The reading of Mark shows Jesus preparing his Apostles for the upcoming crucifixion. Mark writes, He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things. NIV Son of Man was by far the most common way Jesus referred to himself.
Psalm 80:17 uses the phrase. But let your hand be on the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself! ESV Grant Your help to the man at Your right hand, the one You have taken as Your own. JSB Notice what happened to the wording in the Jewish JSB version. Generally, the JSB is the most accurate translation of the Hebrew, but here and in other places, they have chosen to slightly alter the phrase because it has become so closely associated with the First Century teacher, Yeshua.
Be sure that the JSB is just as accurate as the ESV on this verse. Both Hebrew and Christian scholars believe the verse to be about King David, or perhaps Saul. The Psalmist is asking God to protect Judah as He did in the times of the great kings.
The next time the phrase, son of man, is used, God called Ezekiel. He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. NIV God calls Ezekiel son of man ninety times. Notice the lower-case form in English. Hebrew has only one case, so it is hard to know if they intended to set the title apart as we do for Jesus.
Despite the constant use of the title as a name for the prophet, it is still not historically associated with the Messiah. The real change came in one mention in Daniel. Chapter 7:13-14: “I kept watching the night visions, when I saw, coming with the clouds of heaven, someone like a son of man. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. To him was given rulership, glory and a kingdom, so that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him. His rulership is an eternal rulership that will not pass away; and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. CJB Again, the JSB reads: One like a human being. In a footnote, the JSB says that the phrase is literally son of man.
The footnote goes on to give a quick history of the phrase, so I will include part of it here.
Human being, lit. “son of man,” which in the Bible is idiomatic for human being. Here, however, the celestial being is like a human being, i.e., has a human countenance. For the author it most likely represents a heavenly figure who will exercise judgment, perhaps Michael. Christian tradition, especially in the Gospels, saw this as a prediction of Jesus as a heavenly “son of man.” A messianic use of this title is also found in postbiblical Jewish literature (1 Enoch,, Ezra Sanh).
There was a second use of the phrase in Chapter 8 where the angel Gabriel started to explain a vision. As he came near the place where I was standing, I was terrified and fell prostrate. “Son of man,” he said to me, “understand that the vision concerns the time of the end.” NIV Here it clearly referees to Daniel.
The most important point is that by the time Jesus began his ministry, Son of Man was widely accepted as a title for the Messiah. While Jesus never said he was the Messiah, he intended for people to make the simple leap from Son of Man to Messiah in their thinking.
Why did Jesus not call himself the Messiah?
In Jesus’ day, the general thinking was heavily political regarding the expected Messiah. Jesus did not come to earth to do battle with the Roman Legions, which is what people expected.
Jesus had to slap Peter in front of the other Apostles. You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns. NIV I am not here to lead a military revolt as Enoch would have it. I am here to give peace to all people.
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. ESV Jesus is not our General leading us into battle. He is our Shepherd leading us a new world, a new life, a new way of relating to others.
To follow him requires that we sacrifice ourselves the way he did. Jesus made his choice to follow the Word of God. In his case, as for many others, it meant physical death. For most of us, it means death to this world, to this way of life.
Read my earlier comments on this theme here.
Be righteous and do good.