The Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ (Mark 2:10)
When the four friends of the paralysed man broke through the roof of the house in Capernaum where Jesus was teaching, and lowered him on his pallet at Jesus’s feet, Jesus appreciated their faith and determination and healed the man.
But before he told the man to pick up his pallet and walk out with it, he said to him, ‘My son, your sins are forgiven’ (Mark 2:5). Nothing is said of the cause of the man’s paralysis, but Jesus evidently recognised that the first thing he needed was the assurance that his sins were forgiven.
If this assurance were accepted, the physical cure would follow. His words to the paralysed man constituted a hard saying in the ears of some of the bystanders.
Who was this to pronounce forgiveness of sins? To forgive injuries that one has received oneself is a religious duty, but sins are committed against God, and therefore God alone may forgive them.
One may say to a sinner, `May God forgive you’; but by what authority can one say to him, `Your sins are forgiven’? Probably Jesus’s critics would have agreed that a duly authorised spokesman of God might, in the words of the General Absolution, `declare and pronounce to his people, being penitent, the absolution and remission of their sins’; but they did not acknowledge
Jesus as such a duly authorised spokesman, nor was there any evidence, so far as they could see, that repentance was forthcoming or that an appropriate sin-offering had been presented to God.
It was the note of authority in Jesus’s voice as he pronounced forgiveness that gave chief offence to them: he imposed no conditions, called for no amendment of life, but spoke as though his bare word ensured the divine pardon.
He was really arrogating to himself the prerogative of God, they thought.
How could Jesus give evidence of his authority to forgive sins? They could not see sins being forgiven, but they could see the effect of Jesus’s further words in the man’s response.
It is easy to say `Your sins are forgiven’, because no one can ordinarily see whether sins are forgiven or not.
But if one tells a paralysed man to get up and walk, the words will quickly be shown to be empty words if nothing happens.
`So,’ said Jesus to his critics, `that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins,’ and then, addressing himself to the paralytic, `rise, take up your pallet, and go home.’
When the paralytic did just that, Jesus’s power as a healer was confirmed – but more than that, it was the assurance that his sins were forgiven that enabled the man to do what a moment previously would have been impossible, so Jesus’s authority to forgive sins was confirmed at the same time.
This is the first occurrence of the designation `the Son of man’ in Mark’s Gospel, and one of the two occurrences in his Gospel to be located before Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ at Caesarea Philippi (the other being the statement in Mark 2:28 that the Son of man is lord of the sabbath;
`The Son of man’ was apparently Jesus’s favourite way of referring to himself .
Sometimes the `one like a son of man’ who receives supreme authority in Daniel’s vision of the day of judgment (Dan. 7:13-14) may provide the background to Jesus’s use of the expression, but that son of man is authorised to execute judgment rather than to pronounce forgiveness (one may compare John 5:27, where the Father has given the Son `authority to execute judgment, because he is son of man’).
Here, however, the expression more probably points to Jesus as the representative man – `the Proper Man, whom God himself hath bidden’. This is how Matthew appears to have understood it:
he concludes his account of the incident by saying that the crowds that saw it `glorified God, who had given such authority to men’ – that is, to human beings (Matt. 9:8).
The authority so given is exercised by Jesus as the representative man – or, as Paul was later to put it, the `last Adam’ (1 Cor. 15:45). To pronounce, and bestow, forgiveness of sins is the highest prerogative of God, and this he has shared with the Son of man.