Why Jesus is the “Son of Man”

“The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear,” (Matthew 13:41-43, ESV). May he or she hear indeed. In these few short verses, multiple descriptions are given: the kingdom of the Father, righteous ones shining like the sun, judgment and hell (weeping, gnashing of teeth, along with the fiery furnace), angels gathering the law-breakers, aka sinners, and of course, the Son of Man. In these few short verses, one finds all the evidence he needs in order to confirm that Jesus’s description of Himself as the “Son of Man” points back to Daniel’s description in the seventh chapter of his book. All the other texts are confirmations that this text’s proof.

In Daniel 7, one will read,

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 a 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, (vv. 13-14, ESV).

The fact that one who is “like a son of man,” stands before the Ancient of Days would indicate that he was even able to stand before Him, thus is holy as He is holy and righteous as He is righteous.

Within the context of the “night visions,” Daniel has visions of bestial kings. The first was like a lion, the second like a bear, the third was like a leopard, and the fourth was a horrendous monster. Subsequently “In the vision in Daniel 7:9-14 the Ancient of Days judges the earthly powers that have become subhuman, bestial, in their arrogant, self-centered exercise of sovereignty.”[1] “I looked then,” Daniel wrote, “because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire,” (Daniel 7:11, ESV). But it was not only judgment upon the last beast, but all of them, for one sees, “As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time,” (v. 12, ESV). While the beasts no longer ruled, their influence and legacy lived on. The Ancient of Days proved himself to be the who “rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will,” (Daniel 4:25, ESV). No longer would a bestial ruler have the kingdom of earth, but instead He calls to Himself “one like a son of man.”

In other words, the kingdoms of the world would be handed to this who was able to stand face to face with the Ancient of Days. Therefore, the kingdom that was the Ancient of Days to give, was given to the Son of Man. With such kingdom came the authority of the Giver.

“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”
I will tell of the decree:
The LORD said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” (Psalm 2:6-9, ESV)

Often called the “Coronation Psalm,” Psalm 2 identifies the king of Israel as the son of God, but as one finds in Hebrews 1, its fullest application and intent was Jesus who was given authority over heaven and earth (cf. Matthew 28:18). Therefore, like the Ancient of Days who is seen judging the beasts of Daniel 7, so Jesus is judging the earth those who are sinners and law-breakers, the very ones who have been influenced by the legacy of the beasts (though not simply limited to these alone). Like the Ancient of Days, the Son of Man, throws these law-breakers into the fire, giving them over to it. The imagery that Jesus used ought not be lost on the reader as he spoke of the fiery furnace, where not only weeds would be thrown, but rather also resurrecting the story of Azariah, Hananiah, and Mishael being thrown into the fiery furnace where one as the son of the gods (cf. Daniel 3:25) is seen to be with them. Yet this time it is not the tyrant throwing the faithful into a fiery furnace, but the Son of Man, throwing the unfaithful in with no hope or help from the Son of God.

The result would be the rule and reign of the Son of Man with the saints. Those who “shine like the sun,” (Matthew 13:31, ESV), “the people of the saints of the Most High,” (Daniel 7:27, ESV), or as one would read later, “those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever,” (Daniel 12:3, ESV).

Certainly, Jesus intended His hearers to pick up on the many points that he was making. The imagery from Daniel is undeniable. That being said, one also finds Jesus using the term “Son of Man” throughout His ministry on various occasions. He used it to explain his authority regarding the law (cf. Matthew 12:8), His authority to forgive sins (cf. Matthew 12:32), His authority to rise from the dead (cf. Matthew 12:40), His authority to come and judge the world (cf. Matthew 16:27), and many more times. Nearly every time Jesus referred to Himself as “the Son of Man” it is with the explanation of authority, the authority that is depicted in Daniel 7. As Lucas rightly wrote that Jesus’ reference to himself, “links his claim to bring in the kingdom of God with the completing of God’s purpose in creating the world.”[2]

