I am sure that most of us have little awareness that Caesarea Phillipi, now a deserted archeological site was once a thriving city located in the Golan Heights region of the Middle East. It was near Mount Hermon, which is a series of mountain peaks that separate Israel from Syria. As a Roman city, it was dedicated to the Roman god Pan, the god of rustic, deserted places. In the time of our Lord it was considered the last outpost of civilization before entering the wilderness.
While we have all heard this story of the confession of Peter many times, I am certain that we do not necessarily pick up on the strangeness of the question that our Lord put to his disciples. He did not ask them who is the Son of God, but instead he asked them who do people say that the Son of Man is?
There are many levels in which that title the “Son of Man is to be understood.” Now, when the Lord Jesus spoke about himself, it was frequently in the third person. And when he spoke of himself in that manner, His preferred title was “The Son of Man,” not particularly “The Son of God.” Have you ever wondered why?
The title “Son of Man” (Ben Adam) in the Hebrew is a way in which our Lord expressed his absolute identification with humanity. The title “Son of Man” is consistent with the ongoing theme of our Lord’s ministry that he came to serve, and not to be served. In much of the Old Testament, it is a title of humility, much as the suffering servant songs in Isaiah were an expression of the humanity of our Lord and the necessity of his sacrifice on the cross.
So when Jesus uses this title of himself, he is identifying with all human being. We express this in some of our prayers such as in the familiar version of Eucharistic Prayer A, where we give thanks that “he lived and died as one of us, to reconcile us to you the God and Father of all.”
The title that Jesus uses as the Son of Man is also reflected in the theology of the Epistle to the Hebrews, in which He is celebrated as the “pioneer and perfector of our faith, who has gone before to prepare a place for us.
But the title “Son of Man” finds is used in an interesting way in the Old Testament book Daniel, which ultimately becomes a source for the last book of the Bible, Revelation.
In Daniel, chapter 7 you will find:
I saw one like the Son of Man[e]
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One[f]
and was presented before him.
14 To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed.
When Jesus refers to himself as the “Son of Man” not only is He expressing his identification with us. He is also expressing the way in which he represents all human beings as intercessor before the Father for he ever lives to make intercession for us.
Looking at the world in which we live today, where there are many places in which there is trouble, violence, terrorism and all that concern: and it is all over: from Iraq to Ferguson might we do well to appreciate Jesus as the Son of Man, the intercessor for us and for all the human condition?
Perhaps it would be well as you watch the news from your favorite source to imagine the flood of tears from the eyes of the Son of Man for the human condition. Perhaps you too might be motivated to intercede with Him.