The Clouds of Heaven
One of the great difficulties that modern Christians have is that we do not let the two testaments inform one another. Because of this neglect on our part, we miss many visions of coming glory that the Old Testament prophets set before us.
I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.(Daniel 7:13-14).
In the night visions, Daniel sees someone like the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven (v. 13). The one like the Son of man approaches the Ancient of days (God the Father), and is brought before Him (v. 13). When this mysterious figure approaches the Ancient of days, the end result is that universal dominion is bestowed on him—dominion, glory, and a kingdom. The nature of this kingdom was that all people, nations, and languages would serve him (v. 14). His dominion is to be everlasting, and the kingdom he has received will never be destroyed (v. 14). Preaching the kingdom of God, among other things, means preaching this.
The Son of Man:
The first thing to note is how Jesus identifies with this phrase—“the Son of man.” Although the phrase is common in the Old Testament, this is the only passage in the entire Old Testament where it is used in a messianic sense. Thus, it is a messianic term, but not a common messianic term. The Lord Jesus uses it, and it simultaneously conceals and reveals His identity. Some common examples would include Mark 2:10, 8:38, and 10:33. The Lord did not want His disciples proclaiming His identity until the time was right. After His resurrection and ascension (Rom. 1:4), the time was more than right, and so this reality now must be declared until the end of the world. This is what we are charged to declare—the universal lordship over (and consequent salvation of) the entire world.
The Clouds of Heaven:
We must let the Bible tell us what a phrase means. When we think of “the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven,” what do we think? We almost always think of the Second Coming, with Jesus descending to earth. But this is not what it means at all.
The fact that Jesus ascended into heaven on the clouds (the event we are commemorating today) is not meant (with regard to this prophecy) to point to another event many thousands of years later. Although Jesus will come again the same way He left, His manner of going was the beginning of the fulfillment itself. “And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:9-11).
Where This is Quoted:
The first place to consider is the Olivet Discourse. “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Mt. 24:30-31). This is not a sign in heaven, but rather a sign concerning the Son of man, who is in heaven. The tribes of the earth see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven. Now, in Daniel, where does He come? Into the presence of the Ancient of Days. His authority is apparent on earth (the tribes see it), but the coming is apparent in heaven.
The Jews who put Jesus on trial understood the ramifications of this phrase better than many modern Christians do. This is why, tearing his clothes, the high priest considered the statement blasphemous. “Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy.” (Mt. 26: 64-65; cf. Mk. 14:62-64). We should pay close attention to it—for this was the passage that brought about the conviction of Jesus.
Lord of All:
Returning to Daniel, what did the Lord Jesus receive after He departed from the disciples’ sight in a cloud? What did He receive when He approached the Ancient of days? The Scriptures are exceedingly clear on the point. He received everlasting dominion, glory, and an indestructible and universal kingdom (Dan. 7:13-14). He received the heathen for His inheritance, and the uttermost ends of the earth as His possession (Ps. 2: 8). He receives the worship of all the families on earth, and the remembrance of all the ends of the world (Ps. 22:27). He will receive all men as they stream to Him, the ensign of Jesse (Is. 11:10), and His rest shall be glorious. The earth will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord Jesus as the Pacific is wet (Is. 11:9). He will receive all His adversaries, made into His footstool (Ps. 110:1). He will receive the human race, unveiled (Is. 25:7), and will set a feast of fat things, full of marrow, full of fat, and wine on the lees, well-refined (Is. 25:8).
This world, the one we live in now, will be put to rights, before the Second Coming, before the end of all things. The only enemy not destroyed through the advance of the gospel will be death itself (1 Cor. 15:26)—and even that enemy will be in confused retreat (Is. 65:20). The ramifications of this are many, but one of the things it means is that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.