MATTHEW 8:14-22
Pp Mark 1:29-34, Luke 4:38-41, Luke 9:57-60

Simon’s Mother-in-law
An Evening’s Ministry
Would-be Disciples
Son of Man

There are three short - and easily regarded as unrelated - incidents here for the reader to consider and weigh up. The problem the commentator has in dealing with the Scriptures is where to draw the dividing line under one passage and to start afresh a new train of thought. This has been the problem here with the entire passage that has run from the beginning of chapter 8 to the end 8:22.

I have divided the section up into three web pages to try and focus attention on each of the healings that are unfolding before us but, if I am honest, these first twenty-two verses hold together as one unit (and 8:18 naturally leads in to the passage 8:23-34!) that have something to say to the reader concerning those who are acceptable to man and those who are not - and the way that God turns our own assessments on their head by accepting the unacceptable and rejecting the accepted!

More on this in a short while under the heading ‘Would-be’ disciples but, for now, let the reader remember that these arbitrary divisions in the text probably hinder rather than help us in trying to come to terms with the correct meaning of Scripture and, even if you have turned to this web page without first reading the two former ones, please take note that these nine verses are best understood in the context of the passages which surround them, rather than as a separate unit that was ever meant to be taken as standing alone and worthy of individual comment.

Simon’s Mother-in-law
Mtw 8:14-15, Pp Mark 1:29-34, Luke 4:38-41

This incident took place in Peter’s house (Luke’s record indicates that it also belonged to his brother, Andrew) which was located in Capernaum, the city where Jesus had moved to from His residence in Nazareth shortly after He’d been baptized in water by John (Mtw 4:12-13). Although this isn’t immediately apparent from Matthew’s Gospel, Mark sees Jesus as entering the synagogue in the city (Mark 1:21,29) and

‘...immediately He left the synagogue, and entered the house of Simon and Andrew...’

It’s also evident from Mark 1:21 that the incident took place on a sabbath, an action which was to land Jesus in trouble with the Jewish leaders on a future occasion (Mtw 12:10-14) - and more than once.

There’s a fuller account of the incident here as well (even though Mark is reputed to be the shortest writer - in words, not in stature) and Luke’s inclusion of the event seems to prove that the incident was something that had seemed important to each writer.

The way the text is worded in the RSV has led some readers (a Secondary School ‘Religious Instruction’ teacher, no less) to suppose that Jesus was married, seeing as it talks about ‘his mother-in-law’ where the subject of ‘his’ would naturally be ‘Jesus’. But by a simple cross reference to the other two parallel passages, it can be seen that Matthew is being just a little too brief in his recounting of the story - something that we need to bear in mind when similar peculiarities exist in the text!

How a sentence naturally reads is not always the way that the original writer meant for it to be taken - the original writers didn’t have the option of proofing their texts and, with the click of a button, removing the offending phrase as I’m able to do with notes such as these. Besides, it may have made perfect sense to him for he knew who the ‘he’ referred to.

This incident represents the third miracle which has taken place after the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) and, like the first two, records for us an incident where a despised section of Israelite society is central to the healing. The leper, an outcast from the nation (Mtw 8:1-4) and the Roman Centurion, an unclean inhabitant of the land (Mtw 8:5-13), are here joined by a woman who was regarded as a second class citizen amongst the Jews as seen by their treatment.

But that Jesus has come for those who the religious leaders of His day despised is evident in all three incidents and God shows His incredible love for the world that He even has time to heal the odd mother-in-law (and there’s no one more odd than the mother-in-law - only kidding).

Matfran notes that some commentators assert that Jesus transgressed Jewish law by touching the hand of a woman but also points out that the statement amongst Jewish writings is very late and need not be thought to have applied in Jesus’ day.

Mathag cites an authority to say that touching someone with a fever was forbidden amongst the Rabbis and Matmor cites a Talmudic source which apparently says that even the counting of money from male to female was forbidden. Personally, I doubt whether such a rule was in existence at the time of Christ, but it isn’t impossible.

