1.. Selective Bibliography
Most of the matieral in the synoptic gospels focuses on Jesus' teaching about the Kingdom of God and other topics; in John when he speaks about himself, it is to describe his role a mediator of eschatological salvation. But occasionally in the gospels Jesus does refer to himself and is sometimes referred to by certain salvation-historical designations. People naturally wonder about his identity, just as they did with John the Baptist.
J. Becker, Jesus of Nazareth, 1998 (197-217); M. Casey, Son of Man: The Interpretation and Influence of Daniel 7, 1979; H. Conzelmann, "Gegenwart und Zukunft in der synoptischen Tradition," ZThK 54 (1957) 277-96; O. Cullman, The Christology of the New Testament, 1959; R. Fuller, The Foundations of New Testament Christology, 1965; A.J.B. Higgins, Jesus and the Son of Man, 1964; S. Kim, "The Son of Man" as the Son of God, 1983; B. Lindars, Jesus Son of Man, 1983; W. Manson, Jesus, the Messiah, 1943; W. Marxen, Anfangsprobleme der Christologie, 1960; J. C. O'Neill, "The Silence of Jesus," NTS 15 (1969) 153-67; E. Schweizer, "Der Menschensohn (Zur eschatologischen Erwartung Jesu)" ZNW 50 (1959) 185-209; E. Sjöberg, Der verborgene Menschensohn in den Evangelien, 1955; H. E. Tödt, The Son of Man in the Synoptic Tradition, 1965; G. Vermes, Jesus the Jew, 1973; P. Vielhauer, "Gottesreich und Menschensohn in der Verkündigung Jesu" in FS. für Günther Dehn, 1957.
As already indicated, the Hebrew prophets foretell the appearance of an eschatological Davidic king. This expectation is carried over into the second-Temple period (see Messiah in the Old Testament and Eschatological Davidic King in Second-Temple). (There are also references to a priestly Messiah.)
From Josephus' writings, it is clear that there were many Jews who desired political independence from Roman hegemony and all who represented Roman interests in Palestine. This desire lay behind several aborted attempts to gain political independence through military action; the striving for independence culminated in the war from 66-73. Some of the leaders of these attempts at gaining political independence probably had messianic self-understandings and aspirations. (Josephus refrains from identifying any of these men explicitly as messianic aspirants, probably because of his political goal of presenting the Jews as a peaceful and easily governable people; to admit that the Jewish religion contained the idea of a Messiah, a king who would overthrow gentile rule, would undermine the achievement of this purpose.) At the time of Herod's siege of Jerusalem in 37 BCE, many Jews expected divine deliverance from Herod and his Roman patrons; it is probable that there was a messianic element to this hope of divine deliverance (Ant. 14. 470-71; War 1. 347-48). In other words, it is possible that those who resisted Herod expected the appearance of a Davidic Messiah as the concrete manifestation of God's deliverance. (The author of Ps. Sol. 17 certainly hoped for the coming of the ideal Davidic king after the fall of the Hasmonean dynasty to Pompey.) Josephus also describes how in 6 CE a certain Judas the Galilean from Gamala rose to prominence, in league with Zaddok the Pharisee (War 2. 118, 433; 7. 253; Ant. 18. 4-10, 23-25, 20. 102). Judas led a revolt against Rome, which was crushed; this revolt had messianic overtones, as did the later Zealot movement of which Judas was said to have been the founder (some of his descendants are named as Zealots who played important roles in the war against Rome). Judas and later the Zealots believed that God would come to the aid of the revolutionaries. Perhaps, Judas considered himself as the means of God's deliverance and, therefore, as de facto, the Messiah.
After Judas, a man named Theudas appeared, whom Josephus calls an impostor (goês); he seems to mean that Theudas was a messianic impostor, which is suggested by the fact that he promised the people that he was a prophet and would part the Jordan and lead the people through it (Ant. 20. 97-98). It is likely that he was attempting to imitate Joshua's conquest of Caanan, but the “conquest” that he had in mind to carry out was probably eschatological deliverance. The procurator, Cuspius Fadus (44-46), sent out the cavalry and killed Theudas, bringing his head back to Jerusalem; Fadus saw Theudas as a military threat to the public peace, which suggests that he had messianic pretensions. During the reign of Nero, Josephus says that there appeared "impostors and deceivers" who claimed that if the people would follow them into the desert they would perform "miracles and signs." It is clear that such men were messianic pretenders, even though Josephus does not identify them as such. One such impostor and deceiver as a man identified simply as "the Egyptian"; he led a group of 30,000 to the Mount of Olives, where he said that he would command the walls of Jerusalem to fall down, whereupon they would enter the city and conquered the Roman garrison stationed there (War 2. 261-63; Ant. 20. 167-72) The resemblance between this prediction and the fall of the walls of Jericho under the leadership of Joshua was surely not lost on the people. Josephus explains that "the Egyptian" intended to become an absolute ruler (tyrannos). Clearly, "the Egyptian" had messianic aspirations, so that by "absolute ruler" is probably meant messianic king. The whole affair ended tragically when the Felix, the Roman procurator, met this man and his followers with a military force. (Paul was mistaken for "the Egyptian" in Acts 21:38.) Josephus also concedes that a cause of the Jewish war against Rome was the belief in the imminent appearance of the Messiah: "But now, what did the most to incite them in undertaking this war, was an ambiguous oracle that was also found in their sacred writings, how, at that time, one from their country should become ruler of the world. The Jews took this prediction to belong to themselves in particular, and many of the wise men were thereby deceived in their interpretation of it" (War 6.312-13). Although he calls it an "ambiguous oracle," indicating own his political stance, the messianic predictions were clear enough in the Hebrew scriptures to fuel this type of military action. This messianic expectation explains the fanaticism of the participants and even why they would even consider taking on the Romans in the first place. It is probable that some of the leaders of this rebellion had messianic aspirations.
