Messiah And Son Of Man: The Answers

Two hopes

My dear readers, I really appreciate your patience. To some of you, my last posts might have seemed a bit dry, but without this evidence, even dry evidence, we cannot fully comprehend the story of Israel and Jesus. In our last article, we saw that apocalypses turned out to be the main carrier of eschatological ideas and messianic concepts in the Second Temple period and became the center of the whole process of rethinking and reinterpretation of the Bible during that time. By now we also know that, at the head of this apocalyptic mentality, stood the Book (Apocalypse) of Daniel, with Daniel’s famous vision of “One like a Son of Man” who comes on the clouds of heaven. Daniel’s apocalypse provided a new paradigm for messianic expectations, quite different from the Davidic one. In this new paradigm, we clearly see a new figure, a heavenly savior— Son of Man.

The Book of Daniel is one of the earliest apocalypses ever written, and also one of the most influential. As Leo Back, a Jewish theologian and scholar wrote: “Whenever in later works ‘that son of man’, ‘this son of man’ or ‘the son of man’ is mentioned, it is the quotation from Daniel.”[1] And indeed, in our last article we saw different variations and reinterpretations of Daniel’s ‘Son of Man’ in other Jewish apocalypses. The later apocalyptic writings made creative use of Daniel 7 and developed their own new expression of faith and hope for the righteous. In some writings, the conceptions of Son of Man and Messiah are clearly distinguished, whilst in others they are brought together—yet nowhere are they completely fused. These ideas are not only different in their origin, they also represent, in their development, two separate strands of eschatological expectations and indicate two distinct emphases of ‘messianic’ hope: a savior who is this-worldly, national and political, and a savior who is predominantly transcendental, eternal and universal. These two different complexes of ideas are reflected in two different names: ‘Messiah’ and ‘Son of Man’.

Thus, the apocalyptic Son of Man articulates the worldview of a particular group of Jews in the first century CE: He is a fully transcendent figure, a heavenly counterpart of the righteous on the earth. While they are oppressed and lowly, he is enthroned and exalted, but when he is manifested at the eschatological judgment, they will then be exalted also.

 

A transcendental savior in Qumran

Before we address our main question—why did Jesus call Himself Son of Man?—I would like to turn for a moment to the Qumran sectarians and show that they too thought of their leader as the transcendent Savior. True, they didn’t use the term ‘Son of Man, ‘ but one of the oldest, as well as one of the most astonishing and controversial documents discovered at Qumran, the fragment called 11QMelchizedek, relates several themes of biblical eschatology to the biblical figure of Melchizedek, and the most striking feature of Melchizedek here is that he is not an ordinary, mortal human being. He is described as an exalted, heavenly figure, and his transcendent character is obvious; moreover, several biblical passages, the original subject of which is God, are related here to Melchizedek.

The whole text of 11QMelchizedek presents an eschatological scenario of the coming judgment. The eschatological themes here include: the liberation of Israel from captivity; Israel’s return to the Land; a final atonement for Israel’s sins; the judgment of their captors; a proclamation of peace to Israel; and the inauguration of God’s reign. Melchizedek is given here a central role in the eschatological salvation of the righteous and judgment of the wicked. At the completion of the ninth Jubilee, in the first week of the tenth Jubilee, on the Day of Atonement, atonement will be made for “all the sons of light and the men of the lot of Melchizedek”.[2] At this time, Melchizedek will also execute judgment on Belial and on the spirits of his lot. Melchizedek here is presented as the instrument of God’s eschatological judgment, and the eschatological Savior of the righteous ones. As the instrument of God, he will judge on the Day of Atonement at the time of God’s final judgment, when Belial and the spirits of his lot will be defeated.

“Melchizedek will carry out the vengeance of Go[d’s] judgments [on this day and they shall be f] r[eed from the hand of] Belial and from the hands of all the sp[irits of  his lot].”[3]

Thus, the Qumranic figure of Melchizedek is a superhuman, transcendent image being revealed and manifested in the Day of Judgment. In this sense, we find here the same “Transcendent Savior” pattern, as the one we saw in 1 Enoch. 11QMelchizedek probably dates from the end of the second half of the second century BCE, and therefore, this text, as well as  some other texts from Qumran, is definitely relevant to our quest.

 

The main question

When believing Christians  look at the Old Testament through the Gospel narratives, they see many Messianic prophecies being fulfilled in Jesus. However, as Alfred Edersheim wrote: ”It is the combination of letters which constitute words, and the same letters may be combined into different words.”[4] Judaism and Christianity might read the same prophecies, but they would be combined into different words for them.

We can now confront our main question:  Why did Jesus call Himself Son of Man and not Messiah? My answer is very simple: He called Himself Son of Man precisely because He came as Son of Man. He didn’t come to fit Jewish expectation of Messiah. You probably know that many messianic expectations Israel had for their Messiah were not fulfilled during Jesus’ first coming, because He was not ‘the Messiah’ of Jewish conception. He was, however, “Son of Man” of Jewish conception: He came as a transcendental, eternal and universal Son of Man, and “no term was more fitted both to conceal, yet at the same time to reveal to those who had ears to hear, the Son of Man’s real identity”.[5]

 

 

[1] Leo Baeck, Judaism and Christianity: Essays, Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society of America, 1958 , 28-29

[2] 11QMelchizedek, 2.8

[3] 11QMelchizedek, 2.13

[4] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Hendrickson publishers, 1994),

  1. 113.