But, whatever, the main point of the healing is to emphasise the type of person on whom it was performed and any reference to considered uncleanness through the incident now appears to be weak.

The word for ‘fever’ (Strongs Greek number 4445) is used throughout ancient Greek writings to denote a fever rather than just a high temperature and Greek medicine noted that there were different types of this illness, ascribing their manifestation to natural causes. Kittels notes, however, that

‘The rabbis know the distinctions of Greek medicine and the suggested natural causes and remedies but they tend to regard fevers as demonically or divinely caused’

and that, in popular Greek belief, it was thought that both gods and demons could cause fevers - though just how often their hand was seen in them is far from certain.

This would account for the importance felt by each of the three writers (Matthew to the Jews and both Mark and Luke to the Greeks?) in their inclusion of the incident in their accounts for, in the popular view of things, this was evidence of Jesus displaying His authority over demonic influence or a divine curse. It also would have challenged the prevailing view of the source of a fever had one believed that it was divine in origin for, as can be seen in the incident, Jesus is never mentioned as having forgiven Peter’s mother-in-law her sin before He dealt with the illness.

Luke 4:38 alone adds the adjective to ‘fever’ which means ‘great’ or ‘big’ (Strongs Greek number 3173), causing the RSV to translate ‘high fever’. This certainly doesn’t appear to have been a case of flu as we would experience in today’s society but something that Peter - and everyone else - regarded as potentially life-threatening. I’m all for transliterating the Greek at this point and rendering the words in Luke by ‘mega fever’ as that seems to convey today most of the intent of the writer in language that the modern man can appreciate!

It certainly appears that the reason for bringing the matter to Jesus’ attention was due to the nature of the illness, rather than from the consideration

‘Well, Jesus, we would have had something to eat by now if the mother-in-law had been well. Don’t suppose you could heal her so we could all get some decent grub?’

and the possibility that the fever was associated with malaria is not unlikely, even though it is by no means certain. There are known to have been marsh lands in and around the area of Galilee (especially to the north and east of Capernaum) so that the existence of the disease as common is possible.

The same Greek word that’s used in Mtw 8:3 and which is translated as ‘touched’ there is also used in this passage and translated by the same word (see here for a fuller discussion of the word and its meaning) and will be used again by the writer of the Gospel in Mtw 9:21 where the woman ‘touches’ Jesus’ garment and 9:29 where Jesus touches the blind men’s eyes.

Here the idea, just as in the previous usage, is that Jesus associates Himself with mankind and enters into their afflictions - not in some detached and separated way, but by joining Himself to people in their problems. This will be further emphasised in Mtw 8:17 where the writer quotes from a prophecy in Isaiah.

As in other passages, the implications of the healing go far beyond being a simple act of kindness on someone who’s ill and, to the disciple who is looking for God to speak directly to him, there is a principle here which won’t go unnoticed.

The importance of both the touch of Jesus and the response of service from Peter’s mother-in-law is significant and the disciple would do well to ask themselves what their response should be to the touch of union with Jesus.

Notably, it should be the same as it was for Peter’s mother-in-law, that they rise up and begin to serve Him - that is, a service which springs out of gratitude and not from a sense of duty. One of the translations and meanings of the word ‘worship’ is ‘service’ and it’s this aspect of our lives that determines whether we have a union with Christ.

Mattask speaks of the woman’s action as being

‘...a reminder to all readers of the Gospel that those who receive blessings from Jesus [must] show their gratitude to Him by trying to serve Him’

while Mathag notes that the response of grateful service to the touch of Jesus is

‘...a fundamental aspect of discipleship’

Notice, as a contrast, the leper of Mtw 8:1-4. Although he’s willing to kneel before Jesus as a slave would before his master, he’s unwilling to obey once the cleansing of his leprosy has taken place. The mother-in-law, however, offers no demonstration of willing service and obedience before her healing but rises and serves Jesus immediately after the miracle has taken place.

Matmor’s comments that

‘...this lady was no malingerer’

is a little peculiar but relevant. The mother-in-law didn’t want five minutes to make sure that the lack of symptoms was a momentary respite from her illness - she was determined to rise up immediately and contribute to the One who had just banished the fever from her. In like manner, a union with Christ should propel the disciple into active service which springs from a realisation of mercy received and not as a commitment to observe some written code.

