The term son of man is used variously in Scripture. Jesus is indeed referred to as the Son of Man in the New Testament—88 times, to be exact. The term son of man is also found in the Old Testament. The prophet Ezekiel is called “son of man” over 90 times. Thus, both Jesus and Ezekiel can rightly be called “son of man”; but there is something unique about the way the title is applied to Christ.
In the gospels, Jesus often refers to Himself as the Son of Man (e.g., Matthew 16:27; Mark 14:21; Luke 7:34; John 3:13). Jesus’ use of this title links Him to Daniel 7:13–14, a passage describing the coming Messiah: “There before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. . . . He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” The teachers of the Law during Jesus’ time on earth would have readily understood Jesus’ meaning when He applied the title Son of Man to Himself. Jesus’ use of the phrase points to His exalted state as a person of the Godhead and the fact that He will fulfill Daniel’s prophecy.
Further, only in the gospels do we find the term son of man associated with the definite article, the. Jesus always called Himself “the Son of Man,” as in the only one there is. In using the definite article, Jesus contrasts Himself with other personalities in the Bible associated with the same term. Ezekiel is never called “the son of man”; he is always just a “son of man,” as in one among many.
Son of man is a rather common term in the Bible, and it simply means “man.” It emphasizes the humanity of a person. In the case of Ezekiel, who was often referred to as “son of man” (e.g., Ezekiel 2:1; 3:1; 4:1; 5:1), God probably chose this manner of direct address to point up the contrast between the human condition of Ezekiel and the transcendent majesty of God. In the first chapter of his book, Ezekiel relates a vision he had of God’s glory—a scene full of wheels and eyes and storms and fire and strange angelic creatures. In the first verse of the next chapter, God addresses Ezekiel as “son of man.” The prophet could not help but realize his own human frailty and limitations in the face of God’s unsurpassable glory. God is God, and Ezekiel is but a “son of man.”
In Jesus’ case, the application of the title Son of Man also highlights the humanity of Christ. The difference is that He is the Son of Man; that is, He is the epitome of humanity. Jesus is the Sinless One, humanity perfected, the one to finally reconcile God and man.