"One Like the Son of Man Came with the Clouds of Heaven"

The Context and Influence of the Son of Man Prophecy in Daniel 7

Jared W. Ludlow

Jared W. Ludlow, "'One Like the Son of Man Came with the Clouds of Heaven': The Context and Influence of the Son of Man Prophecy in Daniel 7," Religious Educator 24, no. 1 (2023): 72–87.

Jared W. Ludlow (jared_ludlow@byu.edu) is the publications director of the BYU Religious Studies Center.

Painting of the Second ComingThe saints are promised that the predatory earthly kingdoms will eventually comes to an end and God's eternal kingdom will be established. He Comes Again to Rule and Reign, Mary R. Sauer. Courtesy of Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

The title Jesus preferred to use for himself more than any other in the New Testament Gospels was “Son of Man.”[1] Although this phrase can be used in scripture as a simple description of anyone, the equivalent of “human” or “man,” it is also occasionally used as a more specialized title similar to how it is used by Jesus in the Gospels. But why would this simple descriptor be chosen as a majestic title of the Lord? The roots for this title as an exceptional figure seem to be found in a prophecy in Daniel 7, where “one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven.” This paper will analyze Daniel 7 and the context of this Son of Man prophecy in order to better understand its original setting and then its subsequent influence on later scripture. Attention will be paid to how Restoration scripture and early Church leaders understood figures and terms associated with Daniel’s prophecy. It will be seen that the Son of Man prophecy was created in an eschatological context used to describe a grand future event involving Jesus Christ, Adam, and saints of the kingdom of God.

Book of Daniel

The book of Daniel can easily be divided into two parts. The first part, chapters 1–6, recount great court tales of Daniel as he lived in exile among the Babylonians. Chapters 7–12 form the second part and are a collection of apocalyptic visions. Thus not only does the focus change between these two parts, but the genre does as well. Daniel 7 falls at the transition point between these two parts and functions as a segue to the visionary section while also maintaining a strong connection with the first part’s chapter 2 and its prophecy of earthly kingdoms being consumed by the kingdom of God as a stone cut out of the mountain without hands. Another indication of the chapter’s transitionary function is that the language of the text changes at this point. Much of the first part and into chapter 7 is written in Aramaic (2:4b—7:28), while 1:1–2:4a and the rest of the second part is recorded in Hebrew. Some have even argued this chapter’s importance not only for the book of Daniel but also for the entire Bible: “Daniel 7 is without doubt the most powerful chapter in the book, and one of the most powerful in the entire bible. It draws on traditional symbolism which had roots further back than the emergence of Israel as a nation. It provided the New Testament with some of its most memorable imagery.”[2]

Dating the book of Daniel is notoriously difficult, even simply trying to reconcile the disordered listing of kings at the beginning of the earlier chapters. Many biblical scholars assess the events described in the book as coming not from the Babylonian exile (sixth century BC), where the stories are placed, but from a much later period around the time of the Maccabees (second century BC).[3] For some, this late dating makes Daniel a fictive character who is being used in his Babylonian setting as a model for the struggles against Hellenism taking place during the Maccabean period. Since the chronological issue of the book as a whole is not the central focus here (although some chronological issues in chapter 7 are addressed below), we will approach the dating issue from a middle ground: some of the material likely went back to the time of Daniel and events surrounding his ministry, while later editing and transmission of the text likely included the insertion of new material. Whether the book depicts the time of Babylonian exile away from the covenant land or the later Seleucid onslaught within the land, a similar concern results: how to maintain faith within a gentile environment while traditions, practices, and beliefs are under siege.