An Evening’s Ministry
Mtw 8:16-17 Pp Mark 1:32-34, Luke 4:40-41

All three Gospel writers continue from the recounting of Peter’s mother-in-law’s healing in the same manner, though Matthew is again the briefest in his description of what transpired afterwards and, presumably, the meal which took place.

As the day on which the healing took place was a sabbath (see above), the phrase ‘that evening’ (Mtw 8:16) naturally means ‘the day after’ - that is, Sunday - for the Jewish day begins at sundown as it grows dusk. It would be natural for the Jews to wait until the new day had begun so as not to be charged with ‘work’ when they carried the sick to Jesus or when they journeyed to Peter and Andrew’s house from distances which were considered to be longer than the permitted sabbath’s journey.

The ‘sabbath limit’ was a demarcation that stood at a distance of 2000 cubits (a distance of under one mile) from a man’s house, over which he was forbidden to travel or else transgress the commandments of the Rabbis (see Erubin 5:7, for instance) and this shortish distance may have been more than some Jews were willing to travel until Sunday had officially started. If the healing of the leper (Mtw 8:1-4) and the healing of the Centurion’s slave (Mtw 8:5-13) took place immediately after the preaching of the Sermon on the Mount, then the distances involved that both Jesus, the disciples and the crowds travelled must have been very small. However, with the start of Mtw 8:14, it appears that we have jumped either forward or backward in time to a different day.

This brief list of the healings which took place is similar to other places in the Gospels where lists appear and which summarise times of healing (see my notes at here for a mention of each of these under the heading ‘The Asides of Matthew’). Here, both demon expulsion and the healing of illnesses are mentioned, though the latter could be read as being a result of the former for, in first century Israel, illnesses were often associated with the activity of oppressing spirits.

However, more significance is the ‘all’ of Mtw 8:16 and the ‘word’. There wasn’t an illness that was brought to Jesus that He couldn’t heal and demons were expelled with a word of authority - just as in the previous story of the Centurion’s slave, it’s the same word which brings healing.

Although shorter than both Mark and Luke, Matthew adds his own comments as to the significance of the healings which are taking place. Mtw 8:17 is totally unique in all four Gospels and stands alone with no parallel passage able to be referred to. The author writes that

‘[These miracles took place] to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases”’

a quote from Is 53:4 which, in the RSV, runs

‘Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted’

a verse which we would more naturally associate with Jesus’ work on the cross some three years into the future from this point in time and certainly more in keeping with that event. But the writer mentions it here not as an illustration of what will happen on the cross but of what is happening in the healing of multitudes that were coming to Him.

Naturally read, then, the quotation makes it appear as if Jesus, by healing those who are sick, is actually bearing in His own body the sicknesses that He’s removing - that, somehow, He swaps His health for their sickness. But the translation of the RSV is poor at this point and it’s best to follow Mattask’s explanation of the Greek text (in line with the comments of some of the other commentators) who notes that

‘Both the Greek words in Matthew’s version...translated “took” and “[bore]” could mean either “carried” in the sense of “bore the burden of” or “carried away” - that is, “removed”. The latter gives the better sense in the present context for, though Jesus bore the burden of men’s sins, there is no evidence that He endured physical maladies on their behalf’

while Matmor says simply that

‘Both verbs can have a meaning like “bear the burden of” but “remove” is more likely’

What Matthew is relating to his readers, therefore, is not that Jesus took upon Himself the illnesses of those He healed, but that He fulfilled the prophetic word through Isaiah by ‘utterly removing’ illnesses and diseases from those troubled by them.

Would-be Disciples
Mtw 8:18-22 Pp Luke 9:57-62

Mtw 8:18 serves as an introductory sentence which prepares the way for the incident of Mtw 8:23-27 to take place but also shows that the two disciples who find ‘good reasons’ for not following Jesus are being confronted with the His embarking away from the north-west side of the Sea of Galilee to the east with no return time in mind.

