“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Monday, February 4, 2008

One Like a Son of Man

I particularly like the title "Son of Man" that Jesus applies to himself. The most significant other use of this phrase in the Bible is in Daniel 7, where there is a description of "one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven." For those who are interested, here is a paper I wrote last year on Jesus's use of this phrase. A quick note on fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies: the prophets did not know exactly what would come of their prophecy, but when it was fulfilled, which was usually in a christological way, God's greater purpose for the Old Testament text was made known. The authors in the Old Testament did not know exactly what the Messiah, their ideal future Davidic king, would be like, but when Jesus came, his life, death, and resurrection shed new light on prophecies in the Old Testament in ways the OT authors could not have imagined. God's greater purpose for their prophecy was revealed in Christ (who viewed the Old Testament as authoritative) and through the New Testament writings. The limited intentions of the Old Testament prophecies, in and of themselves, were shown to part of a greater picture centered on Jesus Christ and predestined by God in light of the entire redemptive history.

Understanding Daniel 7:13-14 as Messianic Prophecy

The most common title Jesus applied to himself during his earthly ministry was “the Son of Man,” a title used by no one but him. This seemingly ambiguous phrase is also found in the book of Daniel, in the context of one of Daniel’s visions. The prophet says, “there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven” (Da 7:13). This son of man was also “given authority, glory and sovereign power,” (v. 14) and “his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (v. 14). Although some scholars hold different positions, it is best to conclude, based on both the context of the passage and references in the New Testament, that this passage describes a figure of deity and the coming Messiah, and was later shown to be Messianic prophecy because of Jesus’ fulfillment of the prophecy.

In understanding this passage, it must first be determined what type of character this “son of man” is intended to be understood as apart from any New Testament fulfillment. Some scholars contend, because verses 22 and 27 describe the possession of the kingdom of God by the saints, that the “son of man” is a personification of the Jewish people. This view is difficult to maintain, however, because it assumes that the saints’ “possession” of the kingdom is equivalent to their being the head of the kingdom, a view that is contradicted in verse 27, which states that God rules this kingdom with complete power.1 Also, verse 14 says that the son of man will be worshipped by all peoples, and the Bible certainly does not teach that the saints themselves will be worshipped.2 On the contrary, the Bible teaches that only God is to be worshipped (Rev 19:10); therefore this verse must be a reference to deity. Furthermore, the vast majority of other uses of phrases like “coming with the clouds” in the Old Testament make some connection to God.3 For example, Psalm 104:3 says “He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind.” See also Deuteronomy 33:26 and Psalm 68:4. In light of the context of the immediate passage and other Old Testament passages, it is clear that the “son of man” is someone who is divine and worthy of worship. Although it is more difficult to establish the author’s intentions in this context because Daniel is simply describing what he saw, it is reasonable to conclude, based on the striking description of this character as the ideal future king of God’s kingdom, that the Messiah is foretold in this passage, a view held by the majority of scholars.4

It is also necessary to determine whether or not Jesus was making a reference to this passage when he repeatedly used the phrase “Son of Man,” and whether or not he viewed himself as the fulfillment of the character in Daniel’s vision. The fact that Jesus used a definite article instead of an indefinite article does not undermine the connection; rather, it is likely that his intention was to describe himself as the fulfillment of a prophecy that did not itself specify a certain person. In Mark 14:62, Jesus clearly claims to be the Christ, and at the same time he makes an indisputable reference to Daniel 7:13,5 saying that the Son of Man will be seen “coming on the clouds of heaven.” Although the phrase “son of man” occurred elsewhere in the Old Testament, particularly in the book of Ezekiel (in which it was used to describe Ezekiel himself), only Daniel 7:13 refers to deity rather than to a human,6 and Christ’s statement points immediately to this verse. The fact that the high priest responded with a vehement accusation of blasphemy indicates that Jesus’ words were understood as a claim to deity.7 It is clear from this verse, and from other similar statements, that Jesus understood himself to be the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy, and therefore that Daniel 7:13 is indeed Messianic prophecy. Jesus made multiple similar statements; for example, Mark 13:26 is almost identical to Jesus’ statement to the high priest. The book of Revelation offers additional support for this conclusion. In 1:13, the author explicitly references Daniel 7:13, and in 1:18, the character of Revelation 1 to whom the title “one like a son of man” was applied says “I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I alive for ever and ever!” Clearly, Daniel 7:13 is again connected to the person of Jesus Christ.

Understanding Jesus’ use of the title “Son of Man” in light of Daniel 7:13-14 is extremely important in understanding who he claimed to be. It provides strong support for the conclusion that Jesus claimed to be a person of divine authority. In using this title, Christ claims to be the ruler of God’s everlasting kingdom, who has complete authority and will be worshipped forever.

1Archer, Gleason L. Jr., “Commentary on Daniel,” 3-157. In The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Frank E. Gaebelein, General Editor (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), 90-91.
2Miller, Stephen R. The New American Commentary. Vol. 18. Broadman and Holman, 1994. 207-210.
3Ibid., 208.
4Lange, John. Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures. Vol. 7. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1960. 157.
5Archer, Gleason L. Jr., and Ronald Youngblood, “Commentary on Daniel,” 1300-19. In The NIV Study Bible, Kenneth L. Barker, General Editor (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), 1527.
6Archer, Commentary, 90.
7Miller, Commentary, 209.

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