Apocalyptic Literature

Many parts within the book of Daniel qualify as apocalyptic literature.[4] Daniel 7, particularly, shares many common characteristics with this genre, which is found in other biblical texts (e.g., Zechariah 12–14 and the book of Revelation) as well as in nonbiblical Jewish literature. Chief characteristics of the apocalyptic genre are as follows:

  • Apocalypses are revelations (the literal meaning of the Greek term apokálupsis) given to prophets and seers in vision, usually through or with an angelic mediator to aid in its interpretation. Unlike earlier chapters in Daniel where kings received the dreams and then Daniel interpreted them, Daniel 7 recounts the prophet’s own dream.[5] In Daniel 7 there is also one who “stood by” (v. 16), presumably an angel (Gabriel is mentioned by name in 8:15–16), who gave Daniel the interpretation of all that he had seen (vv. 17–25).[6]
  • The content of apocalyptic revelations is usually placed in a historical context as struggles between political powers. Daniel 7 shares sequential imagery of rulers and empires rising to dominance and then being replaced by subsequent powers. At least four such kingdoms rise and fall within this vision.
  • Apocalyptic literature utilizes many images and much symbolism. Daniel 7 does not disappoint in this characteristic with its depictions of four great beasts complete with wings and horns (a lion, a bear, a leopard, and a “dreadful and terrible” beast, v. 7). As in other apocalyptic literature, wings are common depictions for the ability to move and spread, while horns are symbols of power. In their attempts to describe future phenomena or heavenly figures, apocalyptic writers sometimes turn to symbolism as the only way to accomplish such grand description.
  • Apocalyptic texts are often dualistic as they describe contests between God and Satan. Daniel 7 does not focus on Satan, but rather on his earthly intermediaries (wicked kings) who try to thwart the saints of God. In the end, it promotes the victory of the righteous over the wicked in dualistic fashion.
  • Related to the previous characteristic, saints of God often suffer at the hands of the wicked in apocalyptic literature. While Daniel 7 does not present the persecution of the righteous in as much detail as other texts may, it does share the ultimate victory of the saints of the Most High.
  • In apocalyptic literature there is often a focus on the end times, the eschaton. This eschatological component can concentrate on the destruction of evil and the world as part of God’s justice, his ultimate triumph through incredible manifestations of power and righteousness, or both. Daniel 7 recounts the rise and fall of evil kingdoms, but its ultimate purpose is to share the lasting victory of saints who in the end possess the kingdom forever.[7]

Thus, Daniel 7 bears many characteristics of apocalyptic literature as it introduces the apocalyptic section of the second half of the book of Daniel. It is clearly promoting this future-minded worldview in the midst of whichever actual historical situation the text was written in. It could provide comfort and hope of God’s conquest of evil kingdoms to a downtrodden people either in exile or under foreign domination, and it could encourage people in general to maintain faith until the eventual establishment of God’s kingdom among his saints.

Daniel 7

To see the context for the Son of Man prophecy, we will now focus on the actual text of Daniel 7, where Daniel is not only the recipient of the dream but also the primary narrator. The chapter can be divided into two parts: the actual vision (vv. 2–14) and the angelic interpretation and explanation (vv. 15–27), with narrative framing on both ends (vv. 1, 28). Verse 1 introduces the vision and places it in the first year of Belshazzar, king of Babylon. Daniel had a dream, wrote down the contents of his dream, then shared them through the next thirteen verses. Verses 2–8 discuss four sequential kingdoms (as in Daniel 2) that carnivorously arise and devour others around them until they gain dominion. While the details of these beasts are not important for my purpose here, it is noteworthy that the beasts represent political kingdoms. The heavenly kingdom is never portrayed as a beast because it lacks the bloodthirstiness and fleeting nature of the earthly kingdoms. Thus these verses set up the contrast between the beastly political kingdoms of the earth and the eternal kingdom that will be established among the saints.

Verse 9 begins the transition between the earthly kingdoms and the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. “I beheld till the thrones were cast down,[8] and the Ancient of days did sit . . . : the judgment was set, and the books were opened” (vv. 9–10). Then the fearsome fourth beast is slain and his body destroyed, thereby confirming the summary statement that all the beasts, despite their lives being “prolonged for a season and time,” had their “dominion taken away” (see vv. 11–12). Within this triumphal setting is introduced a new figure: the “Ancient of days.”[9]

Who is the Ancient of Days, and what role does he play in the apocalyptic vision of Daniel 7? Non–Latter-day Saint biblical commentators are almost in universal agreement that the Ancient of Days is God (or some aspect of the Trinity), presumably because of his role in judgment and the description given of this glorious figure: “whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire.[10] A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him” (vv. 9b–10a).[11] For example, biblical scholar Louis F. Hartman almost nonchalantly claims, “Nor is God explicitly mentioned by name, but every reader would at once recognize as God ‘the Ancient One’ who presides at this celestial tribunal.”[12] However, many Latter-day Saint scriptures and teachings introduce Adam as the object of the title “Ancient of Days,” the ancient forefather to the human race who will not preside over a celestial tribunal, but one on earth in great glory.

