What Is the Significance of "Son of God"

and "Son of Man?"

Jason Dulle


What do you see as the significance of the terms "Son of God" and "Son of Man" as used by Jesus? Did He use the former to stress His deity and the latter to stress His humanity, or is there something more to this?



I think “Son of God” is significant in two ways. The most common understanding of the term is that it signifies Jesus’ divine identity. We see this in passages such as Matthew 14:33; 27:54; Mk 15:39; Luke 1:35; John 5:25-26; 10:30-38; 19:7. Jesus is the Son of God because He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and thus is God's Son in the most literal sense of the Word.

But "Son of God" is significant in another way that often escapes modern readers. This was a title for the king. In Psalm 2:7 David is called the Son of God (see also Psalm 89:27-29). Why would such a title be given to a king? It originates from a practice common in that day, best exemplified by the Hittites. When one king defeated another king, the victorious king would often allow the defeated king to continue ruling over his kingdom as a “vassal” king subject to the conquering king (called the “suzerain”). The language employed in the treaty between the two kings often calls the suzerain king "father," and the vassal king "Son." While the kings of Israel were not defeated by YHWH, because their kingship was subject to YHWH’s ultimate kingship, they bore the title “son of God,” while YHWH bore the title “father.” So when the Jews heard Jesus call Himself the Son of God, they would naturally understand Him to be proclaiming Himself as the legitimate heir to the throne of David (see Matthew 26:63; John 1:49). Just as David and his kingly descendents had borne the title “Son of God” (2 Samuel 7:12-16), so too would the Messianic king. Unlike all other kings in David’s lineage, however, Jesus was truly the "Son of God" by birth.

What about "Son of Man"? Does this term refer to Jesus’ humanity, just as it does in Ezekiel? While there is no question that Jesus used the term as a synonym for “human being” at times (see Matthew 8:20; 17:12; Mark 10:45; 14:41; Luke 7:34; 9:58; 22:48), in some contexts it is clear that He meant much more by its use (see Matthew 10:23; 12:8; 13:41; 16:27; 16:28; 19:28; 24:30; 25:31; 26:64; Mark 2:10; 13:26; 14:62; Luke 5:24; 9:26,56; 18:31; 21:27; John 1:51; 3:13; 5:27; 6:27,53,62). This is clear from passages such as Luke 18:31, John 3:13, John 5:27, and John 6:62 which identify the Son of man as the subject of Old Testament prophecy, as both coming from and continuing to be in heaven, and as the judge of mankind. Jesus’ primary referent seems to have been the messianic figure in Daniel 7:13-14 who comes to the Ancient of Days to receive the everlasting kingdom.

In Daniel's vision, four beasts arise from sea, each representing a king and his kingdom (7:13). In contrast to the beasts, Daniel sees “one like a son of man” appear before the throne of the Ancient of Days who receives ruling authority, honor, and power (7:13-14). This son of man is ruler over all people, and his kingdom will never be destroyed, Although Daniel 7:18,21-22,27 goes on to identify the son of man as the “saints,” it is likely that the son of man figure typifies both an individual king and the people of the kingdom (just as the beasts are said to represent individual kings [7:14] and kingdoms [7:23]). By referring to Himself as the son of man, Jesus—the heir to David’s throne— identified himself as the messianic figure in Daniel’s vision who receives the everlasting kingdom from the Ancient of Days (and we, the saints, will rule and reign with him [Revelation 20:4,6]).

In summary, while “son of God” and “son of man” are used in some contexts to emphasize Jesus’ humanity and deity respectively, these terms were primarily meant to identify Jesus as the long-awaited messianic king. 

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