Jesus’ Favourite Name for Himself: 3 BIG Implications

Street Theologian
9 min readAug 21, 2023


Roberts, Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem. All images from Wikimedia Commons

What’s special about the Son of Man title?

1. Four Gospels contain an authentic title for Jesus

2. Son of Man title (ironically!) indicates Jesus thought he is divine

3. Son of Man is Saviour, bridging the gap between fallen humans and a Holy God

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Jesus’ favourite name for himself

In the Gospels, Jesus’ favourite title for himself is the “Son of Man”. “Son of Man” appears 81 times (most cases are from quotes of Jesus) across the four Gospels in Greek- 30 times in Matthew, 14 times in Mark, 25 times in Luke, and 12 in John (Caragounis, 1986).

1. Four Gospels contain an authentic title for Jesus

If the Gospels were pieced together by individuals in the early church who had no contact with eyewitnesses of Jesus, you would expect them to call Jesus a similar name in these four Gospels to what they call him elsewhere in their other writings. Yet, this is hardly the case.

Rest of New Testament and early church

“Son of Man” is only found 3 times in the rest of the New Testament in Acts 7:56, Revelation 1:13 and Revelation 14:14 to describe Jesus.

In early Christian writings, outside of the New Testament, Habermas and Licona point out in the Case for the Resurrection of Jesusonly three times in early Christian writings during the first 120 years following Jesus (p.166)” is the Son of Man used to describe Jesus.

Moreover, they emphasise the following:

  • Page not found: Practically a total absence of Son of Man title describing Jesus in Pauline and other epistles
  • Multiple attestation: All four Gospels refer to Jesus as the Son of Man- meets multiple attestation criterion
  • Lack of evolution: Son of Man title lacks signs of theological evolution as at first glance it has more of an emphasis on Christ’s humanity than divinity

On these grounds, it is most plausible that the Son of Man title, is the name Jesus used to refer to himself and this is consistent with what eyewitness testimony would report Jesus called himself. Many sceptical scholars agree.

Ignatius of Antioch- early church

Does this mean that automatically the Gospels are primarily comprised of eyewitness testimony? No, it increases the probability of it. For more read the following:

Are the Gospels based on eyewitness accounts? 10 key considerations

Short Conversations: Are the 4 Gospels based on eyewitness accounts?

Gnostic Gospel references (later, heretical writings)?

If you’re going to suggest we include the gnostic gospels in the Bible because some of them (eg. Philip, Mary) call Jesus the Son of Man, we may as well talk about including the Quran in the Bible because it refers to Christ as the Messiah! The Son of Man in the gnostic texts is detached from the historical context in the Gospels, the texts were written much later, lack historical precision that the Gospels possess (barely even mention geographic locations or names) and portray a completely different type of Son of Man (doesn’t even mean the same thing).

Scholar Frederick Borsch, in The Christian and Gnostic Son of Man, outlines the below:

  1. The gnostic gospels appeared later (2nd and 3rd centuries) and, at times, used content from the canonical Gospels which included some Son of Man references.
  2. The gnostic writings viewed the Son of Man, as an image of the Man, with the “seed of the Son of Man”, begetting the “true race” in the world (Gospel of Philip, sayings 102 and 120). Borsch notes, in gnostic writings we are told, “the Man and his son, delighting in the beauty of the woman-Spirit, having intercourse with her, bringing forth.. Christ.. son of the first and second Man and of the Holy Spirit, the first woman (p.61).”
  3. Statements about the Son of Man as a historical earthly figure would have been relatively meaningless for those who saw the saviour.. disclosing secrets and not to forgive sins, eat and drink.. the idea that the saviour should actually suffer would have been tantamount to blasphemy to many gnostics (p.113).”

The differences compared to the Son of Man in the four Gospels are staggering as you’ll see next..

More on the gnostic gospels?

2. Son of Man title (ironically!) indicates Jesus thought he is divine

Jesus gets hit in the face for calling himself the Son of Man

For claiming to be the Son of Man, seated at the right hand (co-ruling) of the Power coming in the clouds (Mark 14:60–64), Jesus was charged with blasphemy, the high priest tore his garments, Jesus was condemned to death as onlookers jeered at him and struck him in the face! Many sceptical scholars consider this account authentic.

Maurice Casey notes a textual analysis reveals, the Son of Man title as used in Mark, belongs to an earlier Aramaic source Mark used (Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel).

German critical scholar, Rudolf Pesch, in Das Markusevangelium, dates this pre-Markan source as no later than AD 37 while, Caiaphas was still high priest (AD 18–37) as his name is not mentioned in Mark’s high priest references (14:46, 54, 60, 61, 63, 66) and would have been assumed by the audience when the story began circulating.

