The Son of Man

In the four gospel accounts, the term “Son of Man” is the self-designation found most often on the lips of Jesus. It is derived from the vision in the Book of Daniel of the one “like a Son of Man.” This figure received the “dominion and kingdom” from the “Ancient of Days” when judgment was rendered, vindicating the “saints.” According to Jesus, “All the tribes of the Earth” will mourn when they see this same “Son of Man coming on the clouds of Heaven.”

The figure “like a Son of Man” is also prominent in the Book of Revelation. He is the glorious figure seen by John in his first vision who sends the letters of chapters 2 and 3 to the “Seven Assemblies of Asia,” the same Messianic figure who will be seen by all men “coming on the clouds” at the end of the present age.

Morning Clouds - Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash
[Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash]

In each instance in the gospel accounts, the Greek text reads “
THE Son of Man,” and the definite article retains its demonstrative force (i.e., “this, that”). Rendered idiomatically, the sense is most accurately, “THAT Son of Man.”

When using the term, Jesus did not refer to humanity in general or to his human nature, but instead, to a specific and known figure, namely, the “Son of Man” described in the seventh chapter of Daniel.

In his vision, Daniel saw a malevolent figure called the “Little Horn,” a creature with “a mouth speaking great things.” It waged “war” against the “saints.” His vision concluded with a judgment scene and the appearance of the “Son of Man” who received “dominion” and vindication on behalf of the “saints” - (Daniel 7:13-14).

In the vision’s interpretation, the “Little Horn made war against the saints and prevailed against them.” Afterward, “judgment was given for the saints” by the “Ancient of Days,” and the saints then “possessed the kingdom.” By itself, “judgment” does not mean punishment, and here, it points to a decision “for” or on behalf of the saints. In other words, their vindication – (Daniel 7:15-27).

Features from the vision are found in Christ’s references to the “Son of Man,” as well as in related passages elsewhere in the New Testament, including:

  • His “coming on clouds.”
  • His approach to the “Ancient of Days” for judgment.
  • His receipt of dominion over “peoples, races, and tongues.
  • The rendering of judgment for the saints.


Jesus is the “Son of Man who sows the seed” of the Gospel, a process he set in motion that will consummate when the “Son of Man sends forth his angels to gather out of his kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and them that do iniquity.” At that time, the “Son of Man will come in the glory of his Father to render to every man according to his deeds” – (Matthew 13:41, 16:27).

But THAT same “Son of Man” is also destined to suffer for his people (“For the Son of Man shall be delivered up into the hands of men, and they shall kill him”), though death will not have the final word. For, “on the third day,” God resurrected him, and in the “regeneration, the Son of Man will sit on the throne of his glory, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” - (Matthew 17:22, 19:28).

That judgment will include his punitive sentence on the same members of Israel that condemned him to death, and this understanding is borne out by his response at his trial before the high priest of Israel:

  • I am he, and you will see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of Heaven – (Matthew 19:28, 26:64).

Here, Jesus combined the phrase from Daniel with a clause found in the Psalms, leaving no doubt that he is the Messiah appointed by Yahweh to reign over the nations - “Yahweh declared to my Lord: Sit at my right hand until I make your foes your footstool” - (Psalm 110:1. See Mark 14:62, Matthew 26:64, Luke 22:69).

The language employed by Daniel is prominent in passages that describe the future return of Jesus. He is the glorious figure who will appear “on the clouds of Heaven” - Then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in Heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the Earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming on the clouds of Heaven with power and great glory” – (Matthew 24:30).

The description of him “coming on the clouds” appears in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians where he describes how the saints will “meet” Jesus as he descends from Heaven – “Then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air” – (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

In Daniel’s vision, the “Son of Man” approaches the “Ancient of Days” and receives the kingdom on behalf of the “saints,” as well as the authority to reign over “all peoples, nations and tongues.” But his vindication occurs only after the “little horn” has waged “war against the saints and prevailed over them.” Also, the receipt of “dominion” by Jesus only comes after his death and resurrection – (Matthew 20:28, 28:18-20).

Beach Sunrise - Photo by George Kourounis on Unsplash
[Photo by George Kourounis on Unsplash]


The language from Daniel is prominent in the Book of Revelation. The conclusion of its prologue, for example, refers to the coming of Jesus “on the clouds.” This passage combines language from at least two different verses from the Old Testament:

  • Behold, he is coming with the cloudsand every eye shall see him, and they that pierced him; and all the tribes of the Earth shall mourn over him” – (Revelation 1:7, Daniel 7:13-14, Zechariah 12:10).

The prologue is followed by John’s vision of the “one like a Son of Man” who walks among the “seven golden lampstands” which represent the Seven Assemblies of Asia - (Revelation 1:12-15).

In the fifth chapter of Revelation, though pictured as a “slain Lamb,” overtones from Daniel’s vision are evident in the description of his arrival before the Throne. The “Lamb” receives the “Sealed Scroll” from the one sitting on the throne and immediately begins to break open its seals. All creation declares him “worthy” to receive all authority because, “by his blood,” he redeemed men from “every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation” – (Revelation 5:5-14).

When the seventh trumpet sounded, the sovereignty of the “Lamb” and his people over the kingdoms of the world was proclaimed, once again, echoing words from Daniel - (Revelation 11:15-19, Daniel 7:14, 7:27).

In Chapter 14, Jesus is the “Son of Man” who is “sitting on the cloud” as he is poised to reap the grain harvest of the Earth – (Revelation 14:14-16).

During the “thousand years,” Satan is bound in the “Abyss,” and prevented from deceiving the nations, but judgment is made on behalf of the saints, just as described in Daniel’s vision - (Revelation 20:4, Daniel 7:9-22).

Thus, the New Testament authors use several Old Testament images to portray aspects of Christ’s ministry, including if not especially that of the “Son of Man.” Whenever Jesus refers to himself as “THE Son of Man,” he intends for his audience to link him to the figure in the Book of Daniel.

He employed the term when describing his future return in glory, and about his suffering and death, for the “Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He was and is “THAT Son of Man.”




Second Trumpet

Redeeming the Nations