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Son of Man

Note of the Day – May 25

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Mark 3:28-29; Matthew 12:31-32; Luke 12:10

The next passage to be discussed, in this Pentecost-season series of daily notes on the Holy Spirit in the Gospel Tradition, is the famous (and controversial) saying of Jesus regarding the so-called “sin (or blasphemy) against the Spirit” in Mark 3:28-29 par. Over the centuries, this has proven to be one of the most challenging sayings of Jesus for commentators and believers generally to interpret and apply. The interpretive difficulties are complicated by the questions surrounding the differing forms of the saying (or sayings) as preserved in the Synoptic Tradition.

I begin with the version in Mark 3:28-29, which is set in the context of Jesus’ exorcism miracles (vv. 22-27, cf. verses 11-12, 15). This central section is framed by two episodes which express the misunderstanding and/or opposition to Jesus by his family and relatives:

  • vv. 20-21—”the ones alongside him”
  • vv. 31-35—”his mother and his brothers”

The pericope concludes with the declaration that Jesus’ followers are his true family (vv. 34-35). Here is the saying regarding the Holy Spirit in verses 28-29:

“All things will be released [i.e. forgiven] for the sons of men—the sins and insults, whatever they may insult—but whoever gives insult unto the holy Spirit, he does not have release into the Age, but is held in (guilt) of a sin of the Age(s).”

This use of the Greek ai)w/n, indicating an age/era or (long) period of time, is hard to render meaningfully into English, often being generalized as “(for)ever, eternal(ly)”, etc.; however, in the Israelite/Jewish idiom and thought world, there is a strong eschatological aspect which must be preserved—”into the Age” specifically refers to the “Age to Come”, which is ushered in by God’s Judgment upon the world at the close of the present Age. Also, I would call attention to the Greek verb blasfhme/w, which is often simply transliterated into English as “blaspheme”, but this tends to gloss over and distort the fundamental meaning—to speak evil or abusive words, i.e. insult, revile, mock, slander, etc. I have translated blasfhme/w above simply as “insult”. At first glance, there would seem to be relatively little difficulty in the interpretation of this saying, since verse 30 which follows in Mark’s account gives a rather clear explanation:

“(This was in) that [i.e. because] they said ‘He has/holds an unclean spirit’.” (cf. verse 22)

Matthew essentially preserves the Markan narrative context—

  • Matt 12:22-30 corresponds with Mk 3:22-27
  • Matt 12:46-50 = Mk 3:31-35
  • with additional (“Q”) material in between (Matt 12:33-42)

Luke’s account differs even more, with the varied inclusion of (so-called) “Q” material:

  • Lk 11:14-23 = Matt 12:22-30 / par Mk 3:22-27
    —including a version of “Q” saying in Matt 12:28 (v. 20), cf. below
  • Lk 11:24-28 = Matt 12:43-45
  • Lk 11:29-32 = Matt 12:38-42
  • Lk 11:33-36 = Matt 5:15-16; 6:22-23, but holding a comparable position in the narrative to Matt 12:33-37

However, the Lukan version of the Holy Spirit saying occurs in a very different context—that of believers acknowledging/confessing Jesus (the Son of Man) publicly (Lk 12:8-12). The saying in verse 10 would seem to be based on a “Q” version that corresponds to Matt 12:32. Let us first examine Matthew 12:31-32 in terms of the Markan version:

Mark 3:28-29 Matthew 12:31-32
“All things will be released [i.e. forgiven] for the sons of men—the sins and insults, whatever they may insult—but whoever gives insult unto the holy Spirit, he does not have release into the Age, but is held in (guilt) of a sin of the Age(s).” Every sin and insult will be released [i.e. forgiven] for men, but the insult(ing) of the Spirit will not be released. And whoever should say an (evil) word/account against the Son of Man, it will be released for him; but whoever should say (evil) against the holy Spirit, it will not be released for him—not in this Age and not in the (Age that) is about (to come).”

The italicized portions in Matthew indicate the portions shared by the saying in Mark. The saying regarding the “Son of Man” does not correspond to anything in Mark, but it is similar to the Lukan version of the saying (Lk 12:10):

“Every one who will speak an (evil) word/account unto the Son of Man, it will be released for him; but for the (one) giving insult unto the holy Spirit, it will not be released.”

According to the standard critical theory, Matthew and Luke each made use of Mark, as well as a collection of sayings and traditions commonly referred to as “Q” (from German quelle, “source”). Luke 12:10 and the non-italicized portion of Matt 12:32 above represent the “Q” version of the saying. Matthew has apparently combined the Markan and Q versions. As always, when dealing with similar and/or parallel sayings of Jesus in the Gospels, the key critical question is: (a) do these represent separate sayings given by Jesus on different occasions, or (b) are they different versions of the same saying which were transmitted and preserved separately? Traditional-conservative commentators usually opt for (a), while critical scholars and commentators tend to choose (b). In most instances, valid arguments can be offered for each position, and it can be difficult to come up with a definitive solution on entirely objective grounds (i.e., without relying on doctrinal or ideological presuppositions). In the case of this particular saying, there is one strong argument that favors the common critical view, which can be illustrated by a comparison of the first portion of the Markan and “Q” versions respectively:

Saying/Version 1 (‘Mark’) Saying/Version 2 (“Q”)
“All/every sin(s) and insult(s) will be released for the sons of men [toi=$ ui(oi=$ tw=n a)nqrw/pwn]…” “Every one who speaks an (evil) word/account unto/against the Son of Man [to\n ui(o\n tou= a)nqrw/pou], it will be released for him…”

Mark has likely preserved the original wording “sons of men” (Matthew simply reads “men”). Is it possible that the Semitic idiom “son of man” was confused during the process of transmission? Originally, the Hebrew expression “son of man” (<d*a* /B#, Aramaic vn`a$ rB^) simply referred to human beings generally, as a parallel to “man” (<d*a*). The idiom is foreign to Greek—indeed, quite unusual—and the expression o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou (“[the] son of man”) is found in the New Testament only in the words of Jesus, and in a few citations of the Old Testament. With regard to the words of Jesus, the Greek is generally assumed to be a rendering of sayings originally spoken in Aramaic; and, by the time the Gospels came to be written (by 60 A.D. and following) and transmitted to the wider Greek-speaking world, many of the Semitic idioms and expressions had long since been translated or reworked into meaningful Greek. I have addressed the difficulties surrounding Jesus’ use of the expression “Son of Man” at length in earlier notes and articles.

Returning to the saying in question, did “son of man” in the “Q” version originally have the general/generic meaning—i.e., “whoever speaks (evil) against a(nother) human being…”? If so, then it would correspond roughly to the Markan version, and could conceivably be traced back to a single (Aramaic) saying by Jesus. However, it should be noted that Luke definitely understands this “Q” version of the saying as referring to Jesus himself (“the Son of Man”), as the context clearly indicates. Let me here summarize briefly Jesus’ self-identification as “Son of Man” in the Synoptic tradition, especially the Gospel of Luke, isolating the following usage:

  • In the generic sense—”human being”—but often, it would seem, as a substitute for the pronoun “I”, i.e. “this human being” (myself).
  • Many of the Son of Man sayings are related to Jesus’ earthly life and existence, by which he identifies himself with the human condition—especially in terms of its mortality, weakness and suffering.
  • A number of these sayings refer specifically to Jesus’ Passion—predictions of the suffering and death which he would face in Jerusalem.
  • There are also additional sayings where Jesus identifies himself with a heavenly figure (“the Son of Man”) who will appear, as God’s representative, at the end-time Judgment, largely influenced by Daniel 7:13-14 and resultant traditions.

In the next daily note, I will examine further how Matthew and Luke understand the Holy Spirit saying, as well as the additional (related) saying in Matt 12:28 / Lk 11:20.

Yeshua the Anointed: Supplemental note on Daniel 3:25

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Overview and Interpretation

Daniel 3:25 is noteworthy as the only occurrence in the Old Testament of the expression “son of God”; the plural appears numerous times (in several forms) in the Hebrew, in reference to divine/heavenly beings, and, less frequently, to human beings (cf. the first section of Part 12). However, the singular occurs only here in Daniel, at the climactic moment of chapter 3, as the three young Israelite/Jewish men (Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah) are inside the blazing furnace, and the king (Nebuchadnezzar) declares in amazement:

“See! I behold four young men loosed (from their bonds and) walking in the middle of the fire, and there is no damage to them! and the appearance of the fourth is like that of a son of God!”

While it is not specified in this verse, the clear implication is that this fourth “young man” (rb^G+) is a divine/heavenly being. The expression in Aramaic is /yh!l*a$ rB^ (bar-°§l¹hîn), the equivalent of Hebrew <yh!ýa$ /B# (ben-°§lœhîm), which is typically used in the plural for heavenly beings (i.e. Angels). The text states this explicitly in verse 28, in the subsequent public declaration by Nebuchadnezzar:

“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who sent his Messenger and brought release/deliverance for his servants…”

The Hebrew/Aramaic ialm, like the Greek word a&ggelo$, can refer to either a human or heavenly “messenger”, depending on the context; here, it certainly means a heavenly Messenger. At the historical level, a (pagan, polytheistic) king such as Nebuchadnezzar, in using an expression like /yh!l*a$ rB^, would have meant simply a divine being, “son of (the) gods” (cf. Hebrew <yl!a@ yn}B=), according to the conventional understanding of the time. The text does not indicate just what it was about the appearance of this fourth person that led Nebuchadnezzar to believe it was a divine being of some sort. From the standpoint of Israelite/Jewish monotheism, the “gods” (<yl!a@) or “sons of God” of course were understood to be created heavenly beings or “Angels”.

The earliest interpretation of this heavenly/angelic being in Dan 3:25 is found in the Additions to the Greek version of Daniel, LXX Dan 3:49 (verse 26 of the addition), where it is stated that “the Messenger of the Lord stepped down into the furnace with the ones around Azariah and shook the flame of the fire out of the furnace”. This is a reference to the Messenger (Angel) of YHWH in ancient Israelite and Old Testament tradition. Originally, this was not so much a particular Angelic person or being, but rather a concrete expression and embodiment of God’s power and protection on behalf of his people, which may acted out by His Messenger(s), but can also be taken to represent the presence or manifestation (theophany) of God Himself. The Messenger of YHWH is especially depicted as one who protects Israel (Gen 16:7-11; Exod 14:19; 23:20, 23; 32:34; 33:2; Num 20:16; 22:22-35; Judg 2:1-4; 2 Kings 19:35; Ps 34:7; 35:5-6; Zech 3:1-6; 12:8, etc). Later Rabbinic tradition identified the Angel of Dan 3:25 as Gabriel (b. Pesach. 118ab). For the Christian interpretation of the passage as a Christophany, or as prefiguring Jesus in some way, cf. below.

Daniel 3:25 and 7:13-14

There are some interesting parallels between these two passages. To begin with, the references, taken on their own, are similar, though the expressions use different vocabulary:

“See! [ah*] … (he) is like [hm@D*] a son of God
“See! [Wra&] … one like [K=] a son of man

Probably both are referring to a heavenly being, a Messenger (Angel) of God, and both seemingly in the context of the protection and deliverance of God’s people (the righteous ones) on earth. If we step back and look at the overall setting of chapters 2-3 and 7, in relation to the thematic development and structure of the book, the parallelism is enhanced:

First, we have the visions of chapters 2 and 7, which are related in the following ways:

  • Each involves a succession of four kingdoms, the last of which is the most savage and violent, with ten toes/horns representing ten kings. Following these is the everlasting kingdom of God, which will be established following the defeat/judgment of the other kingdoms.
  • Each has the general structure of: (1) occurrence of the vision, (2) hymn/vision of God’s glory, (3) interpretation of the vision.
  • Each is set at the beginning of one half of the book—(1) the vision in chapter 2 introduces the stories of chs. 3-6, set during the Babylonian, Median, and Persian (i.e. the first three) kingdoms; (2) that in chapter 7 introduces the visions of chs. 8-11, involving the rise and history of the Greek empire (the fourth kingdom).

