Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Title "Son Of Man" (Part 1)

AP: What kind of messianism was that of Jesus? Jesus was conscious of his role as Messiah, but his understanding of that messianism corresponded not with Christian notions of the term, but rather with the traditional ones found in Israel.

We now ask ourselves whether Jesus considered himself the Messiah when he used the title "Son of Man." A quick, straight through, and uncritical reading of the Gospels seems to suggest an answer in the affirmative. These writings and the rest of the New Testament, especially the Acts of the Apostles, clearly tell us that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah (Acts 2:36), who died and rose from the dead (Acts 2:32), who called himself he "Son of Man" on multiple occasions, having predicted on at least three occasions his death and resurrection (Mark 8:31–33; 9:30–32; 10:32–34), and that he would come at the end of time as the supreme judge of the living and the dead (Acts 10:42).

I have discussed this title "Son of Man" and its meaning in two published works, Fuentes del cristianismo (El Almendro) and Guía para entender el Nuevo Testamento (Trotta). For our English-speaking audience, I'd like to synthesize my thoughts, adding along the way some new and fresh commentary that I shared with the readers on my blog in Spanish.

First, though, let's take a look at the most important passages of the New Testament concerning the conception of Jesus as "Son of Man." The theological notions surrounding this expression are framed in Christian belief in the "second coming" of Christ. We'll look at the second coming first.

The Gospels state that while Jesus was in Jerusalem during the last week of his life, he delivered a long speech in which he predicted the signs that would accompany the end of time (Mark 13) and in particular his coming as judge. And––also according to the Gospels––on other occasions, for example during the most familiar trial to which he was submitted by the Jewish authorities, he announced how he would be, after his death, seated at the right hand of the Father and would ride on the clouds of heaven to judge the living and the dead in the great final judgment (Mark 14:62). We will see, however, at once how these claims are extremely problematic when it comes to precisely determining whether or not they belong to the stratum of the historical Jesus.

There is no dispute among commentators in accepting that the title "Son of Man" as a specific messianic designation has undoubtedly been taken from the scene of the book of Daniel where the throne of God is described before a judgment against rebellious nations:
"I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven one like a Son of Man was coming. And he came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and men of every language might serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which will not pass away; and his kingdom is one that will not be destroyed. As for me, Daniel, my spirit was distressed within me, and the visions in my mind kept alarming me." (Dan. 7:13–15).
The first follower to describe the coming of Jesus is Paul of Tarsus, and he does so in a very simple way. We find this in 1 Thess. 4:13–18:
"But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words."
Although the background to Daniel seems clear, Paul does not qualify Jesus as the Son of Man, but as "Lord." The change can be explained with some ease in Paul, for when he preached his message of universal salvation on the stage of the Roman Empire, the all-Jewish expression "Son of Man" meant nothing unless it was explained in detail. Paul omits the explanation and qualifies Jesus simply as "Lord" (κύριος), which was a term that is understandable for all hearers, whether they Jewish or pagan.

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