Although it is the assumption of the gospel writers that Jesus is the Messiah (i.e. Davidic Messiah), Jesus does not claim the title for himself, and is reticent to accept the title from others. Even though he accepts the title Messiah when it is understood properly, it seems that Jesus does not want to be understood as Messiah of the popular imagination, a military leader, like Judas, Theudas or the Egyptian. In other words, he does not see himself as the Davidic Messiah described in Psalms of Solomon (17, 18). He tends to keep his own messianic self-consciousness in the background, preferring rather to focus his public proclamation focused on the Kingdom of God. He even prevents demons from disclosing his identity as the Davidic Messiah.
a. Luke 4:41 (see Mark 1:34)
Jesus would not let the demons speak when he cast them out because, according to Luke 4:41, they knew that he was the Christ, or son of God; presumably Jesus did not want this information disclosed to the general public.
b. Mark 1:23-25 (= Luke 4:33-35)
Jesus does not allow the demon in the man to speak any further after the demon has identified him as "the Holy One of God," no doubt generally recognized as a messianic title (see Acts 3:14).
c. Mark 14:61-63 (= Matt 26:63-64) (see Luke 22:67-70)
During his interrogation by the Sanhedrin, Jesus only reluctantly agrees that he believes that he is the Christ. Actually, in this exchange between Jesus and the High Priest, three titles are mentioned: Christ, son of God and son of man. It is clear that at the time of Jesus that the titles "Christ" (or Messiah) and "son of God" (or Blessed One) are synonyms, which explains why they are set in apposition to each other (see Jesus Before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin). In addition, after he accepts the title of Christ and son of God, Jesus says that the High Priest would see the son of man sitting at the right hand of God (in exaltation) and coming on the clouds of heaven, an allusion to Dan 7:20 (see below).
d. Mark 8:29-30 (= Matt 16:19-20 = Luke 9:20-21)
When Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus instructs Peter to tell no one of his realization. Why he wants this to remain confidential is not provided, but presumably Jesus did not want to be identified as the Davidic Messiah of popular expectation; this could be used against him by the Jewish authorities on the assumption that anyone who claims that title is a revolutionary set on overthrowing Roman rule by force.
Some Jews wonder whether Jesus is the Davidic Messiah based on what he does (see Jesus as Miracle Worker), while others suspect that he believes himself to be the Messiah. Matthew says that in prison John the Baptist heard about "the works of the Messiah," and sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus whether he was the one who should come (Matt 11:2) (Luke's introduction to this pericope is different [Luke 7:18].) The meaning seems to be that John heard that Jesus was doing the things that the Messiah was supposed to do (see Eschatological Context of Jesus' Healings). Similarly, because of what Jesus does, in particular his exorcisms, people wonder whether Jesus is the son of David, a synonym for Messiah (Matt 12:23) (see below for consideration of title "son of David"). At Jesus' trial before the Sanhedrin, the High Priest asks Jesus whether he believes that he is the Messiah (Mark 14:62 = Matt 23:63 = Luke 22:67), which implies that he and the others suspect that Jesus believes that he is, but they do not have any definitive proof (see Jesus Before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin). After Jesus' trial it becomes public knowledge that Jesus considers himself to be the Davidic Messiah—the King of the Jews—so that this is given as the official reason for his execution, as indicated on the titulus written in Hebrew (or Aramaic), Greek and Latin (Mark 15:26 = Matt 27:37; John 19:19-20): "The King of the Jews." In fact, this is the official charge on which Jesus is brought before Pontius Pilate: "We found this man...saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king" (Luke 23:2).
Jesus does not disclose directly even to his disciples that he believes that he is the Davidic Messiah; rather he elicits this response from Peter, who speaks as the spokesman for the group, and only acquiesces to it (Mark 8:27-30 = Matt 16:13-20 = Luke 9:18-21). In Matthew's version, Jesus says that the knowledge that he is the Messiah was disclosed to Peter by God, presumablt because Jesus is not conforming to popular expectation (Matt 16:17). There are three versions of Peter's confession: "You are the Christ" (Mark 8:29); "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt 16:16); "The Christ of God" (Luke 9:20). The differences between the three versions are inconsequential, for Peter confesses that Jesus is Israel's Davidic Messiah and each of the three designations mean that. Presumably, before this time, Jesus' disciples were not completely clear about Jesus' identity, as were not people in general (see John 7:40-44; Mark 6:14-16 = Matt 14:1-2 = Luke 9:7-9). As already indicated, Jesus commands his disciples not to disclose his identity to others.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus is also reluctant to be known publicly as the Davidic Messiah, which explains the people are confused about his exact identity (7:26-42; 12:34). Jesus' signs and his teaching convince people that he is extraordinary and could be an eschatological figure, like the Prophet (6:14; 7:40). (Jesus resists an attempt to conscript him as a popular, revolutionary leader by the people, no doubt in conformity to popular messianic expectation [6:15]). At one point, the "Jews" ask Jesus directly whether he is the Messiah; Jesus says that he has already told them, but what he likely means is that he has given them enough clues that they should be able to conclude correctly about his identity (10:24-25). Only to the Samaritan woman in Sychar, does Jesus disclose his identity as the Messiah, but she is not a Jew (4:25-26). At his trial before Pilate also Jesus reluctantly admits that he is a king (18:28-40). People do, nonetheless, come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah by drawing the correct conclusion from the evidence (9:22; 10:24; see 6:69). The disciples are perplexed when Jesus speaks about his departure (death) because they have heard it taught from the Law that the Messiah remains forever, which seems to assume that the Messiah is more than a human being (12:34).
