It is interesting that Jesus referred to Daniel 7:13–14 in His teachings and applied the title Son of Man to Himself. There are many titles for Jesus in the New Testament. He is the “Lord,” “Christ” (Messiah), the “Good Shepherd,” the “bridegroom.” He is “the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.” He is “the first and the last.” Many titles of God the Father are given to Him. He is the great “I Am.” But Jesus never used these titles for Himself. Others gave them to Him. He did not even use the word “Messiah,” except on one occasion when He was speaking to the Samaritan woman. The only biblical title that Jesus did use, and that almost exclusively, was the title “Son of Man,” which He got from Daniel. By rejecting these titles and instead choosing the less explicit title “Son of Man,” Jesus was able to identify Himself in His own way and avoid misunderstandings.
The important questions are: How did Jesus interpret this title? What meaning did He give to the figure of the Son of Man in Daniel? There are several teachings:
First, He used it to teach his pre-existence. Jesus said of Himself, “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man.” I am sure that even the disciples, who were often slow to understand the Lord’s teaching, would have recognized this statement as a reference to Daniel. They would have perceived Jesus to be teaching that He was the same figure seen by the prophet so many years before. Later in John 6.62, Jesus asks, “What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!” That is, before he came to earth Jesus was seated at the right hand of God the Father in heaven. What if He should abandon his work on earth because of human unbelief and return there?
The existence of Jesus is not determined from the date of His incarnation. There was a date at which He was born of the Virgin Mary, but this is not the point at which the existence of Jesus started. He existed before that, even before the point at which the prophet Daniel saw Him. Being God, He existed from eternity.
Secondly, He used it to teach that He must suffer. Nothing in Daniel 7:13–14 teaches that the Messiah must suffer, though Daniel 9.26 suggests it. But Jesus always understood and taught that this was the role He was to fill. Jesus said in reference to His death on the cross. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
Third, He used it to teach that a person must be personally joined to Him to be saved. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” It is clear that “eating and drinking” is a metaphor for faith. To be saved a person must believe on Jesus, and that belief is a thing that makes Christ as much a part of the believer as a literal eating or drinking of Him would do.
Finally, He used it to teach about the final judgment. “A time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.” This is another reference to Daniel as Jesus’ use of the words “authority” and “because he is the Son of Man” makes clear.
In Daniel the one like a son of man participates with the Ancient of Days in His judgment, and it is as a consequence of that judgment that “authority, glory and sovereign power” are given to Him. Jesus claims to be judge of all men because He is the Son of Man. In the days of His flesh He was the gentle Jesus who surrendered Himself to death for our salvation. But the day is coming when He shall return as the glorified and reigning Lord, and in that day He will judge all people on the basis of their relationship to Him. Are they subjects of His kingdom? Do they bow before Him and welcome His rule? Or are they rebels who have resisted His rightful sovereignty over them, whom He will judge?
One day every knee will bow before the rightful authority of Jesus Christ. It is what Daniel says: “All peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him” (Daniel 7:14). Paul says the same, arguing, “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2.9-11).
The Bible says that all will worship and that every knee will bow. You will bow. But will it be willingly as you kneel to adore the One who gave His life to purchase your salvation? Or will you bow reluctantly as you are forced to your knees by one of His glorious angels just moments before you are judged for your sin and banished forever from His holy and blessed presence? If it is to be a willing adoration, it must be adoration now. You must believe on Him now.