Jesus: Son of God, Son of Man, Son of David
What do these titles or names of Christ say about him? It has often been suggested that “Son of God” refers to the deity of Jesus, while “Son of Man” refers to his humanity. Son of David, of course, speaks of Jesus as the expected “Messiah” of Israel, but what about Son of God and Son of Man? Do they represent his deity and humanity, respectively? Is that really what the terms are meant to convey? To answer these questions it's always best to start at the beginning.
Matthew 1:18-20 and Luke
1:35 – his birth. Of course, in the Trinitarian scheme, Jesus
pre-existed his birth at Bethlehem, so he had no beginning. But is it possible
for one to exist before he exists? Let's look at the text of Luke 1:35...
The beginning of Jesus is recorded in
“And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy--the Son of God.”
Here we have, in simple terms, the reason Jesus is called “Son of God”. The word therefore means “for this very reason” (dio kai in the Greek). In other words, the child born will be called the Son of God because – for the precise reason that – the Holy Spirit (here equated with the power of the Most High) would come upon Mary. Notice also that the word born is “genao” in the original language. This word family is also where we get "genesis", which means "origins". Genao means “to bring forth, conceive, procreate, bear, be born”.
There is nothing in the above text to indicate any pre-existent being who “entered into” Mary's womb and became a human embryo. Nowhere in the Bible do we find language such as “put on flesh”, “clothed in flesh”, “take on human nature”, etc., in connection with the nature of Christ or his birth. And we definitely do not find the term “God the Son” anywhere in the Bible! No, this is the plain language of a life coming into existence - being born - at a specific point in time. However, given the fact that Mary was miraculously [with child] by the power of God and thus without a human father, Jesus would “be called holy—the Son of God”!
Whatever else may be said about the nature of the Son of God, we must recognize immediately that "Son" of God is not the same as God. Since God alone is immortal, without beginning or ending, it must be understood that a Son of God cannot be God in the same sense because there IS a beginning for the Son. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is clearly seen as separate from, subordinate to, even dependent upon God the Father. Rather than equality to God, the Sonship of Jesus is seen in his unique relationship to God.
The fact is, "Son of God" IS NOT a title belonging only to Jesus, much less an indication that he is himself deity. There are others in Scripture who are also called sons of God.
- The angels are referred to as “sons of God” (Genesis 6:2; Job 1:6; Psalm 29:1; Luke 20:36). Jesus tells us that angels do not marry and cannot die. By inference they do not procreate (Luke 20:35-36). Therefore, angels are all created individually by God. He made so many of them, and no more. They are sons of God by reason of their individual creation.
- Adam is called the “son of God” because he was God's original creation, uniquely made (Luke 3:38). All men after Adam are “procreated” beings - they are made after Adam's kind, not directly created by God (Genesis 1:1-12,21,24-25,28).
- Christians also are called “sons of God” (Romans 8:14 and
3:26; because we are of the new creation. We have been
“re-created”, born of “incorruptible seed” (1 Peter 1:23,
25, 2:1) as a
result of receiving
Jesus' ... message, and therefore authorized to be called “sons of God” (John 1:12).
So then, when the Bible calls Jesus the Son of God, instead of
deity, it is a reference to his unique status with God. This in no way
diminishes Jesus! In my view, it raises him to the status of the fully human,
unique Son that he is, and makes his sinless life and suffering a greater
accomplishment. It also keeps Paul's "two Adams" comparison, in Romans chapter
5, intact. I'm simply making the point here that the designation “Son of God”
does not refer to deity, but to uniqueness.
Son of Man
The term “son of man” is probably Jesus' favorite title for himself. The term appears 30 times in Matthew's gospel, 14 times in Mark's gospel, 25 times in Luke's gospel, and 12 times in the gospel of John. It is also found many times throughout the Old Testament, especially in Ezekiel where God refers to the prophet often as “son of man”. Perhaps the most notable passage though, is Numbers 23:19,
“God is not man, that he should lie, or a 'son of man', that he should change his mind...”
