Dominion and the Son of Man
The first six chapters of Daniel followed a chronological order. Along with various historical events these chapters also recorded a sequence of important visions that were seen by different kings. Daniel was called upon to interpret these visions which, enabled by the Spirit of God, he was able to do.
The next six chapters (Dan.7-12) are different in nature. Historical incidents disappear and the focus is firmly upon a series of four visions. Each of these visions was shown to Daniel who now has to turn for help himself to understand what they are all about. The visions in this second half of the Book of Daniel were not given after the events recorded in chs. 1-6 but took place at the same times. This is made clear to us by the time markers that are placed on each of the last four visions:
7:1 "In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon,"
8:1 "In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar a vision appeared to me, Daniel,"
9:1 "In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus,"
10:1 "In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia"
Chapter 7 is an important chapter because while it introduces the exclusively visionary material of chs.7-12 it also serves as a bridge linking the two halves of the Book. Let me remind you of an unusual feature of this Book. After beginning in Hebrew, Daniel shifted to write chs.2-7 in Aramaic. By this literary means he bound two very different sections of his book together. The truths that are contained in this chapter are thus highlighted as central to the message of the entire book. Indeed some of these have become so well-known that most, if not all of you, will know them already!
Having made such a claim let me immediately clarify what I mean:
Most of you will be more familiar with the Gospels in the NT than you are with the Book of Daniel in the OT. So let me ask you a question: Do you know what was Jesus’ favourite way of referring to himself in those Gospel narratives? The answer is "the Son of Man". That title appears nearly 80 times in the gospels and is almost always to be found on Jesus’ lips. He derived this title principally from this chapter 7 of the Book of Daniel alluding clearly to it on a number of occasions: see, for example:
Mt.24:30 "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."
Mt.26:64 "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."
This picture of Jesus described in terms of the figure Daniel referred to as like a Son of Man is very important. Daniel’s vision speaks of authority, judgment, glory and deity and as these refer to Jesus then we must realise just what an exalted and powerful person this Jesus really is!
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. We need to look carefully at the whole of the chapter.
A Beastly Vision vv.1-8
During one night Daniel had a dream and night visions – it was a significant event and it troubled him. The details of what he saw were striking and memorable:
Winds stirred up the sea – these winds blew from every direction and created havoc upon the waters of the sea. To the Jewish mind the sea was the place of chaos and disorder and the extent of the disorder that these winds produced was illustrated by what happened next -
A succession of four extraordinary beasts arose one after the other from the waves – they are described in vv.4-8 where the fourth beasts receives by far the greatest emphasis. Later in the chapter when Daniel is given the interpretation of what he saw these four beasts are identified as representing four kings (or kingdoms). Daniel was particularly perturbed by the nature of the fourth beast and is given more detailed information concerning it (see vv.15-28).
Now we have already come across a vision concerning four kingdoms earlier in the Book of Daniel. Back in chapter 2 Nebudchadnezzar had a vision of a statue consisting of different metals – each metal, Daniel told him, represented a different kingdom. Now here in ch.7 we have a chapter that matches that one and presents essentially the same truths in somewhat different form:
Dan.7 a lion with eagles’ wings = Nebuchadnezzar/Babylon
Dan.7 a bear = the Medes and Persians
Dan.7 a four-headed leopard with wings = Greece
Dan.7 a ten-horned beast "terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth" = Rome
The vision was all about of a succession of earthly empires which exercised dominion each for a time over parts of the earth. The extent and influence of the fourth kingdom, Rome, was unlike all that which went before it – the fourth beast of Daniel’s vision not only had great power it also made great boasts. It had
v.8 "a mouth speaking great things"
Cf. v.11 "the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking."
Cf. v.25 "He shall speak words against the Most High,"
In short this beast would be characterised by pride as it expressed itself in arrogant blasphemy and in its unremitting hostility and opposition to the people of God.
A Brighter Vision
As Daniel continued to look the scene in his vision changed. The new scene was that of a judgment hall where thrones were set up. Daniel received a vision of God:
The Ancient of Days took his seat. And this illustrious One is described in glowing terms that draw attention to:
His purity – white clothing
His wisdom – white hair
His power to conquer and secure victory – chariot imagery of wheels of fire
His justice – illustrated both by "the books being opened" ie. his justice is evidence-based and by the stream of fire that issues from his throne
His worthiness – illustrated by the innumerable servants in attendance
The beasts may well be active for a time on the earth but they are each called to account. Even the most proud and arrogant is answerable to God the Most High for he is the One who is in total control. The nations and empires of this world are only able to function as long as he allows them, as long as he does not remove their dominion from them. They are also only able to function for the time he permits them to.
A New Dominion
We noted earlier thrones that had been set up and that the Ancient of Days occupied one of them but who else can sit on those thrones? The next phase of Daniel’s night-time vision is about to tell us!
The next part of the vision that Daniel saw was one that was full of glory and allusion to deity!
