Monday, November 13, 2006

"Coming on the Clouds"

March 11, 2007
Luke 21.5-38

Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple and the end of the age in Luke 21. Much can be said of the details of the predictions. This study focuses on the coming of the Son of Man in 21.27: "And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory." Was Jesus simply referring to his second coming, or is there something behind these words which gives them a different significance? The prediction refers to Daniel 7.13-14 without doubt. To what in Daniel 7 was Jesus pointing that might have been significant to his initial audience, Theophilus the high priest of 37-41 A.D.?

God ordered Moses to build the tabernacle and its accessories in Exodus 25-40. The accessories are the same ones we later find in the temple. So, the tabernacle was a pre-temple of sorts. Among the accessories is the golden altar of incense before the ark of the covenant (40.5, 26-27), atop which sat the mercy seat. The incense created a "cloud" before God (a picture of God's dealings with his people: 40.34-38). In the cloud of incense mediation between God and man was made. On the Day of Atonement, the priest entered into the Holy of Holies and offered incense over the mercy seat, where God was said to dwell. Leviticus 16.13 reads thus: "Put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat...." While ceremonially significant, the temple scenario actually depicted a greater reality: God dwelling in heaven, before whom sinners were able to come, but only when their sins were eradicated via the high priest.

Daniel 7 is a different kind of picture, a vision of what takes place on the Day of Atonement. What happens in the Holy of Holies over the mercy seat where God dwells as the cloud of incense rises is translated into a heavenly scenario. Daniel 7.13-14:

"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 kingdom, that all people, 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."

The data: 1) This son of man comes with the clouds of heaven. 2) This son of man comes to the Ancient of Days, and is presented before him. 3) This son of man is given the kingdom. 4) This son of man is given power and glory.

Making sense of the data:

1) After the priest burned the incense in the Holy of Holies, atonement was made (Leviticus 16.14ff.). The timing of the son of man's coming is important. Note that he comes "with the clouds" as though the clouds were already en route. Thus, what went on symbolically in the Holy of Holies (the cloud of incense surrounding the mercy seat as atonement was being made) was depicted on a bigger scale in Daniel's vision (the son of man rising with the cloud to God to make atonement). In Luke 21.27, Jesus is claiming to one day fulfill that priestly duty.

2) Many interpreters make the mistake of claiming that Jesus refers to his second coming when citing Daniel; but in Daniel 7 "the Son of Man coming on the clouds" is not coming from God to man. He is going to God, to present himself. This is exactly what the high priest did on the Day of Atonement. In Luke 21.27, Jesus is claiming to be that very figure.

3) The high priest represented both God (before the people) and man (before God). This is why in Daniel 7.13-14 the son of man alone is given the kingdom. As the high priest, he represented the people in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. Later, in 7.18, 22, and 27, the people receive the kingdom. Daniel 7.1-14 is a vision; Daniel 7.15-28 is the interpretation of that vision. In other words, 7.13-14 depicts what takes place ceremonially on the Day of Atonement, while 7.18, 22, and 27 describes what actually takes place among the people because of the priestly mediation. In Luke 21.27, Jesus is claiming to one day represent man before God in place of the high priest to receive the kingdom as a representative of God's people.

4) Because the high priest was God's representative to his people, he was said to be glorious (Exodus 28.2, 40; 40.13; Leviticus 16.4, 32). His garments made him a powerful presence before the people (see the previous week's selection: The Rich Man and Lazarus). In Luke 21.27, Jesus is claiming to one day bear the power and great glory previously borne by the high priest.

Simply put, when Jesus claimed to be the Son of Man coming in a cloud with great power and glory to bring the kingdom, he was claiming to be the great high priest foretold. He was mediating between God and his people to atone for sin and dispense the kingdom. Theophilus the high priest of 37-41 A.D. would have recognized this claim instantly. (Jesus probably had his death in mind as the means for atonement. Theophilus would not have recognized that at this point in Luke's story. But his understanding of Jesus' death and resurrection, yet to come in the story, would have been colored by the facts laid out thus far - one of which being Jesus is the promised eschatological high priest.)

Consider how we are to understand Jesus' prediction of the end of the age in light of his claim to the the Son of Man described in Daniel 7. Are you relying on his work as mediator between you and God? This week meditate on the reality.


One detail in Luke possibly linking Jesus with the priestly son of man of Daniel 7:

In Luke 1.33, the angel proclaims that Jesus' "will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." In Daniel 7.14, 27 (see also 2.44), the kingdom which the son of man and the saints of God receive "shall not pass away" and is "an everlasting kingdom".

One detail concerning Daniel 7 that might further show that the son of man is the high priest:

The fourth beast of Daniel 7 "was different from all the bests that were before it" (7.7). Later, it is said to be "destroyed and given over to be burned with fire" (7.11). Immediately following is the one like a son of man, who above is suggested to be the high priest, rising to the Ancient of Days. Might that beast be the offering presented by the high priest for atonement of sins? (Recall that Daniel is living under Babylonian rule, during the Babylonian exile. He and his fellow Israelites longed to worship their God as they had in there homeland, namely in the temple. This vision exemplifies the significance of such worship in the life of a faithful Israelite.)

Other New Testament passages linking Daniel 7.13-14 with high priestly significance, and so applied to Jesus:

Revelation 1.7, 13-14: "Behold, he is coming with the clouds; ...and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round his breast; his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire." Compare the garments with those of the priest in Leviticus 16.4. Likewise compare physical description of Jesus with the Ancient of Days of Daniel 7.9: "His raiment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was firey flames, its wheels burning with fire." While John in his revelation is liking Jesus to the Ancient of Days rather than the son of man figure of 7.13, he is clearly pointing to Daniel 7 as a reference point for understanding the exalted Jesus.

Mark 14.61-64: "Again the high priest asked him, 'Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?' And Jesus said, 'I am; and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.' And the high priest tore his garments, and said, 'Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?' And they condemned him as deserving death." No one blasphemed the high priest, as he was God's representative before the people. Caiaphas, the high priest of Mark 14, recognized Jesus' claim to be the high priest as an act of blasphemy. In fact, Jesus' answer conflated two Old Testament passages: Daniel 7.13-14, which we have seen probably refers to the high priestly duties; and Psalm 110.1, which refers to the priestly order of Melchizadek. Both Jesus words and the high priest's reaction and behavior demonstrate Jesus' claim to the the new eschatological high priest foretold.


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