Here we get the real impact of the meaning of the term. Son of man is placed in opposition to
Deity. To say one is a son of man is to say that he is
human, that's it. Eerdman's Bible Dictionary says the term Son of Man
“...a Semitic idiom for an individual human being or for mankind in general, particularly as distinguished from God”
As mentioned earlier, the term appears extensively throughout the book of
Ezekiel. When God calls Ezekiel “son of man”, it is way to emphasize, or call
attention to, His Deity and Ezekiel's humanity - He is simply calling him “man”.
Likewise, when Jesus refers to himself as “Son of Man” he is affirming his
humanity. But in addition to his humanity, he affirms his status as
God's Messiah, the Chosen One – His vice regent, or “right hand
man”, if you will!
The 80th Psalm illustrates this point well. Here David prays for the restoration and salvation of Israel which he refers to as the “vine out of Egypt” (verse 8). But prophetically, this also looks forward to Jesus as “the true vine” (John 15:1) who also was brought out of Egypt (Matthew 2:13-19; Hosea 11:1). Then in verse 17 we find the term “son of man”.
“But let your hand be on the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself!” Psalms 80:17 (ESV)
Notice that the “son of man” is the MAN of God's right
hand, who God MADE strong for Himself...”
Also, in the book of Daniel we find...
“I saw in the night-visions, and, behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man, and he came even to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. 14 And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” --Dan 7:13-14 (ASV)
This is probably the main Old Testament background for Jesus' use of the term
for himself. Notice in both texts above that the “Son of Man” is MADE strong and
GIVEN glory and a kingdom! Throughout the gospels Jesus constantly reaffirms the
message that he does not act on his own but that his words, his deeds and his
authority are all GIVEN to him directly from his Father. He never contradicts
his own assertion of being the “Son of Man” by suggesting that he is also God
Almighty (although many trinitarians use certain texts to support that
Matthew 12:32 clearly shows the difference between the “Son of Man” and God. Here, in Jesus own words...
“And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”
Now this is a strange thing for Jesus to say, if he is Deity.
According the the doctrine of the Trinity, all three persons are “co-equal” -
they are all three equally God. How are we to understand this then? If
Jesus is both God and man, and the Holy Spirit is God, do not both deserve equal
respect and honor? How can one blaspheme the
Holy Spirit – God, and not be forgiven; yet blaspheme the Son of Man –
God, and receive forgiveness? Something is amiss.
I think the answer is an easy one, if we can accept it. The simple truth is that Jesus, as the “Son of Man”, is human – anointed of God, but not himself God; the Holy Spirit here is God's power at work in His Messiah, - NOT a 3rd person in a Trinity. We should remember that “ the spirit” was GIVEN to Jesus “without measure”, according to John 3:34. In other words, Jesus was endowed abundantly with God's Spirit so that Paul could say “...in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell.” (Colossians 1:19).
In Mark's account (Mark
3:28-30) we are given the answer to what it means to blaspheme the
Spirit in verse 30, "for they had said, 'He has an unclean spirit'." So then,
blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the same
as saying Jesus did miracles by demonic power rather than by God's power! To
make such a statement would be to totally miss and fail to recognize the nature
of Jesus' relationship to God. But the point I wish to make here is
that Jesus , the Son of Man, was a fully human Messiah, anointed with
God's spirit, but not himself God.
One last text I'd like to mention is Hebrews chapter 2. I like the reading
from the NET Bible, which says...
"2:5 For he did not put the world to come, about which we are speaking, under the control of angels. 2:6 Instead someone testified somewhere:
“What is man that you think of him or the son of man that you care for him?
2:7 You made him lower than the angels for a little while.
You crowned him with glory and honor.
2:8 You put all things under his control.”
For when he put all things under his control, he left nothing outside of his control. At present we do not yet see all things under his control, 2:9 but we see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by God’s grace he would experience death on behalf of everyone. 2:10 For it was fitting for him, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 2:11 For indeed he who makes holy and those being made holy all have the same origin, and so he is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 2:12 saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.” 2:13 Again he says, “I will be confident in him,” and again, “Here I am, with the children God has given me.” 2:14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), 2:15 and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death. 2:16 For surely his concern is not for angels, but he is concerned for Abraham’s descendants. 2:17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. 2:18 For since he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted."