We’re told by the writer that it was when Jesus saw the crowds around Him that He decided to go to the other side of the lake, though the parallel passage in Luke 9:57-62 introduces the statements of these would-be disciples as occurring

‘As they were going along the road...’

which is not impossible to harmonise with the current passage. The following passage which deals with the storm on the lake and Jesus’ authority over Creation is introduced in Mark 4:36-41 by the note that Jesus left the crowd for the boat and that the decision was made when it was evening. This seems to be the best situation in which to understand the incident but it’s necessary to understand that this passage is unconnected in time to the one which precedes it in which many have come to Him when the sabbath was over and received healing and deliverance.

This short passage, therefore, seems to have occurred at the close of one day when crowds were around Jesus somewhere on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had made the decision to journey away from them to the less inhabited eastern shoreline, presumably in Peter’s boat, and that, while they were journeying the short distance to where the boat was moored up, two of the disciples came to Jesus and pledged their commitment to follow Him.

The passage is normally taken to be speaking about two disciples who failed to persevere in their pursuit of Christ and who turned back, but this is far from certain from the text, even though it seems to be implied. Mark 4:36 notes that, when the disciples had pushed away from the land in their boat

‘...other boats were with Him’

and it is quite possible that, having been challenged by Jesus concerning their half-hearted commitment to Him, they repented and followed in ‘the other boats’. Mtw 8:23 also speaks about the disciples following Him and this could also be taken to include the two who approached Him in our present passage.

However, I shall be taking the passage in the normal way and accepting that the two who approach Jesus are ‘would-be’ disciples who, having realised the cost of discipleship, failed to pay the price that was expected of them. As Matfran notes, the decision to travel to the east side of the lake

‘...inevitably results in a separation of His true followers who will accompany Him, from less committed supporters...’

and so the disciples mentioned in these two incidents should be taken to be indicative of the latter group.

The responses of Jesus appear straight-forward but it is the eagerness of both disciples that needs to be first noted. When Jesus spoke the words He did and healed all who came to Him, men were naturally drawn to Him and were anxious to pledge their allegiance to His ‘cause’. But the only problem was that it wasn’t always a commitment that perceived the type of discipleship that such a commitment entailed.

The scribes initial response seems to have been purely voluntary and coming from him as the initiator of the conversation (Mtw 8:19) but what he hasn’t yet realised is that the way of Jesus is the way of deprivation and hardship, a path that a scribe in first century Judaism wouldn’t have expected to have shared for, being held in high honour amongst the people, they were often given the best by those who they watched over and would have expected some benefit from the Rabbi that they were studying under and learning from.

Jesus’ statement that He has nowhere to lay His head (Mtw 8:20) is aimed primarily to wake the scribe up to what sort of commitment that he is saying he’s capable of. The question arises, however, as to how it was that Jesus could say that He had nowhere to lay His head when He had a residency in Capernaum (Mtw 4:12-13)? After all, Jesus wasn’t homeless and could always have returned to His residency when He chose to do so, it would appear.

The answer seems to lie in the route that Jesus has chosen to ‘go over to the other side’ of the Sea of Galilee (Mtw 8:18) which was no well planned and organised preaching campaign but a step out in the dark - no hotels had been booked and no dates in the local synagogues been arranged for Him. Whatever was there was what they’d find and there was the likelihood that it would mean that they were to sleep out in the open with no roof over their heads.

But, perhaps more than this, Jesus is hinting at the way of discipleship that was to follow the Galilean ministry and the persecution that would fall upon His followers in years to come. If the scribe was to wholeheartedly follow Christ wherever He might lead, he may find himself in areas of the world where no one would turn to help him, where the message of the Gospel is as despised as the One who first made it possible.

Hardship for the Kingdom of heaven, therefore, as opposed to the relative comfort of the life of the scribe was an easy choice to make if personal comfort was high on the agenda, but not if one wanted to follow Christ ‘wherever You go’.

The second disciple, in the parallel passage in Luke 9:59-60, speaks as a response to Jesus’ call to follow Him where the initiative is with Christ rather than, as appears in the first incident, with the disciple himself.

