From A Man Attested By God
I was watching in the night visions,
And behold, One like the Son of Man,
Coming with the clouds of Heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days,
And they brought Him near before Him.
Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
Which shall not pass away,
And His kingdom the one
Which shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)
Whatever may be the prehistory of “the son of man,” and whatever may be the alternative Jewish traditions of his preexistence, in the Synoptic Gospels the son of man’s story begins with an authoritative agent of God on Earth who is always rejected by the leadership, and is eventually killed by it, only to be exalted by God in the end. As such, the Gospels’ Jesus follows the pattern of Daniel, in which the Israel who was chosen to exercise humanity’s creational rule over the Earth is persecuted and killed only to be exalted by God and given sovereignty over the world. Thus, the Gospels call Jesus, “the Human One,” with all its multifaceted resonances: he is the idealized human figure who, like primal humanity before him, rules on God’s behalf; he is the figure from Daniel who comes into the Adamic role of rule by way of suffering; and as idealized human he is given a share in God’s authority, participation in God’s own rule, an embodiment of God’s own glory. This is a narrative that moves from Earth to cross to Heaven without any indication of a Heavenly prehistory to validate Jesus’s role.
This study of the son of man in the Synoptic Jesus allows for some firm conclusions that lie at the heart of the claims of my work as a whole. First, the son of man sayings are amenable to interpretation within the larger rubric of idealized human figures. At times the human facet is at the fore, such as in the Lord of the Sabbath pericope and in the passion predictions. At other times, the human connotation suffices for containing the rendering of Jesus without explicitly demanding it. Throughout, this recognition of the son of man as the Human One allows for the title to retain its meaning: “the son of the human,” is a way of saying, “human being,” and this meaning was not lost on the Gospel writers either through a tradition in which the phrase was transmitted as a title or through attention to an ancient myth about two deities that lies behind Daniel 7. Second, the son of man as an idealized human figure coheres with the narratives of the Synoptic Gospels as a whole, and with Mark’s story in particular. Jesus is son of man as he is son of God: an authoritative agent who must suffer and die in order to come into his messianic glory. The glorified son of man is no less the Human One than the suffering son of man because the glorification and Heavenly reign come after the human Jesus has died.
Third, the son of man sayings find their coherence in conversation with Daniel 7. Indeed, we can conclude that at the level of the Gospel narrative, especially of Mark, all son of man references allude to the Danielic predecessor. Bearing of authority, suffering and death, and subsequent resurrection and enthronement are all pieces of a narrative whole for the son of man in the Gospels, and each element is reflective of the one like a son of man in Daniel 7. Fourth, son of man finds its content, and thus narrates Jesus’s relationship with God, in the function of rule, the vocation of suffering, and a subsequent Heavenly glory. The functions of the son of man Christology do not indicate that Jesus has been included in God’s unique identity as that is articulated by Richard Bauckham (participation in creation, sitting on God’s own throne to rule, receiving worship, and bearing the divine name). Even if such criteria sufficed to demarcate a character as divine (and we have seen that they do not) the son of man sayings do not meet the threshold established for claiming a divine identity Christology. Even Jesus’s Heavenly enthronement is one in which he sits as king of God’s kingdom, enacting God’s final judgment in subordination to God.
Beyond these firm conclusions about the son of man as an idealized human figure, the suggested connections between Adam and the son of man allow the reader to develop further the Adamic, and hence idealized human, connotations of Jesus’s ministry in the Gospels. The Synoptic Gospels’ son of man is the Human One, the idealized human who succeeds where Adam failed (in the face of Satanic temptation) and thus has restored to him what Adam ceded (dominion over the Earth). The ultimate act of resisting Satan, and of fidelity to God, was in going to the cross, an act that constitutes the onset of eschatological labor pains in which his disciples will share, but also marks the path to his enthronement, which will enable his followers to be set free. Here we tap into the necessity, from the perspective of the Jewish story of creation, of “the Human One” being, in fact, human: the dethroning of Satan is aimed not at instituting direct divine rule over the cosmos, but at reinstituting the rule of the world by a human acting on God’s behalf. In this sense, too, Mark’s Jesus is the Human One. And it is with such a framework in view that Mark’s son of man can and should be interpreted as an idealized human figure. The summary of Walter Wink captures the narratives well: The so-called present Human Being is bound to suffer; the two cannot be separated. Likewise, the “present” Human Being is eschatological to the core; the inauguration of the new humanity is revealed in the ministry of Jesus, and that new humanity is the future of the species. Jesus’s present is the human future. The “coming” of the Human Being in the future will be the culmination of the Human Being revealed by Jesus.
Daniel’s son of man is a figure about whom the scriptures prophesy, one whose advent marks the arrival of the dominion of God, and one whose glorification is a divine reversal of death at the hands of Gentile enemies. Unlike the Biblical Adam figure himself, the Adamic imagery of the human being in Daniel’s vision provides all the pieces necessary to provide a scriptural backbone for the respective Gospel’s narrative Christology of an authoritative, crucified, resurrected, and returning king. In the Adam-influenced messianic expectations of early Judaism, these roles are all assigned, not to an incarnate God but to an idealized and glorious man who takes up the mantle of ruling the world on God’s behalf.