For example, Doctrine and Covenants 27:11 lists the prominent figures with whom Jesus will partake of the fruit of the vine when he returns to earth, and one of them is “Michael, or Adam, the father of all, the prince of all, the ancient of days.”[13] One of Joseph Smith’s earliest mentions of the “Ancient of Days” occurred when he traveled through Missouri (after fleeing Kirtland and the challenges to his leadership there) and visited the location he identified as Adam-ondi-Ahman. He gave it this name because “it is the place where Adam shall come to visit his people, or the Ancient of days shall sit as spoken of by Daniel the Prophet.”[14] In another early discourse touching on this topic (likely from the summer of 1839), he clearly identifies Adam as “the Ancient of Days” and connects him to Daniel 7: “Dan VII Speaks of the Ancient of days, he means the oldest man, our Father Adam, Michael; he will call his children together. & hold a council with them. to prepare them for the coming of the Son of Man.”[15] In additional direct discussion with Daniel 7, Doctrine and Covenants section 116 foresees a future event at Adam-ondi-Ahman “where Adam shall come to visit his people, or the Ancient of Days shall sit, as spoken of by Daniel the prophet.” This verse not only identifies Adam as the Ancient of Days but also refers to his “sitting,” as in Daniel 7:9.

Besides these teachings from Joseph Smith and the Doctrine and Covenants, other early sermons and publications from Church leaders identified Adam as “the Ancient of Days.” In a Times and Seasons summary of a talk given by Orson Pratt, Pratt answers the question, “Who is the Ancient of Days?” After ruling out the Father or the Son because of their different roles in prophesied future events,[16] Pratt identifies Adam as this key figure:

It must be some very ancient personage, and probably the most ancient personage that ever lived in days, and hence is called by that name, in distinction from all others that lived after. But thanks be given to the Most High God, for he has not left his saints in uncertainty about this matter, but has raised up a prophet, through whom he has revealed this mystery; thus the saints will not be left in the dark in regard to the great purposes and events of the last days. The Ancient of Days then, is ADAM—the great progenitor of the human race. He has a mission to perform for the benefit of his children, in the last times. As he performed the first mission on the earth in the beginning of the first dispensation, so he will perform a mission in the ending of the last dispensation. In the first he presided over a few; in the last he will preside over unnumbered millions.[17]

In an earlier Times and Seasons article providing a summary of sermons given by early missionaries in Boston, the Ancient of Days, the first Adam, was juxtaposed with Jesus Christ, the second Adam. “In the course of the lecture he [one Mr. Adams] threw much light on the subject of the ‘Ancient of Days,’ showing him not to be the Lord Jesus Christ, nor God the Father, but that he is old father Adam, who shall sit as a great patria[r]ch at the head of the whole family; when the second Adam, the Lord from heaven, the Son of Man shall come with the clouds, and come to the Ancient of Days, and the saints should take the kingdom, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, according to Daniel, chapter vii.”[18]

The fact that a former mortal is given stewardship to judge is not surprising in Latter-day Saint theology. In response to Peter’s question about what the Apostles would gain for having forsaken everything to follow Jesus, Jesus prophesies that they would be future judges for the house of Israel: “Ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28; see Luke 22:29–30 and Doctrine and Covenants 29:12). The Book of Mormon further subdivides this stewardship for judging among the twelve whom Jesus called among the Nephites (see 3 Nephi 27:27), as Mormon summarizes later: “Yea, behold, I write unto all the ends of the earth; yea, unto you, twelve tribes of Israel, who shall be judged according to your works by the twelve whom Jesus chose to be his disciples in the land of Jerusalem. And I write also unto the remnant of this people, who shall also be judged by the twelve whom Jesus chose in this land; and they shall be judged by the other twelve whom Jesus chose in the land of Jerusalem” (Mormon 3:18–19).