[5] Matthew Black, The Son of Man in the teaching of Jesus, Expository Times, lx, pp.32

 

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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Join the conversation (12 comments)

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  1. David Russell

    Hello Julia and others,
    I find your cited comment by author Alfred Edersheim of continued interest as one who would like to see the seeming chasm between Jewish and Christian understanding of those “letters and words” possibly minimized. I have read a limited amount by Edersheim online, but enough to know for example, that not as many Jewish people returned to Israel after the captivity in Babylon BCE as might be imagined. Those who did, took seriously living out their faith though struggles did abound. I don’t know where we begin to bridge the lingo barrier but it grieves me that it exists!

    1. Julia Blum

      Yes, David, the writings of Alfred Edersheim are very deep and very interesting indeed; if you have a chance I really recommend you to read more. Amazon has some of them even in Kindle edition, so you can get them cheap and fast.

  2. Patrick

    Iceni,

    The Hebrew term translated “son of man” can be and might ought to be interpreted as “the human one”.

    Although the OT is patriarchal, this is not a case for it I don’t think.

  3. anne kelley

    Using the “Son of Man” does not leave anyone out since it means mankind and includes all believers, please people get over the popular divisive dialogue. It only serves to divide us. Thanks!

  4. jane z mazzola

    Dear Julia, This is such a powerful commentary, I don’t know the questions to ask. Let it suffice that I have always had difficulty “getting my head @” the concept of “Son of Man” in the NT. Your 2 last paragraphs under “Two Hopes” clarifies these 2 strains of that period’s Israelite thinking & expectations, certainly for me. It also helps to better appreciate the visions of Daniel & this connection. Interestingly, I have been doing a study of the book of Daniel & also, listening to the text multiple x’s. Reading it, studying @ it, & hearing it all provide a profound, nuanced reflection; your insights add to that experience.

    The section from Qumran re: Melchizedek adds much to this discussion also; Melchizedek seems such an enigmatic figure in both Hebrew Scripture & NT. A reflective (& knowledgeable Christian writer) was comparing Melchizedek to a symbolic figure of the Holy Spirit, in explaining the 3 in 1 of God, as opposed to the idea that Jesus (Yeshua) + Holy Spirit w/God the Father are erroneously 3 gods. The description of Melchizedek that you cited in the Qumran would seem less like a Holy Spirit figure. Are you familiar w/this other interpretation? Is it a metaphor for one person? Or is there some support for this?

    On another note, I recall in your book @ Abraham & His Two Sons, your introduction of Pardes, as a multi-level form of Hebrew interpretation, which I found so interesting & also, how you incorporated Pardes into your theme. It has come forth again into my reading @ dreams, a book by a Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman, THE MYSTICAL MEANING of DREAMS (OHR CHADASH, 2006). He goes into the mystical meanings of symbols & dreams through the Hebrew Alephabet, Torah, & finally, analysis of Jacob’s dream. I have been a reader of Jungian Psychology for many years, & also, searcher of mysticism in various religions (incl. Christianity) but have only recently come across that beautiful tradition in Jewish Faith. I wish I had discovered it many years before…I guess all in God’s Perfect timing!

    Thank you again, for this post & the previous ones (not “wooden” at all!) Blessings, Jane M

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Jane, for your kind words, I am always very glad to hear from you.

  5. Nick

    Jew or Christian or just human, our souls long for the ideal and transcendent. Great article Julia, clarifying the tangible and spiritual aspects of messiah/son of man. Very helpful!
    Nick

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you!

  6. Iceni

    An interesting interpretation. Very patrinomic. He was of course the son of Woman, and a supernatural Father. Made in the image of His father.
    Strictly speaking the Son of Humankind.
    Saying that He was the son of Man, in those times, surely dismisses and denies,50% of the population.
    The interpretation of what a son is, and his obligations as such, should be more fully explained, not only in accordance with those times, but how it would affect the thinking and regard of Him in modern times.

    1. Dorothy Healy

      Iceni, You may not be aware, but the term ‘man’ has always been understood as a generic term i.e. it contains the idea of both men and women. “So God created ‘man’ (Adam) in His own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them.” Adam contained both man and woman before they were separated. It is only in very recent times of ‘political correctness’ that offence has been taken at this term as excluding the female.

    2. Julia Blum

      Hi Iceni, the point of my articles is to show that ‘Son of Man’ title refers to His transcendental, heavenly nature, not to his human nature. In doesn’t refer to his actual sonship – in the Jewish tradition and in the texts we discussed, it just means that he is a divine being having an appearance of a man.

  7. Henrietta Wisbey

    Because He is the Son of Man I love that.
    Because He loves righteousness and hates iniquity
    Therefore God has anointed Him
    with the oil of gladness above His fellows. Ps 45:7
    Dear Julia praying and meditating on the word righteousness and with tears in my eyes
    “Lead me O Lord in your righteousness
    make your way straight before my face.”
    I had a picture.
    My hands held two baskets; one was empty and one was completely full.
    What did that signify?
    On the one hand He emptied Himself
    And on the other He is full of truth and mercy.
    The anointed One is the none other than the One who followed the path of humiliation and took upon Himself the form of a servant because He loved righteousness,
    If He did not hate evil His Love would not be holy and pure.
    I love that as I read your posts I am inspired to think on these things.
    We are grateful.
    Henrietta.