User:Matthewfaulconer/Son of man
Here is a transcript from A New Life of Jesus by David Friedrich Strauss. 1879. pp 303-311.
Note that I don't agree with everything written below. Also just so you know David Strauss in this book is on a project to deny that there is anything miraculous about Jesus so you see that bias showing through at several points.
With that said, I found this passage well thought out and very helpful in understanding what the Son of Man means in the New Testament and why Jesus uses this title to describe himself. I hope to take this and use some of the words and ideas in the exegesis. Note that this material is in the public domain.
That the relation which Jesus assumed towards the Jewish idea of the Messiah was assumed under peculiar conditions, may be gathered from the mode in which he described himself in his particular calling. Beside the term Christ, i.e. Messiah, there were, according to our Gospels, two appellations current in the country: the same personage was sometimes called Son of David, after the king whose descendant and greater successor he was supposed to be; sometimes, like the people of Israel itself and the best of their kings, only in the highest sense, the Son of God. Jesus is addressed Son of David by persons desirous of his help, the blind men at Jericho and the Canaanitish woman (Matt 9:26, Matt 15:22, Matt 22:31); after he had healed the blind and dumb demoniac, the people ask, "Is not this the Son of David?" (Matt 12:23), and as such they salute him on his entrance into Jerusalem (Matt 21:9). How much, on these alleged occasions of calling him so, was historical, is here left undecided; but this much in any case is clear, that the expression, Son of David, was at that time an appellation of the Messiah commonly current among the Jewish people. But Jesus never calls himself so. One one occasion, indeed, he expresses himself with regard to this term in a way which is almost like a disavowal of it. He asks the Pharisees whose Son they consider the Messiah to be? (Matt 22:41 ff), without express reference to his own person. They answer in terms corresponding to the prevailing opinion of the people "David's Son." He then puts the further question: "How then could David, in the 110th Psalm, call him, who was according to their belief his Son, his Lord?" And to that they can make no reply. Now in this case only one of two things is conceivable. Either Jesus had a solution in reserve which reconciled the relation of subordination involved in the appellation of the Messiah as David's Son with the relation of superiority involved in the description of him as David's Lord; but this could only have been the supposition of a higher nature in the Messiah, by means of which he was, according to the flesh or according to the law, a descendant of David, but according to the spirit a higher being proceeding immediately from God. But the three first Evangelists have nowhere else put this view in the mouth of Jesus, and we are not therefore justified in looking for it in the narrative before us. The only remaining supposition therefore is, that Jesus considered the contradiction as really insoluble, and therefore, as he evidently sided with the Psalm, in which according to the customary interpretation David (not that the Psalm is his) calls the Messiah (who is quite as little addressed in the Psalm) his Lord, intended to declare the theory of his being the Son of David as inadmissible. In his view, therefore, the Messiah was a higher than David, as on another occasion he described himself as greater than Solomon or Jonas (Matt 12:41 ff); he wished to loosen the close tie which in the conception of the people connected the Messiah with David; and as it was upon this connection that all the worldly and political elements in the Jewish hope of the Messiah depended, we may look upon that expression of Jesus, if it really comes from him, as a disavowal of this element in the conception of the Messiah entertained by his countrymen.
The other current appellation of the Messiah, and which was indeed his own peculiar title of dignity, found in the Gospels, is the name "Son of God." In the Old Testament the people of Israel had been so called (2 Mos 4:22 ff; Hos 11:1; Ps 80:16), also rulers of this people, favorites of God, like David and Solomon (2 Sam 7:14; Ps 89:27) and their worthy successors (Ps 2:7). Afterwards the term had become the regular title of the expected great ruler of the lineage of David, the Messiah, as we find it in the New Testament. Jesus is called so by the Devil, hypothetically, in the history of the Temptation (Matt 4:3, 6), and mockingly by the Jews under the cross (Matt 27:40, 43); the demons among the Gergesenes address him so (Matt 8:29), and other demoniacs (Mark 3:11), and the people in the ship when he came walking over the sea (Matt 14:33); God himself declares him to be so on the occasion of the baptism (Matt 3:17), and on the mount of transfiguration (Matt 17:5); the High Priest on his trial questions him upon this point (Matt 27:63), and on this occasion the appellations of Son of God, and Christ or Messiah, are made expressly equivalent. Now Jesus did not, indeed, indirectly disavow this other title of the Messiah as he did that of the Son of David; but, if we leave the fourth Evangelist out of consideration, he never adopted it directly and on his own account. To the adjuring question of the High Priest as to whether he was Christ the Son of God, he answers, "Thou sayest it," i.e. affirming; and when peter answered his question, For whom then, amidst such hesitating opinions of the people about him, do they, the disciples, take him, with the cheerful words, "For Christ the son of the living God," he blessed him for it, and extolled this perception that had arisen in him as an immediate revelation of his heavenly Father (Matt 16:15 ff). But it is remarkable that he found it necessary immediately to suppress this notion. In all three Synoptics there follows immediately upon Peter's confession, first the command to tell no one that he is the Messiah, and the first announcement of his Passion (Matt 16:20 ff; Mark 8:30 ff; Luke 11:21 ff). Does it not look as if Jesus intended to say to his disciples, "Yes, I am the Messiah, but not your royal Son of David: I am the Son of God, but he will glorify me, far otherwise than you think, by suffering and death"?
