Jesus and the Son of Man

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One of the most elusive titles used by Jesus is “the Son of Man.”

Revised: 06-Nov-2009
One of the most elusive titles used by Jesus is “the Son of Man.”

Countless articles and books have been written trying to decipher the significance of the epithet, which is mentioned in Daniel 7:13-14:

I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

There are indications that early Jewish interpretation understood the figure to represent the people of Israel, because Daniel 7:18 speaks of the nation in terms similar to that just heard about the Son of Man: “But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever and ever.” Yet, by the first century opinions had changed.

The Son of Man as Messiah

Although the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71) were not found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, Michael Stone and Jonas Greenfield of the Hebrew University have suggested that they were written by the beginning of the Christian era. These chapters contain one of the first clear examples of a fusion of two distinct Jewish concepts. In 1 Enoch 46-48 the Son of Man is identified as the Messiah. Much of scholarship in this century has argued that the combination of these two roles in a single individual was a later Christian development, and thus scholars have challenged the authenticity of Jesus’ appropriation of both titles to himself. However, Stone and Greenfield’s assessment of the pre-Christian development of these ideas strengthens the likelihood that Jesus incorporated contemporary Jewish opinions concerning the Son of Man into his vocabulary.

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