This instance is the first of fourteen in Mark’s Gospel in which Jesus refers to himself as the “Son of Man.” Four men have just cut through the roof of a crowded home in which Jesus is preaching in order to lower a paralytic down to him, and Jesus, in recognition of the paralytic’s faith, has forgiven his sins (vv. 2–5). But when scribes claim (in their hearts) that Jesus is blaspheming, since only God can forgive sins, Jesus responds by restoring the paralytic to full health, proving the Son of Man’s godlike authority (vv. 6–12). Debate and speculation surround Jesus’ use of “Son of Man.” Many agree that this title was “safe” for Jesus to use because it did not carry the militant political connotations that the Jews associated with the coming messiah and therefore prevented them from recognizing him as such. Furthermore, because it was free of those associations, Jesus could imbue it with meaning from his actual actions and goals as the true Messiah. Indeed, nine out of its fourteen occurrences in Mark involve his humiliation and suffering, entailing amessianic trajectory that both defies and transcends Jewish expectations. Here, however, Jesus is referencing his authority, using the phrase to allude to the prophet Daniel’s vision of “one like a son of man,” whose “dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13–14). As God, Jesus possesses God’s power, which his allusion to Daniel 7 indicates over against the scribe’s doubts and accusations. He can both forgive sins and restore the paralyzed. How striking that Jesus’ first use of “Son of Man” is to establish his power, given that he refuses to use it to establish an earthly kingdom but commits himself to serving, suffering, and surrendering himself to death in order to establish the permanent kingdom of God!
Theology for Life—What does it mean to follow Jesus in his call to service and even to endure humiliation and suffering for his sake? Often what we most desire is not in accord with the life he has called us to live, but we can pray to him to change our hearts.