Who is Yeshua?
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 14 February 2015; Revised 11 January 2019
Sources: Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found at the end of the article. Unless otherwise indicated Scripture quotations are taken from the Messianic Jewish Family Bible: Tree of Life Version, © 2014 by Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society. Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ). This article contains the Name of God. If you print it out, please treat it with appropriate respect.
The blessed name of "Jesus," so familiar to Christians, is the English transliteration of the Greek Iēsous (SG-2424, perhaps "yay-soos"). The name occurs 911 times in the Besekh (New Testament). Iēsous does not translate the meaning of the Lord's name. Rather, the Greek word is an attempt to replicate the pronunciation of our Lord's Hebrew name Yeshua (SH-3442, "yay-shoo'-ah") by substituting Greek letters for the Hebrew letters. Greek does not have a letter with the "sh" sound, so "s" is substituted for the Heb. letter shin.
Joseph and Miriam were commanded to give their son the name Yeshua, because "He will save His people from their sins" (Matt 1:21). The nativity story contains a hidden irony concerning the blessed name. When the Magi came to Jerusalem in search of the King of the Jews King Herod called together the chief priests to inquire as to the birthplace of the Messiah. The chief priests included the current high priest, former high priests and holders of the priestly offices of higher rank in the Temple, altogether some fifteen to twenty persons. From Acts 4:1; 5:17 and Josephus (Ant. XX, 9:1) we know that the chief priests were generally Sadducees (Jeremias 230). It just so happened that the name of the high priest in office at the time was Yeshua, son of See, who served from 4 BC until AD 6 (Jeremias 377).
In his thirty-some years on earth people called him Yeshua, not Jesus, the English language not having been invented yet. Yeshua is a contraction of the Hebrew name Y'hoshua ("Joshua"), which means "ADONAI is salvation" (BDB 221). Yeshua has the same Hebrew root as yoshia ("He will save") and is also the masculine form of the Hebrew word yeshu'ah, ("salvation") (Stern 4). Both Yeshua and Y'hoshua ("Joshua") are common names and rendered in the LXX as Iēsous. The name of Yeshua was given to six men in the Tanakh, translated as "Jeshua" in Christian versions (Barker 182):
· a prominent Levitical priest who headed the ninth course of priests in the services of David's sanctuary (1Chr 24:11);
· a Levite in King Hezekiah's time in Judah and was assigned a key position, distributing the offerings in the treasurer's office in the Temple (2Chr 31:15);
· the ancestor of a group that returned from the Exile in Babylon to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel, a member of a prominent Judaite family, Pahath-moab (Ezra 2:6; Neh 7:11);
· father of a builder at the wall, an official of Mizpah (Neh 3:19);
· a Levite who was head of a prominent family which helped Nehemiah rebuild the Temple after the return from the Exile, who assisted in teaching the Torah to the people and joined Nehemiah in sealing the covenant (Ezra 2:40; 3:9; 8:33; Neh 8:7; 9:4; 10:9; 12:8, 24);
· the high priest when the first contingent of exiles returned to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel. Upon his return he started work on rebuilding the altar, and urged his countrymen to rebuild the ruined temple. He is referred to in the books of Haggai and Zechariah as "Joshua" (Ezra 3:2, 8-9; 4:3; 5:2; 10:18; Neh 7:7; 12:1, 7, 10, 26; Hag 1:1, 12, 14; Zech 3:1; 6:10, 11).
The name of Y'hoshua is given to three important men in the Tanakh: (1) Joshua son of Nun ("noon"), (Deut 3:21); (2) a Beth-shemite who received the cart carrying the ark of the covenant from the Philistines and in whose field sacrifices were offered to the Lord (1Sam 6:14, 18), and (3) the governor of Jerusalem under Josiah (2Kgs 23:8). The affinity between the men called Yeshua/Y'hoshua in the Tanakh and Yeshua of the apostolic writings cannot be coincidental. All these former men in their vocations and accomplishments pointed to the Yeshua to come. In the Besekh three men bear the name Yeshua. There is Bar-Yeshua (Acts 13:6), a Jewish false prophet and magician whom Paul cursed so that he became blind (Acts 13:11), and Yeshua called Justus, a fellow minister of Paul (Col 4:11). By far the most important of the three is the Yeshua of Nazareth, the Son of David, Son of Man and Son of God.
