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The Ancient of Days

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The Ancient of Days

Rosablanca Suen

 

“The Ancient of Days” is an important title of God, yet it is a much neglected topic in the churches. I wish to devote this entire article to the important teaching of the “one God” in this title. Our church in Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong, studied “the Ancient of Days” in February 2020 during the novel corona virus outbreak. While the world was in a panic, we experienced great comfort and hope from God. It was as if the heavens were opened to us that evening. Our hearts were on fire as God’s plan for mankind unfolded before our eyes. We were expecting the brothers and sisters to go home quickly because of the pandemic, yet they stayed behind for fellowship longer than usual. By the time we got home, it was past midnight.

Our study of “the Ancient of Days” comprises three main sections:

(A) The Ancient of Days

(B) Like a son of man

(C) The saints of the Most High

The One referred to as “the Ancient of Days” is introduced in the three heavenly scenes in Daniel 7. These heavenly scenes are intermingled with the vision of four earthly beasts which represent successive earthly kingdoms coming into power.

Two different sets of events happen simultaneously in Daniel 7:

  • Prophetic events happening in heaven (Dan 7:9-10; 13-14; 22; 26-27)
  • Prophetic events happening on earth (Dan 7:11-12; 17-21; 23-25).

Furthermore, the vision in Daniel 7 is similar to the vision of the statue in Daniel 2, but given in greater detail. Daniel sees multiple layers of various empires in the four beasts coming out of the sea: a winged lion (Babylon 605 – 539 BCE); a bear (Medes and Persians 539 – 331 BCE); a leopard with two sets of wings (Greek Empire 331 – 168 BCE); and a beast having iron teeth (Roman Empire 168 BCE – 476 CE). This study focuses on “the Ancient of Days,” so I will not discuss these different kingdom empires and the last day events (Dan 7:11; 24-26), for such a discussion requires a lengthy exposition of its own.

Section A: The Ancient of Days

This title “the Ancient of Days” occurs three times in the Bible, and only in the book of Daniel (all boldface in the verses mine):

Dan 7:9 “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.” (RSV)

Dan 7:13 “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.” (RSV)

Dan 7:22 ”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.” (RSV)

In these verses, “the Ancient of Days” is connected to “a son of man” and “the saints of the Most High”.

1. Who is “the Ancient of Days”?

“The Ancient of Days” in its original linguistic form is Aramaic (Dan 2:4b – 7:28 are written in Aramaic), which is “atik yomin” with the Hebrew equivalent: עַתִּיק יֹומִין

There are two parts to this name: Ancient and Days

  • “Ancient” is an adjective meaning “advanced, aged”. (Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon)
  • “Days” is a plural noun meaning “a duration of time”. (BDB)

The entire expression “the Ancient of Days” indicates an aged person in a long duration of time. The article “the” points to a specific figure.

2. The Ancient of Days Sits on The Throne

a. The One who sits on the throne is YHWH

1 Kings 22:19 “And he said, “Therefore, hear the word of YHWH. I saw YHWH sitting on his throne with all the hosts of heaven standing beside him from his right hand and from his left.” (Lexham English Bible, emphasis mine)[1]

Isa 6:1 “In the year of the death of Uzziah the king, I saw the Lord sitting on a high and raised throne, and the hem of his robe was filling the temple.” (LEB, boldface and italics mine)

The Lord in Isa 6:1 refers to YHWH. Further on in Isa 6:3, Isaiah tells us, “Holy, holy, holy is YHWH of hosts! The whole earth is full of his glory.” and in Isa 6:5b, “for my eyes have seen the king, YHWH of hosts!” (both verses LEB, emphasis mine)

“The Ancient of Days” is YHWH who sits on the throne.

b. The One who sits on the throne is the King

The Bible speaks of YHWH as the King (all verses from LEB, and all boldface mine):

Psa 10:16YHWH is king forever and ever.”

Psa 29:10YHWH sits enthroned at the flood, and YHWH sits as king forever.”

