What does it mean that the Son of Man must suffer?

Jesus says three times that he, as the Son of Man, must suffer in order to fulfil the Scriptures. In Mark 8:31, after Peter has confessed him to be the Christ. “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” If we want to know why these things “must” happen, the answer comes a few paragraphs later when Jesus tells Peter, James, and John that “it is written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected” (9:12), and again during Jesus’ Passover meal with his disciples when he gives them the disturbing news that one of them will betray him “because the Son of Man will go just as it is written about him” (14:21; cf. 14:49). These things “must” happen because Scripture says that they must happen.

But where does Scripture indicate that someone called “the Son of Man” must suffer? In two places. In Mark 13:26, Jesus tells his disciples that at an unknown future day and hour the Son of Man will come in “clouds with great power and glory,” and in 14:62 he tells the high priest at his Jewish trial that the Son of Man will come “on the clouds of heaven.This can only refer to Daniel 7, which speaks of “one like a son of man” who comes “with the clouds of heaven” and receives “authority, glory and sovereign power” from God (Dan. 7:13–14).

Daniel 7 is the record of a dream in which Daniel saw four beasts, the first three of which resembled different, recognised animals—a lion, a bear, and a leopard. The final beast, however, was so terrifying that it resembled no known animal. It had large iron teeth, ten horns, and among the ten horns, one “had eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth that spoke boastfully” (7:8). After the emergence of this final beast, God’s eschatological court was convened, and “the Ancient of Days” sat down to render judgment.

As a result of this judgment, the fourth beast “was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire” (7:9–11). At this point “the one like a son of man” entered Daniel’s dream. He rode from earth to heaven on the clouds and approached “the Ancient of Days” as he sat in the seat of judgment (7:13). Unlike the terrifying fourth beast who was condemned, the “son of man” was vindicated: He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and human beings of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Dan. 7:14)

When the dream is interpreted, the four beasts turn out to be Gentile nations, and the beast with the boastful horn is a nation that persecutes the people of God—“waging war against the saints and defeating them” (Dan. 7:21), speaking against “the Most High,” oppressing his people, and trying to change their sacred calendar and laws (7:25). Although God hands “the saints” over to this oppressor for a time (7:25), eventually God’s court convenes, and he forever destroys the power of the oppressor (7:26).

In summary, as the Son of Man, Jesus followed the pattern laid out for the “one like a son of man” in Daniel 7:13. He had authority; he suffered at the hands of his enemies; and he was vindicated and exalted by God. As the Son of Man he also called on his followers to follow him in this pattern of life.

(1) They were God’s chosen people and possessed the authority God gave to his people.

(2) Now they must suffer faithfully in their commitment to Jesus.

(3) When God brings his purposes to an end and executes judgment on all peoples, they will be vindicated and restored to their rightful place of authority.

Categories: Theology

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