Son of Man in the New Testament: Part 2 of 4

Son of Man in the Synoptic Gospels


Part two of our study, the Son of Man in the Synoptic Gospels (henceforth known as “the Synoptics”), will cover by far the vast majority of uses of the term “SM” in the New Testament. Depending on whose count you rely – they are all extremely similar – the Greek phrase “SM” (ὁ ὑιος του ανθρώπου) is used between 86 and 90 times in the Greek New Testament. 95% of uses occur in the gospels, and 84% of gospel appearances are in the Synoptics. Furthermore, it is striking that 100% of all uses are spoken by Jesus himself. Due to the vast number of occurrences in the Synoptics of the New Testament, it can be difficult to ascertain any one purpose; however, scholars believe that the Synoptics used the term “SM” to associate Jesus with – and therefore prove that Jesus is – the exalted SM of Daniel 7 who suffered to save Israel (read: all believers) from the great beast.

Son of Man Categories

It is widely accepted among scholars today that the SM occurrences in the Synoptics and elsewhere fall into three categories of usage. However, a point of clarification is required: these three categories can overlap quite regularly; the categories do not represent, or claim to be, a perfect system of analysis, though they are still a helpful way to consider each occurrence. The three categories into which the SM sayings may fall are: 1) Earthly, or those that refer to Jesus’s earthly ministry and mission; 2) Suffering, or those that refer to the required suffering the SM must endure; 3) Future, or those that refer to the eschatological realities to come regarding the SM. This study will provide a useful, though not exhaustive, introduction of each category and some of the key texts associated with each.

The Earthly category provides us insight into how Jesus saw his role as SM would play out in his earthly ministry and mission. In response to the cost of following him (indeed, the earthly cost disciples must pay), Jesus explained that the SM is persecuted and therefore had no place to lay his head, a lesser circumstance than even the foxes, who have holes, and the birds, who have nests in which to find rest (Matt 8:20; Luke 9:58). Explaining again the risk of following him, Jesus said that those who are hated, excluded, and reviled on account of the SM will be blessed (Luke 6:22). Jesus expressed that the SM has the ability to forgive sins (Matt. 9:6; Mark 2:10; Luke 5:24), and he does so on multiple occasions. (Note especially that the forgiveness of sins was a SM prerogative so important as to be mentioned in all three of the Synoptics.) Jesus expressed his lordship over the Sabbath (Matt. 12:8; Mark 2:28; Luke 6:5), stopping the mouths of those who wished to condemn him for working on the day of rest; this is another SM saying mentioned in all three Synoptics, emphasizing that rest is now found in and fulfilled by Jesus, as SM, not in keeping the Sabbath day. Moreover, the SM’s ministry included sowing the seed of God’s word on earth (Matt. 13:37) and seeking and saving the lost (Luke 19:10). From these texts and others it is obvious that Jesus saw himself as the SM with a clear mission that manifested itself in myriad of ways.

The Suffering category, which can often overlap with the Earthly sayings (as the SM will indeed suffer on earth) provides us insight into how Jesus envisioned – and fulfilled – his responsibility as the suffering SM. Jesus compared himself to Elijah who also suffered for the sake of the message (Matt. 8:20; Luke 9:58). Interestingly, as a side note, Elijah did not die, but rather was taken up into heaven (2 Kings 2:11). The true SM would die, but would live again and also ascend into heaven; the SM is the true and better Elijah. After the transfiguration, Jesus warned his disciples to tell no one until the SM is raised from the dead (Matt. 17:9; Mark 9:9). His allusion to his suffering here is slightly more subtle in that it was hidden within his command to tell no one, rather than his suffering existing as the core component of the verse. Again, Jesus alluded to his suffering (i.e., death) when he compared himself to Jonah (Matt.12:40; Luke 11:30). At the Passover with Jesus, he again intimated that he would suffer “as it is written of him” (Matt 26:24; Mark 14:21; Luke 22:22). Apparently all three of the writers of the Synoptics believed this saying was important enough to include in their accounts. As mentioned at the outset of our study on the Synoptics, the synoptic writers wrote to prove that Jesus was the true Daniel 7 SM. Therefore, in this last instance, it should not be given only slight consideration that all three writers emphasized “as it is written” (Luke uses a slightly different verb meaning appointed or determined [Greek: ὁριζω], but the thrust of the verse was surely in step with both Matthew and Mark).

The last category to cover in this segment of our SM in the New Testament study is the Future references. More texts fit neatly into this category than any other, because Jesus was deliberately seeking to teach his disciples, leveraging Old Testament prophetic/apocalyptic literature, that he was the Daniel 7 SM/Messiah. Jesus claimed that the disciples, whom he, as God, equipped to minister, would not have made it through all the towns of Israel before the SM came (Matt. 10:23). Jesus further explained for his audience the Parable of the Weeds, claiming that the SM would send his angels who would throw sinners into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 13:41-43). Again in Matthew Jesus explained that the SM would come with his angels and repay each person according to his deeds (Matt. 16:27; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26). Jesus said this would be done by the SM “in the glory of his Father.” Jesus often related himself to God as “my Father,” which provides additional helpful context to see that Jesus is the SM of whom he was speaking. Furthermore, the specificity with which many of these prophecies are made goes far beyond the ability of a mere prophet; in order to know what he knew, Jesus must have actually been (indeed be) the SM he described. Many other texts in the Synoptics pointed to the Future usage of the SM sayings; however, at this point, the texts already presented sufficiently represent the concept present in most of the remaining texts. Still, I encourage you to read all of them and decide for yourself. 

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Alex Moore