Psa 44:4 “You are my king, O God. Command victories for Jacob.”

Psa 47:7 “For God is king of all the earth. Sing praises with understanding.”

Psa 74:12 “But God has been my king from long ago, working salvation in the midst of the earth.”

Psa 89:18 “because our shield belongs to YHWH, and our king to the Holy One of Israel.”

Psa 93:1-2YHWH is king; he clothes himself with majesty. YHWH clothes himself; he girds himself with might. Yes, the world is established so that it will not be moved. Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.”

Psa 99:1YHWH is king; let the peoples tremble. He sits enthroned between the cherubim. Let the earth shake.”

Lam 5:19 “You, O YHWH, will sit forever on your throne for generation to generation.”

“The Ancient of Days” is YHWH, the King who sits on the throne.

c. YHWH the King is the Judge

Isa 33:22 “For YHWH is our judge; YHWH is our lawgiver. YHWH is our king; he is the one who will save us. (LEB, emphasis mine)

Psa 98:9 “Before YHWH, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity.” (LEB, emphasis mine)

Psa 96:10 “Say among the nations, ‘YHWH is king! Yes, the world is established so that it will not be moved. He will judge the peoples fairly.’” (LEB, emphasis mine)

“The Ancient of Days” is YHWH the King who judges.

The above Bible verses establish, beyond any shadow of doubt, that “the Ancient of Days” is YHWH God, the One who sits on the throne as both the King and the Judge.

3. YHWH God – the Sole Figure on the Throne

It is important to see that YHWH God is the sole person on the throne. He is the Father, the God of heaven.

When I refer to the Father, I am referring to the Father in the Old Testament whose name is YHWH. The Trinity doctrine also speaks of a Father, but this Father is not a “sole figure” but “one of three persons” in the triune God. As you can see, the Trinity doctrine contradicts the Scripture.

The Ancient of Days is a single personality. The Father is a single person sitting on the throne. God is one, not three.

4. Does the Ancient of Days refer to Jesus?

There is no Scriptural support for identifying the Ancient of Days with Jesus.

Some commentators mistakenly think that “the Ancient of Days” refers to Jesus because the phrase “the hair of his head like pure wool” (Dan 7:9) is similar to the description of the glorified Jesus whose “head and hair were white like wool” (Rev 1:14). The fact that the glorified Jesus has a similar description does not equate Jesus as God. What it reveals is that the glorified Jesus resembles closely the image of God.

Orthodox theology interprets “the Ancient of Days” to be Jesus. The Great Synod of Moscow, convened in 1667 by the Russian Orthodox Church, declared that “the Ancient of Days was the Son and not the Father.”[2]

The traditional theological interpretation fails to distinguish the man Jesus from his exalted state in heaven.

Most Bible scholars do agree that “the Ancient of Days” points to God. One of the earliest commentaries on the Book of Daniel, by Hippolytus in the 2nd Century CE, says: “the Ancient of Days is, for Daniel, nothing more than the Lord, God and Master of All, the Father of Christ himself.” [3]

Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin (the Vulgate, commonly known as the Latin Vulgate) in the 4th century CE, commented that “the Ancient of Days is the One who sits alone upon his throne,” a reference to Rev 4.2 which describes the one who sits upon a throne and has a likeness of jasper and other precious stones. “God is called the One who sits and who is the Ancient of Days, in order that His character as eternal Judge might be indicated.”[4]

5. Why is “the Ancient of Days” portrayed in human form?

The following two quotes from other Bible scholars are noteworthy for our present study:

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: “The expression is used in reference to God in Daniel 7:9,13,22 and is not intended to suggest the existence of God from eternity. It was the venerable appearance of old age that was uppermost in the writer’s mind. What Daniel sees is not the eternal God Himself, but an aged man, in whose dignified and impressive form God reveals Himself (compare Ezekiel 1:26)” (Keil).[5]

Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges: “The expression does not mean what the English words seem to imply, one who had existed from the days of eternity; it means simply an aged man; and the R.V., one that was ancient of days, is meant to indicate this. Exactly the same expression occurs in the Syriac version of Wis 2:10 for an ‘old man,’ and in Sir 25:4 (in the plural) for ‘elders.’ What Daniel sees is not the eternal God Himself, but an aged man, in whose dignified and impressive form God reveals Himself: cf. Ezekiel 1:26” (Keil).[6]

“The Ancient of Days” is the only title of God depicted in anthropo­morphic form. Take note of the fact that it comes from a vision. No one can see God and live, therefore it is not surprising that the Ancient of Days is portrayed in a human form of an aged white-haired figure. Only in this way is Daniel able to express in human language the visible form of what he has seen in the vision.

This is very similar to Ezekiel’s vision in Ezekiel 1:26, “And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance.” (ESV, emphasis mine)

The primary focus of Daniel’s vision is portraying the heavenly scenes and not God’s essence.

What we can take away from this first scene is that God sits on His throne with thousands and ten-thousands standing before Him and serving Him (Dan 7:10). Who are these thousands and ten-thousands? These are myriads of angels in heaven serving and worshipping God with praises (Rev 5:11).

Take a moment to meditate on this great heavenly scene in Daniel 7:

  • YHWH God sits on His throne
  • The court is seated
  • Thousands and ten-thousands are serving Him
  • The books are opened
  • Judgment takes place

Section B: Like A Son of Man

In this second section, another figure appears, one who is “like a son of man”:

Dan 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 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.” (ESV, emphasis mine)

Who is this person like a “son of man”?

1. How is “son of man” used in the Bible?

The following statistical graph allows you to gain insights at a glance.

  • “Son of man” occurs 192 times in the Bible
  • 108 times in the Old Testament
  • 84 times in the New Testament
  • The book of Ezekiel has the most occurrences
  • A great proportion occurs in the Gospel writings in which Jesus uses the term “son of man” of himself

The following Bible verses give a clear definition of “son of man” (all emphasis mine):

Num 23:19 “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (ESV)

Job 25:6 “How much less man, who is a maggot, and the son of man, who is a worm!” (ESV)

Psa 8:4 “what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (ESV)

Psa 80:17 “But let your hand be on the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself!” (ESV)

Psa 144:3 “O YHWH, what is humankind that you take knowledge of him, or the son of man that you take thought of him? (LEB)

Isa 51:12 “I, I am he who comforts you; who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, of the son of man who is made like grass. (ESV)

Isa 56:2 “Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.” (ESV)

Clearly, “son of man” refers to man.

This human figure, as it were, is being contrasted with “the Ancient of Days”. Notice that “the Ancient of Days” is not called “the Ancient of man.” “The Ancient of Days” has a timelessness that is not found in this “son of man”.

One thing for certain is that this human figure is totally distinct from the Ancient of Days.

2. Who is this “son of man”?

Could this “son of man” be Daniel himself since he was addressed as such by Gabriel in Dan 8:17? Or even Ezekiel whom God addressed as “son of man” no less than 93 times in the book of Ezekiel? Or does this “son of man” refer to Jesus?

Let’s look at the following actions associated with the “son of man” in Dan 7:13-14:

  1. Coming in the clouds of heaven
  2. Came to the Ancient of Days
  3. Was presented before the Ancient of Days
  4. Was given dominion and glory and a kingdom:
  • all peoples, nations and languages should serve him
  • this kingdom is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away or be destroyed

In this prophetic vision, Daniel sees a man-figure coming before the judgment seat. The Ancient of Days does not go to him, but rather the man comes before God. This man also does not come on his own initiative, but is ushered in before the throne of God. This man is given the dominion and glory of an everlasting Kingdom.

This everlasting kingdom is in contrast to the earthly kingdoms that are temporary. At the time of Daniel, Babylon was thought to be invincible and unconquerable, yet fell in one single night. The same happened to the subsequent kingdoms of Persia, Greece and Rome. Daniel’s vision stretches our eyes to see the eternal kingdom that stands forever.

