The Divine Son of Man

This post is part of the Series "The Divine Son of Man"

Click Here to View All Posts in this Series

Note: This is an excerpt from a book on Daniel 7 coming in January 2019 called The Son of Man: Recovering the Apostolic Gospel.

Daniel’s description of the Son of Man served as the basis of Jesus’ claim of an exalted identity. Daniel 7 does more than give the Son of Man an exalted human identity. It also presents the Son of Man as a man with a divine identity. As a result, Jesus was accused of blasphemy and making Himself equal to God when He made the claim to be the Son of Man indicating His audience understood that a claim to be the Son of man was a claim to equality with God.[1]

YHWH frequently appeared in a human form in the Old Testament in figures such as the Angel of the Lord, but no one expected Him to come as an actual human being. Therefore, Jesus’ claim was radical and shocking even though it was Scriptural.

When Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of Man it enraged His enemies—to the point they were willing to crucify Him over it. Jesus’ identification with the Son of Man was not a statement of humanity. It was a claim to be the Person who Daniel described as resembling a human and yet also divine.

When Daniel introduced the Son of Man, he made several bold statements that convey the divinity of the Son of Man:

13 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. 14 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. (Daniel 7:13-14 ESV)

Each phrase Daniel used in these two verses conveyed the mystery and majesty of the Son of Man’s identity.

He Comes with the Clouds

The ancient Israelites believed gods rode clouds because the Old Testament contains four other references to a figure riding the clouds (the heavens) and each time it is YHWH riding the clouds:

26 “There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty. (Deuteronomy 33:26 ESV)

32 O kingdoms of the earth, sing to God; sing praises to the Lord, Selah 33 to him who rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens; behold, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice. (Psalm 68:32–33 ESV)

1 Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty, 2 covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. 3 He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind; 4 he makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire. (Psalm 104:1–4 ESV)

1 An oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them. (Isaiah 19:1 ESV)

According to Deuteronomy 33 there is “none like God” who rides the heavens. As a result the claim to ride the clouds was a claim to a divine identity. The angels in Acts 1 affirm the promise of God riding the clouds was not an ancient myth or an allegorical statement—it is what the divine deliverer will do:

9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9–11 ESV)

Jesus repeatedly promised to return on the clouds as a statement of His divine identity and the apostles repeated this promise to establish Jesus’ divine identity.[2]

Scholar Peter Gentry concludes:

The coming on clouds suggests an appearance or theophany of Yahweh himself. If Daniel 7: 13 does not refer to an appearance of deity, it is the only exception in about seventy instances in the OT’ (2003: 73).[3]

One Like a Son of Man

As John Goldingay points out, the Person Daniel sees is one who is “like a human being.”[4]When Daniel described this Person as one “Like” a Son of Man rather than simply referring to him as a human being, Daniel was communicating that this human is more than a human. Typically when the prophets saw someone in a vision that was like a human figure but not a human it was a heavenly being.

Daniel’s description of one “like” a Son of Man is similar to the way he described each of the beasts in verses 4-6 as “like” a beast. The message is the same—just as the beasts are more than a normal beast, the Son of Man is more than a normal man.

He Came to the Ancient of Days

The way the Son of Man approached the Ancient of Days also revealed His identity. He came with the clouds to the Ancient of Days. No human being could directly approach the Ancient of Days. However, the Son of Man came on His own will to the Ancient of Days. He did not ask for some sort of limited epiphany in order to see thee glory of the Lord as Moses did.[5]He rode the clouds and approached the throne directly.

To further emphasize the majesty of the Son of Man’s approach, when the Ancient of Days took His seat to judge in Daniel 7:9 His throne was likely set on the earth.[6]This is reasonable based on Daniel’s description of the scene and because other prophets predict YHWH judging the nations on the earth. If this throne is set on the earth, it means the Son of Man descends in the heavens to approach the Ancient of Days. If this is the case it is another statement of divinity. Not only is one like the man approaching the Thorne on His own will, He is likely descending from the heavens to approach the throne.

The One who Judges

The scene in Daniel 7 is a judgment scene. Just as the Ancient of Days sat in judgment, the Son of Man appeared and approached the Ancient of Days as the throne was set for judgment. The connection is clear—the Son of Man will execute judgment for the Ancient of Days.

The Father has given all judgment over to Jesus because He is the Son of Man:

22 For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son… 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. (John 5:22, 27 ESV)

Jesus interpretation of Daniel 7 is clear. The Father (the Ancient of Days) has given all judgment to the Son of Man. Therefore, if Jesus is the Son of Man, then He is the judge. This was a huge statement, but it was more than a statement of exalted privilege. In the Jewish conception of divinity only God had the right to judge. Therefore a claim to be the judge was a claim to divinity.

John 5 demonstrates this because the conflict over Jesus’ right to judge was a conflict over His claim to be God:

18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5:18 ESV)

When Daniel saw the Son of Man approached the Ancient of Days to receive the right to judge, it was a statement He was being included in the divine. The other prophets predicted YHWH would judge the nations:[7]

2 I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land, (Joel 3:2 ESV)

8 “Therefore wait for me,” declares the LORD, “for the day when I rise up to seize the prey. For my decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out upon them my indignation, all my burning anger; for in the fire of my jealousy all the earth shall be consumed. (Zephaniah 3:8 ESV)

Daniel predicated the Son of Man would judge the nations. Now that we know the Son of Man is a real man, the implications are clear—YHWH will judge the nations as a man.

To Him Was Given a Kingdom

Daniel’s introduction of the Son of Man spanned two verses. We have seen the first verse contains multiple statements of deity. The second verse also contains a revelation of the divine nature of the Son of Man:

14 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. (Daniel 7:14 ESV)

To grasp what Daniel wrote, we have to remember the entire scene in Daniel 7 is apocalyptic. This is the judgment of all the beast empires of the age and the initiation of the Kingdom of God on the earth. Daniel’s pronouncement that the Son of Man would be given dominion, glory, and the everlasting kingdom was a statement of divine identity because the prophets had predicted YHWH would rule the nations after His judgments.

The prophets predicted YHWH would rule over the earth as King after He judged the nations, and He would replace the kingdom of men with His own kingdom:[8]

2 For the LORD, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth. (Psalm 47:2 ESV)

7 For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm! (Psalm 47:7 ESV)

33 “As I live, declares the Lord GOD, surely with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out I will be king over you. (Ezekiel 20:33 ESV)

9 And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one. (Zechariah 14:9 ESV)

Most prophecies of messiah were Israel centric. Even prophecies that pointed to Jesus’ rule over the nations began with Israel and expanded in scope:

6 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”…8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. (Psalm 2:6, 8 ESV )

6 he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6 ESV)

Daniel 7 is very different from most messianic prophecies. The Son of Man is not presented as Israel’s Messiah, but rather as the ruler over every nation. Daniel’s presentation of the Son of Man was very intentional in this respect because he wanted to set the Son of Man apart from typical messianic expectation.

Instead of introducing the Son of Man as the deliverer of Israel, Daniel introduced Him as the ruler over all nations and all peoples—a description the prophets typically applied to YHWH. The Son of Man would also be the messiah, but He was much, more more than Messiah and Daniel wanted to emphasize that point.

His Dominion Will Not Pass Away

This global kingdom the Son of Man will be given is a dominion that is everlasting, will not pass away, and will not be destroyed:

14 His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:14 ESV)

If His dominion is everlasting, He is everlasting. If His kingdom will not pass away, He will not pass away. If His kingdom cannot be destroyed, then He cannot be destroyed. The implications are obvious. This are characteristics only God has. If the Son of Man shares these characteristics He must be divine.

This is also reference back to Daniel 2. Daniel 2 predicted God would set up a kingdom which would never be destroyed. When that kingdom is established, the kingdom will never again be given to men:

44 And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, (Daniel 2:44 ESV)

The kingdom of the Son of Man is clearly the same kingdom. In Daniel 2 The God of heaven sets up the kingdom. In Daniel 7 the Son of Man is given the kingdom. In Daniel 2 the kingdom is never again given to men. In Daniel 7 the kingdom is given to the Son of Man. The connection is clear—the Son of Man is being considered divine and not in thee same category as a mere man.

Daniel repeatedly took predictions that applied to YHWH and applied them to the Son of Man and the promise of the kingdom is one more example. Daniel’s prediction the Son of Man would receive the everlasting kingdom after executing judgment on the nations was yet another bold claim: The Son of Man is YHWH.

The Most High and the Highest One

“The Most High” is an English translation of a term Daniel frequently used to refer to God throughout His book.[9]However, when Daniel described the saints of the kingdom in Daniel 7, he introduced a second term that is different but means the same thing. Because both terms have the same meaning, some English Bibles use the same English word for both terms, but it is important to recognize Daniel used different words.

The NASB translation reveals Daniel’s word choice by translating the term Daniel usually uses as “Most High” and the second term in Daniel 7 as “Highest One.”

Daniel used this new term in four verses in chapter 7:

18 ‘But the saints of the Highest One will receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, for all ages to come.’ (Daniel 7:18 NASB95)

22 until the Ancient of Days came and judgment was passed in favor of the saints of the Highest One, and the time arrived when the saints took possession of the kingdom. (Daniel 7:22 NASB95)

25 ‘He will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time. (Daniel 7:25 NASB95)

27 ‘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 dominions will serve and obey Him.’ (Daniel 7:27 NASB95)

Daniel also used the term He normally used for the Most High in Daniel 7 in verse 25:

25 ‘He will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time. (Daniel 7:25 NASB95)

Because both terms mean the same thing, it raises important questions: Why did Daniel introduce a new term for the Most High? He already had a term he used consistently. Furthermore, why did Daniel use two different terms that mean the same thing in the same chapter?

In Daniel 7:25, Daniel used both terms in the same verse:

25 ‘He will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time. (Daniel 7:25 NASB95)

The “little horn” of Daniel 7 will speak out against the Most High but also wear down the saints of the Most High (“Highest One” in the NASB). By using two different terms that both mean “Most High” Daniel communicated an incredible message: Both the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man can be referred to as the Most High.

Jim Hamilton explains the unusual use of words:

Daniel uses the two terms side by side in 7: 25 ‘He shall speak words against the Most High אילע, ‘illāyā’, / and shall wear out the saints of the Most High ןינוילע, ‘elyônîn’, prompting Gentry (2003: 73) to ask: Why does the author use a Hebrew expression (with Aramaic ending) for the Most High in the Aramaic section and side by side with the expression standard in Aramaic? It seems a deliberate attempt to draw some distinction between a divine figure associated with the saints and yet perhaps distinguished from Yahweh in some way. Because of the similarity of the statements in Daniel 7: 14 and 7: 27, we can be certain that the Most High referred to with ןינוילע(‘ elyônîn) and associated with the saints in the phrase ‘saints of the Most High’ is the ‘one like a son of man’.[10]

The Most High was another term for YHWH (The “Ancient of Days” in Daniel 7). Daniel took the radical step of also including the Son of Man in the Most High and therefore presenting the Son of Man as both distinct from the Ancient of Days and yet YHWH at the same time.

Daniel also provided another link between the Most High and the Son of Man. Compare Daniel 7:14 to Daniel 7:27:

14 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. (Daniel 7:14 ESV)

27 And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.’ (Daniel 7:27 ESV)

In Daniel 7:14 the dominion and the kingdom are given to the Son of Man, and all people, nations, and languages serve him. In Daniel 7:27 the dominion and the kingdom are given to the saints of the Most High and all dominions serve and obey him. In one verse all dominions serve the Son of Man and in the other they serve the Most High. Both will be served by every lesser power.

Again, Hamilton explains what is going on here:

Finally the reuse of a phrase from Daniel 7: 13 in 7: 27 identifies the ‘one like a son of man’ with the ‘Most High’. Daniel 7: 14 states that peoples, nations and languages will ‘serve’ the son of man, and the same Hebrew phrase is used in 7: 27 (ןוחלפיהל, lēh yiplĕḥûn) to state that all dominions will serve the Most High. This is language used elsewhere in Daniel to refer to the kind of service one renders to what one worships (cf. the use of the verb in 3: 12, 14, 17– 18, 28; 6: 17, 21 MT), and it is more probable that such service would be rendered to the Most High than to the people. Here again, Daniel used the Hebrew adjective with the Aramaic plural ending (ןינוילע, ‘elyônîn) to refer to the ‘one like a son of man’ as Most High, distinguishing him from the Ancient of Days, for whom he used the normal Aramaic expression (אילע, ‘illāyā’) when designating him as Most High.[11]

