Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: Sayings of Jesus (Pt 3)

The Sayings and Teachings of Jesus (Part 3)

    1. Eschatological Expectation related to John the Baptist
    2. References to the coming of the Kingdom, with a clear eschatological emphasis
    3. References to the coming Day of Judgment
    4. Specific references to the coming of the “Son of Man” (Judgment context)
    5. References indicating a(n earthly?) Kingdom ruled by Jesus and his followers
    6. Other sayings with an eschatological context

The first two areas of study were addressed in the previous article (Part 2); here we will be examining the next two areas (#3-4, in italics above).

3. The Coming Day of Judgment

The idea of a final Judgment by God upon the world is probably the most common eschatological motif in early Christian thought, and it informs nearly every aspect of the eschatology of the New Testament. While the basic idea is common to many cultures, the early Christian understanding derives from Old Testament and Jewish tradition—especially as related to the expression “Day of YHWH” in the Prophetic nation-oracles, etc. The main passages using this expression are: Isa 13:6ff; Jer 46:10; Ezek 13:5; 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1ff; 3:14; Amos 5:18ff; Obad 15; Zeph 1:7-8ff; 2:2-3; Zech 14:1-3ff; Mal 4:5; many others allude to it. The original background presumably stems from ancient “holy war” tradition, in which God does battle for his people against their enemies. Gradually, especially in the context of the Exile and post-Exilic period, the idea came to reflect the eschatological (and Messianic) expectation of Israel. Support for this certainly could be found in the Prophets—the “Day of YHWH” was a time when God would appear to judge (and punish) the wicked, and to deliver the faithful among his people.

When the similar expression “Day of the Lord” comes to be used in the New Testament, it still refers to the end-time Judgment of God upon humankind, but it is now thoroughly connected with a belief in the return of Jesus, who will appear as God’s chosen representative to judge the earth (cf. 1 Cor 1:8; 5:5; 2 Cor 1:14; 1 Thess 5:2; 2 Thess 2:2; 2 Pet 3:10, etc). This role of Jesus, as one who brings about (and oversees) the final Judgment, is central to early Christian preaching, as we shall see when we examine the eschatology in the book of Acts. However, the idea also goes back to the sayings of Jesus himself, especially those which refer to the end-time appearance of the “Son of Man”. These references will be examined in the next area of study (section #4) below. Here, I wish to survey the sayings which refer more generally to the coming Judgment. I divide these as follows:

    • Sayings which specifically mention the (day of) Judgment
    • Those which deal with reward/punishment, in the context of an end-time Judgment
    • Specific sayings which mention entering/inheriting/receiving the Kingdom
a. Sayings which mention the (day of) Judgment

Somewhat surprisingly, there are almost no sayings in the core Synoptic tradition (as represented by the Gospel of Mark) which use either the verb kri/nw (“judge”) or the related nouns kri/si$, kri/ma (“judgment”); indeed, there is only one—Mark 12:40 par. It is much more common in Matthew and Luke, both the material they share in common (“Q”), and other sayings unique to each Gospel. These are:

All of these sayings draw upon traditional religious and ethical language (and instruction), warning people that ultimately they will face judgment by God for the things they have said and done. In Jesus’ sayings, this viewpoint has been adapted slightly, so that it now also refers to people being judged for the way in which they responded to Jesus in their lifetime (cf. below on the Son of Man sayings).

b. Sayings dealing with reward and punishment

There are a number of such sayings by Jesus, and all (or nearly all) of them have a strong eschatological orientation—i.e., they refer to the (heavenly) reward or punishment which a person receives following the Judgment.

The idea of the reward which one will receive from God, for faithfulness in following Jesus (his teachings and example, etc), is especially prominent in the Sermon on the Mount (and the parallel Lukan “Sermon on the Plain”), beginning with the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-12 par, esp. verse 12); on the eschatological background of the beatitude form, cf. my earlier series on the Beatitudes. The contrast between the present (earthly) situation and the ultimate heavenly situation is most striking in the Lukan version (6:20-23), with its woes (vv. 24-26), reflecting a reversal-of-fortune theme common in Jesus’ teaching. Other references dealing with reward and punishment are:

Especially noteworthy is the prophetic illustration in Matt 7:21-23 (par Lk 6:46; 13:25-27), in which Jesus apparently casts himself in the role of judge, distinguishing his true followers (those who do “the will of my Father in heaven”), from those who only claim to be so.

When we examine the wider Synoptic tradition, several passages stand out:

    • Mark 10:29-31 par—those who have sacrificed everything to follow Jesus, enduring deprivation and hardship in this life, will receive heavenly reward (eternal life) in the “Age to Come”. Note the variations between the Gospels (Matt 19:28-30; Lk 18:29-30) on the precise nature of the reward, with apparent fluctuation between heavenly and earthly(?) emphasis.
    • Mark 9:41 (par Matt 10:41-42)
    • Luke 10:20, with a possible eschatological nuance to vv 18f
c. Entering/inheriting/receiving the Kingdom

A number of the sayings express the idea of heavenly reward in terms of “entering” (or inheriting, receiving) the Kingdom, and, conversely, of punishment as failing to do so.

4. The Son of Man Sayings

These are the sayings of Jesus which refer to the “Son of Man” figure in a clear eschatological context. Jesus’ use of the expression “the Son of Man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) is distinctive, and, it would seem, unique to his discourse. That it reflects an authentic characteristic of the historical Jesus, his mode of expression, is confirmed by the fact that hardly occurs at all elsewhere in the New Testament or in other early Christian writings. It is not a title regularly used of Jesus by early believers; the occurrences in Heb 2:6 and Rev 1:13; 14:14 are quotations from the Old Testament. It is virtually limited to the Gospels, and, even there, is essentially never found except in the words of Jesus. Originally, as I have discussed elsewhere on a number of occasions, the expression “son of man” (Heb <d*a* /B#, Aram. vn`a$ rB^) was simply a (poetic) parallel for “man”—that is, a human being or member of the human race. It came to be used as a personal reference, a circumlocution for the pronoun “I” (i.e., this particular human being), though it is hard to find clear examples of this usage prior to Jesus. There can be no question, however, that Jesus did use the expression in just this way—as a self-designation or reference to himself. We may isolate three specific contexts for the expression “son of man” in Jesus’ sayings and teachings, as recorded in the Gospels:

    1. Where he identifies himself with the human condition—especially in terms of human suffering and mortality (death)
    2. Specific references to his impending death (and resurrection)
    3. Eschatological references to “the Son of Man”

The last category is the subject of this study. A critical analysis of these eschatological references is complicated by several factors, most notably the historical context. If Jesus is referring to his own future coming (i.e., after his death and resurrection), this would have been largely unintelligible to people at the time. Even his own closest disciples would have had little or no awareness of this sequence of events (death, resurrection, ascension, future return). This has led critical commentators to give serious consideration to two different possibilities:

    • The sayings, insofar as they identify the coming of the Son of Man with Jesus’ return, are largely the product of the early Church
    • In these sayings, Jesus is not referring to himself, but to a separate/distinct figure indicated by the title “Son of Man”

As I have discussed in an earlier study, there would seem to be very little evidence in the Gospels themselves for the first possibility. The second is much more plausible, but, in my view, cannot be embraced without serious qualification. I would offer the following explanation:

Jesus was drawing upon a tradition, derived primarily (if not exclusively) from Daniel 7:13-14, which envisioned a divine/heavenly being who would appear at the end-time to deliver God’s people and usher in the Judgment. For the background of this eschatological (and Messianic) figure, which would have been understood by at least some Israelites and Jews in Jesus’ time, cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed” (also the separate note on Dan 7:13f). Jesus identifies himself with this figure, but not in a way which would have been readily understood by people at the time (note the confusion indicated in John 12:34). The identification would have been implicit, based on his distinctive use of the expression “son of man”, and not made absolutely clear until the scene before the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:61-62ff par, cp. Acts 7:55-56). This view, I think, allows for a proper interpretation of the eschatological Son of Man sayings in the Gospel Tradition. Jesus could have made these references, without his disciples (at the time) necessarily connecting them with his own post-resurrection return.