Note also the following parallels between chaps. 3 and 7:

  • The episode in chapter 3 is, in some ways, a narrative dramatization of the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream—now it is a real statue, representing the glory and power of earthly kingdoms on a grandiose scale (everyone in the kingdom is to bow down before it and worship). This, then, is a story narrating the beginning of the four-kingdom vision—i.e. the first kingdom, of Babylon. The fourth beast of chapter 7 (and the following visions of chs. 8-11), is part of a vision depicting the end of the four-kingdom scenario (cf. vv. 11, 26, where the final beast is judged and slain).
  • In chapter 3, Nebuchadnezzar persecutes the people of God (arrest and execution of the three young men), just as the fourth beast (and his last horn) in the vision will make war against the (people of the) holy ones (7:21, 25).
  • At the central point of the ch. 3 story, the one like a “son of God” appears in the middle of the fiery furnace; in the central scene of the ch. 7 vision, the one like a “son of man” comes into the fiery presence of God (the “Ancient of Days”) in Heaven.
  • In chapter 3, the one like a “son of God”, it may be said, comes to rescue/deliver his people (the three young men); in the chapter 7 vision, it is said that the “Ancient of Days” comes to bring judgment (v. 22). It is not said how the “(people of) the holy ones” are delivered, but based on Dan 12:1ff (cf. also 10:13-21), this takes place by way of a heavenly Messenger (Michael), whom many commentators identify as the one “like a son of man” in 7:13-14.
  • Following the appearance of the one like a “son of God” in chap. 3, the Babylonians realize they have no power over God’s people (vv. 27-28), who are given special privilege and promoted within the kingdom (vv. 29-30). In the chapter 7 vision, the scene involving the one like a “son of man” coincides with the judgment of the beasts and the removal of their kingdoms; instead, an everlasting Kingdom is given to “the people of the holy ones of the Most High” (vv. 22, 27).

If a heavenly Messenger (Angel) is being described in both passages, then we are seeing this from two perspectives:

  • On earth, among humans, he is marked (in some way) as a divine being (“son of God”)
  • In heaven, among the divine/celestial entities, he resembles a human being (“son of man”)

However, the parallelism in chapter 3 & 7 could also be interpreted differently:

  • In chapter 3, a divine being (“son of God”) appears among humans
  • In chapter 7, a human being (“son of man”) appears among the divine/heavenly beings

In this case, the human being could either (a) be symbolic of the righteous (people of God) on earth, or (b) indicate the elevation of a human being (or humankind) to a heavenly status and position before God. Of these options, the first is more plausible, given the references in 7:22, 27; however, already at the end of Daniel (12:2-3) we find the righteous being exalted to a heavenly, celestial position. We have also seen the idea of a human being specifically elevated to divine/heavenly status in the Enoch traditions (1 En 70-71, etc), and, of course, with the person of Jesus in early Christian belief; several of the texts from Qumran (4Q427, 4Q491, etc) suggest something similar.

Christophany and Christological Interpretation

It has been popular among Christians to view this heavenly Messenger of Daniel 3:25 as an Old Testament appearance or manifestation of Jesus—that is, a “Christophany” of the pre-existant Christ (Son of God). There are a number of writings of the early Church Fathers which indicate such a belief, though it is not attested before the end of the 2nd century A.D. Here the most notable passages which survive:

  • Irenaeus [late 2nd century], Against Heresies I.5.2—identifies the one resembling a “son of God” with “the Son of God”, though he does not specifically say that this was Jesus in a pre-incarnate form.
  • Tertullian [early 3rd century], Against Marcion 4:10—conflates Dan 3:25 and 7:13, reading “Son of Man” in both passages, but clearly with the idea that “Son of Man” indicates Jesus’ deity. In chapter 21 of the same book, he states that it was Jesus (as Son of Man) who saved the lives of the three young men.
  • Hippolytus [early-mid 3rd century], Commentary (Scholia) on Daniel, understands the “son of God” to be Christ, but wonders how Nebuchadnezzar could have recognized this—it prefigures the acceptance of Christ by the Gentiles.
  • Jerome, Commentary on Daniel (commenting on the text with the Additions [cf. above], vv. 49, 92 [25], 95 [28])—accepts the plain meaning of the text as referring to an Angel, and interprets this typologically as relating to Christ: “this angel or son of God foreshadows our Lord Jesus Christ, who descended into the furnace of hell… in order that he might without suffering any scorching by fire or injury to his person deliver those who were held imprisoned by chains of death” [English translation by Gleason Archer]. Cf. also Letter 130.10.
  • Athanasius, in his Fourth Discourse Against the Arians §24, accepts Dan 3:25 as a Christophany without comment; Ambrose, Exposition of the Christian Faith 1.13.80, offers a brief interpretation similar to that of Hippolytus.

Along similar lines, a fair number of commentators throughout the centuries have identified Jesus with the “Messenger of YHWH” in the Old Testament, and that Dan 3:25, 28 (vv. 49, 92, 95 in the Greek version) indicates one such appearance of the pre-existent Christ as the Angel of the Lord. It must be said that there is really nothing in the Old Testament to warrant this interpretation. Nor is there much in the New Testament to support it. While Jesus was identified with the “one like a son of man” in Mark 13:26; 14:61 par; Rev 1:7, 13; 14:14ff, there is no comparable identification with the one “resembling a son of God”. I find only two passages which could conceivably be cited in support of Old Testament Christophany and/or recognizing Jesus as the Angel of YHWH:

  • In 1 Corinthians 10:4, Paul draws upon Old Testament (and Jewish) tradition regarding the rock of Kadesh and well of Beer (Numbers 20-21), giving it a spiritual and Christological interpretation, declaring that the life-giving rock which followed the Israelites “was the Anointed (One) {Christ}”. While we cannot be absolutely certain, this seems to indicate a belief that the pre-existent Christ appeared in a miraculous form among the ancient Israelites. If so, Paul likely would have recognized a similar presence of Jesus in other episodes from Israelite history; however, he makes no mention of this elsewhere in his letters.
  • The identification of Jesus with the Messenger of God in Malachi 3:1. I have discussed this passage in an earlier note. While early Christian tradition, based on the explanation provided in Mal 4:5-6, settled on the interpretation of this Messenger as a human being—John the Baptist, fulfilling the end-time role of “Elijah”—elsewhere in Gospel tradition, it is Jesus himself who appears to be the “Messenger of the Covenant” and the “Lord” who comes to the Temple (in the original context of Mal 3:1ff). The basic Synoptic narrative, with the centrality and climactic setting of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem (and into the Temple), supports such an interpretation.

Once early Christians came to understand the earthly (historical) Jesus as the incarnation of pre-existent Deity (Son of God, Word/Wisdom of God), it was easy enough to identify him with the Messenger of YHWH, since this figure often represents the presence and power of God Himself made manifest to humankind. However, this Christological application has not yet been made explicit in the New Testament.



Yeshua the Anointed: Supplemental note on the Son of Man Sayings

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There is nearly unanimous agreement among scholars that the expression “the Son of Man” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] a)nqrw/pou) in the Gospels, derives from its use (originally in Aramaic) by Jesus himself. All but a handful of the 80+ occurrences of “Son of Man” are from Jesus’ own words in the Gospels. By contrast, the expression only appears four times elsewhere in the New Testament, and only once as a title for Jesus (Acts 7:55-56, which is a reflection of Gospel tradition [Lk 22:69 par]). It is equally rare in the earliest extra-canonical Christian writings, the so-called Apostolic Fathers (c. 90-160 A.D.)—Ignatius, Ephesians 20:2; Epistle of Barnabas 12:10. In both of these passages “son of man” is understood in something like its generic sense (“human being”) to emphasize the human nature of Jesus—Ignatius stresses Jesus’ dual-nature (“…the [son] of Man and son of God”), while ‘Barnabas’, on the other hand, stresses that Jesus was not simply a human being (“see again Jesus: not son of man, but [rather] son of God”). We find “Son of Man” a bit more frequently in subsequent writings of the early Church, but usually in the context of commenting on, or attempting to explain, the use of the expression in the Gospels (or in Daniel 7). The most noteworthy occurrences in the 2nd century, are in the apologetic works of Justin Martyr—Dialogue with Trypho §§31, 32, 76, 79, 100, 126; and the First Apology §51.

All of this to say that the expression is found so frequently in the sayings of Jesus, and then virtually disappears from early Christian tradition—this makes the authenticity of its use in the sayings secure. However, when it comes to the eschatological Son of Man sayings by Jesus, where he appears to identify himself as a divine/heavenly figure who will appear at the end-time Judgment, critical scholars tend to be a bit more cautious and skeptical. The authenticity of these sayings (as we have them in the Gospels) has been questioned, generally on the basis of two factors:

  1. They have been “Christianized” to varying degrees—that is to say, a number of the sayings have been tied in contextually to believers’ faith in, and confession of, Jesus (e.g. Luke 6:22; 9:26 [Mk 8:38]; 12:8). For critical scholars, this indicates that, at the very least, the sayings have been colored or modified in light of early Christian belief and practice.
  2. Jesus never specifically identifies himself as the “Son of Man”—this only occurs once in the Gospel tradition (in Matthew’s version of the first Passion prediction, Matt 16:21), and may be attributed to the author/narrator rather than Jesus. According to the view of a number of commentators, in the eschatological sayings, Jesus is referring to a separate divine/heavenly figure (“the Son of Man”, cf. Dan 7:13-14ff; 1 Enoch 37-71), and not to himself. In early Christian tradition, references to this figure were then interpreted as referring to Jesus and his end-time (second) coming, as we see in Matt 24:3.

With regard to the first point, the extent of the “Christianization” of these sayings certainly can be debated. If we consider the core sayings in the Synoptic tradition—Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62 and parallels—there is really very little evidence for this. The saying in Mark 8:34 has a more obvious “Christian” context, but, since the sayings in 8:34-9:1 have likely been appended together as part of the earliest Tradition, and need not have been uttered by Jesus in sequence on a single occasion, it is questionable whether one should equate it with the (original) context of v. 38. The same may be said for the narrative framework of chapter 13 (the Olivet or “Eschatological” Discourse), which is best understood as a collection of sayings, which may have been uttered by Jesus on different occasions, combined together on the basis of a common theme and subject—i.e. eschatological teaching and sayings by Jesus. Verses 9-13 are a prophecy of the persecution early believers will experience, and the “false Messiahs (or Christs)” in vv. 21-22 are connected with people claiming to be Christ (i.e. Jesus) in v. 6; however, only Matthew’s version of this discourse specifically connects the coming of the Son of Man (Mk 13:26 par) with the future/second coming of Jesus (Matt 24:3). In none of the Synoptics is the Son of Man saying itself modified or glossed, nor do we see any sign of this in Mark 14:62 par.

It is interesting to consider that Luke’s Gospel, apparently written for a wider Greco-Roman (Gentile) audience, and which occasionally translates or simplifies elements of the Gospel tradition into more conventional Greek language, never does this with the Son of Man sayings, even though the expression “the Son of Man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou), as Jesus uses it, would have sounded strange indeed to Greeks unfamiliar with the Semitic idiom. Luke has considerably more eschatological sayings than Mark—in addition to the three core Synoptic sayings (cf. above), there are those in Lk 12:40; 17:22, 24, 26, 30; 18:8; 21:36 (and cf. the parallels in Matt 24:27, 37, 39, 44). Not once, however, does the author narrate or explain the saying in such a way as to clarify that the coming of the Son of Man means the coming of Jesus himself. While early Christians may have assumed or understood this automatically, some in Luke’s intended audience likely would not have. That the Son of Man sayings were left ‘unexplained’ indicates that they were so deeply rooted and fixed in the Gospel tradition, the author simply could not alter them.

