Many of Jesus’ teachings on the second coming revolve around his favorite self-designation: Son of Man. In fact, Jesus uses the title Son of Man roughly eighty times in the Gospels to refer to himself. While Jesus prefers to use this title rather than Son of God or Messiah to identify himself, it shouldn’t be assumed he has any doubts about his identity or wishes to be coy with his followers. His use of Son of Man is purposeful.
Jesus clearly reveals his deity at strategic times. For example, he applies the divine name I AM to himself (John 8:58). He claims equality with the Father (John 10:30). He receives worship (John 20:28). He forgives sins (Mark 2:1-12). He teaches with divine authority (Mark 1:21-22). He affirms in advance what the apostles write concerning his deity (John 1:1-3, 14; cf. Phil. 2:5-11; Col. 1:15-16; 2:9; Heb. 1:1-4). And he fulfills the attributes unique to God (Matt. 28:18-20; John 1:1; 5:22; 16:30; Heb. 1:8; 13:8).
It seems the term Son of Man accomplishes two primary goals. First, it illustrates that Jesus shares humanity with us. In Philippians 2:5-8, Paul spells out the humble manner in which the eternal Son of God adds sinless humanity to his deity. But a second goal is of equal importance. In calling himself Son of Man, especially in front of Israel’s religious elite, he reveals himself as the divine being of Daniel 7:13-14:
I continued watching in the night visions, and suddenly one like a son of man was coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was escorted before him. He was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, so that those of every people, nation, and language should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will not be destroyed (emphasis added).
Rev. 14:14 – Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and One like the Son of Man was seated on the cloud, with a gold crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand. (HCSB)
One like the Son of Man
Seated on the cloud is “One like the Son of Man.” He wears a gold crown on His head and wields a sharp sickle in His hand. There is little doubt that this is Jesus, who calls Himself the Son of Man more than 80 times in the Gospels. The name is not exclusive to Jesus in scripture. For example, the Lord calls Ezekiel “son of man” more than 90 times, and the angel Gabriel once refers to Daniel by the same moniker. But there is no doubt that in specific contexts “Son of Man” refers to the second person of the Godhead.
The Son of Man clearly is a divine being in Dan. 7:13, and Jesus’ claim to be the Son of Man who will come on the clouds of heaven (Matt. 26:64) is sufficient testimony to convict Him of blasphemy and condemn Him to death in the eyes of Caiaphas. It’s important for us to understand that in preferring to call Himself “Son of Man” rather than “Son of God,” Jesus is communicating His incarnation. He is neither denying His deity nor exalting His humanity; rather, He is demonstrating that He is one person with two natures: divine and human.
As Ron Rhodes writes, “First of all, even if the phrase ‘Son of Man’ is a reference to Jesus’ humanity, it is not a denial of His deity. By becoming a man, Jesus did not cease being God. The incarnation of Christ did not involve the subtraction of deity, but the addition of humanity. Jesus clearly claimed to be God on many occasions (Matthew 16:16, 17; John 8:58; 10:30). But in addition to being divine, He was also human (see Philippians 2:6-8). He had two natures (divine and human) conjoined in one person” (found at http://christiananswers.net/q-eden/son-of-man.html).
The name “Son of Man” is found almost exclusively in the mouth of Christ in the New Testament. The apostles and other writers avoid the term, with a couple of exceptions. In Acts 7:55 Stephen exclaims, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” And, of course, in Rev. 14:14 John sees “One like the Son of Man” seated on a white cloud.
The early church fathers are of the opinion that Jesus uses the expression “Son of Man” out of humility and to demonstrate His humanity. Others think He adopts the title so as not to offend His enemies until His hour is at hand. Then, associating this lowly title with Dan. 7:13 and tying it to His deity forces the hands of both His accusers and followers to acknowledge Him as Messiah or reject Him as a pretender. At last, this title is “capable of being applied so as to cover His Messianic claims – to include everything that had been foretold of the representative man, the second Adam, the suffering servant of Jehovah, the Messianic king” (The Catholic Encyclopedia, “Son of Man”).
