The winds of heaven tossed and turned the vast ocean. The deep was teaming with monsters, terrible to behold.
One by one they emerged from the storm-churned waters. The first was a lion, outfitted with eagle wings. Those wings were shorn and the lion stood upright.
Then came the second. This one looked like a bear with three tusks wedged in its mouth. More came. One was a four-headed leopard that could fly. The fourth beast was too terrifying to even describe in whole. It had iron teeth, ten horns, and human eyes.
So begins the extraordinary nighttime vision in Daniel 7.
Such a beginning is truly the stuff of nightmares. But then the dream shifts from the terror of chaos, death, and destruction to the drama of eternal judgment. Daniel spies a figure called the Ancient of Days seated in snow-white garments, capped in wool-white hair. All around him is fire: the throne consists of flames of fire, it rests on wheels of burning fire, and a river of fire flowed from the throne.
The Ancient of Days—a visible manifestation of the invisible God the Father—has thousands upon thousands ministering to Him. And before are standing two hundred million people—a number equivalent to just over 1,858 times the crowd of the largest football stadium in the United States.
Then one by one those awesome beasts are hauled in front of the Ancient of Days and judged. Each beast represents one of the great kingdoms of empires of the world, such as the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Greeks, and the Romans. Each in their day strove for world domination.
But theirs was not to inherit the world.
The last beast was the first judged. And it was slain, destroyed, and cast into the fire. The three others were allowed to fester for a time. But they lost their kingdoms.
The world was to be Another’s.
The beasts had appeared terrifying, powerful—the kind of creatures which could crush the world. But the One to whom world dominion would be given was no such creature. In fact, He was no creature at all. A man but not only a man—“One like a son of man.”
The beasts had crawled up from the sea. But this One descended from on high—“coming with the clouds of heaven.” The beasts were to lose everything. He received all things:
When he reached the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him,
He received dominion, splendor, and kingship;
all nations, peoples and tongues will serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
his kingship, one that shall not be destroyed (Daniel 7:14).
Fast forward hundreds of years. (Depending on how you date Daniel we’re jumping ahead as little as roughly two hundred years to as much as half a millennium.)
We’re now in Roman-occupied Judea. It’s a time of peace, empire, and religious fervor.
But something starts to stand out about one particular Jewish carpenter. The crowds know Him as a miracle-worker. His disciples call him rabbi. To the authorities, He’s a trouble-maker, perhaps the next zealot or rebel leader.
The truth is, no one—apart from a few privileged individuals—really knows who He is.
Once he walked on the water and calmed the winds. He braved the beasts and elements for 40 days alone in the desert. He healed people and even raised the dead. He had the power to forgive sins and cast out demons. He talked about a new kind of kingdom that was about to break out upon the world. He called it the kingdom of God.
So great was the mystery of Who He was that He once asked the disciples what they had heard. Theories abounded. Some thought Him to be John the Baptist back from the dead. Another theory held Him to be Elijah. Or perhaps Jeremiah or one of the prophets.
He would later be given many more names and titles that inspired awe, reverence, and devotion: the Alpha and the Omega, the Almighty, the Heir of All Things, the Image of God, the Light of the World, the Morning Star, and the Rock.
But He preferred a different title for Himself—one as awesome as the others: “Son of Man.”
(Postscript: Jesus is said to have referred to Himself as “Son of Man” more than 80 times in the gospels. For particularly striking examples see especially John 5:27, Matthew 16:13, and Matthew 26:2, 24, 45, and 64.)