When we come to the book of Daniel, we’re introduced to the key metaphor of human kingdoms as senseless beasts. In Daniel chapter 4, the king of Babylon refuses to acknowledge God as his authority, and he is reduced to the status of a mindless animal. It’s a reversal of Genesis 1, as a human ruler is brought low to the level of the beast. And we know what beasts do. They fight to survive; they kill when necessary with no regard to humanity. And so in Daniel chapter 7, Daniel has a dream about wild and terrible beasts that symbolize the mighty empires that ravage God’s good world. But then Daniel sees a human figure called the Son of Man whom God exalts above the beasts to rule beside him on a divine throne. This Son of Man is raised to glorious rule and is worshiped alongside God as the divine King of creation. This dream summarizes the entire biblical story up to this point: God desires that humanity be unified with him to rule creation as his wise, image-bearing partners. But humanity has turned out to be a beast, so all we can hope is that a human will come and do for us all that we cannot do for ourselves.
If you can’t see the outline of Jesus’ life and mission in Daniel 7, take some time to re-read the four Gospels! Daniel 7 is one of the most important Old Testament stories for understanding what Jesus is all about, and it makes perfect sense why Jesus adopted the Son of Man title to describe himself. He is the divine-human partner that we all need to overcome the animal inside our nature and raise humanity back to the glorious destiny that God created us to experience. Jesus’ death was God’s condemnation of our animal-violence and the resurrection was his loving victory over the powers of death and evil. In and through Jesus, God has become what we are, so that we can become what he is and share in his divine life and love. This is the story of the Son of Man, and it’s the story of all of us as well.