Chapter 5

The Son of Man

The integrity of our Saviour's manhood is marked by one title which the Lord claimed for Himself with special emphasis, and which prophecy also had in a most distinct way applied to Him, — "the Son of man." Here "man," in the Hebrew texts, is "Adam," man generically; and it really settles conclusively the question (if any entertain it) as to His being personally Man. A son of man is just a man in the broadest sense, one by descent and inheritance a man. In Ps. 49:2 "the low" in our version are just literally "the sons of Adam" — the commonalty, having nothing to distinguish them from others, — and are so contrasted with the "sons of ish," ("the high") the men of mark in any way whatever. By the use of this term the Lord comes down, therefore, in the simplest manner, as far as the truth of His humanity is concerned, to the common level. He is not simply "man," One whom you could call that, though differing far from the race of Adam: He is "Son of man;" deriving His humanity from humanity, with nothing to separate it in kind from humanity in general, — "made in all things like unto His brethren," as the apostle declares. The Christ of Apollinaris, or of some of the modern Kenotics, would not be a "Son of man." He would be a divine man, perhaps; but absolutely separated from humanity in the sons of men: "brethren" among these He could not have.

The force of the term is seen in the use of it as applied to the prophet Ezekiel, and once in Daniel. Both lived when things were broken up in Israel; and Ezekiel as the priest is chosen of God to be the judge, according to the law of Leviticus in its spiritual application, of the leprous condition of the people. He is taken to witness their wilful and inveterate apostasy from Jehovah. After which, as commanded in Leviticus, the demonstration being complete, the leper is put outside the camp. The glory of the Lord is seen, though lingeringly, as all unwilling, to depart from the city (Ezek. 11:22-23).

Now the priest is one "taken from among men," and thus qualified to be "ordained for men in things pertaining to God." (Heb. 5:1.) His humanity makes him to know men, and to have heart-interest in them. And thus we see the meaning of the priest-prophet being addressed, as he is so constantly, as "son of man." As we try men before juries of their peers, so man, as such, is here called to pronounce on men. As man and as a priest for men, he is one who will use compassion, and therefore his judgment will be more complete and final, impossible to be objected against. His judgment is appealed to here, therefore, as "son of man." (Ezek. 20:4; Ezek. 22:2.)

But Ezekiel is only in this the mouth-piece and representative of God Himself. The judgment is, of course, God's judgment. How striking is it, therefore, to find, when we lift up our eyes, with the prophet, to that awful throne above the firmament, to find there too (Ezek. 1:26) "the likeness of the appearance of a Man"! the first time in Scripture that we find even the "appearance" there.

The tenderness that is implied in all this, though it cannot avert the present judgment, comes out, how fully, before the close of these prophecies, when, the people being at last cleansed by divine grace from all their iniquities, Ezekiel is taken to be a witness now of their restoration and blessing. City and temple are seen built up anew, and the glory of God returns to its old place among them. Holiness and love are thus both at last satisfied, and the law of the leper is illustrated in both its parts, the judgment and the grace.

Daniel is only once addressed as "son of man," (Dan. 8:17,) but the prophecy of the Son of man — or strictly, of "One like unto a Son of man" (Dan. 7:13-14) — to whom, coming in the clouds of heaven, is given a universal and everlasting dominion, is given us by him: a prophecy which is echoed and enlarged upon in the New Testament. In the eighth psalm, though more enigmatically expressed, we have by the mouth of David what anticipates and is the foundation of this. And here we have, strikingly expressed, the thought conveyed to us by this title; Christ being the full utterance and justification of God's delight in man.

What is man, if you look at him under the light of the glory of the heavens? what is he, this creature of earth, enosh, "frail man" or the "son of man," ordained to come into his inheritance by a way so characterized by weakness, and which so perfectly marks God's estimate of him? Ah, you must take in Christ to find the answer. He too is Man, — yea, the Son of man: come down to manhood in this significant weakness which in Him united to Deity itself is the manifestation of the moral glory of God, so that it is set above the heavens, those created heavens whose glory had just now made man look so poor and contemptible! What are they now to Man in Jesus? to the Son of man?

