“Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man ..." (Luke 9:58)

“Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58)

Why did Jesus say this?

Jesus stated this as he was walking along the road, after a man approached him and said the following:
“I will follow you wherever you go.” (Luke 9:57)
What did Jesus mean by his reply?

Was he trying to dissuade the follower?

And didn't Jesus sleep? Didn't he have places to sleep when he went to different towns?

Why did Jesus refer to the 'Son of Man' in the third person?

Why didn't he say "I don't have a place to lay my head"?

This is normally how people refer to themselves - in the first person. They do not typically refer to themselves in the third person. It would be like a person saying to a bank teller (assuming his name was Bill): "Bill doesn't have any money in his wallet. Can you take some money out of his account and give it to him?"

What will the bank teller do in such a situation? The teller will probably think the bank is being robbed or something. Rather, Bill would say, "I don't have any money...."

So why is Jesus referring to himself in the third person? We do know that Jesus indeed is speaking of himself - right?

Not completely. Jesus is referring to a role. We might compare this to how a company vice president might refer to the limitations of their role. They might say, for example: "The vice president doesn't have the ability to fire the president's staff." While the vice president is certainly referring to a situation involving himself, but he is referring to a limitation of his role, rather than himself directly.

What role Jesus is referring to?

The Greek phrase Jesus uses is υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου - being mistranslated to "Son of Man" - is a role. And it has particular distinctions and limitations, as Jesus is stating.

As explained previously, the Greek word υἱός is being translated to "son" can mean "son," but only "in a restricted sense, the male offspring (one born by a father and of a mother)," according to the lexicon.

Why would being a son of a man be a distinctive title? Every male is a son of a man. The expression thus makes no sense in this context.

It would be like an employee of a company going to work and saying among his workmates: "I am special because I'm an employee." The other employees would look at him and say, "That's no big deal - we're all employees!"

The lexicon also defines υἱός as "used to describe one who depends on another or is his follower." What is this?

Quite simply, there are two meanings to the word υἱός - though they are related. υἱός relates to someone who is subservient. A son is still subservient to the father, but a household servant is also subservient. During the time of Jesus, practically any household of any means had a servant. Thus the word υἱός was used often outside of the strict use of "son." In those instances, it referred to someone who was in servitude. Thus its most applicable translation in this context is "servant."

And this alternative use of the word "son" has even carried on through the centuries in its English translation, as a person of authority might frequently refer to someone who is either younger, inferior or subservient as "son" when they weren't their physical son. For example, an older owner of a company might say to one of his younger employees, "son, you will need to work harder." The employee is not the boss' son. This same use of the word "son" was also used between slave owners and their slaves in recent centuries.

The tradition of υἱός in Greek is even more defined. υἱός can be used to refer to a servant, a follower, a devotee, a subject and otherwise in a subservient position. This is reflected by Jesus' own statements using υἱός in these statements - all translated to "subjects" in the 1984 NIV:
"And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your subjects drive them out? So then, they will be your judges." (Matt. 12:27)

Jesus replied, "The subjects of this age marry and are given in marriage." (Luke 20:34)
"They are God's servants, since they are subjects of the resurrection." (Luke 20:36)
In fact, the various ecclesiastical translators of these verses have had a tough time with the translation of υἱός in these cases. For example, for Luke 20:34, the 1984 New International Version translates υἱός to "subjects" as above, while the 2010 NIV translates the word to "people." Meanwhile the King James Version translates it to "children" and the New King James Version translates it to "sons" - "The sons of this age..."

The above examples are only a few of the hundreds of times the word is used in the New Testament - used to describe both a literal "son" and those in some sort of subservient position.

In fact, we can see that Jesus himself equates this word υἱός to "servant" in Luke 20:36 above.

Now let's put this together with the rest of the phrase, τοῦ ἀνθρώπου. The word τοῦ means "of." There is no debate with its current translation.

But the word ἀνθρώπου - being translated to "man" - is best translated to either "mankind" or "humanity" - as "humanity" refers to people of both sexes.

So this means that the most appropriate translation of the Greek phrase υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, and the role Jesus was referring to, is: "Servant of the people" or "Servant of Humanity."

What is a servant of the people?

Just think about it. Government workers will often refer to themselves as "civil servants" for the same reason - they see themselves as a servant of the people.

This is the meaning of Jesus' reference, but there is a deeper context. He is not talking about serving people's physical bodies, as a government civil servant might. Jesus is referring to people's spiritual lives.

