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The Universal Reign of the Son of Man
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
November 25, 2012
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 Revelation 1:4-18 Psalm 93
In today’s Bible readings we have two visions of the Son of Man. However, there are some significant differences in the image of the Son of Man from each story. In our reading from Daniel, the Son of man is given authority, glory, and sovereign power by the Ancient of Days. The Ancient of Days possesses grand imagery such as a flaming throne, a river of fire flowing forth from him and brilliant white clothing and hair as white as wool. In our reading from Revelation, the Son of Man Himself possesses these awesome characteristics. The Son of Man Himself has hair white as wool, eyes blazing like fire, feet glowing like bronze in a furnace and a voice like rushing water. In our reading from Daniel, the Ancient of Days passes on His power to the Son of Man. In Revelation, the Son of man is already in full possession of His Divinity.
Our reading from Daniel is a typical enthronement ritual from the Ancient Near East. The enthronement rituals were a sacred way of passing authority from a king to his son. I say it was a sacred way of passing down power, because more than earthly rule was involved in the powers of the king. In the Ancient Near East, the king was the intermediary between the gods and humans. The power of fertility for the crops flowed through the king out to the land he ruled over. There were rituals that the king had to perform to ensure this flow of power from the gods down to the land. Some of these rituals were performing the correct sacrifices in a correct manner, and there were also sacred drama whereby the crops were renewed after winter. The fertility of the land depended on the power of the king. If the king was healthy and strong, the kingdom would be fertile and there would be victory over the kingdom’s enemies, bringing peace.
When the king became weak from age, the power needed to be passed down to his son. This had to be done in an orderly way lest confusion and rival claims for power disrupt the sacred balance between the gods and the king. So priests would oversee the ritual whereby the king would pass down his power to his son, giving his son all his former power.
We have a document preserved from ancient Mesopotamia that shows the mythic enthronement ritual of the god Marduk. Just as in the passage in Daniel, a throne is put before Marduk and all power and authority is given to him:
They erected for him a princely throne.
Facing his fathers, he sat down, presiding. . . .
From this day unchangeable shall be thy pronouncement. . . .
Thy utterance shall be true, thy command shall be unimpeachable. . . .
O Marduk, thou art indeed our avenger.
We have granted thee kingship over the entire universe. . . .
They conferred on him scepter, throne, and vestment; . . . (Enuma elis)
Note the similarity to the words in Daniel:
I looked and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory, and sovereign power; all peoples, nations, and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed (Daniel 7:13-14).
Our reading from Daniel is an enthronement ritual in which the power of the Ancient of Days is given to the Son of Man. This ritual is typical of the enthronement rituals of the Ancient Near East.
However, in our reading from Revelation, the characteristics of both the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man are all absorbed into the vision of the risen Christ. In Daniel, it was the Ancient of Days who had hair white as wool . In Revelation, it is the risen Christ who has hair white as wool. In Daniel, the throne of the Ancient of Days was flaming with fire. In Revelation, the risen Christ has eyes that are like blazing fire. So In Revelation, the risen Christ has the qualities that were assigned to the Ancient of Days in Daniel. But the risen Christ also has the qualities of the Son of Man. It is the risen Christ who is the universal God. He tells John,
I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! (Revelation 1:17-18).
So what we take from the book of Revelation is that the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man are united in the risen Christ. Or, in other words, Father and Son are one in the risen Lord Jesus.
The world view of these two passages are different, too. In the passage from Daniel, we think about the aging process, and passing control of the world over to the next generation. Adults retire and the governance of the world is given to their children. As we age, we notice that persons in power get younger and younger. I heard someone say that you know you’re aging when your doctor is younger than you are. I recall, too, one evening when Carol and I were at Blues on Whyte, listening to a live band. A rather drunk young man came up to us and said, “You two look like a happy old couple and I want to be like you when I get old.” Passing the reins over to the young is captured poetically by Wallace Stevens in SUNDAY MORNING. Speaking somberly about death, Stevens writes, “She causes boys to pile new plums and pears/On disregarded plate.”
These days, though, it doesn’t seem to be a matter of handing over the reins of power to the next generation. It feels more as if they are seizing the reins and taking power out from under the older generation. I am referring to all the new technology that young people master even as they are growing up, while we older folks sometimes have great difficulty learning how to work this new technology. My mother, who could be called two generations removed from today’s young adults, doesn’t even own a computer. And I have a friend my own age that doesn’t have a cell phone. This new technology is developing so fast that we older folks are becoming alienated from the world, rather than passing on our wisdom and power to the next generation. Always trying to keep pace with the trends of society, I would note that the latest James Bond movie deals with some of these themes.
Yet I still think that the aged have something to offer the young. Our elders have lived long lives and seen much and experienced much. There is a wisdom about life that can only come from having lived and experienced life over the years. There is a perspective on life that only the elders have. And that wisdom is of great value to the young who will listen, and, indeed, ask.
While the reading from Daniel suggests something about the generations, we have a different perspective from our reading from Revelation. In Revelation we have Jesus saying to John that He is the All in All. We all stand in relation to Him. In Revelation there is no handing power down from Father to Son. The power dynamic is only the risen Lord Jesus and the whole human race. This dynamic is brought out in another passage further along in Revelation. Here, the whole of humanity worships the lamb–yet another image for the risen Lord,
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing:
To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Revelation 5:11-13)
This reading puts us all on a level playing field–so to speak. It says we are all children of God. It says we are all one in our worship of the Lord. Paul says it well in Galatians,
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-28).
Further, these readings lift us up into a timeless world. There is no generational divide. There is the timeless Christ and the human race. This vision is one of life after life in the eternal realm.
I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever.
If only this troubled world could see things this way, no matter what name they use for God. We are all one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.
Dear Lord, we give you thanks for your care and love for the whole human race. You never cease to lift us upward toward you and your kingdom. You have come to us in a way we can understand–not as a ruling king, not as a powerful despot, but as a simple, humble ordinary human being. And yet you do rule all the created universe. All the circling stars and galaxies and all the sub-atomic particles obey your divine will. Though all of creation is yours, so are each one of us, your created children. You care for us as a mother hen cares for her chicks, and you guard us under your protective wing. We give you great thanks for caring for us with your divine and infinite love.