One Like a Son of Man
As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.
The Haskell Free Library and Opera House was built on the border between Vermont and Quebec; the only library in the world that exists and operates in two countries at once. Do you find that your dreams seem to straddle the border of two countries? You see things in your dream that inhabit the country where you live and then there is that dream country where the laws of nature don’t apply. In his book The "Interpretation of Dreams," Sigmund Freud suggested that the content of dreams is related to wish-fulfillment expressing the unconscious wishes of the dreamer. While Carl Jung shared some commonalities with Freud, he felt that dreams were more than an expression of repressed wishes and reflected the richness and complexity of the entire unconscious.
1. I am not sure what stock you put in dreams; most of my dreams I don’t remember and in some of the ones I do remember I was glad to wake up. So when we read this Biblical dream of Daniel’s we may not know quite what to make of it. It seems to be on the border of two realities. Freud and Jung would have their read of it as revealing something of Daniel’s unconscious life. The Bible presents it as God disclosing something to Daniel. First, I would point out to you that in the book of Daniel a limited number of Daniel’s dreams are recorded. These dreams stand out to Daniel for some reason. This one is described as a vision. In other words, Daniel isn’t in the habit of telling us everything he dreams.
The second thing I note with you is the consistency of this story with other bible stories of God’s disclosures to humans. In the Bible when God speaks or makes things known to people, the person addressed knows who has addressed him or her, knows what has been said, and is given some understanding of the address. God provides all of this in God’s address. All these elements are present in the story of Daniel. Daniel is convinced that God had something to say to him, has knowledge of what was said, and is given some understanding of that disclosure. We are to understand that God gave both the dream and the conviction that Daniel ought to pay attention to the dream.
The third point I would invite you to consider is Jesus’ regard for what was revealed in Daniel’s dream/vision. In the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, particularly in Mark’s gospel, Jesus tells his followers not to broadcast the news that he is Israel’s messiah. (Mark 8:29-30) So much so that Biblical scholars refer to this caution issued by Jesus as the messianic secret. In the gospels, you don’t find Jesus referring to himself using the title Messiah very often. The title Jesus does use consistently when speaking about himself and his ministry comes directly from this dream/vision of Daniel; Son of Man.
In the four gospel accounts this title Son of Man is used of Jesus 83 times. Mark 10:45 is typical of Jesus’ self-referential use of this title; “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” This text from Daniel’s vision (Daniel 7:13-14) is the one Jesus cites at his trial when he declares that he is Israel’s Messiah. Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ Jesus said, ‘I am; and “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power”, and “coming with the clouds of heaven.” ’ (Mark 14:62-63)
Clearly, Jesus believed that Daniel’s dream had something to say about his ministry and his life. And this conviction of our Lord is what I invite you to explore with me as we probe what Daniel’s dream discloses. It is a word of hope in the midst of the ever-changing kings, and kingdoms, and political realities of our world. It touches on the kingdom that transcends all of these and the King whose name we bear, Jesus Christ our Lord. The King in whose name we baptize these children today.
2. The author of our small group study Larry Osborne uses a very interesting analogy to think about the nature of Biblical hope. Osborne invites us to think of a favourite sports team and to consider that a favourite game we remember of that team is likely a game in which they were hopelessly behind but somehow managed to win the game in the end. When watching that game in real time we likely came close to stop watching during those moments when it was going from bad to worse. But once we knew how the game ended we come see those same moments very differently and they can even be our favourite parts of the game.
Knowing the outcome changes how we experience this life of faith. The turmoil caused by these four great beasts in Daniel’s vision changes when the Ancient One takes his throne and judgement was rendered and the terrifying fourth beast was put to death. And then the one like a Son of Man is presented to God and is given complete dominion; dominion that is everlasting and a kingship that will never be destroyed. We confess the truths of this vision about our Lord each time we say the Apostles’ Creed; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead. In a sense, we have already seen how it all ends. Hope rises in our hearts because we are confident of our Lord and his reign.
Many know the poem “Footprints in the Sand’ and of the conversation with God in that poem about the moments when only one set of footprints is visible. These were the dark moments of life not when Jesus abandoned us but when he carried us. That is why only one set of footprints is visible. Even now we can look back on difficult times with a sort of fondness—not because the difficulty was pleasant but because we found our Lord’s sustaining grace to be so strong. The sustaining of our Lord in the turmoil and turpitudes of this life points toward that day when our faith will be sight and crying and pain and death will be no more.
