I’m not going to lie. That particular phrase has really gotten on my nerves lately.
In its benign form, “well, actually…” is used to correct a misunderstanding, inaccuracy, or falsehood about someone’s facts.
However, it’s usually deployed during argument warfare. Its use is to dismiss the opponent’s facts undergirding their argument and thus negate their opponent’s argument. The problem is, the info-correction attached to “well, actually…” may not actually be true. It may be someone’s opinion-shrouded perception of the facts. And if there is no real-time proof of their information, the argument appears to be won by the “well, actually-er.”
This is why I dislike (the mild term) Facebook’s “fact-checking.” Simply being declared as “fact-checked” by Facebook casts great suspicion on your post, as if Facebook is the arbiter of all that is empirically true.
You know, like God is?
Speaking of Facebook, I saw a meme about fact-checking. It was about Eve and the snake. It goes like this:
Eve: “God said if I eat this apple or touch it, I’ll die.”
Snake (fact-checking Eve): “No! You will certainly not die.” And the rest is human history.
The snake was not entirely wrong. Eve did have an error alongside the fact. God never said the humans couldn’t touch the fruit. They just couldn’t partake in it. It represented the ability to make moral decisions apart from God’s moral standard. Sure, they could consider doing so, but they weren’t allowed to actually do so.
The snake pounced (fact-check: as if a snake can pounce, sheesh!) on this error, called into question the entire argument, “won” the argument, and convinced the couple to move into actual error.
But I digress.
In my recent academic studies, I had a self-spoken “well, actually…” moment! It came from a book by Daniel Boyarin titled, The Jewish Gospels. It is a fascinating book and one which all pastors and most Christians should have in their libraries. I would like to share this moment with you, but not in that nauseating condescending way.
The “well, actually…” was set up like this.
We know that Jesus is referred to as the Son of God (Mark 1:1, 3:11) and the Son of Man (Mark 2:10) in the Bible. These titles reflect Jesus’ divinity and humanity. Both of these natures as part of Jesus are crucial to the plan of salvation.
If Jesus were not God, He could not be a perfect sacrifice. If Jesus were not human, He would not be an equivalent sacrifice. Face it, animals just didn’t cut it (pun intended…and enjoyed).
Jesus must be both God and human for salvation to work. Sadly, as I wrote in a previous article (“The Fake 30% Evangelical”), some Christians don’t recognize Jesus as God. BIG MISTAKE! If Jesus is not God, then Jesus is not a qualified sacrifice and their foundation for salvation falls.
So which title describes which nature?
According to most of us, myself included, Son of God obviously indicates Jesus is God, and Son of Man obviously indicates Jesus is Man.
Daniel Boyarin points out that in Jesus’ day, the understanding was reversed. Son of God describes Jesus’ humanity and Son of Man describes His divinity. In brief, here’s how it works.
In ancient times, when a covenant was made between a greater and a lesser king, the new relationship between the kings is often referred to in family terms. The greater king is the “father” and the lesser king is the “son.” Adds a nice homey touch, don’t you think? Well actually, it’s an important thing. Family ties are stronger than social ties (usually). That’s why we say, “Blood is thicker than water.”
When God made a covenant with Israel’s King David (1 Samuel 7), He used the father-son covenant language.
“The Lord himself will make a house for you. When your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up after you your descendant, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will discipline him with a rod of men and blows from mortals. But my faithful love will never leave him as it did when I removed it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and kingdom will endure before me forever, and your throne will be established forever.’” (1 Samuel 7:11-16)
See it? “I will be his father, and he will be my son.” Each of King David’s descendants who sat on David’s throne was a son of God. And according to prophecy, there is One particular descendant/son who will sit on David’s throne forever (Luke 1:33). This is the long-awaited Jewish Messiah of the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10).
So “Son of God” refers to Jesus’ humanity and qualification as Israel’s Messiah.
What about Son of Man? This one’s a bit trickier because the idea is not well-known among Christians due to unfamiliarity with the Bible. It comes from the book of Daniel, chapter 7.
Daniel 7 describes a heavenly scene in verses 9-14. Again, long-story-short. You can do your own study.
It’s Judgment Day. On earth, a final ruler has arisen who talks smack about God and tries to take total control. Sound familiar? In heaven, God takes His throne and holds court. The big-mouthed beast ruler will be dispatched and One will come to begin God’s kingdom on earth, a kingdom that will have no end (Daniel 2:44).
This One is described as “one like a son of man was coming with the clouds of heaven” (Daniel 7:13). In Jewish theology, the Son of Man is unique because he has a human form and yet walks in the spiritual realm, heaven. By Jesus’ day, this One and Only Son of Man was known and accepted as a divine-human being.