This brings us to the second point—that in these Son of Man sayings Jesus originally was not referring to himself, but a separate heavenly figure (“the Son of Man”). There are several problems with this view:

(a) There is little, if any, formal difference between the eschatological Son of Man sayings and those elsewhere in the Gospel tradition (i.e. Mark 2:10, 28 par; Luke 7:34; 9:58 par, etc), in which it is generally admitted that Jesus is referring to himself, perhaps using “son of man” idiomatically as a substitute for the pronoun “I”. Even in the context of the Passion, and the predictions (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33 par) which critical scholars might regard as ex eventu prophecies produced by early Christians, there is little doubt that “the Son of Man” refers to Jesus himself. It is natural to assume that the eschatological sayings also are meant as a self-reference. If there was any intended distinction between the usage in these sayings, it has become completely confused in the Gospel tradition. In fact, there is some indication that Jesus’ use of the expression actually was confusing to some in his audience, if we accept the detail recorded in John 12:34.

(b) There is no clear evidence that the expectation of an end-time figure called “the Son of Man” was widespread or common at the time of Jesus; indeed, the situation is quite the opposite. As I indicated in Part 10, there is only one surviving document, likely contemporary with (or prior) to the time of Jesus, which describes a specific divine/heavenly being called “the Son of Man”—the so-called Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71). This “Son of Man”, also identified as “the Righteous One”, “the Elect/Chosen One” and also “the Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah), will serve as Judge over the nations at the end-time. This figure, like the “Son of Man” in Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62, is clearly inspired by, and derived from, Daniel 7; however, the Similitudes do not specifically emphasize his glorious appearance on earth at the end-time. There is little reason to think that Jesus was referring to common and popular image, though educated and devout Jews certainly would have recognized an allusion to Daniel 7:13-14. Turning again to John 12:34, we see that Jesus’ audience seems to understand “the Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah/Christ), presumably in terms of an end-time Davidic Ruler (cf. Parts 68), but they are noticeably less clear about the Son of Man (“…who is this ‘Son of Man’?”).

(c) If we combine the arguments of (a&b), along with the fact that there is little sign that any of the eschatological Son of Man sayings has been altered or glossed for the sake of clarity or as part of a Christological interpretation (cf. above), then there appears to be little reason to treat those sayings differently from Jesus’ use of the expression “the Son of Man” elsewhere. Even in the textual transmission, there is surprisingly little evidence for substantive variant readings involving the expression “Son of Man” (i.e., using a more familiar title “Lord”, “Christ”, “Son of God”, or even the pronoun “I”), one notable example being found in John 9:35 (“Son of Man” vs “Son of God”).

If, then, we accept the general authenticity of the Son of Man sayings by Jesus, and that they have been preserved with very little modification or alteration, it becomes necessary to step back and consider how the eschatological sayings fit within the overall use of the expression. I have already discussed this in prior notes and articles, but I will summarize the points here:

  • As a Hebrew/Aramaic idiom, the expression “son of man” simply refers to a human being or to the human condition. The poetic and formal usage in the Old Testament typically is related to the idea of human limitation (or weakness) and mortality, especially compared with the divine/heavenly nature of God and his Messengers (Angels).
  • Subsequently in Hebrew and Aramaic, this generic sense of the expression—i.e., a(ny) human being—merged into the specific use of the idiom as a self-reference, a substitute or circumlocution for the pronouns “I” or “you”. However, it is still debated whether, or to what extent, it was commonly used this way in the time of Jesus.
  • In many of the sayings, Jesus appears to use “son of man” as a self-reference, but in terms of his identity as a human being. Within the Synoptic tradition, see especially, Mark 2:10, 28 par; Luke 9:58 par.
  • This identification with human beings (and the human condition) also has a distinct soteriological emphasis in a number of sayings, both in the Synoptics and John—cf. Mark 10:45 par; Luke 19:10; John 3:13; 9:35.
  • He also identifies specifically with human weakness, suffering and death, expressed in the Gospel tradition in the context of his Passion (suffering/death) and subsequent resurrection—esp. the Passion predictions (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34 par), also Mark 9:9, 12; 14:21, 41 par; Matt 12:40; 26:2; Lk 22:48; 24:7, and cf. in the Gospel of John (Jn 3:14; 6:27, 33; 12:23, 34; 13:31).
  • Finally, he identifies himself with the “one like a son of man” (i.e. resembling a human being) in Daniel 7:13-14, as a divine/heavenly figure who will appear as God’s representative at the end-time Judgment—Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62 par, etc. Jesus draws on tradition and imagery (from Daniel 7) similar to that found in the Similitudes of Enoch (probably contemporary with Jesus’ time). In the Gospel and early Christian tradition, this Son of Man reference blends together with the idea of Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God in heaven (Mark 14:62 par; Acts 7:55-56 etc). This exaltation motif is expressed somewhat differently in the Gospel of John, as a return, stepping (back) up into heaven to be with the Father—Jn 3:13; 6:27-52; 12:23; 13:31.


Yeshua the Anointed: Supplemental study on Daniel 7:13-14

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Daniel 7:13-14, which would prove to be enormously influential on eschatological and Messianic thought, both in Judaism and in early Christianity, itself holds a central place in chapter 7 of the book of Daniel (for the structure of the chapter, cf. below). It is part of the heavenly Throne-vision in vv. 9-12, similar to other such visions in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition—1 Kings 22:19ff; Isaiah 6; Ezekiel 1; 3:22-24; 10:1, cf. also 1 Enoch 14:18-23; 60:2; 90:20, etc (Collins, p. 300). The throne is said to have wheels, and thus is to be understood as a chariot-throne, which draws upon ancient Near Eastern mythic imagery, associated with heavenly/celestial phenomena—i.e. the fiery chariot of the sun, etc—and the divine powers which control them. For chariot imagery related to God and Heaven in the Old Testament, cf. 2 Kings 23:11; Psalm 68:17; 104:3; Isa 66:15; Jer 4:13; Ezek 1:15-21; 10:2. The idea of God’s chariot-throne would play an especially important role among the Jewish visionary mystics of the Merkabah/Hekhalot tradition.

Interestingly the text of verse 9 reads “the thrones [pl. /w`s*r=k*] were set [lit. thrown, i.e. into place]”, and there is some question as to the use of the plural here. It probably should be taken as indicative of the setting—the heavenly Council or Court. In ancient Near Eastern (Canaanite) tradition, the high deity °E~l (generally identified with YHWH in the Old Testament) presides over the Council of the gods; in the context of Israelite monotheism, the “gods” (°¢lîm/°§lœhîm) are created heavenly beings (i.e. Angels) who sit in the Council—Psalm 82:1; 89:7; Job 1:6, etc. For an elaborate description of the Angels surrounding the chariot-throne of God, cf. the so-called “Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice” (4Q400-407, 11Q17) from Qumran, esp. 4Q405 frags. 20, 23 (11Q17 cols. 7-10); and in early Christian tradition, note Matt 25:31, as well as the (Christian?) corollary of human beings on the thrones surrounding God/Christ (Matt 19:28; Rev 4:2ff; 20:4). Cf. Collins, p. 301.

On the throne is seated the /ym!oy qyT!u^ (±attîq yômîn), usually translated as “(the) Ancient of Days”, with the adjective qyT!u^ understood (on the basis of its cognates in Hebrew) as “advanced”, either in the sense of age or of prominence and wealth (majesty, etc). This image is likely drawn from the mythic-religious tradition of depicting the high God °E~l as an elderly patriarch (with long white/grey beard), though here it has been adapted to traditional Israelite visionary images of the glory of God (El / YHWH)—Exod 24:9-11; 1 Kings 22:19ff; Isa 6:1-5; Ezek 1. Verse 9b-10a vividly depicts the divine figure seated on his fiery chariot-throne, with countless multitudes (of heavenly beings) serving him. The vision scene in 1 Enoch 14:15-23 provides an interesting comparison.

From verses 11-12 it is clear that the Heavenly Council is also the Court, with God ruling as Judge (Psalm 82, etc). Judgment is brought against the Beasts of the earlier part of the vision (vv. 2-8, cf. below)—a sentence of death is pronounced and executed against one Beast (the fourth), while the others are stripped of their kingdoms but allowed to live for a time. It is in this context that verses 13-14 must be understood:

“and, see!—with the clouds of the Heaven(s), (one) like a son of man [vn`a$ rb^K=]…”

This figure comes near and approaches the “Ancient of Days”, and is given authority/rule (/f*l=v*), honor/glory (rq*y+), and (a) kingdom (Wkl=m^), so that “all the peoples, nations and tongues [i.e. languages] would serve him”. The question as to the identity of this “(one) like a son of man” has long vexed commentators, leading to a variety of interpretations, some more plausible than others. In terms of the original context of the vision in the book of Daniel, I would suggest three basic possibilities regarding this figure:

  1. Symbolic—he represents the Kingdom of God or the people of God (and their dominion)
  2. Real, but archetypal—i.e. he is the heavenly archetype of humankind (“son of man”), specifically the righteous/holy ones (people of God)
  3. Real, and personal—he is a real heavenly being, an Angel such as Michael who represents the people of God, supporting and protecting them, etc.

Sound arguments can be made for each of these:

1. The symbolic view is supported by the structure of the passage (chapter 7) itself, where the “(one) like a son of man”, and the kingdom he receives, is set parallel with the people of God (and they kingdom they receive), cf. below. Also, this figure resembling a human being is clearly meant as a contrast with the four “beasts” of vv. 2-8; since they are taken to represent four earthly kingdoms (in their savagery and violence), it is logical that the human being likewise represents the kingdom of the people of God.

2. The same parallelism could just as well be interpreted in an archetypal sense—that the heavenly “son of man” is the type/pattern for the righteous/holy ones on earth. This certainly seems to be the way that Daniel 7 was expounded and interpreted in the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71, early 1st-century A.D.?), and also, to some extent, by the Qumran community (cf. below).

3. It is the third view, however, which seems best to fit the immediate context and thought-patterns in the book of Daniel. Angels are prominent in the second half of the book, and are generally depicted in human terms (Dan 8:15; 9:21; 10:5; 12:5-7; cf. also 3:25), as they often are elsewhere in the Old Testament (Gen 18:2; Josh 5:13; Judg 13:6, 8, 16; Ezek 8:2; 9-10; Zech 1:8; 2:5, cf. Collins, pp. 306-7). A specific identification with the chief Angel (Archangel) Michael is possible, given his comparable role and position in Dan 12:1 (cf. also 10:13, 21). The “(one) like a son of man” should probably be understood as a real heavenly being, at least similar to an (arch)Angel such as Michael. This does not eliminate the parallelism or corollary with the people of God, as is clear enough by the evidence from Qumran (on this, cf. below).

Before proceeding, it may be helpful to examine the structure of Daniel 7 in outline form:

  • V. 1: Narrative introduction/setting
  • Vv. 2-14: The Vision of the Four Beasts
    —The Four Beasts (vv. 2-8)
    —The Ancient of Days who presides in Judgment over the Beasts (vv. 9-12)
    —The Son of Man who receives the everlasting kingdom/dominion (vv. 13-14)
  • Vv. 15-27: The Interpretation of the Vision
    —Basic outline/explanation: Four Kingdoms (vv. 15-18)
    —The Kingdom of the Fourth Beast (vv. 19-25)
    —Judgment and the Kingdom of the People of God (vv. 26-27)
  • V. 28: Conclusion

Verses 13-14 and 26-27 are clearly parallel in several respects:

  • Judgment in the Heavenly Court (vv. 9-12, 26)
    • Kingdom taken away from the Beast(s)
  • Everlasting Kingdom/Dominion
    • Given to the “one like a son of man” (vv. 13-14)
    • Given to the “people of the Holy Ones of the Most High” (v. 27)

Interestingly, we find the same basic paradigm, it would seem, in the Pseudo-Daniel (Aramaic) text 4Q246 from Qumran, which was certainly influenced by Daniel 7.