When everything is considered together, Daniel’s description of the Son of Man is stunning. Once more, Hamilton gives an excellent summary of Daniel’s message about the Son of Man:

By using these distinct forms for ‘Most High’ consistently Daniel identified both the Ancient of Days and the one like a son of man as the Most High, even as he distinguished them from one another. In this passage, Daniel communicates that the one like a son of man will be enthroned alongside the Ancient of Days, that he comes with the clouds as Yahweh does elsewhere (e.g. Pss 18: 10; 97: 2; 104: 3, etc.), that he receives service and worship – described with terms only elsewhere used for describing obeisance done for deity (Gentry 2003: 72– 73), and that he will receive the everlasting kingdom which shall not pass away, which is exactly how God’s kingdom is described. The Ancient of Days is described as Most High with one term, while the one like a son of man is described as Most High with another. And the term used to describe the one like a son of man as Most High is always used in the phrase ‘saints of the Most High’, apparently because the Psalm 8: 5 son of man who receives dominion over the beasts, the Psalm 110: 1 Lord of David who sits at Yahweh’s right hand, will be king over the saints, 9 their representative who is somehow both identified with and distinguished from the Ancient of Days, even as he is both a descendant of David and a divine figure.[12]

The Glorious Son of Man

Jesus choose Daniel 7 far more than any other passage as the Scriptural basis of His exalted identity because it is one of the best, most concise passages in the Old Testament that reveals Jesus’ unique and exalted identity. In a relatively small number of words, Daniel 7 conveyed the mystery and majesty of Jesus’ person in a way no other passage does.

During His first coming, Jesus’ glory was primarily veiled, and His human appearance did not convey the fullness of who He is. However, the New Testament gives periodic glimpses of Jesus’ exalted identity. Each time Jesus reveals Himself something shocking happens—The Son of Man reveals Himself in a way associated with the Ancient of Days.

The New Testament authors reiterated Daniel’s a stunning message: The Son of Man is far more than an exalted man allowed to approach the Ancient of Days in the heavens. He shares the divine identity of the Ancient of Days.There is far more to the Son of Man than even Daniel grasped.

The Resistance

The reaction to Jesus’ claim to be the Son of Man revealed how Daniel 7 was understood by His audience. His critics saw it as a claim to deity.[13]The religious leaders who tried Jesus interpreted His claim as an act of blasphemy that merited execution:

64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But 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.” 65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” (Matthew 26:64–66 ESV)

The reaction of the religious leaders to Jesus reveals how Daniel’s prophecy was viewed at the time. They were not confused about the prophecy. They grasped what Daniel said about the Son of Man. They realized Jesus’ claim to be the Son of Man was a claim to deity.

[1]    Matthew 26:64-66; John 5:18-29.

[2]    Matthew 24:30; 26:64; Mark 14:62; Luke 21:27; Acts 1:9-11; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; Revelation 1:7.

[3]    Gentry, Peter J. (2003), The Son of Man in Daniel 7: Individual or Corporate?, in Michael A. G. Haykin (ed.), Acorns to Oaks: The Primacy and Practice of Biblical Theology, Toronto: Joshua, 59– 75.

[4]    John E. Goldingay, Daniel, vol. 30, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 167–168.

[5]    Exodus 33:18.

[6]    Ibid., 164-165.

[7]    See also Isaiah 34:1–3, 63:1–9; Jeremiah 25:15-38; Joel 3:9–14; Zephaniah 1:14–15; 3:8, Zechariah 14:1–5.

[8]    See also Isaiah 2:2-4; Daniel 2:44; Micah 4:1-3; Zechariah 8:20-23;Revelation 11:15.

[9]    Daniel 3:26, 32; 4:14, 21, 22, 29, 31; 5:18, 21; 7:25.

[10]   Hamilton, James M., Jr.. With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology(New Studies in Biblical Theology) (pp. 151-152). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

[11]   Ibid., 162.

[12]   Ibid., 152-153.

[13]   John 5:18-29.

Subscribe to Receive Free Resources by Email

Related Posts

The Futurity of Daniel 7

Daniel 7 is one of the key visions contained in the book of Daniel. Because the vision begins with symbolic imagery, some wonder if the chapter can be clearly interpreted and whether it refers to the past or the future. Can we look at Daniel 7 and determine conclusively whether the vision refers to the past or to the future?