This entry is part 20 of 96 in the series: Troublesome texts
- Genesis 1:26 – Why a plural name for God?
- Genesis 3 – traditional and revisionist readings
- Genesis 3:16b – ‘Your desire shall be for your husband’
- Genesis 5 – the ages of the antedeluvians
- Genesis 6:1f – ‘The sons of God’
- Genesis 6-8 – A worldwide flood?
- Genesis 12:3 – ‘I will bless those who bless you’
- Genesis 22 – “Abraham, kill your son”
- Exodus – Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?
- Exodus 12:37 – How many Israelites left Egypt?
- Leviticus 19:18 “Love your neighbour as yourself”
- Joshua 6 – the fall of Jericho
- Joshua 10 – Joshua’s ‘long day’
- Judges 19:11-28 – The priest and the concubine
- 2 Sam 24:1, 1 Chron 21:1 – Who incited David?
- 1 Kings 20:30 – ‘The wall collapsed on 27,000 of them’
- Psalm 105:15 – ‘Touch not my anointed’
- Psalm 137:8f – ‘Happy is he who dashes your infants against the rocks’
- Isaiah 7:14/Matthew 1:23 – “The virgin will conceive”
- Daniel 7:13 – ‘Coming with the clouds of heaven’
- Jonah – history or fiction?
- Mt 1:1-17 and Lk 3:23-38 – the genealogies of Jesus
- Matthew 2:1 – ‘Magi from the east’
- Matthew 2:2 – The star of Bethlehem
- Matthew 2:8f – Can God speak through astrology?
- Matthew 2:23 – ‘Jesus would be called a Nazarene’
- Matthew 5:21f – Did Jesus reject the Old Testament?
- Matthew 7:16,20 – ‘You will recognise them by their fruit’
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:3 – Who asked Jesus to help?
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:7 – son? servant? male lover?
- Matthew 8:28 – Gadara or Gerasa?
- Matthew 10:23 – ‘Before the Son of Man comes’
- Matthew 11:12 – Forceful entry, or violent opposition, to the kingdom?
- Matthew 12:40 – Three days and three nights
- The Parable of the Sower – return from exile?
- Mt 15:21-28/Mk 7:24-30 – Jesus and the Canaanite woman
- Matthew 18:10 – What about ‘guardian angels’?
- Matthew 18:20 – ‘Where two or three are gathered…’
- Matthew 16:18 – Peter the rock?
- Matthew 21:7 – One animal or two?
- Matthew 24:34 – This generation will not pass away?
- Matthew 25:40 – ‘These brothers of mine’
- Matthew 27:46/Mark 15:34 – Jesus’ cry of dereliction
- Matthew 27:52f – Many bodies raised?
- Mark 1:41 – ‘Compassion’, or ‘anger/indignation’?
- Mark 2:25f – ‘When Abiathar was high priest’
- Mark 4:31 – ‘The smallest of all the seeds’?
- Mark 6:45 – ‘To Bethsaida’
- Mark 12:41-44/Luke 21:1-4 – ‘The widow’s mite’
- Luke 2:1f – Quirinius and ‘the first registration’
- Luke 2:7 – ‘No room at the inn’
- Luke 2:8 – Shepherds: a despised class?
- Luke 4:16-19 – An incomplete quotation?
- Luke 7:2 – ‘Highly valued servant’ or ‘gay lover’?
- John 1:1 – ‘The Word was God’
- John 2:6 – symbol or history?
- John 2:12 – Did Mary bear other children?
- When did Jesus cleanse the Temple?
- John 3:16f – What is meant by ‘the world’?
- John 4:44 – ‘His own country’
- John 7:40-44 – Did John know about Jesus’ birthplace?
- John 7:53-8:11 – The woman caught in adultery
- John 14:6 – “No one comes to the Father except through me”
- John 14:12 – ‘Greater deeds’
- John 20:21 – “Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”
- John 21:11 – One hundred and fifty three fish
- Acts 5:1-11 – Ananias and Sapphira
- Acts 5:34-37 – a (minor) historical inaccuracy?
- Romans 1:5 – ‘The obedience of faith’
- Romans 1:18 – Wrath: personal or impersonal?
