Troublesome Topic: What Was Meant by the Title “Son of Man”?

Matthew 24:27


For the arrival

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of the SON OF MAN will be just like lightning that comes out of the East

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and shines

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as far as the West.


I tell you these things because I, GOD’S ANSWER TO MAN’S PROBLEM, will arrive on the scene and show who I really am in the most visible way possible, like lightning that comes at one end of the sky and brilliantly lights up everything to the other end of the sky.

The phrase “Son of Man” had been used by others prior to Jesus; for instance, God often addressed Ezekiel as son of man. The most important thing to know about this phrase is that it lent itself to being adapted to whatever purpose the user had in mind. I believe Jesus chose to refer to Himself in this way because it was basically a blank slate; it was a title that He could fill with the meaning He desired; it allowed Him to define Himself instead of being defined by the assumptions and wishes that others already possessed. This was important for the Messiah because all the Jews of His day held the idea that the Messiah would be a political figure; He would come and free them from Rome. In contrast Jesus did not get into politics at all. He actually taught that a certain amount of respect was due to the Romans for they were the ones in authority.

The phrase Son of Man was also a humble way to refer to Himself. While most men in authority sought self-aggrandizement, Jesus exemplified humility and service to others.

At the same time this phrase indicated that He is God. In an interesting twist, the phrase Son of Man, which does not mention God at all, actually indicated that He is indeed God. As I said above, this phrase allowed Him to fill it with meaning that He desired. Therefore, in order to understand who Jesus was, people had to look at what He did and what He taught. If they did so they would immediately understand that He had authority over sickness, over the spirit world, over life and death, over nature. Therefore He must be God. With His miracles Jesus filled the blank slate with the words “He is God,” even though the title never mentions God.

But His teachings never incited people into violence toward Rome, so He was not what they expected in a Messiah figure. The mind of every Jew of Jesus’ day was riddled with confusion and perplexity:

“This Jesus fellow is undeniably God in human form, but is he our Messiah? He doesn’t do what we have always heard the Messiah would do, but who else could he be? He is God come to earth, that spells Messiah. He is not cozy with the Romans, but neither does he hate them or want to expel them from our land. That does not fit. How can he be the Messiah and leave the Romans in power? So who is he and why has he come? I cannot make up my mind. I guess I will have to keep watching and see what the final verdict is.”

Even those who knew Him best, the disciples, had these same thoughts. The reason not all the Jews believed in Him at the end was this – there was a major problem with the “final verdict.” The way Jesus died was even further removed from their expectations of the Messiah than how He had lived.

So we see that through His miracles Jesus convinced people that He was God in human form, yet through His teaching and the absence of hatred toward Rome He taught them that the true Messiah had a different purpose than what they had assumed.

The blank slate of the title Son of Man was a perfect tool to teach the people about His identity and purpose.

I puzzled long over how to render this title in the paraphrase column. I finally chose to do so as GOD’S ANSWER TO MAN’S PROBLEM.

The next lesson is: Powerful Signs


1: “Arrival”

This is the same word the disciples used in their questions in verse 3 of this chapter. It usually referred to a king or other person of power showing up on the scene to fix a problem or correct a situation that only he could address. The term carried with it the idea of personal presence, and also that of power and glory. It was his “arrival on the scene in person to show his authority.”

Jesus was saying, “You wonder when I will reveal my full power? Well, that will happen at some point. In the meantime, do not believe others who claim to be the Messiah; do not look elsewhere just because I am different than you expected. I have true power, others do not. I will one day reveal my full power and glory, and I will do it in ways that everyone can easily see and understand. I will not make them come to me in some special place where they think God does His best work (the desert or the inner room), rather I will show myself equally to everyone everywhere, just as lightning is visible to all.”

2: "East”

Although this appears to be only an indication of something that can be seen from any vantage point because it fills the sky, in typical Jewish fashion, the thing that is coming has its origin in the East. For them life and everything that was important for sustaining life, came from the East. Their maps were oriented toward the East while ours are oriented toward the North. Jesus’ inclusion of this detail does not change the point being made, it simply fits how they thought.


This word means “to shine, to be bright or be brilliant,” hence it was used for lightning.