Mattask points out that the disciple’s response that he wants to first go and bury his father need not imply that he’s dead but that, possibly, he’s expected to die soon and he wanted to be around for the funeral.

Jesus’ response is not meant to pull away from family commitment and respectability (even though God does call men and women to do just that) but to emphasise the importance of Jesus’ call. While there were probably numerous relatives who could have seen to the funeral arrangements when necessary, it’s only Himself who has been called to follow Christ, whose eyes have been opened to the revelation of who Jesus is (presumably) and who needs to respond immediately to that call lest the time pass him by.

But, Sirach 38:16-17 (my italics), hints at a reason for the disciple’s reluctance to follow Jesus just at that time. It reads

‘My son, let tears fall down over the dead, and begin to lament, as if thou hadst suffered great harm thyself; and then cover his body according to the custom, and neglect not his burial. Weep bitterly, and make great moan, and use lamentation, as he is worthy, and that a day or two, lest thou be evil spoken of: and then comfort thyself for thy heaviness’

so that, to fail to perform the ‘last rites’ for his father would be seen to reap for himself an evil name. If this is the case, the disciple in the present account is showing himself to be more concerned with earthly position and recognition than he is about a pure and wholehearted commitment to Jesus.

In the Mishnah, the Jew is also excluded from certain religious obligations when he has dead which need to be buried (Berakoth 3:1) and just such a justified exemption may have been uppermost in the mind of the disciple. But religious obligation, when it has to do with following Christ, is more important than earthly rules.

Jesus’ expression that the disciple should

‘...leave the dead to bury their own dead’

is, perhaps, a comment on the new life that the disciple has received as opposed to the rest of his family who have not yet realised the Truth about the Person, Jesus Christ. In that case, Jesus is saying that he should leave the spiritually dead (those who are unaware of the presence and moving of God) to bury their physically dead - as is fitting. But, now that the disciple has discovered life, he should forsake what makes for death, leave it behind immediately and follow after a new way of living.

Mathag notes that some commentators have asserted that the underlying Aramaic has been misunderstood and that the phrase should run, rather

‘let the gravediggers bury the dead’

Although this seems reasonable, there doesn’t appear to be any warrant for such an assertion in the textual record and, besides, in the On Line translation of the Aramaic manuscripts, the verse runs just the same as it does in the English versions translated from the Greek.

This call is similar to that of Elijah upon Elisha in I Kings 19:19-21 where Elisha bids Elijah to allow him to

‘...kiss my father and my mother and then I will follow you’

but, upon Elijah’s reminder of the importance of the call, he instead destroys his livelihood to show that he is committed to following after the prophet of God. Such could have been the response of this disciple when confronted by Jesus of the need to choose between earthly and heavenly matters but, as noted above, it’s not easy to determine what the disciple’s response was.

Even to the disciple in the present day and age who wishes to follow after Christ, there are decisions which have to be made between what is expedient on earth and those things which we are urged to do from heaven. The choice of the disciple must always be to follow after the things of God and to forsake, if necessary, matters which pull away from an immediate commitment to Christ’s commands. In the end, the matter is one of life and death (Mtw 7:13-14,21).

We have seen both above and on the two previous pages how Matthew has recorded the first three miracles in his list of healings and deliverances in chapter 8 as being performed on or including sections of Israelite society that were despised and rejected. The leper was already an outcast of society, living away from habitation and wandering the open lands for an indefinite period until his leprosy cleared itself up; the Centurion, being a Gentile, was considered unclean by the religious Jews (and by a great many of the Jews in general) and association with them was thought to impart uncleanness to the Israelite; women, as well, were not highly regarded amongst the society and were not amongst the people who could ever have risen to any leadership role within the nation, being more servants of their husbands than people who were acknowledged as having a life of their own.

All these three people are attested for having had Jesus minister to their needs, even though they weren’t the people who were regarded as anything. In this short passage, we go on to meet two would-be disciples (although the first of these is simply called a ‘scribe’, the second person who approaches Jesus is introduced with the words ‘Another of the disciples...’ [Mtw 8:21] which assumes that the first mentioned was also a disciple) who would have been male Israelites and for whom acceptance in the society of their day was guaranteed.