In the core Synoptic tradition, as represented by the Gospel of Mark, there are three such Son of Man sayings:

    • Mark 8:38: “For whoever would feel shame over me and my words in this adulterous and sinful (time of) coming to be [i.e. age/generation], (so) also the Son of Man will shame over him, when He should come in the splendor of His Father with the holy Messengers.”
      The Lukan parallel in 9:26 is largely identical, the main difference being the reading “in His splendor and the (splendor) of His Father…”. Matthew’s version (16:27, cf. below) is quite different.
    • Mark 13:26: “…and then they will look with (their) eyes at [i.e. see] the Son of Man coming on/in (the) clouds with much power and splendor”
      Again, Luke (21:27) is nearly identical, while Matthew differs considerably (note the additional words in italics):
      Matt 24:30: “and then the sign of the Son of Man will be made to shine forth in heaven; and then all the offshoots [i.e. peoples/races] of the earth will beat (themselves) and they will look with (their) eyes at [i.e. see] the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with much power and splendor”
    • Mark 14:62: “…and you will look with (your) eyes at [i.e. see] the Son of Man, sitting out of the giving [i.e. right] (hand) of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven!”
      Matthew (26:64) and Luke (22:69) both record the saying prefaced with a temporal indicator (“from now [on]…”); otherwise, Matthew is identical to Mark, while Luke’s version is in a simpler form which also removes the visual/visionary aspect:
      “…the Son of Man will be sitting out of the giving [i.e. right] (hand) of the Power of God!”

The first saying (Mk 8:38 par) follows the traditional end-time Judgment scene indicated in the sayings noted above (section #3). The Son of Man plays a leading role in overseeing (or otherwise participating in) the heavenly Judgment; the ethical dimension has been reinterpreted to cover the disciple’s faithfulness in accepting and following Jesus (cf. below). The sayings in Mk 13:26 and 14:62 pars more properly refer to the end-time appearance, or coming, of the Son of Man, and both draw clearly upon Daniel 7:13. The emphasis in Daniel is somewhat different, in that the heavenly figure (“one like a son of man”, i.e. resembling a human being) comes on the clouds toward God, i.e. approaching Him, rather than becoming visible to people on earth. However, the motif of the end-time Judgment (and deliverance of God’s people) was already present in the original vision (v. 14ff). The saying before the Sanhedrin is distinctive for several reasons:

    • Here Jesus makes a much more explicit identification of himself with the Son of Man figure
    • In the context, it is related to the death and eventual resurrection of Jesus
    • Dan 7:13f is blended together with the idea of Jesus being present at the “right hand” of God. This motif comes primarily from Psalm 110:1, and was central to the earliest Christian understanding of Jesus—his resurrection resulted in his exaltation to heaven and a position at God’s right hand.
    • All of this is further connected with Jesus’ identity as the Anointed One (Messiah) and “Son of God”, cf. the question in Mk 14:61 par.

Luke’s version of the saying in Mk 14:62 (22:69) eliminates the eschatological aspect, possibly with the tradition in Acts 7:55-56 in mind. However, in 21:27 the eschatological dimension is retained. This saying (Mk 13:26 par) will be discussed as part of the upcoming study on the “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus. The connection in Matt 24:30 between Dan 7:13-14 and Zech 12:10 is also attested in the book of Revelation (1:7).

There are additional Son of Man sayings in the so-called “Q” material—i.e., the traditions shared by Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark. In theme and concept these follow the Synoptic sayings in Mk 8:38 and 13:26 par, relating to: (a) the Judgment to be ushered in (and overseen) by the Son of Man, and (b) the coming/appearance of the Son of Man at the end-time. Several other sayings, unique to Matthew and/or Luke, will also be included under these headings.

(a) The Judgment Scene.

    • Matthew 10:32-33 / Luke 12:8-9. This double-saying is generally parallel to that of Mark 8:38 (cf. above). Note that only in Luke’s version is the expression/title “Son of Man” used; in Matthew’s version, Jesus uses the pronoun “I”, indicating that it is self-designation (on this, cf. above).
    • Matthew 13:41 (cf. also verse 37)—this reference will be discussed as part of the study of the eschatological elements in Jesus’ parables.
    • Matthew 16:27—in place of Mk 8:38 par, Matthew includes a similar saying where the Judgment scene is connected more clearly with the coming/appearance of the Son of Man:
      “For the Son of Man is about to come in the splendor of his Father, with his Messengers, and then he will give from (himself) [i.e. reward/repay] to each (person) according to his deeds”
      This saying (along with that of v. 28) will be discussed further in an upcoming note on the eschatological imminence indicated in certain of Jesus’ sayings.
    • Matthew 25:31—the Judgment scene is vividly depicted in this parable, which will be discussed further at the proper point in this series.
    • Luke 21:36—part of the Lukan “Eschatological Discourse”, to be discussed.

(b) The Coming/Appearance of the Son of Man. These references largely preserve the Judgment context; however, it is the sudden/impending appearance of the Son of Man which is particularly emphasized.

    • Matthew 24:27 / Luke 17:24
    • Matthew 24:37, 39 / Luke 17:26, 30
    • Matthew 24:44 / Luke 12:40
      All these sayings are included in Matthew’s version of the “Eschatological Discourse” (Luke has them in different locations), and will be discussed further as part of our study on the Discourse.
    • Matthew 16:28—Matthew’s version of the Synoptic saying in Mk 9:1 par will be discussed in the upcoming note on “imminent eschatology” in Jesus’ sayings.
    • Luke 17:22—This saying, along with the peculiar phrase “one of the days of the Son of Man”, will be discussed in the study on the Eschatological Discourse.
    • Luke 18:8—A rather famous saying, often cited entirely out of context:
      “…the Son of Man, (at his) coming, will he find trust upon the earth?”
      It, too, will be touched on briefly in discussing imminent eschatology in Jesus’ sayings.

Finally, notice should be given to the statement by Jesus in Matthew 19:28:

“Amen, I relate to you, that you, the (one)s following (the path with) me, in the (time of) coming to be (alive) again [i.e. resurrection], when the Son of Man should sit upon his ruling-seat of splendor, you also will sit upon twelve ruling-seats judging the twelve offshoots [i.e. tribes] of Yisrael.”

The idea of judgment is certainly present, but the emphasis is on the heavenly throne/court setting, rather than on the Judgment scene itself. It is roughly parallel to the opening of the parable in 25:31. Luke records a saying very similar to Matt 19:28 (22:28-30), which is often regarded as coming from the “Q” line of tradition (despite the different settings). Luke’s version does not use the title “Son of Man”. The saying in Matt 19:28 will be discussed further in the next part of this study (section #5).

September 9: Revelation 1:7-8

Revelation 1:7-8

The introduction to the epistle-book of Revelation concludes with a pair of statements; the first is a Scriptural citation (by the author), and the second is a divine declaration repeating the triadic formula in verse 4 (cf. the previous note). We begin with the Scripture citation(s) in verse 7:

“See—he comes with the clouds, and every eye will look at him, even the (one)s who stabbed him (through), and they will beat (themselves) over him, all the (people)s arising (together out) of the earth. Yes, Amen.”

