“Who is this Son of Man?” From the moment he first appeared in the world, on a desperate night in a crowded town, Jesus has provoked this question.
- The shepherds must have asked it in awe when gazing upon this swaddled newborn “lying in a manger,” whom the holy herald angel said was “Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:8–20).
- The magi must have asked it in wonder when the star led them to the Child who was “born king of the Jews,” living in the humble dwelling of a peasant family (Matthew 2:1–12).
- The disciples asked it in fear when they witnessed a storm obey Jesus’s command (Luke 8:22–25).
- The Jewish leaders asked it in outrage when Jesus claimed authority belonging only to God (John 8:53).
- The crowd asked it in confusion when Jesus and his teaching did not match their messianic expectations (John 12:34).
“Who is this Son of Man?” It has become the great question of history regarding the One whose birth became the dividing point of all history.
But this question hasn’t gone unanswered. And of all the Bible’s answers to that question, one of the most glorious and mind-bending comes in the book of Revelation. Here the Father and the Son answer together, in Revelation’s first chapter and last:
- First, the Father’s answer: “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty’” (Revelation 1:8).
- Then the Son’s answer: “Behold, I am coming soon. . . . I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:12–13).
Taken together, the Lord God and the Lord Christ provide an awesome single, twofold answer:
Like eternal Father, like eternal Son;
Spanning endless ages, two divinely one.
Alpha and Omega, both the first and last;
Eternally existing, present, future, past.
He Who Is
Like God the Father, God the Son is also one “who is and who was and who is to come.” This is to us a strange chronology — first present, then past, then future. We might wish to correct the divine self-description to say he “who was and who is and who is to come.” But this would be a mistake.
“The greatest, most fundamental reality in existence is that God is.”
The greatest, most fundamental reality in existence is that God is. In fact, the most sacred name God revealed to his first-covenant people, his most holy self-disclosure, is the one he spoke to Moses: “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14; also 33:19; 34:6). That’s why in the divine chronology, the fact that God is comes first.
Time is a mystery to us, so it is no surprise that how God interacts with time is a mystery to us. But we can safely assume that when God speaks of time in ways we at least partly comprehend, he is graciously condescending. So, when he tells us that he “was” and he “is to come,” it is to help us time-bound creatures understand that “from everlasting to everlasting” he is God (Psalm 90:2). And it is to help us understand that Jesus, like his Father, “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). He always is.
And yet, mystery of mysteries, the eternal Word of the Father entered the world in space and time, the world he himself had made (John 1:10) “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). In appearing among us, God the Son revealed marvelously who he is:
- “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).
- “I am from above” (John 8:23).
- “I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29).
- “I am in the Father” (John 10:38).
- “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).
- “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
An even more wonderful and simultaneously damning self-revelation occurred during Jesus’s trial. When asked, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus’s glorious, lethal answer was, simply, “I am” (Mark 14:61–62).
Who is this Son of Man? Like eternal Father, like eternal Son. He is the “I am.” He is the Son of the Blessed Father. He is the Lord Christ, who, like the Lord God, always is.
He Who Was
That the Son always is implies the Son always was. For some, this is the most difficult concept of God’s existence to comprehend.
“God is not wholly understandable to us because he is holy.”
The difficulty is wholly understandable. We are created beings trying to comprehend an uncreated Being, not to mention a triune uncreated Being. God is not wholly understandable to us because he is holy — nothing else in existence shares his uncreated existence.
But Jesus takes our struggle to a whole new level, when in the incarnation, the Creator becomes creature:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. . . . And the Word became flesh. (John 1:1–3, 14)
Mercifully, much like the way God revealed himself in the Old Testament, Jesus revealed this aspect of his glory progressively.
One of the first to see Jesus’s preexistent glory was John the Baptist, Jesus’s older cousin who nevertheless said, “He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me” (John 1:15).
But as the time drew near for Jesus to fulfill the redemptive purpose for which he came, he revealed more of his preexistent, always-existent nature, as he did in this famous discussion with the Jewish leaders:
“Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:56–58)
So unique, so holy is God the Son, that his nature breaks the conventions of human grammar. He uses a present-tense verb in a past-tense context to communicate his Christological point. Later, the apostle Paul would do the same thing when he declared that Jesus “is before all things” (Colossians 1:17).
Who is this Son of Man? Like eternal Father, like eternal Son. He is the Alpha. He is the beginning. He is the one who always was.
He Who Is to Come
That Jesus always is also implies that Jesus always will be — he is the one who is to come. This he revealed with unmistakable and glorious clarity.
In describing the end of this age to his disciples, he said,
Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24:30–31)
He declared this same coming to the Jewish leaders during his trial, after proclaiming himself the “I am”: “You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62).
These Jewish listeners knew exactly what Jesus meant. He was identifying himself as the “son of man” prophesied by the prophet Daniel, whom “all peoples, nations, and languages [would] serve,” and who would receive from Almighty God “an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and [a] kingdom . . . that shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13–14).
But Jesus wasn’t merely issuing a warning. He was expressing his great longing, the purpose of his incarnation, the culmination of history, and the reward of his suffering.
The kingdom! The time when, at last, God himself will dwell with man; the time when our waiting will be over, and God will “wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore”; the time when “the former things [will] have passed away”; the time when God will make “all things new” (Revelation 21:3–5).
The kingdom! The “blessed hope” of all who have loved “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13; 2 Timothy 4:8). And of the fulfillment of this blessed hope, our great God and Savior, the prophesied Son of Man, has promised, “Behold, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:12).
Who is this Son of Man?
Like eternal Father, like eternal Son;
Spanning endless ages, two divinely one. Alpha and Omega, both the source and sum; He who is, he who was, and he who is to come.
And so shall the great question of history receive its climactic answer when the Lord God sends the Lord Christ to bring to a close history as we’ve known it and inaugurates his everlasting kingdom. All we who wait for this blessed hope say, “Amen. Even so come, Lord Jesus.”