The Ascension of the Son of Man
“Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (v. 30).- Matthew 24:29-31
We have been considering how the original audience of Daniel 7 would have understood the chapter and how it should inform our application of the text today. Given what we have said about Daniel 2, it is best to view the four beasts in 7:1–8 as representing four empires—Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece, and Rome. These empires were all known to Daniel’s first readers as once-mighty powers in decline (Babylon), powers ruling currently (Media-Persia), or powers gaining strength (Greece and Rome), so the chapter’s original audience could actually relate to his vision. And what Daniel told them was incredible.
During the reign of the fourth empire, Rome, the Ancient of Days would judge it decisively and give an eternal kingdom to “one like a son of man” (7:9–14). Of course, this ruler is Jesus the Messiah, who was born at the height of Rome’s power. He preferred the title Son of Man above all others, and today’s passage indicates that Daniel 7 defined His understanding of it (Matt. 24:29–31). As the fulfillment of Daniel 7, He is fully God and rides the Almighty’s cloud-chariot, yet He can also be distinguished from the Ancient of Days. Under the new covenant, we recognize Him as the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, to whom His Father grants all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18–20).
However, Rome did not fall during the first century, so how can we view God making a decisive judgment on the Roman Empire? First, given the symbolism of apocalyptic literature, the fourth beast can stand for both Rome and evil in general, and Jesus triumphed over Satan on the cross (Col. 2:15). Second, within a few hundred years of our Lord’s ministry, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. His work provided for the eventual conversion of His enemies. Finally, Rome did not crucify the Son of God—the most evil act of all—alone; rather, it worked hand in hand with the Jewish Sanhedrin, which actually instigated our Lord’s execution. In AD 70, God judged this generation of impenitent Jews when He allowed the Roman general Titus to destroy Jerusalem. Today’s passage, in fact, is tied in its original context to that destruction, which can be regarded as part of the entire complex of events surrounding the vindication of the Son of Man, His ascension on the clouds of heaven, and His session at the right hand of God the Father to rule and to reign over all creation (Matt. 24:15–28). Jerusalem’s fall and Christ’s ascension revealed Him as Lord of all, which Daniel foresaw hundreds of years beforehand.
Jesus’ ascension and session (seating) at God’s right hand were important enough to the earliest Christians to include in both the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. Yet as Dr. R.C. Sproul has often said, we often neglect these important events in the modern church. Christ’s ascension and session are critical because they confirm that Jesus Christ has been given all authority in heaven and earth. Thus, we know that He is reigning now to defeat all His and our enemies.
Passages for Further Study
Hebrews 1:1–14; 8:1–6;
1 Peter 3:18–22