Two different Scripture passages are combined here:

    • Daniel 7:13:
      “And see! with the clouds of (the) heavens (one) like a son of man, coming (near), was (present)…”
      LXX: “And see—upon the clouds of heaven (one) as a son of man came…”
    • Zechariah 12:10 (along with v. 12)
      “…and they shall look closely [vb. fb^n`] to me whom they pierced [vb. rq^D*], and they shall wail (in mourning) upon [i.e. over] him, like (one) wailing upon th(eir) only (child)… “
      LXX: “…and they will look (closely) toward me, against [i.e. concerning] the (one) whom they danced over [impl. vb. dq^r*], and they will beat (themselves) over him, as (one) beating (themselves) over a (be)loved (child)…”

The association of these two Scriptures is not original to the book of Revelation; we find it also in Matthew’s version of Jesus’ “Eschatological Discourse” (24:30). Both Scriptures were also connected, in different ways, with Jesus death (Mark 14:62 par; John 19:37), giving the Passion narrative an eschatological dimension, at least in part. It is easy to see how early Christians would have interpreted Zech 12:10 in terms of Jesus’ death, by crucifixion, which would entail the “piercing” of his hands and feet. In the original context, the reference seems to have that of one killed in battle (“pierced” or run through with a sword, etc). In this regard, the use of it in the Gospel of John is somewhat more applicable, as the author associates it with the puncturing of Jesus’ side by a soldier’s spear (19:34).

The precise significance of Zech 12:10 in the Gospel of John is uncertain. It is by no means clear that the author intends it in the same sense as Matt 24:30 or here in Rev 1:7. The purpose of the citation in Jn 19:37 is to show that the puncturing of Jesus’ side, with its release of “blood and water”, was the fulfillment of prophecy. Overall, however, though it is not emphasized in the Gospel of John, an eschatological interpretation of the passage for early Christians remains the most plausible. This is certainly how the author of the book of Revelation understands it. By compressing the citation to include part of verse 12, the author gives special emphasis to the visible appearance of Jesus (in glory) at the end-time. It is somewhat difficult to decide how the symbolism of mourning should be understood. The original context of the passage suggests that it refers to mourning for the death of someone; but this does not fit the application to the return of the risen/exalted Jesus. There are several possibilities:

    • Mourning over sin and wickedness (i.e. the connection of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice for sin)—this entails the idea of repentance.
    • The people mourn over their role/responsibility for Jesus’ death—this may or may not indicate repentance. If the sense is that of mourning for Jesus’ sacrificial death on their behalf, then some measure of true repentance is in view.
    • The nations (“tribes of the earth”, not only the tribes of Israel), in their wickedness, mourn and lament over Jesus’ appearance which signifies the coming of God’s Judgment upon them.

Arguments can be made in favor of each of these, but it is the first (or some combination of the first two) which best seems to fit the context of the book. On the motif of the conversion of the nations, cf. Rev 5:5, 9; 7:9; 11:13; 21:24; 22:2 (Koester, p. 219).

The early Christian use of Daniel 7:13 will be addressed in upcoming articles of the current series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”; I have already dealt with in some detail in an earlier study. Here it follows the Gospel Tradition, going back to the words of Jesus (Mark 13:26; 14:62 par) associating it with the end-time appearance of Jesus (the “Son of Man”).

As indicated above, verse 8 repeats the phrasing in v. 4, though here the three-fold divine title (in italics) is part of a declaration by God Himself:

“I am [e)gw/ ei)mi] the Alpha [a)] and the w@ [Omega], says the Lord God, the (One) being and the (One who) was and the (One) coming, the All-mighty.”

The use of e)gw/ ei)mi (“I am…”) is a standard component of divine revelation and manifestation (theophany), both in the Old Testament (LXX) and in other Greco-Roman literature. It can be traced back to the fundamental passage, introducing the name YHWH, in Exodus 3 (v. 14), being repeated numerous times in Scripture (e.g., Deut 32:39, etc). Especially noteworthy is the Prophetic usage, particularly in the book of Isaiah—cf. 43:25; 45:22; 46:9; 47:8ff; 51:12. The formula here is reasonably close in sense to that in Isa 41:4; 44:6; 48:12.

The use of the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet (alpha [a] and omega [w]) functions as a comprehensive symbol—”first and last” (Isa 41:4, etc)—indicating both completeness and, we may assume, transcendence. God transcends all of creation (and time), encompassing and filling all things. It is also possible that there is here a play on the name YHWH (hw`hy+, Yahweh), which, in Greek transliteration, could be rendered Iaw, including both alpha and omega. Cf. Koester, p. 220.

Two other divine names/titles appear in this declaration, and are worth noting:

    • ku/rio$ o( qeo/$ (“[the] Lord God”)—This reflects the Hebrew conjunction of Yahweh (hwhy) and Elohim (<yh!ýa$), first appearing in Gen 2:4b, and subsequently many times in the Old Testament. It establishes the fundamental religious (and theological) principle that the Deity worshiped by Israel (YHWH) is the one true (Creator) God.
    • o( pantokra/twr (“the All-mighty”)—This title, combining pa=$ (“all”) and kra/to$ (“strength, might”), occurs 9 times in the book of Revelation, but only once (2 Cor 6:18) in the rest of the New Testament. It is known in Greek literature, as a divine attribute, essentially meaning (“ruler of all [things]”), and is relatively frequent in the Greek version (LXX) of the Old Testament. There it typically renders the expression toab*x=, part of an ancient (sentence) title, toab*x= hwhy—Yahweh as the one who “causes the (heavenly) armies to be”, i.e. creates all the heavenly bodies and beings.

Thus, the Hebrew background of both titles emphasizes God (YHWH) as the Creator of all things. We will want to keep this background in mind as we proceed to verses 9ff, and the divine attributes and titles which are given to the risen/exalted Jesus in first vision of the book.

References marked “Koester” above, and throughout these notes, are to Craig R. Koester, Revelation, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 38A (Yale: 2014).

April 7 (1): Luke 21:5-38

Today’s Easter season note is on the Son of Man sayings in the so-called “eschatological discourse” of Jesus in Luke 21 (par Mark 13 / Matt 24), in verses 25-27, and again in the concluding saying of v. 36. This ‘discourse’ is part of the Synoptic tradition, set during Passion week (Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem). It is perhaps best understood as a collection of sayings and teachings, uttered by Jesus on various occasions, rather than a single self-contained sermon. This is indicated, as previously noted, by the elements in Matthew’s version (Matt 24:26-27, 28, 37-38, 40-41 and 10:39) which are found in a different location (and order) in Luke (Lk 17:23-37). The same likely applies to the core Synoptic discourse.

Luke 21:5-38

In all three Gospels, the eschatological (Olivet) discourse, follows the saying of Jesus predicting the destruction of the Temple (Lk 21:6 par), and is introduced by a subsequent question from the disciples (Lk 21:7 par). The Lukan and Markan versions of the question are quite close:

Mk 13:4—”when will these (thing)s be? and what (is the) sign when all these (thing)s are about to be completed together [i.e. fully completed]?”
Lk 21:7—”when, therefore, will these (thing)s be? and what (is the) sign when these (thing)s are about to come to be?”

