The Ascension of the Son of Man
Text: Daniel 7:7-14
…“I was watching in the night visions,
And behold, One like the Son of Man,
Coming with the clouds of heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days,
And they brought Him near before Him.
Then 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 the one
Which shall not be destroyed.
This Sunday we commemorate the ascension of our Lord Jesus. So why are we preaching on Daniel 7? Daniel 7 seems like it belongs to our eschatology study instead, does it not? After all, it’s got fierce beasts, heavenly judgment “coming in the clouds,” and the kingdom of God being handed over to the Son of Man and His people.
This is not a mistake. Daniel 7 is indeed an “eschatology” passage, but it is also a passage about Jesus’ ascension. You see, it was at the ascension of Jesus that the Son of Man came in the clouds before the Ancient of Days to receive His kingdom. We will demonstrate this by showing you how Jesus Himself interpreted and applied this passage. If Jesus understood Daniel 7 in a certain way, then surely that’s the way we want to understand it.
And since Daniel 7 was fulfilled at the ascension of Christ, this means that the decisive victory over evil has already been achieved. The kingdom has been taken from the beast and given to the Son of Man. And as you read the rest of Daniel 7, you see one more thing. You see that the kingdom has been given to “the people, the saints of the Most High” (Dan. 7:27). Thus, the kingdom of Christ has come, and it has been given to all who believe in Him.
The Scene in Daniel 7
The first thing we need to do is lay out the scene in Daniel 7. This chapter explains a series of visions that the prophet Daniel receives while in Babylon under Belshazzar (Dan. 7:1). He first sees four great and terrible beasts, in succession, and then with the fourth beasts, he also sees a series of horns. Of these horns, there is one “little horn” which is terrible in a peculiar way. This little horn is not as big or as strong as the other horns. Instead, it obtains its power through its speech, its “pompous words” (Dan. 7:8).
After this, Daniel sees the heavenly court room, with the Ancient of Days sitting on a fiery throne. What he’s actually seeing is the inside of temple of God and the court of Heaven issue its judgment:
The court was seated, And the books were opened. I watched then because of the sound of the pompous words which the horn was speaking; I watched till the beast was slain, and its body destroyed and given to the burning flame. (Dan. 7:10-11)
Thus the terrible beast is defeated. God and His angels have killed Him. That was the judgment. After all of this, we come to the “one like the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven.”
That’s the bulk of the vision. The rest of the chapter further explains its meaning. Vs. 21-27 explain that the horn had made war against the saints of the Most High, persecuting them on earth. After this time is complete, however, God will take away the little horn’s dominion and give it to the saints. And so the people of God will also inherit the kingdom, along with the one like the Son of Man.
What this all boils down to is that Daniel 7 is a vision of judgment and victory for the people of God. They will overcome their persecutors, and they will inherit the heavenly kingdom which lasts forever.
How Jesus Understands Daniel 7
Daniel 7 is a prophecy, and so it’s only natural to ask when it will be fulfilled? When will it happen? Can we know? Is there a way to interpret it that does better than just an educated guess?
Whenever we are faced with a difficult passage of Scripture, the rule of interpretation is to see if other parts of the Bible talk about that passage. We call this, “letting Scripture interpret Scripture.” If there is a passage in the New Testament that quotes and explains Daniel 7, then we can feel confident that that is the correct interpretation. So, is there anywhere in the New Testament which does this?
Well yes. In fact, Jesus Himself quotes Daniel 7 and gives it a very specific interpretation. He does this in Matthew 24:30 and Mark 13:26 on the one hand, and Matthew 26:64 and Mark 14:62 on the other. If you look those passages up, you can see that the first two come from the Mount of Olives prophecy and the second two come from Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin.
Let’s take a look. While preaching the famous Olivet Discourse, Jesus says this:
Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, 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. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matt. 24: 29-31; Mark 13:24-27 says the same with minor differences)
The Olivet Discourse is a major passage in Biblical prophecy, and it certainly has many different interpretations, depending upon one’s school of thought. But if you keep reading on a few verses, you’ll see a surprising clue that helps unlock its meaning. Jesus says, “when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place” (Matt. 24:33-34).
So, if we take those verses seriously, Jesus was saying that this “sign of the Son of Man” would appear in heaven by the end of the first century. What could He mean then? When did that happen? The next reference to Daniel 7 will make it more clear.