Within the discussion in Doctrine and Covenants 78 of establishing the kingdom of God on earth in preparation for future kingdoms, Adam (Michael) is specifically given keys by and under direction of Jesus Christ: “That you may come up unto the crown prepared for you, and be made rulers over many kingdoms, saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Zion, who hath established the foundations of Adam-ondi-Ahman; who hath appointed Michael your prince, and established his feet, and set him upon high, and given unto him the keys of salvation under the counsel and direction of the Holy One, who is without beginning of days or end of life” (vv. 15–16). Therefore, according to various scriptures, judgment and keys will be shared with different former mortal figures who had stewardship over branches of the house of Israel or the whole human family in mortality and who will judge these flocks as part of the final judgment under the direction of Christ.[19] In sum, based on Latter-day Saint revelation, the figure “Ancient of Days” is Adam, who as father and first steward of the human race will participate in a future meeting at Adam-ondi-Ahman in fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy.[20] Adam may be a type for God, sitting in glory to judge God’s children, but in these canonized revelations and other teachings of early Church leaders, Adam is unambiguously identified as the Ancient of Days.

The other key figure mentioned in Daniel’s prophecy is the Son of man.[21] Specifically, it states that 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” (7:13). This is the only Aramaic use of the term “Son of man” (bar ˒ĕnāš) in the Old Testament, although the Hebrew equivalent, ben ˒ādām, is plentiful (some 108 times). Most often the Hebrew term is used to simply designate a person, a man or human being (see Daniel 10:16). Occasionally the Lord uses this term to refer to a prophet, especially throughout the book of Ezekiel, and even in reference to Daniel (in 8:17), the only time it is used in such a way outside of Ezekiel. But Daniel 7:13 uses “Son of man” to introduce another figure beyond Daniel.

Most Christian interpreters of the Son of man passages in Daniel see this figure as Jesus Christ in the last days.[22] The Book of Moses confirms the Son of man identification with Christ and gives more background to the origin of the title. In relation to the principle that no unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God, God is called the “Man of Holiness,” and thus “the name of his Only Begotten is the Son of Man, even Jesus Christ, a righteous Judge, who shall come in the meridian of time” (Moses 6:57). Thus there is likely some purposeful ambiguity with this title: on the one hand it can be used as a divine title, the “Son of God,” short for “Son of Man of Holiness”; yet on the other hand it can simply mean a human being and refer to the fact that Jesus will come to earth to dwell among mortals. As such, he will inherit mortality from his mother and represent Adam’s children as their agent and mediator between God and man. Therefore, the title “Son of Man” can highlight both Jesus’s immortal and mortal parentage and mission.[23]

Some Christian commentators point out the use of a preposition for this title in Daniel 7:13, someone “like” (ke) the Son of man, and see it as necessary because Christ had not yet assumed flesh.[24] In other words, Daniel was previewing how the Son of man would become a mortal, but that process wasn’t complete yet. It would be somewhat similar to the brother of Jared’s experience when he saw Jesus’s body in vision as it would be when Jesus ministered in the flesh, but Jesus was still in his premortal state (see Ether 3:16–17). However, this interpretation may not be consistent with the eschatological setting of the vision (leading up to the Millennium), which is seeing the event long into the future after Jesus’s mortal ministry. Perhaps a simpler explanation is that the word like emphasizes and distinguishes a humanlike figure from the beasts presented in the first part of the chapter, which also appear with the preposition ke: “like a lion” (v. 4) and “like a leopard” (v. 6). Rather than coming as another type of beast, he will come like or as a Son of man.[25]

