The Gospel of John Bible Study Notes
In the Gospels we read that Jesus used both terms, “the Son of God” and “the Son of Man”, to refer to himself. Jesus is the unique Son of God, a title that highlights his divinity. “Son of God”, however, was also a title that the Roman Emperor Augustus had used for himself (with the understanding that his predecessor Julius Caesar was divine.) So the Gospel writers may not only have been making a statement about Jesus’ divinity, they may also have been making a potentially provocative political statement by recording that, as well as Jesus, many people (John the Baptist, Nathaniel, Martha, Simon Peter, the centurion at the cross, Philip, etc) and even demons referred to Jesus as “the Son of God”.
However, Jesus referred to himself mostly as “the Son of Man”, or more literally, “the Son of Humanity”. He identified himself publicly with this title, and almost all occurrences of the title in the Gospels come from Jesus’ own lips.
The title is used in connection with three aspects of Jesus’ earthly ministry: (1) his life (e.g., Mark 2:27-28), (2) his suffering and death (e.g., Mark 8:31-32), and (3) his second coming (e.g., Mark 13:26-27). Thus, the title “the Son of Man” highlights the fact that Jesus is a human being who lived, suffered and died, and is coming again as a human being. Jesus is the fullness of deity in bodily human form (Col. 2:9; cf. Phil. 2:6-8).
For the Jews, the term “the Son of Man” was more significant than “Son of God” because of its messianic implications. While the phrase “the son of man” is used infrequently in Old Testament Scripture, it was used significantly in several of the Jewish intertestamental writings.
During the time between the writing of the Old and New Testaments, the Jews were anticipating the imminent appearance of their Messiah and, in many of the writings of that period, the theme of the coming Messiah was greatly elaborated on. In the Book of Enoch, for instance, the term “the Son of Man” is used many times and unmistakably refers to the coming Messiah. These intertestamental writings deeply influenced the religious thought of first-century Jews. Their belief was (and still is) that the Son of Man would be “a super-human Redeemer who would bring salvation and judgement in the end time” (cf. John 5:27-30). (Philip Kariatlis)
Both terms used by Jesus, “the Son of God” and “the Son of Man”, would have been readily understood by the Jews as referring to the Chosen One, the Messiah. Jesus made it plain to the Jews—using their own concepts and terms and ways of reasoning—that he was their Messiah, and his hope was that they would put their faith in him and be saved (John 5:34). Sadly, many refused to be persuaded.
 “Son of Man/Humanity” is used 81 times in the Gospels, always and only referring to Jesus Christ. Outside of the Gospels it occurs only in Acts 7:56 and Revelation 1:13; 14:14 where it also refers to Jesus.
 The Greek word for “man” in the expression “Son of Man” is anthrōpos, which means a “human being”. Jesus is both divine and human which makes him the perfect mediator between God and all people: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and humans, the human Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). In the Greek New Testament, Jesus is rarely referred to as an anēr, that is, a “male human being”, even though Jesus was undoubtedly male. This repeated use of anthrōpos in reference to Jesus, rather than anēr, may be to reinforce the fact that Jesus is the Saviour of humanity and not just men.
 The phrase “Son of Man” appears in the Old Testament books of Daniel and Ezekiel. In Daniel chapter seven, Daniel has a vision about four coming kingdoms, each being represented by a different wild animal: a lion, a bear, a leopard and a “terrifying beast”. These kingdoms were characterised by violence. Then, in verse 13, Daniel goes on to say, “In my vision at night I looked and there before me was one like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. . . . he was given authority, glory and sovereign power. . . men of every nation worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13-14). This kingdom will be different to the others. It will not be terrifying. This kingdom will be humane, just, and eternal. And the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and possess it forever (Dan. 7:18). This is the kingdom that the Messiah will inaugurate and rule—the kingdom of Jesus Christ. The Gospel writers seem to have Daniel 7:13-14 text in mind when they use the term “the Son of Man” (cf. Mark 13:26-27; 14:61-63). Ezekiel is also called a “son of man”. Ezekiel acted as a mediator between God and his people. His prophecies were about judgement and they had eschatological (end-time) significance
 Intertestamental literature includes Jewish religious books that were written between the time the last books of the Hebrew Bible were written and the first books of the New Testament were written, though some works described as intertestamental may have been written as late as the second century AD.
 Book 1 of Enoch is on the internet, as is some helpful commentary. (Many other interesting, ancient Jewish writings are also freely available on the net, here. Some of these are worth reading for the insight they give on the culture and religious ideas of Jews in the first century.)
 Respected New Testament Scholar Larry Hurtado, however, does not believe the expression “son of man” is a messianic title. He writes:
“. . . the Greek expression that appears some 80 times in the NT translated “the Son of Man” is not used as a christological title. No one ever ascribes it to Jesus. No one ever asks him if he claims to be it or accuses him of doing so. And outside the Gospels (and one singular instance in Acts 7:56) the expression never functions as a confession of faith about Jesus. Contrast this with the way that “Messiah/Christ” or “Son of God” functions in the Gospels and elsewhere in the NT.” (Source.)
Further information on the expression “Son of Man” is here.
Cynthia Long Westfall writes about the decision to uses the expression “Human One” instead of “Son of Man” in the Common English Bible, here.
This podcast on “the Son of Man” by Mark Goodacre, Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Duke University, is interesting and informative. (The podcast is about 11 minutes long.)