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).