Last time, we looked at chapter seven of Daniel and the four beasts that he sees in a vision. In the midst of this vision, Daniel encounters a heavenly vision which is often misunderstood and misapplied. Let’s look at this part of the vision.
I watched till thrones were put in place,
And the Ancient of Days was seated;
His garment was white as snow,
And the hair of His head was like pure wool.
His throne was a fiery flame,
Its wheels a burning fire;
A fiery stream issued
And came forth from before Him.
A thousand thousands ministered to Him;
Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him.
The court was seated,
And the books were opened (Daniel 7:9-10).
In Daniel’s vision, he sees “the Ancient of Days” sitting on his throne. This is obviously a reference to God seated in heaven. The hair like wool and the flaming eyes are exactly what John describes in Revelation 1:14. Daniel goes on to describe this vision further:
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 (Daniel 7:13-14).
Daniel sees “One like the Son of Man.” This is Jesus’ favorite title of self-designation. Daniel saw a vision of Jesus Christ.
Notice what the One like the Son of Man is doing: he is “coming with the clouds of heaven.” What does this mean? What are the clouds of heaven? Is this what the Son of Man rides on as he comes to the earth?
Not at all. Look at the next line of description: “He came to the Ancient of Days.” This is describing the Son of Man coming to heaven, coming up to the throne of God. Once the Son of Man comes up to the Ancient of Days, he is given a kingdom and everyone serves him. This is the everlasting kingdom of God given to the Son of Man.
Consider verses 13-14 carefully. Most people read this as a description of the second coming, that Jesus returns to the earth “on a cloud” and sets up his kingdom there. However, this is not what the text is describing.
Daniel is seeing Jesus receive his kingdom, but he receives it upon coming to heaven. When did Jesus go to heaven? At his ascension. Daniel sees Jesus ascending to heaven and being given the everlasting kingdom.
The phrase “the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven” is not describing the second coming, but the ascension. Thus, every time that Jesus uses this phrase, we should understand that he is referring to his ascension, not the second coming.
For example, when Jesus says, “Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (Matthew 16:28), he is not referring to the transfiguration or his second coming. He is referring to his ascension. This makes much more sense given the context.
Furthermore, when Jesus says in the Olivet Discourse, “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” (Matthew 24:30), he is not referring to the rapture or the second coming. He is referring to his ascension. Obviously, this has major implications for interpreting the rest of the Olivet Discourse.
Notice that this is neither “spiritualizing” nor “allegorizing,” but allowing the Old Testament to speak plainly. Dispensationalists routinely ignore the origin of the phrase “Son of Man coming on the clouds.” However, this is unmistakably referring to the ascension of Jesus Christ.