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Friday, February 10, 2017

Does Daniel 7:13 Refer to the Ascension or Second Coming of Jesus?

by Michael J. Vlach

Daniel 7:13 is a challenging verse for interpreters. Most focus on the identity of the “Son of Man” in this verse, but I want to focus on the setting of Daniel 7:13 and its implications. Does this verse describe the ascension of Jesus or the second coming of Jesus to earth? Below is the text:

“I kept looking in the night visions,
And behold, with the clouds of heaven
One like a Son of Man was coming,
And He came up to the Ancient of Days
And was presented before Him.
14 “And to Him was given dominion,
Glory and a kingdom,
That all the peoples, nations and men of every language
Might serve Him” (Dan. 7:13-14a).

The context of Daniel 7:13 concerns four beasts which represent Gentile kingdoms on earth, and an evil “little horn” who opposes God’s people on earth (Dan 7:1-8). Then there is an awesome heavenly throne scene where the Ancient of Days (God the Father) is on His throne with thousands around Him (Dan 7:9-14). A Son of Man figure (Jesus the Messiah) appears before the Ancient of Days to receive glory and a kingdom that leads to all people groups serving Him.  

But what is the meaning of the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven and appearing before the Ancient of Days?

There are at least three understandings of Daniel 7:13 within a messianic context. The first is that this is a reference to the ascension of Jesus into heaven. The second is that this involves a heavenly enthronement scene at the time of A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem when Jesus allegedly was vindicated over the Jewish leaders and the Jewish system that rejected Him. (It is also possible to hold to a combination of  resurrection, ascension and destruction of Jerusalem as all included in Jesus' vindication). A third view is that this refers to the second coming of Jesus.

I believe Daniel 7:13 is not referring to the ascension but is describing a heavenly scene where the Son of Man (Jesus) appears before the Ancient of Days without referring to where the Son of Man was prior to this event. Yet Daniel 7:13, in connection with other Old Testament messianic passages, will be used by Jesus and the New Testament writers concerning the second coming of Jesus to earth. The granting of kingdom authority to Jesus in heaven leads to His second coming in power and glory on earth. Thus, while Daniel 7:13 is not explicitly about the second coming of Jesus, this granting of kingdom authority is linked with the Son of Man’s return to earth for His earthly kingdom. This is affirmed in both Daniel 7:26-27 and the New Testament.

The view that Daniel 7:13 is about the ascension of Jesus relies much on Acts 1:9 which states: “He [Jesus] was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” Allegedly, a cloud receiving Jesus from the sight of the apostles in Acts 1:9 is linked with the clouds of heaven coming to the Ancient of Days in heaven in Daniel 7:13.

Also, much is made of the New American Standard Bible translation, “And He came up to the Ancient of Days.” Some see “came up to” as meaning Jesus moved from earth to heaven to stand before the Ancient of Days. Often advocates of the ascension view will say something like, “The text says Jesus “came up to” not “came down to,” to argue the ascension and not the second coming is in view. So supposedly Daniel 7:13 is describing a scene in which Jesus the Messiah is transported from heaven to earth with His ascension to stand before the Ancient of Days.

The ascension was an amazing event, but the ascension understanding of Daniel 7:13 is not impressive upon closer examination. The Aramaic term metah that the NASB translates “came up to” is not a verb meaning traveling from lower to higher or from earth to heaven. The verb simply means “to approach” or “to reach.” In the Daniel 7 context it emphasizes the Son of Man approaching or being brought near the Ancient of Days but it reveals nothing concerning where the Son of Man came from before this encounter. As J. J. Collins states concerning this verse, “The text does not indicate whether the figure [Son of Man] is ascending or descending or moving horizontally” (Daniel, 311). Note the following translations which have a more precise understanding of metah:

He approached [metah] the Ancient of Days (NIV)

he came to [metah] the Ancient of Days (ESV)

He approached [metah] the Ancient of Days (HCSB)

So with Daniel 7:13 the Son of Man is brought before the Ancient of Days without saying where the Son of Man was before this event. Certainly Jesus has ascended to heaven and the ascended Jesus will receive kingdom authority. But those who hold to the ascension of Jesus view seem to be making too much of the NASB rendering of “came up to” and interpreting it to mean going from lower (earth) to higher (heaven). The verb metah simply means “to approach” or “come before.”

So does Daniel 7:13 refer to the second coming of Jesus? Not directly although there will be implications for the second coming according to Daniel 7:26–27 and the New Testament. Daniel 7:13–14 does describe a scene where the Son of Man (Jesus) approaches the Ancient of Days to receive kingdom authority. Since the Ancient of Days is God the Father and God resides in heaven it seems fair to conclude this is a heavenly scene.