In all his years on earth people knew him as Yeshua. Interestingly, there are just three occasions when he was addressed directly by name: by ten lepers (Luke 17:13), by blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:47; Luke 18:38) and by the thief on the cross (Luke 23:42).
So, how did Yeshua become Jesus? The English word "Jesus" reflects the development of the English language using the Latin alphabet. The church father Jerome transliterated the Greek Iēsous with Iesus for his Latin translation of the Bible, called Vulgate (AD 405). The Wycliffe Bible (1395), the first English version, rendered the Latin Iesus with Jhesu. Originally the "J" was a vowel, simply a fancy "I," but after the Renaissance (14th-17th centuries) it became a consonant with a hard sound. The next five English versions (1526-1611) spelled the name "Iesus," but preserved the name with a vowel first letter.
The Mace New Testament in 1729 reintroduced the letter "J" for the "I," which had become a consonant. John Wesley's New Testament followed suit in 1755, but the adoption of the new spelling convention in the 1769 revision of the King James Bible ensured its permanence in Christianity. Unclear is why Bible translators used the transliteration of "Jesus" instead of "Jeshua," which is used for the same name that occurs in the Tanakh. Could the translation choice have been made because "Jesus" doesn't sound Jewish?
Christians generally do not think about the fact that Yeshua was born into a Jewish family that spoke Hebrew. Christianity, in separating from its Jewish roots left Judaism with Moses but denied Jews of the knowledge that the Savior of the world was one of them. The "Jesus" represented in paintings, stained glass murals and films does not look Jewish. Christians have generally recreated Yeshua into their own image, someone who validates their values and prejudices. The truth is that Jesus was a Jew. In fact, several years ago Time Magazine, published a provocative article, Ten Ideas That Are Changing the World (March 24, 2008, Vol. 171, No. 12). The tenth idea is the Re-Judaizing of Jesus. Many Christian scholars are now rereading the "Gospels" as Jewish literature and rediscovering the Jewishness of Jesus. Even the apostolic letters can no longer be simply read as instructions to Gentile Christians.
Yeshua could trace his lineage back to King David and to Abraham (Matt 1:1). He was born to a Jewish mother (Matt 1:16), raised in a Jewish home in the Jewish community of Nazareth situated among the Jewish people in the land of Israel, the very land God gave to Abraham and his Hebrew posterity. (See my commentary on the nativity narratives: Matthew 1 and Luke 1.) Christians must be reminded that the Land was not known as Palestine, derived from the word "Philistine," at any time in Bible history as commonly represented on Bible maps and in Christian scholarly works. To call Yeshua a "Palestinian" is to insult him and is antisemitic.
Yeshua was known both as Yeshua the Galilean (Matt 26:69) and Yeshua of Nazareth (Mark 10:47; 14:67; 16:6; Luke 24:19; John 18:5, 7; 19:19; Acts 2:22; 22:8). He is identified once as "son of Miriam" (Mark 6:3), a few more times as "son of Joseph" (Luke 3:23; John 1:45; 6:42) but much more frequently as "son of David" (Matt 9:27; 15:22; 20:30; 21:9, 15; 22:42; Mark 10:47-48; 12:35; Luke 3:31; 18:38). His lineage from David is particularly emphasized by the apostles (Acts 13:34; Rom 1:3; 2Tim 2:8; Rev 5:5; 22:16). By virtue of His incarnation into the Jewish gene pool and Jewish mother, Yeshua must still be a Jew.
Yeshua was an observant Jew who faithfully kept all the sabbaths and holy days God decreed in the Torah. Yeshua attended synagogue services on the Sabbath (Mark 1:21), visited the Temple during prescribed festivals (John 2:13-14; 5:1; 7:14), rested on the Sabbath, taught on the Sabbath and healed on Sabbath days (Mark 3:1-5; John 5:9). Observant Jewish men in Yeshua's time wore tassels or fringes (Heb. tzitziyot, pl. of tzitzit) on the four corners of their garments in accordance with the Torah (Num 15:37-40; Deut 22:12; Matt 9:20; Mark 6:56).
