The Son of Man
The sign above Jesus on the Cross called him “king.” He was called king too at his birth, when the wise men came to do him homage, and his ministry was dedicated to proclaiming the kingdom of God. The followers of Jesus for the most part, both in the Gospels and throughout the rest of the New Testament, referred to him as Master, Teacher, the Messiah, Christ, Lord and the Son of God.
Meanwhile, Jesus most often identified himself as the “Son of Man.” The only other person to use this title was Saint Stephen, who had a vision at his martyrdom of the “Son of Man” appearing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:56). What Stephen saw confirms what Jesus declared at his trial before the Sanhedrin, “From now on you will see ‘the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power’ and ‘coming on the clouds of heaven’” (Matthew 26:64).
This imagery also fulfills the prophecy found in the Book of Daniel that we hear in the first reading at Mass today, the Solemnity of Christ the King. “I saw one like a Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven,” said Daniel. “He received dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion” (Daniel 7:13-14).
Like the Book of Revelation, Daniel is filled with visions and signs which are meant to provide hope in a time of tribulation. In the midst the Babylonian captivity, when things appear dark for the people of God, the message is that God does not abandon those who trust in him and the kingdom of God will ultimately triumph.
The scriptures tell us how God preserved from death the faithful Daniel when he was thrown into the lion’s den (6:17-24), and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were protected when they were thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to worship idols (3:23-93). So too will God save all those who persevere in faith.
The Book of Daniel also tells the ominous story of “the writing on the wall” that appeared in the palace of an evil Babylonian ruler during a banquet. When no one else could, Daniel told the ruler the meaning of the words: God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it; you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting; your kingdom has been divided and given away (5:5-28). The lesson is that while earthly powers might rule for a time and persecution might happen, they will all end as the Lord, the Son of Man who comes on the clouds of heaven, reigns supreme.
When Jesus comes again in glory to establish definitively his kingdom, the Gospels tell us, there will be the definitive judgment. As the Son of God, this judgment rightly belongs to Christ, yet Jesus says God the Father gave him “power to exercise judgment, because he is the Son of Man” (John 5:27).
Saint John Paul II explains it this way: the Son of Man is “a person full of understanding and in solidarity with the human condition” (General Audience of April 22, 1998). He fully identifies with humanity, so that the good we do to others, we do to him. Those who showed love and mercy to even the least among us will inherit the kingdom of eternal life, while those who did not will have chosen to be outside the heavenly kingdom (Matthew 25:31-46).
Knowing that Jesus, the Son of God, is also the “Son of Man,” the Lord who became one of us, should comfort us. Knowing that he is the universal king who reigns over all creation should free us to live confidently in the world. We are not putting our faith in a political leader, who might let us down. Jesus – who has shared in the effort and burden and tribulations of our human lives – watches over history. He watches over my life and yours.
If we are firm in faith – if we abandon ourselves to trust in this Son of Man who is Christ the King – we will know his peace even in the midst of difficulties and trials. He will give us his kingdom of love. In this hope we are already saved.