One Like The Son Of Man

Jesus’ reference to Daniel 7 in Matthew 26:64 (and Mark 14:62) is a source of some confusion. To figure out what is actually going on in Daniel’s vision, we have to go back to Leviticus 16. James Jordan writes:

…when Jesus calls Himself “the Son of Man,” He is referring to Ezekiel, not to Daniel 7 (except perhaps indirectly). Jesus is the Greater Ezekiel. Christians are those who are “like the Son of Man,” like Jesus.

The Day of Coverings: Coming With Heavenly Clouds

Turning from Ezekiel, there is another passage in the Bible with which the Jews were very familiar, that is farther in the background of Daniel 7, and that is Leviticus 16. On the Day of Coverings (of “Atonement” in English Bibles), the High Priest took off his glorious garments and dressed simply in linen in order to remove the sins of the people once a year. Then, after finishing this work, he was reinvested with glory, and once again took up his position as spiritual ruler of Israel.

Two coverings happened on the Day of Coverings. First, the Ark-Cover was sprinkled and thereby covered with blood. This was a covering for propitiation, justification. Then the High Priest put back on his garments of glory and beauty. This was a covering for glorification.

Now, removing sins is not in view on Daniel 7, but other aspects of the ritual are. We have seen that Ezekiel was a kind of high priest, and it follows that in Ezekiel “son of man” is a title for the High Priest, the spiritual ruler of God’s people. Adam was priest in the Garden of Eden, and the “son of adam” is a new Adam, ruling in the symbolic sanctuary garden of the Tabernacle and Temple. Hence, “son of Adam” or “New Adam” is entirely appropriate as a title for the Chief Priest of God’s sanctuary.

An examination of the ritual in Leviticus 16 will clarify aspects of Daniel 7 for us, aspects that would have been much clearer to Daniel and his friends who “meditated on the law day and night” and who had observed this ritual annually before they were deported to Babylon.

The ritual is delineated in Leviticus 16. We read in verses 12–14 that the High Priest was to take coals from the fire of the Bronze Altar in the Courtyard. Then he was to fill the hollow of both his hands with incense, place it upon the coals, and carry this incense into the Holy of Holies directly before Ark-Throne of Yahweh. This incense was most holy, or “holy of holy” (Exodus 30:34–38). Its ingredients were prescribed by God and it was used only in the Tabernacle/Temple, which was a symbolic model of God’s heavens. The cloud of incense, thus, was a symbolic cloud of the heavens. Being “most holy” this incense could travel into the Most Holy room. [1]

As the High Priest walked from the Altar on the earth upwards (symbolically) through the heavens and into the highest heavens, he did so accompanied by this heavenly cloud. Inside the Holy of Holies, the High Priest held the incense pan in one hand, and a bowl of blood in his other hand, from which he flicked with his finger blood toward the Ark-Throne. This blood was to cover his sins and those of the other priests (Leviticus 16:11).

After this, as a second ritual, the High Priest did the same thing with a goat slain for the sins of the people, taking incense into the Holy of Holies and sprinkling the blood of the goat before the Ark-Throne (Leviticus 16:15).

After all the rituals were completed, the High Priest took off the garments he had been wearing, and put back on his garments of glory and beauty (Leviticus 16:23–24). These garments included the twelve tribes engraven on his shoulder stones and also on his twelve-stoned breastplate. In other words, the High Priest was given the kingdom on the Day of Coverings — he put the kingdom back on himself.

Now if we look back at Daniel 7:13–14, we see the same sequence. We see someone like Ezekiel, who was a kind of high priest for the exilic community. This High Priest approaches Yahweh with the clouds of heaven. Then he is given a kingdom that will never pass away.

We must remember that the High Priest represented the people. The High Priest is the son of man, and the people are those who are like this son of man. In Leviticus 16, the High Priest comes with heavenly incense clouds first for himself, and then he comes a second time for the people. Thus, there are two cloudy ascensions in Leviticus 16, the first of the son of man, and the second of those who are like the son of man.

In Daniel 7:13, the one like a son of man does not come riding upon heavenly clouds. He is not a cloud-rider. He is not a “divine figure.” No, he comes with heavenly clouds, and can be recognized as the High Priest, or rather, as those who are like the High Priest. In Daniel 7, the Ancient of Days, the Cloud-Rider, has already arrived.

We are not surprised, then, to read that the one like a son of man is identified not with any particular person, such as the coming Messiah, but with the saints (Daniel 7:18, 22, 25). Now, Daniel would not have been aware that the Messiah would be the incarnate Yahweh. Hence, he might well have seen the one like a son of man as the Messiah coming to Yahweh to receive the kingdom. That is, Daniel could have seen this figure as both the people and their Messianic head. At the same time, as we have seen, the clear allusions to Leviticus 16 might have complicated things for Daniel, because there are two ascensions, one of the son of man and one of the people of the son of man. We, however, cannot be confused. The Ancient of Days is Yahweh, and taking his seat must be the ascension of Jesus and the opening of the books seen in Revelation 4–7. The one like a son of man, like Jesus, is the saints, who ascend to receive the kingdom in the year AD 70.

For Christians today it is not so clear, because the background of Daniel 7 in Ezekiel and in Leviticus 16 is not well understood. They see Jesus ascending to heaven in the clouds (Acts 1:9) and they think that is all there is to it, forgetting the second cloudy ascension in Leviticus 16. But Leviticus 16 makes clear that first the High Priest ascends in a heavenly cloud, and then afterwards the people (represented by the goats and the High Priest) ascend.

Similarly, Christians have been too quick to read the various statements in the New Testament about the “son of man coming in/with clouds” to refer to Jesus Himself. In some passages this may be the case, since Jesus is the Son of Man and He did ascend in the clouds. But in other passages, it seems that it is the second ascension, that of the saints, that is in view. We shall conclude this chapter by examining these passages.

[1] Frankincense in the system was “holy,” but compound incense, being a mixture, was “most holy.” Mixtures are always holy, which is why the layman was to avoid them. I have treated this matter fully in James B. Jordan, The Law of Forbidden Mixtures. Biblical Horizons Occasional Paper 6 (Niceville, FL: Biblical Horizons, 1989).

(James B. Jordan, The Handwriting On The Wall: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel, 337-340.)

Jordan’s discussion of the “cloud-coming” passages in the New Testament is enlightening, as is the rest of his must-have commentary on Daniel, available here.


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