Jews expected the coming Deliverer to function as a rabbi and teacher as the woman at the well said, "I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called the Anointed One). When He comes, He will explain everything to us" (John 4:25). Yeshua embodied that expectation and functioned as a rabbi as he roamed the country teaching about the kingdom and how to live by Torah as God intended. Because of his teaching ministry and following of disciples Yeshua was routinely called by the title "Rabbi" (Matt 26:25, 49; Mark 9:5; 10:51; 11:21; 14:45; John 1:49; 3:2; 6:25; 9:2; 11:8; 20:16). While Yeshua was commonly addressed as "Rabbi," he was known by four very important titles: Messiah, Son of God, Son of Man and Lord.
Among Christians "Christ" (from Grk. Christos) is generally used first and foremost to mean the second person of the triune Godhead as presented in Christian creedal statements. Sometimes Christians use "Christ" as if the word was a last name, which is strange since no one would say "David King." "Christ" is actually a title that occurs 531 times in the Besekh. In Greek culture christos comes from chriein, to rub lightly, and in its secular use had no religious connotation at all. Christos as an adjective described someone smeared with whitewash, cosmetics or paint, and was anything but an expression of honor. As a personal reference it even tended toward the disrespectful (DNTT 2:334).
Christos was chosen deliberately by the Jewish translators of the LXX to render Mashiach and in so doing infused new meaning into the Greek word. The Heb. title Mashiach means 'anointed one' or 'poured on.' Mashiach was used in the Tanakh for (1) the patriarchs (1Chr 16:16-22; Ps 105:15); (2) the High Priest, Lev 4:5; (3) the King, 1Sam 12:3 (King Saul); 2Sam 22:51 (King David); Isa 45:1 (King Cyrus); and (4) the Messiah, Ps 2:2 and Dan 9:25-26. This last usage defined the term in the first century A.D. Related to Christos is the usage of Grk. Messias (Messiah), which occurs only twice in the Besekh.
Messias is a transliteration of the Heb. Mashiach, Anointed One or Messiah (Stern). BAG says it transliterates the Aram. M'shicha, but Thayer says the Greek title stands for both the Hebrew and Aramaic forms and Danker identifies the title as Hebrew. This Greek form of the title occurs in only two verses; John 1:41, spoken by Peter, and John 4:25, spoken by the Samaritan woman along with a translation note that Messias is the one called Christos. Messias does not occur in the LXX at all (neither the canonical books nor the Apocrypha) or other early Jewish literature (DNTT 2:334). The appearance of Messias in John's narrative indicates that the word was in use very early. The fact that the Messias is spoken by both (and only) Peter and the Samaritan woman is striking and may imply its use in Galilee and Samaria, but not in Judea.
Since the Jewish Greek of the Besekh relies on the LXX for vocabulary, Christos is thus used uniformly instead of Messias. The significance of being known as "The Anointed One" is that Israelite kings were crowned and priests were ordained in a ceremony of anointing with olive oil, which invested them with the authority of their positions. There was no comparable concept in Greek culture. Yeshua was not physically anointed in his commissioning for ministry, although He was anointed with the Spirit in accordance with Isaiah 61:1 (Matt 3:16). However, he was anointed with nard in preparation for his death (Mark. 14:3-8; John 12:3), so in that sense he was physically anointed for his final and greatest ministry.
While many passages in the Tanakh point to Yeshua, there is not a clearly defined theology of Messiah. There is an expectation that God would reign as King over his people and the entire world. The motif of a descendant of King David as a deliverer of Israel may be found in writings of the Hosea (3:5), Ezekiel (34:23-24; 37:24-25), and Zechariah (12:7-8). The Jewish concept of Messiah in 1 B.C. essentially fused Daniel's son of man (Dan 7:13) to the "son of David" in such works as Psalms of Solomon 17:21-23, 36; 18:5-7; 1Enoch 46:3-4; 48:1 and 2Esdras 7:28-29; 12:32. Of importance is that in the last reference the author says that the Messiah would die.
