Why Is Jesus "the Son of Man"?
Last year the CMCC Bible Study Program celebrated 15 years of studying the Bible and growing together in the word of God. The book we studied to commemorate this special year was Daniel. As usual, the program ended in June, but it will begin anew in September together with my other programs and activities. The two summer months in between provide me with a cushion not only to take a break but also to rejuvenate, study, plan, and get ready for next year.
With the fascinating and sometimes frightening images of the Book of Daniel still fresh in my head – the statue of four metals being smashed by a pulverizing stone, three young men worshipping God safely in a burning fiery furnace, Daniel being protected by God’s angel in the den of lions, the visions of the four beasts, etc. – I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Church would use one of the most well-known Danielic images – the enthronement in heaven of “the Son of man” – as a key theme that connects all three readings of the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.
The influence that the Book of Daniel has on Christianity is profound and indisputable. The New Testament books, particularly some of the Pauline epistles and the Book of Revelation, often take symbols, images, and phrases straight out of Daniel to demonstrate that the Danielic prophecies have come to fulfillment in Jesus. Jesus himself also refers to Daniel on numerous occasions, including calling himself the “Son of man” and linking his own eschatological glory to Daniel’s vision of the Son of man riding on the clouds of heaven (Mt. 24:30, 26:64).
The Church Fathers are quick to recognize the theological significance of the “Son of man” in Daniel’s vision. Ancient Jewish tradition identified this title with a heavenly Messiah (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, comment on Daniel 7:13, p.32). In addition to its messianic implication, the Church Fathers see in this unusual title the mystery of God taking on human nature, and in doing so perfecting and elevating it to a lofty height inconceivable to the human mind and unreachable by mere human efforts. This gives us a more profound understanding of why our “hope in the Lord” will enable us to “soar as with eagles’ wings” (Isaiah 40:31). St. Athanasius explains this overpowering mystery of the divinization of humanity in the most succinct way possible: “The Son of God became the Son of man so that the sons of men could become the sons of God” (CCC 460).
Of all the experiences that Peter encounters on Mount Tabor (generally believed to be the holy site of Transfiguration), he remembers one in particular: the Father’s confirmation of Jesus as “my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (2 Pt 1:17). For Peter, the confirmation is a powerful assurance that enables him to believe “the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” cannot be one of those “cleverly devised myths” (2 Pt 1:16).
Finally, we can’t blame Peter for appearing a little overwhelmed, if not downright disoriented, when he proposes to make three tents on the Mount of Transfiguration: “one for [Jesus], one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (Mt. 17:4). After all, revealed for the eyes of Peter, James and John to behold at the Transfiguration is “a sublime expression of God’s glory and, in a certain sense, a glimpse of heaven on earth” that have proven too much even for Elijah and Moses to see (BXVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, n.35; 1 Kgs 19:13; Ex 33:20-23).