The prophet Zechariah prophesies that the Messiah will ride into Jerusalem not as a great conqueror of the nations, but as a peaceful, non-violent ruler; symbolic of this is the fact that he rides on a colt, not on a war horse or in a chariot: "Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey" (Zech 9:9). Jesus enters Jerusalem from Bethany about a week before the beginning of Passover; he intentionally sets out to fulfill the prophecy in Zech 9:9. Thus, at the end of his ministry, Jesus symbolically declares himself to be the Davidic Messiah, the king of Israel, but the Messiah as defined by Zech 9:9, one who brings a reign of peace to Israel and to the nations. He accepts the appellation of the crowd to be the Davidic Messiah, or son of David, but only as he has defined the term "king" by his symbolic act (see R. Stein, Jesus the Messiah, chap. 13; Gundry, Mark, 622-34). He thereby subverts the popular expectation about the Messiah's nature and purpose. The source for acclamation "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" is Ps 118:26, part of the the Hallel (Pss 113-18) recited during Passover. This text is being given a pesher-type messianic interpretation.
Occasionally, Jesus is addressed by the obviously messianic title of "son of David." This suggests that his contemporaries suspect that he is the Davidic Messiah. Jesus is depicted as neither accepting the title nor rejecting it.
A. Mark 10:46-49 (= Matt 20:29-31 = Luke 18:35-39)
A blind man (Matt = two blind men), in asking Jesus (loudly) for healing, addresses him as "son of David." The man recognizes Jesus as the Davidic Messiah, who has the ability to heal.
B. Matt 9:27-28
Matthew has another account of Jesus' healing two blind men, who likewise address him as "son of David."
C. Matt 15:22
The Syro-Phoenician woman who asks Jesus to exorcise her daughter addresses Jesus as "Lord, son of David." How she came to know of Jesus' messianic identity is not clear.
D. Matt 21:8-17
When he rode into Jerusalem on the donkey, according to Matt 21:9, the crowds shouted "Hosanna to the son of David." As a result, the chief priests and scribes took offense (20:15). The other accounts do not include this, but it is implied. Even though he is identified as "the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee," Jesus is also identified as "the son of David," or the Davidic Messiah. These two designations are not seen as incompatible, since prophet is probably being used in a general sense of one sent from God.
E. Matt 12:23
In addition, because of his healing of a demon-possessed man, the crowds began to wonder whether Jesus was the son of David (Matt 12:23), which is to say whether he was the Davidic king endowed with the power of God.
Ps 110 is royal psalm and promises to the new king that he will rule absolutely, as if he were sitting at God’s right hand. He is assured of divine assistance in being victorious over his enemies, the rulers of other nations (Ps 110:2b, 5-6). Jesus gives a messianic interpretation to Ps 110:1. There is no evidence (yet), that Ps 110:1 was interpreted messianically in second-Temple Judaism, but this could merely be accidental. Jesus seems to assume that his hearers would agree with him that the psalm is messianic, which suggests that his interpretation of the passage is not original. He uses Ps 110:1 to give an important interpretation of the messianic idea of "son of David" (see also Mark 14:62) (The early church also explicitly interprets this passage messianically [Acts 2:34-35; see 1 Cor 15:25]). In the psalm, David (by the Holy Spirit) says that Yahweh ("the Lord") said to his lord, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." Jesus interprets "lord" as the Davidic messiah, which means that David is speaking about how Yahweh has given the Davidic Messiah the right of authority over all the world. More importantly, in Jesus' view the fact that David refers to his son, the Messiah, as lord assumes not only the pre-existence of the Messiah but also his superiority to David. He is superior because he calls him lord and pre-existent because David is speaking about him as being in existence before his historical appearance. So Jesus uses this textual anomaly to pose the question whether the Davidic Messiah should be understood simply as a descendent of David and not more than that. Again, in so doing, he undermines popular messianic expectation.
In order to understand the meaning of the title son of God as used by Jesus and others, one must examine its Old Testament background and its use in the second-Temple period. The term "son of God" is used in some second-Temple sources as a synonym for the Davidic Messiah, a practice that originated in the messianic interpretation of Old Testament texts by Jews of the second-Temple period (2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2:7) (see Jesus' Birth). In 2 Sam 7, God promises to relate to David's son, Solomon, as a father relates to his son. It was assumed that God would all the more relate to David's greater son, the eschatological Davidic king, as a father to a son. In Ps 2, upon his installation as king, the "Anointed One" (Messiah) is said to be God's son; on the day that he becomes king God becomes his father: "He said to me, 'You are my son, today I have begotten you'" (2:7). It was assumed that Ps 2 was a description of the installation of Israel's eschatological king. Thus, because of the messianic interpretation of these two passages, post-biblical Jews sometimes use the term "son of God" as a synonym for the Messiah.
3.1.1. 4Q174 (4QFlorilegium or Midrash on Last Days)
4Q174 is what remains of a collection of Old Testament texts considered messianically and eschatologically significant along with some commentary. The author interprets an abbreviated version of 2 Sam 7:11c-14a as messianic, on the assumption that God is referring not to Solomon but to David's greatest "son" or descendent, the eschatological Davidic king.
In his commentary on this passage, the author explicitly identifies the "son" in 2 Sam 7:11c-14a as the "the branch of David." This means that the author has identified David's "son" in 2 Sam 7:14 with the eschatological Davidic king described metaphorically as the "branch of David" in Jer 23:5; 33:15. In 4Q174 1.12b, Amos 9:11 is quoted as referring to the appearance of this Davidic king: "I will raise up the tent of David that has falle[n] (Amos 9:11), who will arise to save Israel." (1.13). He is destined to "save Israel" (lhwšy` 'th yšr'l), by which no doubt is meant a political and military deliverance. Similarly, in 4Q174 1.18-19, Ps 2:1 is quoted and interpreted: "[Why] do the nations [rag]e and the people im[agine] a vain thing? [Kings of the earth] ris[e up] and [and p]rinces conspire together against Yahweh and against [his anointed] (Ps 2:1-2). [In]terpretation of the saying [concerns na]tions and th[ey ] the chosen of Israel in the last days." Although the text is not complete, it is clear that its author interprets Ps 2:1-2 messianically. The anointed one, against whom the nations rage, is called the "elect of Israel in the last days," meaning the eschatological Davidic king, who appear at the time of Israel's final and definitive salvation.