One, therefore, of the two current titles of the Messiah, that of the Son of David, Jesus never uses himself, and once even treats it almost ironically. The other, Son of God, he does indeed accept when it is offered to him, though not without a precaution against misapprehension. But the term by which he loves best to describe himself is that of Son of Man, and it is now a question very differently answered, and by no means so easy to answer as it seems to be, whether he intended thereby to designate himself as the Messiah or not. From passages like Ps 8:5, Job 25:6, it is well known that the expression is used exactly synonymous with man, mortal; and also in the New Testament, in Mark 3:28, it is found in this signification. here, however, the accessory idea of humility and weakness, in opposition to undeserved grace on the part of God, or unwarrantable pretension on the part of man, is not to be mistaken. But this accessory meaning comes out still more decidedly in Ezekiel, while at the same time the expression is not used to designate man or human nature generally, but one individual man. Here Jehovah addresses the prophet on the occasion of every successive vision which he presents to him, every new commission which he imparts to him, as Son of Man (Ezekial 2:1,3,6,8; Ezekial 3:1,3,4,10,17 etc); and, if we consider the situation in which he is so called for the first time, we see the expression is chosen, in connection with the traditional usage of language, in order to bring out into relief the contrast between the weak human nature of the prophet and the lofty revelation of which he is thought worthy to be the subject. When, then, Jesus reminds one who offers to accompany him that the Son of Man has not where to lay his head (Matt 9:6); when he says that the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many (Matt 20:28); when he repeatedly describes the suffering and death that awaits him as something that must happen to the Son of Man (Matt 12:40, 17:12,22; 20:18, 26:2), he might possibly entitle himself so only in the same sense in which Ezekiel represents himself as being so called by Jehovah, as one entrusted indeed by God with lofty revelations, but still a weak and humble mortal, who must therefore be prepared for every deprivation, for every discomfort. Also when he ascribes himself, as the Son of Man, the power to forgive sins (Matt 9:6), and declares the Son of Man to be Lord of the Sabbath (Matt 12:8), nay, even when in the parable of the Tares he explains the Sower of the good seed to be the Son of Man (Matt 13:37), these passages, taken by themselves, might be understood to signify that Jesus meant nothing more than that he, a mortal man, had been charged by God with commissions so exalted.
But in the very last passage this explanation fails. For of that same Son of Man who sowed the good seed it is said further on (verse 41), that he will, at the end of the world, send forth his angels to separate the good from the bad, to reward the former and to punish the latter,--Powers which, from the the Jewish point of view, could be attributed, except Jehovah, to none but the Messiah. The messiah must therefore at all events be meant in all these passages in which it is said of the Son of Man that he will hereafter come in his own or his Father's glory, or in his kingdom, and then he will sit upon his throne to hold judgment (Matt 10:23, 16:27 ff, 19:28, 24:27, 37, 39, 44, 25:13,31). If from these passages we see with certainty that the expression is intended to designate the Messiah, we may also learn from some others when it got this meaning. When Jesus, as he does on several occasions, describes the coming of the Son of Man as coming in the clouds of heaven (Matt 24:30, 26:64; compare Rev 1:7), Ezekiel, with his title of Son of Man, offers nothing in explanation of this picture, but we find ourselves referred to Daniel 8:13, where, in the vision of the four beasts already spoken of, after the fall of the last of the beasts, one like the Son of Man comes before the throne of God, and is invested with everlasting dominion over all people; a passage which, if not meant originally of the Messiah, might easily be referred to him.
