One like a Son of Man
“There came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days… . To him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples … should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion … and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (vv. 13–14).- Daniel 7:13-28
Apocalyptic language, with its vivid imagery and its emphasis on the cosmic conflict between good and evil, presents unique interpretative difficulties. It is often hard to identify what the symbols signify and where they point beyond the original realities that they describe. Daniel 7 exemplifies the trouble we have in understanding apocalyptic literature, as commentators are by no means united on the meaning of each image in the passage.
Clues in the passage itself indicate that the vision likely speaks of events that would occur within several generations of Daniel’s lifetime and others that would occur long afterward. As an example of the latter, we see that although there would be a climactic judgment on the beasts before the Ancient of Days, that judgment would not mark the full end of earthly evil and the enemies of God’s people. The lives of the first three beasts are prolonged for a time (v. 12). Moreover, although the fourth beast is killed at this initial judgment, its horns live on until their dominion is fully and finally eradicated (vv. 11, 23–28). In Scripture, horns can positively symbolize the glory of God’s salvation and the honor of the king (Pss. 18:2; 75:10) or the boastful pride of the wicked in their opposition to our Creator (75:4; Zech. 1:18–21). Clearly, the horns in Daniel’s vision represent the Lord’s arrogant foes, indicating that although they would suffer a decisive judgment during the time of the fourth beast, that would not be the time of the end; these enemies would live on in a wounded state—though still able to wreak some havoc—until the consummation of history.
The first, decisive judgment occurs at the appearance of the enigmatic “son of man,” to whom the Ancient of Days delivers an everlasting kingdom (vv. 13–14). Jewish commentators have sometimes identified this figure with the nation of Israel itself, as the “people of the saints of the Most High” are also given an everlasting kingdom in Daniel 7 (v. 27). This cannot be the case except, perhaps, by way of representation. Since the son of man in today’s passage is a singular entity, he could represent Israel but Israel itself cannot be the son of man. We see this not only in that the son of man is one individual but because the son of man is plainly divine. He rides on the clouds of heaven, and only God uses the clouds as a chariot (Ps. 104:3). This son of man is the Lord Himself, yet also distinct from the Ancient of Days, and Daniel foresaw that at the time of the fourth kingdom, this son of man would secure a decisive defeat over the enemies of the people of God.
Tomorrow we will see that this text foresees the coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and divine Son of Man in His ascension and session at the Father’s right hand. In His death, resurrection, and ascension, He has won the decisive battle against evil, and reigns over all things even if His enemies have not yet given up the fight. We are His people, and we benefit from His reign and His protection in ways that we can see and in ways that we will not know about until we are in glory.
Passages for Further Study