3.1.2. The same messianic interpretation of Ps 2 seems to underlie 4Q246 (Aramaic Apocalypse). This fragmentary Aramaic text probably makes reference to the eschatological Davidic king and his kingdom, referring to him as "son of God" (see J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star, chap. 7). In col. 1 line 9 there is a probable reference to this eschatological ruler : "...great will he be called and he will be designated by his name." This figure shall be called by a name, and it is probably the case that the verb "will be called" is a divine passive, so that it is God who is the one calling him by this name. If the antecedent of "he" is this Davidic king, then arguably the clause must have been an appropriate title of this Davidic king. In col. 2, the following is said of the eschatological Davidic king: "He shall be hailed as the son of God, and they shall call him the son of the most high" (brh dy 'l yt'mr wbr `lywn yqrwnh kzyqy'). The two phrase "son of God" and "son of the most high" are synonymous (see Luke 1:32 "And [the] son of the most high he shall be called" [kai huios hupsistou klêthêsetai] and Luke 1:35 "the holy child shall be called the son of God [huios tou theou]). It is probable that calling the eschatological Davidic king "son" reflects a messianic interpretation of 2 Sam 7:14 "I will be a father to him and he will be a son to me" and Ps 2:7 "He said to me, 'You are my son; today I have begotten you'." This "son of God" or "son of the Most High" will lead and represent a people, which explains the reference in 2.4 "Until the people of God arises." No doubt this people is a restored Israel. In contrast to the temporary but oppressive kingdom that precedes his own, the kingdom of the eschatological Davidic king will be eternal and peaceful: "His kingdom will be an eternal kingdom" (col. 2.5-6; see 2.8) (see parallels in Dan 3:33; 7:27).
3.1.3. In 4Q369 (The Prayer of Enosh) occurs the statement: "You have purified him for...in everlasting light and you have established him as a firstborn son...like his as a prince and ruler for all the territory of your land." Most likely, the individual to whom this fragment refers is the Davidic Messiah, since he is established as "prince and ruler for all the territory of your land." If so, then to call him "firstborn son" probably reflects a messianic interpretation of Ps 2:7.
3.1.4. 1QSa 2:11-12 could be interpreted to mean that God will "beget" his Messiah, reflecting a messianic interpretation of Ps 2:7. If so, then the title "son" (of God) may be applied to the Davidic messiah. This conclusion requires that the verb be reconstructed as ywlyd (He [God] begets" rather than ywlyk ("He [God] leads forth")
3.1.5. In 1 En. 105:2, God says, "Until I and my son are united with them forever." God's son in this context appears to be the Davidic Messiah.
3.1.6. In Ps. Sol. 17:23, there is a hint of the influence of Ps 2:9 on the description of the Davidic Messiah: "to smash (ektripsai) the arrogance of sinners like a potter's jar (hôs skeuê kerameôs)." In LXX Ps 2:9, it is said to the anointed king, the one declared to be "son", "You will smash (suntripseis) them [the nations] like a potter's jar (hôs skeuê kerameôs)." (Although it only survives only in Greek translation, Psalms of Solomon was not originally composed in Greek and so would not have been influenced directly by the LXX translation of Ps 2.) This echo of Ps 2:9 in Ps. Sol. 17:23 probably indicates that the author and his readers understood Ps 2 as messianic, and so the Messiah can be called the son of God.
3.1.7. In the post-New Testament 4 Ezra, the Messiah is called the son, most likely in dependence on a messianic interpretation of Ps 2 (7:28-29; 13:37, 52; 14:9).
Jesus sometimes refers to himself as the son of God and is called the son of God by others, including demons. Often the title "son of God" is equivalent to the title of Davidic Messiah, and thus is in continuity with the Old Testament and the second-Temple messianic thinking. It is not surprising that in contexts where son of God is clearly a synonym for Messiah, Jesus is reluctant to have his identity as son of God being disclosed indiscriminately to the general public. (More than once, however, Jesus is declared to be "son [of God]" by the voice from heaven.) But it must be pointed out that, although he does not proclaim himself as the son of God publicly in the same way that he proclaims the Kingdom of God, Jesus, nevertheless, does not eschew disclosing himself as son of God, unlike his reticence to be known as Davidic Messiah. In fact in some contexts, he readily discourses about his identity as son of God. Jesus wants to be known as "son of God" but not with the meaning of Davidic Messiah. An important development that takes place in Jesus' use of the term son of God, which is reflected in the later use of the term by the early church. For Jesus, the term son of God is not a synonym for Davidic Messiah, expresses his unique relationship to the God the Father, one not shared with any other being; this unique relationship pre-exists his appearance in human history as the Messiah, and entitles him to certain privileges. Such an interpretation is consistent with the view of the Davidic Messiah as more than a human being. Some interpret Jesus' claim to sonship as a claim to equality with God. When he does publicly identify himself as son of God, Jesus stresses the relational dimensions of its meaning, not its messianic; no doubt his hearers would strongly suspect that, by calling himself son of God, Jesus also means to identify himself as the Messiah.
In some places Jesus is referred to as the son of God, while in others he refers to himself as such. In those contexts, where son of God means primarily Messiah, as indicated, Jesus is reluctant to accept the title or wary about its further disclosure.
There are several references to Jesus as son of God; probably, in each instance son of God is synonymous with Davidic Messiah.
1. Mark 1:11 = Matt 3:17 = Luke 3:22: The heavenly voice (God) at Jesus' baptism refers to Jesus as "my son" (see Accounts of Jesus' Baptism).
2. Matt 4:3 = Luke 4:3: Satan tempts Jesus on the assumption that he is the son of God.
3. Mark 3:11; Luke 4:41 (see Mark 1:34): The demons call Jesus the son of God; Jesus would not let them disclose his identity as the son of God to the general public.
