The phrase that was most often used by Jesus to refer to Himself was Son of Man. The common opinion concerning this phrase is that it declares the humanity of Jesus. It is said that Son of God refers to His Deity and Son of Man refers to His humanity. It is true that He was, by physical lineage through Mary, a descendant of David and was the head, type and ideal of the human race. From that standpoint, He could be called a son of man, physically. But, that isn’t the significant meaning of Son of Man. We must understand the origin of the phrase in order to know why Jesus used it so much. The fact is, it is from Old Testament prophecy that was fulfilled in Christ.(1) The expectation of a Messiah on the part of Jews for hundreds of years, based on Old Testament promises, involved in their eyes the Messiah being a superior human male. The phrase, “son of man,” was indicative to them of that hope. Messianic promises indeed used this phrase. He would be a deliverer of the people from oppression. Thus—
“Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand, upon the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself.” Psalm 80:17.
Psalm 80 is an appeal to God at a time of trouble and decline for the nation. They are asking for a hera leader, one chosen of God to save them from their condition. Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the chosen leader sent from God. “Son of Man” identified Him with that role. The problem for the Jews was that they were looking for something different from what Jesus appeared to be. The Jews thought that the kingdom of prophecy would be a restoration of the grand kingdom that they experienced under Solomon. Their view of the Messiah was equally wrong. But, just as the kingdom was far different from the one they envisioned, so was their view of the Messiah.
(2) Especially in the book of Ezekiel, God does not address the prophet by his name, Ezekiel. Rather, 89 times he is addressed as “son of man.” This is a special designation for this special envoy of God. The use of the same phrase by Jesus identifies Him with this well known prophet of God in the Old Testament. Jesus was indeed the promised prophet sent from God, Acts 3:22-23, Hebrews 1:1-3. His identity with Ezekiel by using the phrase, “son of man,” emphasized that role.
(3) The most direct connection with the phrase in Old Testament prophecy is in Daniel 7:13-14, along with its fulfillment in Jesus—
“I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, 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.” Daniel 7:13-14.
Every item of this vision of Daniel was fulfilled in Jesus. Certainly, Jesus was taken up into the clouds at His ascension, came before the throne of God and was given dominion, glory, universal authority, and a kingdom that will never be destroyed—
“...and 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.
“Jesus said unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Henceforth ye shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Matthew 26:64.
The connection of Jesus to Daniel cannot be denied. Jesus’ repeated use of the phrase was intentional, drawing attention to His being the fulfillment of promise and prophecy. He was Son of Man because He was the saviour of the nation, the Messiah, the prophet of God, the universal ruler, king of His kingdom and so many other things. They are all wrapped in the title of Son of Man.
(4) Notice these two passages—
“And no one hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended out of heaven, even the Son of man, who is in heaven.” John 3:13.
“What then if ye should behold the Son of man ascending where he was before?” John 6:62.
Who is the antecedent of “he” in these verses? It is “Son of man.” It was the Son of man who was in heaven and descended out of heaven. It was the Son of man who was here on earth. It was the Son of man who ascended back to heaven where he was before. It could not refer to His time here in the physical body of Jesus, born of Mary. We can only conclude that the phrase is used in a figurative manner, as a title, one of His names. Here are some other verses—
“For the Son of man is lord of the sabbath.” Matthew 12:8.
“The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and them that do iniquity, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 13:41-42.
“For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then shall he render unto every man according to his deeds. Verily I say unto you, there are some of them that stand here, who shall in no wise taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” Matthew 16:27-28.
“But when the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory:” Matthew 25:31.
“The Son of man goeth, even as it is written of him: but woe unto that man through whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had not been born.” Matthew 26:24.
The position of authority is evident in these passages. And, these are just a sampling. They not only declare his position but also show a title equal with King and Judge. John 8:28 says—
“Jesus therefore said, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am.”
The crucifixion of Jesus was not a declaration of the humanity of Jesus but rather a demonstration of His Deity. Everything about His crucifixion was planned and prophesied, declaring His Godhood. It was not to show that He was just another human but rather that He was I AM. Look at the passage. All they had to do was stop and look at the scene around them to understand that; the details of that scene can be found in such passages as Psalm 22.. He was not merely human; He was God come in a fleshly body but still He was God.