In Scripture, Jesus is called both “Son of God” and “Son of Man”. What’s the difference? We may assume one refers to his divinity and one to his humanity, but it’s not that simple. In this classic clip, RC Sproul explains the difference.
Just briefly in passing, let me ask you to pay particularly close attention, when you read the Gospels, to the use of the phrase or the title “Son of Man.” It’s one of the most important titles for Jesus in the New Testament and yet, at the same time, one of the most frequently misunderstood.
Part of the reason is we see the difference between the title “Son of Man” and “Son of God.” And given the church’s confession, historically, of the dual nature of Jesus—that He has a divine nature and a human nature—the tendency is for folks to assume that when Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of Man, that He was speaking of His human nature, and when He’s referred to as the Son of God, He was being referred to vis-à-vis His divine nature. Well, it’s not as simple as all of that, because both of these titles have within them elements that refer to His deity and to His humanity. But if anything, the emphasis on the two is just the opposite of what we would normally expect.
The title “Son of God” is given, in the first instance in Scripture, to those who manifest obedience to the Father. Sonship is defined predominately, not in biological terms here, but in terms of being in one accord or submissive towards, and so on. Remember Jesus Himself, in His discussions with the Pharisees, who claimed to be “sons of Abraham,” Jesus rebuked them and said, “You are the children of Satan. You are the children of the one whom you obey.” Now, don’t get me wrong. The “Son of God” also contains, in certain references in the New Testament, clear indications of Jesus’ eternal sonship and His deity. So, we don’t want to overstate the case.
But this title, “Son of Man,” is the one I want you to really pay attention to when you’re reading the Gospels, because it’s used so often in the New Testament, and all but three times that it occurs in the New Testament, it comes from the lips of Jesus. And it refers back to the Old Testament vision that was written down by the prophet Daniel, where Daniel had a vision into the interior of the heavenly court of God, where he saw the Ancient of Days enthroned, and the judgment was set. And to the Ancient of Days comes “one like unto a son of man,” who then is given the authority to judge the world.
So that in the first instance, the Son of Man is a heavenly person—a heavenly person who descends to this world, whose principal role in His visitation to this earth is that of the heavenly judge. And then He returns to the presence of God in His ascension. We remember that Jesus says, “No one ascends to the Father except He who has first descended from Him.” Again, we tend to think that Jesus’ calling Himself the Son of Man was an expression of humility, when, in fact, it was a claim to divine authority.
That’s why I want you to notice this. When He heals on the Sabbath day and is rebuked by His enemies, He said, “I did this that you may know that the Son of the Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” And when He forgives sins and creates an uproar from His contemporaries, saying, “Only God has the authority to forgive sins,” Jesus said, “I did this that you might know that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” And again, and again, and again, you will begin to see that this title, “Son of Man” that Jesus uses for Himself, is a highly exalted title.
This first appeared on Ligonier.org