Then comes the question as to how early this explanation of the passage in Daniel, and consequently the designation of the Messiah as the Son of Man, became current among the Jews. Now, as was remarked above, as we have no further certain evidence upon this point, we must endeavor to decide this question solely by passages in the Gospels themselves. Let it not be said that if Jesus used this expression in order to designate himself as the Messiah, it must have had this meaning already in the current language of his contemporaries. For it is still a question whether from the first he intended unequivocally to profess himself the Messiah; if not, then it would be precisely a term, not yet the accepted title of the Messiah, which would serve him best. So little was this the case, if we follow the fourth Gospel, that the people in Jerusalem, on the declaration of Jesus that the Son of Man must be lifted up from the earth, put the question, "Who is this Son of Man?" (John 12:34). This is, indeed, only one of the fictitious questions founded on ignorance which occur in this Gospel; it appears also, even in the sense in which it is given by the Evangelist, to be half due to affectation on the part of the people, since, even according to what precedes, the people understood very well that it was the Messiah who was spoken of. But in Matthew also, Jesus asks the disciples the question, "Whom do the people say that I, the Son of Man, am?" adding the further question, "But whom do ye say that I am?" and the blessing of Peter because he had answered, The Messiah (Matt 16:13 ff)--all this, in such a connection, presupposes that Son of Man was not a current appellation of the Messiah,--nay, had not been even known as such to the disciples themselves. For, had it been so, Jesus, when he made that addition to his question, would have put the right answer into their mouths, and been unable afterwards to attribute a divine revelation to Peter's insight into the truth that he, whom had hitherto known only under the title son of Man, was none other than the Messiah. If, then, the account of Matthew is correct, it was not then customary, as it afterwards became, to think of the passage in Daniel where the term Son of Man was used, but the disciples had up to that time understood it in the sense of Ezekiel, as a kind of formula of humility, in which Jesus spoke of himself as a weak receptacle of Divine Revelation.
But was this all he meant, or did he in himself, when he adopted the formula of Ezekiel, also think of the Man in the Clouds spoken of in Daniel? The answer to this question will depend upon the answer to another, which is, whether those passages in which he speaks of the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds, in his glory, in his kingdom, and generally of a future return in superhuman form, are to be considered as genuine or not. And this is a point which must be discussed hereafter. Meanwhile we content ourselves with asking what motive could Jesus have for choosing as the description of himself just that expression which was not yet in general use, ad the description of the Messiah? The most valid motive would certainly have been that he had not yet at the beginning of his public ministry believed himself to be the Messiah. And this explanation would agree with the view enunciated above, that the prophetic consciousness arose in him before the Messianic. But it is also conceivable that Jesus, though already fully convinced of his own Messiahship, did nevertheless, in reference to others, select, to designate himself, an expression not yet stamped as a title of the Messiah, in order not to force anything from without upon his disciples and the people, but to allow of the convictions that he was the Messiah arising spontaneously within them; hence, also, his visible rejoicing when he had got so far, at least with his nearest friends, that he saw the germ of the right view of his character springing up in the mind of one of them.
He might feel himself induced to choose this method the more he must have feared, by declaring himself from the first to be the Messiah, to excite all those political hopes of the nation which ran directly counter that that sense in which alone he thought of being the Messiah. And the description of him as Son of Man agreed with this sense in a remarkable manner. In contrast with the Messiah as Son of God, and all the miracle-seeking fanaticism connected with the idea, it contained the element of meekness and humility, of the human and natural; in contrast with the Messiah as Son of David, and the taint of national pride, the spirit of exclusiveness and political expectations attaching to this notion, the other appellation was characterized by universality, humanity, and morality. The son of Man has not where to lay his head; he came not to be ministered to, but to minister; he will be delivered into the hands of men, be ill-treated, and put to death: how far removed was such a career as this from the glorious path of a Son of God! It is the Son of Man who sows the good seed of the word; he has the power of forgiving sin on earth; he makes it his business to seek and to save that which is lost: what a different calling from that which the Jew was accustomed to attribute to his Son of David! For some time Jesus followed this calling before the eyes of his disciples and his nation; he exhibited himself as the Son of Man and the Friend of man, who regarded nothing human as too petty for him, nothing human as foreign to his interests, who as little despised innocent human joys as he turned away from the sorrows of human life when they lay in the path of his calling. And it was not until he had done all this that it appeared to him to be time to drop the veil, and to assume the title of Messiah, at least before his friends. But even then, as is proved by his command to the disciples not to publish their conviction of his Messiahship (supposing this to be historical, and not invented merely to exaggerate the impression of the humility of Jesus, after Isaiah 42:1 ff, comp Matt 12:16 ff), he did not yet consider the people ripe to understand the sense in which he wished to be the Messiah. And the announcement of his suffering to come, which he connects with his acquiescence in the Messiah-title, shews that he did not think he could impress it too strongly on the minds of this disciples not to forget, in the element of the Son of God that of the Son of Man existing in him.