3. Son of Man points to the Messiah

God had it in His plan long ago that the “son of man” would be the Messiah who takes up the role that Adam failed in.

YHWH in his omnipotence had in mind for another man to accomplish the task of solving the problem of sin. As early as in Genesis, YHWH promised that “the seed of the woman” (Gen 3:15) would accomplish this work. This is exactly what the son of man did as it requires a man to fulfill this task. His “heel” will be bruised, a prophesy of great suffering, but he will ultimately succeed in this great battle and conflict with Satan. Rom 5:19, “For as by the one man’s disobedience, many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (ESV, emphasis mine) There is no Scriptural support to say that “God” is required to be a sacrifice for sin. God appointed the Messiah to be the perfect sacrifice for man’s salvation.

The Messiah, in his obedience to God, became the perfect sacrifice for sins. As a result, not only was he given the Kingdom, he was exalted to sit at the right hand of God.

Hebrews 1:3 “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (ESV, emphasis mine)

Hebrews 10:12-13 “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.” (ESV, emphasis mine)

Jesus fulfilled the prophecy in the Messianic Psalm 110:1, “A declaration of YHWH to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” (LEB, emphasis mine)

The action of the son of man “coming on the clouds of heaven” (Dan 7:13) reminds us of Jesus’ words on how the “son of man” will come on “that day”:

  • “the son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Mat 24:30)
  • “the son of man seated at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mat 26:64)

From all the above Bible verses, we can accurately deduce that the “one like a son of man” is pointing to the Messiah.

4. Pre-existence of Jesus?

Some Christians misinterpret this passage in Daniel 7 as referring to a pre-existent Jesus. Pre-existence refers to something that had actually happened at an earlier time. But remember that this is a prophetic vision, so it speaks of something that will take place in the future.

The following timeline shows the sequence of events in their approximate dates:

The event of Jesus’ ascending to heaven and sitting at the right hand of the Father did not take place in the time of Daniel. The prophecy was fulfilled about 400 years later. What Daniel saw was a prophetic future vision. But today, 2000 years later, we are looking back at this event that has already been fulfilled. We need to be clear on the timing, so that we do not wrongly assume the pre-existence of Jesus from this passage.

We cannot use this prophecy to deduce the actual time of Jesus’ existence, which began with his birth.

5. This heavenly scene shows two distinct figures:

(1) The Ancient of Days – YHWH God

(2) Son of man – A man - The Messiah

There are only two figures in the heavenly scene.

The Trinity doctrine teaches that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are God in three persons. But in Daniel’s vision, we do not see three members. If the Bible speaks of a God in three persons, why is it that we don’t see the Holy Spirit sitting on the heavenly throne? The Trinity doctrine has no place in this scene.

There is one God, and there is one man, the Messiah

1. “The Ancient of Days” is the Father, the God of heaven (Gen 2:18,19,28,37,44). God is a single person, not a God in three persons (Dan 7:9-10). God is represented as a singular figure on His own. God is one. God, the King, sits on the throne. He judges.

2. The son is not “God the son” but a “son of man”. We must not confuse these two titles as they are totally different in meaning. The trinitarian term “God the son” implies that the son is God, but in Daniel 7, the “son of man” carries no hint of a divine figure. On the contrary, “son of man” is a man.

3. The “son of man” that Daniels sees is the promised Messiah. (Dan 7:13)

4. God is often juxtaposed with the Messiah in the heavenly scene (Dan 7:13). The two are separate figures who communicate with each other.

5. The Ancient of Days is far higher than the “son of man”. There is no co-equality between them. God, as the Ancient of Days, confers the authority and dominion of the everlasting Kingdom on the worthy Messiah.

Section C: Saints of the Most High

The third section is about the “saints of the Most High,” and the time for them to possess the kingdom (Dan 7:18). For us, this prophecy is still in the future.

