Prophetic glimpses at the son of man.
On the One sent by God to be the Shepherd King of God’s covenant people.
There are some portions of Scripture which exist, for better or worse, as the focal point of more interpretive drama than anything else. Two of the usual suspects remain the books of Daniel and Ezekiel — books which are only tangentially connected because of their overriding complexities. Debates over their merits as prophetic oracles, eschatological treatises, historical tomes, or apocalyptic materials persist, making Daniel and Ezekiel among the books of the Old Testament (OT) more likely to be avoided than cherished. E. C. Lucas, in his article on the “Book of Daniel” in the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets, even goes so far to say that “debates about the interpretation of prophecy and historical accuracy [in Daniel] have sometimes overshadowed the message of the book.”1 Such could be said regarding Ezekiel, as well, resulting in exegetical divergence as the only material which tethers these two works of prophecy.
But, as it is, there is much more that moors these two OT prophecies than mere debate alone. A particular designation appears in both oracles which would later be employed by Jesus Christ himself. Both Daniel and Ezekiel consist of allusions to the “son of man” (Dan. 7:13; Ezek. 2:1ff), with the same title emerging in all four of the Gospel accounts as Jesus’s self-appointed appellation (Rev. 1:12–18). It is a designation which is particularly apparent in Mark’s record of Jesus’s life (Mark 2:10, 28; 8:31, 38; 9:9, 12, 31; 10:33, 45; 13:26, 34; 14:21, 41, 62), as well as the scene of the church’s first martyr (Acts 7:54–57) and the successive christological argumentation employed by the writer to the Hebrews (Heb. 2:6–9). Adequate attention ought to be given, then, to this seemingly innocuous turn of phrase which Jesus utilizes in reference to his identity and mission.
In Ezekiel, “son of man” is predominantly used in reference to the prophet himself. L. S. Tiemeyer notes that there are some ninety occurrences of the title throughout Ezekiel’s prophecy,2 which serves to emphasize the human vessel through which the divine oracles are transmitted. Ezekiel the man is inundated with Yahweh’s message to the degree that he can become almost ubiquitous with the message itself. “Son of man,” then, reinforces the precise means by which heaven’s oracles are broadcast — namely, through human beings. “The book of Ezekiel,” Tiemeyer continues, “thus presents the prophet as doing and saying nothing apart from what God wants him to do.”3 General consensus, however, strongly suggests that Jesus’s self-referential title as the “Son of Man” is alluding to the oracle of Daniel 7, when the “Ancient of Days” entrusts the dominion of the earth to “one like a son of man” (Dan. 7:13–14). It is not accidental, then, that when Jesus begins preaching in Galilee, his proclamation is encapsulated as the fulfillment of the coming kingdom of God (Mark 1:14–15). Jesus’s assertion that he is the “Son of Man,” therefore, “links his claim to bring in the kingdom of God with the completing of God’s purpose in creating the world.”4
This does not make Ezekiel’s usage of the title of little significance. On the contrary, both Daniel’s and Ezekiel’s prophecies, as with the rest of Scripture, are necessary in order to apprehend the clearest picture of who this Son of Man is. He is the One sent by God to be the Shepherd King of God’s covenant people (Ezek. 34:1–31; 37:24–28; cf. John 10:11–18). He is the One through whom the world is ultimately delivered from their sins and ushered into the everlasting kingdom of heaven. He is the embodiment of God’s prescient compassion, the “faithful representative” of heaven “who fully carries out God’s work.”5
E. C. Lucas, “Book of Daniel,” Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets, edited by Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 110.
L. S. Tiemeyer, “Book of Ezekiel,” Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets, edited by Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 224.
Tiemeyer, “Book of Ezekiel,” 218.
Lucas, “Book of Daniel,” 122.
Tiemeyer, “Book of Ezekiel,” 223.