When Jesus refers to Himself as the Son of Man, what does that mean? Why does He say Son of Man and Son of God?
The phrases “Son of man” and “Son of God” are used for Jesus Christ to refer to His humanity and deity. The message of scripture was that Jesus Christ was both God and man. What follows below is a fuller explanation of both terms.
Son of Man – Old Testament
The phrase “Son of Man” occurs 195 times in the Old and New Testaments. It occurs 107 times in the Old Testament, but 93 times in the book of Ezekiel. Each time the phrase refers to a human. Here are a few examples. Our first clue regarding the meaning of “son of man” occurs in Numbers 23:19.
God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? Numbers 23:19 (NASB)
Here it refers to humans – men or women. The verse simply says that God is not like us. He is not a man. Men and women lie and God does not lie. “Son of man” also refers to the offspring or descendants of mankind (Psalm 144:3; Isaiah 51:12; Jeremiah 49:18; Jeremiah 51:43; Ezekiel 2:1, 3, 6, 8; Daniel 8:17). Another excellent example of this phrase occurs when God speaks to the prophet Ezekiel and calls him a “son of man.”
Then He said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet that I may speak with you!” Ezekiel 2:1 (NASB)
But the most important usage of this phrase occurs when it is used in reference to Jesus Christ. The important example occurs in the book of Daniel when it refers to the second coming or the return of Jesus Christ in the future. Jesus referred to Himself as the “Son of Man” on numerous occasions (Matthew 8:20; 9:6; 11:19; 16:27; 19:28; 26:64).
I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. Daniel 7:13 (NASB)
Son of Man – New Testament
The phrase “Son of Man” occurs 88 times in the New Testament and only four times outside of the gospels. In the New Testament, the term has additional meaning. It still refers to a human, but it is also a title for Jesus Christ. Jesus was the ultimate human. He was God in human flesh.
But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” –then He said to the paralytic–“Rise, take up your bed, and go home.” Matthew 9:6 (NASB)
For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. Matthew 12:8 (NASB)
. . . for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Matthew 12:40 (NASB)
In Luke 24:7 Jesus refers to Himself as the “Son of Man” and says that He must be delivered up to be crucified. Men in human flesh die a physical death and not an eternal God.
Son of God
The phrase “Son of God” only occurs 43 times in the New Testament and it always refers to Jesus. It means that Jesus is God. It does not mean that He was born of God. It does not mean that He was the offspring of God. This truth is clearly explained in John 10:30-35. In the passage it is obvious that the Jews understood Jesus claimed to be God. In John 10:30 Jesus declared that He was one with the Father.
I and the Father are one. John 10:30 (NASB)
The Greek word that Jesus used for “one” is eis. It is a cardinal number such as 1, 2, 3 and so forth. That is Jesus said that He was the Father and the Father was Himself. He referred to the concept of the trinity. Both the Old and New Testament teach that God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4; 1 Timothy 2:5; James 2:19). Now notice the response of the religious leaders. They understood that He claimed to be God.
The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” (NASB) John 10:33
So Jesus responded to the Jews with this comment,
. . . do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, “You are blaspheming,” because I said, “I am the Son of God”? (NASB) John 10:36
Jesus apparently had said He was the “Son of God.” The Jews understood this term to be a claim of deity. They understood that Jesus had declared He was God. Therefore, they accused Jesus of blasphemy. They knew Jesus was claiming to be God. That is the meaning of the “Son of God.” The phrase “Son of God” means God.
In summary, “son of man” refers to the humanity of Jesus Christ and “son of God” refers to the deity of Christ. Both phrases are used only for Jesus Christ in the scriptures. Both terms were used of Christ because He was man and He was God. The Jews understood the meaning of these terms. Today, we focus in on the word “son” and sometimes are not aware that both expressions had special meanings.
Romans 1:2-4 is an important passage in the Bible since it tells us that Jesus Christ is both a man and God.
He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord . . . Romans 1:2-4 (NASB)
“Son of man” reminds us that Jesus became a man so that He could die. “Son of God” reminds us that Jesus is God so that He could live a sinless life or be the perfect Lamb of God. Only as the God-man could He die a sinless, holy sacrifice for our sins. All that is left for us to do is to believe that He is the only way. He is the only Savior of our sins, if we will believe that.
. . . that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures . . . 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (NASB)
Together, they mean that Jesus was completely man and He was completely God. He was the God-man. He was the eternal, holy God who came in human flesh. Without being a man, He could not have died. If He was not God, He would have been a sinner. But as the God-man, He was the sinless man – the perfect sacrifice – a sinless sacrifice for our sins. He returned to life and ascended back to heaven. Praise the Lord!