Appendix 4. The Title Son of Man in the Gospels

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It's instructive to see how Jesus uses the title Son of Man. In the Synoptic Gospels, he uses Son of Man in three primary ways:

  1. Earthly Son of Man
  2. Suffering Son of Man
  3. Apocalyptic or Eschatological Son of Man

He begins his ministry by using Son of Man in a variety of ways. But only after Peter recognizes him as "the Christ, the Son of the living God" at Caesarea Philippi does he begin to share the other aspects of his title, that the Son of Man will suffer and then return in glory. Let's look at each of these uses individually.

The Earthly Son of Man

A number of sayings fall under a category of the earthly Son of Man sayings, those which are not related directly to his death and return:

  • Authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:10 = Matthew 9:6 = Luke 5:24)
  • Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:27 = Matthew 12:8 = Luke 6:5)
  • Eating and drinking, in contrast to John the Baptist's asceticism (Matthew 11:19 = Luke 7:34)
  • Nowhere to lay his head (Matthew 8:20 = Luke 9:58)
  • A word against him to be forgiven vs. a word against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:32 = Luke 12:10)
  • Who do men say the Son of Man is? (Matthew 16:13)
  • Sows the good seed (Matthew 13:37)
  • Persecution on his account (Luke 6:22)
  • Came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10)
  • Betrayed with a kiss (Luke 22:48)

The Suffering Son of Man

  • Must suffer (Mark 8:31 = Luke 9:22)
  • Will suffer (Mark 9:12 = Matthew 17:12)
  • Risen from the dead (Mark 9:9 = Matthew 17:9)
  • Delivered into the hands of men (Mark 9:31 = Matthew 17:22 = Luke 9:44)
  • Delivered to the chief priests, condemned to death, rises again (Mark 10:33 = Matthew 20:18 = Luke 18:31)
  • Came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45 = Matthew 20:28)
  • Goes as is written, woe to the betrayer (Mark 14:41 = Matthew 26:45)
  • Will be three days in the earth (Matthew 12:40 = Luke 11:30)

The Apocalyptic Son of Man

  • Comes in the glory of the Father and holy angels (Mark 8:38 = Matthew 16:27 = Luke 9:26)
  • Coming with clouds and great glory (Mark 13:16 = Matthew 24:30 = Luke 21:27)
  • Sitting at the right hand of power and coming with clouds of heaven (Mark 14:62 = Matthew 26:64 = Luke 22:69)
  • Coming at an hour you don't expect (Luke 12:40 = Matthew 24:44)
  • Coming as in the days of Noah (Luke 17:26 = Matthew 24:37)
  • Gone through the towns of Israel before he comes (Matthew 10:23)
  • Send his angels (Mark 13:41)
  • Some will not taste death before he comes in his kingdom (Matthew 16:28 = Mark 9:1)
  • Sits on his glorious throne (Matthew 19:28)
  • Sign of the Son of Man appears (Matthew 24:30)
  • So will be his coming (Matthew 24:39)
  • When he comes in his glory (Matthew 25:31)
  • Acknowledges before the angels of God (Luke 12:18)
  • Desire to see his days (Luke 17:22)
  • The day when he is revealed (Luke 17:30)
  • Will he find faith when he comes? (Luke 18:8)
  • Stand before him (Luke 21:36)

Jesus' Use of Son of Man in John's Gospel

In John's Gospel, Jesus uses the term Son of Man 12 times. I see three major themes in the Fourth Gospel.

  1. Heavenly Son of Man
  2. Life-Giving Son of Man
  3. Glorified Son of Man.

1. Heavenly Son of Man. The first theme of the heavenly Son of Man draws from the passage in Daniel 7:13 where the Son of Man comes on the clouds of heaven and appears before the Ancient of Days. We see angels ascending and descending on him (1:51); the imagery of Jacob's ladder (Genesis 28:12);[181] one who came from heaven (3:13); and one who ascends to heaven (6:62).

2. Life-Giving Son of Man. The second theme is the life-giving Son of Man. This concept doesn't draw directly from Daniel, but from Jesus' teaching in the Gospel of John about him being the source of eternal life. The Son of Man: gives food for eternal life (6:27); must eat his flesh and drink his blood (6:53); and merits belief in him (9:35).

3. Glorified Son of Man. The third theme of the glorified Son of Man is inferred by the Daniel passage, since the Son of Man who "was given authority, glory, and sovereign power" now returns to his glory in heaven, by being lifted up. "Lifted up" points to the cross, of course, but beyond that to God raising him from the dead and exalting Christ to his place of glory at his right hand. Jesus' statement, "the Son of Man must be lifted up" (John 3:14) corresponds to his prediction in the Synoptics that "the Son of Man must suffer many things ... be killed and after three days rise again" (Mark 8:31). All this draws upon the Suffering Servant prophecy:

"See, my servant will act wisely;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted." (Isaiah 52:13)

Names and Titles of Jesus: A Discipleship Study, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Also in paperback, PDF, and Kindle

John contains six references to the Son of Man who is about to be lifted up and glorified: lifted up as the bronze snake in the wilderness (3:13-14); authority to judge (5:27); lifted up (8:28); his hour to be glorified (12:23); again lifted up (12:34); and now to be glorified (13:31).

From the Gospels, we learn that for Jesus, his role as Son of Man was all encompassing. It included his divinity, his suffering, his authority, his glory, and his return at the end of time.


[181] Brown (John 29A:88-91) discusses the meaning of this passage in "A Detached Saying about the Son of Man."

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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