Here then is He of whom a later psalm speaks as "the Son of man whom Thou hast made strong for Thyself" (Ps. 80:17); and His exaltation and kingdom are the necessary result. Gone down to the lower parts of the earth for the suffering of death, He is "ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things." (Eph. 4:10.) In Him, as the angels at His birth declared, God has shown His "good pleasure in men." (Luke 2:14, Greek.) It is manhood as God made it at the beginning, which God has thus taken up in the Person of Christ, or the psalmist's challenge goes after all unanswered.

True, it may be, and it will be, in very different condition. As, for instance, the "spiritual body" of the resurrection is very different from the "natural," or "psychical body," as we have seen. Yet even here the identity of the body itself is assured us. That which is sown a natural is raised a spiritual body: identity as to the person is maintained under even such a change of condition as this implies; "we shall be changed," but it will still be "we." And it is man and the son of man that the psalmist sees, at first so poor and weak, and now so unutterably glorified in Christ our Lord. Otherwise, I say again, the psalmist's question remains unanswered, and must ever remain unanswered.

This being so, the Lord's constant use of this term becomes intelligible throughout. He uses it as the simplest and most intelligible one, which no one, so to speak, would deny, and yet which upon His lips conveys so much: "Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?" (Matt. 16:12.) Son of man, just by its common application to men at large, He must be, of course; and yet in His application of it to Himself it becomes distinctive by its very universality: for who would dream of speaking of himself as "the Son of man," except as implying that He was more than this meant as to other men? The Lord might address the prophet in this way, as reminding him of what he was, but no man, speaking among the sons of men, could distinguish himself by what was not distinctive. If it were distinctive of Him, then He was the Son of man in some sense that others were not; not less truly so, but more: and so He was — the One son of man upon whom the shadow of the fall had never been: Man, and of man, yet in more than all the promise of his first creation; God's Man indeed, justifying that creation itself, as all else had dishonored it; and thus having in Himself the promise for men of a new creation, by which they too at last should fulfill the purpose of the Creator; "Lord of the sabbath," as He who shall bring in, in such wise as to be violated no more, the rest of God.

But for this the Son of man must suffer, must be lifted up, "as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness," giving His "flesh" thus "for the life of the world;" but "glorified" in this ability to work out in the extreme of human weakness the purposes of God. "God" thus "glorified in Him," He must "also glorify Him in Himself," yea, "straightway glorify Him."

In such scriptures the "Mediator, the Man Christ Jesus," is set before us. They show us, if there could be question of it, how His perfect manhood had to do with the atonement wrought. And while on the one hand it is said that "we are reconciled to God by the death of His Son," and that "God sent forth His Son to redeem," yet, when we come to the details of this glorious work, the lifting up of the Son of man is that by which is indicated for us the bearing of curse by which "Christ redeemed us from curse," (Gal. 3:13) "for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree." Throughout, it is one blessed Person; but Scripture is perfect in the way these things are put. If it would win our hearts with the amazing gift that God has given for us, — if it would show the power that has laid hold upon us, — then it speaks of the work of the Son of God. If on the other hand we are to think of the actual suffering and sin-bearing, then it sets before us Christ, or Jesus Christ, or the Son of man; and the last is more the Lord's own language, while the former is that of the apostles. The two may be put together where it says, "the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son," but it is a false emphasis that would pass over the first part of this, to fasten itself upon the last. We have many times over, "the blood of Christ, of Jesus, of Christ Jesus, of the Son of man, of the Lord, of the Lamb;" once, "God's Son," is added to this.

It is one Person throughout, and all these wondrous names are His; but Scripture is in such delicate adjustment that it is easy to disturb the balance of it. As surely as we do, we find in result that we are losing the equipoise of truth itself. A false emphasis upon the truth is the beginning of error.

