The Bible’s “Son of Man” Story

The earliest prophecy of Jesus is found, believe it or not, in Genesis 3:15. After Adam and Eve had sinned against God by choosing to follow Satan (the rebellious serpent-like-cherubim of the Garden of Eden), God declared a prophetic declaration over the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Yes, at the very beginning of Scripture, there is a prophetic declaration about Jesus. Because of humanity’s sin, life will be hard, sin will be prevalent, and humanity will now experience death. On top of that, the supernatural serpent and all the supernatural beings that follow him will constantly be at odds with humanity. But one day God will raise up not just any kind of hero, but specifically a human hero who will repair the problem of sin. Though Eve had taken part in the degradation of the framework God has put in place, God in His grace has ensured her that one day, one of her descendants would take care of the snake that is Satan (Rev 12:9) once and for all. As K.A. Mathews states,

“The serpent was instrumental in the undoing of the woman, and in turn the woman will ultimately bring down the serpent through her offspring.”

— K. A. Mathews (“Genesis 3:15.” Genesis 1-11:26. Vol. 1A. Nashville, Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996. The New American Commentary.)

The Immaculate Conception, by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

So by God’s own declaration, a human problem will be solved by a human. But what kind of human would it take to destroy a supernatural being who now holds the power of sin and death? Well, one form of logic would go like this: If humanity must now die because of their sin, then it would take a sinless human not deserving death to come about. Some human would have to live out the true Image of God and be untainted by sin in order to fix the problem.

Other Bible stories continue to describe this human—this descendant of Eve that will destroy the snake. More narrowly, he will be a descendant of the line of Abraham in which all the nations of the earth will be blessed (Gen 22:18, Ac 3:25). Even more narrowly, he will be a Holy-Spirit-infused, kingly-descendant of the line of David (Is 11:1). The Bible is clear: A human hero will eventually come.

Surely this was hard to believe, because no matter what humanity did, they all continually struggled with sin. Sin had so corrupted them that every last human was a failure when it came to living out true humanity and being a full image of God. Even the ones who imaged God well often made atrocious mistakes. Billions upon billions of lives have proved over thousands upon thousands of years that humanity cannot save itself.

We know this. God knows this. And so at best, it seems like God is going to have to make some sacrifices and choose a decent, mediocre human to be the messiah, because clearly there’s no perfect one on the way. But then Jesus, who “was foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1 Pe 1:20) steps into time to do what only He can do and fulfill the prophecies once and for all. 

Yes, Jesus is fully man. He was born (Mt 1:25); had friends (Jn 15:14-15) and siblings (Mt 12:46-47); he had parents he obeyed (Lk 2:51); he grew and learned (Lk 2:52), asked questions (Mk 9:21) and didn’t know a few things (Mt 24:36); he fasted (Mt 4:2) and was hungry (Mk 11:12); he was tempted (Mt 4:1); he worked a job (Mk 6:3); he paid taxes (Mt 17:24-27); he celebrated holidays (Lk 2:41-42); he got angry (Mk 3:5) and frustrated (Mk 9:19); he was troubled in soul (Jn 12:27) and spirit (Jn 13:21), cried (Jn 11:35), and was sorrowful (Mt 26:38); he had friends die (Mt 14:10-13) and go back on their word (Mt 26:35); he was mocked (Mk 15:20); he was rejected (Lk 4:29), denied (Lk 22:34), betrayed (Lk 22:48), abandoned (Mt 26:31), and even felt abandoned by God (Mt 27:46); and ultimately, He died (Mt 27:50). Jesus’ humanity was as full and complete as any one of us.

But unlike us, Jesus could be the one true human we could never live up to be, because He was also more than human: He was God in human form. In other words, He had emptied His human body of any God-like powers that conflicted with humanity (Philip 2:5-8), but maintained His personhood and identity as God while doing so. He was the answer to the problem. He was the one Eve and Abraham and David were pointing to. He was the one true human imager of God (Col 1:15).

Jesus Himself screams out about the importance that He is a human. While demons often liked to draw attention to Jesus’ identity as “the Son of God,” Jesus’ favorite nickname for Himself was the “son of man.” Why? Because humanity is waiting for a son of man to come and fix them—they’re waiting for a human. And not just any human, but the human—a son of man that will come along and redeem them. And so every time Jesus declares His identity as a son of man, He’s wielding a prophetic declaration over Himself—“The one true image of God in human form has arrived, so follow me and my kingdom and find your redemption.”