Matthew appears to have added an interpretive layer, an early Christian gloss on the question: “when will these (thing)s be? and what (is the) sign of your (com)ing to be alongside [parousi/a, parousia] and the full completion of the Age?” (Matt 24:3). This direct specification of Jesus’ (second) coming and the “end of the Age”, better fit the concerns of early Christians than the immediate question of the disciples in the historical context of the narrative. The core of the discourse, leading up to the Son of Man saying, can be seen from the outline in Mark:

    • Mk 13:5-8—beginnings of tribulation (“birth pains”): false Christs, wars, earthquakes, famine
    • Mk 13:9-13—persecution of Jesus’ followers (early Christians), by the Jewish authorities, also by friends and family, etc
    • Mk 13:14-23—more intense period of suffering and distress, marked by the desecration of the Temple (v. 14) and the appearance of false Messiahs (vv. 21-22)
    • Mk 13:24-27—the appearance of the Son of Man, coming in glory, with the angels, to gather/deliver the Elect and bring the Judgment (implied)

Luke’s version has some interesting additions and omissions:

    • Lk 21:8-11—beginnings of tribulation [Mk 13:5-8]: no mention of “birth pains”, false prophets will declare “the time has come near”; Jesus also specifies that with these events the end will not come immediately (v. 9b), and adds that there will be plague/diseases, fearful things, and “great signs from heaven” (v. 11).
    • Lk 21:12-19—persecution of Jesus’ followers [Mk 13:9-13]: with greater specification (v. 12, 16, cf. the narratives in Acts), encouragement for believers in the face of it (vv. 14-15), and a promise of protection (v. 18).
    • Lk 21:20-24—more intense period of suffering and distress [Mk 13:14-24]: instead of the allusion to Dan 9:27; 11:31; 12:11 (and the desecration of the Temple, Mk 13:14), Jesus prophecies specifically regarding the siege and destruction of Jerusalem.
    • Lk 21:25-28—the appearance of the Son of Man [Mk 13:24-27]: cf. below.

By the reference to the coming siege and destruction of Jerusalem in vv. 20-24 (generally fulfilled during the war of 66-70 A.D., and subsequent events), Luke’s version more directly relates back to the prediction of the Temple’s destruction in verse 6, and apparently sets a more definite historical context for the appearance of the Son of Man. Mark (and Matthew) use the expression to\ bde/lugma th=$ e)rhmw/sew$ (“the stinking/disgusting [object] of desolation”, from <m@ovm= JWQV!h^ in Dan 11:31 etc)—”when you see the stinking (object) of desolation having stood where it ought not (to be)…”. In Luke, this reads “when you see Jerusalem (en)circled by swaths of soldiers, then know that her desolation has come near” (v. 20). The chronology involved is expounded in the following verses, especially v. 24: “…and Jerusalem will be trampled down under the nations until (the moment in) which the times of the nations are (ful)filled”. In Luke’s account, Jesus sets an indefinite period between the destruction of Jerusalem (c. 70 A.D.) and the end-time appearance of the Son of Man. Overall, the eschatological immediacy of the early Gospel tradition has been softened or modified in Luke-Acts, as in Matthew.

Luke 21:25-28

In Jesus’ announcement of the coming of the Son of Man, Luke follows the common Synoptic tradition, differing at only two points: (1) expansion of Mk 13:24-25 par to include mention of the distress and fear coming upon humankind (vv. 25b-26a) and (2) instead of a description of the angels gathering up the Elect (Mk 13:27 par) there is an exhortation for believers (v. 28). For the signs in the sky and throughout nature (vv. 25-26), these are derived from Old Testament imagery—Joel 2:30-31 [Hebrew 3:3-4]; Isa 13:10; 34:4, cf. also Isa 24:9; Ezek 32:7; Hag 2:6 etc. The exhortation in verse 28 is parallel to the pronouncement of judgment/destruction on Jerusalem in v. 20:

“When you see Jerusalem circled by armies, know that her desolation has come near [h&ggiken]”
“When these things are beginning to come to pass…lift up your heads because your release from (bondage/suffering) is coming near [e)ggi/zei]”

The description of the Son of Man’s appearance—”coming on/in a cloud with power and glory”—ultimately derives from Daniel 7:13. This tradition has already been used by Jesus in Lk 9:26 par, and we will see it again in Lk 22:69 (to be discussed in the next daily note). Jesus identifies himself with a divine/heavenly figure who is to appear as Judge (and Deliverer) at the end-time. Some scholars have held that originally Jesus referred to a figure separate/different from himself, but this is rather unlikely, given the frequency of the association in Gospel tradition, and the regularity with which Jesus uses the expression “Son of Man” in reference to himself. The coming/eschatological Son of Man figure has been involved in a number of the sayings explored thus far in these Easter season notes (cf. Luke 12:8-9, 40; 17:22, 24, 26, 30; 18:8).

Luke 21:36

The eschatological discourse in Luke follows the Synoptic tradition in the last two sections—the illustration of the fig tree (21:29-33) and an (eschatological) warning to be watchful (vv. 34-36). Luke concludes this final section (and the discourse as a whole), with another Son of Man saying by Jesus:

“But (as for you) be without sleep [i.e. stay awake] in all time(s), begging (God) that you might be strong against (it) [i.e. be strong enough] to flee/escape out of all these (thing)s th(at) are about to come to be and to stand in front of the Son of Man!”

This clearly sets the Son of Man in the context of God’s (end-time) Judgment, serving as Judge or overseer of the Judgment (cf. Lk 12:8-9). It is not just a matter of escaping the suffering and natural disasters that may be coming; part of the end-time tribulation involves religious travail and testing—persecution of believers, false prophets, false Christs/Messiahs, etc. We should see a parallel in the petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “do not bring us into (the) testing” (Matt 6:13 adds “…but rescue us from the Evil [One]”). It is no certainty that those claiming to be Christians (i.e. Jesus’ followers) will be able to stand and pass through the Judgment (cf. Lk 13:24-28 par; 18:8, etc)—only those who endure to the end will be saved (21:19 par).

March 31: Luke 12:39-40

Today’s note continues the Easter-season study of the Son of Man sayings in Luke, set during the journey to Jerusalem and thereafter. The saying under discussion is Luke 12:40, part of a larger section of teaching (vv. 35-46) with an eschatological emphasis—stressing the importance of watchfulness and faithfulness of disciples. Three sayings (or groups of sayings) have been brought together:

    • Verses 35-38, which appear to be unique to Luke (but cf. Matt 25:1-13)
    • Verses 39-40, which have a parallel version in Matthew 24:43-44
    • Verses 41-46, which are similarly parallel to Matthew 24:45-51, with vv. 41-42a providing the narrative link with vv. 35-40.

All three groups of sayings utilize the illustration of the master of a house and a visitor who arrives unexpectedly. The first and third (vv. 35-38, 42b-46) specifically paint the scenario of the master of a house who is temporarily away (v. 36); despite his absence, the servants of the house must remain faithful and conscientious in the performance of their duties, since they do not know when he might return. The first illustration is positive, describing the faithfulness of the servants (vv. 37-38); the third is primarily negative, contrasting the faithful (vv. 42-44) with the negligent/abusive servant (vv. 45-46). Later Christians have tended to read the basic setting of these illustrations—the return of the master who has gone away—with the return of Christ; however, it is unlikely that Jesus originally intended the illustrations to be understood this way. Instead, the motif appears to have a simpler purpose and meaning—to stress the end-time appearance of God coming to Judge humankind (the Old Testament “Day of YHWH”). The coming Judgment (the Kingdom of God, i.e. God as King) is near, and could commence at any time; thus Jesus’ followers (believers) must remain faithful, even if there seems to be a delay in the coming of the end. Jesus himself was extremely reluctant to discuss just when the end would come; in fact, according to at least one saying in the Synoptic tradition (Mark 13:32 par) only God the Father knows when the time will be.

Luke 12:39-40

This basic understanding of vv. 35-38, 42b-46 outlined above is important for an accurate interpretation of the saying in verse 40. Let us look at this saying in context:

    • Verses 35-38 (illustration 1)—believers (are exhorted to) remain faithful when the end-time Judgment comes.
    • Verses 39-40 (illustration 2)—the danger facing believers / the coming of the Son of Man
    • Verses 42b-46 (illustration 3)—exhortation in the face of danger: some are faithful, others are found negligent and/or wicked when the end-time Judgment comes.