4. Mark 9:7 = Matt 17:5 = Luke 9:35: At the transfiguration the heavenly voice again calls Jesus the son (of God): "This is my beloved son, listen to him." Confirmation of Jesus' uniqueness as the son is the fact that he was transfigured (metamorphôthê) before the disciples: "His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them" (Mark 9:2). In addition, he was conversing with Elijah and Moses.
5. Matt 16:16: Peter confesses Jesus is the Christ, the son of living God.
6. Matt 14:32: The disciples confess Jesus as the son of God after Jesus walks on the water.
1. Matt 11:25-27 = Luke 10:21-22
Jesus refers to himself as the son (of God); what he says implies that, by virtue of being the son, he has a unique relationship to God. This unique relationship means that to him alone have all things been delivered, meaning that to the son has been given knowledge and authority withheld from others. Only the son knows the Father and the Father knows the son's true identity, implying that the Jesus as the son is more than he appears to be. The son may reveal the Father to others of his choosing. In this case, Jesus' use of the phrase "son" is not a synonym for the Davidic Messiah, since in common Jewish understanding the latter was a human being called to a particular salvation-historical role.
2. Mark 13:32 (= Matt 24:36)
Jesus says that no one knows the last days or hours, not the angels, not even the son; this reference to himself as the son implies that he has a special relationship with the Father, but even this relationship does not allow him access to knowledge of the time of the end.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to himself as the son (of God) and is referred to as the son. In addition, he frequently refers to the Father in such a way as to imply a unique relationship with him as son. The stress is not on Jesus' identity as the Davidic Messiah, for which the term "son of God" can function as a synonym, but on the relational meaning of the term. But some uses of "son of God" in John are intended merely as synonyms for the Davidic Messiah. By calling himself "son," Jesus is claiming a unique relationship to God (the Father). In such contexts, Jesus speaks to a restricted audience, not to the general public indiscriminately.
1. John 1:47-49
Nathanael confesses that Jesus is the son of God, and Jesus accepts it. Nathanael probably intends "son of God" to be a designation for the Davidic Messiah, since it is in apposition to "King of Israel."
2. John 5:16-30, 36-45
Jesus discourses about himself as the son and his relation to the Father: 1. The son works as the Father works (5:17); 2. But the son only does what his sees his Father do (5:19); 3. The Father loves the son and shows him all that he does (5:20); 4. The son gives life to whom he will (5:21); 5. The Father has entrusted all judgment to the son (5:22); 6. The dead will hear the voice of the son and live (5:25); 7. As the Father has life in himself so he has granted the son to have life in himself (5:26); 8. The son does the work that the Father has given him to do, and this testifies that the Father has sent him (5:36). (The "Jews" tried to kill Jesus because he was calling God his Father, which they interpreted as his making himself equal with God [5:18].)
3. John 6:45-46
Jesus says that no one has seen the Father, by which he means God, except the one who is from the Father, referring to himself. Jesus is claiming that he alone has seen, or knows, God, because he is from God. Implicitly, by calling God the Father, he is calling himself the son of God.
4. John 6:57
Jesus says that just as the living Father has sent him and he lives because of the Father, so the one who feeds on him will live because of him. By calling God the Father, Jesus implies his identity as the son.
5. John 8:18-19
Jesus says that if he did judge his decisions would be correct because he stands with his Father who has sent him. He adds, "If you knew me you would know my Father also." By calling God his Father, Jesus implies that he is the son of God in a unique sense.
6. John 8:36, 23
Jesus says that if the son—referring to himself—sets a person free, then he or she will be truly free: "So if the son sets you free, you will be free indeed (8:36). By son he means "son of God," implying a unique relationship to God the Father. The freedom of which he speaks is freedom from sin and its consequences. In this same context, Jesus says to his opponents, "You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world (8:23). The implication is that as the son Jesus is not of this world and not from below, by which is meant an ordinary human being. Rather he his origin is "from above," by which is meant God or the realm of God.
7. John 10:14-15
Jesus claims that the Father knows him and he knows the Father in a unique way. Calling God "the Father" implies Jesus self-identity as the son.
8. John 10:30
Jesus says, "I and the Father are one" (10:30). The oneness consists both in unity of purpose and a more profound unity of being. Jesus use of the term "my Father" implies his view of himself as "son of God."
9. John 10:31-38
Jesus is interpreted by his enemies as making himself out to be God by calling himself the son (of God); he defends his assertion with an argument from minor to major: If God calls "gods" to whom the word of God came (Ps 82:6), how much more should Jesus be called God's son, and not be accused of blasphemy. Jesus is not asserting that everyone has the right to call himself "son" (of God) in the same sense that he does; rather he is claiming a unique relationship to God, which he expresses by means of "son." No one should be able to deny this. He explains obliquely that the relationship he as the son has with God the Father is that of a mutual indwelling: the Father is in me, and I in the Father. This mode of being related to God is unique to Jesus. Proof of his unique relationship to God the Father is his ability to do only what God could do, his miracles ("works").
10. John 11:25-27
Jesus accepts the designations Christ and son of God from Martha. In this case, these seem to be synonymous, so that son of God implies nothing about Jesus' unique relationship to God.
11. John 14:7-9
Jesus identifies "seeing" him in the sense of having experiential knowledge of him as the same as "seeing" his Father, by which he means knowing God. This is not true of anyone else, and so implies Jesus' sense of being uniquely related to God the Father. Calling God "my Father" implies Jesus' sense of unique sonship or otherwise he would have said "our Father."
12. John 14:10-11
Jesus says that he is in the Father and the Father is in him and that it is the Father who is in him who is doing his work (see 10:38). To describe his relationship to God the Father using this spatial meas this mutual indwelling implies a unique relationship. Proof that this is true is the fact that Jesus alone can do the works of God, by which he means miracles beyond the ability of human beings. Jesus' reference to God as "the Father" impies his sense of sonship.
