Episode 23: Son of Man | 10 MGJ Devotional Podcast

Episode 23: Son of Man


     The most common phrase used throughout the gospel accounts to identify Jesus is the title, Son of Man. Indeed, the phrase, Son of Man, is the dominant expression Jesus uses when he describes himself. While the phrase appears more frequently in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it is common in the Gospel of John throughout the first 13 chapters, appearing most frequently when Jesus is in the region of Judea. The phrase itself reflects a tradition found in the prophetic book of Ezekiel and other, later Jewish writings which carries over into the New Testament. Each gospel writer reinterprets these traditions in portraying Jesus as the Son of Man.

In the Old Testament

     Over ninety times in the book of Ezekiel God addresses the prophet using the term, son of man. This phrase, and especially the significance of it, finds many diverse explanations. In Psalm 8, the psalmist writes “who is man that you should take notice of him, or even the son of man that you should care for him?” (LXX 8:5, English 8:4) From these two writings it would seem that the term might simply identify an individual set apart by God. Other Jewish writings place this phrase within a setting in the future where the Son of Man works on behalf of God’s heavenly forces to bring about order according to God’s rule. This figure is noted for bringing deliverance to the afflicted among God’s people.

Elsewhere in John

     Within the accounts found in John 1:19-49, Jesus is assigned several titles by those around him. John the Baptist describes him as the Lamb of God (Episode 18) and Son of God. John’s two disciples address Jesus as Rabbi (Episode 21). Andrew tells Simon that Jesus is the Messiah (Episode 16). Philip tells Nathanael that Jesus is the one about whom Moses wrote (Episode 17), and Nathanael addresses Jesus as Rabbi, Son of God and King of Israel. Jesus responds to Nathanael–and perhaps the other disciples’ ideas about him as well–by describing a scene of revelation with God’s angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man. In other words, Jesus describes himself as the means by which God’s heavenly messengers minister to those on earth.

     This phrase later appears in the context of John 3:16, preparing the background for understanding this popular verse more fully.

No one ever ascended into Heaven except for the one
who likewise descended from heaven, the Son of Man.
Just as Moses lifted up the image of a snake in the
wilderness, the Son of Man must be lifted up in the same
fashion, in order that every person who believes in him
may possess the life of the ages. God loved his own in
this fashion, he sent his unique Son with the intent that
everyone who is trusting him should not perish but
have the life of the ages. For God did not send his Son to
his own to judge them, but so that his own might be
delivered through the Son. (John 3:14-17)

The primary insight with regard to the Son of Man is the idea that he must be “lifted up” before others might have this life of the ages, or as the phrase is more often described–eternal life. Two other clues for his identification are given in this passage as well; this Son of Man is also the Son of God and the Son of Man delivers those who trust him.

     The idea that the Son of Man provides life of the ages recurs later in chapter 6, a passage central for understanding the Gospel of John. Speaking with those who have followed him across the Sea of Tiberius because he fed them in the wilderness on the previous day, Jesus emphasizes the difference between what they are seeking and what he provides.

Do not work for bread that molds and crumbles,
rather work for the Bread which remains throughout
the life of the ages, bread that the Son of Man provides
you; for Father God has placed his seal on this one. (6:27)

The tension in the discussion escalates as many of those listening move further and further away from any association of Jesus with Moses or with God, while Jesus continues to clarify his initially spiritualized statement by using more physically descriptive language.

Then Jesus spoke to them, “I speak truthfully to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink the
blood of the Son of Man, you have no life in yourself. (6:53)

The prior response by those listening leaves no confusion concerning who they think this Son of Man is, “How can this one give us his flesh to eat?” (6:52) The only item still in question is their willingness to understand and act upon the reality of Jesus’ spiritual language.

     Two events reported in John 12 prove crucial for the timing of the lifting up, that is to say the glorification of, the Son of Man introduced in John 3. First, some Greeks, often identified as Gentile God-fearers, are in Jerusalem for the Passover and want to see Jesus. When Jesus hears of their interest through Andrew and Philip, he indicates that the time has come for his glorification (12:20-23). This leads directly to Jesus’ cry for God to glorify God’s name, after which a voice replies from heaven sounding like thunder to part of the crowd, although some thought it might be an angel speaking. The crowd then questions Jesus’ insistence that he himself be lifted up. Such is not part of their understanding of either the Messiah or the Son of Man.

The crowd responded to Jesus, “We have heard from the
Law that the Messiah remains into the ages, so how can
you say that it is necessary for the Son of Man to be
lifted up? Who exactly is this one known as the Son of
man?” (12:34)

As frequently occurs in this gospel, Jesus’ response does not answer their stated concern, rather he focuses on the importance of living in the Light while light is present so that darkness will not put out their light. (See Episode 3 for the importance of Light)

Concluding Thought

     Jesus identifies himself as the Son of Man. Yet, the Gospel of John reformulates many commonly held expectations concerning who this Son of Man is and what he will do. Most importantly, the Son of Man must be lifted up as the serpent in the wilderness was during the time of Moses. This is the only way that the promised deliverance by and from God can take place. This Son of Man does not lead an army in violence against others, but suffers violence by others at the hand of soldiers. God’s deliverance continues to appear in the same manner as always, by trusting that what God’s Word at the Beginning identifies as truth actually is truth itself. Through Jesus, God continues to ignore the expectations of the world while continuing to act according to his own plan, purpose, and desire. In this way God’s name is glorified.


     Son of Man is the fifth title assigned to Jesus discussed in recent episodes. It becomes clear that different individuals in the Gospel of John use different filters to describe Jesus. Yet Jesus is not limited to a single title or individual filter. Instead, he develops the various filters into a multi-dimensional viewpoint. Identified as “the Word with God at the Beginning” Jesus exceeds each and every title assigned to him by those who observed him on this world.

     Take a few moments to consider:
     • What filter do I primarily use to try to understand Jesus?
     • What filters do I intentionally avoid using to understand Jesus? Why do I avoid them?

     Write down 1 or 2 limitations that you recognize your use of filters, i.e. titles, for understanding Jesus creates in your attempt to experience the life of the ages provided by the Son of Man.