The Son of God Given Authority to Judge Because He is ‘Human’: A Study in John 5:27, pt 4

[This is part 4 of a multi-part article.  See part 1, part 2, part 3, part 5 and part 6, conclusion.]

Immediate and Larger Context of John 5:27b

Chapter 5 of John’s Gospel begins with Jesus healing the man at the pool of Bethesda. Jesus’ Jewish adversaries took exception to His healing on the Sabbath, and then commanding the now-healed man to ‘work’ – as per their much exaggerated extrapolation of Mosaic Law – in His instruction to the man to pick up his mat and walk (8-15).60 Verse 16 begins Jesus’ interaction with His interlocutors (16-18), and His monologue in response to them follows (19-47).

Jesus’ reaction to their concern of Him doing “these things” on the Sabbath (16) was to explain that He always works, along with His Father (17). His antagonists were even more zealous to kill Him, as they understood that He was making Himself equal with God (18). This was two-fold: (a) Jesus claimed to always work, to include the Sabbath and, (b) Jesus called God His own Father (ὁ πατήρ μου, ho Patēr Mou – My Father). On the former (a) Brown notes the following, pertaining to rabbinic understanding of God as related to the Sabbath:

In particular, as regards men, divine activity was visible in two ways: men were born and men died on the Sabbath. Since only God could give life (2 Kings 5:7; 2 Macc 7:22–23) and only God could deal with the fate of the dead in judgment, this meant God was active on the Sabbath . . . God has kept in His hand three keys that He entrusts to no agent: the key of the rain, the key of birth (Gen 30:22), and the key of the resurrection of the dead (Ezek 37:13). And it was obvious to the rabbis that God used these keys even on the Sabbath.61

Death itself was seen as “judgment.” Further explaining Jewish understanding regarding the Sabbath, Pryor observes that inherent in the Jews’ anger against Jesus was “the rabbinic awareness that since people are born and die on the Sabbath, God cannot be said to be idle on any day, for the gift of life and the work of judgment are divine prerogatives.”62 Thus, in the minds of Jesus’ antagonists, His claim of working as His Father works on the Sabbath strongly implied equality with God, with this ‘work’ understood potentially as ‘giving life’ (births) and ‘judgment’ (death). In response to His adversaries’ outward intent to take His life, Jesus commences to further confirm their suspicions by making explicit claims of possessing the ability to give life and exercise judgment (18-29), as we will see.63

After Jesus identifies Himself as the Son in relation to “My Father” (17), He continues this theme throughout His monologue, being more specific later that He indeed is the Son of God (25). This implies that all other mentions of ὁ υἱός (ho huios), the Son (19, 20, 21, 22, 23, and 26), in this pericope are references to Jesus as the Son of God. Given this, we may identify the pronouns in 5:27 thusly: And he [the Father] has given Him [the Son of God] authority to judge because He [the Son of God] is υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου.

The Son of God makes various claims of sharing in divine functions with the Father: The Son indicates that His works are performed through His dependence on the Father,64 as He “sees” His Father,65 and “whatever the Father does the Son does also” (19). This implies a unity between Father and Son.66 The Father shows the Son “even greater works” (20), to include the ability to raise the dead and give life (21). The Son of God has been entrusted with judgment (22), to include salvation unto eternal life for those who “hear” His words (24-25), both contemporaneous with his interlocutors (24-25) and in the future, eschatological resurrection-judgment (28-29). That is, Jesus’ words are describing both inaugurated eschatology (24-25)67 and consummated eschatology (28-29).68 The former centers on earthly belief or non-belief in Jesus in response to His words, the latter the eternal consequences – positive or negative – of this temporal choice (cf. 3:15, 17-18, 12:47-48).69 In the Gospel according to John “Christology is the root of eschatology; eschatology is the outworking of the Christology of the Son of the Father.”70

An important question to answer en route to exegeting 5:27b is this: What does the initial independent clause of verse 28 – Do not be amazed at this – refer to? Specifically, does this correspond to the words preceding it or those following? Certainly, the entire pericope proved ‘amazing’ to the perturbed Jews here, as they “were trying even harder to kill Him” even before Jesus began His monologue. Given that Jesus had already stated that hearing His words would bring about eternal life in the here and now, why would the statement following about the future resurrection be ‘amazing,’ especially in view of the rabbinic understanding of the reality of future eschatological judgment (Daniel 12:2)? Does this mean we should understand this in 28a as pertaining to Jesus’ previous words to the exclusion of the words that follow?

Yet it is conceivable that this in 5:28a (Do not be amazed at this) refers, in some way, to the description of eschatological judgment that follows. Moreover, it is plausible that this in context refers to both that which precedes it and that which follows. Commentaries are somewhat divided on this issue. Some opine that this refers solely to the preceding.71 Others posit that it pertains to what follows.72 Many others construe the meaning as referring to Jesus’ words both before and after this.73 The position adopted here – which we’ll unpack as we move along – comports with the latter, though the analysis is grounded in a particular understanding of the meaning and function of huios anthrōpou in 5:27b.

