The Messiah as Son of Man
It is not surprising that in the heat of the controversy over the date and authorship of Daniel scholarly exegesis of the book itself tended at times to be a trifle superficial. It is, however, a matter of legitimate surprise that even today we find repeated without qualification the statement that the 'one like unto a son of man' (kebhar enash) in Dn. vii is merely personified Israel.
Superficially, of course, the interpretation is attractive. Four heathen empires are personified by beasts, so Israel, that is true Israel, 'the saints of the Most High', is personified as a man, and the interpretation is apparently borne out by verses 18 and 27. But the personal and Messianic interpretation offered by the Similitudes of Enoch only about half a century after the alleged date of Daniel should have checked this over-confidence. If the national interpretation of 'the son of man', as we shall call this figure for convenience, is so obvious, it should have been equally obvious at the beginning of the first century B.C.
In fact the four beasts are not just four empires; they are four kings (vii. 17). A similar linking of king and people in apocalyptic can be found in Dn. ii. 37f., viii. 20f., Rev. xiii. Similarly we note that in both Dn. viii and xi the interest is solely with kings and rulers; their countries are merely the sources of their power. Even if this were all the evidence, it would be safe to assume that in fact 'the son of man' is the king of and therefore the personification of, or rather the representative of the saints of the Most High. In addition it would seem that the judgment scene in Dn. vii is on earth; if so, whatever we do or do not read into 'coming with the clouds of heaven', it would seem to imply that 'the son of man' is brought from another sphere. It is almost certain that the Hebrew 'with the clouds of heaven' is correct as against the Greek 'upon the clouds of heaven', but that does not justify our ignoring a major factor in the vision, merely because we cannot interpret it with absolute certainty. When we add all these factors together, it becomes very difficult to maintain what has become the traditional modern view.
I am not maintaining that 'the son of man' here is just the Messiah; he is not. He is the Messiah as head of his people, who cannot be disassociated from him, a conception which reminds us of the Pauline picture of the Messianic people in which the Messiah is the head and the Church His body.
In general terms I am inclined to agree with Prof. T. W. Manson's interpretation of the term 'Son of Man' as used by our Lord and his statement that 'the Messiah is the embodiment of the true Israelite ideal'. Where I differ from him is that I find our Lord's use of the title already clearly implicit in Dn. vii.
The coming of the Persians largely broke the old pattern of the fertile crescent and deeply influenced the thinking of the Near-East. Among the Jews the old links between deity and the Messianic king, which we find in pre-exilic prophecy, rapidly die out. It is clear from the New Testament evidence and from much pseudepigraphic literature that, whatever speculation some might have carried on, for the vast majority the Messiah was no longer expected to be more than a purely human figure. This is borne out too by the Messianic pretenders of the first two centuriesA.D., of whom Bar Kochba is the best known figure, for whom no supernatural claims were made.
For all that, much of the old thought lived on under variant forms. The real prototype of the king was Adam, God's vice-regent, with his dominion over the world. Here too the inadequacy of the Israelite monarchy was displayed in that the representatives of the God of all the earth had such imperfect and limited dominion. Though Ps. viii speaks of mankind in general, it is really looking back to Adam and then forward to the new Adam. The New Testament use of the Psalm in Heb. ii is in accordance with its basic idea.
In Dn. vii the contrast between the beasts and 'the son of man' is not merely, or indeed primarily, between the brutishness of one and the humanity of the other. It is far rather that 'the son of man' is the new creation of God, the new Adam, who is to rule over the beasts just because he is man. That is probably the reason why Israel is not mentioned by name; 'the saints of the Most High' are a new spiritual creation.
In Is. xi. 1-9 the Messiah and the new Adam are clearly linked by the picture of the Messianic king reigning over the new Paradise. Prof. W. D. Davies may perhaps be right in his view that the conception of Christ as the second Adam is peculiarly Pauline, but if he is, there is none the less abundant evidence that the way had been prepared for that identification both by the Old Testament and by later Jewish speculation. Apparently what happened was that in the post-exilic separation of Messianic kingship and deity the two concepts implicitly connected in Is. xi drifted apart. The result seems to have been that though a personal interpretation was given to 'the son of man' in Dn. vii, it was found impossible, except perhaps in Essene circles, which we believe were responsible for the Enoch literature, to unite this plainly more than human figure with the concept ofthe Messianic king.
It is noteworthy that though 'the son of man' becomes accepted as Messianic by the Jews in the 2nd century A.D., and it is fully realized that he is more than human, rabbinic Judaism has never been able to reconcile the two conceptions, human and super-human, which continue side by side in popular orthodox Judaism to this day.
Questions for Reflection / Discussion
Read Daniel 7:13-18 (If you have time you may want to read the whole of Daniel 7). What connections do you see between the 'Son of Man' figure and the 'saints of the Most High'?
In what ways is the 'Son of Man' like the 'Messianic king' (e.g. Isaiah 9:2-7)? In what ways is he unlike the 'Messianic king,' i.e. divine?
Read Matthew 26:62-66. Given what you have read about the 'Son of Man' figure in Daniel, what do you think Jesus is caliming about himself? Why does this elicit the judgement of blasphemy from the high priests?
 That no dogmatic motive need be present is shown by the fact that the statement is found inthe conservative commentary of C. Lattey, while it is denied by some liberals, e.g. L. E. Browne, op. cit., p. 53f., who gives much the same interpretation as in the lecture.
 T. W. Manson, The Teaching of Jesus, pp. 211-234, summarized in The Servant Messiah, pp.72ff.
 W. D. Davies: Paul and Rabbinic Judaism, pp. 41 seq.