“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And 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.”
In the preceding chapters of the book of Daniel, two kings of pagan empires acknowledge Yahweh as the Most High God, whilst another fails to do so. The first is Nebuchadnezzar, who in chapter 3 is a proud and lofty blasphemer, setting up an image and decreeing that “all peoples, nations, and languages” should bow down and worship it. But in chapter 4, he is brought down to the ground by God, becoming like a beast and not a man, and after he is restored writes to “all peoples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth” to tell them about the Most High God and his kingdom:
“How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation.” (Daniel 4:3)
In the following chapter, there is another proud and lofty king, Belshazzar, who makes a great feast in which he drinks from the vessels that had been taken from the Temple of God in Jerusalem before its destruction. Daniel, as God’s prophet, tells him that because he has not humbled his heart, even though he is well aware of what had happened to Nebuchadnezzar and who Nebuchadnezzar had ascribed that change to, God is going to take down his kingdom. Which he does, when the Medo-Persians invade that very night, with Belshazzar being killed.
In chapter 6, we see another king – Darius the Mede – who is also proud and lofty. When his officials come to him with a scheme to cast into the lion’s den anyone who makes a petition to anyone other than Darius – including to Yahweh – he readily agrees. The scheme is designed to trap Daniel, and is successful when Daniel completely ignores the edict, opening his windows to pray to God as normal. Daniel gets thrown in the lions’ den, which he famously survives unharmed. By the end of the chapter, Darius is suitably chastened, and like Nebuchadnezzar writes to “all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth” to tell them about the Most High God and his kingdom:
“for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end.”
Yet despite the acknowledgement of both Nebuchadnezzar and Darius to “all peoples nations and languages” that the Kingdom of God is superior to their kingdoms, and unlike theirs shall abide forever and ever, there is a problem: the Kingdom of God has not yet come. Daniel 2 (which we considered over the past two days) gave us a glimpse of how that Kingdom would come from the earthly perspective. Now in Daniel 7, we get essentially the same view, but this time from the perspective of the Throne Room of God.
The details of Daniel chapter 7 are notoriously complex, and there are a range of different views and interpretations. Nevertheless, the overall picture is reasonably comprehensible.
This time it is not a king getting a vision, but Daniel himself, in the days of Belshazzar. He sees four beasts arising from the sea (sea being Biblically symbolic of gentile nations). They are the same kingdoms as mentioned in Daniel chapter 2 – Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome – something that we can be sure of because the descriptions of the fourth kingdom are remarkably similar and clearly referring to the same thing.
Yet despite their great power and vast dominion, none of these kingdoms can last. Each of the first three loses its dominion, but is allowed to continue (for instance Babylon continued as the administrative centre of the Persian empire), but when the final beast – Rome – is judged, the ruling kingdom on earth is taken from it and given to “the people of the saints of the Most High” (verse 27).
For the judgement itself, the scene moves from the beasts and the sea to the Throne Room of God. There we see the clouds of heaven (cloud often symbolising God’s glory and his justice (see 1 Kings 8:10-12 and Psalm 97:2); a court in session; books of judgement opened; and a throne of fiery flames and wheels of burning fire (imagery which is very similar to that of the 1st chapter of Ezekiel).
As the court is sitting, one like “a son of man” comes in the clouds of heaven. The phrase “son of man” is used repeatedly in the book of Ezekiel, about Ezekiel himself, who is introduced in the opening verses as a priest. But this “son of man” is clearly not just a priest, but a king too. He is in fact that same Priest/King that we encountered on Day 19:
“The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool. The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty sceptre. Rule in the midst of your enemies! … You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”
Because the passage talks about the opening of books of judgement, it is common for many modern Christians to assume that this is talking about the judgement at the end of time. However, what is in view here is not the judgement of all people at the end of time, but rather the judgement of the four great pre-Christian empires – Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome – which claimed lordship over “all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth”. And in fact this is really the overarching theme of the whole of the book of Daniel: the passing of the kingdoms of earth, and the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth over “all the peoples, nations, and languages.”
Yet surely it can’t be referring to events in the past, since we do not yet see “all peoples, nations, and languages” serving him, can it? Remember that the kingdom of God starts off as a stone, but grows to become a mountain covering the whole earth. It starts off as small as a mustard seed, but ends up as a huge tree covering the garden. John the Baptist was clear that Jesus’ coming was indeed the start of the new age, the new empire, the Kingdom of God:
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Jesus was equally clear. When he appeared before the apostate high priest, Caiaphas, who asked him if he were the “the Christ, the Son of the Blessed”, the new and true High Priest answered him by alluding directly to Daniel 7:
“I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
In other words, “Yes I am the Messiah of God spoken of by Daniel the Prophet, and after you have handed me over to Rome to be killed, God will vindicate me by raising me from the dead, and afterwards I will ascend to the Throne Room of God, where I will be made king of the Kingdom of God, which shall last from that time forth, forevermore.”