Rev. 14:14 – Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and One like the Son of Man was seated on the cloud, with a gold crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand. 15 Another angel came out of the sanctuary, crying out in a loud voice to the One who was seated on the cloud, “Use your sickle and reap, for the time to reap has come, since the harvest of the earth is ripe.” 16 So the One seated on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.
17 Then another angel who also had a sharp sickle came out of the sanctuary in heaven. 18 Yet another angel, who had authority over fire, came from the altar, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from earth’s vineyard, because its grapes have ripened.” 19 So the angel swung his sickle toward earth and gathered the grapes from earth’s vineyard, and he threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. 20 Then the press was trampled outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press up to the horses’ bridles for about 180 miles. (HCSB)
Following the proclamation of the three angels, we next encounter “One like the Son of Man” seated on a white cloud. He wears a gold crown on His head and wields a sharp sickle in His hand. An angel beckons Him to use the sickle, and He does, harvesting the earth.
Then, a different angel comes out of the sanctuary. He, too, bears a sharp sickle, and at the bidding of a third angel, he swings the sickle to the earth, gathers the grapes from its vineyard, and casts them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. Finally, we are told the blood gushes out of the winepress at a depth approaching the horses’ bridles and for a length of 180 miles.
This is a graphic scene of harvest and vintage, and it raises many questions:
- What is the significance of the white cloud?
- Who is the “One like the Son of Man?”
- What does the sickle represent?
- Why do both the “One like the Son of Man” and the angel wield sickles on the earth?
- Who or what are the grapes that are gathered and thrown into the winepress?
- And does blood really flow several feet deep for 180 miles?
Let’s see if we can find answers.
Rev. 13:5 – A mouth was given to him to speak boasts and blasphemies. He was also given authority to act for 42 months. 6He began to speak blasphemies against God: to blaspheme His name and His dwelling – those who dwell in heaven. (HCSB)
A mouth was given to him
The dragon, who has given the beast his power, authority and throne, also endows him with great rhetorical skills and he uses them to blaspheme God, His name, and His dwelling.
In the Old Testament, the root meaning of the word “blasphemy” is an act of effrontery in which a person insults the honor of God and for which he or she may be put to death by stoning (see Lev. 24:10-23; 1 Kings 21:9ff). In the New Testament, the meaning is extended to include God’s representatives. For example, Jews from the Freedman’s Synagogue accuse Stephen of “speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God” (Acts 6:11).
Rev. 12:11 – They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not love their lives in the face of death. (HCSB)
They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb
Verse 11 reads: “They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not love their lives in the face of death.” There are two ways in which the “brothers” (v. 10) have achieved victory over Satan, according to the voice in heaven. Both of them involve death, a seemingly counterproductive way to win a battle – at least by the world’s standards.
First, the brothers conquer Satan by the blood of the Lamb. Satan’s desire to kill Jesus, or even to prevent his birth, is evident throughout scripture, most recently in Rev. 12:4 as the dragon is poised to devour the male child. Ironically, Jesus comes into the world to die, but on His terms, not Satan’s. There is a specific time and place for the Son of Man to give His life as a ransom for us. And when Jesus declares, “It is finished,” just before His death on the cross, He makes it clear that His purpose in coming to earth has been fulfilled. The apostle Paul summarizes this beautifully in 2 Cor. 5:21: “He [the Father] made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
For believers, the victory and the cross are inextricably bound. The apparent end of a radical rabbi on a hillside outside Jerusalem is thought by His enemies to be a magnificent triumph. Yet the bloody and gruesome death of Jesus of Nazareth is in fact the fulfillment of the Father’s eternal plan of redemption. Jesus may exult, “It is finished,” and be completely vindicated. Just as the high priest declares, “It is finished,” on the Day of Atonement when sacrifices will no longer be accepted, and just as the Roman general booms, “It is finished,” from his perch above the battlefield when he sees the enemy has been routed, Jesus shouts for all the world to hear that salvation has come to a lost and dying world because of His death.