This title denotes his human nature, but also his divine nature.
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Jesus is the only one in the Four Gospels who uses this term about himself (81 times). No one else, not even the disciples, use it about Jesus (or about any other figure). So it is important to understand his meaning of the title.
Two options are possible, but only one suits his meaning. First, Ezekiel, an Old Testament prophet, uses it 93 times, and he emphasizes his humanity. He is an ordinary human son of an ordinary human man.
Second, Daniel, another Old Testament prophet, uses it about a divine figure who is entrusted by God in the End Times with authority, glory, and sovereignty (Dan. 7:13-14). Jesus demonstrates that he is the fulfillment of Daniel’s description, though his humanity could reference Ezekiel’s description. Both are true of the God-man, who is fully divine and fully man.
Nonetheless, five examples of the divine Son of Man represent others.
First, the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins and heal sickness.
5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 Immediately, Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking such things? 9 Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk?’ 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” . . . . (Mark 2:5-10; cf. Matt. 9:2-8; Luke 5:18-26)
Jesus then heals the paralytic. The teachers of the law make the right inference. Only God can forgive sins in this manner. Jesus does this, so what does this say about his divine nature?
Second, as noted in the previous section “the Lord,” the Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath, so this means that he fulfills the Old Testament in this important regulation in the life of Israel.
Third, Jesus comes to seek and to save the lost. The following two verses find Zacchaeus the tax collector repenting of his cheating and defrauding. He promises to repay people and return stolen money.
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. (Luke 19:9-10).
So Jesus combines his divine status of the Son of Man with his divine status of Savior.
Fourth, the Son of Man must suffer many things and be killed, but he will be resurrected. After Peter’s great confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16), Jesus warns the disciples not to tell anyone. Then he makes a prediction and clarifies his destiny.
22 And [Jesus] said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Luke 9:22, 9:44; cf. Matt. 12:40, 16:21; Mark 8:31)
Thus, Jesus fulfills the Suffering Servant Messiah described in Isaiah 53.
Fifth and finally, during his trial, Jesus boldly tells the high priest that he, the Son of Man, will sit at the right hand of the Father and come on the clouds of heaven at the end of the age.
63 The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 “Yes, it is as you say: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on clouds of heaven.” (Matt. 26:63-64; cf. Mark 14:61-62)
These two verses combine the three titles of Messiah, Son of God, and Son of Man. Clearly, then, the title “Son of Man” can refer to his humanity, but it rises far above Ezekiel’s description of himself as an ordinary human. Jesus fulfills Daniel’s apocalyptic, divine figure.
So how do I get to know Jesus more intimately?
Jesus is the God-man. He was fully human and fully divine. The title “Son of Man” expresses those two realities perfectly, depending on the scriptural context. He was just a “son of man,” an “everyman,” like any Jew in Israel about four decades before the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. But he was also the Son of Man, the divine figure from heaven.
Now our prayers to him and our worship of him can be more focused and clearer. We can say, “Divine Son of Man, I worship you, for you can relate to me!” If anyone is a songwriter, he can shape his lyrics to fit these Scriptures.
ARTICLES IN THE “TITLES OF JESUS” SERIES
4. Titles of Jesus: The Son of Man