When it comes to discipleship, one of the problems facing evangelicals is the consequence of having over-stated the uniqueness of Jesus. Indeed, from an evangelical position, such a claim probably sounds preposterous: at best, impossible to do; at worst, heretical. But my contention is that we have confused the way in which Jesus is unique, and the ways in which he isn’t; and that as a result Jesus has become removed, is no longer a model for us.
I believe that Jesus is in a unique sense the Son of God, and the Son of Man. I believe these things because I believe that the Holy Spirit guided the early Church to such conclusions (by Son of Man, I do not mean fully-human: that was something else the Holy Spirit guided the Church to conclude). But these conclusions are post-biblical. At the same time, the Bible itself affirms SON OF GOD and SON OF MAN as designations which are not unique to Jesus, and as callings we are invited to share. Just as we need the Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus to us, so we also need the Holy Spirit to reveal ourselves to us.
Jesus himself quotes Psalm 82 to point out that the people of Israel are called gods and the sons of the Most High, and that therefore for him to refer to himself as the son of God is not blasphemous but merely owning what God has conferred (John 10). In the same context, Jesus had declared, “I and the Father are one.” Here the grammatical construction of the word “one” gives the meaning of one in purpose, not one in identity – as we might say, two parties being of one mind on a given matter – and therefore any of God’s Sons who are doing the will of their Father can say, with Jesus, “I and the Father are one.” And this status has now been extended, conferred to all – Jew and Gentile alike – who are the true children of Abraham (John 8; Romans 4), who are led by the Spirit, in order that Jesus might be the firstborn of many brothers (Romans 8).
Son of God goes hand-in-hand with Son of Man. And Son of Man does not refer to the incarnation – is not a claim that Jesus is fully-human, alongside being fully-divine. (I am not denying the incarnation; merely pointing out that Son of Man does not refer to the incarnation.) Son of Man refers to a particular scriptural construct: the one who remains faithful to God in the face of persecution – persecution which is itself God’s temporal judgement on the unfaithfulness of his people – and who, having first passed through suffering, is then glorified. The Son of Man is, in a sense, one who is refined by fire. By submitting to this pattern of God’s judgement and restoration or re-creation, the Son of Man is a prophetic figure, pointing to what their wider community (and indeed, ultimately, the wider creation) will face: in Jesus’ case, primarily the imminent destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70, and the ultimate (albeit symbolic and contested) triumph of the faithful remnant community, the Church, over Roman paganism within 300 years. Moreover, the Son of Man is one who is given delegated power and authority to act on God’s behalf – as Jesus is, and extends to his disciples. For while Jesus is the Son of Man par excellence, he is – again – our model: we are called to be those who remain faithful in the face of persecution; who suffer, at the hands of those who set their hearts against God; who, consequently, have a share in glory; who in this way live prophetically; and who are called to exercise divinely-delegated power and authority, to forgive, to heal, and in judgement – not that we pass judgement on others, but that their response to us, and therefore to the One who sent us, passes judgement on themselves. The uses of Son of Man in the Old Testament are not types for Christ, but types for Christlikeness.
John brings Son of God and Son of Man together – Son of God implicitly, and Son of Man explicitly, about Jesus; and both, implicitly, about his followers – over and over in his Gospel. Paul brings them together in relation to us – Sons of God, explicitly; and Sons of Man, implicitly – in Romans 8.
Jesus is uniquely God’s saving love for the world. But Jesus is also our model. As he is the Son of God, so we are called to be a Son of God (a Son: not a matter of our gender, but of our covenant relationship with the Son. Note, I prefer the differentiation ‘the Son’/‘a Son’ to ‘Son’/‘son,’ because SON is a title and the uniqueness of Jesus is not located in the title itself but in his person, in the completeness with which he inhabits his identity, from eternity to eternity). As he is the Son of Man, so we are called to be a Son of Man in our communities. We are called to be conformed into his likeness (Romans 8 again). While we over-state, or mis-state, his uniqueness, we resist the ongoing purpose of God.