Messianic expectation sharpened after the failure of the Hasmonean Kingdom (37 B.C.) and being subjected to Imperial Rome. Jews began looking for a leader who would deliver them from oppression and usher in an Olam Habah ("the world to come") or Messianic Age. Jewish leaders believed that the Messiah would be a descendant of King David and he would fulfill the promises made to the patriarchs and to Israel. Those promises included redemption for Israel, destruction of the enemies of Israel, the restoration of Israel to sovereign rule in its land and establishment of the Davidic monarchy over Israel and the nations. In fact, the angel Gabriel provided assurance of fulfillment to Miriam and Zechariah. The birth narratives of Yeshua reflect this common knowledge and expectation.
In addition, many times the phrase "it is written" (or words to that effect) is used with a quotation from the Tanakh relating to the Messiah, which reveals the nature of messianic expectation:
· Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and be a descendant of David (Matt 2:4-6 = 2Sam 7:12-13; Isa 9:6; 11:1-5; Jer 23:5; Micah 5:2; 2Esdras 12:32).
· Messiah would be preceded by a messenger calling the people to repentance (Matt 11:10; Mark 1:2 = Mal 3:1; Isa 40:3).
· Messiah would "declare all things," i.e., explain the true meaning of Scripture (John 4:25; 6:45 = Isa 54:13).
· Messiah would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey (John 12:14-15 = Isa 62:11; Zech 9:9)
· Messiah would be rejected, as the stone rejected by the builders (Luke 20:17 = Ps 118:22).
· Messiah would be betrayed (Matt 26:24; Mark 14:21 = Ps 41:9; 55:12-14; Prov 28:21).
· Messiah would be numbered with transgressors (Luke 22:37 = Isa 53:12).
· Messiah would be killed and his followers scattered (Matt 26:31; Mark 14:27 = Ps 22:16; Isa 53:7-8; Zech 12:10; 13:1, 7-9). (Also 2Esdras 7:29)
· Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day (Luke 24:46 = Ps 2:7; 15:10; 22; Isa 53:9-10; Jon 1:17; Hos 6:2; cf. Col 2:12).
However, the Jewish Sages who produced the Talmud recognized the paradoxical nature of Messianic prophecies. On the one hand some prophecies speak of a victorious Messiah who will be a descendant of King David and destroy the enemies of Israel and reign as king. Other prophecies speak of a suffering Messiah who dies for Israel. Then another prophecies a divine supra-human ruler from heaven that Daniel calls "son of man." After Jewish leadership rejected Yeshua as Messiah the rabbis had to develop an explanation for the Messianic prophecies, especially the inherent contradictions.
So, leading Jewish scholars in the late Tannaim (lit. "teachers") period (A.D. 80 to 220) and members of the Amoraim (lit. "interpreters," A.D. 200 to 500), called the former Mashiach ben David (Sanhedrin 97a) and the latter Mashiach ben Yosef (Sukkah 52a). These scholars also spoke of the victorious Messiah as Mashiach ben Adam, the eschatological figure coming on the clouds in Daniel 7:13 (Sanhedrin 96b).
The Apostolic Message
The writings of the apostles show that Mashiach ben Yosef and Mashiach ben David are the same person. Yeshua's human descent was from King David, his legal but not physical father was Yosef, and his resurrection made it possible for him to come twice and fill both roles (Stern 548). Yeshua also asserted himself to be the expected Son of Man coming on the clouds to both his disciples (Matt 24:30, 44) and to the Jewish leadership who put him on trial (Matt 26:64). What the Jews did not expect was that in order to have a victorious Messiah, they would have to first have a suffering Messiah, one who would be an atoning sacrifice. The apostolic writings declare unequivocally that Yeshua is Israel's Messiah and that in him all their expectations would be fulfilled.
