Here is a question a friend of mine asked me a little while ago about the plot line of the Dan Brown book The Da Vinci Code
(affiliate link) I thought I’d post my response below because I know others are asking the same question.
Why did Jesus call himself the son of man instead of the son of God?
I’m a big fan of speculative fiction. I read it and write it myself. The problem with speculative fiction that basis itself in some portion of reality is that people can forget the facts and concentrate on the speculation. I’m not a big fan of Dan Brown, basically because I find his plots plodding and predictable. I also don’t like liberties he takes with history.
A perfect example of this is the assertion that Jesus never claimed divinity. He used the term son of man, because he obviously was a man and not God and so later writers had to create his divinity later.
I don’t like it when Christians set up a straw men to knock down and I don’t like it when writers do it either.
Without getting into the veracity of scripture – which is an excellent study in itself – let’s look at what the Bible actually says about Jesus calling himself God.
We will find:
A. While He favoured the term “Son of Man” but also used the term “Son of God” for himself, allowed others to use it for him, and was almost stoned for calling himself “I Am”.
B. There are good reasons He favoured the term Son of Man
A. He favoured the term “Son of Man” but also used the term “Son of God” for himself, allowed others to use it for him, and was almost stoned for calling himself “I Am”.
1. Jesus used “Son of Man” to describe himself most of the time.
There are 85 occurrence of the term “Son of Man” in the gospels
I’ve found 7 times he used the term Son of God.
2. While He seems more fond of using the term “Son of Man” He did call himself the “Son of God”
John 3:16-18. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
John 5:25 I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.
John 10:36 what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, `I am God’s Son’?
John 11:4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”
John 17:1 After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.”
Mark 14:61-62 But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Matthew 11:27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
3. He allowed other people to call him the son of God
a. The Father
Luke 3:21-22 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
b. The Tempter
Matthew 4:3-7 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: `Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “`He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'” Jesus answered him, “It is also written: `Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
c. His Disciples
John 1:49-50 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.”
Matthew 16:15-17 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”
John 11:25-27 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
John 20:28 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
4. When he equated himself with God, those listening understood better than we do…and tried to stone Him.
John 8:58-59 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.
5. John is very concerned with us knowing Jesus was very God.
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
(‘The Word’ is Jesus, as is obvious from verse 14: ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us’.)
John 1:18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.
John 20:31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
B. There are good reasons He favoured the term Son of Man
People would have known about Daniel’s prophecy of the Son of Man coming at the end of time, but there seems to be no developed theology like their was around the term “Messiah”. It was a term with precedence but no real expectation.
When we study the life of Christ, we see He was never in a hurry. He knew when he was supposed to return to Jerusalem to die. When people went to stone Him, He slipped away, knowing that was not how He was to die. Early on in His ministry, we see Him telling people He healed not to tell anyone else and we can only speculate why, but I ’m confident it was because He was following the Father’s timeline. Using the term Son of Man allowed Him not to be thrust on an earthly throne or killed for blasphemy.
3. Connection with humanity
Jesus was fully man. No one thought God would become man. It was only through revelation that people understood Him to be Messiah. Isaiah prophecies about him 900 years earlier, “My servant grew up in the LORD’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him.” Isaiah 53:2. He was a normal guy. Yet he was fully God. He equated himself with God by claiming “I AM”. That makes Him a liar, a lunatic or very God.
I can see him using “son of man” more often to show His love for us.
Paul describes this love for us:
Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross. Because of this, God raised him up to the heights of heaven and gave him a name that is above every other name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:6-11 (New Living Translation)
I know Dan Brown’s characters assert Paul changed Christianity and Christ’s message. But what Paul writes is consistent with the message of Jesus. He was both the son of Man and the Son of God.
And yes, it does take special revelation to understand that even to a level where we don’t blow or minds. I still don’t understand it fully. But I trust Him.