The two illustrations of the Master’s return (the end-time Judgment) bracket the central illustration and so provide its semantic and interpretive context. The danger facing believers is described by the simple example of a thief who attempts to break into the Master’s house—like most thieves, he is likely to come at an unexpected moment, therefore the servants of the house must take measures to prevent it. This illustration informs Jesus’ exhortation that begins verse 40: “and (so) you (must) come to be ready/prepared…”—that is, prepared and equipped to face the danger. The “danger” is defined as attack/infiltration by the enemy, probably best understood as testing/temptation by the Devil. The lure and result of temptation, even so far as incitement to blatant wickedness, is depicted vividly in the third illustration which follows (esp. verses 45-46). Thematically, we may analyze the entire pericope as follows:

    • The impending Judgment by God (the Master’s unexpected return)
      • Faithfulness of servants/believers
        • The danger facing believers (the Master’s house)
          • The coming of the Son of Man
        • Temptation of believers toward sin and wickedness
      • Faithfulness of believers, in spite of temptation
    • The impending Judgment by God (the Master’s return)

The central event—the coming of the Son of Man—is parallel to the outer framework of the illustration, i.e. the Master’s return (the end-time Judgment by God). The core exhortation is tied to the central event, summed up by the structure of verse 40:

“And (so) you (must) come to be ready/prepared…
in that (i.e. because)
…you do not think/consider [i.e. are not aware] of which hour the Son of Man comes”

We have already looked at several sayings where the “Son of Man” functions as God’s representative: a divine/heavenly figure who would appear (with the Angels) at the end-time, and/or would oversee the Judgment (Lk 9:26f, 12:8-9). Some scholars question whether or not (originally) Jesus might have been referring to a separate figure, and not to himself. While conceivable on objective grounds, I find this to be highly unlikely. There are so many instances where, in the use of “Son of Man”, Jesus clearly refers to himself, that in eschatological passages (such as we find here) there is little reason to think that he is not identifying himself with this figure as well. In other words, Jesus is not so much the returning Master of the illustrations, but specifically the Son of Man—the personal representative of God Himself at the end-time. This identification will be discussed again in the next daily note (on Luke 17:20-37).

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 5 (“Q” sayings, etc)

Having examined the Son of Man sayings in the core Synoptic (Triple) Tradition (cf. the previous note), it will be useful here to survey the additional sayings and references found in Matthew and Luke (but not in Mark). While these most likely derive from separate lines of tradition, they all relate fundamentally to the sayings already discussed. I begin with the so-called “Q” material—sayings and traditions found in Matthew and Luke.

The “Q” Sayings

There are between 7 and 9 distinct sayings from the “Q” material. The first three (as they occur in Luke) tend to focus on the earthly life and suffering of Jesus, while the remainder have an eschatological (Judgment) emphasis.

Luke 7:34 / Matt 11:19—Here we seem to have a simple self-reference by Jesus, dealing with his behavior/lifestyle during his ministry on earth. However, the expression “the Son of Man has come…” may allude to a certain eschatological and/or Messianic expectation (cf. below). In both Luke and Matthew, this saying is part of a (fixed) block of material dealing with the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist (Lk 7:18-35 par).

Luke 9:58 / Matt 8:20—The emphasis is on the poverty and hardship endured by Jesus during his earthly ministry:

“The foxes have holes/lairs (for dwelling), and the birds of the heaven(s) (have place)s to put down house [lit. tent], but the Son of Man does not have (any)where to bend (down) his head (for the night)” (Lk 9:58)

This also is part of a (fixed) sequence of sayings on the theme of discipleship. A motif of self-sacrifice is tied to the suffering and hardship of Jesus—i.e., his identification with the human condition.

Luke 11:30 / Matt 12:40—In this saying, Jesus draws upon the Old Testament story of Jonah, as a type or figure of his upcoming death. The saying is formulated quite differently in Luke and Matthew, but it clearly derives from a common tradition. It combines the idea of suffering (his death) with the scene of Judgment in Lk 11:29-32 par—two important aspects of the Son of Man sayings in the Gospels.

Luke 12:8-9 / Matt 10:32-33—This saying presents a vivid scene of the Judgment and the heavenly tribunal, or courtroom, with the Son of Man playing a central role in the proceedings. It was discussed briefly in the previous note, in relation to the corresponding saying in Mk 8:38 par.

Luke 12:10 / Matt 12:32—Another Son of Man saying follows immediately in Luke (by way of “catchword” bonding), while in Matthew it is found in a different location, joined to the Synoptic parallel in v. 31 (Mk 3:28-29). As I noted previously, the Synoptic saying in Mark raises the possibility that “Son of Man” could have originally been intended (by Jesus) in the general sense of “human being(s)”. However, in the context of the “Q” version in Matthew and Luke, it is almost certainly understood as a (self-)title of Jesus. Luke has more clearly preserved the eschatological/Judgment setting of the saying.

Luke 12:40 / Matt 24:44—Here the Son of Man saying is part of a short parable (Lk 12:39-40 par), and has a definite eschatological emphasis, warning Jesus’ disciples of the suddenness of the Son of Man’s appearance:

“(So) you also must come to be prepared, (in) that [i.e. because] (it is at) an hour of which you are not thinking/aware (that) the Son of Man comes!” (Lk 12:40)

Luke has included it as part of the eschatological material in chapter 12, while Matthew has set it in the eschatological “discourse” (chaps. 24-25 = Lk 21:5-36) during the final period in Jerusalem.

Luke 17:24, 26, 30 / Matt 24:27, 37, 39—There are three references to the Son of Man in the eschatological “Q” material of Lk 17:24-37. Matthew has included these sayings as part of the Jerusalem eschatological “discourse”, in a different arrangement:

Again, in both versions, the emphasis is on the suddenness of the Son of Man’s appearance at the end time:

“Very (much) as the flash (of lightning) flashing out of the (one place) under the heaven(s) into the (other place) under the heaven(s), so it will be (with) the Son of Man [in his day]” (Lk 17:24)

Matthew’s version is expressed in more conventional imagery—parousi/a (parousia) being a common early Christian (technical) term for the return of Jesus:

“For just as the flash (of lightning) comes out from the rising up (of the sun) [i.e. the east] and shines unto the sinking (of the sun) [i.e. in the west], so will be the Son of Man’s (com)ing to be alongside [parousi/a, i.e. his coming/return]” (Matt 24:27)

The Son of Man’s appearance will be both sudden and all-encompassing, like a flash of lightning which fills the sky from one end to the other. The Scriptural allusions in Lk 17:26-30 par—Noah and Lot [Matthew only refers to Noah]—involve Judgment by God upon humankind, expressed through natural disaster and destruction. Such natural phenomena were typically seen as accompanying the end-time Judgment (the “Day of YHWH”) in the Scriptural prophecies, such as those cited by Jesus in Mk 13:24-25 par (Isa 13:10; 34:4). It essentially reflects the idea of theophany—the presence of God breaking through into the natural world.

Luke includes certain elements in this section which are unique to his Gospel, such as the two references to Lot (vv. 28-29, 32-33). Both are likely part of the original tradition. Matthew may have omitted the reference (cp. Matt 24:37-39) for the sake of brevity. Similarly, a reference to Lot’s wife is a natural illustration for the saying in v. 31, which has a parallel in Mk 13:15-16. More significant is the Son of Man saying in verse 22:

“The days will come when you will set (your) impulse [i.e. heart/desire] upon seeing one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see (it)”

The expression “days of the Son of Man” probably is meant to fit the pattern of the sayings which follow—”days of Noah”, “days of Lot” (vv. 27-28). It refers to the time of the Son of Man’s appearing. More curious is the formulation “one of the days of…”, the precise meaning of which remains uncertain. Perhaps it serves to intensify the dramatic tension of the illustration—i.e., people will not be able to see anything, not even a glimpse, of the Son of Man’s appearance, no matter how much they long for it. As the following sayings make clear, this will be due to the death and destruction which will come upon human beings at the time of the Judgment. Only the elect/chosen ones (i.e., believers in Jesus) will be saved from this fate. Here seeing the Son of Man is synonymous with experiencing the salvation/deliverance which he brings (cf. Lk 21:28, etc).