It cannot be emphasized too many times that the title Christos was the invention of Jews long before Yeshua was born and not by Gentile Christianity. Christos, as demonstrated by its usage in the LXX, referred to the "anointed one" of Israel, the one who would fulfill all the promises God made to the patriarchs and Israel (Luke 24:25-27, 44; Acts 13:22-33; 26:6-7).
Son of God
Son of God translates the Grk. ho huios tou theou, which renders the Heb. ben Elohim. In secular Greek writings a number of deities, always represented in anthropomorphic form, were called theos. In ancient polytheistic culture theos was not one omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, Creator and ruler of the universe and certainly not spirit as described in Scripture (John 4:24). In the LXX theos renders the generic designations of God, El (which occurs over 200 times, including combinations such as El Bethel, El Elyon, and El Shaddai) and Elohim (which occurs over 2300 times), as well as the tetragrammaton YHVH, over 300 times (DNTT 2:67-70). As with many other Greek words the LXX infused new meaning into theos.
The title "Son of God" occurs 43 times in the Besekh and all but one refer to Yeshua. "Son of the Father" appears in 2John 1:3 and eight times Yeshua is referred to as the only begotten Son of the Father. Indeed, he is the "begotten God" (John 1:18). See my commentary on John 1. Yeshua constantly referred to God as his Father. When he said "I and the Father are one," his opponents accused him of blasphemy (John 10:33). In response Yeshua replied, quoting Psalm 82:6,
"Is not it written in your Torah, 'I said, you are Elohim?' 35 If He called them Elohim, to whom the word of God came, and the Scripture is not able to be broken 36 do you say of him whom the Father set apart and sent into the world, 'You blaspheme,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God?'" (John 10:34-36 mine)
Christianity has traditionally interpreted the title "Son of God" as representative of deity, but this assumption is difficult to substantiate in Scripture. Lest the reader misunderstand my point, there is no equivocation in the Besekh that Yeshua is the image of the invisible God and agent of creation. When Yeshua and the apostles want to declare His deity unambiguously, they do so with other terminology and descriptions (John 1:1; 8:58-59; 10:30, 33; 15:26; 20:28; 2Cor 4:4; Phil 2:5-7; Col 1:15-17; 2:9; 1Tim 3:16; Titus 2:13; Heb 1:2-3, 8; 2Pet 1:1; Rev 19:11-14).
However, in John 10 Yeshua chides his critics by reminding them of the human character of the title. According to Scripture all Israelites are sons of God (Isa 43:6; Hos 1:10; Matt 17:25-26; 2Cor 6:18), because Israel is collectively the son of God (Ex 4:22). Adam was the first son of God (Luke 3:38). The disciples, too, can be described as "sons of God" (Matt 5:9, 45; cf. Rom 8:14, 19; Gal 3:26; 4:6-7; Heb 12:7-8). So, Yeshua argues that there can be nothing wrong with him claiming to be the special son of God sent into the world. However, unlike most of the rest of the sons of God, Yeshua was one with the heavenly Father.
While Jews typically object to the concept of God having a son, the Tanakh clearly presents this reality as contained in the Hebraic meaning of the Davidic deliverer (e.g., Matt 26:63; John 1:34, 49; 20:31). After all, in Scripture "son of" may indicate immediate blood relation, a distant blood relation or simply manifesting the characteristics of someone. In addition, the various references to Yeshua being the descendant of David would reinforce this sense (Matt 1:1; 9:27; 15:22; 20:30; 21:9; 22:42; Luke 3:31; 18:38; Acts 13:34; 2Tim 2:8; Rev 5:5; 22:16).