But, even though they are acceptable to mankind, they fail to meet up to the strict requirements that Jesus lays upon them, if we suppose - as is usually done - that their reaction to Jesus’ response was negative and that they found that the cost of discipleship was too high a price to pay in their own lives and that they withdrew from following Him. That this happened is made more certain by the parallel passage in Luke 9:57-62 where a third disciple comes to Jesus and wishes to first say ‘farewell’ to his family, Jesus replying by stating (Luke 9:62) that

‘...No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God’

Therefore, those who should have been reaping the benefits of the Kingdom of heaven find themselves excluded because they are unwilling to pay the price of discipleship, while those who are outcasts of Israelite society are the very ones who embrace the Kingdom with open arms and receive in themselves the power of God which ministers to their needs.

The Kingdom of heaven, therefore, turns the world upside down and reverses natural values into concerns that are God’s. We shouldn’t be too surprised at this even though it should serve us well as a warning that similar moves of God in our society may by-pass those people who are expecting God to use them and choose, instead, people who may have only ever used the name of Jesus as a swear word - in order that His will might be done.

Certainly, in the revivals of years gone by, it has often been the established Church who have been the ones instrumental in opposing the new outpouring of God’s presence into society and who have sat as judges of the new things that God has been wanting to do in their midst. Therefore God has often chosen people who are nothing in the world’s eyes through whom to get His will done and largely ignored those people who consider themselves already to be a part of the Kingdom.

We must heed this warning also, in case God is to move in our immediate area and we harden our hearts against Him, refusing to give ourselves wholeheartedly to following after Him, while those who we consider beneath us are taken up by God and receive all that He wishes to do.

Son of Man

This is the first time in the NT that the phrase ‘Son of man’ occurs and is a popular title used of Jesus in the NT. In the Bible as a whole, the phrase occurs 188 times in the RSV, 106 in the OT and 82 in the New. This is a little misleading, however, for the reader would expect that the term would have been equally used throughout the Bible which isn’t the case.

Of the 106 OT usages, 93 occur in Ezekiel (87%) and, of the 82 NT occurrences, 78 appear in the four Gospels (95%). It’s important that we at least try and make some sense out of the term and attempt to understand it in the light of its first century setting.

The first occurrence of the phrase is in Num 23:19, where it comes from the mouth of the prophet Balaam as he prophesies to king Balak, saying

‘God is not man, that He should lie, or a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not fulfil it?’

Quite obviously, the term meant very little more than ‘the offspring of man’ and this is it’s normal sense throughout the rest of the OT. I shan’t list all the occurrences of the phrase here as it would be somewhat superfluous to the point just made but all the non-Ezekiel references should suffice along with a few from this prophet. It may be significant that, after Numbers, the next time the phrase occurs is in Job 25:6 and 35:8 and is entirely absent from the historical books.

Isaiah seems to be the next chronologically (if an early date of composition is accepted for Job - the Psalms were probably earlier than Isaiah, though) after Numbers to use the phrase but he does that just twice (51:12, 56:2), the same as Jeremiah (50:40, 51:43) but the Psalms use the phrase four times (146:3, 8:4, 80:17, 144:3), the first of which naturally means ‘the offspring of mankind’ just as the other three must do but which cannot be taken in any other way as the last three can. The NT writers take Ps 8:4 into the NT and interpret it in the light of Jesus being the humble ‘Son of man’ seeing the verse and its context as being fulfilled in Him even though, originally, it seems as if the psalmist meant for them to have been taken naturally. But the thought here is not that Jesus is on earth as God but that He is there as a Man.

Daniel has just two occurrences of the term (7:13, 8:17) and uses them in two totally different ways. While the latter is a phrase used by the angel to refer to Daniel himself, the former naturally refers to the One who comes with the clouds of heaven and who receives divine authority over all the nations of the world which shall never be revoked.

