Son of God
The title “Son of God” is both a description of who Jesus is and a slap in the face of Roman Emperors who also considered themselves “sons of the divine” or divi filius. (Strauss, 61). At the beginning of Mark, he writes “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). In the Old Testament “sons of God” seem to refer to God's people (Gen 6:2–4) or angelic beings (Job 1:6; Dan 3:25) but not a divine Son like with Jesus.
In Mark's Gospel, Jesus is most notably called “my beloved son” by a voice from heaven (God himself) at Jesus's baptism (Mark 1:1) and at his Transfiguration (Mark 9:7). It is hard not to think of Abraham's sacrifice in Gen 22:2 of his beloved son Isaac.
While the disciples struggle to realize who Jesus really is, ironically the demons are often the first ones to identify Jesus correctly as the Son of God (Mark 1:24; 3:11; 5:7). After Jesus dies, a nearby Roman Centurion is able to see that Jesus is indeed the son of God (Mark 15:39) — this moment would have resonated with Roman audiences: a Roman officer thinks Jesus is the Son?! Wow?!
Jesus himself only alludes to the fact that he is the Son (Mark 12:6; 13:32) and then finally admits it before the High Priest at his trial (Mark 14:61–62).
Christ and Messiah
The word Christ (Grk. Christos) and Messiah (Heb. māšiaḥ) are the same word in different languages. They both mean “anointed one” and not necessarily “savior.” In the Old Testament, “Messiah” actually designated any one of God's anointed / chosen kings such as Saul (1 Sam 24:6), or David (1 Chron 16:22; 2 Chron 6:42; Psalm 132:10; 1 Sam 2:10) or even Cyrus the Great (Isa 45:1). All of these are called “Christ” in the Greek Old Testament.
So when Jesus is called “Christ” in the Gospel of Mark it carries the sense of being “God's Chosen or Anointed King.” It is good to call him Jesus Christ, but it is better to call him Jesus Christ the Son of God. It takes Peter half the Gospel to recognize Jesus as the Christ (Mark 8:29) but even then he still fails to accept Jesus as God's suffering Son. The High Priest asks if Jesus is the Christ and Jesus says “I Am” (Mark 14:61). As Jesus hung on the cross the mockers jokingly called him the Christ (Mark 15:32).
The Son of Man
Perhaps most important for Jesus's self-identification is the title “Son of Man.” The first time it appears is in Mark 2:10 when Jesus says “The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” This is a title that only Jesus used to refer to himself in the third person. So who or what is the son of man?
Our clues once again take us to the Old Testament. A “son of man” can simply refer to a human being (Num 23:19; 2 Sam 7:14). The word “man” in Hebrew (adam) is closely related to the word for “earth/ground” and, of course, the man Adam. Ezekiel is called “son of man” by God and his messengers over 93x (Ezek 2:1) etc. However, the most significant reference is found in Daniel 7:13 and is the “son of man” Jesus wants us to think of:
I saw in the night visions and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom is one that shall not be destroyed (Dan 7:13–14 ESV)
When Jesus says “the Son of Man” he means Daniel's son of man who can come into the presence of God (Ancient of Days) and is given the authority to rule over all the earth and have an everlasting kingdom. This is who Jesus means when he says “Son of Man” and he intends us to recognize that Jesus is the Son of Man.
In Mark, the Son of Man is said to have the authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:10), he will suffer and die at the hands of men but rise on the third day (Mark 9:12, 31; 10:33, 45), and he will return with judgement on the clouds of heaven (Mark 13:26; 14:62).
- Mark Strauss, Mark, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament 2 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014).