We read today of when Jesus was asked which was the first of all the commandments. Jesus answered, “The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”” (Mark 12:29-20) Sometimes we regard the picture of God on his throne in judgement as disconnected from this idea that God is one to be loved. The point I invite you to reflect upon is this—if there is no judgement then there is no right and no God who loves us. The love God has shown us wants the best—and therefore all that is right—for the one loved. Love in a godless world is reduced to impulse and preference.
English author and journalist Peter Hitchens published a 2018 book review of the series of books by George R.R. Martin which have come to be known by the collective name Game of Thrones. Hitchens writes “I do not think he (Martin) has set out to make an attack on Christianity. I do not think he especially likes it, but I suspect he has discarded it, and so he has written an account of a world in which it simply does not exist.”
Hitchens sees a connection between this world of Martin’s novels and our own times. “Is this not very much like our own age, as it develops? Our minds are emptied of faith and hope, and we are emptied of charity. God’s visible hand is nowhere. Dead is dead. What is stolen remains stolen. Corruption is becoming normal. No help can be expected, and there is no reason to believe that a divine justice awaits the greedy or the crooked.”
When we read the story of Daniel’s vision of fantastic beasts and their power and exploits depicting four kings that will arise on the earth, it reads like a novel. And like good novels a story is told that depicts and assumes certain things about the reality of our world. The world Martin imagines in the Game of Thrones is a very different world than the one depicted in Daniel. In Daniel’s vision the world of kings and kingdoms is the theatre of God’s interest and activity moving everything inexorably towards the day when the Ancient One will take his throne; and the books will opened and judgement rendered; and the dominion of the one like a Son of Man will be consummated and everything put under his feet. And these visons have direct implication for how we live and experience life.
3. It isn’t just confidence in God’s ability to achieve his purposes that builds hope. I find hope ignited by the person who is this king; this Son of Man in whom is vested everlasting dominion. Jesus is not like any king or ruler we anticipate. He does not rule by the typical means of force we see used in our world. Perhaps this is why so many disregard him or are indifferent to him. (i.e. George Martin in Game of Thrones, Jesus does not play those games). Kings, and Prime ministers, and Presidents come and go, but according to Daniel’s vision, of the Son of Man his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.
What is this king like? According to John’s gospel, on that night our Lord was betrayed Jesus was walking with his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane; to the place where Jesus liked to go to pray; to the place the betrayer knew to come to have Jesus arrested. As they are walking along towards all that will unfold for Jesus, he said “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.” The word “glorify” means to show clearly. The place where we see the Son of Man being most characteristically himself—his glory—is on the cross as he gives his life for us.
The reason the believer has hope is because at the cross the just judgement for our sin was borne by another, Jesus Christ our Lord. Judgement has already been rendered—we are sinners. But in Christ amnesty has been declared. We are set free to serve him who gave himself freely for us. As we have noted on other occasion Christian hope is a future certainty based on a present reality. The present reality is the faithfulness of God and the event of God’s faithfulness that towers above all the rest is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
At the Synod of Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church held in October the topic was “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.” The topic was chosen three years ago. In September in the wake of the sexual abuse scandals some young priests wrote an open letter to this synod which said, in part:
“Only a powerful encounter with Jesus Christ and a joyful proclamation of the orthodox faith of the Church can inspire young hearts and fire young people to mission. …
We, as young people, know the toll of the sexual revolution in a visceral way: divorce, the unchecked pursuit of pleasure, objectification of women, sex trafficking, pornography, all of the horrors that precipitated the #MeToo movement, listlessness, despair, addiction. We already see the effects trickling into the next generation through smartphone addiction, teen depression and anxiety, and social media bullying. We don’t view these effects as liberating; we view them as shackling. And we think our peers are with us.
We grew up in a world that values radical autonomy above all else. We have all been compromised by it in one way or another. But it is a lie. And when young people realize they’ve been lied to, they go searching for answers. Then the Gospel of Jesus Christ manifests itself anew as liberation, as freedom from the shackles of our age, so that we instead become prisoners for the Lord.”
This King we serve is so different; setting us free from shackles of other tyrannies. I love the line of the prayer where we petition God, “that in your light we may see light, and in your service find perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen.