Why is Jesus sometimes called “Son of God” and sometimes “Son of Man”? Yes, we understand that he was a man, born of a virgin by the power of God. So generally we believe he’s called the Son of God because God is his father and the Son of Man because Mary is his mother. But is there any more to it? For instance, in today’s reading from John 5 he changes from referring to himself as Son of God to Son of Man in the same thought: “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.” (v.25-27). Jesus didn’t use empty words. For some reason he calls himself the Son of God but then the Son of Man, and in referring to himself as the Son of Man he seems to place emphasis on the importance of that title – it’s because he is the Son of Man that he has authority to execute judgment.
Notice he is called Son of God in reference to an act of supernatural power – raising the dead. But when it comes to executing judgment, he is the Son of Man. In both instances there’s a lot of comfort. Jesus has power to raise the dead. That’s an incredible thing to think about. To bring life out of death isn’t something man can replicate. God did it in creating the universe out of nothing, creating Isaac out of the deadness of Sarah’s womb, raising his son from the dead and raising the nation of Israel from the dead, to name some examples. That same power is vested in his son and he will raise or recreate people who in many instances have been dead and ceased to exist for centuries. While we worry and fret about things because we have no power to deal with the big situations of life, Jesus doesn’t have that limitation: he is the Son of God and he will return and raise the dead.
But he’s also the Son of Man and that means he has authority to execute judgment. That title has an Old Testament background in Daniel 7:13 where the prophet sees “one like a son of man” in the context of judgment on the beasts of Daniel’s vision. So, the background of the title is in the context of judgment and Jesus uses it in that context in John 5. And therein lies the comfort. The two main events for us personally before the setting up of the Kingdom are the Resurrection and Judgment. We often twin these concepts because they’re so closely related in our minds. Jesus is going to return to raise the dead and judge the world in righteousness. But he’s going to do one as the Son of God and the other as the Son of Man.
Standing before the judgment seat of Chris is a scary thing. But Jesus is going to conduct it in his role as the Son of Man. And as a man he knows what you’re going through. He knows your struggles, your temptations, your weaknesses. He lived through it. He was “tempted in every way that we are” (Heb. 4:15). He knows what the pull of the flesh is like when you’re tired, anxious or depressed. He knows how it feels to deal with difficult people. He knows what it’s like to be alone and afraid. Every human feeling you have, he gets it. “Our High Priest is not one who cannot feel sympathy for our weaknesses” (Heb. 4:15) because he lived through it all.
Not only that but through all his trials his character was developed to such an extent that he is the perfect epitome of the character of God. He is compassionate, generous, slow to anger, abundant in steadfast love and faithfulness. When dealing with the sort of people we are – tax collectors, sinners, women caught in adultery, even people who nailed him to a cross – he made time for them, rescued them from their accusers and said “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” That is who the Son of Man is. That’s the one before whose judgment seat we shall stand.
The only thing we have to fear is ourselves. Our lack of faith that the Son of God has power to raise the dead. Our lack of faith that perfect love – the love our Lord has for us – should cast out that fear and give us confidence before the judgment seat, which will be a throne of grace and not condemnation. So, as we approach that time of “the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27) don’t worry, Jesus is both the Son of God and the Son of Man and he has both the power and the will to redeem us.
Simi Hills, CA