Sayings and References found only in Luke

Apart from Lk 17:20, mentioned above, the following occurrences of the expression “Son of Man” are found only in Luke:

  • Lk 6:22—This is the Lukan Beatitude corresponding to Matt 5:11; while in Matthew Jesus uses the expression “on account of me“, the Lukan form is “on account of the Son of Man“. It is a clear example of “Son of Man” as a self-reference by Jesus, being readily understood as such in the early Tradition. It also draws upon the motif of suffering and persecution which is central to a number of the Son of Man sayings. The Judgment setting of the Beatitude form (on this, cf. my earlier series on the Beatitudes) comes across more clearly in Luke’s version (6:20-26).
  • Lk 18:8—The parable in vv. 1-8a concludes with a Son of Man saying (v. 8b) which may originally have been given in a separate context. It serves as a kind of eschatological warning, and an exhortation, to Jesus’ followers, that they remain faithful despite the hardship and persecution they may experience in the current wicked Age:
    “The Son of Man, (at his) coming, will he (truly) find (any) trust (in God) upon the earth?”
    The coming of the Son of Man, in the context of the Lukan narrative, must be understood in light of the earlier eschatological material in chap. 17 (cf. above).
  • Lk 19:10—This saying appears to be a “floating” tradition, which is found in different locations (i.e., Lk 9:55; Matt 18:11) in the various manuscripts. Its inclusion at the end of the Zaccheus episode (19:1-9) may be a Lukan adaptation of the tradition. The saying itself refers to the earthly ministry of Jesus, with a possible allusion to his (sacrificial) suffering and death (cf. Mk 10:45). The emphasis on salvation—the Son of Man’s role in saving sinners—is unique here among these sayings in the Synoptics, being more prominent in the Son of Man sayings in John (to be discussed in the next note).
  • Lk 21:36—The end-time Judgment and the heavenly tribunal are certainly in view in this saying (cf. 12:40 par), with the Son of Man even more clearly in the position of Judge—”…to stand in front of the Son of Man”.
  • Lk 22:48—On this addition to the Son of Man references in the Passion narrative, cf. the earlier note.
  • Lk 24:7—The words of the Angel in the Lukan resurrection scene refer back directly to the Passion predictions by Jesus (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33 par).

Sayings and References found only in Matthew

  • Matt 10:23—In Matthew’s narrative, this saying is part of Jesus’ instruction to the Twelve prior to being sent out on their mission (vv. 5ff). It includes sayings and teaching which are found in different locations in the other Gospels. While it all fits thematically, portions such as vv. 17-23 seem decidedly out of place. Indeed the instruction/exhortation in verses 17-23 is much more appropriate to a setting closer to Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection (cf. Mk 13:9-13 and the Last Supper Discourses [chs. 13-17] in John). In its original context, v. 23 almost certainly was eschatological, referring to the end-time coming of the Son of Man, as in many of the passages discussed above. However, the narrative setting here in Matthew creates an obvious chronological difficulty.
  • Matt 13:37, 41—There are two Son of Man references in the parable of the Weeds (i.e., Jesus’ explanation in vv. 36-43, cf. vv. 24-30). Verse 37 is unique in the Synoptic Gospels with its apparent allusion to the divine pre-existence of the Son of Man (otherwise found only in the Gospel of John). It no doubt also refers to the earthly ministry of Jesus. Verse 41 draws upon the image of the Son of Man as God’s representative overseeing the end-time Judgment (cf. the passages discussed above, and in the prior note).
  • Matt 16:13—In the episode of Peter’s confession, Jesus (in Matthew’s version) asks, “Who do men count [i.e. consider] the Son of Man to be?”. In Mk 8:27 par it is: “Who do men count me to be?”. Cf. on Lk 6:22 above, for the interchangeability with “Son of Man” as a self-reference of Jesus.
  • Matt 16:28—Matthew’s version of the saying in Mk 9:1 par may reflect an adaptation influenced by the earlier Son of Man reference in v. 27 (cf. Mk 8:38). Compare:
    “…until they should see the Kingdom of God having come in power” (Mk)
    “…until they should see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom” (Mt)
    The result is a saying with a more pronounced Christological emphasis (cf. Lk 23:42, etc).
  • Matt 19:28—This saying has been discussed in an earlier note. It may properly belong to the “Q” material (cp. Lk 22:29-30), but the reference to the Son of Man is unique to Matthew’s version. It draws upon the image of Jesus’ exaltation, which is otherwise found in the Son of Man sayings only in Mk 14:62 par, though it may also be inferred from the very idea of the Son of Man coming to earth (from Heaven) at the time of Judgment.
  • Matt 25:31—The eschatological image of the Son of Man, at the beginning of the parable (vv. 31-46), very much follows the Synoptic sayings in Mk 8:38; 13:26 par, etc. This is the clearest Judgment scene involving the Son of Man in the Gospels.
  • Matt 26:2—This saying by Jesus, echoing the earlier Passion predictions, has been utilized by Matthew in his introduction of the Passion narrative.

The next note will survey the dozen or so Son of Man sayings and references in the Gospel of John.

Yeshua the Anointed, Part 10: The Son of Man

In this part I will be looking at the Messianic figure-type of Heavenly Judge and Redeemer, most commonly expressed in terms of the title “Son of Man”. Because of its importance within Gospel Tradition (the Sayings of Jesus), it is best to start with an examination of how this title is used in the Gospels.

Background and Use in Gospel Tradition

I have already discussed many of the Son of Man sayings of Jesus in Luke (and John) in some detail in a recent series of Easter season notes (soon to be posted here), and so will only describe them (and their Synoptic parallels) in summary form.

The expression “son of man” in Hebrew (<d*a* /B# ben °¹d¹m, occasionally vona$ /B# ben °§nôš) and Aramaic (vn`a$ rB^ bar °§n¹š, with later variants avn rb, vn rb [also <da rb]) simply means human being—one belonging to the human race or possessing human characteristics. In the Old Testament (poetry) it is typically set parallel to “man” (<d*a*), often to convey specifically the idea of human mortality or its limited and imperfect nature (in contrast to God)—cf. Num 23:19; Job 16:21; 25:6; 35:8; Psalm 8:4; 80:17; 144:3; 146:3; Isa 51:12; 56:2; Jer 50:40; 51:43. In Ezekiel (more than 90 times) and Daniel (Dan 8:17), it is used when the divine/heavenly being addresses the visionary prophet—in formal English idiom, something like “(as for) you, O mortal…” Finally, there is the unique occurrence in Daniel 7:13, where it refers to a divine/heavenly figure who resembles a human being (“like a son of man [vn`a$ rb^K=]”). I have discussed the interpretation of this famous reference in a supplemental note; given the overall context of the book of Daniel, most likely it originally referred to a heavenly being or Messenger (Angel) who represents the people of God, similar to the role Michael plays elsewhere in the book.

Outside of Daniel, the expression “son of man” is rare in Jewish writings of the intertestamental period, and is never used as the title of a distinct eschatological or Messianic figure. In the Qumran texts, there are only a few occurrences of the expression (1QS 11:20; 1QH 4:30 [Hebrew]; 1QapGen 21:13; 11QtgJob 9:9; 26:2f [Aramaic, citing the OT]) in the general sense of “human being, humankind” (cf. also Testament of Joseph 2:5). It is somewhat surprising that there are no clear references to the “Son of Man” of Daniel 7:13ff in the writings from Qumran, given the Community’s eschatological/apocalyptic orientation and their apparent interest in the book of Daniel, including a number of texts clearly influenced by it (esp. the so-called “Pseudo-Daniel” works 4Q242-246). As far as I am aware, there are no direct citations or allusions to Dan 7:13 in the extant Qumran scrolls and fragments, though this may simply be an accident of survival. The Aramaic text 4Q246 certainly was influenced by Daniel 7, especially in the way that the “everlasting kingdom” of the people of God follows the violent kingdoms of the nations (Assyria, et al). If the parallel between the (Messianic) King who arises (col. 1, lines 7ff) and the people of God that arises (col 2, lines 4ff) is meant to echo the parallel between the heavenly figure of Dan 7:13 and the people of God (7:22, 27), then that would be an indication that the “Son of Man” in Daniel was being interpreted in a eschatological and Messianic sense. However, based on the limited evidence that survives, it would seem that this specific concept of “the Son of Man” had not developed or become widely known prior to the 1st century A.D.