Why such an extreme reaction to someone claiming to be the son of a human being?

Gerard van Honthorst


In a second-temple Jewish community, claiming to be the Son of Man was an enormous claim. Many Jews held a binitarian view of God (for more read Alan Segal’s Two Powers in Heaven). For example, Rabbi Akiva (AD 50–135) is thought to have believed that in Daniel 7:9–14 there are multiple thrones of God (Babylonian Talmud Chagigah 14a) which different people sit on as God (eg. Ancient of Days and Son of Man).

In this context, Jesus’ reference to himself as the Son of Man, coming in the clouds seated at the right hand of the Power is a reference to both Daniel 7 and Psalm 110 whereby Jesus is portraying a divine, exalted view of himself.

Fifth Kingdom

The Son of Man of Daniel 7:13–14, is the King of the fifth kingdom, God’s kingdom which has authority over the four dark and deceitful kingdoms of Daniel 2 and Daniel 7. No wonder then Jesus repeatedly preached the kingdom of God was at hand (eg. Mark 1:14–15).

The Son of Man comes with the clouds of heaven when only God does this (eg. Deut. 33:26), has a clear human appearance, is given dominion and served by the nations when this role is reserved for God (Is. 45:23; Dan. 4:34), a heavenly throne (Dan. 7:9–14), glory and honour attributable to God (Is. 48:11) and an everlasting kingdom when only God’s kingdom is an everlasting kingdom (Ps. 145:13; Dan. 4:34).

Some argue the Son of Man is a national reference to Israel, however, note the Son of Man is the King who delivers Israel from the four previous kingdoms which oppress it (Dan.2,7).

Babylonian Captivity

LORD said to my Lord

The reference to being at the right hand of the Power comes from Psalm 110:1, where YHWH says to David’s Adonai (a name commonly used for God in the OT while also a reference to sir/lord) to sit at his right hand until he makes his enemies his footstool. Sitting at the right hand of someone implies co-rulership and this King has power over the kings of the earth with a heavenly throne (Psalm 110). Again, a very exalted view.

It is no wonder the council treated Jesus’ claims so radically, different from a normal son of man such as Ezekiel (Ezek. 2:1).

Further references which point to the divinity of the Son of Man include:

  • Lord of the Sabbath (Mark. 2:28).
  • Authority to forgive sins when only God can (Mark 2:1–11)
  • Son of Man to come in glory and judge all (Matt. 16:27)
  • Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head (Luke 9:58) uses language used to describe the Wisdom of God (indispensable aspect of God) in extra-biblical writings such as Sirach 24 and 1 Enoch 42. More here.
  • Son of Man comes in the clouds with great power and great glory to redeem his elect as the kingdom of God draws near (Luke 21:25–34)
  • Your eternal destiny is dependant on whether or not you acknowledge Jesus, the Son of Man (Luke 12:8–10)

Sound like Jesus thought he was just a prophet or wise teacher still? Doubt it.

Is Jesus the Messiah? 3 Portraits from Daniel

3. Son of Man is Saviour, bridging the gap between fallen humans and a Holy God

Sinless like a divine person, yet, taking on human form, Jesus viewed the role of the Son of Man as that of a Saviour, bridging the gap between fallen humanity and a Holy God.

Monet- Japanese Bridge

Jesus taught the Son of Man would die, like a grain which dies yet bears much fruit (John 12:23–25), being lifted up (crucified) and drawing all people to himself (John 12:32–33).

Again and again, Jesus taught the Son of Man would be betrayed, killed, and rise on the third day (eg. Mark 11:31).

Make no mistake about it, Christ taught the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) and to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28).

The Son of Man was about redemption. Redemption for sinners, telling them their faith had saved them (Luke 7:50), not their goodness (Luke 7:36–50; 15; 19:1–10 ).

What kind of Messiah? Ask the rabbi

In the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 98a, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi raised a question over an alleged contradiction- would the Messiah come in the clouds of heaven like the Son of Man with an everlasting dominion (Dan.7:13–14) or like a lowly King riding upon a donkey and upon a colt (Zech. 9:9)?

In Jesus, the answer is both! The Son of Man humbly came to serve, seek and save the lost, yet, is exalted with an everlasting dominion. Even the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 52:13 is “high and lifted up”, “exalted!”

Where do you sit?

Whose side are you on? Will you like the council, scoff and scorn Jesus for claiming to be the Son of Man or will you like Zacchaeus or the sinful woman crying at Jesus’ feet, put your faith in Jesus’ claims, believing he bridges a gap to God you could never bridge yourself?

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