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THE SON OF MAN
“The Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins.” MARK 2:10 (R.V.)
WHEN asserting His power to forgive sins, Jesus, for the first time in our Gospel, called Himself the Son of man.
It is a remarkable phrase. The profound reverence which He from the first inspired, restrained all other lips from using it, save only when the first martyr felt such a rush of sympathy from above poured into his soul, that the thought of Christ's humanity was more moving than that of His deity. So too it is then alone that He is said to be not enthroned in heaven, but standing, “the Son of man, standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).33The exceptions in the Revelation are only apparent. St. John does not call Jesus the Son of man (1:13), nor see Him, but only the type of Him, standing (v. 6).
What then does this title imply? Beyond doubt it is derived from Daniel's vision: “Behold there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a Son of man, and He came even to the Ancient of Days” (Dan. 7:13). And it was by the bold and unequivocal appropriation of this verse that Jesus brought upon Himself the judgment of the council (Matt. 26:64; Mark 19:62).
Now the first impression which the phrase in Daniel produces is that of strong and designed contrast between the Son of man and the Eternal God. We wonder at seeing man “brought nigh” to Deity. Nor may we suppose that to be “like unto a Son of man,” implies only an appearance of manhood. In Daniel the Messiah can be cut off. When Jesus uses the epithet, and even when He quotes the prophecy, He not only resembles a Son of man, He is truly such; He is most frequently “the Son of man,” the pre-eminent, perhaps the only one.44And this proves beyond question that He did not merely follow Ezekiel in applying to himself the epithet as if it meant a son among many sons of men, but took the description in Daniel for His own. Ezekiel himself indeed never employs the phrase: he only records it.
But while the expression intimates a share in the lowliness of human nature, it does not imply a lowly rank among men.
Our Lord often suggested by its use the difference between His circumstances and His dignity. “The Son of man hath not where to lay His head:” “Betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss,” in each of these we feel that the title asserts a claim to different treatment. And in the great verse, God “hath given Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of man,” we discern that although human hands are chosen as fittest to do judgment upon humanity, yet His extraordinary dignity is also taken into account. The title belongs to our Lord's humiliation, but is far from an additional abasement; it asserts His supremacy over those whom He is not ashamed to call brethren.
We all are sons of men; and Jesus used the phrase when He promised that all manner of sins and blasphemies shall be forgiven to us. But there is a higher sense in which, among thousands of the ignoble, we single out one “real man;” and in this sense, as fulfilling the idea, Jesus was the Second Man. What a difference exists between the loftiest sons of vulgar men, and the Son of our complete humanity, of the race, “of Man.” The pre-eminence even of our best and greatest is fragmentary and incomplete. In their veins runs but a portion of the rich life-blood of the race: but a share of its energy throbs in the greatest bosom. We seldom find the typical thinker in the typical man of action. Originality of purpose and of means are not commonly united. To know all that holiness embraces, we must combine the energies of one saint with the gentler graces of a second and the spiritual insight of a third. There is no man of genius who fails to make himself the child of his nation and his age, so that Shakespeare would be impossible in France, Hugo in Germany, Goethe in England. Two great nations slay their kings and surrender their liberties to military dictators, but Napoleon would have been unendurable to us, and Cromwell ridiculous across the channel.
Large allowances are to be made for the Greek in Plato, the Roman in Epictetus, before we can learn of them. Each and all are the sons of their tribe and century, not of all mankind and all time. But who will point out the Jewish warp in any word or institution of Jesus? In the new man which is after His image there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman, but Christ is all and in all, something of Him represented by each, all of them concentrated in Him. He alone speaks to all men without any foreign accent, and He alone is recognized and understood as widely as the voices of nature, as the sigh of waves and breezes, and the still endurance of the stars. Reading the Gospels, we become aware that four writers of widely different bias and temperament have all found an equally congenial subject, so that each has given a portrait harmonious with the others, and yet unique. It is because the sum total of humanity is in Christ, that no single writer could have told His story.
But now consider what this implies. It demands an example from which lonely women and heroic leaders of action should alike take fire. It demands that He should furnish meditation for sages in the closet, and should found a kingdom more brilliant than those of conquerors. It demands that He should strike out new paths towards new objects, and be supremely original without deviating from what is truly sane and human, for any selfish or cruel or unwholesome joy. It demands the gentleness of a sheep before her shearers, and such burning wrath as seven times over denounced against the hypocrites of Jerusalem woe and the damnation of hell. It demands the sensibilities which made Gethsemane dreadful, and the strength which made Calvary sublime. It demands that when we approach Him we should learn to feel the awe of others worlds, the nearness of God, the sinfulness of sin, the folly of laying up much goods for many years; that life should be made solemn and profound, but yet that it should not be darkened nor depressed unduly; that nature and man should be made dear to us, little children, and sinners who are scorned yet who love much, and lepers who stand afar off — yes, and even the lilies of the field, and the fowls of the air; that He should not be unaware of the silent processes of nature which bears fruit of itself, of sunshine and rain, and the fury of storms and torrents, and the leap of the lightning across all the sky. Thus we can bring to Jesus every anxiety and every hope, for He, and only He, was tempted in all points like unto us. Universality of power, of sympathy, and of influence, is the import of this title which Jesus claims. And that demand Jesus only has satisfied, Who is the Master of Sages, the Friend of sinners, the Man of Sorrows, and the King of kings, the one perfect blossom on the tree of our humanity, the ideal of our nature incarnate, the Second Adam in Whom the fullness of the race is visible. The Second Man is the Lord from Heaven. And this strange and solitary grandeur He foretold, when He took to Himself this title, itself equally strange and solitary, the Son of man.
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