More specifically, the stance here is such that Jesus is telling His interlocutors to not be amazed that the basis upon which the Son of God is granted authority to judge is that He is huios anthrōpou. The Son of God, as huios anthrōpou, not only has been given authority for the present granting of life (24-25), He will also have future authority to judge at the eschatological resurrection-judgment, as it will be His (human) voice heard by both those who have “done good” (28-29a), and those who have “done evil” (28, 29b).74 Those who have “done good” are those who believed in Him during their earthly life, and they will hear the voice of the Son of God as υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου and will “rise to live,” thus fulfilling the Son of Man’s promise to “raise him up on the last day” (6:39-40, 44, 54). Those who have “done evil” are those who rejected the Son of God and His words, and hence rejected the Father who sent Him (3:18b [cf. 3:17a], 12:47-49; cf. 3:19b-20, 5:23), and they will hear the voice of the Son of God as υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου and then “rise to be condemned,” thus fulfilling the promise that “the very word I [the Son of God] spoke will condemn him at the last day” (12:48).75

A linguistic device used by the Gospel writer in this pericope may lend credence to our position. The verb in verse 28a – (θαυμάζετε, thaumadzete) be amazed, marvel – is the same as the one in v 20, though in a slightly different form (θαυμάζητε, thaumadzēte; may be amazed, may marvel). Taken together, these function akin to an inclusio,76 with each referring to the Son providing “greater works” in the form of judgment (positively and negatively), as illustrated by the intervening context, as well as 28b-29. Given our position here, θαυμάζετε in 28a (Do not be amazed at this) primarily refers to the just-stated fact (27b) that it is, and will be, the Son of God as υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου functioning as the vehicle by which these “greater works” are (24-25) and will be (28-29) effected.77 Similarly, the noun “works” (ἔργα, erga) in v 20 is a rephrasing of, and thus an allusion to, both uses of its verbal form “is/am working” in 17 (ἐργάζομαι, ergadzomai and ἐργάζεται, ergadzetai), with Jesus indicating that not only is He “working” on the Sabbath, along with His Father (17), He is and will be doing even “greater works” (20).

The subsequent use of “works” and “marvel” has the effect of not only linking each one with its previous usage, but of providing a cumulative, intensifying force as well. Jesus, the Son of God, not only is working (along with His Father) on the Sabbath, thereby alluding that He is possibly functioning divinely as contemporaneous Life Giver and Judge in earthly births and deaths, respectively (17), He does greater works in the form of explicitly providing eternal life (20-25). While His antagonists will marvel about these “greater works” of the Son of God in inaugurating eternal life in the present (20-25), even more marvelous is the fact that He, as υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου, will be the voice which will be heard at the consummation of salvation and the ultimate condemnation at the eschatological resurrection-judgment (27-30).78

That the voice (…because a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice…) of a ‘mere’ huios anthrōpou, son of man, would be the impetus for the final, resurrection-judgment would indeed be cause for his antagonists to marvel! That this Jesus – by all appearances to His interlocutors a mere man – would claim filial relationship to God (as the Son of God) as one who provides eternal life to those who hear His voice in the then-present age would surely be scandalous; but, for this Jesus to pronounce that the authority granted Him for all judgment, to include the final judgment, is because He is (also) huios anthrōpou would be quite another matter. To His antagonists, this would indicate, among other things, that this man Jesus not only claims direct familial relationship with God but is also claiming He would be alive as the final resurrection-judgment commences; and that it would be His (human) voice heard by all those in their graves, who would then arise to face judgment for either life or condemnation at the eschaton.79 Additionally, His adversaries may think that Jesus is implicitly stating that He would never see death, perhaps as per Enoch (Gen 5:23) or Elijah (2 Kings 2:11)

Quite plausibly, Jesus’ referring to Himself as the anarthrous υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου in the context of yet-future resurrection-judgment as described in 5:27-29 may prompt His hearers to recall the figure ὡς υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου (like a son of man) in Daniel 7:13-14, as well as the description of final judgment in Daniel 12:2.80 In fact, the similar phraseology of he has given Him authority (ἐξουσίαν ἔδωκεν αὐτῷ) in 5:27 (inaugurated eschatology) and to him was given authority (ἐδόθη αὐτῷ ἐξουσία) in Daniel 7:14 (yet-future prophetic reference) may provide further cause for his antagonists to connect the two. In addition, His audience could be inclined to recall the court scene depicted in Daniel 7:26-27, perhaps with the understanding that Jesus was implying He’d be presiding Judge. All this may account for why Jesus’ words in 5:27b were not the arthrous ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου but, rather, the anarthrous form of the idiom; i.e. the intent was to specifically evoke the eschatological human-like figure in Daniel. In other words, since Daniel 7:13 does not refer to the figure coming with the clouds as one ‘like the Son of Man,’ but instead one like a son of man, like a human, the articles may have been purposely omitted in 5:27b.81 If so, the use of the anarthrous construction (υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου) in 5:27b in this context functioned to illustrate that the Prophet Daniel’s words were about Him. This is the stance taken here.

This position is bolstered by John’s use of similar language in the similarly-themed material in Revelation 1:13 and 14:14, as noted earlier.82 In fact, it may well be that the hyper-anthropic (super-human) description of Jesus in His post-earthly appearance in Revelation 1:7-18 (especially 14-16) and the depiction of Him as the eschatological reaper of 14:14-16 provides the very reason for the use of one like a huios anthrōpou in the Apocalypse, in contradistinction to the not-yet-glorified huios anthrōpou in John 5:27b. Stated another way, the appearance of the post-earthly Jesus is described as ὅμοιος υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου (homoios huios anthrōpou),83 like a son of man, in Rev 1:13 and 14:14 specifically because of His hyper-anthropic features, in order to distinguish it from, while yet retaining a connection to, his former earthly ministerial appearance as υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου (huios anthrōpou), son of man, human, in John 5:27b.84

Perhaps also of significance, as illustrated above, John the Gospel writer nowhere else uses the arthrous ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου (ho huios tou anthrōpou) in a context of eschatological condemnation-judgment as found in John 5:29b. However, as noted above, Hurtado seems to be right in that the articular the Son of Man idiom functions only to refer to Jesus, not to define Him. But, then again, all contexts reflecting the negative aspect of judgment specify that it’s the individual’s rejection of Jesus in their earthly life that condemns them, not Jesus’ active condemnation of them, and these do not directly reference the eschaton. John 5:29b is, then, the only context of eschatological condemnation-judgment in the Gospel, and this includes the anarthrous υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου of 5:27b as part of its larger context.