Of the 86 occurrences of “Son of Man” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] a)nqrw/pou), in the New Testament, all but 4 are found in the Gospels, and virtually all of them from the words of Jesus. Indeed, “Son of Man” is never used as a title of Jesus in the New Testament, apart from Acts 7:56 which is a direct reflection of Gospel tradition (Lk 22:69 par). In Rev 1:13; 14:14, it is used of Jesus, but as a literal quotation of the expression in Dan 7:13 (“one like a son of man”). The striking absence of “Son of Man” as a title for Jesus in early Christian tradition must be noted, in contrast to the frequency with which Jesus used it. Generally speaking, Jesus uses it as a way to refer to himself, as a kind of substitute or circumlocution for the pronoun “I” (i.e. “this human being”), though in the context of his sayings, the expression often connotes more than this. In the core Synoptic tradition (as represent by the Gospel of Mark), the Son of Man sayings can be divided into three categories:

    • Those which emphasize the authority a human being (specifically Jesus) has over fundamental religious matters (forgiveness of sin, the Sabbath)—Mark 2:10, 28.
    • Those which refer to Jesus’ Passion, i.e. his suffering and death (and resurrection)—Mark 8:31; 9:9, 12, 31; 10:33; 14:21, 41 (note also Mk 10:45).
    • Those which identify Jesus as a divine/heavenly figure who will appear at the end-time Judgment—Mark 8:38; 13:26-27; 14:62. The idea of the Son of Man “coming in glory” or “with the clouds of heaven” indicates rather clearly a reference to Daniel 7:13ff.

When we turn to the material shared by Matthew/Luke (so-called “Q”), or unique to Matthew or Luke, we find a bit more diversity in the Son of Man sayings, but also a larger number with an eschatological emphasis. I categorize the sayings as follows:

(For the Son of Man sayings in the Gospel of John, see my easter season note)

Given the way that the Sayings of this last group, emphasizing the Son of Man as a divine/heavenly figure associated with the glory of God, draw upon Scriptural passages such as Daniel 7:13ff and Psalm 110:1 (especially the core Synoptic saying of Mark 14:62 par), scholars have at times questioned their authenticity. I have addressed this issue in a supplemental note, and will only add here that the specific use of “Son of Man” in such a context very much has the mark of authenticity. Early believers, seeking to emphasize the exalted position or deity of Jesus, would, I think, have been inclined to gloss “Son of Man” with a more familiar title such as “Anointed” (Messiah/Christ), “Son of God” or simply “I” to clarify that it is Jesus who is coming (again) at the end-time. Such interpretive modification of the Son of Man sayings is extremely rare in the New Testament and its textual tradition. On objective grounds, we may be reasonably confident that Jesus did, in fact, identify himself with a divine/heavenly figure who will appear at the end-time Judgment, and who is largely patterned after the “Son of Man” in Daniel 7:13-14.

Son of Man in Contemporary Jewish Tradition

If we look at the Jewish writings (which have survived) from the first centuries B.C., there are only two which use the expression “Son of Man” in a sense similar to that used by Jesus in his eschatological sayings (cf. above); these are—the Similitudes of Enoch and the deutero-canonical 2/4 Esdras.

The Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71)

Though they are included in the Book of Enoch as it has come down to us (in the Ethiopic version[s], etc), the Similitudes do not appear to be part of the Book of Enoch as known and used at Qumran (in the 2nd-1st centuries B.C.). For at least a portion of their history, the Qumran Community regarded the Book of Enoch essentially as authoritative Scripture, preserving numerous copies (more survive than for many canonical OT books); however 1 Enoch 37-71 is not attested in these scrolls. Because of this, many scholars have concluded that the Similitudes had not yet been composed as a specific literary document by the turn of the era. The Son of Man passages were often thought to indicate Christian influence (cf. J. T. Milik’s edition and commentary, The Books of Enoch), but this is not necessarily the case, and the majority opinion today would date it sometime in the 1st-centuries B.C./A.D. Scholars such as J. H. Charlesworth (Qumran-Messianism, pp. 40-41) and J. J. Collins (Daniel, p. 79) have suggested a date corresponding roughly to the reign of Herod (37-4 B.C.) or in the early 1st century A.D.

The title “Son of Man” (Ethiopic walda sabe° etc) occurs around twenty times in the Similitudes, beginning with 1 En 46:1-4ff where Enoch has a vision of the Head/Ancient of Days, clearly patterned after Daniel 7:9-14. When Enoch asks who this One “like a human being” might be, he is told:

“This is the Son of Man, to whom belongs righteousness, and with whom righteousness dwells. And he will open all the hidden storerooms; for the Lord of the Spirits has chosen him (46:3)… He shall depose the kings from their thrones and kingdoms. For they do not extol and glorify him, and neither do they obey him, the source of their kingship” (46:5) [OTP 1:34]

The Son of Man in the Similitudes is a heavenly, pre-existent being (46:2; 48:2), the embodiment of righteousness and kingship, whom God has chosen, and whose identity has been hidden from the kings and nations of earth (62:7). Only to the righteous and chosen ones of God is he revealed (in particular, to Enoch). This same heavenly being is called by the titles Righteous One, Elect/Chosen One, as well as “Anointed One” (48:10; 52:4). Even though the Son of Man is connected with Kingship and called “Anointed One”, there is no real indication that he fulfills the role or figure-type of Davidic Ruler (cf. Parts 6 and 7). He does serve as (eschatological) Judge over the nations and will establish the rule of the elect/righteous ones (i.e. the people of God), as the Messiah-King does, for example, in Psalms of Solomon 17-18 and 2 Baruch; however, in the Similitudes, this seems to derive more from the themes and imagery of Daniel 7 etc, rather than the tradition of the covenant/promise to David.

For the idea of Enoch being exalted to the position of the Son of Man in chapters 70-71, cf. below.

2/4 Esdras (4 Ezra)

This deutero-canonical text is known as “4 Esdras” according to Catholic/Vulgate tradition, and as “2 Esdras” in most Protestant English Bibles (to add to the confusion, most scholars now refer to it as “4 Ezra” [specifically chapters 3-14]). It is typically dated to the late 1st-century A.D., but there is not much evidence of Christian adaptation. The vision of the Eagle and the Lion in 2 Esdras 11-12 is clearly influenced by Daniel 7—the text and author say as much in the interpretation of the vision (12:7-39, cf. vv. 11ff). In 12:31ff, the Lion is identified as the “Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah) “whom the Most High has kept until the end of days”. This generally matches the idea in the Similitudes of Enoch, that has kept the Son of Man (the Righteous/Elect/Anointed One) hidden from the world until the time of Judgment. However, unlike the Son of Man in Enoch, the “Anointed One” in 2/4 Esdras is clearly identified as one “who will arise from the posterity of David”.

