Behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom. (Daniel 7:13–14)
Ancient of Days appears as a name for God in only one chapter of the Bible. But that chapter, Daniel 7, is no obscure chapter. In fact, that passage gives us the title Jesus used more often than any other to refer to himself: the Son of Man.
Some five and a half centuries before Christ, God gave this vision to the prophet Daniel in a dream, while he lived in exile in Babylon. Three times Daniel tells us it was at night (verses 2, 7, and 13) to indicate the nature of the vision: not a precise script, but a distant prophetic glimpse. Shadowy as it is, Daniel wrote down the sum of what he saw (verse 1), and it has consoled and inspired God’s people now for millennia, especially in times of anxiety and alarm.
Evil Terrorizes God’s People
First, Daniel saw four great beasts come up out of the sea (verse 3), each more threatening than the one before. The first is like a lion, with eagles’ wings. Then another, like a bear, devouring flesh. A third is like a leopard with wings and four heads. Finally comes “a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong” (verse 7). It is “different from all the beasts that were before it” (verses 7, 19, 23) in its strength and the terror it strikes — devouring “the whole earth” (verse 23).
This final beast has ten horns, a symbol of great power, and Daniels says “there came up among them another horn, a little one” with “a mouth speaking great things” (verse 8). This is perhaps the great ruler of the final dynasty, who turns his arrogant tongue against God and his people. He will “speak words against the Most High,” the prophet says, “and shall wear out the saints of the Most High” (verse 25). His verbal threats give rise to acts of persecution that seem successful for a time. He “made war with the saints and prevailed over them” — this is, “until the Ancient of Days came” (verse 22).
The Ancient of Days Judges
Daniel then sees that “thrones were placed” — this is a judgment scene — and “the Ancient of Days took his seat” (verse 9), presiding over all the nations, and all of history, to render his binding verdict. He far surpasses the strength, authority, extent, and duration of all the world’s greatest dynasties. This is God himself who takes his seat as Judge of all the earth he made.
He is clothed in white to reflect his utter purity; his hair, like pure wool to reflect the bottomless wisdom amassed over endless ages. He is surrounded by fire, streaming forth from his throne, flashing his power to conquer any challenger. Now the evil powers face the reckoning for their rebellion. The fourth and greatest beast is immediately smote, his body destroyed (verse 11; also verse 26), and the arrogant mouth silenced.
The Son of Man Emerges
Then there’s a remarkable turn. The Ancient of Days gives rulership to a divine-human figure called “the Son of Man.”
Daniel sees “one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him” (verse 13). The Ancient of Days gives his own dominion over all the nations to this “son of man” — an everlasting dominion, we’re told, that will not pass away (verse 14). The Son of Man rules over all, and his kingdom will not end. Though human, he far surpasses any other king. No other past, present, or future human sovereign has reigned, or will ever reign, without end.
The Saints Join Him
Finally, this vision becomes amazingly personal for those who call themselves God’s people, his holy ones, his saints. Not only does our God, the Ancient of Days, have the wisdom, authority, and power to judge the nations, but we are involved — not just as spectators, but as recipients. The people of God, the saints, play a stunning part in the culmination of history.
Verse 18 makes the first declaration: “the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.” The eternal, divine kingdom does not only belong to the Son of Man, but now also, through him, to all God’s people. Evil was allowed to make war on the saints, but only “until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom” (verse 22). In the end, to our astonishment, “the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given” — to whom? To us. To the church.
The Ancient of Days means for this vision in Daniel 7 to give great hope to his people, come what may. Not only because of his majestic transcendence and unsurpassed power, but also because of his nearness to his saints. He not only sits to judge, but gives us his everlasting kingdom. So, we sing to the Ancient of Days, the one to whom belongs wisdom and judgment and power and salvation.