The overarching point we are driving at here is that the Biblical author in John 5:27b seems to be emphasizing qualitativeness: And the Father has given the Son of God authority to judge because He is human. In other words, the function of the expression here appears best understood as taking on a strong adjectival force. The reason the divine Son of God has been granted authority to judge is due to His incarnational status of being fully human, sharing humanity with all humankind. If the Gospel writer intended an allusion or even a more direct reference to Daniel 7:13, as we’ve argued above, then it seems logical that the author would use the same non-particularized form of the term that the Prophet used, which, as we argued earlier, is best understood like a human. That is, the Daniel verse and the two in the Apocalypse which allude to Daniel are best construed as qualitative-indefinite, while John 5:27b seems best understood as emphasizing qualitativeness over definiteness. Assuming so, John 5:27 powerfully proclaims the hypostatic union – the unity of divinity and humanity in the Person of Jesus Christ.

The definiteness included in the qualitative-definite assessment of 5:27b should be understood as providing an implicit link to the other arthrous sayings of the idiom, as it’s, e.g., the Son of Man who will ‘raise up’ believers “at the last day” (6:39-40, 44, 54). However, this does not mean that the articular form of the idiom should be understood as strictly indicating Jesus’ humanity, as illustrated above. Thompson, agreeing with this position, also notes that both the Son of Man and the Son of God refer to Jesus as the Word-become-flesh in the Gospel of John:

In spite of the fact that in biblical usage “son of man” connotes humankind, it is too neat, even misleading, to say that [the] “Son of Man” refers to Jesus in his humanity, while “Son of God” denotes his divinity . . . [A]ll three designations – Son, Son of Man, and Son of God – refer to the same person, Jesus of Nazareth, who is Word-made-flesh. From his identity as the Word who was with God and who was God, who became flesh, and who in his vocation as the Messiah gives his flesh for the life of the world – from that identity these diverse filial forms derive their meaning.85

Accepting Thompson’s position, and given that in Jesus’ monologue here (5:19ff) He identifies Himself specifically as the Son of God (5:25), would it not seem superfluous for Jesus to state that the reason He, the Son of God, was granted authority to judge was because He, the Son of God, is the Son of Man? In addition, if we were to assume for the moment that the Gospel writer intended a definite understanding (the Son of Man) for the anarthrous huios anthrōpou here, this would be the only occurrence of a direct correspondence between the two idioms in Johannine literature.

With all the preceding in mind, for contextual and theological reasons we will tentatively reject a strictly definite (when at the expense of a qualitative) the Son of Man as the authorial intention for John 5:27b. Assuredly, had the Gospel writer wished, he could have simply added both articles to the expression in order to make certain his intention for definiteness, rather than leaving it (seemingly) ambiguous. However, we will withhold a final conclusion on this until the grammatical-syntactical argument is engaged.

While we have been contending for a qualitative-definite authorial intent, we have not specifically investigated indefiniteness, which, on the surface, seems to be a viable option.86 This possibility will be explored briefly in our grammatical investigation below.

[Go to part 5.]

 

60 For some detail on the violations to the Mishna see Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII, 2nd ed. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1966), p 208.

61 Brown, John I-XXI, p 217. Emphasis added. The archaic rendering of Scripture (e.g. “Gen xxx 22”) has been changed to common usage. This practice continues throughout.

62 John W. Pryor, John, Evangelist of the Covenant People (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992), pp 26-27, as cited in Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001), p 111. Emphasis added.

63 See Blomberg, Historical Reliability, pp 110-111, 114-115.

64 See brief discussion in Marianne Meye Thompson, The God of the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), p 234.

65 Note that no one can see God (John 1:18; cf. 5:37, 6:46) and live (Ex 33:20), a point that would not have been lost on Jesus’ Jewish antagonists.

66 See Thompson, The God of the Gospel of John, pp 231-235.

67 Jesus’ words in verse 25 that “a time is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live” should be understood as contemporaneous (νῦν ἐστιν, now is), with the dead understood as the spiritually dead.   That is, the ζωὴν αἰώνιον, eternal life, of v 24 should be seen as inaugurated eschatology and not consummated eschatology. This is known usually as the already but not yet. Eternal life is secured in the temporal life through belief in Christ, yet its consummation comes at the eschaton.

68 For a lengthy discussion on the contrast between inaugurated eschatology and consummated eschatology, with respect to eternal life here in John’s Gospel, see Thompson, The God of the Gospel of John, pp 80-87, though Thompson uses “realized eschatology” rather than “inaugurated eschatology.”