In chapter 13, there is a similar vision (vv. 1-13) of “something like the figure of a man” that rises out of the sea who will make war against the people of earth (using language and imagery from Isa 11:1-4). In the interpretation of the vision which follows (13:21-56), this one “like a man” is clearly a Messianic figure just as the lion of chs. 11-12—”whom the Most High has been keeping for many ages, who will himself deliver his creation”. This again appears to be a heavenly figure much like the Son of Man in the Similitudes of Enoch, who will appear to subdue and judge the nations, establishing the Kingdom/Rule of God on earth for the faithful remnant. Thus we find in 2/4 Esdras a combination two Messianic figure types—Anointed Ruler from the line of David, and heavenly “Son of Man”—just as we see in the case of Jesus in early Gospel/Christian tradition. Interestingly, this “man” is also referred to by God as “my Son” (13:32, 37, 52). Translations above are from OTP 1:550-2.

A Heavenly Redeemer Figure

There are a number of instances in Messianic thought of the period which suggest the figure of a Heavenly Redeemer and/or Judge, but which do not involve the title “Son of Man” nor refer specifically to Daniel 7. In the Qumran texts, the Messengers of God (Angels) play an important role in relation to the Community, which generally viewed itself as the holy/righteous ones on earth, corresponding to the “Holy Ones” in Heaven—the earthly and heavenly Communities were connected and interrelated. It is therefore no surprise to find this same parallel expressed vividly in eschatological terms, during the final end time battle: the “sons of Light”, i.e. the Qumran Community, led by the “Prince of the Congregation”, would be supported by Angelic armies led by the “Prince of Light” (1QM IX.15; XII-XIII; XVII). The chief Angel Michael, especially, was referred to as “prince” and protector of God’s people in Daniel 12:1 (cf. 10:13, 21), and comes to appear frequently in many subsequent Jewish writings (1 Enoch, 2 Enoch, Testament of Abraham, 3 Baruch, etc). He is mentioned in several texts from Qumran (1QM 17:6-8; 4Q529 [6Q23]), and is often thought to be the same as the “Prince of Light” (1QS 3:22-23; 1QM 13, etc). Revelation 12:7ff draws upon a tradition similar to that of the Qumran War Scroll, where Michael and the Angels make war against the forces of darkness/wickedness.

Many scholars have held that “Melchizedek” in the Qumran text 11QMelch[izedek] (11Q13), who functions in the role of end-time Judge and Redeemer for the people of God, is a heavenly/angelic figure, based primarily on the application of Psalm 82:1-2 in the text (cf. the discussion in Part 9). Some have also thought that the king called “Son of God / Son of the Most High” in 4Q246 may also be an angel such as Michael, due to the apparent parallel with the “Son of Man” figure in Daniel 7:13-14ff.

Outside of the Qumran scrolls, we might cite the angelic figure of “Eremiel” in the Apocalypse of Zephaniah 6:11-15 (1st century B.C./A.D.?), and also the Testament (Assumption) of Moses 10:1-3ff, where a “Messenger” appears to subdue the enemies of God’s people at the time that His Kingdom “will appear throughout all His creation”.

The Exaltation of Jesus

When speaking of Jesus as a divine/heavenly figure who will appear in glory at the end-time, this can be understood two ways in Christian tradition, in terms of: (1) his exaltation to the right hand of God following the resurrection, or (2) his pre-existent deity. By all accounts, the earliest strands of Christian tradition associated Jesus’ divine/heavenly status specifically with the resurrection, evidenced by: (a) the entire Synoptic Gospel tradition, (b) early Gospel preaching preserved in the book of Acts, and (c) early kerygmatic elements in the letters of Paul, etc. This idea is especially prominent in the Gospel proclamation (kerygma) of the early sermon-speeches recorded in the book of Acts, where Jesus’ resurrection is often connected with his being exalted to the right hand of God in heaven (Acts 2:24-25, 32-33ff; 3:15-21; 5:30-31; 10:40, 42; 13:30-39). The image of Jesus at the right of God is well-established in early Christian tradition (Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; 1 Pet 3:22; Heb 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2), almost certainly influenced by Psalm 110:1 (cf. Acts 2:33ff; Heb 1:13). In Acts 7:55-56, Jesus is specifically identified with the Son of Man of Dan 7:13-14, according to sayings of Jesus in Synoptic Tradition (Mark 13:26-27; 14:62 par).

The idea of a human being exalted to heavenly/divine status is attested in several Jewish writing of the period, prior to, or contemporary with, the time of Jesus. I cite here the most notable and relevant examples:

  • 4Q427, 471b, 491—In these fragmentary texts from Qumran, the author/speaker makes bold declarations such as “[to] my [glor]y no one compares…[my] office is among the gods [<yla]!” (4Q427 frag. 7 i.11), “for I have sat on a [thron]e in the heavens, and there is no one [ ]…. I am reckoned with the gods [<yla] and my abode is in the holy congregation” (4Q491 frag. 11 i.12-14). Commentators have been divided as to whether the speaker is an angel (such as Michael), or a human being, who in some manner claims to have achieved heavenly status so as to be counted among the °¢lîm (“gods”, i.e. heavenly beings, Angels). Most scholars consider 4Q427 to be part of the Thanksgiving Hymns (Hœdâyôt [1QH]), a number of which are often thought to have been composed by the “Teacher of Righteousness”, a leading figure of the Community whose position, it would seem, will ultimately be fulfilled by a future/eschatological Teacher. There are a number of general parallels between this Teacher-figure at Qumran and Jesus, and the Teacher may have achieved a special, exalted status by the time of his death (and thereafter). Cf. Martin J. Abegg, “Who Ascended to Heaven?…” (Eschatology, pp. 61-63).
  • 1 Enoch 70-71—As noted above, in the Similitudes of Enoch (1 En 37-71, early 1st-century A.D.?), Enoch is shown several visions involving the “Son of Man”, a pre-existent and heavenly figure who will appear as Judge over the nations at the end-time. However, in chapters 70-71, Enoch himself is raised/elevated into heaven (cf. Gen 5:24), and appears to be identified with the Son of Man in some way. In 70:1, we read that the “living name” of the Son of Man (i.e. Enoch) was “raised up before that Son of Man and to the Lord…”. Then in 71:14 an Angel greets Enoch, addressing him “You, Son of Man, who are born in righteousness and upon whom righteousness has dwelt…”. The entire passage is difficult, but the Son of Man figure would seem to represent, in part at least, a kind of heavenly archetype (“Righteous One”) for the righteous ones on earth; Enoch, as the first of the righteous on earth to be raised into heaven, achieves a union or assimilation into the heavenly archetype.
  • 2 Enoch 71-72—As a child Melchizedek is taken up into Heaven by the angel Michael, where he will remain until the end time. In some ways, this is parallel to the dynamic between Enoch and the Son of Man (cf. above). See also the identification of Enoch with the angel “Metatron” in the later 3 (Hebrew) Enoch.

Within a generation after the resurrection of Jesus (before 60 A.D.), as the result of further thought, reflection (and revelation), Christians came to understand his divine/heavenly status somewhat differently—in terms of pre-existent deity. Probably the earliest evidence for this belief is the Christ-hymn in Philippians 2:6-11 (cf. also Col 1:15-20). It is attested in more developed form (and exalted language) in the Prologue of John (Jn 1:1-18) and is expressed throughout the Fourth Gospel (c. 70-90 A.D.?). The Letter to the Hebrews carefully combines the pre-existent deity of the Son with the (earlier) idea of Jesus’ exaltation following his death (cf. Heb 1:1-4; 2:5-18; 5:5-10, etc).

References above marked “OTP” are to The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (2 vols.), ed. by James H. Charlesworth (Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] 1983, 1985)
Those marked “Qumran-Messianism” are to Qumran-Messianism: Studies on Messianic Expectations in the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. by James H. Charlesworth, Hermann Lichtenberger, and Gebern S. Oegema (Mohr Siebeck: 1998).
Those marked “Daniel” are to the Commentary on Daniel by John J. Collins in the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press: 1993).
Those marked “Eschatology” are to Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. by Craig A. Evans and Peter W. Flint (Eerdmans: 1997).