13. John 15:21-23
Jesus says that the one who hates him hates his Father also. The implication is an identity between him and God the Father, not shared by anyone else. Jesus' use of the phrase "my Father" implies a unique sonship: Jesus as son of God..
Jesus says, "Before Abraham was I am," which is not only a claim to pre-existence but a claim to equality and even identity with God, since "I am" is the name by which God revealed himself to Moses (Exod 3:14).
Unlike "Christ" and "son of God," the title "the son of man" is absent from the theological vocabulary of the early church. Even though Jesus refers to himself most frequently in the gospels as "the son of man," sometimes in indisputable dependence on Dan 7:13 "one like a son of man," Paul, for example, never uses the term in his description of Jesus. In fact, outside of the gospels, the term occurs only in Acts 7:56 and Rev 1:13; 14:14, both of which are clear allusions to Dan 7:13 ("son of man" also occurs in Heb 2:6 as part of a quotation from Ps 8:5). There has been much debate over the meaning of this term, since the term (the) son of man (bar 'enash or bar 'enosh and bar nash or bar nasha') in Aramaic can be an idiomatic means of self-reference and also seems to be a pre-Christian messianic title. It seems that Jesus uses the term "the son of man" both idiomatically as a self-reference and titularly as a messianic title, sometimes at the same time. He does this deliberately to conceal partially his belief that he will assume the future salvation-historical role of the Danielic son of man.
The Aramaic term "son of man" (bar 'enash) appears in Dan 7:13-14, where the eschatological kingdom is symbolized as the coming of "one like a son a man," in contradistinction to the four beasts representing four worldly kingdoms. This "one like a son of man" comes with the clouds of heaven; he approaches the ancient of days and is given an everlasting kingdom. To come on the clouds of heaven symbolizes the heavenly or divine origin of the kingdom. In the second-Temple text known as Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71) there are references to the / that "son of man," in which the term is a title denoting a pre-existent being from heaven who descends to earth to sit upon the throne of judgment, to destroy the wicked of the earth, to deliver the righteous, and to reign in a kingdom of glory (1 En. 46:2-4; 48:2; 62:5-7, 13-14; 69:27-29). The same figure is also called "the Elect One" (49.2-4; 51.5a, 2-3; 61.8-9; 62.1), "the Righteous and Elect One" (53.6), "the Lord's Anointed" (48.10; 52.4) and even "the Light of the Gentiles" (dependent on the description of the servant of Yahweh in Isa 42:6; 49:6) (48.4). Clearly, son of man is a title for the Messiah, but as Messiah he exceeds his biblical parameters as simply a descendent of David. What apparently happened is that the "one like a son of man," as a symbol of the nation Israel destined to receive an eschatological kingdom, was individualized and identified with the Davidic Messiah, who would rule in that eschatological kingdom. That Davidic Messiah then becomes more than a human descendent of David. In addition, although the actual phrase "son of man" does not occur there, 4 Ezra 13 also understands the one like a son of man in Dan 7 as an eschatological deliverer and judge; he is, in other words, a messianic figure. Thus, it is probable that at the time of Jesus, (the) son of man functioned as a messianic title, denoting a pre-existent eschatological deliverer and judge; such a conception has its origins in a messianic and individualizing interpretation of "one like a son of man" in Dan 7:13-14.
The phrase "son of man" (bar 'enash or bar 'enosh) occurs as an idiom in Syrian and Aramaic texts from the pre-Christian period with either a generic sense (a human being) (1QapGen 21.13; 11QtgJob 9.9; 26.3) or with an indefinite sense (someone) (Sefire III.16) (Fitzmyer, Luke, 1.208-209; Collins, Daniel, 304-10). Furthermore, G. Vermes seeks to provide evidence from post-Christian talmudic writings that the phrase "son of man" (bar nash or bar nasha) can be used as a circumlocution for "I" or "me" ("The Use of bar nash / bar nasha' in Jewish Aramaic"; "Jesus the son of man" in Jesus the Jew). The purpose of using the term "son of man" in this manner is for the sake of modesty or delicacy to avoid the directness of using the first person pronoun. M. Casey later modifies Vermes' position conceding that in examples cited by Vermes the term "son of man" in each of its uses denotes a class of human beings, but a class that includes the speaker, so that the term is still a form of self-designation (Son of Man). (Lindars likewise agrees with Vermes that "son of man" is used as a means of self-reference, but criticizes him for not recognizing that the phrase is generic; critical of Casey also, he argues that the "idiomatic use of the generic article" (24)—"the son of man" [bar (e)nasha'] [rather than the anarthrous "son of man" (bar (e)nash)]—by which the speaker specifies a group of people with whom he identifies, stands behind Jesus' use of the term "son of man" [Jesus Son of Man, 17-28].) Vermes' examples are admittedly late and for that reason are sometimes dismissed as irrelevant for a determination of the meaning of "son of man" for the time of Jesus (see Fitzmyer, "The NT Title 'Son of Man' Philologically Considered" in A Wandering Aramean, 143-60). Nevertheless, Vermes reasons that some of the later use of the term (the) son of man may reach back to an earlier period ("The Present State of the 'Son of Man' Debate," JJS 29 (1978) 123-34). Since in the gospels Jesus does indeed use the phrase "the son of man" as a simple self-designation, Vermes' position is probably correct. Whether Jesus only intended the term "son of man" as a circumlocution is, however, debatable (see Caragounis, The Son of Man, 27-28).
A. That the term "the son of man" is an idiomatic for self-reference is evidenced by the fact that in one version of a synoptic tradition, one finds "I" or "me," whereas in its parallel, the idiom "son of man" occurs. In other words, in some of the gospel traditions translated into Greek, "I" or "me" and "son of man" are interchangeable; this probably reflects the Aramaic substratum of the gospel tradition, in which "(the) son of man" can be an idiomatic self-reference.