An important point lies in the way that heavenly and human beings are united in the term “holy ones” (Heb. <yvdwq, Aram. /yvydq). Although a few instances are uncertain or disputed, the majority of occurrences of the plural “holy ones” in the Old Testament would seem to refer to heavenly beings (i.e. Angels)—Deut 33:2; Psalm 89:5, 7; Job 5:1; 15:15; Dan 4:17; Zech 14:5, and cf. also the LXX of Exod 15:11. The only clear instances where “holy ones” refer to human beings (on earth) are in Deut 33:3 (cf. the par with verse 2); Psalm 16:3; 34:10. Especially significant is the usage in the Qumran texts, which in many ways are close to the eschatological/apocalyptic imagery and thought-world of Daniel, and, indeed, were certainly influenced by the book. The Qumran Community saw itself as connected with the Angels—the holy/righteous ones on earth, corresponding to the Holy Ones in Heaven; this was a key aspect of their self-understanding, in particular, of their eschatological role and identity. Indeed, they referred to themselves as “congregation of the holy ones”, and in 1QM 10:10; 12:7; 1QH 11:11-12 we find the very expression (“people of the holy ones”) as in Dan 7:27; note also the variant formula “holy ones of the people” (1QM 6:6; 16:1). On the relation between the Community and the Angels, and their inter-connection, cf. especially in the War Scroll (1QM 12:7, etc), passages in the Rule documents (1QSa 2:8-9; 1QSb 3:25-26; 4:23-25), and in the Hymns (1QH 3:21-22; 4:24-25; 11:11-12). For these and other references, cf. Collins pp.

In the Similitudes of Enoch (1 En 37-71), which may well be contemporary with Jesus and the earliest Gospel tradition, there is an equally clear, and (in some ways) even more precise correspondence between the holy/righteous ones on earth and in heaven—1 Enoch 39:5; 47:2; 51:4, etc. It is indicated that their true nature and position will be revealed at the end-time Judgment (1 En 38:4-5). The Son of Man is their ideal/archetypal heavenly representative (the Righteous One, the Elect One); in the concluding chapters 70-71, we see how Enoch himself, as the first human being to be raised to heavenly status, is identified with this Son of Man, apparently merging/assimilating with him in some way.

What of the traditional interpretation of the “one like a son of man” with the Messiah in Jewish thought? Apart from the possible example of 4Q246 from Qumran, this association does not seem to have been clearly formed until the 1st century A.D. In the Similitudes of Enoch, the Son of Man figure, certainly inspired by Daniel 7, is specifically called “(the) Anointed One” (1 En 48:10; 52:4); cf. also the context in 2/4 Esdras 13 (late 1st-century A.D.). The Messianic interpretation came to be the dominant view in Rabbinic literature (b. Sanh. 89a; Num. Rabbah 13:14, et al); even the plural “thrones” in Dan 7:9 could be understood in this light (one throne for God, one for the Messiah), as traditionally expressed by R. Akiba (b. Chag. 14a; b. Sanh. 38b). For early Christians, of course, the Messianic interpretation was applied to the person of Jesus—first in terms of his exaltation to the right hand of God in heaven (from whence he will come at the end-time Judgment), and subsequently, in terms of his pre-existent deity. According to either strand of tradition and belief, his divine/heavenly status and position was superior to that of the Angels, just as the “one like a son of man” would seem to hold a special and exalted place in the context of Daniel 7. The identification of Jesus with this divine/heavenly figure appears to go back to the (authentic) early layers of Gospel tradition, and the Son of Man sayings by Jesus himself (for more on this, see in Part 10, and the additional supplemental note).

References marked “Collins” above are to John J. Collins’ commentary on Daniel in the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press: 1993), esp. pages 299-323.

Yeshua the Anointed – Part 10: The Son of Man

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In this part I will be looking at the Messianic figure-type of Heavenly Judge and Redeemer, most commonly expressed in terms of the title “Son of Man”. Because of its importance within Gospel Tradition (the Sayings of Jesus), it is best to start with an examination of how this title is used in the Gospels.

Background and Use in Gospel Tradition

I have already discussed many of the Son of Man sayings of Jesus in Luke (and John) in some detail during my recent series of Easter season daily notes, and so will only describe them (and their Synoptic parallels) in summary form here.

The expression “son of man” in Hebrew (<d*a* /B# ben °¹d¹m, occasionally vona$ /B# ben °§nôš) and Aramaic (vn`a$ rB^ bar °§n¹š, with later variants avn rb, vn rb [also <da rb]) simply means human being—one belonging to the human race or possessing human characteristics. In the Old Testament (poetry) it is typically set parallel to “man” (<d*a*), often to convey specifically the idea of human mortality or its limited and imperfect nature (in contrast to God)—cf. Num 23:19; Job 16:21; 25:6; 35:8; Psalm 8:4; 80:17; 144:3; 146:3; Isa 51:12; 56:2; Jer 50:40; 51:43. In Ezekiel (more than 90 times) and Daniel (Dan 8:17), it is used when the divine/heavenly being addresses the visionary prophet—in formal English idiom, something like “(as for) you, O mortal…” Finally, there is the unique occurrence in Daniel 7:13, where it refers to a divine/heavenly figure who resembles a human being (“like a son of man [vn`a$ rb^K=]”). I have discussed the interpretation of this famous reference in a supplemental note; given the overall context of the book of Daniel, most likely it originally referred to a heavenly being or Messenger (Angel) who represents the people of God, similar to the role Michael plays elsewhere in the book.

Outside of Daniel, the expression “son of man” is rare in Jewish writings of the intertestamental period, and is never used as the title of a distinct eschatological or Messianic figure. In the Qumran texts, there are only a few occurrences of the expression (1QS 11:20; 1QH 4:30 [Hebrew]; 1QapGen 21:13; 11QtgJob 9:9; 26:2f [Aramaic, citing the OT]) in the general sense of “human being, humankind” (cf. also Testament of Joseph 2:5). It is somewhat surprising that there are no clear references to the “Son of Man” of Daniel 7:13ff in the writings from Qumran, given the Community’s eschatological/apocalyptic orientation and their apparent interest in the book of Daniel, including a number of texts clearly influenced by it (esp. the so-called “Pseudo-Daniel” works 4Q242-246). As far as I am aware, there are no direct citations or allusions to Dan 7:13 in the extant Qumran scrolls and fragments, though this may simply be an accident of survival. The Aramaic text 4Q246 certainly was influenced by Daniel 7, especially in the way that the “everlasting kingdom” of the people of God follows the violent kingdoms of the nations (Assyria, et al). If the parallel between the (Messianic) King who arises (col. 1, lines 7ff) and the people of God that arises (col 2, lines 4ff) is meant to echo the parallel between the heavenly figure of Dan 7:13 and the people of God (7:22, 27), then that would be an indication that the “Son of Man” in Daniel was being interpreted in a eschatological and Messianic sense. However, based on the limited evidence that survives, it would seem that this specific concept of “the Son of Man” had not developed or become widely known prior to the 1st century A.D.

Of the 86 occurrences of “Son of Man” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] a)nqrw/pou), in the New Testament, all but 4 are found in the Gospels, and virtually all of them from the words of Jesus. Indeed, “Son of Man” is never used as a title of Jesus in the New Testament, apart from Acts 7:56 which is a direct reflection of Gospel tradition (Lk 22:69 par). In Rev 1:13; 14:14, it is used of Jesus, but as a literal quotation of the expression in Dan 7:13 (“one like a son of man”). The striking absence of “Son of Man” as a title for Jesus in early Christian tradition must be noted, in contrast to the frequency with which Jesus used it. Generally speaking, Jesus uses it as a way to refer to himself, as a kind of substitute or circumlocution for the pronoun “I” (i.e. “this human being”), though in the context of his sayings, the expression often connotes more than this. In the core Synoptic tradition (as represent by the Gospel of Mark), the Son of Man sayings can be divided into three categories:

  • Those which emphasize the authority a human being (specifically Jesus) has over fundamental religious matters (forgiveness of sin, the Sabbath)—Mark 2:10, 28.
  • Those which refer to Jesus’ Passion, i.e. his suffering and death (and resurrection)—Mark 8:31; 9:9, 12, 31; 10:33; 14:21, 41 (note also Mk 10:45).
  • Those which identify Jesus as a divine/heavenly figure who will appear at the end-time Judgment—Mark 8:38; 13:26-27; 14:62. The idea of the Son of Man “coming in glory” or “with the clouds of heaven” indicates rather clearly a reference to Daniel 7:13ff.

When we turn to the material shared by Matthew/Luke (so-called “Q”), or unique to Matthew or Luke, we find a bit more diversity in the Son of Man sayings, but also a larger number with an eschatological emphasis. I categorize the sayings as follows:

  • A self-reference by Jesus regarding aspects of his own person and earthly ministry—Matt 8:20 [Lk 9:58]; Matt 11:19 [Lk 7:34]; Luke 19:10 [Matt 18:11 v.l.]. Cf. also the specific formula in Matt 16:13.
  • References to Jesus’ Passion (suffering and death), in the Synoptic tradition—Matt 12:40; 26:2; Luke 22:48; 24:7.
  • Those which identify Jesus as a divine/heavenly figure; these can be further divided:
    • Eschatological/Messianic (coming in Glory, for Judgment)—Matt 16:28 (addition to the Synoptic par of v. 27); Luke 21:36; Matt 13:41; 25:31.
    • Other references to his future/end-time “coming”—Matt 10:23; Luke 12:40; 17:22, 26, 30 [Matt 24:37, 39, 44]; Luke 18:8.
    • Other references to the Judgment—Luke 6:22; 11:30; 12:8, 10 [Matt 12:12].
    • His place/position in Glory—Matt 19:28; Acts 7:55-56.

(For the Son of Man sayings in the Gospel of John, see my recent note)

Given the way that the Sayings of this last group, emphasizing the Son of Man as a divine/heavenly figure associated with the glory of God, draw upon Scriptural passages such as Daniel 7:13ff and Psalm 110:1 (especially the core Synoptic saying of Mark 14:62 par), scholars have at times questioned their authenticity. I have addressed this issue in a supplemental note, and will only add here that the specific use of “Son of Man” in such a context very much has the mark of authenticity. Early believers, seeking to emphasize the exalted position or deity of Jesus, would, I think, have been inclined to gloss “Son of Man” with a more familiar title such as “Anointed” (Messiah/Christ), “Son of God” or simply “I” to clarify that it is Jesus who is coming (again) at the end-time. Such interpretive modification of the Son of Man sayings is extremely rare in the New Testament and its textual tradition. On objective grounds, we may be reasonably confident that Jesus did, in fact, identify himself with a divine/heavenly figure who will appear at the end-time Judgment, and who is largely patterned after the “Son of Man” in Daniel 7:13-14.

Son of Man in Contemporary Jewish Tradition

If we look at the Jewish writings (which have survived) from the first centuries B.C., there are only two which use the expression “Son of Man” in a sense similar to that used by Jesus in his eschatological sayings (cf. above); these are—the Similitudes of Enoch and the deutero-canonical 2/4 Esdras.

The Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71)

Though they are included in the Book of Enoch as it has come down to us (in the Ethiopic version[s], etc), the Similitudes do not appear to be part of the Book of Enoch as known and used at Qumran (in the 2nd-1st centuries B.C.). For at least a portion of their history, the Qumran Community regarded the Book of Enoch essentially as authoritative Scripture, preserving numerous copies (more survive than for many canonical OT books); however 1 Enoch 37-71 is not attested in these scrolls. Because of this, many scholars have concluded that the Similitudes had not yet been composed as a specific literary document by the turn of the era. The Son of Man passages were often thought to indicate Christian influence (cf. J. T. Milik’s edition and commentary, The Books of Enoch), but this is not necessarily the case, and the majority opinion today would date it sometime in the 1st-centuries B.C./A.D. Scholars such as J. H. Charlesworth (Qumran-Messianism, pp. 40-41) and J. J. Collins (Daniel, p. 79) have suggested a date corresponding roughly to the reign of Herod (37-4 B.C.) or in the early 1st century A.D.

