In chapter seven, God gives Daniel a divine perspective on human evil in a nightmare. Like our own dreams Daniel’s seems to be a confusing mix of images, places, and timelines. But don’t be discouraged! There is one main point - God is more powerful than human kings - told in three clear acts: the sea, the sky, and the explanation.
The dream begins on the shore of a violent sea as four mutant animals rise from the water. This isn’t the first time God’s battle with evil is described like a war with the sea and its monsters. During the Exodus, God rebukes the sea that trapped Israel ( Exo; Psalm 18:15). In Habakkuk, God tramples the sea in order to save his people (Hab 3:15). And in Job and Isaiah, God’s masters the sea monster Leviathan (Job 41:1; Isa 27:1).
These four beasts are the latest versions of this ancient battle. They represent inhuman kingdoms run by prideful humans. While some scholars want to limit these beasts to symbols of particular historic empires, that’s not their purpose. The point is to show the horror of human evil and pride. Pride turns people into animals that hate God, rebel under his rule, kill his followers, and blaspheme his name. This was the story of Nebuchadnezzar. His pride turned him into self-worshipping, human-burning, half-human, half-ox monster (Dan 4:28-33).
And as Daniel watched all this on the sea, he saw the opposite in the sky. While the world is governed by beasts, the sky is governed by what looks like humans. A wise, white-haired judge sits on his throne and approached by a “son of man” riding the clouds. We’re supposed to understand that both the Judge and the Cloud-Rider are God.
The Judge has hundreds of thousands of servants, is surrounded by holy fire and his name is the “Ancient of Days” - He’s clearly God. But the “son of man” who “comes with the clouds” is also clearly God.
In the Exodus story, God was the protective cloud for Israel as she fled Egypt (Exo 13:21). When God gave Moses the 10 commandments Sinai was covered in clouds (Exo 19:16). God promised Moses that Aaron would see his presence fall like clouds in the tabernacle (Lev 16:2). And the Psalmist called Israel to worship the God who “makes the clouds his chariot” (Ps 104:3). The cloud-riding son of man is God too.
The point of the imagery is that God’s power and authority are far greater than the beasts. And God alone delegates that power perfectly to the cloud-riding “son of man”. It’s difficult to imagine God riding on the clouds towards Himself and then being given his own power but that mystery is intentional. Daniel was confused by it too and asks for an interpretation.
An angel tells Daniel that the beasts represent successive kingdoms that will attempt to crush God’s people but because the “son of man” goes to the “Ancient of Days” every effort will ultimately fail. Even the fourth beast who seems to be far more powerful and evil will eventually be “consumed and destroyed” since God has determined his rule would only last a “time, times, and half a time.”
The angel then says to Daniel that the “son of man” is actually any son of man who hopes and trusts in God. The “saints” who have been persecuted by the beasts will rise up, be delegated authority by God and then reign forever. Daniel wakes up pale, anxious and alarmed. But his alarm over inevitable suffering is mixed with confidence that the beast’s rule is guaranteed to end because God is enthroned in heaven, and has determined to give his kingdom to sons of men who will destroy the beast and establish a kingdom that will last forever.
We see Jesus most clearly in the Cloud-Rider. The “son of man” who represents all sons and daughters men who remain faithful to God. Jesus himself says so. “I am… the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). Jesus saw the book of Daniel being fulfilled in his death, resurrection, and ascension.
Just like the beasts crushed God’s people in Daniel's dream, just like the satraps rolled a stone over Daniel in the lion pit, the beastly Pharisees roll a stone over Jesus’ tomb. But just like the son of man rises from the carnage of the beast and comes to the Ancient Days, just like Daniel rises from the pit and ascends to his throne, Jesus rises from the grave and ascends to his throne at God’s right hand over ever authority, power, and dominion.
Because of Jesus, we know the immeasurable greatness of God’s power towards us who believe. Jesus is raised from the dead and seated him at the right hand of the Ancient of Days. He has all rule and authority and power and dominion. And since God is not only powerful but rich in mercy raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Eph 1:19-2:6). We rule more powerfully in Jesus than Daniel ever did in Babylon.
See For Yourself
“May the Holy Spirit open your eyes to see the God who sits in power above all earthly kingdoms, and Jesus as the one who raises us up to rule with him.