69 Miroslav Volf, “Johannine Dualism and Contemporary Pluralism” [in The Gospel of John and Christian Theology, R. Bauckham and C. Mosser, eds. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008)], delineates the difference between the two judgments well: “The theme of divine judgment is present. Jesus spoke of God’s wrath against unbelievers (3:36) and understood himself as the executioner of that judgment in the endtime (5:27-29). But he stated repeatedly and emphatically that he has not come into the world to judge it but to save it (3:17; 12:47). True, his coming in the world effected judgment, depending on how people responded to it (3:17-21). But that is precisely the point: He does not actively judge, his words and actions judge, depending on how people respond to them . . .” (p 43; italics in original).

70 George R. Beasley-Murray, John, Word Biblical Commentary, D. Hubbard, G. Barker, gen. eds. (Waco, TX: Word, 1987), p 80.

71 E.g., D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, Pillar New Testament Commentary, D. A. Carson, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), p 258; Andreas J. Kostenberger, John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Moises Silva, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002), p 189, though the author thinks it possible that it could refer to both the preceding and the following.

72 E. g., Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Volume One (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, (2003) 2010 (1st softcover ed.)), p 651.

73 C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1978), p 263; Herman Ridderbos, The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary, trans. J. Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, (1987) 1997), pp 200-201; Beasley-Murray, John, p 77; B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John, Vol. 1 (London: John Murray, 1908), p 192 [http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015026844228;view=1up;seq=210;size=125].  Brown, John I-XXI, opines that the author may have “the whole complex of ideas” in view (p 215).

74 If the Gospel of John is in any way polemical against a proto-Gnosticism, our interpretation of this statement may be seen as negating a supposed spirit/matter dualism in Jesus – i.e., that Jesus is a mere man with a divine spark/seed relying on external ‘gnosis’ for guidance (some Gnostics charged that John’s Gospel was promoting Gnosticism). In other words, since Jesus is making the claim that He is the Son of God, working in dependence on the Father – as opposed to some sort of external ‘gnosis’ – to effect judgment/salvation for humanity, and that He, as huios anthrōpou (according to the understanding adopted here), is that Judge, then Jesus is, in effect, affirming the unity of His divine-human Person, a position incongruent with Gnosticism.

75 See note 47 above.

76 For an example of the multitude use of this device in Philippians see Black, Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek, pp 181-188.

77 Cf. Westcott, Gospel According to John, V. 1, p 192.

78 The ISBE notes that it was thought that it would be God who would judge: “As a general rule, the intertestamental literature considers God rather than the Messiah the one who ushers in the cosmic transformation;” however, one notable exception is in Psalms of Solomon (18:4-9), which “installs the Messiah as the ideal judge and ruler” (O. A. Piper, “Messiah,” in G. W. Bromiley, gen. ed. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988, p 3.333). The point is that, in a general sense, there was not an expectation that the Messiah would be the earthly Judge, let alone the eschatological Judge; and, hence, Jesus’ claims – even if the antagonists were to briefly consider Him a contender for Messiahship – may prove to be too ‘amazing.’

79 Godet [Frederick L. Godet, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Vol. 1, trans. Timothy Dwight (London/Toronto: Funk & Wagnalls, 1886)] comes to a similar conclusion: “There is great force in the words: shall hear His voice. ‘This voice which sounds in your ears at this moment, will be the one that shall awake you from the sleep of death and cause you to come forth from the tomb. Marvel not, therefore, that I claim to possess both the authority to judge and the power to raise from the dead spiritually.’ Thus the last convulsion of the physical world, the universal resurrection, will be the work of that same human will which shall have renewed the moral world—that of the Son of Man. ‘Since death came by man,’ says St. Paul with precisely the same meaning, ‘the resurrection of the dead comes also by man’ (1 Cor. 15:21)” (p 479). We cannot help but note, however, that Godet, following Gess, advocated an ontological kenosis so extreme as to involve the complete metamorphosis of the Logos upon becoming flesh, such that the Word was effectively transformed from Deity into man [see L. S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1993), p 380]. This absolute depotentiation of the Logos was somewhat amusingly referred to as “incarnation by divine suicide” by La Touche [Everard Digges La Touche, “The Unity of Person,” in The Person of Christ in Modern Thought, p 355].

80 See Brown, John I-XXI, p 220.

81 Bauckham, Gospel of Glory, asserts that the Gospel writer purposefully alludes to Daniel 7:13 here: “Only in one instance in John is there an allusion to Dan. 7:13, and in that case (5:27) John indicates this by using the anarthrous form of the expression (huios anthrōpou), which is not his usage in the twelve other occurrences of ‘the Son of Man’ in the Gospel but which corresponds literally to Dan. 7:13” (p 178).

82 See notes 57 and 58 and corresponding text. Also note the words of 5:29 indicating that both the saved (those who have done good) and the unsaved (those who have done evil) will experience ἀνάστασις, resurrection, the former to “life,” the latter to “condemnation.” Certainly, as observed just above, 5:28-29 seems likely intended to evoke Daniel 12:2 (note the similar ἀνίστημι, here as the future middle verb ἀναστήσονται, will awaken); cf. Rev 20:5, 6 (ἀνάστασις). 5:29 is clearly a reference to the ‘white throne judgment,’ which includes the opening of ‘the book of life’ (Rev 20:11-15; cf. Daniel 12:1-2).

83 See note 56 above for a possible reason for John’s slightly different rendering than the LXX of Daniel 7:13.

84 We must bear in mind that, though the Incarnation began when the Word ‘became flesh,’ it continues on as the Word’s new mode of existence. In other words, the Second Person of the Trinity remains a divine-human entity.

