The Names of Jesus: Son of Man

Mark 10:45 

Of the hundreds of titles and designations given to Jesus in the New Testament and Old, there is one which Jesus chose for himself. More often than any other self-designation, he referred to himself as the Son of Man. Eighty-two times in the Gospels he called himself the Son of Man, and interestingly, none of his disciples, none of the NT writers after his death referred to him as the Son of Man. He alone employed that name.

Son of Man obviously carried great meaning for Jesus. It described some quality that uniquely captured his heart and his purpose. Let’s spend a few minutes this morning in the scriptures exploring what was being communicated when Jesus said, “The Son of Man came, not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk 10:45)

There was a pivotal moment in Jesus’ ministry when he was with his disciples in Caesarea Philippi and he asked them, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:13-16)

It was immediately after this that Jesus revealed this to them:
“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:22-26)

Even though Peter reveals two of the most glorious designations for Jesus, Christ and Son of God, Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man. And it is often the context in which he calls himself the Son of Man that gives us a little glimpse into what he intended.

So many times when Jesus called himself Son of Man it was in reference to his suffering and death. That in his suffering and crucifixion he was taking upon himself the sin and suffering and death of all humankind. He was identifying with us in our humanity, but more than just identifying – he was transforming that suffering and death into a redemptive act. As he suffered and died, we are made alive. The apostle Paul said it this way: God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21)

But then, as Jesus identifies with us, we identify with him: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

In the book of Philippians, Paul wrote about the humility and the self-sacrifice that it takes to live in harmony within the body of Christ. And he says it can only happen when we take on the mind of Christ. And listen to how he describes that: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:6-8) As we identify with the Son of Man we also must become humble and obedient and self-sacrificial, if we are live with one another in his church.

Last week, we talked about Jesus as the Son of God – his deity, his authority, his perfection. He is exalted above everything and everyone. He is worthy of all the praise and honor and glory that is due him. As the Son of God he alone is worthy to be our Lord – he alone is qualified to be our Savior.

We talked a little bit about the Hebrew concept of “son.” That it not only speaks of a person’s physical kinship – Jesus son of Joseph, but of a quality in a person’s life – son of light or son of encouragement, or conversely – son of darkness or child of the devil. When we speak of Jesus as the Son of God, it is not so much about his genealogy as the quality of his life that is God. He is everything that God is – eternal, omniscient, omnipotent. Jesus says, “I and the Father are one.” John writes, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

But fourteen verses later, John also writes, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” Just as he was fully God, he also became fully man. He made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

I cannot begin to adequately describe the significance of that. Human beings had always yearned to rise to the level of gods, but never had a god demoted himself to become human. It was inconceivable. What possible benefit could there be to God by becoming a human being? God holds all the cards – he is eternal, unaffected by pain or suffering or death – he has no needs, suffers no hunger or thirst – there is simply no reason for God to become human. Except – that is who his creation is, and they have alienated themselves from him and are racing headlong to destruction and hell. And the only way to save them is to become one of them. What would you do? Well, I think like a human being, and so I go straight for self-preservation, comfort and callousness. They made their own bed, let them lay in it.

But that’s not how God thinks. Listen to John’s assessment of this situation: This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)

Knowing exactly what awaited him, God knew the only way he could save his precious, beloved creation was to send his son to become one of us and experience life through our eyes, experience our temptations, suffer our pain and be subjected to our death. He had to identify with us completely in order to become the perfect substitute for our sins on the cross.

That was the theme of the Hebrews writer who writes of this identification of Christ with us: Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Heb. 4:14-16)

I think that’s why Jesus so embraced the title, “Son of Man.” He had fully become one of us. Fully God, fully man. It’s a difficult concept to wrap our minds around. And believe me, it’s been a topic of discussion, debate and controversy since the beginning. Church councils debated exactly how Jesus could be both God and man, and how it should be understood, and demanded that their conclusions be adopted by all Christians under threat of excommunication and even execution. Which all seems a bit silly to us, but it does give us a feel for how important it is that we at least wrestle with the question.

When Jesus was born as a human, he did not cease to be God, but he laid aside his divine prerogatives, so that he could fully experience being human. Peterson’s, The Message paraphrases Paul’s words in Philippians 2: “He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!”

Paul doesn’t leave it at that. Because Jesus became human, became obedient to death, even death on a cross, Paul writes: Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:9-11)

Son of God, Son of Man. As Son of God, Jesus is our Sovereign Lord and King. As Son of Man, Jesus is our model and guide. As fully God, and fully man, Jesus is our perfect redeemer – not only one who understands what we have been through, but has the authority and power to do something about it.

Before we leave this self-chosen designation of Jesus, Son of Man, I want you to see some of its roots in the OT. Six hundred years before the birth of Christ, in Daniel 7, the prophet Daniel reports a vision he was given of the kingdoms that would come and go, who would triumph and rule, and then be defeated and vanquished. One after the other, Babylon would rule, then fall to Persia, Persia would rule, then fall to Greece, Greece would rule, then fall to Rome. And then Daniel comes to the final and ultimate kingdom: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Dan. 7:13-14)

While the title “Son of Man” emphasizes the human aspect of Christ’s being, in his humility, his suffering and his death, “Son of Man” also reveals his glorification and exaltation as the one who is worthy to rule God’s kingdom forever and ever.

Why this title means so much to me is because Jesus became just like me. He knows where I struggle – not as a coach shouting instructions from the sideline, but as a brother who is walking alongside of me with his arm around my shoulders. He knows my weaknesses and my strengths, he knows my struggles and my victories, he celebrates with me and he weeps with me.

Karl Barth, one of the most brilliant theologians of last century was once asked what he considered the most important theological concept he had ever learned. His reply was this: Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

Of all the things that you might ever learn, that is the most important: Jesus loves you so much that he became like you so that you could be with him.