Who IS the Son of Man?

I have it on good authority that some folks did get to go to church this past weekend and still have questions about what Jesus was even talking about in the Sunday morning readings. Specifically you want some help with the part where Jesus asks his disciples, “who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
The whole “Son of Man” deal is a matter of some confusion to even the most practiced of Christians. “I don’t know, who is the Son of Man supposed to be?” Is the question that most seem to want to ask Jesus. But it’s rude to answer a question with a question and it seems better to defer to Peter’s very pious answer, “the Messiah.”
But that doesn’t really get us any closer to the answer about what this whole Son of Man thing is about. Let’s dig deeper.
There are two popular theories about exactly what Jesus is talking about when he talks about The Son of Man. The first is rather simple, that such is the 1st century equivalent to the bro-speak “this guy” self-referent. (e.g. “Who has two thumbs and just scored killer tickets to the Jewel concert? <thumbs pointing at self> The Son of Man!”). Thus Jesus’s is using a somewhat strange and very self-centered way of asking “Who do people say that I am.”
The alternative is to understand “The son of Man” as a reference to an apocalyptic image from the Old Testament. In the book of Daniel, the revelation of God’s rule in the midst of the Babylonian Exile is brought to its fruition by a mythic figure sent to bring all worldly powers to heel. “One like a son of man,” is he description used here and it is generally thought to mean that this figure, unlike almost everything else in Daniel’s vision, is familiar to the reader because the rule looks human. Though the battles waged for the fate of creation are among multi-headed beasts and dragons and the like salvation comes through someone who is basically like us, one like the sons of men.
Thus the sense of many biblical scholars is that this is actually what’s on Jesus’ mind when he asks, “Who do people say the son of Man is?” And, moreover, that this would also be the image that was in either the minds of the disciples or those of the first readers of the Gospel, or both. We know that the writings of Daniel were important to the earliest Christians, trying to make sense out of the continued oppression they felt even after Jesus had revealed himself. It also seems fare to assume that part of this importance came from the fact that Jesus, himself taught about Daniel. Thus, the original disciples probably also understood the Son of Man reference.
And, at the end of the day, it was probably both. Jesus’ question about the Son of Man was simultaneously about his interest in the popular conception of who he was and his desire to remind the disciples that he was the one that they were waiting for.  the efficiency with which the Bible is written demands that most things carry multiple meanings. And the layers of meaning are recisely what have made biblical exploration such a fruitful spiritual practice for generations of Christians.
So, who do you say the Son of Man is? Drop me a line with an answer. Or pose a question of your own.

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