We call Jesus the Son of God and Jesus called himself the Son of Man, but what’s the difference and does it matter?” In other words, “who is Jesus?
That is a pretty straight-forward question and deserves a straight-forward answer. So there are a few of preliminary questions we have to answer in order to give you that straight-forward answer to your question. First, what did Jesus in the gospels mean by claiming the title Son of Man? Second, what did the early church mean by conveying onto Jesus the title Son of God? Third, what was the difference between these titles? Does it matter how we distinguish the two?
If you answer those questions, will that answer the main question?
I think we have to know what those titles meant to the early church, especially to the people who wrote the Gospels. Then, we’ll use that understanding to address your question. Okay?
And there is a follow-up question we will also need to address-the question that lies behind all these questions: “what do we ourselves do with the humanity and divinity of ourselves?”
What about those preliminary questions?
Jesus called himself the “Son of Man” according to the gospels. That title simply meant a person, a human being. In the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, when the word of the Lord comes to Ezekiel, God addresses him, “Son of Man.” It’s a little like saying, “hey you, fella!”
The most important use of this title before Jesus, and one that undoubtedly influenced Jesus, is from the Old Testament book Daniel (chapter 7). In Daniel’s vision, there is a heavenly trial of the four most recent empires – Babylon, the Medes, the Persians, and the Greeks of Alexander the Great. Each of the empires was represented as a beast. The empires were each judged and found wanting. The fifth and final empire was eternal. Its power, glory, and authority were given to “one like the Son of man.” This means that the domination systems have had their day and the eternal kingdom, God’s kingdom, belongs to human beings.
Jesus found inspiration and identity from this image. The title meant that in Jesus’ very human life, the true existence of God’s kingdom was revealed. Jesus was very much a human being as we are. The humanity of Jesus is an example for us to follow and a challenge for us to meet. Jesus’ life tells us that the eternity, the divine reality we call God, is the home of all human beings.
The New Testament also calls Jesus the “Son of God.” It’s not a title he ever seemed to embrace for himself. In Mark’s gospel, the earliest biblical gospel, it is highly questionable that any such claim was made by Jesus. Generally, when the gospels and Paul identified Jesus as “Son of God,” it signified Jesus embracing his identity and his calling to awaken people to the Kingdom of God. Only in John’s Gospel did the beginnings of Jesus as God appear that would come to be dominant in later Christianity. This idea grew and developed for reasons that were as much political as theological. Unfortunately, in some ways Jesus’ divinity came to prominence at the expense of Jesus’ humanity.