Dan 7:22 “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.” (ESV, emphasis mine)

Some commentators venture to say that in this section the Ancient of Days (Dan 7:22) becomes Jesus. This is without Scriptural basis. The Ancient of Days in Dan 7:22 is consistently the same Ancient of Days in Dan 7:9,13. The roles of the two figures do not change. There is no scriptural or exegetical support for switching them back and forth. God is God, and the Messiah does not become God at all.

In Daniel 7, “saints” occurs seven times (Dan 7:18, 21, 22, 22, 25, 25, 27). They are specifically called saints of the Most High four times (Dan 7:18, 22, 25, 27). The saints are the people of God who overcome in remaining faithful to the end.

The time will come when the saints will receive the kingdom.

Dan 7:27 “And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.” (ESV)

All along, God has the intention of giving the kingdom for men to rule. Like “the son of man”, the saints will be tested to their utmost as in the end times, when the antichrist will make war against the saints, to prevail against them (Dan 7:21), to speak words against the Most High, and to wear out the saints (Dan 7:25).

“Wear out” is a verb translated from Aramaic with the Hebrew equivalent בְּלַא. It literally means being persecuted and “harassed continually”. (Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon). Let’s brace ourselves for the difficult days ahead of us. The saints will be worn out to extreme exhaustion.

Let’s prepare for this intense spiritual battle and not let the enemy break us in any way. The “son of man” seated at the right hand of the Father will continually intercede for us to give us strength from YHWH to overcome the enemy on all fronts. What we are experiencing in the COVID-19 virus outbreak is equipping us to face more difficult times ahead of us. We need to stay alert and be vigilant spiritually.

Finally, after the saints of the Most High overcome, they will be given the kingdom and will reign with the Messiah forever and ever. “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” (Rev 1:15)

Conclusion From a Pastor’s Heart

“The Ancient of Days” is YHWH God

“Son of man” is a man, the Messiah

“Saints of the Most High” are the people of God

  1. YHWH God has supreme authority over heaven and earth. He intends that the everlasting Kingdom on earth be ruled by men.
  2. The first Adam sinned and failed. But the last Adam succeeded by his voluntary submission to do God’s will to become the perfect sacrifice for sins and the source of salvation for all who obey him (Heb 5:8-9). Adam failed by his disobedience but Christ succeeded by his obedience.
  3. The prophetic vision in Daniel 7 is the fulfillment of God’s initial intention of placing man in a dominion role. The son of man is proven worthy to execute God’s eschatological plan of judgment and redemption (Rev 5:9-14).
  4. The son of man is the Messiah. He is granted dominion of the everlasting Kingdom.
  5. One day, the Messiah will come to gather the saints of the Most High to rule with him. The Messianic Kingdom will be forever and ever.
  6. The angels in heaven do not have this great privilege of redemption and ruling. While angels are higher than us at the present moment, one day we will even rule over angels (1 Cor 6:3). Eyes have not seen the great things that God has in store for those who love Him (1 Cor 2:9).

Let this plan of God set your heart on fire as we look forward to this Day with excitement.

 



[1] Lexham English Bible is one of the few English translations that preserve the Tetragrammaton YHWH, though in the form “Yahweh” which is favored by many biblical scholars. When we quote from LEB, we use YHWH because the Hebrew originally had no vowel pointing system, but also because YHWH and Yahweh are referentially equivalent.

[2] The Tome of the Great Council of Moscow (1666-1667 A.D.), Ch. 2, 43-45.

[3] G. N. Bonwetsch, Hippolytus Werke, vol. I: Die Kommentaire zu Daniel and zum Hohenliede (Liepzig: J. C. Hinrichs’sche Buchhandlung, 1897), 212.

[4] Jerome’s Commentary on Daniel, trans. Gleason L. Archer, Jr. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1958). CCL 75a:845.

[5] International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Ancient of Days, https://www.biblestudytools.com/encyclopedias/isbe/ancient-of-days.html

[6] Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, https://biblehub.com/commentaries/daniel/7-9.htm

 

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