What’s in a name? Why, out of all of the words God could use to describe Himself, did He choose to be referred to as the Son of Man?
For us, the word “son” suggests someone who submits to an authority, has a need to learn and grow, and is a part of a human family. “Man”, on the other hand, expresses being a part of the human race, a member of humankind. So why did God take on a title that normally refers to human beings?
The Purpose of Names
Firstly, in order to understand why Jesus is called the Son of Man, let us explore the purpose of a name. A name is not merely a tool by which we can differentiate ourselves, but, from a biblical perspective, a name can represent the character of an individual and their relationship with God.
For God, a name has a purpose. It can express a message such as in Hosea 1:6 and v. 9 when God instructed the prophet to name his children Lo’Ruchamah and Lo’Ammi, which translates from Hebrew to “No Mercy” (or “Not Pitied”) and “Not My People” respectively. He did this in order to express his grief over Israel’s spiritual adultery.
If you look up names of individuals throughout the Bible, you will see that there is a deeper meaning behind many of their names. Some people were aptly named while others misrepresented or were misrepresented by the names they were given (read about Daniel and his friends in Daniel 1).
The name change that God gave to Jacob in Genesis 32:27–28 demonstrates the importance of a name to God. He changed Jacob’s name, which means “supplanter” or “usurper”, to “Israel”, which means “he struggles with God”. “Jacob” represented who he was before he met God, while “Israel” represents the person he became.
The same can be seen in Isaiah 14:12-17. Satan, from the Hebrew word meaning adversary, began as the Hebrew Heylel (or Lucifer in Latin) meaning “shining one” or “morning star”. Of course, after his rebellion his original name was no longer fitting, therefore, God changed it to “adversary” to denote his changed character and relationship with God and mankind.
Now that we have established a bit of background behind biblical names we can delve into our subject.
In 1 Timothy 3:16 we read, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory.”
Firstly, we must recognise that there are certain things about God that we are just not going to grasp by our limited mortal understanding. He is the ultimate mystery; even in eternity we will never cease to learn about Him or the plan of salvation that He laid out. The infinite will always bring about greater questions with each answer given.
Secondly and to the point, everything God does has intent; there is always a purpose behind His actions even if we do not see or understand.
Jesus the Son of Man
Jesus is called the Son of Man because that is who He was on earth. He was a son and He was born and belonged to the family of man. This fact also leads us to understand with certainty the prophecies surrounding his birth and what was foretold in Isaiah 7:14: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
Further, Jesus as the Son of Man holds for us some incredible realities; this name and title allows us to perceive in words that we belong to Him and He belongs to us. It connects divinity to humanity in a manner that was lost when Adam and Eve sinned and had to leave the Garden of Eden.
It is also a reminder that God understands what it is to be human—to fight our fights, to be tempted and to feel alone—to be, according to Isaiah 53:3, “despised and rejected by men; a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief:” After all, how much easier is it for you in your human relationships to connect with someone who understands what you have been through or are going through right now?
Additionally, Jesus showed that it is possible as human beings to keep the laws of God; that the battle against the flesh could be won. Hebrews 4:15 further expounds on both these concepts: “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
Jesus as the Son of Man reminds us that God is still the same God who desires a relationship with us as He did in Eden (Genesis 2); in Exodus 25:8 when He instructed Moses to “let [the Israelites] make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them”; and in Jeremiah 32:38 when He said that we will be His people, and He our God.
Although Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, such is not the case in the Bible and in God’s eyes. The name God gives you reflects the person you will become, the person you are and your relationship with Him. The name and titles He calls Himself reveal to us His enduring promises, power, love and presence in our lives.