Psalm 8: Son of Man

In our last look at the end of John’s Gospel we saw that Jesus seems to enjoy teasing the disciples in a very fishy way. John quickly realizes that there is only one man who can make sure that fish swarm on one side of a boat, but not on the other. He tells Peter, “It’s the Lord!”

This is not the first fish story in Jesus’ ministry. In Matthew 17:24-27 Jesus tells Peter to pay the Temple tax by casting a line into the water and using the coins he discovers in the mouth of the fish.

In Luke 5:4-11 Jesus amazes skilled fisherman by showing them where to catch enough fish to almost sink their boat.

There is a passage in Psalm 8:4-8 that seems to declare that human dominion extends to all creatures, including “the fish in the sea.” And yet Jesus seems to possess a mastery of the watery depths that is far beyond anything seen since Adam. Something truly fishy is going on here (if you will pardon the bad pun), and the writer of the book of Hebrews had it all figured out centuries ago.

Based on Hebrews 2:5-9 I suggested in a previous post that

[I]n these stories Jesus is not only showing that He is God in the flesh. He is also showing that He is “new humanity in the flesh.” He is showing that He is the first of a new “family” of humanity that finally does what God has wanted humanity to do all along – “have dominion.” In [chapter 2] verse 11 the writer of Hebrews goes on to show that this dominion is one that [Jesus] has come to share with “brothers and sisters” who are being sanctified by Him.

There is something else going on in Hebrews 2 that I did not notice in that 2009 post. The writer is basing his conclusions on a reading of Psalm 8:4-8 and has clued in to something that I was still missing.

The writer of Hebrews has noticed that humanity does not have the kind of dominion mentioned in the psalm – at least not to the degree indicated. What he does see is that Jesus does! How does he make that connection?

That clue is found in Psalm 8:4 in the phrase “the son of man, that You should care for him.” That phrase is usually used to denote a human being in a generic sense. It is also used by God to refer to the prophet Ezekiel when God wants him to prophesy, such as in Ezek. 2:1, 3, 6, 8; 3:17; 20:4. Aside from the usual uses, there interesting uses in in Psalm 80:14-17 and Daniel 7:13.

One of my problems in discerning the clue is that many modern translations, trying to use inclusive language, obscure the reference to “son of man” by rendering it “human beings” or “mortals.”

In Psalm 80 the prophet/worship leader Asaph writes a song of lament for the [at that time future] downfall of Israel. Comparing Israel to a vine transplanted from Egypt into a prepared vineyard, he laments the wretched condition it has since fallen into. He calls the vine God’s son in verse 15. It gets interesting in verse 17. Speaking of a hope of restoration for Israel, he asks God:

17 Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself. (Psalms 80:17 | NIV)

Here we have the “son of man” at God’s right hand, indicating a person of exceedingly high rank in God’s entourage. This is also a man God has “raised up for himself.”

The Daniel passage is even more interesting. A heavenly throne room scene is described, with “one like a son of man” arriving at the throne of the “Ancient of Days” (God) and being given authority over all the kingdoms of the world.

What I find fascinating is comparing these passages with Jesus’ favourite title for himself, Son of Man. Some examples of him calling himself that are in Matthew 8:20; 9:6; 10:23; 12:40; 16:13; 17:12, 19, 22; 19:28 .

Now that we have seen Jesus’ self-identification as the Son of Man, he says certain things about his future, such as in Luke 21:25-35. This looks remarkably like the description in Daniel above. In Luke 22:67-69 he is being tried by the Sanhedrin and declares that he, the Son of Man, will soon be seated at the right hand of God, making the connection even more complete. John 5:26-27 records Jesus saying that the God the Father gives him judgment over the world because he is the Son of Man.

Jesus even uses the phrase “raise up” to refer to the resurrection of his disciples in John 6:39-44. Luke (Acts 3:26 and 13:33) sees Jesus as “raised up” by resurrection (see Psalm 80:17).

Stephen, as he is being stoned to death shouts that he sees Jesus seated at the right hand of God. (Acts 7:57)

In Revelation 1:12-18 and 14:14 the Son of Man appears in glory to rule and judge the world. Jesus, the Son of God, is also the Son of Man. The analysis of Psalm 8 by the writer of Hebrews shows that Jesus really is the main subject of the entire Old Testament, just as Jesus told his disciples.


About John Valade

I facilitate and teach in Wascana Fellowship. I have been married to Wanda since 1984. M.Div. from Briercrest Seminary, SK in 2011 and B.R.E. Canadian Bible College (now Ambrose University College) in 2000.
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