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Supernatural Session 18

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The Cloud Rider

I closed the last chapter by noting how Jesus began to talk about his death immediately after baiting the powers of darkness at the gates of hell and Mount Hermon. The challenge set in motion a string of events that would lead to the Lord’s trial and his death on the cross. Christians have read about the trial of Jesus many times. But there’s a supernatural backdrop to it that is frequently overlooked.
To understand what finally draws the death sentence from the Jewish authorities and the transfer of Jesus to Pontius Pilate to carry it out, we have to go back to the Old Testament book of Daniel—to a meeting God holds with his heavenly host, his divine council.

The Ancient of Days and His Council

Daniel 7 begins with an odd vision. Daniel sees four beasts coming out of the sea (Dan. 7:1–8). They’re all freakish, but the fourth beast is the worst. In the dreams interpreted in the Old Testament, both objects and living things always represent something, and in this dream, the four beasts in Daniel’s vision are four empires. We know that because his vision aligns with the themes of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2, which was about Babylon and three other empires to follow. Our focus, though, is on what Daniel describes next:
As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. (Dan. 7:9–10)
We know the Ancient of Days is the God of Israel. That’s pretty easy to determine, especially if we compare the description of his throne to Ezekiel’s vision of God’s throne (Ezek. 1). The fire, wheels, and human form on the throne in that vision are the same as Daniel’s.
But did you notice there isn’t just one throne? There are a number of thrones in Daniel’s vision (Dan. 7:9)—enough for the divine court, God’s council (Dan. 7:10).
The heavenly court meets to decide the fate of the beasts—the empires—in the vision. It is decided that the fourth beast must be killed and the other beasts rendered powerless (Dan. 7:11–12). They will be displaced by another king and kingdom. And that’s where things get even more interesting.

The Son of Man Who Comes on the Clouds

Daniel continues narrating his vision:
I saw in the night visions, and 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, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (Dan. 7:13–14)
“Son of Man” is a phrase used many times in the Old Testament. It should be no surprise that it speaks of a human. The surprise is how else this human is described in this passage. Daniel 7:13 describes a man coming on the clouds to the Ancient of Days.
Why is that a big deal? Because everywhere else that description occurs in the Old Testament, it was used only of God himself (Isa. 19:1; Deut. 33:26; Ps. 68:32–33; Ps. 104:1–4). But in Daniel 7, God was already in the scene as the Ancient of Days. It’s as if, in his vision, Daniel sees a “second God” who is also a man—something like the way Christians believe in God as more than one person.
That’s precisely the point.
As Jesus stood before Caiaphas at his trial in Matthew 26, his life hanging in the balance, he hit a nerve by appealing to this idea:
Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’ ” And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” (Matt. 26:59–66).
In what seems like a pointless answer to a clear question, Jesus quoted Daniel 7:13 in response to Caiaphas. Do you want to really know who I am, Caiaphas? Listen carefully. The reaction is immediate. Caiaphas understood in an instant that Jesus was claiming to be the second God figure of Daniel 7:13—the human who was described in a way only God was described in the Old Testament. He was claiming to be God in human form. That was blasphemy‌—and grounds for a death sentence.
But Jesus, of course, knew that. He had no interest in protecting himself. He knew he must die to restore God’s kingdom, bring believers into God’s family, and reclaim the nations from the evil principalities and powers who controlled the nations God rejected at Babel.
And die he did. Psalm 22, well-known for how it describes the physical effects of crucifixion through the words of David, gives us a glimpse of horrors unseen at the cross. The suffering psalmist moans:
All who see me make fun of me;
they stick out their tongues and shake their heads.
“You relied on the Lord,” they say.
“Why doesn’t he save you?
If the Lord likes you,
why doesn’t he help you?” …
Many enemies surround me like bulls;
they are all round me,
like fierce bulls from the land of Bashan.
They open their mouths like lions,
roaring and tearing at me.
My strength is gone,
gone like water spilled on the ground.
All my bones are out of joint. (Ps. 22:7–14 gnt)
The creepy part of this description is the fierce bulls from Bashan. As we noted earlier, in Old Testament times, Bashan was ground zero to demonic gods and the realm of the dead. The area was a leading center for the worship of Baal, symbolized by bulls and cows. “Bulls from the land of Bashan” is a reference to demons, the powers of darkness. In our own time, the imagery was captured in all its eerie repulsion by C. S. Lewis in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. No one who has read that book or seen the movie can forget Aslan humbly surrendering his life to the delighted hordes of the White Witch on the Stone Table.
And just as Jesus had utterly outwitted Satan, Aslan had played the White Witch for a fool. What evil misperceived as the moment of triumph turned out to be its own irreversible defeat.