The "Son of man" speaks of what the Son of God became in order to redeem us. It insists upon His manhood, true, full manhood, by which He became, for His believing people, the typal, representative Man before the eye of God. As this the "meal-offering of first-fruits" (Lev. 2:14-16) sets Him forth. But, really to avail for them, He must go beyond this type, and be the Sin-bearer in their behalf. For this He becomes the Christ, the One Anointed to be Prince and Saviour. For this He dies the death of the Cross, and becomes, as risen from the dead, the "last Adam," Head of a new race of men.

In this we are but touching things that we must take up later. What remains for us here is but the connection of this title "Son of man" with the prophecies of the future, which the Lord takes up from Daniel's vision of the world-empires, and applies to Himself. All judgment is given to Him because He is the Son of man (John 5:27); and here we find in fact Ezekiel's vision perfected. With full knowledge of man, with abundant tenderness for man, Himself the Representative Man before God, it is He to whom it belongs to settle all things on the basis of a righteousness which He has glorified. "The likeness of the appearance of a Man" upon the throne comes into realization, and the vision of Daniel takes full place as the hope of Israel and of the earth. It is indeed connected with the appraisement of responsibilities, and the solemnity of judgment to come: when the Son of man comes with the glory of His Father and with His holy angels, He shall reward every man according to his works; but this can adjust itself to the gospel and to a hope that shall not disappoint. The Son of man is the true Bridegroom of His people, and judgment itself only clears the way for the exhibition of all the fullness of a grace which the fact of His manhood sufficiently reveals.

Yes, hope, full, glorious hope is in this title of the Son of man. It cannot be separated from it. It is for David's house what the Branch out of the root of Jesse is, but wider in its promise and tenderer in its implications: — a Son of man in whom alone man's cut off years renew themselves, and now with divine strength. The hosts of heaven wait upon Him, zealous to do His pleasure; but our hearts go back to One amid the scanty group of His disciples, giving them as the pattern for their imitation, and an inlet into the glory of heaven itself, the "Son of man, come not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many."

We surely see from all the relations in which we find this title of Son of man, — if even it be that under which the Lord takes the Kingdom or assumes the judgeship of the human race, — that it implies (apart from sin and all its consequences) humanity in its complete likeness to our own. It is because of this that He is indeed the suited judge of men. Defect of any kind would here be fatal. The Apollinarian Christ would be far removed from likeness to the sons of men. The substitution of the divine for a human spirit would be the deprivation of that which gives to manhood its distinctive character. The loss of personality would make impossible "the Man Christ Jesus;" and thus the "One Mediator," who is this same blessed "Man," would disappear for us (1 Tim. 2:5).

These ways in which the Lord is presented to us in Scripture show how near to dual personality we have to come in any simple apprehension of its statements. Their very boldness (when we realize who it is that is spoken of) exhibits a characteristic feature of inspiration, which does not concern itself with mere mental perplexities, in matters that are so evidently beyond us. We cannot fathom the Christ of God. We can realize how perfectly — divinely — on both sides He suits us; though we may be quite unable to put the two sides together. Dual personality would not suit us; but we want One who is both perfectly human and truly divine, — one who can sleep in the storm on the sea, and rise and still the storm. Such a Saviour we have got — how good to know it! — if we can see nothing besides His heart of love that unites the two together.

Take, then, the Lord in His childhood life in Nazareth, and think of His waxing strong in spirit, growing in wisdom as in stature, in favor with God and man (Luke 2:40, 52). How perfectly is He man; how really within human limits; a marvellous Child, yet a Child, as He is plainly called. Who shall adjust the divine to the human here, omniscience to growing knowledge? Shall we attempt it? What would it be but to exercise ourselves in things too high for us, and prove but the pride of our hearts? Would heart or conscience find deeper rest or satisfaction in Him, if we were able to comprehend what for all these centuries has been inquired into and speculated upon, with no more knowledge achieved at the end than at the beginning?

But assuredly it is the Son of man I find here, — a Person in all the truth of humanity; and who shall deny me the happiness of drinking in the grace that has here stooped down to the condition of a child, so that a child may realize His sympathy and adore Him for His love? Thank God that none can deny me: it is as open to one as to another; and the love is as unfathomable in it as is the Person.