While demons often liked to draw attention to Jesus’ identity as “the Son of God,” Jesus’ favorite nickname for Himself was the “son of man.” Why? Because humanity is waiting for a son of man to come and fix them—they’re waiting for a human.

In the gospel of John, it seems Jesus further alludes to His identity as this human by occasionally calling his mother by the seemingly disrespectful title, “Woman” (Jn 2:4; 19:26). But perhaps Jesus means no disrespect by calling his mother “Woman”, rather He may mean it as an allusion back to Genesis 3:15. One day, the woman will give rise to a human descendant that will fix the world. Mary is that woman and He is that son of man. Eve has finally given rise to the human descendant that will stomp on the snake.

Though Jesus’ declaration of Himself as the Son of Man would also make His audience’s ears perk up in another way; for Daniel had a dream about “one like a son of man” that would ride on the clouds (like God Himself was known to do) up into God’s throne room. Once there, He would be brought before God and God would bestow upon this human-like-God-person eternal reign over all things (Dn 7:13-14). Then this human-like-God-person would go on to share His reign with the people of His kingdom (Dn 7:27, Rev 3:21). This is a powerful and confusing prophetic image.

And with this image in mind, it’s not shocking at all that the high priest declared that Jesus must be killed right after Jesus said, “from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mt 26:64). In that moment, Jesus had claimed to be Daniel’s human-like-God-person and that fell on the high priest’s ears as the worst kind of blasphemy. This man in front of them just claimed to be God. And though He was, they didn’t know that. So they decided that Jesus must be crucified.

But that crucifixion was all a part of the plan and no one saw it coming—not the religious people, not the disciples, and not even the spiritual beings who set the trap of crucifixion in place (1 Cor 2:8). It was all a divine setup by God.

Though that didn’t mean that death would be easy for Jesus to go through, for again, Jesus was human. The temptation to find another way was still very real—so real that Jesus sweat something “like great drops of blood” (Lk 22:44) while trying to overcome the temptation to flee from death (Lk 22:42) and gain power over the world in some other way. And keep in mind that at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Satan had offered Jesus a different way to gain power over the world (Mt 4:8). Surely that temptation had floated through His mind once or twice while praying in the “garden” (Jn 18:1). If we’re paying close attention, we’ll recognize that the same test of the Garden of Eden is now before Jesus in Garden of Gethsemane. Will He listen to God or to a snake? Will He follow God’s wisdom or Satan’s?

Title: Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane | Artist: Robert Walter Weir (American, New Rochelle, New York 1803–1889 New York) | Medium: Black and gray ink washes, pen and brown ink, watercolor, and graphite on off-white wove 

In that moment He chose the cross—the secret and hidden wisdom of God (1 Cor 2:7)—and in doing so He overcame perhaps the greatest of all the temptations He had ever faced. And by the time He died, he has not only beat one of His greatest temptations, but all the temptations He faced along the way; for as Hebrews 4:15 tells us, Jesus “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

And because Jesus was without sin, that means that Satan overstepped his bounds when he entered into Judas (Lk 22:3) and set the crucifixion into play with the help of other principalities and powers (1 Cor 2:8). Satan overstepped his bounds when he killed the one true human imager of God, because such an imager is not guilty of death.

Oh to imagine the moment where Satan found out that crucifixion was a part of the plan all along and that God had just played him. Satan had thousands of years to dwell on what a human might do to overthrow him so that he could try to stop it from happening and yet he accidentally helped bring about that moment. God simply spoke his language. “You love death and destruction, right? Why don’t you try death and destruction out on me?” The desire Satan had to destroy the Son of God was too great for him to recognize what he was doing. His desire for destruction turned in upon itself, as such a cycle always does.

Satan had a long time to dwell on what God might do to overthrow him and yet he helped bring it about. God simply spoke his language. “You love death and destruction, right? Try that on me.” Satan’s desire for death turned in upon itself, as it always does.

In dying, Jesus goes to Satan who holds the power of death (He 2:14), takes his power away from him (Rev 1:18), and is then resurrected into Heaven to take His throne of everlasting dominion (Dn 7:13-14). And as He does this, the Son of Man fulfills ancient prophecy, wins the battle against Satan, and begins His reign. And now, before bringing about the end of this age by installing His eternal reign on the earth in its fullest form, He first pauses to see how many humans will accept His invitation to join His eternal kingdom (2 Pe 3:9). And while He waits for an answer, the serpent lashes out against God’s people in fury (Rev 12:17), like one who has just had his head stomped on.

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