1. Mark 8:27 = Matt 16:13
It is clear that in this case "son of man" (even in Greek) is nothing more than an idiom of self-reference. On the assumption that Matthew's version derives from Mark, then Matthew change the "I" to "son of man," perhaps knowing that this was Jesus' actual Aramaic usage.
2. Luke 6:22 = Matt 5:11
Jesus pronounces people "blessed" because of their allegiance to him (he means that they will be blessed in the eschatological future). In Luke's version Jesus says "because of the son of man"; Matthew's version reads "because of me." Probably there were two variations of the same tradition in circulation, one which translated the Aramaic Vorlage literally as "son of man," whereas the other version rendered it less literally—but more comprehensibly to a Greek readership—as "me."
3. Luke 12:8 = Matt 10:32
Jesus ties a person's status before God at final judgment to that person's response to him and his proclamation. It seems that there are two different versions of this saying with some slight variations in expression, reflecting probably two independent translations from the Aramaic. It is likely that in the original Aramaic version Jesus uses "son of man" (bar 'enash or bar nasha') as an idiom of self-reference, which in one translation into Greek was rendered literally as "the son of man" (ho huios tou anthropou) and in the other as "I." Thus in Luke's version, Jesus says that "the son of man" will confess before the Father, whereas the Matthean text reads "I will confess."
B. Since the phrase "(the) son of man" can be an idiomatic self-reference (in Aramaic and then later in Greek translation), it is not surprising to discover some uses of the phrase in the gospel tradition in which it means nothing more than "I," with no obvious or necessary messianic implications.
1. Luke 9:58 = Matt 8:20
In response to the pledge of a man to follow him wherever he goes, Jesus warns the man that this may entail homelessness and a certain amount of discomfort. He expresses this poetically by saying, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the son of man has no place to lay his head." By the term "son of man," it seems that Jesus means nothing more than "I" or someone in my situation.
2. Luke 7:31-35 = Matt 11:16-19
Jesus contrasts his generation's response to John and himself. John was said to be demonized because of his ascetic lifestyle, whereas the non-ascetic Jesus is accused of being "a glutton and a drunkard." In this tradition, Jesus refers to himself as "son of man," which seems to mean nothing more than "I."
3. Luke 12:10 = Matt 12:32; see Mark 3:28-29
Although the meaning of this saying is disputed, it seems that Jesus makes a distinction between speaking against him personally and repudiating his mission, i.e., denying that he is empowered by Holy Spirit. An insult against Jesus is not necessarily a rejection of his mission, but to judge that Jesus is empowered otherwise than by the Holy Spirit (by Satan or an evil spirit) is to commit a sin that cannot be pardoned, since one has rejected the means by which eschatological forgiveness comes to Israel. In this context, Jesus uses the phrase "the son of man" with the meaning of "I" or possibly with the more inclusive meaning of "I and any other human being."
There are some instances where Jesus refers to himself as (the) son of man (bar 'enash or bar 'enash), but means more than "I" or someone in my situation. In such cases, he appears to be identifying himself with the exalted, messianic figure known as (the) son of man, especially in regard to his future role as judge, when he will appear at the end of the age (some of these passages have already been examined.) Jesus' sayings in which he is identified as the future son of man are found in both a non-rejection rejection and a rejection context, and are usually directed to his disciples or to his opponents, not to the crowds. In a non-rejection context, Jesus uses the term to refer to his future role at the culmination of the Kingdom of God. In a rejection context, Jesus refers to his assumption of the salvation-historical role of son of man as occurring only after his suffering and death, as his return. In some of these son of man-sayings the allusion to Dan 7:13 is undeniable. In addition, Jesus' depiction of himself as the son of man resembles that found in the Similitudes of Enoch, insofar as Jesus' self-designation as such implies his role as eschatological judge; this seems to indicate that there was a son of man christology antedating Jesus which he adopted to explain his future role as king and eschatological judge.
A. Mark 8:38
In a rejection context, Jesus explains to would-be disciples that following him will be difficult because his generation has rejected him and his proclamation. But the one who is ashamed of Jesus now will be condemned when Jesus as the son of man will return to judge (Mark "with his holy angels; see Dan 7:10 and 1 En 61:10 for references to angels). This saying assumes a period of time to elapse between Jesus' departure as rejected and his return in his capacity as son of man. This saying has been taken to imply that Jesus distinguishes between himself and the son man, the latter being an apocalyptic figure who will vindicate him and those who heeded his words (Higgins, Jesus and the Son of Man, 57-60; Tödt, The Son of Man in the Synoptic Tradition, 40-47) The apparent distinction between Jesus and the son of man, however, reflects Jesus' distinct salvation-historical roles corresponding to his two appearances: it is as Jesus in the present is different from Jesus in the future, who will then assume salvation-historical role of son of man.
B. Mark 13:26-27 (= Matt 24:30-31 = Luke 21:27)
The reference to the coming of the son of man "coming in clouds" (Mark 13:26), "coming on the clouds of the sky" (Matt 24:30) or "coming in a cloud" (Luke 21:27) are unmistakable allusions to the Danielic son of man (Dan 7:13). Jesus is identifying himself with the eschatological figure of the son of man that developed from the representative use of the phrase found in Dan 7:13. Jesus explains that his appearance as the son of man will occur at the end this age, the time of final deliverance and judgment, at the culmination of the Kingdom of God. He is doing so probably under the influence of a son of man christology as reflected in the Similitudes of Enoch.
At his trial, Jesus reluctantly agrees that he considers himself to be the Davidic Messiah, but immediately he qualifies his confession by saying that his Messiahship consists in his future exaltation as the son of man and his return. In a sense he is not yet the Messiah. Jesus is clearly alluding to the figure in Dan 7:13, which he and others in his day have interpreted as a messianic figure who will appear at the end. Jesus' statement about "sitting at the right hand of power" is an allusion to the messianic interpretation of Ps 110:1, which he is interpreting intertextually with Dan 7:13, in a pesher manner (see Jesus Before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin).