85 Marianne Meye Thompson, John: A Commentary, New Testament Library, C. Clifton Black, et al eds. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2015), p 58. It must be noted, however, that Thompson construes 5:27b as the definite the Son of Man (pp 56, 58, 131).

86 Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, opines that υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου “should probably” be rendered a son of man (i.e. indefinite) here, specifically over against the definite (p 291 ftnt 78). Hurtado’s rejection of a definite understanding of the term is due, rightly, to: (a) his demonstration that the expression was not an established title at the time (as noted above), and (b) the fact that the form here is expressly anarthrous, and thereby not in keeping with the usual NT pattern. However, Hurtado seems not to have investigated the possibility of a qualitative force here.

The Son of God Given Authority to Judge Because He is ‘Human’: A Study in John 5:27, pt 3

[This is part 3 of a multi-part article.  See part 1, part 2, part 4, part 5 and part 6, conclusion.]

NT Usage of ‘(the) Son of Man’

In the NT the idiom is most often arthrous, with only four instances of anarthrous constructions, with John 5:27b included in the latter. We’ll briefly discuss the use of the articular form of the expression in the Synoptic Gospels, and then we’ll go into a bit more detail on the usage in John’s Gospel given our subject verse, John 5:27,32 before examining the remaining uses of the expression in the NT.

As implied above, regarding the arthrous, particularized the Son of Man ( υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, ho huios tou anthrōpou), Jesus Himself appears to have coined this self-referential term as part of his own idiolect, His own “style” of speaking.33 Predominately, this expression is on Jesus’ lips, and as He used it, it was as an implied reference to Himself in the third person.34 Moreover, the Son of Man “is never used as a confessional title for Jesus,” i.e. “the phrase never functions itself to express an honorific claim made about Jesus.”35 In other words, no one else referred to Jesus as the Son of Man as if it were some sort of recognized title perhaps of christological significance, such as, for example, the Son of God (John 1:49, 11:27).36 This does not mean that the way in which Jesus used this self-reference was not in messianic contexts. This merely indicates that His audience did not recognize the articular expression as having any sort of prehistory or significance beyond Jesus’ own self-usage – though the anarthrous form of the expression would likely have been understood by both Jesus’ protagonists and antagonists, given OT usage. Suffice to say that it is recorded as Jesus’ favorite self-designation, especially in the Synoptic Gospels in which the arthrous form of the idiom is used 69 times.37

There are myriad uses of the Son of Man in the Synoptics – some of divine functions or messianic themes, others more mundane. He has the authority to forgive sins (Mt 9:6; Mk 2:5; Lk 5:24), and He is “Lord of the Sabbath” (Mt 12:8; Mk 2:28; Lk 6:5). Yet Jesus uses this term as a self-reference in His accusation of being a glutton and a drunkard (Mt 11:19; Lk 7:34). The Son of Man foretells his resurrection (Mt 17:9; Mk 9:9), and He provides salvation (Lk 19:9-10) as the One “who gives His life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28, Mk 10:45). He is “the one who sows the good seed” (Mt 13:37).38 He will “suffer many things” (Mk 9:12; Lk 9:22), and He will be delivered up in death (Mt 17:22; Mk 9:31; Lk 9:44, etc.).  The Son of Man is the subject of the OT prophets (Lk 18:31). He mentions His return (Mt 16:28, 24:27, 30, 37, 39, 44; Mk 13:26; Lk 18:8, 21:27, etc.) and how the Son of Man will be coming in full glory (Mt 24:31, 25:31; Mk 14:62; Lk 21:27) at the eschatological judgment (Mt 25:31ff; Mk 13:26), gathering His “elect” (Mt 24:31, 25:31-33; Mk 13:27); however, the actual judging He will do as “King,” both in a positive sense (Mt 25:31-40, 46b) and a negative sense (Mt 25:31-33, 41-46a).

This definite form of the expression, the Son of Man, the doubly arthrous υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου (ho huios tou anthrōpou),39 is found another dozen times in the Gospel according to John and possibly one other as the truncated the Son, given its immediate context (6:40).40 However, the functions of these statements are somewhat different and somewhat more narrowly focused in comparison with Synoptic usage. In the following the specific verses containing the Son of Man are bolded, while the others, which consist of implied references within contexts containing and immediately surrounding the term, are not.

The first occurs in 1:51 in reference to an ‘opened heaven’, with angels descending and ascending upon Him. This is clearly a reference to Jacob’s dream in Genesis 28, but scholars are divided on how to interpret it.41 The next reference is in 3:13 in which He is the one who descended from heaven.42 This motif is also found in 6:27 (and following) as “the food that endures,” i.e. the “true bread from heaven” (6:32), “the bread of life” (6:48, 51, 58; cf. 6:53), which is found in “He who comes down from heaven” (6:33, 46, 50-51; cf. 6:27) in order “to do the will of the Father” (6:38; 6:40the Son43). This “bread” is identified as His “flesh” (σάρξ, sarx: 6:51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56), which is linked to His “blood” (6:53, 54, 55, 56), with both bringing eternal life (6:51, 53-54; cf. 6:27, 6:40) to those who believe in Him (6:47; cf. 3:15, 6:29, 35, 40), and it is these believers whom He will raise up “at the last day” (6:39-40, 44, 54). He will also “ascend to where He was before” (6:62; cf. 3:13). In another context, there is the account of Jesus asking the formerly-blind-but-now-healed man if he believes in the Son of Man, with the larger context about ‘spiritual blindness’ and then-present judgment/salvation (9:35; cf. 6:40).