As mentioned above, the title “Son of man” is the most common way Jesus referred to himself in the Gospels, but does it have any connection with Daniel’s vision?[26] To answer this question, it may be helpful to focus on the imagery in Daniel surrounding the Son of man. Specifically, we read that one like the Son of man “came with the clouds of heaven” and then was given “dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, 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” (7:13–14). Do we find this title used in the context of coming with clouds and being given eternal dominion? Matthew 24 states that this is precisely the “sign of the Son of man in heaven,” when all the tribes of the earth will see the Son of man “coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (v. 30; see Mark 13:26 and Luke 21:27). In Jesus’s own defense to the question of whether he was Christ, the Son of God, at his trial in front of Jewish leaders, he testified, “Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64; see Mark 14:62). In one of the visions of the book of Revelation, John beheld 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” (14:14). Regarding an eternal kingdom, Revelation 11:15 points out that “the kingdoms of this world [would] become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.” Jesus’s prophecy in Matthew 16 contains some of these elements: the Son of man coming “in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom” (vv. 27–28). Matthew 19:28 also talks about when the Son of man “shall sit in the throne of his glory.” Therefore, many New Testament scriptures seem to be drawing on this prophecy to describe events associated with Jesus Christ’s second coming and his eventual eternal rule over all the earth.

Daniel’s prophecy includes additional figures associated with the Ancient of Days: “thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him” (Daniel 7:10). Many biblical commentators identify this group with the heavenly court or divine council, similar to 1 Kings 22:19: “I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left.” However, in the book of Daniel, the angel later gives an interpretation identifying these multitudes with the “saints of the most High” who will take the kingdom on earth and possess it forever (7:18). But before the accomplishment of that extraordinary blessing, the last beast made “war with the saints, and prevailed against them; until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints [holy ones] of the most High” (vv. 21–22). As is common in apocalyptic literature, the righteous/the saints are persecuted and nearly destroyed, but since God is on their side, they ultimately prevail and hold judgment over the beast that had been persecuting them. Following this, “the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole 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” (v. 27).

Accordingly, within Daniel’s prophecy we are introduced to three figures or groups who together will play a role in bringing forth God’s everlasting kingdom in the last days: the Ancient of Days (Adam), the Son of Man (Jesus), and multitudes of righteous saints. What is less explicit in the Bible, but comes out in Restoration revelation, is the relationship between Jesus’s return, Adam, and the saints. In biblical prophecies, Jesus and the saints will receive dominion and a kingdom, but modern revelation further explains from whom and how.

As mentioned above, Joseph Smith prophesied about a future grand meeting at Adam-ondi-Ahman that will take place with Adam and Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith’s earliest allusion to this future meeting was in a blessing he gave his father on 18 December 1833. In Oliver Cowdery’s copy of this blessing, written sometime in September 1835, an additional paragraph was added to that which was published in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants (107:53–55). It mentions Joseph Smith Sr. “holding the keys of the patriarchal priesthood over the Kingdom of God on earth” and adds that he would “sit in the general assembly of patriarchs, even in council with the Ancient of Days when he shall sit and all the patriarchs with him—and shall enjoy his right and authority under the direction of the Ancient of Days.”[27] The identity of the “Ancient of Days” would not be specifically given until 1838, but this statement is significant because “the expanded blessing speaks in future tense regarding a council meeting yet to come, whereas previous statements about Adam-ondi-Ahman refer only to the council meeting held anciently.”[28]

In 1839 Joseph Smith gave inspired doctrinal commentary, probably in remarks to the Twelve before their mission to Great Britain, regarding future events associated with Adam and Jesus Christ. Joseph explained the return and bestowal of keys of priesthood administration:

The Priesthood was first given to Adam, he obtained the first Presidency and held the Keys of it from generation to generation; he obtained it in the creation before the world was formed as in Gen: 1. 26, 28, he had Dominion given him over every living creature. He is Michael the Archangel spoken of in <the> scriptures: Then to Noah who is Gabriel, he stands next in authority to Adam in the Priesthood: he was called of God to this office and was the Father of all living in his day and to him was given the Dominion. These men held keys first on Earth and then in Heaven: The Priesthood is an everlasting principle and existed with God from Eternity and will to Eternity, without beginning of days or end of years[.] The Keys have to be brought from Heaven whenever the Gospel is sent. When they are revealed from Heaven it is by Adam’s Authority. Daniel vii speaks of the Ancient of days he means the oldest man, our father Adam, Michael, he will call his children together and hold a Council with them, to prepare them for the coming of the Son of Man. He (Adam) is the father of the human family and presides over the Spirits of all men, and all that have had the Keys must stand before him in this grand Council this may take place before some of us leave this stage of action. The Son of Man stands before him and there is given him glory and Dominion: Adam delivers up his stewardship to Christ that which was delivered to him as holding the Keys of the Universe, but retains his standing as head of the human family.[29]

