniel chapter 7, verse 13. So this tells us that our Lord Jesus understood the term Son of Man in the light of the revelation that Daniel had given in chapter 7. That means that our Lord Jesus understood the term Son of Man as a term that refers to his royalty, not simply his humanity, his royalty, that he was going to be the king who would have dominion.
Linked with Zechariah chapter 12, verse 10 and linked in the order in which they are, it suggests again that his kingdom is to come to him by suffering. This is why it is such a serious mistake to affirm that the Lord Jesus came to offer Israel a kingdom at the first coming apart from the cross. He never intended to offer Israel a kingdom apart from the cross. He intended to offer them a kingdom.
They’re just a serious an error as for a person who discovers that’s not true, that he didn’t come to offer them a kingdom apart from the cross. They say then, with the opposite extreme, extremism is bad, always, particularly in biblical interpretation. But they say he came only to die and not to offer a kingdom at all. How foolish.
The truth is that he came to offer a kingdom through a cross. In other words, we must put these things in their proper chronological order. It is sufferings first, and then the glory, always. In fact, it’s so important and it’s so, it’s such a mistake to miss that, that the Lord Jesus can say to the Emmaus disciples, “Oh fools.” I didn’t say it, he said it. “Oh fools and slow of heart.” In other words, it’s not simply ignorance, it’s willfulness. “Oh fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have written. Ought not Messiah to have suffered these things and then to enter into his glory?” That was the mistake they made. They did not see that he had to suffer first before he enters into the glory of the earthly kingdom.
Now, he will enter into the glory of the earthly kingdom, and we must not lose that.
Let’s turn over to chapter 26 and verse 64 for the next passage. This is the second of the passages in which our Lord applies Daniel 7:13 to himself. So we know from whence he is getting the meaning of that term. Verse 64, “Jesus said to him (when they asked him, “You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God”), “You have said it yourself.” “
Now I am translating it. I’m reading it as in the light of our interpretation in our last studies. It could be read, You said it yourself, as if to suggest I wouldn’t say it. But that is not the sense in which it is read. It’s, You’ve said it yourself, I don’t have to say it.
“Nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power (Now where is that found? Psalm 110, that’s a picture of his exaltation), and then coming on the clouds of heaven.” So he says, hereafter you will see me as an ascended Lord at the right hand of power in the heavens, but there will come a time when I will come with the clouds of heaven, a reference to his Second Advent.
Now I want you to notice that these two references in these passages, found also in Mark and Luke as well as in Matthew, these references are derived from Daniel 7:13 and it’s the Lord’s way of saying if you want to understand what the term Son of Man means, you have to read Daniel chapter 7. And you will see that in that chapter Son of Man is a reference to a man who receives a worldwide, everlasting, universal kingdom over the earth. So Son of Man is the ruler who shall reign over the earth.
Now whenever you hear him using the term the Son of Man this, the Son of Man that, you can understand it in the light of Daniel 7:13.
Well, let me conclude now with a couple of questions that might arise. First, are we sure that the term coming really means second coming? The term Son of Man refers to the coming royal representative man who shall rule. It’s not simply a reference to Jesus’ human nature. But what coming is in view? After all, he has come twice. Or rather, he has come once; he will come a second time. So there are two comings.
And the perversity of Bible interpreters constantly amazes me. Now mind you, I’m putting myself among them. I’m not standing off saying the perversity of other Bible interpreters amazes me. But I’m saying the perversity of Bible interpreters amazes me because if there are two possibilities of meaning for something, you can be sure that there will be scholars on both sides of the fence. If it’s possible to see it a different way, they will. Often the reason is because they need to write a doctoral dissertation and they’re told by their professors that it must be an original contribution. And so the attempt to.
Oh, you’re laughing, but that is a fact. That’s a documented fact, incidentally. A well-documented fact that in order to have an original contribution, one of the nicest ways is to pick an odd view and seek to argue it. And if you argue it quite well, your professor will say, I don’t agree with you, but you’ve argued it very well, Dr. Smith. And you succeed.
Well, it is possible to understand this in two ways. In fact, there is a very good man whom I really like as an interpreter. And I won’t mention his name, because he might get mad, he’s still living, if he should ever listen to this tape because I don’t intend to attack him. He’s very good as an interpreter, but he feels that if you read Daniel chapter 7 and verse 13 and 14, that you must conclude that this is not a reference to the second coming, but rather that this is simply a reference to the vindication of the Lord Jesus. It’s his coming to God in heaven and that’s all.
In other words, when we read in verse 13, “One like the Son of Man was coming, And He came to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom,” all that is meant is simply that he comes to the Father and he receives dominion. But there’s no coming to the earth at all. In other words, it’s simply a reference to the exaltation of the Son of Man following his sufferings on the cross.
Well, what would you say about that? That would be very handy to a man who was an amillennialist, who did not want to think that our Lord was going to come to the earth to establish a kingdom. So that doctrine would have some appeal. It so happens that this man is an amillennialist. And so you might expect him to be attracted by that even though historically the passage has never been interpreted that way. The early church fathers understood it differently. The church has generally understood it differently until modern times.
Now others see in this a reference to the coming of our Lord Jesus to the Father to receive the kingdom but involved in that is, in the light of the following context, his coming to the earth in order to overthrow the enemies of God and establish his kingdom upon the earth.
Well, let me just say a few things. We won’t have time to argue this in detail. In chapter 26 in verse 64 of the Gospel of Matthew, you will note that the exaltation reference in Psalm 110 is followed by the reference to Daniel chapter 7. In other words, the exaltation, “You shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power” is followed by a reference to his coming in the clouds of heaven. So the order would suggest something quite different from simply exaltation.