The basis for "son of God" being a divinely appointed deliverer from the line of David, i.e., the Messiah, is found in two key passages that speak of God's revelation to David:
"I will raise up your seed, who will come forth from you after you, and I will establish his kingdom. He will build a house for My Name, and I will establish his royal throne forever. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me." (2Sam 7:12-14)
"I have set up My king upon Zion, My holy mountain. 7 I will declare the decree of ADONAI: He said to Me, "You are My Son, - today I have become Your Father. … 11 Serve ADONAI with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest He become angry, and you perish along your way, since His wrath may flare up suddenly. Happy is everyone taking refuge in Him!" (Ps 2:6-7, 11-12)
The revelation of God's son is also given in later passages:
"Who has gone into heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in the palm of His hand? Who has wrapped the waters in a cloak? Who has established the ends of the earth? What is his name and what is the name of His son - if you know?" (Prov 30:4)
"For to us a child will be born, a son will be given to us, and the government will be upon His shoulder. His Name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, My Father of Eternity, Prince of Peace." (Isa 9:5)
God's promise that He would bring His Anointed from the line of David explains the presence of the genealogies. The apostles demonstrated that Yeshua is the expected son of David on both sides of the family tree. David's words in Psalm 2:7 are replicated in Paul's sermon at Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:33) and twice in his letter to the Hebrews (1:5; 5:5). "Son of God" was a title of the Davidic king inasmuch as the king functioned as God's regent on earth and was vested with God's authority (Leman 95). Alter in his commentary on Psalm 2 says that it was commonplace in the ancient Near East to consider the king as God's son (6). So when Mark introduces his book with the old title for the king of the House of David he means "son of God," as the human Messiah of Israel.
The emphasis on Yeshua's royalty begins with the birth narratives. He descended from a King (Matt 1:6), King David, and as such has a legal right to claim his throne. The angelic visitor to Miriam announced that her son would sit on the throne of David (Luke 1:32). When the Magi came seeking the Messiah they asked, "Where is the King of the Jews?" (Matt 2:2). When Nathanael first met Yeshua, he declared, "Rabbi, You are the Son of God, you are King of Israel" (John 1:49). Nathanael obviously treated "Son of God" and "King of Israel" as synonymous titles, illustrating that Jews used the title of "Son of God" with a different meaning than used in Christianity.
The apostolic writings repeatedly interpret the Messianic role in terms of kingship. Yeshua also taught parables in which the chief character was a righteous king, an allusion to himself (Matt 18:23-34; 22:1-14; 25:31-46). At the triumphal entry the people welcomed Yeshua as the King of Israel (John 12:13). In the Olivet Discourse Yeshua promised that when he returns he will sit on a glorious throne (Matt 25:31). At his trial before Pilate when asked if he was a king Yeshua replied in the affirmative (John 18:37). For the crucifixion Pilate had a plaque made to be affixed to Yeshua's cross that read in Greek, Latin and Hebrew, "King of the Jews" (Matt 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19-20).
Peter repeated the promise of Yeshua reigning as King in his Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:30). Later Paul and John would acclaim Yeshua as "King of kings" (1Tim 6:15; Rev 17:15; 19:16).
Son of Man
Son of Man translates the Grk. ho huios tou anthrōpou, which renders the Heb. ben adam. "Son of man," or "son of the first man, namely Adam," occurs 107 times in the Tanakh, and 89 times in the Besekh. The idiom is thoroughly Hebraic and has no counterpart in Greek culture. The Hebrew word "ben" ("son," "son of") is commonly used in three distinctive ways in the Bible: (1) to identify direct paternity, as the son of his father. (2) to mean not the actual father but a more distant ancestor, as Yeshua is referred to in the genealogies being the son of David and Abraham; (3) to mean in a broader sense of "having the characteristics of," and this too applies here.
Christian interpreters typically treat "Son of Man" in the context of Yeshua's ministry as representative of his identification with humanity, whereas "Son of God" pertains to his deity. In Hebraic thought these expressions mean just the opposite. The Christian notion is based on the fact that in the Tanakh, except in two passages, ben adam is idiomatic for "man" or "human being," occurring 11 times in a general sense of all mankind (e.g., Num 23:19). This sense also occurs when God addresses two prophets as "son of man:" Ezekiel (93 times) and Daniel, once (Dan 8:17). However, the two exceptional passages point to a Messianic figure.