That being said, Ezekiel used the term “son of man” much more than Daniel ever did. One may thank Tiemeyer for doing the hard work of counting how often. “In the OT this appellation is attested primarily in the book of Ezekiel, where God calls the prophet ‘son of man’ more than ninety times, and where it either emphasizes his humanity or is used instead of a personal pronoun.”[3] Tiemeyer also stated that Jesus’s designation of “the Son of Man” was most likely due to Daniel 7:13 and not to any of Ezekiel’s callings,[4] but at the same time, he made an interesting comment about Ezekiel that does correlate, at least in part, with Christ. In reference to Ezekiel’s being mute, Tiemeyer noted, “It appears as if Ezekiel was actually able to speak, but he could utter only God’s words and only when God chose to open his mouth.”[5] If that is true, and it seems likely, one can see Jesus’s words, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me,” (John 8:28, ESV). While commentators rightly focus on the ego eimi (I am) of the verse, it is interesting to note that the Son of Man did and spoke only as the Father did and taught (cf. John 5:19). Even with this as circumstantial (at best?) evidence of Jesus’ Ezekelian “son of man,” it is virtually undisputed that Jesus received his title from Daniel. Again, Lucas concurs that “There is general agreement that Daniel 7:13 lies behind Jesus’ reference to himself as the Son of Man.”[6]

[1] E. C. Lucas “Daniel, the Book of,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 121.

[2] Ibid., 122.

[3] L. -S. Tiemeyer, “Ezekiel, the Book of,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 224.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 221.

[6] E. C. Lucas, “Daniel, the Book of,” Dictionary of the Old Testament: prophets, 122.

The Messianic Prophecy in Isaiah 7-9

Uzziah, a great king for Judah was dead. He had spent the last years of his life separated from the people he ruled and from the family he loved. In his arrogance, he had entered into the temple, a place only priests could go, in order to burn incense. For his arrogance, God immediately struck him with leprosy, and the beloved king was banished as unclean. Jotham, his son, ruled in his place and did so for sixteen years before he himself would die. He was a chip off the old block as they say, “And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD according to all that his father Uzziah had done, except he did not enter the temple of the LORD. But the people still followed corrupt practices,” (2 Chronicles 27:2)[1]. Judah had known two kings who had been good kings, yet even under their guidance and rule, the people continued to creep closer and closer to apostacy. Neither Uzziah nor Jotham had torn down the high places (cf. 2 Kings 15:4, 35), which were unauthorized worship-centers scattered throughout the land. As John Wesley coined, “what one generation tolerates, the next generation will embrace.” And so it was with Ahaz, Jotham’s son, who took the throne upon Jotham’s death.

Ahaz not only, “made metal images for the Baals,” (2 Chron 28:2b), “sacrificed and made offerings on the high places and on the hills under every green tree,” (2 Kings 16:4), but also “burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel,” (2 Kings 16:3b). Ahaz, King of Judah—in the line of King David—had embraced idolatry and even human sacrifice. Thus it ought not surprise one to read that Judah was attacked by their enemies—Syria and Israel (Ephraim). Surely, the Lord would judge Ahaz and his nation for their atrocities and defiance. The Lord’s judgment was devastating as “Pekah the son of Remaliah killed 120,000 from Judah in one day, all of them men of valor, because they had forsaken the LORD, the God of their fathers,” (2 Chron 28:6). Soon after another 200,000 (men, women, and children) are taken captive (cf. 2 Chron 28:8). Yet it is in the midst of this distress and judgment that Isaiah was sent to Ahaz.

