Chapter 7 of the book of Daniel, one of the prophetic books of the Jewish “Old Testament”, is an apocalyptic vision taken by Christians as a prophecy of the coming savior, the Christ. In the Christian “New Testament”, Jesus often refers to himself as The Son of Man, a reference to the character who comes among the clouds of heaven in the following story:
The four winds of heaven strove upon the great sea. Four great beasts came up from the sea, all different from one another. The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings. Its wings were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon its feet as a man, and it was given a man’s heart.
Another beast, a second, like a bear, raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. They said to it “Arise, and devour much flesh.” Another, like a leopard, had upon its back four wings like a bird’s. The beast had also four heads, and dominion was given to it.
A fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and exceedingly strong, had great iron teeth. It devoured and broke things in pieces, and stamped upon the residue with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that came before it, and it had ten horns. Another little horn came up among the rest , and three of them were pulled out by the roots. In this new horn, there were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things.
The thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of Days sat. His garment was as white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool. His throne was like fiery flame, and his wheels like burning fire. A fiery stream issued forth from before him. Thousands upon thousands ministered to him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. Judgement was set, and the books were opened.
Because of its voice and the great words which the horn spoke, the fourth beast was slain, and its body destroyed, and given to the burning flame. The rest of the beasts had their dominions taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season.
One like the Son of Man came among the clouds of heaven, and approached the Ancient of days, and they brought him before him. He was given dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, so that people of all 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.
One of them that stood nearby told the truth of all this and the interpretation of these things. The great beasts are four kings, who shall arise out of the earth. But the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, for all eternity.
Here is the truth of the fourth beast, which was different from all the others and exceedingly dreadful, whose teeth were of iron, and its nails of brass, and which looked more stout than its fellows. Its horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them, until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the Most High. Then the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom.
The fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom upon earth, different from all other kingdoms, which will devour the whole earth, tread it down, and break it into pieces. The ten horns are ten kings that shall arise out of this kingdom. Another shall rise after them, and he shall be different from the others, and he shall subdue three of them. He shall speak great words against the most High, and wear out the saints of the Most High, and think to change times and laws, and they shall be given into his hand for a time, until the end of the age.
But judgement shall come, and they will take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it in the end. Kingdom and dominion of the great kingdom under the whole of heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.
When the vision is explained by one of those standing near the throne of the Ancient of Days, the Son of Man is equated with the saints of the Most High, who, according to the explanation, are to be given rule over the everlasting Kingdom of Heaven. Ignoring this interpretation, the writer of the Gospel of Matthew took the Son of Man to literally be a divine being, the cosmic judge who will come at the end of days to rule over the Kingdom of Heaven. He then proceeded to equate this being with the resurrected Jesus.