The Daniel 7 “Son of Man”

This too followed a “Calvin in Common” conversation following up on my post on believing the resurrection. What do I mean by this Daniel 7 “Son of Man”?

I am indebted to NT Wright for much of this (I think, I may do him a disservice too. 🙂 ) I recommend NT Wright’s “The New Testament and the People of God” . I remember reading that thing from cover to cover. It took some time but it was well worth it.

The heart of NT Wright’s thesis is that the Jewish community we find in the NT is a people that still continued to think of themselves in exile. It is not hard to see why. The geographical return from exile did not live up to the prophesies. When the Jews were free they were harassed, weak and divided, and most of the time they were simply a vassal state of the major empires, the Persians, Greeks and then the Romans. By Jesus’ time they worshipped in a refitted temple built by a tyrant with messianic aspirations that no one bought. Right next to the temple was the Roman fortress that visibly reinforced the message that worship of Yhwh in the temple was only afforded by the “generosity” of their Roman overlords. The Jewish people were economically, politically, militarily, socially and religiously under threat. The culture war that Jesus was born into swirled around the question of the house arrest that the Jews were under. Should they accomodate (aristocracy) or resist and if they resist should their resistance be hot (zealots) or cold (Pharisees) or escapist (Essenes). What would Jesus do?

NT Wright points out that Daniel 7 was a popular passage in this context for obvious reasons. Daniel 7 tells the story of the sea monsters (empires) rising up to oppress the people. The Ancient of Days defeats the beasts and one like a son of man comes with the clouds of heaven and is given a kingdom over all the peoples of the earth that will never pass away. (Daniel 7:13, 14) Many of us more familiar with the New Testament will catch the message in the gospels and in the book of Revelation.

If you read the gospels one of the more striking elements is how Jesus uses this term “son of man” when he refers to himself in the third person. I often find it interesting when I hear people do this. People who are in positions of authority will sometimes refer to themselves in the third person often in a context where they are speaking “ex cathedra” or “from the chair”. They are speaking from whatever position of authority they possess in the system they are referring to. Get your concordance (or Bible study software) out (check out and look how “Son of Man” gets used in the gospels.

Why did Jesus use this title? Jesus clearly in his context needed to get his message across in a coded way. Given his context he couldn’t have come out and said “I am Yhwh”, that would have gotten him nowhere. What I think we see is that he appropriates this Daniel 7 figure because he’s really addressing the Jews and the Jews will get the message. Again, notice how he manages the issue of identity at his trial in Luke ( On one hand he engaged the culture war of his time but he doesn’t align with the set positions. He opens up a new front, one which will in fact be scalable when the church breaks out into the broader empire. Paul and the Apostles as the church spreads out into the empire don’t carry with them the “Son of Man” title for Jesus, they simply appropriate imperial titles “Jesus is Lord” “Jesus is Savior”. The book of Revelation of course takes this whole hog and appropriates much more of Daniel, updating it to paint the picture of Jesus vs. both the Jews persecuting the small diaspora Christian congregations (read some of the 7 letters) and then the empire and emperor himself and triumphantly portrays Jesus through OT apocalyptic language as coming into his kingdom.

Daniel 7 is a key passage I think for understanding what Jesus was trying to say to his context. What is interesting is that one of the most difficult turns Jesus needed to lead his small group through was repositioning the “Son of Man” from a Maccabean ruler (which clearly many were hoping he would be) to a cruciform savior. Notice how often the “Son of Man” comes coupled with the context of his being turned over into the hands of the gentiles. Again, if you read those statements through the lens of Daniel 7 things look funny. The Daniel 7 “son of man” is supposed to triumph over the nations, not be subject to them in a humiliating crucifixion? This is why Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion are utterly foolish and impossible to imagine, but this is of course how Jesus squares the circle and how his church conquers Rome in a way that no violent Jewish revolt every could. Jesus does conquer not with the blood of his enemies but by his own blood and is vindicated (proved righteous) by the resurrection. The assumption is that his followers will in fact do the same, follow the same path.

Loving enemies wins enemies, it doesn’t kill them. That is the answer to the problem of human rebellion. You can’t fix it by killing them (Noah). You can’t fix it by legislating evil away (the Mosaic Law). You fix it by sacrificial love. pvk

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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1 Response to The Daniel 7 “Son of Man”

  1. bill Greenman says:

    Thank you for this

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