King Ahaz was rightly frightened by the strength and ferociousness of Syria and Israel. Isaiah was sent, not to condemn him but to calm his fears. God’s message was “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah,” (Isaiah 7:4-5). God promised to destroy both nations in due time, but only if Ahaz trusted in the Lord. “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.” It was at this point that God, through Isaiah, called upon the king to seek a sign. This was rare for God to do. Generally, the rule is not to test God, but in this case this king who trusted in the power of metal images and demonic idols, was told to put God to the test and see how powerful He was. “But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test,” (Isaiah 7:12). This was not said out of humility but out of arrogance. Rather than bow his heart to Yahweh, he bowed it to the Assyrian king. “So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, saying, ‘I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me,’” (2 Kings 16:7). In spite of Ahaz’s defiance, God gave a sign anyway. “Therefore, the LORD himself will give you a sign, ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel,’” (Isaiah 7:14). As D. G. Firth rightly said, “[T]hough in Isaiah 7:10-17 it is Aha[z]’s failure to understand [he should rule within the context of God’s salvation] that leads to the promise of Immanuel, so that even where the Davidic kings fail, Yahweh continues to provide his people with security symbolized in the child.”[2] Immanuel being a name that means, “God with us,” is thus the literal embodiment of God’s salvation. This would be what is known as an “already-not yet prophecy,” thus have an immediate fulfillment, and a later, more drastic and truer fulfillment. In the immediate context, the timing of the destruction of Syria and Israel was Isaiah’s main argument. As John Oswalt noted,

[T]he virginity of the mother is not the most significant point. Rather, God is saying that before a child conceived at that time would reach age 12 or 13 (v. 16), the two nations of which Ahaz was so terrified would cease to exist. But in the long term, this sign, higher than heaven and deeper than hell. . . referred to the coming of Jesus Christ, the true Immanuel (Matt 1:23), and the virginity of his mother was vitally important.[3]

The question as to whom it was named Immanuel in Isaiah’s day misses the point the prophet was seeking to make. The person in the 8th century is unimportant in this context. What was important was that God was proving Himself to be with Judah: Immanuel, God with us. For God to prove Himself in this manner was to bring security to Ahaz and the nation. One must remember the context of the prophecy: “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint. . .” “It is the presence of Yahweh that brings security.”[4] Yet, at the same time, because of Ahaz’s faithlessness, God would bring more judgment upon Judah through Assyria’s king (whom Ahaz trusted to deliver him and his people). “In that day the Lord will shave with a razor that is hired beyond the River—with the king of Assyria—the head and that hair of the feet, and it will sweep away the beard also,” (Isaiah 7:20). Whether Isaiah was speaking euphemistically about the feet or he simply meant that the men would be shaved head to toe, the message was clear that Judah would be humiliated by the king of Assyria. So they were. “The God whom the psalms led the people to believe would fight on their behalf turns out, in his sovereignty, to be the one who is planning their judgment for sin.”[5]

Isaiah at this point, in the midst of their suffering, calls for Judah to repent. He calls on them to remember Yahweh their God and all that He has done. As if speaking on behalf of the remnant who did repent or have been faithful, Isaiah proclaimed: “Bind up the testimony; seal the teaching among my disciples. I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him,” (Isaiah 8:16-17). Yet for whom should they wait? The greater and truest fulfillment of Immanuel; the one who would sit upon David’s throne and reign forever.

     For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this, (Isaiah 9:6-7).

Immanuel, God with us, would sit upon David’s throne and secure His kingdom once and for all. The coming Messiah was still future for Isaiah and the remnant, but Isaiah was assuring them all that though He was still to come, He was sure to come and justice was coming with Him. “The king who brings justice to his people also ensure their security and prosperity (šālȏm), though only because Yahweh ensure it.”[6] The day was coming when all the enemies of God’s people would face God’s wrath. “For the wicked burns like a fire; it consumes briers and thorns; it kindles the thickets of the forest, and they roll upward in a column of smoke. Through the wrath of the LORD of hosts the land is scorched, and the people are like fuel for the fire; no one spares another,” (Isaiah 9:18-19). This was true in Isaiah’s day and will be true when the Messiah returns (cf. Rev. 18-19).


[1] The Holy Bible, The English Standard Version, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2007), shall be cited throughout this text unless otherwise noted.

[2] D. T. Firth, “Messiah” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets, ed. Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 542.

[3] John N. Oswalt “7:14 virgin” in The NIV Zondervan Study Bible, ed. D. A. Carson, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 2015) 1333.

[4] Firth, “Messiah” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets, 542.

[5] H. G. M. Williamson, “Isaiah, Book of” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets, ed. Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 373.

[6] Firth, “Messiah” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets, 542.

That being said…