Furthermore in Mark chapter 13, verse 24 and 25, and I am going to ask you to turn to this one because his interpretation founders over these verses. And I want you to see it again with your two eyes. Mark chapter 13.
Now we read in Mark chapter 13 and verse 24,
“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken. And then they shall see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”
Now, did you read that carefully? When is the coming? After the tribulation, after the time of tribulation. Even my friend says the time of tribulation is in the future. But here, the passage, the citation from Daniel 7:13, “And then they shall see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory,” it follows the tribulation. So the coming referred to in Daniel chapter 7 cannot be the present exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ. It has to be a reference to the eschatological coming at his Second Advent. I have other reasons, but that’s sufficient to destroy that interpretation.
Now, there is one other thing that I want.
Oh incidentally, I guess I should have said this, too. In looking at the context in Daniel chapter 7, you will notice in the following context in the description of how the victory is won, we read in verse 21 and 22 of Daniel 7, “I kept looking, and that horn was waging war with the saints and overpowering them until the Ancient of Days came and judgment was passed in favor of the saints of the Highest One, and the time arrived when the saints took possession of the kingdom.” And here, too, you can see that the coming, which is referred to in the preceding verse, follows by a struggle on the earth and the coming of the triune God to earth to overthrow opposition on the earth. So there is a coming of the Son of Man to the Ancient of Days to receive dominion, but he comes to the earth to establish it by overthrowing the enemies of the Lord, and then he sets up his kingdom upon the earth.
One last thing. Well, I didn’t give you the rest of the outline. Nobody shout it out. Capital B. The term and Messiahship.
Let me just ask this question. Is the term Son of Man then a Messianic term? If it’s a Messianic term, how could our Lord call himself the Son of Man and yet hide the Messiahship? Because that’s what we read in the New Testament. We read that when they said he was the Messiah, he said keep quiet about that. But yet he himself went around saying the Son of Man this, the Son of Man that, the Son of Man this, the Son of Man that. That’s as if I were to say to you if you said, Lewis. I’d say Keep quiet about that. But Lewis says this and Lewis says that, and Lewis does this and Lewis does that. That would be something like a contradiction, wouldn’t it?
Why does our Lord attempt to veil his Messiahship and at the same time speak of himself as the Son of Man, if the Son of Man is a Messianic term? Well, we know that this term was not very popular. You see it occurs very rarely in the Old Testament. And as a Messianic term, we do not have any record of anyone in the Old Testament using it in that sense aside from Daniel clearly. In literature outside the New Testament, we have very little reference to the Son of Man as a Messianic term until we have some of the apocryphal literature such as Fourth Ezra and a couple of other places like First Enoch.
Now remember in Daniel chapter 7, he is called the Son of Man before he comes to the Ancient of Days to receive the kingdom. Do you remember that? The Son of Man comes, and then he receives the kingdom. So notice that he’s called the Son of Man in Daniel before he actually receives the authority of kingship to carry it out on the earth.
Now Messiah was a term that was most suitable for an enthroned sovereign. But in the case of Son of Man, that would be an ideal term for conveying the truth of humiliation before exaltation or of the hiding of Messiahship.
So I feel, and I must say this is my own interpretation, this term is a veiled reference to Messiahship. It’s admirably adopted to the time before the cross because it’s during that time that while our Lord is the Son of Man, he’s not yet received his authority to act as king as he shall at his Second Advent. Therefore, he called himself Son of Man so that if there were some good students of Scripture, they might realize that he is the one who is to exercise authority upon the earth.
So then to sum it up I’ll say this, the term Son of Man then is a term that teaches the identity of the Lord Jesus with men as the last Adam, the representative man who shall rule. He’s won the right to rule by his cross. It teaches his Messianic destiny. He is to be the king to rule upon the earth. It is the term that suggests also his royalty. And of course, it suggests by virtue of who he is, the fact that he is therefore possessed of the authority to rule and to save souls.
If you’re here and you have never believed in our Lord Jesus who is to be the ruling sovereign of this earth, we invite you to put your trust in him. May you come to him and believe in him.
I’m not sure I’m going to get this on the tape, but they can cut the tape off. I want to close with a little story of an incident which has always appealed to me. There was an American preacher, T. T. Shields who was preaching in Spurgeon’s Tabernacle. And during the course of his stay in London, and he was preaching in Spurgeon’s Tabernacle, his preaching was interrupted by the coming of J. H. Jarrett, a very well-known preacher, a tremendous gift. And Mr. Jarrett preached on one Sunday and Mr. Shields said after he heard him, he never forgot something that he said.
This is what is said. He was speaking on the woman who came and touched our Lord and was healed. And he said, “As Mr. Jarrett was closing his address, he called upon the audience to touch him. Touch him, touch him and be healed. Touch him with the touch of faith and be healed.” And then he said, “But suppose you say, I don’t know how to touch him. I don’t see him, he’s invisible. I don’t know how I can touch him.” Then Mr. Jarrett said, “If you don’t know how to touch him, tell him and that will touch him.”
And that’s true. He is the savior of our souls. And coming to him as the Son of Man, the royal king who is to rule, he will give you forgiveness of sins. The Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins. Come to him, touch him. Let’s close in a word of prayer.
[Prayer] Father, we are thankful to Thee for these wonderful indications of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Son of Man, Messiah, Jesus, who shall save his people from their sins and Lord. We bow before the revelation of the word of God and we bow before him and pray, Oh God, we may recognize him for all that he is. Help us to be subject to him truly. For His name’s sake. Amen.