The title “Son of Man” (Ethiopic walda sabe° etc) occurs around twenty times in the Similitudes, beginning with 1 En 46:1-4ff where Enoch has a vision of the Head/Ancient of Days, clearly patterned after Daniel 7:9-14. When Enoch asks who this One “like a human being” might be, he is told:

“This is the Son of Man, to whom belongs righteousness, and with whom righteousness dwells. And he will open all the hidden storerooms; for the Lord of the Spirits has chosen him (46:3)… He shall depose the kings from their thrones and kingdoms. For they do not extol and glorify him, and neither do they obey him, the source of their kingship” (46:5) [OTP 1:34]

The Son of Man in the Similitudes is a heavenly, pre-existent being (46:2; 48:2), the embodiment of righteousness and kingship, whom God has chosen, and whose identity has been hidden from the kings and nations of earth (62:7). Only to the righteous and chosen ones of God is he revealed (in particular, to Enoch). This same heavenly being is called by the titles Righteous One, Elect/Chosen One, as well as “Anointed One” (48:10; 52:4). Even though the Son of Man is connected with Kingship and called “Anointed One”, there is no real indication that he fulfills the role or figure-type of Davidic Ruler (cf. Parts 6 and 7). He does serve as (eschatological) Judge over the nations and will establish the rule of the elect/righteous ones (i.e. the people of God), as the Messiah-King does, for example, in Psalms of Solomon 17-18 and 2 Baruch; however, in the Similitudes, this seems to derive more from the themes and imagery of Daniel 7 etc, rather than the tradition of the covenant/promise to David.

For the idea of Enoch being exalted to the position of the Son of Man in chapters 70-71, cf. below.

2/4 Esdras (4 Ezra)

This deutero-canonical text is known as “4 Esdras” according to Catholic/Vulgate tradition, and as “2 Esdras” in most Protestant English Bibles (to add to the confusion, most scholars now refer to it as “4 Ezra” [specifically chapters 3-14]). It is typically dated to the late 1st-century A.D., but there is not much evidence of Christian adaptation. The vision of the Eagle and the Lion in 2 Esdras 11-12 is clearly influenced by Daniel 7—the text and author say as much in the interpretation of the vision (12:7-39, cf. vv. 11ff). In 12:31ff, the Lion is identified as the “Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah) “whom the Most High has kept until the end of days”. This generally matches the idea in the Similitudes of Enoch, that has kept the Son of Man (the Righteous/Elect/Anointed One) hidden from the world until the time of Judgment. However, unlike the Son of Man in Enoch, the “Anointed One” in 2/4 Esdras is clearly identified as one “who will arise from the posterity of David”.

In chapter 13, there is a similar vision (vv. 1-13) of “something like the figure of a man” that rises out of the sea who will make war against the people of earth (using language and imagery from Isa 11:1-4). In the interpretation of the vision which follows (13:21-56), this one “like a man” is clearly a Messianic figure just as the lion of chs. 11-12—”whom the Most High has been keeping for many ages, who will himself deliver his creation”. This again appears to be a heavenly figure much like the Son of Man in the Similitudes of Enoch, who will appear to subdue and judge the nations, establishing the Kingdom/Rule of God on earth for the faithful remnant. Thus we find in 2/4 Esdras a combination two Messianic figure types—Anointed Ruler from the line of David, and heavenly “Son of Man”—just as we see in the case of Jesus in early Gospel/Christian tradition. Interestingly, this “man” is also referred to by God as “my Son” (13:32, 37, 52). Translations above are from OTP 1:550-2.

A Heavenly Redeemer Figure

There are a number of instances in Messianic thought of the period which suggest the figure of a Heavenly Redeemer and/or Judge, but which do not involve the title “Son of Man” nor refer specifically to Daniel 7. In the Qumran texts, the Messengers of God (Angels) play an important role in relation to the Community, which generally viewed itself as the holy/righteous ones on earth, corresponding to the “Holy Ones” in Heaven—the earthly and heavenly Communities were connected and interrelated. It is therefore no surprise to find this same parallel expressed vividly in eschatological terms, during the final end time battle: the “sons of Light”, i.e. the Qumran Community, led by the “Prince of the Congregation”, would be supported by Angelic armies led by the “Prince of Light” (1QM IX.15; XII-XIII; XVII). The chief Angel Michael, especially, was referred to as “prince” and protector of God’s people in Daniel 12:1 (cf. 10:13, 21), and comes to appear frequently in many subsequent Jewish writings (1 Enoch, 2 Enoch, Testament of Abraham, 3 Baruch, etc). He is mentioned in several texts from Qumran (1QM 17:6-8; 4Q529 [6Q23]), and is often thought to be the same as the “Prince of Light” (1QS 3:22-23; 1QM 13, etc). Revelation 12:7ff draws upon a tradition similar to that of the Qumran War Scroll, where Michael and the Angels make war against the forces of darkness/wickedness.

Many scholars have held that “Melchizedek” in the Qumran text 11QMelch[izedek] (11Q13), who functions in the role of end-time Judge and Redeemer for the people of God, is a heavenly/angelic figure, based primarily on the application of Psalm 82:1-2 in the text (cf. the discussion in Part 9). Some have also thought that the king called “Son of God / Son of the Most High” in 4Q246 may also be an angel such as Michael, due to the apparent parallel with the “Son of Man” figure in Daniel 7:13-14ff.

Outside of the Qumran scrolls, we might cite the angelic figure of “Eremiel” in the Apocalypse of Zephaniah 6:11-15 (1st century B.C./A.D.?), and also the Testament (Assumption) of Moses 10:1-3ff, where a “Messenger” appears to subdue the enemies of God’s people at the time that His Kingdom “will appear throughout all His creation”.

The Exaltation of Jesus

When speaking of Jesus as a divine/heavenly figure who will appear in glory at the end-time, this can be understood two ways in Christian tradition, in terms of: (1) his exaltation to the right hand of God following the resurrection, or (2) his pre-existent deity. By all accounts, the earliest strands of Christian tradition associated Jesus’ divine/heavenly status specifically with the resurrection, evidenced by: (a) the entire Synoptic Gospel tradition, (b) early Gospel preaching preserved in the book of Acts, and (c) early kerygmatic elements in the letters of Paul, etc. This idea is especially prominent in the Gospel proclamation (kerygma) of the early sermon-speeches recorded in the book of Acts, where Jesus’ resurrection is often connected with his being exalted to the right hand of God in heaven (Acts 2:24-25, 32-33ff; 3:15-21; 5:30-31; 10:40, 42; 13:30-39). The image of Jesus at the right of God is well-established in early Christian tradition (Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; 1 Pet 3:22; Heb 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2), almost certainly influenced by Psalm 110:1 (cf. Acts 2:33ff; Heb 1:13). In Acts 7:55-56, Jesus is specifically identified with the Son of Man of Dan 7:13-14, according to sayings of Jesus in Synoptic Tradition (Mark 13:26-27; 14:62 par).

The idea of a human being exalted to heavenly/divine status is attested in several Jewish writing of the period, prior to, or contemporary with, the time of Jesus. I cite here the most notable and relevant examples:

  • 4Q427, 471b, 491—In these fragmentary texts from Qumran, the author/speaker makes bold declarations such as “[to] my [glor]y no one compares…[my] office is among the gods [<yla]!” (4Q427 frag. 7 i.11), “for I have sat on a [thron]e in the heavens, and there is no one [ ]…. I am reckoned with the gods [<yla] and my abode is in the holy congregation” (4Q491 frag. 11 i.12-14). Commentators have been divided as to whether the speaker is an angel (such as Michael), or a human being, who in some manner claims to have achieved heavenly status so as to be counted among the °¢lîm (“gods”, i.e. heavenly beings, Angels). Most scholars consider 4Q427 to be part of the Thanksgiving Hymns (Hœdâyôt [1QH]), a number of which are often thought to have been composed by the “Teacher of Righteousness”, a leading figure of the Community whose position, it would seem, will ultimately be fulfilled by a future/eschatological Teacher. There are a number of general parallels between this Teacher-figure at Qumran and Jesus, and the Teacher may have achieved a special, exalted status by the time of his death (and thereafter). Cf. Martin J. Abegg, “Who Ascended to Heaven?…” (Eschatology, pp. 61-63).
  • 1 Enoch 70-71—As noted above, in the Similitudes of Enoch (1 En 37-71, early 1st-century A.D.?), Enoch is shown several visions involving the “Son of Man”, a pre-existent and heavenly figure who will appear as Judge over the nations at the end-time. However, in chapters 70-71, Enoch himself is raised/elevated into heaven (cf. Gen 5:24), and appears to be identified with the Son of Man in some way. In 70:1, we read that the “living name” of the Son of Man (i.e. Enoch) was “raised up before that Son of Man and to the Lord…”. Then in 71:14 an Angel greets Enoch, addressing him “You, Son of Man, who are born in righteousness and upon whom righteousness has dwelt…”. The entire passage is difficult, but the Son of Man figure would seem to represent, in part at least, a kind of heavenly archetype (“Righteous One”) for the righteous ones on earth; Enoch, as the first of the righteous on earth to be raised into heaven, achieves a union or assimilation into the heavenly archetype.
  • 2 Enoch 71-72—As a child Melchizedek is taken up into Heaven by the angel Michael, where he will remain until the end time. In some ways, this is parallel to the dynamic between Enoch and the Son of Man (cf. above). See also the identification of Enoch with the angel “Metatron” in the later 3 (Hebrew) Enoch.

Within a generation after the resurrection of Jesus (before 60 A.D.), as the result of further thought, reflection (and revelation), Christians came to understand his divine/heavenly status somewhat differently—in terms of pre-existent deity. Probably the earliest evidence for this belief is the Christ-hymn in Philippians 2:6-11 (cf. also Col 1:15-20). It is attested in more developed form (and exalted language) in the Prologue of John (Jn 1:1-18) and is expressed throughout the Fourth Gospel (c. 70-90 A.D.?). The Letter to the Hebrews carefully combines the pre-existent deity of the Son with the (earlier) idea of Jesus’ exaltation following his death (cf. Heb 1:1-4; 2:5-18; 5:5-10, etc).

References above marked “OTP” are to The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (2 vols.), ed. by James H. Charlesworth (Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] 1983, 1985)
Those marked “Qumran-Messianism” are to Qumran-Messianism: Studies on Messianic Expectations in the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. by James H. Charlesworth, Hermann Lichtenberger, and Gebern S. Oegema (Mohr Siebeck: 1998).
Those marked “Daniel” are to the Commentary on Daniel by John J. Collins in the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press: 1993).
Those marked “Eschatology” are to Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. by Craig A. Evans and Peter W. Flint (Eerdmans: 1997).

Note of the Day – April 4

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This is the last in the series of daily notes for Easter Season, during which we have explored the Son of Man sayings of Jesus in the Gospels of Luke and John. Today’s note is on Acts 7:55-56—the last Son of Man verse in Luke-Acts, and one of only four occurrences of the expression “Son of Man” outside of the Gospels (the others being Heb 2:6 [quoting Ps 8:4ff] and Rev 1:13; 14:14 [referring to Dan 7:13]).

Acts 7:55-56

Most of the Son of Man sayings in Luke relate either to: (1) Jesus’ suffering and death, or (2) his exaltation to Glory (and future return in Judgment). As I have previously discussed, the use of “son of man” in the first instance would seem to identify Jesus specifically with humankind in its mortality (weakness, suffering and death); in the second, he identifies himself as the Divine/Heavenly figure (of Daniel 7:13ff) who will appear at the end-time Judgment by God. These two aspects of the expression “Son of Man” are present during the night of Jesus’ arrest and “trial” before the Sanhedrin (Lk 22:22, 48 and Lk 22:69), and also in the Angelic announcement of Lk 24:7 where the predictions of Jesus’ Passion (Lk 9:22, 44-45; 18:31-33) are connected with the Resurrection.