First the "son of Man" is the Davidic king:
"Elohei-Tzva'ot, please return! Look down from heaven and see! Now take care of this vine— the shoot Your right hand planted— the son You strengthened for Yourself. It is burned with fire, it is cut down. They perish from the rebuke of Your face. Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand—the son of man You made strong for Yourself. Then we will not turn away from You. Revive us, and we will call on Your Name. ADONAI Elohei-Tzva'ot, restore us. Make Your face shine, and we will be saved." (Ps 80:15-2; cf. Ps 2:7, 12; 110:1)
Second, "Son of Man" is the eschatological supra-natural figure seen by the prophet Daniel.
"I was watching in the night visions. Behold, One like a Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days, and was brought into His presence. Dominion, glory and sovereignty were given to Him that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will never pass away, and His kingdom is one that will not be destroyed." (Dan 7:13-14)
For first-century Jews the "Son of Man" is Daniel's divine redeemer in human form. He appears younger than the Ancient of Days and will be enthroned on high. Jewish intertestamental literature expounded strongly on his identity and activity. David Flusser, Orthodox Jewish scholar and professor at Hebrew University, explains,
"In all of the sources, the one resembling a man is portrayed in a consistent manner. The Son of Man has a superhuman, heavenly sublimity. He is the cosmic judge at the end of time. Sitting upon the throne of God, judging the entire human race with the aid of the heavenly hosts, he will consign the just to blessedness and the wicked to the pit of hell. Frequently he is identified with the Messiah, but he can also be identified with Enoch, who was taken up into heaven." (112)
In the apostolic narratives the title "Son of Man" occurs over 80 times on the lips of Yeshua, almost always of himself. In American culture someone speaking of himself in the third person would seem very strange. Young notes that for this reason a few Christian scholars came to the conclusion that Yeshua speaks of someone else whereas others treat the expression as a simple circumlocution meaning "I" (252). While the latter interpretation has a bearing on his usage, Yeshua's self-description as the Son of Man is purposeful to connect his ministry with the fulfillment of prophecy and to demonstrate the complexity of his mission. Yeshua uses the title four different ways.
First, Yeshua used "Son of Man" as a personal circumlocution in 6 verses with an ordinary sense in lieu of saying "I" or "me." For example, the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head (Matt 8:20; para. Luke 9:58). The Son of Man came eating and drinking (Matt 11:19; para. Luke 7:34). Then Yeshua asks about who people say he is (Matt 16:13).
Second, "son of man" is used as a representational idiom in 8 verses for every person. This usage appears in the passages where he speaks of the son of man having authority to forgive sins, which listeners understood to be applied to them (Matt 9:6-8; para. Mark 2:10; Luke 5:24), the son of man being master of his Sabbath observance (Matt 12:8; para. Mark 2:28; Luke 6:5) and the son of man as being the target of blasphemy that can be forgiven (Matt 12:32; para. Luke 12:10). The idiomatic use is obscured because Bible versions always capitalize "Son of Man" wherever it occurs in the Besekh. Far more significant is the next two usages of Son of Man.
Third, the Son of Man is the end-time Judge and King prophesied by Daniel. This usage appears in 28 verses, sometimes quoting a part of Daniel 7:13.
"But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." (Matt 25:31 NASB)
Fourth, the Son of Man is the Suffering and Risen Savior, occurring in 42 verses.
"The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day (Luke 9:22 NASB)
Yeshua used the expression in accordance with common Jewish interpretation of the time. He was Daniel's cosmic judge from heaven (Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62), but in applying the title to his mission Yeshua added the unexpected element of suffering (Mark 8:31; 9:12, 31; 10:33, 45). This paradoxical combination caused the Jewish leaders to experience what modern psychologists call "cognitive dissonance." Since the leaders could not resolve the conundrum they took up an offense against Yeshua's use of heavenly imagery and determined to make him suffer for it.
Lord is the translation of Grk. kurios and may mean either (1) 'one in control through possession,' and therefore owner or master; or (2) 'one esteemed for authority or high status,' thus lord or master. In personal address kurios may be translated as "sir" to express recognition of or submission to superior rank. In the LXX kurios occurs over 9,000 times, principally to translate Heb. words for God. In the overwhelming majority of instances (over 6,000 times), kurios replaces the Heb. Sacred Name Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey. In addition, kurios stands in for the divine titles Adonai, Elohim, El and Eloah. In contrast to its use for deity kurios also renders Heb. adon (owner, master) 310 times, 190 of which refer to men in general recognition of superiority (DNTT 2:511).
