Jesus as the Son of Man


"Son of Man" is one of the more interesting and enigmatic titles of Jesus. It used 81 times in the Gospels, and always by Jesus himself. No other character in the Gospel narratives nor any other biblical writer uses the term. {1}

Various explanations have been offered as to why Jesus employed the term and others did not. It may have been a term Jesus could use early in his ministry without inciting much hostility, because of its various meanings, but that would later encompass his messianic claims. The early Christian writers may have been reluctant to use it because the Greek phrase is somewhat ambiguous (Jesus would have used the simpler Aramaic term). {2}

To determine what Jesus meant by the phrase, Biblical scholars turn to its use in the Old Testament. There the term "Son of Man" is used in three main contexts:

  • an address to the prophet Ezekiel (e.g. Ezekiel 2:1);
  • to refer to humanity in general, especially its lowliness when compared to God and the angels (Numbers 23:19; Psalm 8:14); and
  • to refer to an eschatological figure whose coming signals the end of history (Daniel 7:13-14). {3}

Jesus appears to use the phrase especially in the third sense. He uses the phrase "Son of Man" when speaking of his roles of saving and judging (e.g. Mk 10:45; Mt 25:31) and of the future coming of an exalted, heavenly figure (e.g. Mt 13:41, 24:30; Mk 14:62; Lk 18:8).


  1. "Son of Man," Catholic Encylopedia (1912).
  2. Ibid.
  3. McGrath, Christian Theology, 327.
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