When we turn to the book of Acts, the theme of Jesus’ suffering (and death) continues—both with regard to the message that is proclaimed by the disciples (Acts 1:16; 2:23ff; 3:13-15, 17-18; 4:10, 27-28; 5:30 etc), and as a pattern for their own experience of suffering and persecution (cf. throughout chapters 3-7), predicted by Jesus himself (Lk 12:11-12; 21:12-19). So also the theme of Jesus’ exaltation (cf. below). Acts 7:55-56 represents the climactic moment of the Stephen narrative, which spans chapters 6-7:

  • 6:1-7: Introduction, setting the stage for the conflict
  • 6:8-15: The conflict with Stephen, including his arrest and appearance before the Sanhedrin
  • 7:1-60: The Sermon-Speech and Execution of Stephen
    • 7:1: The question of the High Priest to Stephen, which serves as the immediate narrative introduction to the Speech
    • 7:2-53: The Sermon-Speech of Stephen (for a detailed examination of this speech, cf. my earlier article)
    • 7:54-60: The response to the Speech and Execution of Stephen
  • 8:1a: Transitional verse, mentioning Saul/Paul’s role in the execution
  • 8:1b-4: Narrative summary describing the onset of Persecution (led by Saul)

Of the three major scenes in Acts which show the early believers in conflict with the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 4:1-22; 5:17-42), it is the Stephen narrative which most clearly follows the pattern of Jesus’ Passion. The parallels (some more precise than others) may be outlined as follows:

  • Stephen was “full of faith/trust and the Holy Spirit” and “full of the favor (of God) and power” (Acts 6:5, 8)
    —Jesus likewise, at the beginning of his ministry (Lk 4:1), was said to be “full of the Holy Spirit”; cf. also Lk 4:14 and Lk 1:15, 17; 2:40.
  • Stephen did “great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8)
    —Cf. especially the notice of Jesus’ miracles in Acts 2:22
  • It is stated that Stephen’s opponents “did not have strength to stand against the wisdom and the Spirit in which he spoke” (Acts 6:10)
    —Cf. Luke 20:26, etc; 21:15
  • The accusation of blasphemy (i.e. insult/slander against God) (Acts 6:11)
    —The declaration of the High Priest (Mark 14:64 par), implied in Lk 22:71
  • Stephen’s opponents “stirred together” the crowds etc. against him (Acts 6:12)
    —The Jewish authorities “shook up” the crowds against Jesus (Mark 15:11, not in Luke)
  • “They seized him and led him into the Sanhedrin” (Acts 6:12b)
    —Cf. Luke 22:52, 54, 66; 23:1, also the specific mention of “Elders and Scribes” (Lk 22:66)
  • False witnesses give testimony, involving the Temple (Acts 6:13)
    —False witnesses against Jesus rel. to the “Temple-saying” (Mark 14:57-59 par, not in Luke)
  • The claim that Jesus would destroy the Temple (Acts 6:14)
  • Stephen stands in the middle of the Council (cf. Luke 22:66)
  • The question by the High Priest regarding the truth of the accusations (Acts 7:1)
    —The specific question in Mark 14:60 par (not in Luke); cf. also Mk 14:61 par; Lk 22:67, 70
  • Stephen’s vision of the Son of Man (Acts 7:55-56)
    —Jesus’ answer to the Council regarding the Son of Man (Lk 22:69 par; in Matt/Mark, seeing the Son of Man)
  • The reaction of the Council (including tearing their garments) (Acts 7:52; Mark 14:63-64 par, cf. Lk 22:71)
  • Stephen is taken outside of the city to be put to death (Acts 7:58, cf. Lk 23:26, 33)
  • Stephen’s dying words: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59)
    —Jesus’ dying words: “Father, into your hands I place [i.e. give] along my spirit” (Lk 23:46)
  • Stephen asks God to forgive those putting him to death: “Do not hold up this sin against them” (Acts 7:60)
    —Jesus’ prayer of forgiveness on the cross (Lk 23:34 [not in some MSS])
  • After Stephen’s death “there came to be… a great persecution upon the Church” (Acts 8:1)
    —After Jesus’ death “there came to be darkness upon the whole land” (Luke 23:44)

From a narrative standpoint, these parallels illustrate vividly the disciple following in Jesus’ footsteps, even to the point of death (Lk 5:11, 27-28; 9:23, 57-62; 18:22, 28; 21:12-19; 22:39, 54; 23:27, 49 pars; cf. also Mk 10:38-40, etc). Let us compare specifically the Son of Man parallel:

Jesus’ saying (Lk 22:69):

“From now on, the Son of Man will be sitting out of [i.e. on/at] the right hand of the power of God”

The formula in Mark/Matthew is:

“[From now] you will see the Son of Man sitting out of [i.e. on/at] the right hand of the Power, and coming with/upon the clouds of Heaven

The declaration by Stephen (in Acts 7:56) is:

“I behold the heavens opening through and the Son of Man standing out of [i.e. on/at] the right hand of God

The preceding narrative in verse 55 adds the following details: (1) he saw the glory of God, and (2) Jesus is specifically identified as the Son of Man (“Jesus standing at the right hand of God”).

The use of the verb dianoi/gw (“open through[out], open thoroughly”) is interesting, as it appears to be a favorite of Luke’s—7 of the 8 occurrences in the New Testament are in Luke-Acts, and five of these refer to the knowledge and awareness of Jesus, and of coming to faith, etc. Note:

  • Luke 24:31—”and their eyes were opened through [dihnoi/xqhsan] and they knew upon [i.e. recognized] him…”
  • Luke 24:32—”Were our hearts not burning [i.e. being set on fire] [in us] as he spoke with us in the way, as he opened through [dih/noigen] to us the Writings [i.e. Scriptures]?”
  • Luke 24:45—”Then he [i.e. Jesus] opened through [dih/noicen] their mind for th(eir) bringing together the Writings [i.e. understanding the Scriptures]”
  • Acts 16:14—”a certain woman {Lydia}… of whom the Lord opened through [dih/noicen] (her) heart”
  • Acts 17:3—Paul gathered through [i.e. discussed, argued] with them from the Scriptures, “opening through [dianoi/gwn]…that it was necessary for the Anointed (One) to suffer and stand up (again) out of the dead, and that this Yeshua is the Anointed (One)…” (cf. Luke 9:22; 24:7, 26, 46)

The early chapters of Acts (chs. 1-7) are still connected in many ways with the Gospel narrative, so it is fitting perhaps that they close with this vision by Stephen of the Son of Man, a fulfillment of the sayings by Jesus such as that in Luke 22:69. His vision confirms the reality of Jesus’ exaltation to heaven (at the right hand of God) and of his identity as the divine/heavenly Son of Man. Christ’s presence in heaven at God’s right hand was a common motif in early Christian tradition (Acts 2:25, 33ff; 5:31; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; 1 Pet 3:22; Heb 1:3, etc), largely influenced by Psalm 110:1 (Acts 2:34; Heb 1:13). The remainder of the book (chapters 8-28), on the other hand, narrates the spread of Christianity outside of Judea, out into the wider Greco-Roman world, and thus focuses more precisely on the message (the Gospel) of Jesus, and how people respond to it. If Stephen saw a vision of heaven “opened”, that is, the revelation of God in the person of Jesus, so also do believers have their hearts and minds “opened” to the truth, and, in turn, proclaim the message of Christ to others, “opening” and explaining the Scriptures.

Note of the Day – April 3

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In today’s note for the third day of Easter (Easter Tuesday), I continue the study of the Son of Man saying in John 1:51, begun yesterday (for more on the Son of Man sayings in John, cf. the earlier note). Here I will be looking more specifically at the meaning of the saying in the context of the Gospel narrative.

John 1:51

“Amen, Amen, I say to you—you will see [o&yesqe] the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God stepping up [a)nabai/nonta$] and stepping down [katabai/nonta$] upon the Son of Man”

In the previous note, I explored four images or traditions which seem to be especially relevant for an interpretation of the saying, based on similarities in language and concept: (1) the baptism of Jesus, (2) the resurrection/ascension, (3) his (future) coming in glory, and (4) the dream-vision of Jacob’s ladder in Gen 28:12. It must be admitted, however, that none of these are sufficient, nor do they entirely fit the position and context of the saying in John. Therefore, it is necessary to examine the narrative and thematic structure of the Gospel, in order to gain a better understanding of the ultimate significance of the saying. I will proceed, briefly, according to the following outline:

  1. The location of the saying, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry
  2. Its connection with the other Son of Man sayings in John
  3. Its possible purpose as a comprehensive symbol

1. The Location of the Saying

After the hymnic prologue of Jn 1:1-18, the first main section of the Gospel is Jn 1:19-51, which has, as its primary theme, the testimony of John the Baptist regarding Jesus. The section may be divided as follows:

  • vv. 19-28—the Baptist’s testimony regarding himself (“I am not…”)
  • vv. 29-34—the Baptist’s testimony regarding Jesus
    • account of the Baptism (vv. 31-33)
  • vv. 35-42—disciples respond to the Baptist’s testimony and follow Jesus
    • a disciple (Peter)’s encounter with Jesus (vv. 41-42)
    • saying of Jesus (v. 42)
  • vv. 43-51—disciples respond to the testimony of other (disciple)s and follow Jesus
    • a disciple (Nathanael)’s encounter with Jesus (vv. 47-51)
    • saying of Jesus (v. 51)

The saying in Jn 1:51 thus concludes this opening section of the Gospel. In the previous note, I mentioned several parallels with the Baptism of Jesus, and, given the position of the saying in relation to the Baptism (and the Baptist’s testimony) in this section, it is likely that some sort of allusion is intended. Interestingly, and altogether typical of John’s Gospel, the Baptism is not narrated as something that people observe directly—it is only “seen” through the verbal account (or word) of the Baptist. Similarly, throughout this section “seeing” Jesus is intimately connected with hearing and responding to the message of the Baptist and the first disciples (vv. 34, 36, 39, 46). In Nathanael’s encounter with Jesus (vv. 47ff), he also “sees” based on what Jesus says to him; note, in particular, the wording:

“Jesus responded and said to him, ‘(In) that [i.e. because] I said to you that I saw you underneath the fig-tree, you trust (in me)? (Thing)s greater than these you will see!” (v. 50)

This interplay between “seeing” and “saying” should caution us against the simple assumption that a concrete visible event is intended in v. 51. That the saying concludes the first section (1:19-51) means that it also marks the beginning of the next—that is to say, the core narrative of the Gospel spanning chapters 2-20. Commentators typically divide this into two main parts:

  1. Chapters 2-12, sometimes referred to as the “Book of Signs”, in which the narrative alternates between accounts of miracles and teaching (discourses) by Jesus—the miracle (sign) often serving as the basis and starting point for the discourse which follows (cf. especially in chapters 5, 6, and 9). All but the first and last of the Son of Man sayings are found in these chapters.
  2. Chapters 13-20, which narrate the Passion (and Resurrection) of Jesus—chapter 13 (a Last Supper scene similar to that in the Synoptic tradition) leads into the great Discourses in 13:31-16:33, concluding with the remarkable Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17.

The last Son of Man saying in John (13:31) opens the Discourses which are set at the beginning of the last major section of the Gospel (chs 13-20). It seems likely that the first Son of Man saying (1:51) is meant to have a similar transitional role in the structure of the Gospel narrative.

2. The other Son of Man Sayings

For a survey of the other Son of Man sayings in John, cf. my earlier note. As mentioned above, all but the first and last sayings occur in chapters 2-12, which is significant for two reasons:

  • They are part of the Discourses of Jesus in these chapters, marked by a unique style of teaching—a statement or action by Jesus is misunderstood by the audience, leading to a pointed question, and the subsequent response (and exposition) by Jesus, answering the question at a deeper level of meaning. This process of redirection and reformulation always involves Jesus’ identity—his Person and Teaching—as the Son in relation to God the Father. Where they occur, the Son of Man sayings (esp. 3:13-14; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 12:23, 32, 34) are central and climactic to the Discourse.
  • They point toward the death and exaltation (resurrection, return to the Father) of Jesus described in chapters 13-20. Indeed, the principal sayings all have a dual-meaning, centered on Jesus’ death/resurrection. The sayings which refer to the Son of Man being “lifted high” (Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34) or being “glorified” (Jn 12:23; also 13:31) have both aspects in mind.