The above Scriptures, when read in context, make it abundantly clear that Jesus as “Son of Man” is human, and therefore separate in “substance” or “essence” from God. The whole point the writer of the book of Hebrews is making is to show that the New Covenant established through Jesus is superior to the Old. Jesus himself is superior over all that have gone before him, including angels, the prophets, Moses, and the priesthood. So then, Jesus, as “son of man” is the human Messiah. One might rightly say that Jesus is divine, but it cannot be said that he is Deity from either the title “Son of God” or “Son of Man”.
What did the people mean when they asked, "Can this be the Son of David?" Of course, Jesus' genealogy recognizes him as being from the lineage of David (Matthew 1:1; Luke 3:31). But the question came as a result of the healing of the demon-possessed man. This miraculous deliverance from demon possession was, according to Matthew's view, taken as a definite sign of the the expected Jewish Messiah, the Chosen One of God, who would fulfill the prophecies concerning the throne of David. Thus, he is referred to as "Son of David", another title for the Messiah.
Although Jesus never used the title for himself, others used it with great expectancy and faith, desiring mercy from him for their particular needs. In Matthew 9:27, the blind man called out to Jesus as "Son of David" and asked for mercy. In Matthew 15:22 the Canaanite woman called him "Son of David" when asking for mercy for her daughter. In Matthew 20:20, two blind men said "Lord, have mercy on us, 'Son of David'!" And in what is called his "triumphal entry" into Jerusalem in Matthew 21:9, the crowds shouted, "Hosanna to the 'Son of David'! Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord!"
Fundamental to understanding this concept of the One coming in the Name of the Lord is Nathan's promise in 2 Samuel 7:12-16, namely, the raising up of a successor to David from his offspring, and the confirmation of his "house" and kingdom forever. This prophecy provides the basis for Psalm 2:7; 89:4; and 132:11. And even greater is the reference in Psalm 110:1 which is the most quoted Old Testament Scripture in the New Testament regarding Messiah Jesus. In fact, the one place where Jesus does refer to the Son of David is in Matthew 22:42 when he asks the Pharisees what they thought of the Christ, i.e. whose son he is? In order to understand Jesus' response, we need to look at the Psalm in its Hebrew form.
In Psalm 110:1 there are two forms of the word "lord" used. The first is a direct reference to the Lord God, Yahweh. This word, translated LORD is used throughout the Old Testament and always refers to Yahweh, the personal name of God. The translators use all capital letters to distinguish it from other, lesser lords. The second use of Lord, which has only the first letter capitalized, is the word "adoni". This word is used 195 times in the KJV and refers only to men [and occasionally angels]. It is sometimes translated master, and even sir. So who is this "lord" which David calls "my lord"?
This is a clear reference to the LORD's
The LORD God, said to David's lord, "Sit at my right hand..."
In Ezekiel 37:22-28, the prophet tells of a future time of peace and prosperity in which God's servant, David, shall be king over all Israel. This is figurative language referring to the promise made in 2 Samuel 7. David's offspring is simply called "David" to emphasize the keeping of God's promise to David, but it clearly indicates a descendant of David. Also, in Micah 5:2-4, the son of David is proclaimed as the one who would shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, and in the majesty of the Name of the LORD. Although the phrase “Son of David” is not found in this passage, the reference to Bethlehem, the city of David, is given as a figure of speech for the person himself.
All the above, in addition to many other Scriptures, identify the Son of David as a Messianic person who would come as savior and king, dispensing the righteous judgment and mercy of God. This was demonstrated in the person of Jesus through his ministry of teaching, deliverance, healing, and other acts of compassion. So then, when Jesus asked the question of the Pharisees as to how they understood the Christ, their answer, 'he is David's Son', was correct. However, Jesus calls to their attention the fact that David refers to him as his Lord. So, how can he be David's son and call him lord? Jesus answer shuts the mouths of his enemies by demonstrating that:
as the promised Messiah, He is both a descendant of David AND the unique Son of God, and thus, greater than David. Jesus was directly saying to them that he was the Son of God, the Christ, the Messiah.