Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
What do you think about when you think about the book of Daniel? My guess is that you’ll remember most of the first half of the book: Daniel’s special diet; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being thrown into the fiery furnace; Daniel interpreting dreams; the writing on the wall; and Daniel in the lion’s den. But that’s just the first six chapters. The second half of the book is a lot more strange. The last six chapters are full of highly symbolic, very vivid, apocalyptic writings. Daniel sees creatures like bears and lions and eagles and goats but all with horns. He sees horns growing out of horns. There’s a lot of fire. And the numbers seem rather crazy: 1,290 days; 1,335 days; 2,300 evenings and mornings. It can all be a bit much, which is probably why we tend to stick with the first half of the book and don’t venture too far into the second half.
Today, as we’re wrapping up one church year and looking forward to the next, it would seem a little strange to dig into the book of Daniel. And yet in today’s reading from Daniel 7, we get a glimpse into heaven—a glimpse at God Himself and some of the activities that have been, that are, and that will be around His throne. It would take us longer than a normal sermon to run through all the imagery in just these four verses, but we’re going to do what we can to cover our bases and give you as clear a picture as possible in the time we have.
Daniel’s vision is about two persons, two main characters who are given symbolic titles to try to get us to understand who they are referring to. The first person is “the Ancient of Days.” The title itself could have any number of meanings, but perhaps the simplest might be “an old guy,” someone who’s been around the block and whose many days are now considered ancient. But is that really what’s going on here? Who is this Ancient of Days? Hear again how Daniel describes him, “his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool.” There’s something about this person that’s more than just an old person. While he does sport white hair, it’s more symbolic than it is old age. The color white is a symbol of purity and holiness. Whoever this Ancient of days is, He is completely pure and holy, set apart from those around him.
“His throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him.” First a practical question: If this guy is sitting on a chair made of fire, with wheels on it made of fire, and a river of fire flowing from before him, how is it that this Ancient of Days is not burned up? He’s wearing white clothes and sporting this white hairdo, that are somehow both still visible and unburnt in the midst of a fire. They are burning and yet are not consumed. You’ve heard of that before, haven’t you. That time, it wasn’t a vision of a throne or an old man, but simply a bush burning in the desert. Yet there, the Lord Himself spoke from the fire and commanded Moses to lead His people out of Egypt into the Promised Land.
The Ancient of Days is entirely pure and holy, set apart from the rest of creation. He’s linked together with the Lord, who spoke from the burning bush. “A thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.” He seems to have the ultimate power and authority in the heavenly realm. Then he begins his task, opening the books and judging. So who fits the bill? God. The Ancient of Days very clearly points us to God Himself, probably even God the Father, the first person of the Trinity.
But then we run into a problem. Verses 13 and 14 come along and all of a sudden another guy shows up. He’s called “one like a son of man” and he makes his entrance in the most grandiose way possible, riding on a cloud. We run into an issue with this guy for a number of reasons. First, in the Old Testament, God is the one seen as riding on the clouds, not just any old schmuck. Clouds are figuratively used as God’s means of transportation. But here, God’s on His throne when all of a sudden, God pulls up riding the clouds of heaven!
Second, this person is called “one like a son of man.” He’s like a son of man, but he’s not a son of man. So what is it? How does this work? Is he a human or isn’t he? The best answer we can give based on this text is, “yes.” He’s a human, but he’s not a human. Perhaps it’s best to say that he’s a human, but he’s not just a human; or that he’s a human, but also more than a human. This “one like a son of man” is a confusing guy. He’s God, but he’s not. He’s a human, but he’s not.
And then we get a description of what the Ancient of Days gives to this “one like a son of man.” “To him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” So he’s God, but he’s not. He’s a human, but he’s not. He rules over all creation forever, and everyone serves him, just like the “thousand thousands” and “ten thousand times ten thousand” serve the Ancient of Days.
Chances are, you probably have a good idea of who this “one like a son of man” is referring to. But if not, don’t worry; you’re in good company. The question of this person’s identity has been debated, even within the Christian Church, for hundreds of years. Some say it’s an angel, some say it’s the body of believers, but others will take a look at the facts and say, “you know what? That sounds a lot like Jesus, the Messiah.”
So what does Jesus have to say about it? A number of times in the Gospels, he talks about this character from Daniel 7, who is known by then as simply “The Son of Man.” And every time he uses the title, he’s referring to himself. It’s eventually the one charge that sticks to him when he’s on trial. His own testimony puts him away, “I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” And what was that charge that stuck? Blasphemy. Jesus, claiming the title of the Son of Man, envisioning himself seated at the right hand of Power, riding the clouds of heaven, is claiming to be God.
So this one like a son of man is human. He’s also God. He rules the entire world, and will forever. Jesus is fully human and fully God. He rules the entire world, and will forever. This was an astounding claim in Daniel’s day. It was an astounding claim in Jesus’ day. And it’s still an astounding claim today. We could spend the rest of our lives talking about Jesus’ divine and human natures and still not reach the end of it. But that claim to rulership, power, and authority forever is over the top.
In Daniel’s day, there was turmoil in world politics. The nation of Israel had been wiped out by Assyria. Assyria was wiped out by Babylon. Baylon wiped out the Southern kingdom of Judah. Babylon would then be taken over by the Medes and the Persians. They would be taken over by the Greeks. The Greeks would be taken over by the Romans, and we could go on and on. It’s the same in our day. In my lifetime alone, there have been about 30 new nations created, let alone the constant war and shifting of borders. No kingdom rules forever. Except for one. And no, I’m not referring to the United States. One day the US will be long gone and another country will rise up in its place. And that’s ok.
Because no matter what, God’s kingdom still reigns supreme. The Lord is King. Jesus reigns. We are citizens first and foremost not of any earthly country, but of our heavenly home. You and I are citizens of the kingdom of God, with Christ, one like a son of man, as our King. We live not for us, but for Him. And that King is coming back. As we wrap up one church year and head into the next, our eyes are always forward, looking ahead to Christ’s return. “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.” Come quickly, Lord. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Lobe den Herrn
B. A. Woell