Kurios is the principal title by which disciples and members of the public addressed Yeshua during his earthly ministry, over twice as many times as any other title (e.g., Rabbi, Teacher, Master). The frequent use of kurios to address Yeshua in the flesh would not have considered deity. Unbelieving Jews would have called him kurios out of respect. For disciples who followed Yeshua kurios would be equivalent of the Heb. Rhabbi, since the Hebrew word means "my Master." Speaking in Hebrew expectant Jews would call Yeshua adōn because the Messiah would rule over Israel. For the apostles kurios became attached to Christos as "Lord Messiah Yeshua" 62 times in the Besekh, rendered in Christian Bibles 61 times as "Lord Jesus Christ" and once as "Christ Jesus the Lord." Kurios also occurs in the reference "Messiah Yeshua, our Lord" (7 times in Paul's letters).
Peter declared on Pentecost, "Therefore let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him - this Yeshua whom you had crucified - both Lord and Messiah" (Acts 2:36). Then at the house of Cornelius the same message was repeated, "You know the message He sent to Bnei-Yisrael [sons of Israel], proclaiming shalom through Messiah Yeshua - He is Lord of all" (Acts 10:36).
Yeshua is the central figure in the Besekh. Prophets pointed to him and his apostles declared him. While Yeshua put the New Covenant into force he did not create a new religion, a new authority system or a new calendar for his disciples to follow. He did not repudiate the Torah and circumcision. Instead, Yeshua embodied the Father's plan to enable all His children to live by the divine instructions given to Israel (Jer 31:31-33; Ezek 36:26-27; Matt 28:19-20; Acts 1:8; Rom 8:4).
Alter: Robert Alter, The Book of Psalms. W.W. Norton & Co., 2007.
BAG: Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Trans. W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich. The University of Chicago Press, 1957.
Barker: William P. Barker, Everyone In the Bible. Fleming H. Revell Co., 1966.
BDB: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. London: Oxford University Press, 1907. Reprinted by Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981.
Danker: F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, University of Chicago Press, 2009.
DNTT: Dictionary of New Testament Theology. 3 Vols. ed. Colin Brown, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975.
Flusser: David Flusser, The Sage from Galilee: Rediscovering Jesus' Genius. 4th ed. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2007.
Jeremias: Joichim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. Fortress Press, 1975.
Leman: Derek Leman, A New Look at the Old Testament. Mt. Olive Press, 2006.
Stern: David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.
Thayer: Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Harper & Brothers, 1889.
TLV: Messianic Jewish Family Bible: Tree of Life Version. Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society, 2014.
Young: Brad Young, Jesus the Jewish Theologian. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1995.
The following works are highly recommended for further study on the Jewish background and life of Yeshua.
Jonathan Bernis, A Rabbi Looks at Jesus of Nazareth. Chosen Books, 2011.
Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Jesus Was a Jew. Ariel Ministries, 1989.
Derek Leman, Jesus Didn't Have Blue Eyes: Reclaiming Our Jewish Messiah. Mt. Olive Press, 2004.
Derek Leman, Yeshua in Context: The Life and Times of Yeshua the Messiah. Mt. Olive Press, 2010.
Robert L. Lindsey, Jesus Rabbi & Lord: The Hebrew Story of Jesus Behind Our Gospels. Cornerstone Publishing, 1990.
Ron Moseley, Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Yeshua and the Original Church. Lederer Books, 1996.
Dwight A. Pryor, Behold the Man: Discovering our Hebrew Lord, the Historical Jesus of Nazareth. Center for Judaic-Christian Studies, 2005.
Risto Santala, The Messiah in the New Testament in the Light of Rabbinical Writings. Trans. William Kinnaird. Keren Ahvah Meshihit, 1992. Online.
Rabbi Itzhak Shapira, The Return of the Kosher Pig: The Divine Messiah in Jewish Thought. Lederer Books, 2013.
David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.
Copyright © 2015-2019 Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.