““I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And 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 one that shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13–14, ESV)
I’m thinking about what Jesus meant when he referred to himself as the “Son of Man.” This was Jesus’ name for himself while on earth. Whether or not the name refers back to Dan 7.13-14 is arguable [and believe me scholars like to argue about it!], but after all the evidence is in, there really is no better explanation of where Jesus came up with the term. Surely, he was associating himself with the one like a son of man when he used the term.What could the Son of Man do? We’ll let Jesus explain:
- He had authority to forgive sins (Mark 2.10-12)
- He was Lord of the Sabbath (Matt. 12.8)
- He will come again (Matt 24.27)
- He must be lifted up so that whoever believes in him will have eternal life (John 3.14-15)
- He has authority to judge (John 5.27) [Even though his primary purpose in his first coming was for salvation (John 3.17)]
- He is betrayed into the hands of sinners (Mark 14.41)
- Jesus clearly claims to be the Son of Man (John 9.35-37)
Jesus tells Nicodemus that for people to receive eternal life the Son of Man must be lifted up. “Lifted up” is an interesting term that John uses because it means two things: “to be physically raised up” [at the cross we come to understand] and “to be honored, or to be exalted.” When John recounts this conversation, he obviously has both definitions in mind, because Jesus was both lifted up on the cross and exalted by being so lifted up. His death and exaltation becomes our way of salvation, which is exactly what Jesus claimed in his conversation with the confused member of the Sanhedrin.
Why does Jesus refer back to the incident in (Num 22.4-9) in which the people speak out against God and God sends fiery serpents as judgment? God instructs Moses to make a fiery serpent of bronze and set it on a pole and whenever someone is bitten, when they look to the serpent, they will live. Does this not seem a little unhinged to you? A bronze serpent on a pole brings salvation from the deadly bite of snakes? It does to me also, dear reader. However, it worked! Whenever someone was bitten when they looked to the serpent they lived.
Jesus points back to that incident as a type of himself who was to come [theologians and other people who are trying to impress the unwashed masses call this later previously foreshadowed type the “antitype“—the word comes from the Greek antitupos which meant “corresponding as an impression” (to the die in which it was cast)]. Jesus was saying then, that the bronze serpent is a foreshadowing of himself! In the same way that people looked to the serpent and were saved, they can now look to him and be eternally saved.
[Short aside here: This sort of claim by Christ runs all throughout the book of John. Do you know anyone else in history who said with a straight face “I can provide eternal life to you?” I didn’t think so. Jesus does this so many times in John that we lose the power of it. Just who did he think he was?!? Hint: God in the flesh. We happen to agree with C. S. Lewis. At this point Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or he really was Lord and God.]
What was the point of the serpent and by extension Jesus being lifted up? [By the way must be lifted up is emphasized in the Greek]. One commentator explains:
The central truth is that humans must trust and obey God’s word, even when they do not fully understand it. God provided a way for the Israelites to be saved from the snake bites if they would only believe. This belief was evidenced by their own obedience to His word/promise.
Ah…the old trust and obey that we kick and scream against keeps coming up to make us dependent on God and his word rather than our own intelligence and wisdom. You/I are humble now, Holmes.