In the Hidden Messiah series, we spoke at length about one of the most perplexing quandaries of the New Testament: while Christian readers of the Gospels keep calling Jesus the Messiah of Israel, He Himself continuously discouraged the use of the title ‘Messiah’ throughout the length of his public ministry. So far, however, we have not paid due attention to the title that Jesus applied to himself instead. While openly discouraging the use of the title ‘Messiah’, He repeatedly used the expression ‘Son of Man’ with reference to himself. We can see it very clearly, for instance, from this example:
20 “But you,” he said to them, “who do you say I am?” Kefa answered, “The Mashiach of God!” 21 However, he, warning them, ordered them to tell this to no one, 22 adding, “The Son of Man has to endure much suffering and be rejected by the elders, the head cohanim and the Torah-teachers; and he has to be put to death; but on the third day, he has to be raised to life.”
The Son of Man is the main title of Jesus in the Gospels (especially in Mark and Luke). What is remarkable though, is that the expression is never applied to Jesus by somebody else as a title or address; it is always placed by evangelists on His own lips. Would it not be logical to suppose that the message He wanted to articulate to His people was different from that of being ‘Messiah of Israel’ – otherwise why wouldn’t He just call Himself Messiah? Clearly, He preferred to express His mission in different terms – by the term ‘Son of Man’. Why?
It’s interesting that in traditional Christian interpretation, these words designate the human nature of Jesus. For the vast majority of Christians, Jesus called himself Son of Man because He was not only fully divine, He was also fully human, and He wanted to articulate this message. Many times, I have been surprised to discover that even those who do possess some knowledge of First Century Judaism, still adhere to this opinion. So, in this new series we will try to answer the question: what did Jesus mean and what did He allude to when He called himself “the Son of Man“?
There is a common idea that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled almost all the messianic prophecies of TANACH and that it was only as a result of the blindness of Israel that the Jewish people did not recognize Him. There has been a growing recognition in recent years that this view of the matter is heavily influenced by Christian theology. When we begin to see the coming of Jesus and the birth of Christianity against the background of Jewish society at the beginning of the first century – when we begin to study the messianic expectations of the people of Israel and compare them with the ministry of the Nazarene – we begin to understand that it was by no means overwhelmingly easy for Jewish people to recognize and accept Him as Messiah.
First of all, the expression “Kingdom of God” or “Kingdom of heaven”, the focal point of Jesus’ preaching, is not to be found anywhere in the TANACH or in the Jewish apocalyptic writings. And although the idea of the kingdom is basic to the teaching of both bodies of literature, the Jewish understanding of this kingdom is completely different from the vision found in the New Testament. The kingdom of Jewish thought was that in which the fortunes of Israel, or at least a remnant within Israel, would be restored and the surrounding nations judged. Israel waited for and hoped for national restoration and glory, and everything else was but a means to these ends – even the Messiah Himself had to be but an instrument in attaining these goals. This is also to be understood against the background of persecution and suffering which the Jewish nation as a whole suffered under their oppressors. The future hope of the nation was viewed, particularly in times of persecution and national unrest, in terms of deliverance from an alien power and the restoration of Israel. By the turn of the era, the expected Messiah was mainly regarded as a military deliverer of the Zealot type who would rid the country of their hated enemy. These expectations were clearly based on Jewish Scripture (the classic formulation of this ideology is found in Nathan’s oracle in 2 Samuel 7: “I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels … and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever … I will be his father, and he shall be my son … And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established forever “). I would remind you that even the disciples of Jesus, after everything they had seen, experienced and learned from the Lord, still asked the same question: “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the Kingdom to Israel?”
It is already easy to see the “anomaly” of the messianic claims of Jesus: There is little, if anything, in the Gospel portrait of Jesus that accords with the Jewish expectation of King/ Messiah from the house of David. The fact that someone could become messiah by crucifixion, resurrection and ascension into heaven is without parallel in the Jewish sources. Jesus was not a ‘Messiah’ of Jewish conception; He didn’t come to fit the Jewish expectations of Messiah; as Messiah, He was hidden from Israel – and that is precisely the reason why He didn’t call Himself Messiah. Instead, He called himself the Son of Man – and have you realized that in all the Gospels, “no one ever asked: ‘What is a Son of Man, anyway?’ They knew what He was talking about whether they believed his claim or not.” And if we really want to understand the ministry and the message of Jesus Christ in the Gospels, we have to know that too. We need to have a thorough understanding of the concept of “Son of Man”.
(to be continued…)
 Luke 9:20-22, CJB (Complete Jewish Bible)
 2 Sam. 7:12-16
 Acts 1:6
 Daniel Boyarin, The Jewish Gospels: the Story of the Jewish Christ , The New Press, NY, 2012, Chapter 1