In our last study, we saw the amazing exchange between Jesus and Nathanael. Jesus chose Philip to be one of His disciples. Philip went to find his friend Nathanael and tell him about Jesus. Nathanael didn’t think much of a prophet coming from Nazareth, so Philip took Nathanael to meet Jesus.
“Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!’ Nathanael said to Him, ‘How do You know me?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’ Nathanael answered and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.’ And He said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” John 1:47-51
It’s important for us to study the Bible in context – including word structure, word meaning, and historical meaning. The words that Nathanael used for Jesus – Rabbi, Son of God, and King of Israel – are clear to us even though they were uttered almost 2,000 years ago in Israel. Nathanael recognized that Jesus was the promised Messiah of Israel, just as Philip had said. What Jesus said next was perfectly clear to Nathanael in both the Scriptural and historical context of his day. However, it is not as clear to us. What did Jesus mean when He told Nathanael that he would see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man?
We find the answer in the Old Testament Book of Daniel.
“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 was a great prophet of God and saw many amazing things in dreams and visions. He was from Judah and was taken into captivity by the Babylonians during the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah. Nebuchadnezzer was the king of Babylon and told told the master of his eunuchs to bring some of the Hebrew children to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzer was looking for handsome young men who were “gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand, who had the ability to serve in the king’s palace.” Nebuchadnezzer wanted to teach this special group of Hebrew young people the language and literature of the Chaldeans.
Historians estimate the dating of Nebuchadnezzer’s defeat of Judah at about 605 B.C. That matches the dating of King Jehoiakim’s reign as well. The Egyptian pharaoh made Jehoiakim his puppet king in Judah in 608 B.C. However, when Babylon defeated the Egyptian armies in 605 B.C., Jehoiakim switched sides and paid tribute to Nebuchadnezzer for a time. It was during that time that Daniel and his friends were taken captive to Babylon. Daniel was given the Babylonian name Belteshazzar, and because of the wisdom and insights God gave him, King Nebuchadnezzar made Daniel ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon. God gifted Daniel with the prophetic ability to interpret dreams and visions. That gift opened the way for Daniel to become a ruler in both the Babylonian and Persian empires.
In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions (Daniel 7). He wrote down the main facts of what he saw, which began with the four winds of heaven stirring up the Great Sea and four great beasts coming up from the sea. After describing what each beast looked like, Daniel wrote about seeing God.
“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. I watched then because of the sound of the pompous words which the horn was speaking; I watched till the beast was slain, and its body destroyed and given to the burning flame. As for the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away, yet their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.” Daniel 7:9-12
Daniel’s vision reads remarkably like the Apostle John’s vision of Jesus Christ judging the devil and the dead in Revelation 20. It is in the context of that judgment of God that Daniel sees “One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of Heaven.” God, the Ancient of Days, gave to the Son of Man “dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.” Daniel wrote that the Son of Man’s dominion would be everlasting, “Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed.”
Daniel received the interpretation of the vision from “one of those who stood by.” The person Daniel talked with was probably an angel; similar to angels explaining visions of the Revelation to the Apostle John. The interpretation of the beasts in the vision was of four great kingdoms on earth. Daniel was especially interested in the truth about the fourth beast, which was different from all the others. The description of the fourth beast is similar to the beast in John’s vision in Revelation. He would speak pompous words against the Most High and persecute the saints of the Most High for a period of time. However, the fourth beast would be defeated and his kingdom given to the saints of the Most High – “His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And all dominions shall serve and obey Him.”(Daniel 7:27) It is clear from Daniel’s vision and its interpretation that the everlasting Kingdom belongs to the Most High, which refers back to the Kingdom of the Son of Man.
The term “Son of Man” was Jesus’ favorite description of Himself during His Ministry on earth. He used it more than any other self-description. Jesus spoke to a nation of people who understood clearly what Jesus was claiming about Himself – that He was the Son of Man – the One Daniel saw in his vision. As we will see in our next study, it was Jesus’ use of that name, “Son of Man,” that would lead to His Death on the Cross.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
Building Confidence Through Evidence
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”