You Are Gods, but You Will Die Like Men

Satan’s loss of his claim over the lives of the children of Adam was not the only loss he suffered at the cross. His cohorts in rebellion, the supernatural gods (elohim) of the nations, would see their domains begin to vanish.
The supernatural gods had been assigned those nations by the Most High, the God of Israel (Deut. 4:19–20; 32:8–9). We are not told when they became enemies of God, but they did. They had turned God’s own people, Israel, away from worshipping him to instead sacrifice to them (Deut. 17:1–3; 29:26–27; 32:17). Psalm 82, the psalm we looked at in chapter 2 to introduce the divine council, tells us these elohim abused their power and rewarded evil. They have no care for God’s law or justice:
God presides in the heavenly council;
In the assembly of the gods (elohim) he gives his decision:
“You must stop judging unjustly;
you must no longer be partial to the wicked!
Defend the rights of the poor and the orphans;
be fair to the needy and the helpless.
Rescue them from the power of evil people.
“How ignorant you are! How stupid!
You are completely corrupt,
and justice has disappeared from the world.”
(Ps. 82:1–5 gnt)
The rest of the psalm tells us God had called this heavenly council meeting to tell the gods their future was bleak. Their reigns of terror would end when God decided to reclaim the nations:
“ ‘You are gods,’ I said;
‘all of you are children of the Most High.’
But you will die like mortals;
your life will end like that of any prince.”
Come, O God, and rule the world;
all the nations are yours.” (Ps. 82:6–8 gnt)
When would God decide to reclaim the nations? We read the answer earlier in Daniel 7:14 (gnt):
He was given authority, honor, and royal power, so that the people of all nations, races, and languages would serve him. His authority would last forever, and his kingdom would never end.
The messaging of Daniel 7:13–14 is clear—when the Son of Man receives the kingdom, it will be the beginning of the end for the supernatural powers of darkness. Jesus received the kingdom at his resurrection. God “raised Christ from death and seated him at his right side in the heavenly world. Christ rules there above all heavenly rulers, authorities, powers, and lords; he has a title superior to all titles of authority in this world and in the next” (Eph. 1:20–21 gnt).

Why This Matters

Before the cross, Satan had eternal claim on our souls. All humans die—and so, go to the realm of the dead, his domain. And there we would remain—were it not for the sacrifice of Jesus and his resurrection. Through faith in his work on the cross, we are raised with him. As we saw in the previous chapter, Satan was expelled from God’s presence when the kingdom began on earth (Luke 10:18). God would have no more of his accusations against believers. He had no more right to our souls.
Why, then, do we live as though he does?
Salvation is not gained by moral perfection. It is a gift that comes by grace, through faith (Eph. 2:8–9). That in turn means salvation cannot be lost by moral imperfection. What is not at all gained by performance cannot be lost by poor performance. Salvation is about believing loyalty—trusting what Jesus did to defeat Satan’s claim and turning from all other gods and the belief systems of which they are a part.
That is the message of God’s kingdom we are commissioned to tell to the nations (Matt. 28:19–20). And as we obey, the dominions of the enemy gods, the principalities and powers, shrink—soul by soul, moment by moment. The gates of hell, the realm of the dead, do not withstand the resurrection, and will not withstand the advance of the gospel.
At the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, though, none of this seemed real to the disciples. But they would soon get the message in a dramatic, unforgettable way.[1]
[1] Heiser, M. S. (2015). Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World—And Why It Matters. (D. Lambert, Ed.) (pp. 117–125). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
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