In Matt. 26 and Mark 13, Jesus is being questioned by the Jewish Sanhedrin. They accuse Him of planning to destroy the temple, and then the high priest makes this demand of Him, “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!” (Matt. 26:63). Jesus’ response is incredible:
Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matt. 26:64)
That line about the Son of Man “coming on the clouds of heaven” comes from Daniel 7, but Jesus connects it to something else. He connects it to “the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power.” This was a common reference to God, the Almighty, and the reaction from the Jews makes that clear. They say that Jesus has just blasphemed and claimed a divine status for Himself.
This then tells us something very specific. It tells us what Daniel 7 means. According to Jesus, the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven is directly connected to His sitting at the right hand of God.
So we only need to ask a simple question. When did that happen? When did Jesus go with the clouds of heaven to sit down at the right hand of God the Father? It happened with His ascension and His session. It happened when Jesus left the earth in a cloud (Acts 1:9) and went to His Father’s right hand. That is when Daniel 7 reached a definitive fulfillment.
The Kingdom Is Now
Now, this interpretation might strike you as a little topsy turvy. The instinctive reaction is to assume that “the Son of Man coming in the clouds” refers to the final judgment on the last day. But look again. In Daniel 7 the coming is in a particular direction. Which way is the movement? It’s not from heaven to earth. No, instead it is towards the Ancient of Days.
The NET Bible translated Daniel 7:13 in a way that makes this very clear. It renders it this way:
And with the clouds of the sky
one like a son of man was approaching.
He went up to the Ancient of Days
and was escorted before him.
With this translation, we ought to be inclined to see the vision as one of ascension, and so when Jesus applies it to His sitting down at the right hand of the Father, it fits perfectly. Daniel 7 is about the ascension.
And this reading is revolutionary. It should be. It should change the way we understand “eschatology” and heavenly judgment. Plug it back into Daniel 7, read the whole thing, and what do you get?
This reading means that the beast has already come. The little horn has already come. And more that that, it means that the heavenly court has already issued its judgment against the beast and the horn. It means that God and His angels have destroyed the beast and taken the kingdom away from the horn. It means that God has given the kingdom and the dominion to the one like the Son of Man. The victory has been won, and Jesus reigns now. “For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet” (1 Cor. 15:25)
It was at the ascension of Jesus that the Son of Man came in the clouds before the Ancient of Days to receive His kingdom. This has happened. This means that we are not waiting for the kingdom of Christ to come, but instead are proclaiming that it has come and are watching it expand through the preaching of the gospel and the discipleship of the nations.
And this means one more thing. It means that the rest of Daniel 7 has also been fulfilled. The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of our God and of His Christ, and that also means that He has given them to His people.
Daniel 7:26-27 states:
But the court shall be seated,
And they shall take away the horn’s dominion,
To consume and destroy it forever.
Then the kingdom and dominion,
And the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven,
Shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High.
His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
And all dominions shall serve and obey Him.
This too is connected with the ascension of the Son of Man. It’s all tied together. And this isn’t only a past action. It is an action which began in the past and continues on to this day. The beast’s dominion is being taken away and given to the people of God!
The ascension of Christ was the beginning of the kingdom. It was the moment when God issued a decisive judgment against the forces of the beast, and when He enthroned Jesus. But it was not the end of the reign. No, that reign continues until we see all things placed under His feet.
Your enemies—if they are enemies because of Christ—are being defeated now. Take heart and persevere. They are real, and they are still there. But you know the end of history. You know what will happen. They will not win. As we’re told in Hebrews 2, “we do not yet see all things put under Him. But we see Jesus” (Heb. 2:8-9). We see Jesus, and so we walk by faith, believing everything else the Scriptures tells us about His dominion. And we believe what they tell us about our place in that kingdom.
So we believe, we persevere, and we do one more thing—we tell people! We go out and proclaim this gospel. We go out and disciple the nations. For it is through our faith and our testimony that God will spread His kingdom. As we tell others of this victory, they too will be given dominion in the kingdom of the Most High, and we long to see this continue until the whole earth is brought into the light of our Christ.
So this morning take heart. The kingdom is come. The Son of Man has ascended. And the kingdom is ours.
Go and tell others. Bring them into the kingdom, so that they too may reign with Christ and so that they too may serve and obey Him and God the Father.
Let us pray.