Overall, the main theme in John’s Gospel is Christ’s glorification (δοξάζω, doxadz), and the Son of Man is found in some of these contexts (12:23, 28, 13:31-32 [cf. 7:39, 8:54, 11:4, 12:16, 14:13, 17:4, 10]). He is ‘glorified’ through being “lifted up” (8:28, 12:32), with the metaphor of Moses’ bronze snake of Numbers 21:8-9 underlying (3:14-15). Verse 12:31, which points to the Cross itself as judgment, is contained in the larger context of the Son of Man’s glorification in 12:23.

The final two appearances, both in 12:34, also refer to Jesus’ being “lifted up;” however, the context is unique in the Gospel according to John in that these words are not on Jesus’ own lips. The first is the crowd paraphrasing Jesus (conflating 12:23 and 12:32), while the second is the crowd then asking Jesus, “Who is this ‘ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου’?” This passage, in context, indicates that they thought Jesus was, or could be the Christ/Messiah, yet they were confounded by His statement that He, as the Son of Man, would be “lifted up” – i.e. He was to die – for they understood that the Christ would “remain forever.” This illustrates that the crowd did not associate the Son of Man directly as a messianic title, but as Jesus’ own self-designation, whatever its meaning. Hare explains by paraphrasing the questions posed by the crowd, If we have been mistaken in regarding you as the Messiah, what then are you? What are you telling us when you call yourself ‘the Son of Man’?”44

Assessing the usage of the articular form of the expression in John’s Gospel it becomes apparent that it is only in the context of Jesus’ earthly ministry, most often for His ‘lifting up,’ or ‘glorification,’ and in contemporaneous salvation-judgment, as well as the implied future salvation for those who will ‘eat His flesh and drink His blood,’ i.e. those believing in Him,45 whom He will ‘raise up’ “at the last day.” Conspicuously absent, however, is any use of the Son of Man in reference to His eschatological return, in contrast to the Synoptics. In fact, the Gospel according to John barely mentions Jesus’ return at all, and even then the context is ambiguous with regard to timing (21:22-23). Yet, like the Synoptics, the Son of Man is found in references regarding the eschatological consummation of salvation, though John prefers ‘raising on the last day’ as compared to the ‘gathering’ of His “elect” in the Synoptics.46 However, while Matthew utilizes ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου specifically in reference to the negative aspect of eschatological judgment, i.e. final condemnation-judgment, John does not.47 This latter point will be considered in our contextual analysis of 5:27b.

As noted, the final clause in John 5:27 is the only incidence of an anarthrous son of man (υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου) in the Gospel of John – and the one and only time the idiom lacks the articles in the four canonical Gospels. Recall from above, however, that an anarthrous noun is not necessarily indefinite. We will return to this below.

Another thing becomes evident in our brief survey of the Son of Man: The expression does not point exclusively to Christ’s humanity. In the Synoptics, for example, the Son of Man is the one “who gives his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28, Mk 10:45), implying a salvific function, which is made explicit elsewhere (Lk 19:9-10) – a power reserved for deity, not a mere human. Similarly, but more convincingly, in John 9:35 a soteriological function of the Son of Man is surely implied by Jesus’ direct question to the man formerly blind: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The larger context clearly indicates inaugurated eschatology in the form of then-present judgment/salvation (9:36-41).48 Most likely, the textual variant replacing the Son of Man with the Son of God in 9:35 is attributable to copyists’ assumptions that the Son of Man was too strong here.49 Furthermore, In John 3:13 the Son of Man is described as the one who descended from heaven – a proclamation of His pre-earthly existence, thus implying His divinity.50

Hurtado asserts that “the Son of Man” has no inherent meaning in and of itself. Each individual statement says something about Jesus but does not actually define the Son of Man: “[T]he expression’s primary linguistic function is to refer, not to characterize . . . [I]t is the sentence/saying that conveys the intended claim or statement, not ‘the son of man’ expression itself”.51 Hurtado seems convincing here, given the evidence.

Outside the Gospels the occurrences of the son of man idiom are all anarthrous except Acts 7:56. The Acts verse describing Stephen’s vision of the heavenly, glorified Jesus in which Stephen, under the power of the Holy Spirit (7:55), states that he sees “the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” At this, the murderous throng was so incensed that individuals covered their ears, yelling as loudly as they could – in part, perhaps, to drown out Stephen’s words – and began to stone him (7:57). The reason the crowd was so infuriated at His statement is, as La Touche notes,

because it was recognized as an assertion that the crucified Galilean Carpenter was standing in the Messiah’s place. Hence the phrase [the Son of Man] (which does not seem to have been a Messianic title) must have been recognized by the Sanhedrin as a Self-applied title of the Lord Jesus Christ.52

That is, while the Sanhedrin understood Jesus as the Son of Man, they did not recognize the expression as messianic or Jesus as the Messiah.