The dualism of these sayings is best demonstrated in those which use the verbs katabai/nw and a)nabai/nw (“step down”, “step up”), as in Jn 1:51. The saying in 3:13 is followed by that of v. 14 (which speaks of the Son of Man “lifted high”); the sayings in Jn 6:27, 53, 62 have a more complex reference matrix, as part of the great Bread of Life discourse (6:25-66). In schematic form, we might outline the dualism as follows:

  • With the Father in Heaven (Divine Pre-existence)
    • Descent (“stepping down”) from Heaven (Incarnation)
      • Death—being “lifted up” on the cross
        • Glorified—Life—Father-Son (Jn 13:31)
      • Resurrection—lifted/raised from the dead
    • Ascent (“stepping up”) into Heaven (Exaltation)
  • Return to the Father in Heaven

According to this outline, the last Son of Man saying (Jn 13:31) reflects the central, inner dynamic of the Father-Son relationship and identity, governed by the verb doca/zw (“give honor/esteem/glory”, i.e. “glorify”). If this is correct, then it is not unreasonable to assume that the first of the Son of Man sayings (Jn 1:51) is parallel to this in some way, and may reflect the outer dynamic—the ascent/descent. Again, this would seem to be correct considering the use of the verbs katabai/nw and a)nabai/nw in 1:51. However, in that first saying, it is not the Son of Man descending/ascending, but rather of Angels (“Messengers of God”) ascending/descending on the Son of Man.

3. A Comprehensive Symbol?

I am very much inclined to the view that the saying of John 1:51, in its particular position within the structure of the narrative, is intended primarily as a symbolic picture that effectively encompasses the entire Gospel—a framing device representing beginning and end, much like the “Alpha and Omega” (A and W) of Revelation 1:8; 21:6; 22:13 (another Johannine work, with definite parallels in thought and language to the Gospel). Here are some points I would cite in favor of this interpretation:

  • The clear parallels with the Baptism (cf. the previous note), which marks the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry (descent/incarnation); the location of Jn 1:51 also strongly suggests an allusion to the Baptism.
  • Similar parallels with the Resurrection (ascension), which effectively marks the end of Jesus’ earthly existence.
  • Similarities to descriptions of the Son of Man coming in glory at the end-time (esp. in the Synoptic tradition); however, the Gospel of John understands the Son to have had this position and glory prior to his incarnation/birth as a human being (i.e. divine pre-existence). This means, in the Johannine context, that such images cannot refer only to Jesus’ exaltation and future return, but to a reality that encompasses and transcends the entire process of descent/ascent (cf. above).
  • The saying in Jn 1:51 is part of a parallel, between the beginning and end of the Gospel, expressed by the encounter of two disciples (Nathanael and Thomas) with Jesus, and involving parallel confessions:
    —Jn 1:49: “You are the Son of God | you are the King of Israel!”
    —Jn 20:28: “My Lord | my God!”
    It is possible that these confessions themselves together form a bracketing chiasm:
    “Son of God” (in a Messianic context)
    —”King of Israel” (i.e. Anointed Davidic Ruler)
    —”My Lord” (Jesus as Messiah/Lord, cf. Ps 110:1)
    “My God” (Deity)
    Each of the confessions also includes a response by Jesus (Jn 1:50-51; 20:29) related to disciples/believers seeing him.
  • In the Gospel of John, “seeing” often signifies a level of spiritual perception (or of faith/trust) that is different from visual observation (Jn 1:14, 18; 3:3; 6:36, 46; 9:37-41; 11:9, 40; 12:45; 14:7, 9, 17, 19; 17:24; 20:29, etc). It is likely that the declaration “you will see” (o&yesqe) does not refer to a concrete, visible event, but rather to the recognition and realization of Jesus’ true identity—the Son who reveals and leads the way to the Father. This, of course, is also related to “seeing” the Son in terms of being with him, in his presence, as other instances of the verb o)pta/nomai, o&ptomai/o&yomai would indicate (esp. Jn 16:16-17, 19, 22). As a concluding observation that “seeing” in Jn 1:51 signifies something more than a concrete vision, note the parallel with 20:29:
    • “because I said to you that I saw [ei@don] you… you trust?
      you will see [o&yesqe] the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God… upon the Son of Man” (1:51)
    • “because you have seen [e(w/raka$] me you trust?
      Happy/blessed are the ones not seeing [i)do/nte$] and (yet) trusting!” (20:29)

In both Jn 1:51 and 20:29, the eventual seeing by the believer is contrasted with the disciple believing on the basis of an extraordinary or miraculous experience. Even the concrete evidence for Jesus’ resurrection (in the case of Thomas) should not be relied upon as the basis for faith and trust in Christ, but rather the word that bears witness to him and the Spirit that draws us to him.



Note of the Day – April 2

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Today, for the second day of Easter (Easter Monday), and following the theme of these seasonal daily notes, I will be examining the Son of Man saying in John 1:51. In an earlier note (for Holy Saturday), I surveyed all of the Son of Man sayings in John, noting three main categories:

  • Sayings which speak of the Son of Man being “lifted high” (using the verb u(yo/w)—Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34
  • Sayings involving the descent/ascent of the Son of Man (verbs katabai/nw, a)nabai/nw)—Jn 3:13; 6:22, 53, 62
  • Sayings which refer to the Son of Man being glorified (vb. doca/zw)—Jn 12:23, 31

John 1:51 generally belongs to the second category. All of these sayings refer in some way to Jesus’ death, and also relate to the two-fold sense in which the Son is “lifted up”, according to the symbolism and imagery in John—(1) his death on the cross, and (2) his exaltation (resurrection and return to the Father).

John 1:51

“Amen, Amen, I say to you—you will see [o&yesqe] the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God stepping up [a)nabai/nonta$] and stepping down [katabai/nonta$] upon [e)pi] the Son of Man”

This saying has proven sufficiently difficult and obscure for commentators throughout the years, resulting in a wide range of possible interpretations. A fundamental question is whether the saying should be taken as a concrete prediction, or a symbolic picture. If the former, then one must ask to which specific event or episode it refers; there are three possibilities—(1) a supernatural event witnessed by the disciples (similar to the Transfiguration), but otherwise unrecorded, (2) the resurrection and/or ascension, or (3) the future/end-time appearance of Christ. Given the similarities with key eschatological Son of Man sayings in the Synoptics, the third option makes most sense; however, it does not especially seem to fit the context where the saying is set in John. If we are to understand the saying primarily as a symbolic picture—whether by the Gospel writer or Jesus himself—then there a number of possible associations or allusions which may be in mind. I summarize the most relevant and important of these here (cf. R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29, pp. 89-91):

The Baptism—There are two details in the (Synoptic) account of Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:10 par) which are especially relevant:

  • The Holy Spirit, in the form/shape of a dove, descends [lit. “steps down”] upon Jesus, using the same verb (katabai/nw) as in Jn 1:51. Also, the versions in Matthew/Luke specifically use the preposition e)pi (“upon”) and narrate the episode as something observable by all the people (in contrast with Mark’s account). John does not narrate Jesus’ baptism as such, but provides a comparable (indirect) description as part of the Baptist’s testimony (cf. Jn 1:32).
  • In the descent of the Spirit, the heavens are said to separate; in Matthew/Luke (Matt 3:16; Lk 3:21), the verb used is a)noi/gw (“open up”) as in Jn 1:51.

Matthew 16:27-28 par—Matthew’s version of a core Son of Man saying in Synoptic tradition (Mk 8:38; Lk 9:26) begins: “For the Son of Man is about to come in the glory of his Father with his Messengers [i.e. Angels]…” and concludes with the specific formulation:

“…there will be some of the (one)s having stood here who should not taste death (themselves) until they should see [i&dwsin] the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom” (note the parallel in Lk 9:27: “…until they should see the Kingdom of God”, and also Lk 23:42 v.l.)

Several points should be made about the context and significance of this passage:

  • The reference is to the end-time Judgment, and (in the developed Gospel tradition) to the parousia (or second coming) of Jesus.
  • It is positioned directly between Peter’s confession and the Transfiguration (a vision of Jesus in glory witnessed by several of the disciples). Moreover, in both Synoptic tradition and Jn 1:19-51, the Son of Man saying follows soon after Jesus gives Peter his new name (Matt 16:18; Jn 1:42).
  • The Son of Man is associated with Angels in a number of sayings, all eschatological and emphasizing the end-time Judgment—Matt 13:41ff; 16:27 par; 24:30-31 par; 25:31; Luke 12:8-9; cf. also Matt 4:6 par; 26:53.

The Resurrection/Ascension—Note especially the following:

  • In Mark 16:4 of the Old Latin MS Bobiensis (k), it is narrated that angels descend to Jesus and ascend with him (cf. also the extra-canonical Gospel of Peter §§36-40).
  • The appearance of Angels in the Synoptic tradition, associated with the Resurrection (variously described, Mk 16:5-7; Matt 28:2-7; Lk 24:4-7) and the Ascension (Acts 1:10-11) of Jesus. In Matthew 28:2, it is stated that the Angel “stepped down” out of heaven, using the same verb (katabai/nw) as in Jn 1:51 (cf. above).
  • John does not record a visible ascension of Jesus, but note Jn 20:17: “…I step up [a)nabai/nw] toward my Father”.

An allusion to Genesis 28:12—In Jacob’s dream-vision at Bethel, he sees Angels ascending and descending on the ladder; in the LXX “ascending and descending” uses the same verbs (a)nabai/nw and katabai/nw) as Jn 1:51.

  • There is a traditional Jewish interpretation which understands the Angels ascending/descending on him (i.e. Jacob), cf. Genesis Rabbah 69:3 (in 68:12 Jacob is seen as being simultaneously in heaven).
  • The Targums (cf. Onkelos) express the idea that the shekinah—the visible manifestation and/or personification of God’s glory—was on the ladder. In Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (mid-2nd century A.D.), we find the earliest evidence for the interpretation that Christ was on the ladder (86:2).
  • Bethel as the “House of God”, i.e. the rock/stone which symbolizes the Temple and its foundation. In Jn 2:19ff (not long after the saying in 1:51), the Temple is identified with Jesus’ own person (and body), specifically in connection with his death and resurrection.

These are the most plausible associations with Jn 1:51, based on similarities of language and imagery—(1) the account of Jesus’ baptism, (2) his resurrection/ascension, (3) his return in glory at the end-time Judgment, and (4) the theophanic dream-vision of Jacob’s ladder in Gen 28:12. In the next note I will look a bit more closely at Jn 1:51 in terms of its likely meaning and purpose within the context and structure of the Gospel narrative.