Jesus is serving humanity by bringing us the teachings of love for God.

This use of servant of humanity, in fact, has an even older tradition, and this is what Jesus was alluding to. We find the reference - again incorrectly translated to "son of man" - used for at least three of the prophets of the Old Testament: Job, David, and Ezekial.

David said as he referred to himself:
"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 many interpreters have tried to say this is referring to Jesus, there is no evidence of this, in fact, throughout David's prayer here he is referring to himself and his relationship with God, and his being grateful for the Supreme Being caring for him.

Job also referred to himself in this manner as he addressed the Supreme Being:
"how much less man, who is but a maggot - a son of man [servant of humanity], who is only a worm!" (Job 25:6)
Certainly, this is a self-reference by Job. Or would they be suggesting that Job is referring to Jesus as a worm? Hardly. Job is referring to himself in a humble manner.

Then we find that God Himself repeatedly used this reference as he addressed Ezekial. In fact, God used this reference to Ezekial over thirty times as He was giving him instructions. Here is one of them:
"He [God] said to me, "Son of man [servant of humanity], stand up on your feet and I will speak to you."" (Ezekial 2:1)
"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." (Ezekial 2:3)
Thus there is a great tradition for the use of this term as a humble subservient role. And Jesus was indeed using this role as a humble self-reference as he considered his position with humility, comparing even to birds and foxes [using the translation to Servant of Humanity]:
“Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Servant of Humanity has no place to lay his head.”
We also find that Jesus understood the meaning of service to humanity, as he said plainly to his students:
"Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant." (Mark 10:43)

Was Jesus teaching us about humility?

We can see that in Luke 9:58, Jesus is quite plainly referring to himself in a humble manner, as a servant of humanity. This is why Jesus makes this reference in the third person: Because it is not only about him. It is about the role he has taken on to serve others. And Jesus recognizes that others before him have taken this role, and he is acknowledging that he is following in that role.

And as Jesus is accepting this role, he is also commenting to the potential follower about what is to come for him if he decides to follow Jesus: A life of service.

Jesus was indicating to the potential follower that following him would not be following someone who could offer him the luxuries of a comfortable bed or comfortable life. Jesus was leading an austere life dedicated to helping others. He was working in the capacity of servant to others and as such, was traveling from town to town, with no home to rest at.

And Jesus could not offer the potential follower a room at the temple, as the Temples could offer their priests-in-training, along with meals, and eventually salaries as they gained their priesthood. Jesus could not offer any of this. The only thing he could offer the potential follower was a life of service.

But this is the key to spiritual life and our return to the spiritual realm. You see, the Supreme Being created us to be His loving servants. We were created to give the Supreme Being pleasure, within a loving service relationship. This is our identity: loving servant. This means that those who live within the spiritual realm are joyful and fulfilled as they serve the Supreme Being - the Perfect Person. When He is pleased, they are happy.

This is the opposite of our situation here. Here in the physical world, we are focused upon our own pleasure. We seek to make ourselves happy at any expense, and often at the expense of others' suffering or at least inconvenience. Here we are out for ourselves. This is because we rejected our natural position as God's servant. We didn't want to serve. We wanted to be served.

So God sent us to the physical world where we took on these temporary physical bodies so we could chase around our self-centered goals of making ourselves happy. Why? Because love requires freedom. As He created us, He also gave us the freedom not to love Him.

Are we servants by nature?

And herein lies the rub. In order to return to our natural position within the spiritual realm, we have to engage in a life of service. We have to begin resuming our natural position in order to return to that natural position.

The evidence that this is our natural position is clear: When others serve us, we feel empty. But when we serve others, we feel better. This is why even the most wealthy people - after a life of having everyone serve them - want to serve others by doing charitable works. This is because serving feels better. It feels better to serve because this is our natural position: loving servants.

And this is why people often say, "'Tis better to give than to receive."

But serving others does not completely fulfill us. This is because we were created to serve the Supreme Being. He is our Perfect Person - the person we each have been searching for throughout our lives. He is the one that if we serve and please - we feel complete fulfillment.

But because God loves us so, a true servant of God will also try to serve His children - spiritually.

And Jesus was in this position. He was the Supreme Being's perfect loving servant. He had dedicated his life to pleasing God by teaching love for God to anyone who was interested. And for this service to God, Jesus also assumed that exalted state he referred to himself in the third person as the "Servant of Humanity."

And just what was Jesus' service to humanity? To save humanity through his teachings. And what was Jesus' most important teaching?
“‘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)