- Rom 3:22; Gal 2:16 – faith in, or faithfulness of Christ?
- Romans 5:18 – ‘Life for all?’
- Rom 7:24 – Who is the ‘wretched man’?
- Romans 11:26a – ‘And so all Israel will be saved’
- 1 Corinthians 14:34 – ‘Women should be silent in the churches’
- 1 Corinthians 15:29 – ‘Baptized for the dead’
- 1 Corinthians 15:44 – ‘Raised a spiritual body’
- 2 Corinthians 5:21 – ‘God made Christ to be sin for us’
- Galatians 3:17 – How much later?
- Galatians 3:28 – ‘Neither male nor female’
- Galatians 6:2 – ‘The law of Christ’
- Galatians 6:16 – The Israel of God
- Ephesians 1:10 – ‘The fullness of the times’
- Ephesians 5:23- ‘The head of a wife is her husband’
- Colossians 1:19f – Universal reconciliation?
- 1 Thessalonians 2:14f – ‘The Jews, who killed Jesus’
- 1 Timothy 2:4 – ‘God wants all people to be saved’
- 1 Timothy 2:15 – ‘Saved through child-bearing’
- 1 Timothy 4:10 – ‘The Saviour of all people’
- Hebrews 6:4-6 – Who are these people?
- Hebrews 12:1 – Who are these witnesses?
- 1 Peter 3:18-20 – Christ and the spirits in prison
- 2 Peter 3:9 – ‘The Lord wishes all to come to repentance’
- Jude 7 – ‘Unnatural desire’
- Revelation 7:4 – The 144,000
- Revelation 14:11 – ‘No rest day or night’
Daniel 7:13f – “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
There can be little doubt that, when seen through the ‘lens’ of the teaching of the New Testament, this is applicable to Jesus Christ. He is the ‘Son of Man’ who ‘comes with the clouds of heaven’, is led into the presence of his heavenly Father, and is given an indestructible and universal kingdom.
But what about this ‘coming’? Is it a coming down from heaven (at his parousia) or a coming up to heaven (at his ascension)?
And what are we to make of the New Testament passages which quote or allude to this passage? –
Mt 16:27f “For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.I tell you the truth, there are some standing here who will not experience death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Mt 24:30 “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man arriving on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”
Mt 26:64 “I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mk 14:62)
Mk 13:36 “Then everyone will see the Son of Man arriving in the clouds with great power and glory.” (Lk 21:27)
Acts 7:56 “Look!” he said. “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
Rev 1:7 Look! He is returning with the clouds
Rev 14:14 Then I looked, and a white cloud appeared, and seated on the cloud was one like a son of man! He had a golden crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand.
1. The Parousia?
Commenting on Dan 7:13, Nelson (UBCS) sees a clear application of this passage by and to Jesus. However, he thinks that it is applicable to his return:
‘Daniel 7 is of the utmost importance for understanding both the identity of Jesus and the plan of God for the end times. When the book was written, “son of man” was not a title, but rather the vision referred to a transcendent one who looked like a man. Originally it was probably understood to be an angel or archangel—Michael is the best candidate, since he figures prominently in the deliverance of the Jews (12:1). However, in the NT, Jesus uses “Son of Man” as a title for himself (for example, Matt. 8:20; 9:6; 11:19). Although he sometimes uses it to mean “man,” he identifies himself with the figure in Daniel’s vision at other times, predicting that he will return in power and glory riding on clouds (Matt. 19:28; 24:27, 30; 26:64). John also utilizes the imagery for Jesus in his apocalypse (Rev. 1:7, 13; 14:14). Daniel’s vision in chapter 7 gives us hope for the future. Jesus will return to raise from the dead those believers who have died (1 Cor. 15:22–26; 1 Thess. 4:14–17), to gather together his living followers, and to set up God’s kingdom in its fullness. The oppressive regimes of this world will disintegrate as they are replaced by the eternal, righteous, reign of God. This leads us to cry “Maranatha” (1 Cor. 16:22) and to pray “Your kingdom come … on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). For those who are suffering persecution for the name of Jesus, Daniel 7 holds out the certain hope of the eventual triumph of God’s kingdom and with it the vindication of God’s people for their faithfulness. It calls them to endure and persevere through their present trials with an eye fixed on the horizon awaiting their great future.’
