"The son of man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the son of man! It would be better for him if he had not been born." (Matthew 26:24)

In the verse before this the NIV translation states that Jesus says:
"The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me." (Matt. 26:23)
Notice that Jesus' statement changes from speaking in the first person to speaking in the third person.

In the first sentence (Matt. 26:23) he refers to "me," and now he refers to the "son of man" and "him" in the third person, almost as if he is not speaking about himself. What is going on here?

This would be akin to someone sitting down at the dinner table and saying "can you please pass the peas to the person sitting in the end seat - he is hungry." That would be very odd. The normal thing for the person at the dinner table to say is simply, "please pass me the peas - I am hungry."

So what do we make of Jesus' sudden change from speaking of himself in the first person to suddenly speaking of himself in the third person?

In fact, we find this - speaking in the third person - among nearly every passage where Jesus refers to himself as the "son of man."

And just what does "son of man" mean? Read Jesus' statement carefully... "...woe to that man who betrays the son of man..." "Man" and "son of man" are being used in the same sentence here. Does it even make sense? Every male human is a son of a man. Why would it be so bad for a "man" to betray a "son of man"? What is a "son of man" anyway?

The fact is, the phrase "son of man" is a mistranslation. The phrase "son of man" is derived from the Greek phrase, υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου. The first word, υἱὸν can indicate a relationship of offspring within the context of a physical family, but Jesus is not referencing a physical family here - otherwise he would be referring to his physical father. Rather, the appropriate meaning of υἱὸν in this context, according to the Greek lexicon is "one of the posterity of any one" and "one who depends on another or is his follower." Thus, the appropriate translation of υἱὸν can be boiled down to either "follower," dependent, "disciple," or "servant." And since it would not make sense that Jesus was a follower or disciple of man, the appropriate translation is "servant."

The Greek word τοῦ indicates possessive, and is appropriately translated to "of".

The Greek word, ἀνθρώπου can be translated to "man" as well as "mankind" or "humanity" according to the lexicon. "Mankind" or "humanity" are most appropriate within the context.

Thus, the appropriate translation of υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου:

Servant of humanity

This is consistent with Jesus' other statements elsewhere that he has come as a service to all of humanity. This humble identification of himself is also consistent with how Jesus spoke of being sent by God:
"I am with you for only a short time, and then I go to the One who sent me." (John 7:33)
Jesus also spoke of himself as a servant to others, and he also instructed his disciples to serve others:
"Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant." (Mark 10:43)
Jesus also illustrated this sense of service as he washed his disciples' feet.

Evidence that this is a role rather than an individual exists clearly in the Old Testament. This humble self-reference as the servant of humanity was not limited to Jesus. Other messengers of God also referred to themselves in this same way:
"O Lord, what is man that you care for him, the son of man [servant of humanity] that you think of him?" (Psalm 144:3)
While some have tried to misinterpret David's statement as referring to Jesus, the verses surrounding this make it obvious that David is referring to himself as the servant of humanity - pleading humbly as to why God would even consider him.

Job also humbly referred to himself as a servant of humanity when he prayed:
"how much less man, who is but a maggot - a son of man [servant of humanity], who is only a worm!" (Job 25:6)
God also referred to Ezekiel as the servant of humanity:
"He said to me, "son of man [servant of humanity], stand up on your feet and I will speak to you."" (Ezekiel 2:1)

and
"He [God] said: "Son of man [servant of humanity}, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against Me to this very day." (Ezekiel 2:3)
In this last verse, we see that God referred to Ezekiel as the servant of humanity as He was sending him to teach to the Israelites on His behalf. This is the quintessential servant of humanity: Sent by God to help (as a service to) humankind.

So Jesus is referring to himself here, not as "me" but as someone sent by God. One of God's messengers, who has come to save humanity by teaching God's message.

This is why Jesus speaks of himself in the third person as he makes this reference as the servant of humanity: Because he recognized its scriptural context - as a role rather than a specific person.

We might compare this to being a first mate on a ship. The first mate has a specific job to do, and this job is defined by the captain. If one of the ship-mates were to disobey the commands of the first mate, the first mate would not say, "you should never disobey me." This would sound very arrogant and not appropriate. Rather, the first mate would say, "you should never disobey the first mate." While the first mate would still be referencing himself when he says this, he is subordinating himself within his role, and speaking of his role rather than himself personally.

This is exactly what is going on with Jesus' statement above. He is subordinating himself to his role as God's representative, who has come to save humanity.

This is akin to the situation of a visiting ambassador to a foreign country. If anyone within the foreign government mistreats the ambassador, it might be a personal affront against the ambassador himself, but the bigger problem is that the mistreatment is an offense against the government the ambassador represents. This is due to the fact that the ambassador is not there on his own. He is a representative of his government and leader of that government.

In the same way, because Jesus was sent by God and is God's representative, to betray him is to offend God. It is a most egregious offense, as Jesus indicates.

Jesus also refers to himself in the third person as he says "The son of man [servant of humanity] will go just as it is written about him." Jesus is pointing again to the fact that he is serving God within a particular role, and he knows he will be persecuted for his service to God. Jesus realizes that this is part of his service, as was written, because he took on this role of being sent by God to serve humankind by teaching us about God, and how to serve God:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38)


 (For a translation of Jesus' statements from the Book of Matthew without institutional sectarian influence, see the Gospels of Jesus  - translated from the original Greek texts.)