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markable prophecy : " I saw in the night visions. And behold, one like unto the son of man," or like to a son of man, came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion and glory, and a kingdom, that all people and nations and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” *And our Lord is supposed to allude to this prophecy upon a very memorable occasion; when, being before the high priest, he adjured him, saying: “ Tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus saith unto him ; Thou hast said. Nevertheless I say unto you; Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven," Matt. xxvi, 63, 64. See also Mark xiv. 61, 62.
The Son of man, then, when used by our Saviour in speaking of himself, may denote his great character, the promised Messiah. This sense I do not absolutely reject, and it may be embraced by those to whom it approves itself.
Nevertheless there are some exceptions to be made against its being equivalent to Messiah, and against its being what our Lord intends thereby.
It seems to me, that the forecited text from Daniel is not a sufficient foundation for this opinion. The phrase is no where used in Daniel, but in the place just taken notice of, and in one more; ch. viii. 17, where an angel says to Daniel himself: “ Understand, O son of man. For at the time of the end shall be the vision.”
Though therefore in the other place of Daniel those words, “ there came one like the son of man,” intend Jesus, the Messiah ; it does not follow, that it is equivalent to Messiah, and is used by our Lord in that sense.
Another difficulty there is, which must be reckoned of some moment. Our Lord very often speaks of himself in the character of the Son of man. But yet he declined to own himself publicly, and ordinarily, to be the Messiah. There is a text in Matt. xvi. 13–16, which is observable. “ When Jesus came into the coasts of Cæsarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying; Whom do men say, that I the Son of man am ?” After they had mentioned the opinions of others concerning him, he asks their own. Whereupon " Peter answered ; Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It seems therefore, that the Son of man, and the Christ, are not equivalent, and that the phrase is not so used by our Lord.
Moreover, if it had, it is likely, that the disciples and others would have often spoken of our Lord in that character, and would sometimes have made their profession of him in such words, saying, that they believed him to be the Son of man; whereas there is not one such instance in the gospels, and but one in the Acts of the Apostles; ch. vii. 56, where St. Stephen says: “ I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God." This phrase is also found in Rev. i. 13, and ch. xiv. 14.
It should be bere observed by us, that man, and son of man, with the Hebrews, often denote a man of low condition. “ Hear this, all ye people, -both low and high, rich and poor together," Ps. xlix. 1, 2. The original Hebrew word rendered by us low is sons of Adam; evidently meaning men of obscure birth and low rank, or mean condition.
Lord, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him? or the son of man, that thou takest account of him ?” Ps. cxliv. 3. Where the Psalmist intends to represent the human meanness and wretchedness.
Farther, it is observed by learned commentators, that this denomination is given to some prophets, with this view, and in this sense, particularly to Daniel and Ezekiel. However, I think, it is but once applied to Daniel, and in the place before mentioned. But to Ezekiel very frequently. "And he said unto me, Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious house," Ezek. ii. 3. And in like manner, very often in that book, almost in every chapter of it, and in some chapters several times. And it is said by those commentators, that this expression is there used with a design to admonish those prophets of their meanness and frailty, as men. Our Lord therefore by this phrase or character represents that humbling of himself, which is spoken of by the apostle in the second chapter to the Philippians, and is the same with what is said in Isa. liii. 3, "he is despised, and rejected of men,” or is one of the lowest and meanest of men.
Our Lord adopts this character in speaking of himself, in order to undeceive the Jews, and correct their false opinion concerning the kingdom of the Messiah, and to intimate, that he was not to arrive at glory, and the full possession of his kingdom, but through sufferings and humiliations. Thus argue
those interpreters, and, as seems to me, very cogently. And therefore, if Son of man be equivalent to Messiah, it is not used to denote his dignity, as the first and greatest of men, but rather to signify his humble form and low condition, in which he then lived; and is expressive of the scorn and contempt which was cast upon him, and in which he acquiesced.
Moreover, possibly, our Lord frequently makes use of this expression, to denote his real humanity, and also that he was not made and created as Adam, but was a man born even of a woman.
Once more, it seems to me, that our Lord takes this character as a modest way of speaking. Eminent and distinguished persons, who have many occasions to speak of themselves, especially if it be to their advantage, decline the too frequent use of the phrases I and me, and choose to speak in the third person, as of another, distinct from themselves.
Having mentioned all these several observations concerning this title and character, let us now take notice of some of the places of the evangelists where it is used.
Matt. xx. 17, 18, “ And Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them; Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and scribes, and they shall deliver him unto the Gentiles.”. Here, and in other places, our Lord may be supposed to make use of this expression, as a modest way of speaking. So also in John i. 51. “ Thou shalt see greater things than these. —Hereafter shall ye see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” Which must be reckoned more agreeable to decorum, than to say, upon me. John xii. 23, And “ Jesus answered them, saying ; The hour is come that the Son of man shall be glorified.' Which likewise must be allowed by all to be more agreeable than to say : “ When I am to be glorified."
And in the text, “ The days are coming, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man. Our Lord might have said, “ one of my days." We actually have that expression in John vii. 5, 6, “ Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day. And he saw it, and was glad.” But he might choose, generally, to speak in the other way, especially as the title, Son of man, carried in it no ambitious, aspiring meaning, but rather denoted a mean condition, as was before shown.
Therefore let us observe a few more passages of the evangelists, where this character occurs. It seems to be used in the same manner in the text above cited. 66 Whom do men say that I, the Son of man,” who appear in so mean a form," am ?” So likewise John v. 27, " And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man:” that is, as seems to me, because of his present willing humiliation and abasement. So St. Paul, Philip. ii. 8, 9, having spoken of our Lord's humbling himself unto death,” adds: “ wherefore God also has exalted him, and given him a name wbich is above every name.”
Matt. xxvi. 63, 64, “ The high priest answered, and said unto him; I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us, whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus saith unto him ; Thou hast said. Nevertheless I say unto you ; Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man,” that is, him, who now is in so low a condition, so humbled and abased, “ sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”
And when St. Stephen says, Acts vii. 56, “ Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God:” it is likely that he refers to our Lord's mean condition in this world, and the base treatment which he had received from the Jewish people. But though once he had been so low, he was now exalted.
And some judicious expositors think, that the title is to be understood as used with this view in that noted place of Daniel : “ I beheld, and one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven." He had a humble appearance, but he was greatly honoured and exalted. “ He came on the clouds of heaven,” and an extensive and everlasting dominion was given to him.
This title, then, being expressive of humility and abasement, is very fitly adopted by our Lord, in representing the glory conferred on him by the Father, of which he was obliged to speak, and to inform his disciples about it. Matt. xü. 41, The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend.” Matt. xvi. 28, “ Verily I say unto you: There are some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” Matt. xxv. 31, “ When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall be sit upon the throne of his glory.”
These are the observations which have been mentioned for illustrating this title and character, so often made use of by our Lord when speaking of himself. It sometimes denotes in scripture man in general, or any
It is also used for a man of low condition. And for that reason, probably, is frequently used by our Lord in speaking of himself, as expressive of the low estate, in which he, the Messiah, then was, and in which he willingly acquiesced. It was a modest way of speaking, and was suited to admonish the Jewish people, and correct their mistaken apprehensions concerning the worldly nature of his kingdom; and to intimate, that, as Messiah, he must suffer before he was advanced to glory. Moreover, such being his condition in this world, his followers also should expect the like, and be willing to submit to afflictions and trials here, that they may be thereby farther prepared and qualified for heavenly glory and happiness.
II. The second thing to be considered by us is, who are the
persons to whom our Lord here speaks. “ And he said unto the disciples." "Possibly we need not thereby understand the twelve apostles. The word is sometimes used concerning the followers of Jesus in general, and of some who were not sincere, or well instructed, who ata tended on him for a while only, and with worldly views. So John vi. 66, “ From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.”
If our Lord speaks to his disciples, others also are instructed in what he says, and designed to be so. I find this text paraphrased by a judicious expositor after this manner. “ And he said to his disciples," or followers : "" the day will come, when ye," of this nation," shall desire * to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not
III. Which brings us to the last inquiry; how we are to understand this warning and prediction. The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it.”
If this relate chiefly to the Jewish nation and people, or a large part of them, who now were, and still continued, unbelieving; our Lord may be supposed, affectionately, and earnestly, to warn them of the sad circumstances which they were falling into. As if he had said: “The time would be, when all the gracious means, afforded them by the Divine Being, having proved to be in vain, their ruin would be * near, and their condition very calamitous. They would eagerly look for deliverance, and pretended leaders would offer themselves to their assistance, in order to draw fol• lowers after them. But they would not be able to perform • any thing to their advantage. The blessings offered by
in this mean form are despised. I set before you • heavenly blessings, things of the greatest value. And I . am able to perform what I promise. But they are not re
b Whitby upon the place. See also Doddridge's Family Expositor, vol. ii. p. 188.