Hebrews 2:6 is a direct quote of Psalm 8:4 (see previous section). Koester remarks, “The context of Ps 8 suggests that ‘man’ (anthrōpos) is a collective noun referring to humankind, but since the noun is singular, it can be applied to the man Jesus . . .”53 Though the expression is not particularized as the Son of Man, O’Brien observes that “the words of the psalm would have struck [early Christians] with a force that went beyond their original setting.”54

The final two appearances of the anarthrous use of the idiom are found in Revelation (1:13, 14:14), and each time there are obvious allusions to Daniel 7:13 in their respective contexts.55 Significantly, neither verse in the Apocalypse definitize the term by employing the articles, for in both contexts – using remarkably similar terminology as that found in Daniel 7:13 – one like υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου is described.56 The contexts are depicting, respectively, eschatological return with impending condemnation-judgment (1:7-18),57 and eschatological salvation-judgment (14:14-16).58 There is little doubt the figure described here is the glorified Jesus Christ at the Second Coming (cf. Dan 7:13 in previous section). Assuming John the Revelator is the same author as John’s Gospel – a position affirmed here – it is notable that the arthrous the Son of Man ( υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου) is not used. Is there a correlation between the anarthrous like a son of man in these verses in the Apocalypse and the Gospel’s anarthrous construction in John 5:27b? Applying a bit of discourse analysis and linguistics should prove insightful.59

[Go to part 4.]

 

32 Though all Scripture is θεόπνευστος, “God-breathed,” (from theos = God; pneō ≈ blow, breathe out, wind, spirit), inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16), the Holy Spirit worked through each human writer, resulting in vocabulary usage sometimes peculiar to the individual author. This underscores the importance of assessing each biblical book on its own, while considering the larger corpus of the biblical author, with a view towards the whole of Scripture.

33 For discussion on and definition of idiolect, see Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, p 292. Idiolect also refers to the characteristic way in which each Biblical author writes; see Constantine R. Campbell, Advances in the Study of Greek: New Insights for Reading the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), pp 134-135.

34 See Douglas R. A. Hare, The Son of Man Tradition (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1990), p 1. That is, Jesus never states something to the effect of, “I am the Son of Man.”

35 Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, p 293; italics in original. Continuing Hurtado’s thoughts: “Even within the Gospels no one ever addresses Jesus as ‘the son of man,’ proclaims him to be such, or contests his own use of the expression; and it never functions with the several other appellations bandied about as possible categories for Jesus . . .” (p 293). Cf. Hare, Son of Man, p 1.

36 It is certainly noteworthy that in both Peter’s confession (Matt 16:16; cf. John 1:41) and Nathanael’s confession (John 1:49) we find “the Son of (the living) God,” with Peter also using “Christ,” while Nathanael concomitantly affirms Jesus as “King of Israel,” yet neither call Him the Son of Man. Similarly, Martha’s confession affirms Jesus as “the Son of God” and “the Christ” (John 11:27). This underscores the likelihood that the Son of Man was not understood by 1st century hearers as messianic. Cf. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, pp 292-295.

37 For various interpretations of the arthrous form of the expression throughout history see Delbert R. Burkett, The Son of Man Debate: A History and Evaluation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

38 See Hare, Son of Man, pp 150-151 for some particulars on this specific passage.

39 For the use, and lack, of articles preceding each word of a genitive phrase (head noun + genitive noun) see Wallace, Grammar, for Apollonius’ Canon and Apollonius’ Corollary, pp 239-240, 250-252, 254; cf. 91.

40 In this verse the Son is used amidst other occurrences of the Son of Man (6:27, 53, 62) and Jesus’ alternating the expression with first and third person pronouns throughout this pericope. In addition, nowhere in the micro context does Jesus refer to Himself as the Son of God. On the other hand, in 6:40 Jesus speaks of “the Son” in relation to “My Father;” but, then again, compare to the Son of Man in 6:27 in which it is used as a third-person reference alongside “God the Father.”

41 See Hare, Son of Man, pp 82-85. Kirk (“Heaven Opened”) argues that the Johannine ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου in John 1:51 is illustrating a Jesus-Jacob nexus, with Jesus the new Jacob, i.e. the New Israel (Gen 35:10), which in turn helps identify the promised “greater things” [http://www.tyndalehouse.com/Bulletin/63=2012/05_Kirk-20.pdf]; Contra Mavis M. Leung, The Kingship-Cross Interplay in the Gospel of John: Jesus’ Death as Corroboration of His Royal Messiahship, (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011), pp 66; cf. 64-67. More convincing is Richard J. Bauckham, Gospel of Glory: Major Themes in Johannine Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015), pp 166-180, in which Nathanael is one example of the “renewed Israel,” while the Son of Man symbolically represents the ladder of Jacob’s dream, providing the link to heaven and earth via His being “lifted up” on the Cross.

42 And perhaps simultaneously “the one who is in heaven.” See David Alan Black, “The Text of John 3:13,” Grace Theological Journal 6.1 (1985): 49-66, in which the author argues for the originality of this final clause, a textual variant which is footnoted in most modern Bible versions.

43 See note 40 above.

44 Hare, Son of Man, pp 108-109.

45 See Benjamin E. Reynolds, “The Use of the Son of Man Idiom in the Gospel of John,” in ‘Who is This Son of Man?’, pp 116-117.

46 Though the Son of Man specifies in 6:53 that ‘unless you eat His flesh and drink His blood’ you have “no life,” it is only s/he who ‘eats His flesh and drinks His blood’ that He will ‘raise up on the last day’ (cf. 5:29a). That is, He does not speak of the resurrection of the condemned for judgment in this context (though cf. 5:29b).

47 The context of John 3:16-21, which includes the words “whoever does not believe stands condemned already” (v 18), seems to be referring to the Son as ‘the Son of God’ – the Son in relation to the Father (especially considering τὸν μονογενῆ in v 16 and τοῦ μονογενοῦς in 18; cf. 1:14, 18) – rather than ‘the Son of Man.’ With this in mind, it may be best to understand the similar passage at 12:44-50 (“the one who rejects Me . . . that very word I spoke will condemn him at the last day” in v 48) as ‘the Son of God’ as well. While there is certainly some overlap between the usage of the Son of Man and the Son of God in John’s Gospel, nevertheless, the context of both passages indicates it’s the individual’s rejection of Jesus Christ causing his own eventual self-condemnation rather than Christ’s active condemnation of him.