The Old Testament, in a passage well-known, but to which we naturally turn in such a connection as this, to admire afresh its sublimity and beauty, brings together in sharpest contrast such oppositions as these. It is the voice of the Lord to Israel that we hear in it, but we soon recognize it as familiar to us. It asks: —

"Where is the bill of your mother's divorcement, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you?" Nay, the Lord is not so poor: — "Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves; and for your transgressions is your mother put away."

And now comes out the controversy that He has with them: "Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? when I called, was there none to answer? Is My hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver?" Here is Jehovah Himself come as a Saviour to them, but there is no response; He is not recognized, or credited with power to redeem. And we know well when this was: when One came to His own, and His own received Him not; and though the power of God was in His hand, and He used it for them without stint, yet they would not believe in His gracious visitation.

Now He openly declares Himself: —

"Behold, at My rebuke I dry up the sea, and make the rivers a wilderness: their fish stinketh because there is no water, and dieth for thirst. I clothe the heavens with blackness, and make sackcloth their covering."

But it was not in this guise He had come; and the voice becomes strangely altered. It drops into a softer key, and is now appealingly human: —

"The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: He wakeneth morning by morning, He wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learner."

We need not for our purpose go further. The prophet does, and shows us Christ in His suffering and rejection plainly enough. Here, however, we have already the contrast we are seeking. It is the Almighty who is come in servant's form: it is He who is strangely taking the place of obedience and acquiring the tongue of the learned for the ministry of grace to individual need, if the nation at large reject Him. For this He becomes Himself a learner, and is wakened morning by morning to "hear" as that. Yet it is the One who dries up the sea and makes the rivers a wilderness. Who shall put these things together? For satisfaction to the intellect, no one can. Yet even the intellect may be satisfied another way: namely, in the assured conviction of its inability to understand one's own being — to know how "spirit and soul and body" make up one man. Is it so wonderful, then, that there should be modes of the Infinite that baffle us altogether? or that "no man knoweth the Son but the Father?"

Let us turn reverently to another scene in which we find Him whose name is "Wonderful" — to the awful scene of Gethsemane. Here the "cup" which He took upon the cross is causing Him agony in the anticipation of it. Three times He prays that, if it were possible, it might pass from Him; and to this He adds the words so familiar to us, "not My will, but Thine be done."

The cup could not pass. He needs must drink it. But when we realize it as that which, expressed outwardly by the three hours of darkness, has its inner meaning in the agonizing cry, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" we can understand that it was the very necessity of His holy nature that He shrank from it and could not take it as of His own will, but only as the divine will for Him. Here, surely, we have a perfect and therefore a real, human will. He is as true man as any man can be; and personally man, as such a will must prove Him. We are again beyond the limit of comprehension here, if we say, as we must say, "Yes, but He is none the less divine;" but we are not beyond the limit of enjoyment or of faith.

At the cross we find the cup itself — the awful abandonment; but who shall explain it? Or who shall tell us how He is, all through, the Man of faith, yea the pattern of faith? Shall we not rather drop all such questioning, and believe, where alone belief finds its opportunity, — where we see not?

How grandly Psalm 102 faces the seeming contradiction; putting it in the strongest way in the mouth of the blessed Sufferer, crying out: —

"Because of Thine indignation, and Thy wrath: for Thou hast lifted me up and cast me away. My days are like a shadow that is lengthened; and I am withered like grass. … He weakened my strength in the way: He shortened my days. I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days; Thy years are throughout all generations."

Thus the contrast between man and God — between God and man fading away under divine wrath is vividly realized. And now comes the answer of God to Him: —

"Of old hast Thou laid the foundations of the earth; and the heavens are the work of Thy hands. They shall perish, but Thou shalt continue: and they all shall grow old as a garment: as a vesture Thou shalt change them, and they shall be changed; but Thou art the same, and Thy years shall have no end."

Here is God, suffering as a man, and at the hand of God! the cross in its deepest mystery is told out: we see that it is recognized, faced, but not explained. Christ is Himself "the mystery of godliness God manifest in the flesh." And here is all that we can say about it.