So also Miller (NAC): ‘The phrase “coming in clouds” is understood in Matt 24:30 as a reference to the return of Christ.’
Wallace (BST) is another who thinks that, for Jesus, this passage was about ‘his second coming and ultimate triumph.’
Referring more widely to the ‘son of man’ figure in later Jewish writings, Harper’s Bible Commentary states: ‘This preexistent heavenly figure of Jewish tradition may be the one of whom Jesus speaks in such passages as Matt. 10:23; 16:27–28; Mark 8:38; and 13:26, in which he seems to be referring to some heavenly figure who will come on clouds as the judge of the Last Day.’
See this by Michael Vlach.
2. The ascension?
Calvin was decidedly in favour of this interpretation. Bolt (The Cross from a Distance: the Atonement in Mark’s Gospel) provides quotations:
‘The great Reformation exegete, John Calvin, in his commentary on Daniel, also joined this stream of interpretation, claiming that these verses are ‘undoubtedly of Christ … He had been endued with heavenly power, and was seated at his Father’s right hand.’ Throughout his exposition, Calvin uses strong language that expresses his conviction: ‘This passage, then, without the slightest doubt, ought to be received of Christ’s ascension, after he had ceased being a mortal man’; 40, 44; ‘This, in my judgement, ought to be explained of Christ’s ascension; for he then commenced his reign, as we see in numberless passages of Scripture’ (cf. Rom. 6:10, John 16:7; 14:28); (p. 42); ‘He now arrives at the Ancient of days, that is, when he ascends to heaven, because his divine majesty was then revealed’ (p. 43); ‘He ascended to heaven, and a dominion was bestowed upon him’ (p. 44).’
‘This relates to his ascension, Acts 1:9–11, at which time, though King before, Matt. 2:2, yet now, and not before, he seems to receive his royal investiture for the protection of his church and the curbing of their enemies, which he says he had before, Matt. 28:18; 1 Cor. 15:25; chap. 2:44.’ (Poole)
Charnock writes that this is ‘not to be understood of his coming at the day of judgment, but his coming after his oblation. He comes not here to judge man, but to be judged by his Father; and upon being found to have performed the part of the Son of man, he hath a kingdom both extensive and everlasting bestowed upon him, which should not be destroyed by the subtleties or force of his enemies; a present only worthy of the Son of God. Again, he received not his power at the day of judgment, but upon his resurrection and ascension after his death; but this expresseth the first investiture of this power in him.’ (Works, Vol 5, p55)
‘This vision of Daniel’s was accomplished in Christ’s ascension, when they, that is the angels, brought him to the Ancient of days, that is to God the Father, who, to express his welcome to Christ, gave him glory and a kingdom. And so it is, and ought to be expounded. The Father received him with open arms, rejoicing exceedingly to see him again in heaven; therefore God is said to “receive him up into glory,” 1 Tim. 3:16. For that which, with respect to Christ, is called ascension, is, with respect to the Father, called assumption. He went up, and the Father received him. Yes, received so as none ever was received before him, or shall be received after him.’ (Flavel, The Fountain of Life)
Matthew Henry notes that ‘Some refer this to his incarnation…I think it is rather to be referred to his ascension; when he returned to the Father the eye of his disciples followed him, till a cloud received him out of their sight, Acts 1:9. He made that cloud his chariot, wherein he rode triumphantly to the upper world. He comes swiftly, irresistibly, and comes in state, for he comes with the clouds of heaven.’
Ovey writes that Dan 7:13 ‘arguably’ depicts ‘the transition from Jesus’ state of humiliation to his exaltation.’ (New Dictionary of Theology, art. ‘Ascension (and Heavenly Session of Christ)’.
Referring to Mk 14:62, Ian Paul writes, ‘This cannot refer to Jesus’ return to earth (‘second coming’) unless Jesus was deluded about how soon that would happen. But more importantly, it cannot mean this because it is an almost exact quotation from Daniel 7, and refers to Jesus’ (the Son of Man’s) ascending to the throne of God and fulfilling the destiny of Israel. That is why the High Priest considered it blasphemy: in effect, Jesus was crucified because he anticipated his Ascension!’