According to Daniel (the book, not Boyarin), the divine Son of Man will serve as both God’s agent of judgment and official setter-upper of God’s everlasting kingdom on earth.
So there you have it. Son of God refers to Jesus’ humanity and Messiahship, and Son of Man refers to Jesus’ divinity.
Well, actually… you have to read both of those in context. Sometimes Son of Man does refer to someone’s identity as a human being or their identification with the human race, like Ezekiel (Ezekiel 2:1). And sometimes Son of God does refer to Jesus’ origin (Luke 1:35).
Well, actually… a few verses earlier in Luke you’ll see the Son of God/Israel’s King connection not referring to origin, but how I just laid it out. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High (God), and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David” (Luke 1:32).
Confused yet? No? Good.
And now for the kicker!
Knowing the “Jewish-understanding-of-Jesus’-day” difference between Son of God and Son of Man blows open the meaning of what was going on between Jesus and High Priest Caiaphas during Jesus’ trial. So here we go.
Jesus, standing before Caiaphas, is being interrogated and judged. The leaders in attendance were looking for a reason to give Jesus the death penalty because He was challenging their hold on power, influence, and perks. Since it was Passover and Messianic expectations normally spiked (because Passover celebrates Israel’s liberation from an oppressive power, Egypt, and Rome was now the oppressor), anyone who claimed to be Israel’s King (Messiah, Anointed One) was just begging for a Roman execution.
So here’s Caiaphas’ ploy: Get Jesus to say He’s Israel’s King candidate, a Messiah wanna-be. Then hand Him over for the usual treatment rebels got from the Roman empire – crucifixion. Done and done!
Caiaphas: “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”
Did you catch that? He’s not asking Jesus if he is human and divine. He’s asking Jesus two of the same thing. Are you the Messiah, the Son of God meaning Israel’s rightful King, of David’s line?
Jesus: “You have said it. But I tell you, in the future, you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
To those who say Jesus never claimed to be Israel’s Messiah, I say this, “Well, actually…!”
He did say it. He affirmed it in clear, unequivocal terms that every Jew in Caiaphas’ courtroom, especially the learned High Priest, would get. “Are you the Son of God, the Messiah, Israel’s King in waiting?” Jesus, replied, “You said it, dude!” Jesus had to tell the truth because the High Priest put Him under oath and the Torah says the truth must be spoken in a trial (Deuteronomy 19:18) and Jesus affirmed truth must be spoken (Matthew 5:33-37).
That was all Caiaphas needed to get Jesus crucified. But then Jesus drops the Bomb on him.
“Not only am I Israel’s King,” Jesus testifies, “but I’m also the Son of Man as well, the divine-human from heaven you know about from Daniel 7.”
This is totally absurd to Caiaphas and the leaders present! Why? First, Jesus is claiming divinity, which is grounds for stoning. Only the true Son of Man from Daniel 7 has any claim whatsoever to divine nature. Furthermore, “Clouds, dude! Where are the clouds?”
Daniel is clear. When the Son of Man shows up to judge the earth and set up God’s kingdom, He’s going to arrive on cloud flight #777.
Caiaphas and legal team question, “If this guy is the Son of Man, then how did He appear sans clouds? No judgment of the nations? And no kingdom of God transition team? Preposterous!”
To the court, Jesus couldn’t be the Son of Man because He hadn’t made the spectacular cloud-based entrance prophesied by Daniel (Oh, but He will…) and done the rest of the stuff.
So allow me to rephrase what Jesus said to Caiaphas so you get the full impact of this.
Jesus: “I am Israel’s King, the Messiah. And while you’re sitting here judging me, a time is coming when you will stand before Me and I will be judging you!”
Yes, Jesus is the Son of God and Son of Man. And He will return in the clouds (Matthew 24:30, Acts 1:9-11) to fulfill both roles according to His dual nature.
I had it all wrong for so many years! Well, actually, I had the dual nature part right, just not which went with which title.
This is why we need to be life-long learners. The Bible is so rich in meaning and understanding! But it has to be studied in context. I’m so grateful God has raised up good scholars with great clarity to help us understand God and grow in our appreciation of Him.
It also gets me excited because I see more clearly the truth of God’s plan that this world will eventually get straightened out when the Son of Man arrives to be the Son of God on Israel’s throne.
It’s these kinds of “Well, actually-s…” that I actually appreciate.
And now I hope you do, too.
Pastor Jay Christianson
The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts