And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe. And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped.
Today I would like to take a break from the series on economics as I prefer to write on a topic when the inspiration takes me. This post is prompted by my reading earlier this week at another site: https://theorangemailmanmyblog.wordpress.com/2018/03/22/revelation-1414-16-pictures-the-rapture/ . The post there is long and excellent. I do not intend to re-present all of its material. If you can spare the time, read it in full. The central thesis of the article is that Revelation 14:14-16 depicts the resurrection and rapture of the saints at the Parousia, forming a companion passage to Matthew 24:30-31, 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17, Isaiah 26:19-21, and others. The author identifies the figure seated on the cloud with Jesus Christ, and I agree with this interpretation.
A Son of Man figure riding on the clouds goes back to Daniel 7:13.
I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.
This is a Divine Council scene. God’s court sits in judgment, with God seated on His flaming chariot-throne, and the books of judgment opened, filled with deeds to be evaluated and/or to record the judgment of the court. The Son of Man is to be awarded a kingdom, which He will share with His holy ones, and the Beast is to be judged, his punishment being destruction by fire (a motif picked up in the Gospels, and in John’s description of the Lake of Fire and perdition in Revelation). The basic ideas of the scene are easy to grasp, but further details are exotic and confusing to those not acquainted with the Ancient Near East worldview (and the intertestamental development of that worldview, if one posits a Second Temple date for Daniel).
In this scene there are two YHWH figures: the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man. There was not familial Trinitarian language in common use at this time, but had the passage been composed following the ministry of Jesus Christ, we would refer to Them as the Father and Son. How do we arrive at this interpretation? The identification of the Ancient of Days with YHWH, El Elyon, etc. is intuitive, derived from the emphasis the passage places on Him, His description as seated in a judgment context with the other figures impliedly in subordinate roles, and the description of the flaming chariot-throne.
Fire was a symbol of holiness because of its ability to purify metal: the Levitical purity codes taught the Israelites a picture of God’s holiness as destructive of unclean things: corruption, death, and sin. This metanarrative was perpetuated by stories such as the destruction of Uzzah for touching the Ark of the Covenant (2 Samuel 6:6-8). The emphasis in Daniel on those who are loyal to YHWH becoming sanctified (cf. Isaiah’s purification by means of the fiery coal from God’s altar, administered by the burning seraph in Isaiah 6), speaks to a desire for the restoration: a world in which God can dwell fully with his people at last, because they have been purified. The court of judgment speaks to the coming of this new world in which the holy ones will rule with the Son of Man, evil (the Beast) having been destroyed.
The chariot was another motif that represented God, found in literary and physical iconography (cf. the vision in Ezekiel 1 and the famous coin from the Persian period: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zeus_Yahweh.jpg). As a kingly means of conveyance, and a weapon of war in the Bronze Age and, at times, in the Iron Age, the chariot alluded to God’s roles as King over and Warrior for Israel. As this motif developed, it also came to represent God’s position as creator and Lord of the earth: His chariot could take Him to all places under heaven (e.g. His trip to Babylonia in Ezekiel). Since the earth is His, He has the right to visit all parts of it.
In the OT, YHWH was depicted as riding on the clouds, another variation on the chariot motif coupled with the storm imagery that emphasised God’s power and His dwelling place in heaven. This motif may have been produced by the Israelites themselves (cf. the stormy theophany at Mount Sinai), but it was also borrowed from other cultures. For example, in the Ugaritic literature, Baal is described as riding on the clouds. The orthodox Israelites who contributed to Scripture appropriated this imagery as a polemic against the Canaanites and other cultures. In other words, they were claiming that YHWH, not Baal, was the real cloud rider: consider the conflict between Elijah and the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel.
In applying this imagery to the Son of Man, Daniel was saying that the Son of Man was the second YHWH figure. As demonstrated above, cloud-riders were divine figures in Ancient Near Eastern iconography. The fact that this does not strike the modern reader is a consequence of the decontextualisation of Scripture consequent on the changing influences as the Gospel was disseminated among the Gentiles and the Jews lost connections with aspects of their ancestors’ worldview. The two YHWHs idea is found in much of the Old Testament. Such thinking was only declared heretical by the Jewish leadership in the second century AD as a response to Christian Trinitarian polemic. Before this time, it is found outside of the main canon in writers such as Philo of Alexandria and Ben Sirach. Thus, the figure seated on the cloud in Revelation 14, is the second YHWH, riding on His chariot, ready to receive His kingdom and share it with His holy ones (the grain harvest), and executing His wrath on the Beast and those allied with it (the vintage).
Jesus’ extensive application of Son of Man language to Himself, including scenes of judgment at the end of the age, is a clear indication, separate from explicit claims in John’s Gospel, that He claimed to be YHWH. If we had only the Synoptics, we would still be bound to believe that Jesus is YHWH, the Prince of the Divine Council.