Worship as in serve, bow down or adore
In the New Testament there are two different Greek verbs translated as 'worship', as well as a third term 'eidolatria' (εἰδωλολατρεία, Strong's 1495), translated as 'worship of idols' or 'idolatry'. This term is derived from the words for 'idol' (εἴδωλον, Strong's 1497) and 'to serve' (λατρεία, Strong's 2999).
The verb 'sebetai' (from σέβομαι, Strong's 4576) translates as 'to revere, adore'. It was used in reference to the Ephesians' worship of Artemis (Acts 19:27), and was often applied to Christians as an adjective, translated as 'devout' or 'worshipping'. Jesus also uses this verb in quoting Isaiah: "in vain do they worship (σέβονταί) me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men' (Matthew 15:9).
The verb 'proskuneo' (προσκυνέω, Strong's 4352) translates as 'to bow down or prostrate oneself'. It describes an observed action only, and appears to make no assumption as to the emotion or internal thought processes of the person performing the action. The act itself could demonstrate respect, reverence, fear or obeisance towards someone or something, including kings and other demonstrations of power.
The verb σέβομαι alludes to a particular emotion or relationship, but προσκυνέω merely describes a particular action.
When Jesus quotes from scripture to Satan, he says "you shall worship (προσκυνήσεις) the Lord your God, and him alone shall you serve (λατρεύσεις)" (Matthew 4:10). This does not expressly forbid the act proskuneo being applied to another, but it does forbid serving anyone else, which is consistent with the term eidolatria as serving idols.
Does Jesus allowing people to worship him indicate that he acknowledged the fact that he is God?
The answer to this is yes and no. This act of worship in John is in direct response to Jesus pointing out that the man has both seen and heard from the 'son of man':
Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said,
“Do you believe in the Son of man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir,
that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe”; and he
worshiped him. (John 9: 36-38)
Bowing before the son of man is not exactly the same as bowing before God. We can adore (sebetai) Him and serve (latai) Him without meeting God face to face, but in order to worship (proskuneo) God, we must see Him physically before us.
So it stands to reason that the man saw what he believed to be God physically before him - or at least as close as one can possibly get to such an experience.
Perceiving is more than seeing
The conversation between Jesus and the man who was cured of blindness appears to make reference to something that is neither Jesus himself nor physically visible.
When the man asks Jesus who is this 'son of man', Jesus' answer does not specifically identify himself, but only what the man has subjectively perceived and heard: "You have seen (ἑώρακας) him, and it is he who speaks to you". The verb translated here as 'to see' is not the same verb used three times in verse 39:
Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do
not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.”
That verb is 'blepo' (βλέπω, Strong's 991), which is a physical seeing or observing. When Jesus says that the blind man has 'seen' the son of man, however, he refers to 'horao' (ὁράω, Strong's 3708), which is a spiritual seeing or perceiving.
Had he said "I am the son of man", the man's response (proskuneo) could have easily been understood as worship of Jesus himself. But he never does this, because this is not what he means - Jesus does not equate himself with the son of man, let alone with God.
Is this 'son of man' God?
The 'son of man' (in Hebrew 'ben-adam') comes from the Old Testament and refers to the title by which God addresses Ezekiel, a prophet who relayed messages, both physically and verbally, from God to the people of Israel. By using this particular title, Ezekiel attempts to distinguish his own identity, as 'Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi', from his spiritual role as 'son of man' - not simply a messenger for God.
the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in
the land of the Chalde′ans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the
Lord was upon him there. (Ezekiel 1:3)
"I send you to them; and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord
God.’ And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a
rebellious house) they will know that there has been a prophet among
them. And you, son of man (ben-adam), be not afraid of them, nor be
afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you
sit upon scorpions; be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at
their looks, for they are a rebellious house. And you shall speak my
words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear; for they are a
rebellious house. (Ezekiel 2: 4-7)
The distinction suggests that his actions and words as recorded were not generated by his identity as Ezekiel, but by this new relationship with God as 'ben-adam'. In referencing this title, Jesus suggests a similar relationship between the flesh and blood he recognises as himself and the 'logos' of God that he communicates both physically and verbally.
'Son of man', as distinct from 'man', describes something born of humanity that is not the same as the parent. It suggests something different, new. As an identity, described by Ezekiel and demonstrated by Jesus, 'ben-adam' represents a new, more direct relationship between God and humanity: one that allows God to 'manifest in the flesh' without interference from the human fears, drives or desires of the flesh.
Paul refers to this relationship as living 'according to the spirit':
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the
things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set
their minds on the things of the Spirit. (Romans 8:5) For all who are
led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Romans 8:14)
So understanding the difference between God and the 'son of man' as God manifest in the life of Jesus is not a matter of his flesh, but of the spiritual relationship that enables God to be perceived in his words and actions.
Jesus cures a man of blindness and then tells him that he has seen and heard the son of man. He responds by saying "Lord, I believe" and then worships 'him'. Many would observe that the man worshipped 'him' the physical man Jesus, leading them to assume that Jesus must be God. But a deeper exploration of the text suggests that the man worshipped 'him' the 'son of man': his spiritual perception of God through the words and actions observed in Jesus.
That Jesus understood this difference is demonstrated by his reference to the 'son of man' in the third person, reflecting the distinction between his own mortal identity and this spiritual identity in relationship with God. There is reason, therefore, to suggest that Jesus, in allowing it, recognised this act of worship was not for himself, but for God, perceived (by one who believes) through the words and actions of 'ben-adam'.