The phrase “son of man” refers to those who are human. Just as the phrase “Son of God” refers to the Word who is of the same nature with the Father. But in Daniel 7, the phrase “son of man” becomes the “Son of Man.”
The Setting of the Vision
Breaking the chronology of Daniel, the chapter began in “the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon” (7:1). Chapter 7 is the last of the Aramaic chapters and corresponds to chapter 2 in the chiastic structure. This vision is interesting because it is Daniel who had the vision. The vision consists of “four winds of heaven” who “were stirring up the great sea” (Dan 7:2). Since the sea was being stirred, four great beasts came out of the sea: a lion whose wings were cut off, a bear who devoured much, a leopard with four wings and four heads, and finally a terrifying beast.
Given chapter seven’s relationship to chapter 2, the reader should be able to understand that the four beasts refer to the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman empires. In chapters 2 and 7, the God of Heaven established his kingdom during the days of the fourth (Roman) empire. The book of Daniel then offers two visions which display the establishment of God’s empire during the days of the Roman empire.
The Ancient of Days and Son of Man
Daniel’s vision in chapter seven highlighted the two persons involved in giving and receiving of the kingdom. The two persons are “the Ancient of Days” and “the Son of Man.” First, the Ancient of Days is a reference to the God the Father. The title “Ancient of Days” refers to God’s timeless eternality. God is uncreated. Daniel described him as the one who reigned over the heavenly host (7:9a). The Father is purity, wisdom, and holy awesomeness. Furthermore, God is worshipped by the heavenly host (7:10b). The Ancient of Days spoke and the reign of the beasts was taken away.
Since the great beasts are no longer in charge, sovereignty must be given to someone else. Daniel has, after all, repeatedly emphasized that God sets up kingdoms and gives them to whomever he wills. The one who will receive the everlasting kingdom is “one like a son of man” (Dan 7:13-14). The phrase “son of man” had been used predominantly in Ezekiel to refer to Ezekiel as a true human. “Son of man” refers to Daniel in Daniel 8:17. C. S. Leiws even used the phrase to describe people in The Chronicles of Narnia. To be a son of man is to be a son of Adam—a true human. Now, this phrase is used to describe the one who receives the everlasting kingdom.
Daniel’s vision began with “the clouds of heaven” (7:13). “Clouds” are generally the realm of divine activity. God set his rainbow in the clouds (Gen 9:13). God led his people by a pillar of cloud (Ex 13:21). Hid the Israelites from Egypt by the cloud (Ex 14:24). The glory of the Lord appeared “in the cloud” (Ex 16:10). God said, “Behold, I will come to you in a thick cloud, so that the people may hear when I speak with you” (Ex 19:9). God appeared in the thick cloud on the third day (Ex 19:16). The pillar of the cloud stood at the entrance of the tabernacle and the Lord descended in the cloud (Ex 33:10, 34:5, and chapter 40). The Lord appeared “in the cloud over the mercy seat” or atoning cover (Lev 16:13). At the dedication of the temple, “the cloud filled the house of the Lord” as a sign of his presence (1 Kg 8:10). In Isaiah 19:1 the Bible says, “Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and is about to come to Egypt.” Deuteronomy 33:26 describes the exclusive nature of God, “There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides the heavens to your help, and the clouds in his majesty.” God is repeatedly associated with either being in the cloud or riding on the cloud. When God acts on earth, there is, very often, the image of the cloud.
Now, “one like a son of man” was coming “with the clouds of heaven” in Daniel 7:13. How can “a son of man” do this divine thing? This is only possible if the son of man has now become a prophetic title to refer to the Savior who is true God and true man. Only Jesus has both the divine and human natures joined unmixed in one person. Ten centuries after Daniel’s vision, a group of theologians gathered at Chalcedon to offer a summary of Jesus’ two natures. They concluded:
Following, then, the holy Fathers, we all unanimously teach that our Lord Jesus Christ is to us One and the same Son, the Self-same Perfect in Godhead, the Self-same Perfect in Manhood; truly God and truly Man; the Self-same of a rational soul and body; co-essential with the Father according to the Godhead, the Self-same co-essential with us according to the Manhood; like us in all things, sin apart; before the ages begotten of the Father as to the Godhead, but in the last days, the Self-same, for us and for our salvation (born) of Mary the Virgin Theotokas as to the Manhood; One and the Same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten; acknowledged in Two Natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and (both) concurring into One Person and One Hypostasis; not as though He was parted or divided into Two Persons, but One and the Self-same Son and Only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ; even as from the beginning the prophets have taught concerning Him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself hath taught us, and as the Symbol of the Fathers hath handed down to us.
This “Chalcedonian Creed” remains the gold standard for briefly summarizing the two natures of Jesus today.
Jesus used the phrase “Son of Man” to describe himself more than any other phrase. In Matthew 8:20, Jesus said, “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” In Matthew 9:6 Jesus healed the crippled man “that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. Jesus told the disciples to flee persecution “until the Son of Man comes” (Matt 10:23). Jesus said, “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Matt 12:8). It is the “Son of Man” who will send forth his angels in judgment (Matt 13:41). The Son of Man “will sit on his glorious throne” “in the regeneration” (Matt 19:28, 25:31). Finally, in Matthew 26:64, Jesus said, “But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Jesus is the “Son of Man” which means that he is true God, true human, and serves as the eschatological King.
The Father delivered the kingdoms of the world to the Son in Daniel 7:14, “And to Him was given dominion, Honor, and a kingdom, So that all the peoples, nations, and populations of all languages Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.” During the days of the Roman Empire (the fourth kingdom), God said that “Then the sovereignty, the dominion, and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the empires will serve and obey Him.’” (Dan 7:27). As John reflected on the victories of Christ in Revelation, he recorded the praise from the heavenly host as “Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (Rev 11:15).
The kingdom over which the Son of Man reigns is a foundational theme in the New Testament. The very first preaching of John and Jesus was to “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 3:2, 4:17, 4:23). Jesus proved that the kingdom of Heaven had arrived by miracles (Matt 12:28). The poor and persecuted as well as the obedient would be in the kingdom (Matt 5:3, 10, 19). God’s kingdom was to be pursued above all else (Matt 6:33). The obedient will enter the kingdom (Matt 7:21).
The church is the expression of or location of God’s rule. Therefore, the church is the kingdom (Matt 11:11). The kingdom came in the first century (Matt 16:28). To know Jesus is to receive the keys of the kingdom (Matt 16:19). God has “rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col 1:13). Philip preached “the good news about the kingdom” (Acts 8:12). Paul persuaded people “about the kingdom” (Acts 20:25, 28:31). Jesus’ will share the kingdom with the Father at the end (1 Cor 15:24). Christians are to walk worthy of God who “calls you into his own kingdom” (1 Thess 2:12). Those in the kingdom are “counted worthy of suffering” for God (2 Thess 1:5). Christians “receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken” (Heb 12:28). Christians have always been in the kingdom (Rev 1:6, 1:9).
Christians, God promised the kingdom, which we are in, to Daniel as a comfort during his own trials. Be comforted that you are in the kingdom.
Christians, our King is true God and true man. The incarnation was necessary for the salvation of our souls. As true God Jesus is able to save. As true man Jesus is able to represent humanity and die for humanity.
We can see God’s sovereign providence in the promise and creation of his kingdom. We see the divine omniscience as God is able to tell of kingdoms that had not yet existed. Christians, be comforted that we have such a great God to be our God.
Finally, we also see that Christians enjoy the kingdom promised and therefore should prize the kingdom. The kingdom was Daniel’s hope and should be our treasure.