Wednesday, April 04, 2018

The New Head

The new department head was appointed internally.

That decision runs counter to customary business practice, which dictates that management functions are best performed by those trained and accredited to manage. However, the conventional wisdom fails to take into account that the learning curve for a manager in a new environment is long and steep. More importantly, the staff can have no confidence in or loyalty to someone who has been merely parachuted in; who knows nothing about the company’s product, processes and people — let alone someone who has no investment in what they are working to accomplish (beyond, of course, nailing down and taking home his annual bonus package).

So you appoint from within. At least, that’s how God did it.

Son of Man

Which brings us — elliptically, I concede — to the expression “son of man”. In Hebrew, ben 'adam. It’s an old expression. Absolutely ancient, really. We first come across it in the book of Numbers, but it’s considerably older than that, going all the way back to the words of Bildad the Shuhite in Job. That’s about 4,000 years at bare minimum — and Bildad surely picked up the expression somewhere. We may conclude that as long as mankind has been thinking religiously, the phrase “son of man” has probably been in use.

As we will see, later on the expression becomes very significant indeed.

Parallels That Make a Point

With the exception of the prophets Ezekiel and Daniel, the expression “son of man” is always used in the Old Testament as the second part of a standard Hebrew parallelism. It appears this way:
“God is not man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change his mind,”
or in another famous instance:
“What is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?”
These ancient and very deliberate parallelisms occur all through the Old Testament and into the New. They usually serve to emphasize a specific aspect of a more general point.

Relationship and Conferred Nature

In this particular case, in the first part of the couplet, “man” is always 'iysh or 'enowsh, both of which Hebrew words refer exclusively to males. But in the second part, it is not ben 'iysh or ben 'enowsh, which would roughly be “male child”, but rather ben 'adam, which stresses the relationship with Adam, the original federal head of the human race, as well as the conferred nature of humanity. Together, they say something like this: not just the male of the species, but a being with all the essential attributes of his kind; a typical specimen. This arrangement is reversed only once, in Psalm 144, which we might paraphrase this way: “What is humanity that you take knowledge of it; or maleness, that you take account of it?”

I’ll just leave that one alone.

The Human Condition as We Encounter It

Because our race is fallen, being ben 'adam is not always a good thing: the “son of man” is said in scripture to be a liar, a worm, insignificant, insufficient and short-lived. Less than optimal, certainly, but an accurate description of the human condition as we encounter it. However, the picture is not relentlessly negative. Under certain conditions, a son of man may also be capable of serving God and of making right choices.

The expression is found 192 times in our Bibles, 93 times in Ezekiel alone. Neither Ezekiel nor Daniel tell us why they are referred to as “son of man”, but in view of the dramatic visions and dreams both experienced, it may have been an appropriate way to draw their attention to the distinction between things earthly and heavenly.

But all this so far is mere baggage, background given us by the Holy Spirit to inform a single, critical Old Testament prophecy.

Daniel’s Night Vision

This is the key passage:
“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”
In summary, the vision reveals a being that possesses the physical attributes of humanity, but differs in some unspecified way: he is like a son of man. In Daniel’s night vision, God gives this individual eternal dominion (“everlasting”, “not pass away”, “not destroyed”) of the entire world (“all peoples, nations and languages”).

What Daniel saw can only be Messianic, and it is surely this role that the Lord Jesus is claiming when he appropriates the designation “Son of Man” in the Gospels, a title he uses more than any other.

A Shift in Meaning

Thus, in the New Testament, that title always and only refers to Christ. It is no longer a general description of humanity, or even a word used to designate a particular servant of God. It is used repeatedly in all four gospels (32, 15, 26 and 12 times, respectively).

There can be no question what the Lord means by using it: over and over, he repeatedly connects “Son of Man” with his coming in glory to be enthroned and to rule. He is claiming to be the fulfillment of Daniel’s vision.

In John, he says this explicitly:
“For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.”
Here it is evident this means a great deal more than merely “because he’s fully human”.

Poignancy and Irony

When we come to see the grandeur implicit in the term “Son of Man”, certain of Jesus’s statements in the Gospels become increasingly poignant, not to mention ironic:
“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
Wow, is it ever a repudiation of humanity and its skewed value system when its soon-to-be federal Head is treated so carelessly.
The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ ”
Ouch. Did we ever misread that!
“Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven ...”
What incredible, unbelievable generosity!

Double Significance

The expression “Son of Man”, then, is doubly significant. Jesus is the one sent from heaven to rule the earth forever, but he does not come to run the show as some kind of parachuted-in management proxy, but as one who has earned the right to rule by virtue of an impeccable career within humanity; as a genuine ben 'adam, the first human ruler’s legitimate descendant through his mother Mary; and by virtue of summing up in his person all that God originally designed and desired mankind to be.

Can you get behind that?

Actually, I’ll tell you a very poorly-kept secret: God has given him everlasting dominion. Even if you can’t get behind that, it doesn’t much matter.

Except to you, of course.

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