The ultimate purpose of this meeting is to “gather together in one all things, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth” (Doctrine and Covenants 27:13). The keys of the kingdom will then be shared by the saints forever and ever as prophesied by Daniel. But before a kingdom can be passed on to Christ, it must be prepared for his return. Elder LeGrand Richards stated: “Christ’s coming in the ‘clouds of heaven’ to which Daniel referred was to be at a much later date than ‘when a child is born’ to which Isaiah referred. There was no kingdom prepared for Him when He was born of the virgin Mary. But when He shall come in the ‘clouds of heaven,’ the kingdom will already have been prepared for Him. Unless a kingdom is prepared how can it be given to Him?”[30]

Other Church leaders have expressed their opinions about thousands meeting with Adam before the ushering in of the Millennium. Discussing the fulfillment of the parable of the talents, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith stated:

This gathering of the children of Adam, where the thousands, and the tens of thousands are assembled in the judgment, will be one of the greatest events this troubled earth has ever seen. At this conference, or council, all who have held keys of dispensations will render a report of their stewardship. . . . We do not know how long a time this gathering will be in session, or how many sessions will be held at this grand council. It is sufficient to know that it is a gathering of the Priesthood of God from the beginning of this earth down to the present, in which reports will be made and all who have been given dispensations (talents) will declare their keys and ministry and make report of their stewardship according to the parable [the parable of the talents in Matthew 25]. Judgment will be rendered unto them for this is a gathering of the righteous. . . . It is not to be the judgment of the wicked. . . . This will precede the great day of destruction of the wicked and will be the preparation for the Millennial Reign.[31]


From an apocalyptic section of Daniel, a common biblical term, “son of man,” is elevated in an eschatological prophecy to a lofty title associated with grand events in the last days. Although there is debate about the chronology of its composition, the prophecy seems aimed at strengthening God’s covenant people either in exile among Gentiles or under threat from gentile overlords. Either way, the saints are promised that the predatory earthly kingdoms will eventually come to an end and God’s eternal kingdom will be established. To bring this dramatic event to pass, Adam, as the “Ancient of Days,” and Jesus Christ, as the “Son of Man,” will meet alongside thousands of saints. In this grand council, stewardship and keys will be reviewed, returned to Christ, and then reassigned by him as he begins his millennial rule.

Were we to interpret Daniel 7 in isolation, it would be impossible to see all those details, but all the standard works and modern revelation permit a fuller picture. However, it is important not to remove the prophecy from its original context, which points toward an important eschatological event. Many interpreters of Daniel 7 focus on the proximate future of this prophecy as they attempt to delineate the historical periods up to the Maccabean period (Babylonians, Medes, Persians, and Greeks), yet one should also keep in mind that the Son of Man’s appearance in the clouds will not occur until the last days. Perhaps the main point of alluding to these successive worldly kingdoms in Daniel’s vision is to warn that their unrighteous ideals and philosophies, similar to the concept of the great and abominable church found in other parts of scripture, will have their reign until the return of Christ and must not overtake one’s righteous devotion to God. In this view, the final beast will make all nations “drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication” and will persecute and shed the blood of “the saints of God” until the trump sounds at the Bridegroom’s return (see Doctrine and Covenants 88:94).

In the meantime, we are asked to prepare and pray for the building up of the kingdom of God until it has filled the whole earth. “Call upon the Lord, that his kingdom may go forth upon the earth, that the inhabitants thereof may receive it, and be prepared for the days to come, in the which the Son of Man shall come down in heaven, clothed in the brightness of his glory, to meet the kingdom of God which is set up on the earth. Wherefore, may the kingdom of God go forth, that the kingdom of heaven may come, that thou, O God, mayest be glorified in heaven so on earth, that thine enemies may be subdued; for thine is the honor, power and glory, forever and ever” (Doctrine and Covenants 65:5–6). Then the consummation of God’s work and glory can come to pass.