Commenting on Mt 26:64 – ‘This,’ writes Ian Paul, ‘cannot refer to Jesus’ return to earth (‘second coming’) unless Jesus was deluded about how soon that would happen. But more importantly, it cannot mean this because it is an almost exact quotation from Daniel 7, and refers to Jesus’ (the Son of Man’s) ascending to the throne of God and fulfilling the destiny of Israel. That is why the High Priest considered it blasphemy: in effect, Jesus was crucified because he anticipated his Ascension!’
Ian Paul again: ‘This is associated not with anyone’s coming from heaven to earth, but rather the opposite—the exaltation of the Son of Man as he comes from the earth to the one seated on the heavenly throne. This is language both distinct from, and opposite to, Paul’s use of ‘coming on the clouds’ in 1 Thess 4.17. This would have been very obvious to Paul’s readers, since he uses quite different language for ‘coming’, the word parousia meaning ‘royal presence’.’
Tim Chester writes: ‘Luke describes the ascension from below. This is the ground level view and we see one ordinary-looking person rise into the clouds. Daniel describes the ascension from above. He shows us what happens on the other side as Jesus moves through the clouds – not into earth’s upper atmosphere, but into heaven.’ (The Ascension)
3. Christ’s entire journey from resurrection, through ascension, to exaltation and return
It may be that the text in Daniel may be applied with sufficient fluidity as to understood in relation to any or all of these events. The ‘coming’ itself would refer primarily to the ascension, but this itself may be seen as completing what the resurrection began. The passage in Daniel can readily be understood to refer also to our Lord’s heavenly session (as he exercises his ‘glory, authority and sovereign power’). Nor should we, under this view, be surprised if the parousia is described in terms of his ‘coming with clouds’, given that, according to Acts 1:11 “This same Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come back in the same way you saw him go into heaven” (emphasis added).
Among older commentaries, JFB state: ‘This investiture was at His ascension “with the clouds of heaven” (Acts 1:9; 2:33, 34; Ps. 2:6–9; Matt. 28:18, “Jesus (after His resurrection, and just before His ascension) spake, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth”); which is a pledge of His return “in like manner” “in the clouds” (Acts 1:11; Matt. 26:64), and “with clouds” (Rev. 1:9). The kingdom then was given to Him in title and invisible exercise; at His second coming it shall be in visible administration.’
Bolt’s view is that this passage in Daniel, so far as the references and allusions in Mark’s Gospel are concerned, is fulfilled ‘in the event of Christ’s resurrection, ascension and exaltation.’
Commenting on Mt 26:64, Hendriksen understands Jesus’ words here as spanning an extensive period. ‘Jesus is looking down history’s lane. He sees the miracles of Calvary, the resurrection, the ascension, the coronation at the Father’s right hand (“the right hand of the Power,” that is, “of the Almighty”), Pentecost, the glorious return on the clouds of heaven, the judgment day, all rolled into one, manifesting his power and glory.’
Goldingay’s interpretation probably belongs here: ‘The actual title “the Son of Man” is a literalistic rendering of the phrase in v 13, though such links between OT and NT are more formal than substantial. Yet Christ is indeed the one who was to come in human likeness from heaven, and the one still to come in human likeness on the clouds of heaven to receive a kingdom and to accept the honor of all nations. The rule of God on earth is implemented through one who is himself from heaven. Along with figures such as the prophet and priest, the angel is one of Jesus’ role models: he fulfills a place analogous to each of these… In the view of theologians such as John and Paul, he is so heavenly that he must share God’s own divinity: the similarity of judge and humanlike figure becomes a similarity of Father and Son… Thus the Christ event initiates the reign of God on earth that Dan 7 promises. It brings that unveiling of the mystery of God’s plan for the world (Eph 3:1–12) which is spoken of here as the opening of the books (v 10).’
I incline towards this last, the more ‘fluid’ interpretation. The New Testament quotations and allusions, which would seem confusing and even contradictory otherwise, then become more understandable. Among these, it is now one, and then another, aspect of our Lord’s glorification which is to the fore.