Lesson: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
9 As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient One took his throne, his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire.
10 A stream of fire issued and flowed out from his presence. A thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him. The court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.
13 As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him.
14 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 Book of Daniel has two distinct parts. Chapters 1 to 6 are stories of Daniel in the Court of the Babylonian Kings and the Persian Kings just before, during and just after the Babylonian Exile (587-539 BCE). Because the kings in the stories were presented as ignorant (but not malevolent), scholars date these six chapters to the 4th Century BCE when Judea was under the generally benevolent rule of the Persians (539-333 BCE) and the Greeks (333 to 281 BCE). Chapters 2 to 7 of the Book were written in Aramaic rather than in Hebrew.
Chapters 7 to 12 were written later – during the oppression of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164 BCE) whose desecration of the Temple led to the Maccabean Revolt in 167 BCE.
These later chapters presented an apocalyptic vision – a situation so dire that an external intervention (such as by God) was needed to put things right. Like other apocalyptic writings, the Book of Daniel used dramatic images to describe the conflict between good and evil.
Today’s reading is part of Daniel’s dream in which his vision of God (“the Ancient One”) bears strong similarities to the visions of God in Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 1. Daniel then saw (as part of the divine intervention) “one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven” (v.13) who was presented before the Ancient One and given everlasting dominion over others.
“A human being” or “THE human being” (the fullness of being a human) in Aramaic is “bar adam” – which is translated literally as “son of a human” or the son of “adam” – the first earthling. It is also translated as “Son of Man,” a title attributed to Jesus of Nazareth in the Gospels. The messianic use of this title is also found in postbiblical Jewish literature such as 1 Enoch and 2 Esdras.
In Israel in the period following the Maccabean Revolt, the “one like a human being” would have been understood as the angel Michael, the protector of Israel who opposed the four beasts who were also a part of Daniel’s “vision” (Dan.7:17). These four “beasts” were typically interpreted as the Babylonians, Medes, Persians, and Greeks.
The Book of Daniel said that his visions occurred during the Babylonian Captivity. If that were the case, the vision of the “four beasts” would be an extraordinarily accurate foretelling of the history of Israel during and after the Captivity. In reality, however, these chapters were written around 165 BCE – well after each of the ”four beasts” had dominated Israel.
Epistle: Revelation 1:4b-8
4b Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
7 Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen.
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
The Book of Revelation is also known as the “Apocalypse” (from a Greek word meaning an “unveiling” or “disclosure” of a new age or of heaven, or both). Apocalyptic writing generally described a dire situation ruled by evil powers that can be overcome only by the “in-breaking” of a force (such as God) to bring about a new age.
Like apocalyptic writings in the Hebrew Bible, the Book of Revelation used dualistic (either/or) language and extreme images and metaphors to describe the conflict between good and evil. Apocalyptic literature is often presented as a revelation from God conveyed by an angel or other heavenly body. Apocalyptic writings used symbolic language to convey God’s hidden plan and presented a vision of an eschatological victory leading to a “New Jerusalem.”
The author of Revelation identified himself as “John” but most scholars conclude that the author was not John the Apostle because of (among other things) the reference to the 12 apostles in 21:14. Because of the internal references in the Book, most scholars date Revelation to the late First Century.
The author of Revelation had a profound knowledge of the Hebrew Bible. More than half the verses in Revelation allude to passages in the Hebrew Bible. His reference in today’s reading to Jesus as “coming with the clouds” tied back to today’s reading in Dan. 7:13. The reference to “those who pierced him” was derived from a Messianic oracle in Zech. 12:10. The statement that Jesus’ side was pierced appears only in the Gospel According to John, and John 19:37 explicitly referred to this verse in Zechariah.
Gospel: John 18:33-37
33 Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
The Fourth Gospel is different in many ways from the Synoptic Gospels. The “signs” (miracles) and many stories in the Fourth Gospel are unique to it, such as the Wedding at Cana, Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, and the Raising of Lazarus.
The chronology of events is also different in the Fourth Gospel. For example, the Temple Event (“cleansing of the Temple”) occurred early in Jesus’ Ministry in the Fourth Gospel, rather than late as in the Synoptic Gospels. In the Synoptic Gospels, the Last Supper was a Passover Seder, but in the Fourth Gospel, it occurred the day before the first day of Passover so that Jesus (who is described as “the Lamb of God”) died on the cross at the time lambs were being sacrificed at the Temple for the Passover Seders to be held that night.
Today’s reading contains a substantially expanded version of the exchange between Jesus and Pilate as compared to the Synoptic Gospels. In the Synoptic Gospels, Pilate asked Jesus if he was the King of the Jews, and Jesus remained silent or responded, “You say so.” In this account, Jesus’ responses are more extensive.