In Ezekiel, it’s only ever used of the title which God uses for the prophet himself (see, for instance, 2:1) - all 93 times! Even as we enter into the Apocrypha of the OT, the phrase is similarly taken to refer to just the natural offspring of mankind and is used just twice.

In almost an identical meaning with Num 23:19, Judith 8:16 instructs readers

‘Do not bind the counsels of the Lord our God: for God is not as man, that He may be threatened; neither is He as the son of man, that He should be wavering’

while Sirach 17:30 simply notes that

‘...the son of man is not immortal’

I have noted above that, of the four usages in the Psalms, at least three of the four could be taken to refer to a person other than, or more than, the straightforward offspring of mankind and that, in the NT, two of these are specifically used by the NT writers to refer to Jesus. As I noted above, this was not the natural way to read the texts and it appears that the only definitive reference to the phrase meaning more than the normal is Dan 7:13-14 where the prophet wrote

‘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 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’

It seems to many commentators, then, that from this passage alone, the title ‘Son of man’ was developed, and from which the meaning which takes it to refer to God’s appointed King over all things, the Messiah, came about to be found on the lips of Jesus - unless, of course, it developed independently of any Scripture and was a revelation that came about in the mind of the Jewish people which went unrecorded - that is very unlikely, however.

But, as Jesus didn’t want the crowds to regard Him as King and so crown Him (John 6:15), why would He use the title in the latter sense of the word? Surely, Jesus used it solely to refer to His humanity rather than His sovereignty, a point which would indicate His insistence to emphasise the ‘natural’ aspect of His life and His dependency upon God the Father. If men and women were tempted to think of Him as Divine, the self-acclaimed title ‘Son of man’ would immediately point them towards the Truth that Jesus was man - not that He wasn’t God - and that, as man, He could associate Himself with those He met and lived amongst.

Besides, as Matmor notes, the term in Matthew is used

‘...7 times to refer to Jesus’ earthly mission...10 times for His rejection and suffering...14 times for His future glory...’

and, if simply a referral to His Kingship was intended, the references to His suffering would be out of place. Instead, the Hebrew understanding of the phrase as meaning ‘offspring of man’ is, perhaps, the best so that Jesus is showing Himself to be the perfect man in each and every situation in which He finds Himself - He is both the Man who suffers and the Man who is glorified over all things.

Although Zondervan disagrees with their own statement that

‘Traditionally, the appellation...has been assumed to designate the lowly humanity of Christ in distinction from His divine nature’

this still seems to be the best interpretation and simplest explanation of the weight of what Jesus meant to be understood when He used the term. Outside the Gospels, the term is used only four times in the NT and is used in Heb 2:6 (as a quote from Ps 8:4 which is paralleled in Ps 144:3) of Jesus’ humanity and servanthood by reinterpreting the OT psalm to understand Jesus’ earthly ministry as being the reason for His current and eternal exaltation.

In both Rev 1:13 and 14:14, Dan 7:13 appears to be directly in mind, a fact which seems to be the correct interpretation also of Stephen’s declaration (Acts 7:56) that he saw

‘...the Son of man standing at the right hand of God’

The early Church, therefore, saw the phrase as something more than Jesus seems to have intended it to have conveyed while on earth - but not wrongly. Jesus is the ‘Son of man’ who is given power and authority over all the nations of the world (I Cor 15:27, Heb 2:8) - through the resurrection from the dead and His ascension back into heaven - but because of the humility of the sufferings of the cross. It is as a man elevated over all things that the Church proclaimed Him, even though they also perceived that He was, at the same time, God.

When Jesus used the term, however, it appears that it meant no more to His hearers than a phrase that was in common usage to denote the humanity of the person who took it upon themselves - even though it was an unusual title to have used to denote oneself. In so doing, Jesus pulled away from any misunderstanding of His mission in terms of being the King who was to come to rule over a visible Kingdom, as being the Lord God Himself in human form (even though both were proclaimed either by a direct statement to His disciples or by implication at other times), even though the possibility was there for His disciples to take the Scriptures after His exaltation and proclaim the Truth from Daniel as applicable to Him.