So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” (John 12:34)
Jesus told the crowd that He was going to be crucified (John 12:30-33). The crowd became incredulous. In their skepticism they replied that they had heard from the Law that the Christ, or the Messiah, would remain forever and be eternal. The term “law” could not only pertain to the Torah, or the first five books of the Old Testament, but also the entire OT canon. Perhaps while in the synagogue they heard a rabbi quote perhaps from Isaiah 9:7 or Ezekiel 37:25 which says the final David would be a prince forever.
Regardless, they wondered how the Son of Man must be lifted up or crucified. Then they asked, “Who is this Son of Man?” The immediate answer is that the Son of Man is the One who will die a substitutionary death and resurrect from the dead in order to offer and provide eternal life for those who trust in Him by grace alone through faith alone.
One of the most significant OT portions regarding the identity of the Son of Man is found in Daniel 7:13-14. The text says, “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”
Dr. John MacArthur writes that the title “Son of Man” refers to the Messiah. “Christ is meant; he often designated himself by this phrase (Matt. 16:27; 19:28; 26:64). “The clouds of heaven” are seen again in Rev. 1:7. Here he is distinct from the Ancient of Days, or Eternal One, the Father, who will coronate him for the kingdom (Dan. 2:44). The picture of old age is not that of being feeble, rather it highlights eternality and divine wisdom to judge (cf. 7:9–10).”
The Tyndale Bible Dictionary defines the title “Son of Man as a “Messianic title used by Jesus to express his heavenly origin, earthly mission, and glorious future coming. It does not refer merely to his human nature or humanity, as some church fathers or contemporary scholars believe. Rather, it reflects on the heavenly origin and divine dignity of Jesus, on the mystery of his manifestation in human form, and on his earthly mission that took him to the cross and then into glory.”
Another commentator explains that, “It is beyond doubt that Jesus was fully human. It is also clear that Jesus was a prophet. While these ideas may be incorporated into Jesus’ use of the title “Son of Man,” they are not the title’s primary meanings. When Jesus uses this title He has something far greater in mind. In Daniel 7, the prophet Daniel records several of the visions he was given while living in Babylon. In verses 9–14, Daniel describes the vision he had of God Almighty. In this vision, God (the “Ancient of Days,” [v. 9]) sits in judgment over the beasts that had been ruling the earth. He executes judgment and takes their dominion away from them (vv. 11–12).”
“The dominion of the earth is taken from the beasts and given to “one like a son of man” (v. 13). This one becomes Lord of all and is given to reign over all “peoples, nations, and languages” in a kingdom that will never end (v. 14). This son of man, above all else, is a heavenly figure. It emphasizes the origin, majesty, and dignity of this ruler who will rule over all things forevermore. When Jesus calls Himself the “Son of Man,” He is identifying Himself with this heavenly figure from the book of Daniel. We know this to be the case from passages like Mark 13:26 in which Jesus speaks of His coming on the clouds just as the Daniel 7 passage refers to the “son of man.”
“When Jesus calls Himself the “Son of Man,” He emphasizes His heavenly origin. Moreover, when Jesus calls Himself the “Son of Man” we know that He is the King who will reign forevermore.”
While the title “Son of Man is found throughout the Scriptures, it is uniquely used in the Gospel of John. The Tyndale commentary continues by explaining that, “The Gospel of John has its own distinctive material concerning the Son of Man. The angels are said to ascend and descend on the Son of Man (John 1:51), thereby signifying that he is a pre-existent person who has come from heaven to earth (3:13; 6:62). His being lifted up (by crucifixion) will bring about eternal life for all who believe in him (3:14). The Son of Man (3:14) is also the Son of God (3:16), God’s one and only Son (1:18; 3:18). Quite simply, in John’s Gospel, the “Son of Man” title is equivalent to the title “Son of God.” It reveals his divinity, preexistence, heavenly origin, and divine prerogatives. It affirms his present earthly condition for revelation and passion, and his future eschatological glory. The Father has given the Son of Man authority to raise the dead and to judge the world (5:25–27).
Who is the Son of Man? It is none other than Jesus Christ. Have you placed your faith and trust, commitment, dependence and worship in the Son of Man for eternal life? There is eternal life in none other (Acts 4:12).
Soli deo Gloria!