D. Matt 19.28
In a non-rejection context, Jesus says that at the paliggenesia the son of man will sit upon his throne in glory (see Twelve Disciples). The paliggenesia denotes the culmination of the Kingdom of God, which includes the restoration of the twelve tribes to the land. The use of "son of man" is certainly self-referential, so that Jesus is speaking about his future role at the time of the culmination of the Kingdom of God. But the use of the term is also intertextually allusive of Dan 7:9-27, so that Jesus is implicitly identifying his future self as Daniel’s "one like the son of man": "He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power" (Dan 7:13-14).
In a rejection context, Jesus refers to the "days of the son of man" or "the coming of the son of man" by which he means the time of the end when he will return, at which time he will assume the role of Daniel’s "one like the son of man" (Dan 7:13). His own return as the "son of man" will bring disobedient human history to a close. He compares the suddenness of his coming as son of man to the appearance of lightning. In fact, the days of Noah offer a parallel to the days of the son of man: just as in Noah's time, so in the days of the son of man judgment will come upon the world suddenly and unexpectedly. This is why the disciples are exhorted to be watchful.
F. Other references to Jesus as the future, eschatological son of man, the coming king and judge, include: Luke 18:8 "When the son of man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"; Luke 21:36 "And to stand before the son of man"; Matt 13:41 "The son of man will send forth his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness"; Matt 16:28 "until they see the son of man coming in his kingdom"; Matt 25:31 "when the son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne."
There is a class of son of man saying in which it is not clear whether Jesus means simply "I" or the messianic figure of the son of man. No doubt, his hearers would have been similarly confused.
A. Mark 2:10 = Matt 9:6 = Luke 5:24
It is not clear whether Jesus is saying "I have authority to forgive sins" or "I as the Davidic Messiah have authority to forgive sins." His hearers would probably be equally undecided as to Jesus' meaning.
B. Mark 2:28 = Matt 12:8 = Luke 6:5
A Markan conflict story concludes with Jesus saying, "So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." The question is whether Jesus saying that he as a human being has authority over the Sabbath, in which case all human beings would have an equal share of that authority, or is he saying that he as the Davidic Messiah has such authority. It is probably intentionally ambiguous.
C. Luke 19:10 (see Matt 18:11)
When he responds to the criticism that he associates with sinners by saying, "The son of man came to seek and save what was lost," Jesus could be interpreted as making a claim to messiahship, to being the son of man, or as simply stating his understanding of his mission, so that "the son of man" is equivalent to "I."
D. Luke 22:48
Jesus asks Judas whether he intends to betray "the son of man" with a kiss, a gesture of friendship. Was Jesus asking whether he was betraying the Messiah or did he intend "son of man" as merely a self-reference?
In the Gospel of John, Jesus sometimes refers to himself as son of man. He affirms that the son of man pre-exists, and is sent by the Father into the world. In John 3:13, he says, "No one has ascended into heaven, but he who descended from heaven, the son of man." In this passage, Jesus says about himself that his origin is from heaven, by which he means from God; this presupposes his pre-existence. Likewise in John 6:62, Jesus says, "What then if you see the son of man ascending to where he was before." To ascend is to return to God from whom he was sent. Jesus also says that he as the son of man has been given the authority to give eternal life: "Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the son of man will give to you, for on him the Father, God, has set his seal (6:27). Thus, Jesus' understanding of the son of man in the Gospel of John is similar to that found in Similitudes of Enoch. (Jesus also speaks about the necessity of the death of the son of man, which has already been considered [John 3:14; 8:28; 12:23, 34; 13:31].) In dialogue with the man healed at the Pool of Siloam, Jesus asks him whether he believes in the son of man (9:35). From the context, he means more than "me" by the phrase "son of man," since the man responds by saying, "Who is he, Lord, that I may believe in him?" Rather, Jesus understands it as a title, which he claims for himself (9:37).
It is probable that Jesus stategically chose to refer to himself as "son of man." Because of the ambiguity of meaning of the term "son of man," Jesus, in using this term, could be interpreted as meaning "I or someone in my situation," "the eschatological figure of the son of man," or "I, as the eschatological figure of the son of man." His frequent and public use of this ambiguous term is consistent with his reticence to disclose his identity too readily. Yet the term is equally useful to disclose his self-understanding as the one who will come in the future to bring judgment, since there was a ready-to-hand son of man christology prevalent in his day. In some cases, however, his hearers could be not certain whether or not in his use of the phrase "son of man" Jesus intended to identify himself with the son of man as future eschatological judge; rather they may have imagined that Jesus was speaking of an eschatological figure other than himself. It seems that Jesus distances himself from the title son of man because he has yet to assume this role as eschatological judge in the future; in a sense he is not yet that son of man. It should be stressed also that Jesus' identification as son of man implies his pre-existence before his appearance in human history.
Jesus did consider himself
to be the Davidic Messiah or the son of God, but he was reluctant to let
this be known too widely. When he spoke of himself as the son of God,
he meant more than Davidic Messiah: he was usually referring to the unique
relationship that he had with the Father. Jesus only identified himself
publicly by the ambiguous term "son of man." The reason for Jesus' partial
concealment of his identity is probably twofold. First, there was
the danger of people assuming wrongly that his main purpose was to lead
a popular rebellion against the Romans and their Jewish collaborators. Second,
Jesus aimed to present only enough data to cause people to inquire further;
he wanted to prevent the apathetic, the unsympathetic and the hostile
from knowing fully about his identity and purposes. Further inquiry was
a manifestation of faith, which had its origin in the revelatory work
of God (see Matt 16:17). As Ben Meyer expressed it, "Jesus' whole public
performance was meant to be deciphered. His public life was accordingly
a lived parable. It was designed to supply Israel with data apt to generate
the conclusion: This is indeed "the coming one!" ("Master Builder and
Copestone of the Portal: Images of the Mission of Jesus," Toronto
Journal of Theology 9 (1993): 187-209, esp. 196.)