23 December 2016

The Son of Man.

One of Jesus’s favorite ways to refer to himself is as the Son of Man. It was a way of saying, yet not overtly saying, he’s Messiah.

Y’see, people of Jesus’s day who knew their bible would immediately catch the meaning. And people who don’t know the bible—didn’t then, don’t now—would simply assume it’s an odd choice of words, and ignore it as irrelevant. Same as they do Jesus’s parables.

The meaning comes from Daniel. In his book, Daniel described various apocalyptic visions of the then-distant future. (Most of it is most definitely in our past, ’cause the angels explicitly stated it had to do with the Persian and Greek empires—though you’ll still get a few End Times loons who insist it has to do with the future of Iran and the European Union. Anyway.) Daniel was informed about Messiah’s first coming, as well as his second.

In one of his visions, where the Ancient of Days judged the world, Daniel saw what he identified as a Son of Man. And the reason the folks of Jesus’s day were quite familiar with this passage, was ’cause Daniel actually wrote it in their language, Aramaic. Not Hebrew, like most of the Old Testament.

Daniel 7.13-14 KWL
13 I dreamt a prophetic vision that night: Look, someone like a Son of Man!
Coming in the heavens’ clouds, approaching the Ancient of Days, coming near to him.
14 The Ancient gave the Son authority, honor, and the kingdom,
and every people, nation, and language, who’ll bow to his authority.
His authority is permanent: It never passes away.
His kingdom can never be destroyed.

This is a future kingdom, one God sets up, with his chosen king running the show. By the time Daniel wrote this, the kings of Israel were gone; had been for years. So clearly this vision is about Messiah—but a future Messiah, who’d not just rule Israel and the Jews, but the entire planet.

Yep, this is the very bible reference Jesus had in mind whenever he called himself the Son of Man. We know this ’cause he quoted it. During his trial before the Judean Senate, the head priest demanded to know whether Jesus considered himself Messiah, and Jesus broke his typical silence and gave a definitive answer.

Mark 14.61-62 KWL
61 For Jesus was silent, and answered no one.
Again, the head priest questioned Jesus, and said to him,
“You’re Messiah, the son of the blessed one?”
62 Jesus said, “I am.
And you’ll see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power,
coming with the heavenly clouds.”

True, the Senate were outraged by this answer and condemned him to death for it. Mk 14.64 But there should be no question what Jesus meant throughout the gospels by Son of Man.

Son of Man means “human.”

Like I said, Daniel 7 was written in the very same language Jesus, the Judeans, and the Galileans spoke. There was no uncertainty in their culture what Daniel said. Although, as is usually the case with apocalypses, plenty of uncertainty about what he meant.

The Aramaic term was bar enósh/“son of [a] man.” In Hebrew it’d be ben adám, the same term the LORD used on a regular basis to address his prophet, and Daniel’s contemporary, Ezekiel. Ek 2.1 Y’might notice adám is also the name of the first human—because adám means “human” or “humanity.” Often the term benéy ha-adám/“children of Adam” (KJV “sons of men”) is likewise used to mean humanity. Ge 31.19, etc.

When Daniel said he saw what looked like a bar enósh, it meant—in the midst of all these beasts and angels and mighty beings in his vision—he saw an ordinary-looking human. Someone who didn’t fit any of the apocalyptic weirdness. You’d think the coming king of the world might be represented by the most impressive-looking beast there. Maybe a massive angelic figure. But nope; for maximum impact, God had Daniel see nothing more than a man. One of our species. One of us.

In the Septuagint and gospels the Greek term is o yiós tu anthrópu, the same term Jesus used. Same meaning: A human.

Sounds almost like a term of humility, doesn’t it? “I’m just a man, y’know.”

But knowing human nature, we’d wanna imagine God’s Messiah as something greater than merely a man. A cherub, a watcher, some supernatural hybrid. A woman, at least. Not just a man.

Christians get confused by “Son of Man,” and tend to emphasize “Son of God” way more often, because we insist on imagining Jesus as something greater than human. We emphasize his divinity like mad. Sometime a little too mad: We describe him like he’s some new supernatural hybrid, part human and part God. That’d be wrong:

  • Jesus isn’t part God, or demigod, but is God.
  • Jesus isn’t part human, or superhuman, but is human.

He’s not a hybrid. Humanity and divinity don’t actually mix; they’re separate qualities, two separate natures, which can overlap just fine without canceling one another out.

Much as preachers love to imagine Jesus battling things out between his human side and divine side, they’re getting Jesus totally wrong. He has no such inner struggle. Even when he really didn’t wanna die, Mk 14.35-36 the struggle wasn’t his divinity saying “Do it!” and his humanity saying “Don’t wanna.” It was his flesh not wanting to suffer great pain if he could help it—but it was a struggle his spirit was always gonna win, ’cause Jesus has the fruit of self-control in abundance.

Nope, Messiah’s a human. Which was really always the plan. God intended to live among his people and be our king. We just assumed he’d never wanna diminish his almightiness in order to do so, ’cause we’d never do such a thing. But Jesus doesn’t share our hangup. Pp 2.6 Become human so he could hang out with his beloved kids? Sign him up.

So Messiah’s a man. The Pharisees would’ve imagined him a mighty angel, but now they knew to be on the lookout for a man. Which was kinda handy for Jesus, ’cause it meant he was less likely to freak ’em out with his divinity.

Y’see the Pharisees, to point out how significantly different God and humans are, would typically point to a statement of the mercenary prophet Balaam:

Numbers 23.19 KWL
“God isn’t a man, who lies;
nor a man’s son, who changes his mind.”

The Pharisees loved this saying. Quoted it all the time. God doesn’t lie; God doesn’t change his mind.

Except God does change his mind, as demonstrated in Exodus 32.14 and elsewhere. Balaam was a mercenary prophet, remember? You can’t always take what he says the bank. Remember, he’d curse whomever you wanted, and didn’t bother to check with God first—which is why God had to get his attention by making his donkey talk. Nu 22.22-35 True, God doesn’t lie, but the rest of Balaam’s statement was rubbish. Not only does God change his mind, he’s also a son of man. He became one. He took on flesh and lived among us and everything. Jn 1.14

Because the Judeans mindlessly quoted Balaam out of context, it meant Jesus didn’t really have to do a thing to hide his divinity: He could do things only God could, and nobody would ever put two and two together ’cause “God isn’t a man.” God could walk among them with impunity… and occasionally freak people out when they realized who he really is.

The king, describing his kingdom.

So if you knew your Daniel, you’d realize Jesus was calling himself Messiah. A lot. But skipping over that politically dangerous word “Messiah,” lest anyone give him grief over it.

The title would remind everyone of the one to whom the Ancient of Days granted his kingdom. Then Jesus could teach on that very kingdom: A kingdom which’ll never be destroyed, never pass away, and include every people, nation, and language. Jesus could keep his kingdom hidden till the very second he chose to reveal it to the world.

Like many Messianic prophecies, Daniel 7 isn’t just about Jesus’s first advent, but his second. At the End, Jesus returns to conquer the kingdoms of this world, and then

Daniel 7.27 KWL
Its kingdom, its power, its glory, found in kingdoms under all the heavens:
It was given to the people, the saints of the Highest God.
His kingdom is the kingdom forever, and every power serves and hears him.

Stuff to look forward to.