Since this granting of authority to the Son of Man leads to the defeat of the little horn and the saints possessing the kingdom (Dan 7:26–27) this heavenly scene leads to victory and vindication for God’s people, Israel, on the earth. Thus, a heavenly court scene leads to an earthly kingdom where God’s people are vindicated.

Daniel 7:9–14 also parallels Revelation 4–5 where Jesus the Lamb approaches God the Father on the Father’s throne in heaven to take a scroll from the Father’s right hand. This scroll probably refers to the title deed of the earth and the judgments contained in the scroll to take back planet earth for God. Plus, Revelation 5:10 indicates that the goal of this heavenly scene concerns earth—“they will reign upon the earth.” So in both Daniel 7 and Revelation 4–5 a heavenly scene leads to an earthly kingdom.

The New Testament and Daniel 7:13
So what light does the New Testament shine on Daniel 7:13? There are many quotations of and allusions to Daniel 7:13 in the New Testament. Some of these are:

Matt 24:30: And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.

Matt 26:64:  Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Matt 25:31: “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.”

Mark 8:38:  “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

Mark 13:26: “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”

Mark 14:62: And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

Rev 1:7Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. 

Futurists and preterists will quarrel over whether these are references to a spiritual coming of Jesus through the Roman armies that destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (preterists), or the actual bodily return of Jesus at His second coming to earth (futurists). I think the evidence strongly sides with the futurist view.

But significantly, none of these references to Daniel 7:13 in the New Testament concern the ascension. Some have argued that these references involve Jesus’ enthronement at the time of the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem when Jesus allegedly was vindicated against His Jewish enemies and the Jewish religious system that opposed Him. But these New Testament verses appear to be references to Jesus’ personal second coming. The Revelation 1:7 statement was made in the 90s A.D., after the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem. Also, the reference to Daniel 7:13 in Matthew 25:31 concerns the second coming since Jesus comes in glory with His angels to sit on His throne and judge the nations. This did not occur in A.D. 70.

Also, some of the references to Daniel 7:13 mentioned above are coupled with other Old Testament passages that connect the Messiah with a coming to earth for an earthly kingdom. Matthew 24:30 and Revelation 1:7 use Zechariah 12:10 concerning the tribes of Israel mourning in repentance over the Messiah when He returns to earth. Matthew 26:64 alludes to Psalm 110 which speaks of a session of the Messiah at the right hand of God which then leads to a kingdom reign from Jerusalem (Ps 110:1-2). Matthew 25:31 and Mark 8:38 could be using Zechariah 14:5, a verse about “holy ones” coming with the returning Lord when He touches down on the Mount of Olives (14:3) and institutes a kingdom reign from and over the earth (14:9). Thus, the use of Daniel 7:13, coupled with other Old Testament passages speaking of Messiah’s kingdom on earth, bolsters the idea that the New Testament writers were connecting Daniel 7:13 with the second coming of Jesus to earth.

So multiple verses in the New Testament link Daniel 7:13 with the second coming of Jesus. While Daniel 7:13 specifically describes a heavenly scene where the Son of Man appears before the Ancient of Days to receive kingdom authority, the New Testament consistently applies Daniel 7:13 directly to Jesus’ second coming. The heavenly scene of Daniel 7:9-14 (and Revelation 4-5) leads to the coming of the Messiah and His earthly kingdom.

Conclusion
So what can we conclude from Daniel 7:13 and quotations of this verse in the New Testament? Daniel 7:13 is referring to a heavenly scene in which the Son of Man (Jesus) uses the vehicle of the clouds of heaven to appear before the Ancient of Days (God the Father). This leads to the granting of kingdom authority to the Son of Man which then leads to the defeat of God’s enemies, and the saints of God possessing the kingdom of God on earth (Dan 7:26-27).

Claims that Daniel 7:13 is about the ascension of Jesus and does not apply at all to the second coming of Jesus to earth are not convincing. The language of Daniel 7:13 [metah] is not speaking of a movement from heaven to earth. And not only does Daniel 7:26-27 have implications for an earthly kingdom, many New Testament passages connect Daniel 7:13 with the second coming of Jesus. Thus, it is correct for Bible students to link Daniel 7:13 with the bodily return of Jesus to earth.

(Be sure to check out Michael's newly released book: He Will Reign Forever: A Biblical Theology of the Kingdom of God Lampion Press).

1 comment:

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