Back in ch.2 the succession of kingdoms was interrupted and overturned by a stone that was cut by no human hand but which grew and grew to replace every earthly kingdom with God’s everlasting kingdom. Now here in ch.7 there is a similar pattern only the picture is not of a stone but of "one like a son of man" who comes to be presented to the Ancient of Days. The coming with the clouds is suggestive of deity – the one coming is someone very special indeed.
As this one like "son of man" comes he is given:
And the extent of it all is breathtaking :
He will exercise a dominion that will know no end; it won’t diminish in any way and will never be destroyed.
And it will be a universal dominion for all "peoples, nations and languages" will serve him
Jesus understood himself to be the One spoken of here and his understanding directed his entire mission.
Daniel’s Initial Response
Some people crave spiritual experiences assuming that they must always be warm pleasing affairs. This was not the case for Daniel. This experience he had was real and it greatly affected him – he was anxious and alarmed v.15 and he had good reason.
Not only had he just been given an insight into the violence and destructiveness of human centres of power he had also had a vision of the High and Holy God who holds all to account even the mightiest of human empires. The consequence for Daniel was that he became anxious and wanted to told more and so he asked for an explanation of it all.
The answer he received told him what we have already been considering that is that the beasts were four great kings/kingdoms. Then, perhaps rather surprisingly, he is told that the eternal kingdom of God is received by the saints and not, as we might expect, by the one like a son of man.
How are we to understand this apparent identification of the one like a "son of man" with the "saints"? What are we to make of it?
Jesus is the chief and foremost actor – his people "the saints" benefit completely from their being united to him their covenant head.
This is a theme that is taken up and developed in the NT and we need to digress for a moment to say a little bit more about it. Jesus receives his kingdom and graciously shares it with his people who thus also receive it. Once again the Bible’s emphasis is clear – the Christian is a very important and privileged person by virtue not of his or her own inherent qualities but by virtue of the union that has been established between the believer and the Saviour. Our salvation is not a small thing. The salvation God has wrought for us by Christ involves such a restoration of the fallen sinner that now as a believer he/she is made a new creature, one who can now expect to fulfil God’s original purposes for humanity.
Back at beginning when God created man in his own image he declared what his purpose for man was:
Gen.1:28 "And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth."
You must notice this dominion theme for it is very important.
Later in the Book of Psalms we find David reflecting upon the way in which God created man and this reflection is found in Psalm 8:
vv.4-6 "what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet..."
This time as the theme of dominion is repeated the expression "son of man" is added.
And in Daniel 7 what we find is a coming together of these ideas as the original purpose of God for man in exercising dominion over everything God has made is accomplished by the son of man who is given the necessary authority and power. Turning to the NT we discover that this authority Jesus declared as having been given to him upon his being raised from the dead. Such authority he will subsequently share with all those who believe in him – the saints.
How much, if any, of this Daniel understood at the time is impossible for us to say but we do know he wanted to know more about those human, worldly powers and in particular about that fourth beast. After all, this beast seemed to be the most powerful of them all and how it spoke and boasted!
Before Daniel received any more answers, as he continued to look, he saw that elements of this great beast of an empire had turned their attentions to the people of God, the saints and distressingly it even seemed to have gained the victory over them. Oftentimes in history the saints have been persecuted and sometimes it has looked as though the church was going to be totally overcome and eradicated. The struggles of this life are very real.
But at that point the Most High intervened and the imagery of the courtroom is once again brought to the fore. As Daniel continues to look he sees the Most High who is now portrayed as sitting as Judge and as he does so he finds in favour of the saints!
As a result of God’s judgment the powers of that beast are reigned in and curtailed. This beast had thought to overturn God’s plans but as the court sits in judgment – the duration of this beastly kingdom is declared to be limited– the powers of this world have their sell-by date and when the their time is up that is it. Their influence may continue "for a time, times and half a time" but no more than that:
v.26 "and his dominion shall be taken away, to be consumed and destroyed to the end."
But there is another kingdom, one that will never end. The only kingdom with a lasting, eternal duration is the kingdom of God and it is given to the saints of the Most High through the mediation of the son of man.
The chapter ends and Daniel is still dismayed. What he had seen in his vision had alarmed him (v.15) and now, having heard the explanations he had, his thoughts continued to alarm him. He understood in part but couldn’t take it all and it showed in the colour draining from his face (v.28).
So what is the message of Daniel chapter 7 for us? Should we too be alarmed?
Since Daniel’s day such great events have unfolded that allow us to contemplate the world in which we live without sharing Daniel’s anxiety. Yes, the nations may still rage against the believer and persecution may be very real in different parts of the world but Jesus Christ has come and triumphed over his enemies – he did so by means of his death and resurrection and now he is seated enthroned in heaven exercising his dominion over them all, even over those who appear to be the most powerful and the most vicious.
This chapter by closely identifying the one like the son of man with the saints reminds us that the Christian’s victory is inextricably tied to the victory of the Lord Jesus.
Thus if you are a Christian this chapter should not cause you alarm: God judges and rules righteously now and he will do the same at end time judgment too.
If you are not a Christian what hope do you have if even the most ruthless and powerful of regimes are under the firm control of God? How will you escape if you neglect the great salvation of Jesus?
Rev.1:5-6 "To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."