Note of the Day – April 1 (Easter)

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Luke 24:6-7

The last occurrence of the expression “the Son of Man” in the Gospel of Luke is found in the Resurrection narrative (Luke 24), as part of the Angelic announcement (vv. 5-7) to the women on Easter morning. Luke follows the early Gospel tradition of women (including Mary Magdalene) being the first to witness the empty tomb, and the authenticity of this tradition would seem to be quite secure (on entirely objective grounds). The Synoptics also record the presence of Angels at the tomb who announce the resurrection, but here the specific details vary considerably between the three accounts. Most notable is the difference in the announcement itself (cp. with Mark 16:6-7), which includes similar points of reference (in italics):

“Do not be astonished! You seek Yeshua the Nazarean, the (one) put to the stake [i.e. crucified], but he has been raised—he is not here!” (Mk 16:6)
“(For) what [i.e. why] do you seek the living (one) with the dead (ones)? [He is not here, but has been raised!]” (Lk 24:5b-6a)

So also in the second half of the declaration:

“but go under [i.e. go back] and say to his learners [i.e. disciples] and to ‘Rock’ {Peter} that he goes before you into the Galîl {Galilee}—there you will see him, even as he said to you” (Mk 16:7)
“remember how he spoke to you while he was yet in the Galîl {Galilee}, saying… (Lk 24:6)

In Luke, the context and direction of the Angelic announcement has changed significantly—intead of referring to the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus in Galilee (cf. Matt 28:16-20), it refers back to the Passion predictions by Jesus (Lk 9:22, 43-45; 18:31-34 par) while he and his disciples were still in Galilee. As discussed in previous notes, these Passion predictions all involve the identification of Jesus as the “Son of Man”. Let us compare the formula here in verse 7 with the three earlier statements by Jesus:

Lk 24:7

“saying (of) the Son of Man that it is necessary (for him) to be given along into the hands of sinful men and to be put to the stake [i.e. crucified], and to stand up [i.e. rise] (again) on the third day”

Lk 9:22

it is necessary (for) the Son of Man to suffer many (thing)s and to be removed from examination [i.e. rejected] from [i.e. by] the Elders and Chief Sacred-officials [i.e. Priests] and Writers [i.e. Scribes], and to be killed off [i.e. put to death], and to be raised on the third day

Lk 9:44

“For the Son of Man is about to be given along into the hands of men

Lk 18:31b-33

“…and all the (thing)s written through the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] about the Son of Man will be completed: for he will be given along into (the hands of) the nations, and he will be treated in a childish (way) and will be abused and will be spat on, and whipping (him) they kill him off [i.e. put him to death], and he will stand up [i.e. rise] (again) on the third day.

The formulation in Luke 24:7 blends elements from all three predictions, as indicated by the italicized portions above. The phrase “into the hands of sinful men” comes from the second prediction (Lk 9:44), but without the qualifying adjective “sinful” (cf. Mark 14:41 par). The phrase “be put to the stake” simply specifies the manner in which he is to be “killed off”, i.e. put to death (cf. Matt 20:19). The Lukan version of the third prediction (Lk 18:31-33) includes the detail that the suffering, death and resurrection of the Son of Man (Jesus) is a fulfillment of Scripture (“the things written by the Prophets”). This becomes an important point of emphasis in the remainder of Luke 24, and subsequently throughout the book of Acts. Indeed, each of the three episodes in the Resurrection narrative includes a comparable statement regarding Jesus’ Passion in this manner:

  • Lk 24:1-12: The Disciples at the empty tomb — the Angels’ announcement (v. 7, cf. above)
  • Lk 24:13-35: The Appearance to Disciples on the road to Emmaus (v. 26)
  • Lk 24:36-49: The Appearance to the Disciples in Jerusalem (v. 46)

As discussed above, the first statement (echoing the Passion predictions) uses “Son of Man”, while the last two (by Jesus) instead use “the Anointed (One)” (o( xristo/$):

  • Lk 24:26: “Was it not necessary for the Anointed (One) to suffer these (thing)s and to come into his glory?”—Jesus is said to demonstrate this, explaining the Scripture passages in “Moses and all the Prophets” (v. 27)
  • Lk 24:46: “…thus it has been written (that it is necessary) for the Anointed (One) to suffer and to stand up out of the dead on the third day”—this also was explained to his disciples from passages “in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets and Psalms” (vv. 44-45)

The last of these statements, in particular, echoes verses 6-7 and the earlier Passion predictions, especially if we include Jesus’ words from v. 44:

“These are the words which I spoke to you, being yet [i.e. while I was] with you, that it is necessary to be fulfilled all the (thing)s written about me in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets and Psalms….”

The declarations by Jesus in 24:26 and 44-46 make two points which are fundamental to the early Christian Gospel preaching (as recorded in the book of Acts):

  1. That Jesus is the Anointed One (o( Xristo/$), and in a sense rather different from the type-figure of Anointed Davidic Ruler (as typically understood in Messianic thought of the period). Cf. my current series “Yeshua the Anointed”, esp. Parts 68.
  2. That the suffering and death (and resurrection) of Jesus—that is, of the Anointed One—was prefigured and foretold in the Scriptures. This means that it can be demonstrated by a study and exposition of the relevant Scripture passages; Luke never indicates just what these are, but for a list of likely candidates, cf. my earlier article.

Of the numerous references in the narrative of Acts which indicate the importance of this theme, cf. especially Acts 1:16; 2:31ff; 3:18, 20; 8:32-35; 9:22; 10:43; 13:27; 17:2-3, 11; 18:5, 28; 26:22-23; 28:23.

Note of the Day – March 31

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Today for Holy Saturday and the Vigil of Easter, I am moving away from the Gospel of Luke to explore the Son of Man sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of John. In examining the expression “Son of Man” in Luke (and the Synoptic tradition), we have seen it used by Jesus four different ways—(1) as a self-reference, a substitute for “I”; (2) to identify himself as a human being or with the human condition, especially in terms of weakness, suffering and death; (3) in reference to his Passion; and (4) as a heavenly being who will come (again) to judge the world at the end-time. In some ways, all four uses are interrelated or connected in the Synoptics, and so also in the Gospel of John; however the sayings in John tend to have a more specific Christological emphasis, and may be grouped into three main categories:

1. The Son of Man “lifted high”—Here the verb used is u(yo/w (“make/place high”, i.e. “raise, lift up”):

  • John 3:14: “so it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted high [u(ywqh=nai]”—the comparison is with the ‘fiery’ copper/bronze serpent lifted by Moses (on a pole) which brought healing (from the burning snakebite) to all who looked at it (Num 21:9); the reference is primarily to Jesus’ death (on the stake/cross), but almost certainly has his resurrection and exaltation in mind as well (cf. below). This is described in terms of salvation: “…so that every one trusting in him might have (the) Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]”.
  • John 8:28: “when you (have) lifted high [u(yw/shte] the Son of Man…”—the formulation here (“when you…”) indicates more precisely Jesus being put to death (on the stake/cross), but again the subsequent exaltation is also in view. Throughout the discourse(s) of chapters 7-8, Jesus has been expressing, in various ways, his relationship to (and identification with) God the Father; here specifically Jesus states that when they have lifted up the Son of Man “…then you will know that I am, and I do nothing from myself, but just as the Father taught me, (so) I speak these things”. In verse 26, this is also described in terms of judgment, which is associated with the eschatological Son of Man figure of many of Jesus’ sayings in the Synoptics.
  • John 12:32: “and if I am lifted high [u(ywqw=] I will drag all (people/things) toward me”—this is related to the previous sayings (especially 3:14), as well as to the Son of Man saying in 12:23 (cf. below). The context is specifically that of Jesus’ impending death (and resurrection), again relating to the promise of salvation and eternal life (vv. 24-25, 27-28, 33, 36).
  • John 12:34: “you say that it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted high…”—this is part of a question to Jesus from the crowd, referring (in context) to verse 32, but more properly it cites the saying in 3:14 (above). There is a clear connection with the “Anointed (One)”, and expresses some confusion on the part of the people in the crowd as to just what Jesus means by the expression Son of Man—”…who is this ‘Son of Man’?”

These are the only instances of the verb in John; for similar usage elsewhere, cf. Acts 2:33; 5:31.

2. The Son of Man “descending and ascending”—The verbs involved are katabai/nw and a)nabai/nw (literally “step down” and “step up”), and are commonly used in the Gospel narrative (“go up” etc), especially a)nabai/nw for “going up” to Jerusalem. However, they take on an important theological/Christological connotation in John; apart from these Son of Man sayings, cf. Jn 1:32-33; 20:17, and the play on words in Jn 2:12-13; 6:16; 7:8, 10, 14; 10:1; 11:55; 12:20.

  • John 1:51: “You will see the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God stepping up and stepping down upon the Son of Man”—on this saying, cf. below.
  • John 3:13: “no one has stepped up into heaven if not the one stepping down out of heaven, the Son of Man”—this saying is obviously related to that of verse 14 (cf. above); it identifies/contrasts a person being raised/exalted to heavenly status with one who has (first) come down out of heaven. The implication is that Jesus is not simply a human being who has been (or will be) raised to a heavenly/divine position, but was previously in heaven (with God) before coming to earth. This, of course, is stated clearly in the Prologue of John (1:1ff) and indicated throughout the Gospel by Jesus; in precise theological terms, it refers to the (divine) pre-existence of Jesus. This is made even more definite in the manuscripts which read “…the Son of Man, the (one) being in Heaven”.
  • John 6:27: “work…for the food th(at) remains in the Life of Ages [i.e. eternal life], which the Son of Man will give to you”
    John 6:53: “if you do not consume the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not hold Life in yourself”
    John 6:62: “then (what) if you should behold the Son of Man stepping up [a)nabai/nonta] (to) where he was (at) the first?”
    These sayings are part of the great Bread of Life discourse in John 6:27-71, which I have discussed in considerable detail in prior articles. Especially noteworthy are the references to the bread that has come down (lit “stepped down”) from Heaven (vv. 33, 38, 41-42, 50-51, 58), which in context clearly symbolizes Jesus (the Son of Man) who has stepped down from Heaven (i.e. the incarnation), and who will soon step back up into Heaven (back to the Father) from whence he came (v. 62). As in 3:13 (above), this indicates a pre-existent, heavenly status in relationship to God, and must be understood in light of the many references throughout the Gospel—especially in the discourses of chapters 13-17—where Jesus speaks of the Son coming from and going (back) to the Father. There is, of course, eucharistic symbolism in the bread—broken down into the dual image of eating his body and drinking his blood—which connects these sayings specifically with Jesus’ sacrificial death.

3. The Son of Man “glorified”—These sayings (using the verb doca/zw, “esteem, honor”, i.e. “give glory, glorify”) combine elements of categories 1 and 2 above, and also unite more precisely the two aspects of the Son of man being lifted up—(a) his death (on the cross), and (b) his exaltation (resurrection/ascension) and return to the Father:

  • John 12:23: “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified [docasqh=]”—as indicated above, the primary context in this passage is to Jesus’ upcoming death.
  • John 13:31: “Now the Son of Man is glorified [e)doca/sqh], and the Father is glorified in him”—this saying effectively begins the great Discourses of chapters 13-17, and is tied throughout to the idea that Son is about to go away: a dual-layered reference to his death and his return to the Father. Similarly, Jesus’ coming again (and the disciples’ seeing him again) should be understood on these two levels—i.e., (1) of his appearance after the resurrection, and (2) his future (and permanent) appearance, either in terms of the coming of the Spirit/Paraclete or Jesus’ own end-time/future return (or both).

For additional occurrences of the verb doca/zw in reference to Jesus (or the Son) being glorified, cf. John 7:39; 8:54; 11:4; 12:16; 14:13; 15:8; 16:14; 17:1, 4-5, 10.

There are only two other Son of Man sayings in the Gospel of John:

  • John 5:26-27: “For (even) as the Father holds life in himself, so also he gave the Son to hold life in himself; and he [i.e. the Father] gave him authority [e)cousi/a] to make judgment, (in) that [i.e. because] he is the Son of Man”
  • John 9:35: “Do you trust in the Son of Man?” (other manuscripts read “…in the Son of God“)

Both of these are set in the context of healing miracles, and thus are perhaps closer to the Son of Man sayings which occur in the Synoptics (from the standpoint of the Gospel narrative) during the period of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. The first saying draws on the on the figure of Son of Man as Divine/Heavenly Judge, familiar from a number of the Synoptic sayings (in Luke) we have been examining during this series. The second saying also has a reference to Jesus’ role in judgment (vv. 39-41), but overall the emphasis is on his healing/saving power.

Finally, we must mention John 1:51, which is almost certainly the most difficult of all these sayings:

“You will see the heaven opened up and the Messengers of God stepping up and stepping down upon the Son of Man”

There have been many and varied attempts at interpreting this apparently ambiguous utterance by Jesus. Because of its important position as the first Son of Man saying in John, and because, in my view, it is meant (by the Gospel writer) as a specific image that frames/binds the start of Jesus’ ministry (chapter 2) with the end of it (his Passion/Resurrection/Exaltation), I will be commenting on it in detail in an upcoming note (during the three days of Easter).