48 See, e.g., J. Louis Martyn, History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel, 3rd ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2003), pp 133-134.

49 See Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft/German Bible Society, 1994), p 194; cf. Benjamin E. Reynolds, “The Use of the Son of Man Idiom in the Gospel of John,” in ‘Who is This Son of Man?’, p 118; Hurtado, “Summary and Concluding Observations,” in ‘Who is This Son of Man?’, p 165.

50 See, e.g., Benjamin E. Reynolds, “The Use of the Son of Man Idiom in the Gospel of John,” in ‘Who is This Son of Man?’, pp 107-108.  Also see note 42 above.

51 “Summary and Concluding Observations,” in ‘Who is This Son of Man?’, p 167, emphasis in original; cf. pp 165-168.

52 Everard Digges La Touche, “The Person of Christ as Revealed in History,” in The Person of Christ in Modern Thought (London: James Clarke, 1912), p 259; italics and capitalization as per original, bold added, bracketed phrase mine, added for clarity. This work is a compilation of a series of lectures. [https://ia801408.us.archive.org/16/items/personofchristin00latouoft/personofchristin00latouoft.pdf]

53 Craig R. Koester, Hebrews: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Bible Commentary (New York: Doubleday, 2001), p 215, parenthesis in original. See earlier discussion on Psalm 8:4 above.

54 Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews, Pillar New Testament Commentary, D. A. Carson, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), p 95. Koester, Hebrews, further notes, regarding the anarthrous son of man, “This expression has two levels of meaning, referring both to human beings and to Christ . . . Hebrews does not refer to Jesus as ‘son of man’ outside this quotation, even though one might expect it to if it were a christological designation” (p 215).

55 Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, rightly notes that both “are simply echoes of the phrasing of Dan. 7:13, referring to a figure in a vision having a humanlike appearance” (p 293 note 83).

56 The Greek is slightly different in that the Apocalypse uses ὅμοιος (like) as compared to Daniel’s ὡς. This could have been for stylistic reasons, as John may have preferred to use a bit of alliteration and assonance (τῶν λυχνιῶν ὅμοιον υἱὸν ἀνθρώπου, tōn luchniōn homoion huion anthrōpou; καθήμενον ὅμοιον υἱὸν ἀνθρώπου, kathēmenon homoion huion anthrōpou).

57 The people will “mourn because of Him” (v 7) at the eschatological judgment, for He is “coming with the clouds” (v 7; cf. Dan 7:13; Matt 16:27, 24:30-32), and “out of His mouth proceeds a sharp double-edged sword” (v 16) with which to judge (Rev 19:15, 21; cf. Heb 4:12) , as He holds “the keys of death and Hades” (v 18; cf. 20:13-14). On the latter, see discussion in David E. Aune, Revelation 1-5 [Word Biblical Commentary, B. M. Metzger, gen. ed. (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1997)], pp 103-105.

58 Here John the Revelator uses the exact same verbiage as the LXX of Daniel 7:13 in the prepositional phrase ἐπὶ τῶν νεφελῶν, upon/with the clouds, as compared to 1:7’s μετὰ τῶν νεφελῶν, with the clouds, which, according to Aune [David E. Aune, Revelation 6-16, Word Biblical Commentary, B. M. Metzger, gen. ed. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998)], “suggests familiarity with the Theodotianic version of Daniel” (p 840). Clearly Rev 14:14-16 centers on eschatological salvation-judgment, in contradistinction to the condemnation-judgment in the remainder of the chapter (vv 17-20). The figure depicted here, “one like a son of man with a crown of gold on his head” and holding a sharp sickle, is differentiated from the other figure with a sickle (v 17), identified specifically as an angel, who is not wearing a crown or sitting upon the clouds. That the first figure, along with the one described in Rev 1:13, is the same as the one of Daniel 7:13 can hardly be in doubt. And certainly this is the glorified Jesus Christ pictured in eschatological judgment. Contra Aune, Revelation 6-16, who thinks that, rather than Christ, the first reaper in 14:14 is an angel like the second one in 14:17 (pp 800-803).   Then again, see Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), who affirms the figure as Christ, while specifically disagreeing with the position that the reaper in question is an angel (pp 218-219); cf. Grant R. Osborne, Revelation [Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Moises Silva, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002)], who takes the same position as Thomas on this point (pp 550-553). Perhaps the most convincing refutation comes from Paul A. Rainbow, Johannine Theology: The Gospel, the Epistles, and the Apocalypse (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2014), who notes that Christ is described here “in terms reminiscent of Old Testament accounts of angelophanies,” but “by adapting stock [OT] imagery for manifestations of celestial beings, John indicated Christ’s appearances in the visions, not his nature” (p 158; emphasis added).

59 See, e.g., Peter Cotterell & Max Turner, Linguistics & Biblical Interpretation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989); Stephen H. Levinsohn, Discourse Features of New Testament Greek: A Coursebook on the Information Structure of New Testament Greek, 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2000); David Alan Black, Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek: A Survey of Basic Concepts and Applications (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1995); Campbell, Advances in the Study of Greek: New Insights for Reading the New Testament, pp 148-191; Steven E. Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2010).