[1] According to the entry “Son of Man” in the Latter-day Saint Bible Dictionary, this title is used about eighty times in the Gospels and is never used by someone else in reference to Jesus, only by himself about himself.

[2] John J. Collins, Daniel, First Maccabees, Second Maccabees: With an Excursus on the Apocalyptic Genre (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1981), 72.

[3] For example, Daniel Smith-Christopher, “Daniel (Book and Person),” in Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2013), 89–91; and John J. Collins, “Daniel, Book of,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 2:33–34.

[4] For a brief, helpful overview of what constitutes apocalyptic revelation, see Kent P. Jackson, Lost Tribes and Last Days: What Modern Revelation Tells Us about the Old Testament (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005), 121–24. For some academic sources by John J. Collins, a specialist on apocalypticism, discussing the apocalyptic genre and characteristics, see his “Introduction: Towards the Morphology of a Genre,” Semeia 14 (1979): 1–20; “The Jewish Apocalypses,” Semeia 14 (1979): 21–59; and “The Genre Apocalypse Reconsidered,” Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum 20, no. 1 (2016): 21–40.

[5] Dana Pike ably reviews the prevalence of revelatory dreams within ancient Near Eastern contexts in his article “Lehi Dreamed a Dream: The Report of Lehi’s Dream in Its Biblical Context,” in The Things Which My Father Saw: Approaches to Lehi’s Dream and Nephi’s Vision, ed. Daniel L. Belnap, Gaye Strathearn, and Stanley A. Johnson (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011), 92–118. Pike points out that Daniel 7 is a good example of a symbolic dream “in which the dreamer sees visual images that convey a message about the future, but the symbolism in the dream requires interpretation after awakening” (98). Jean-Marie Husser argues that “the fact that the vision of Daniel 7 was presented as a dream is characteristic of the pivotal position of this chapter between the tales and the apocalyptic part.” Dreams and Dream Narratives in the Biblical World, trans. Jill M. Munro (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 122. He also explains, “Symbolic dreams in the Old Testament are almost all to be found in the Joseph story (Gen. 37; 40–41) and in the Aramaic chapters of Daniel (Dan. 2; 4; 7). . . . The narrative and highly literary context of these accounts must be amply taken into consideration. . . . The definitive assimilation of dreams with visions takes place at the beginning of the apocalyptic part of the book (Dan. 7.1), where Daniel’s vision is presented as a dream; after which, ḥēlēm [dream] is discarded from the vocabulary of visions like a worn-out rag” (106, 150).

[6] Pike points out that “reports of symbolic dreams are typically followed by an interpretation announced by someone other than the dreamer” (“Lehi Dreamed a Dream,” 98). He goes on to summarize “four consistent elements in the biblical reports of symbolic dreams: (1) an introduction, including the announcement that a dream has been received; (2) a description of the dream’s contents; (3) an interpretation of the dream by someone else, found at variable distances from the dream report and not properly part of it; and (4) the realization of the events symbolized in the dream” (102).

[7] This discussion of characteristics of apocalyptic literature follows the description in Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament, ed. Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Dana M. Pike, and David Rolph Seely (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 209), 351. One common apocalyptic characteristic that Daniel 7 does not share is a clear reference to resurrection in the last days.

[8] The plural thrones likely foreshadows one for the Ancient of Days and one for the Son of Man. Although the King James Version makes it sound like the thrones are toppled, the Aramaic phrase means “set up” or “established.”

[9] The original Aramaic does not include a definite article for this figure in this verse, but many translations supply one: the Ancient of Days.

[10] The throne is depicted here on wheels. It gives the sense that the figure moves about, such as descending from heaven as in this setting, and is likely tied to the chariot of fire (merkavah) found in other scriptural passages like Ezekiel 1:15–20.

[11] Admittedly there are scriptural descriptions like this one that apply to God or Jesus Christ (e.g., Revelation 1:13–16; Doctrine and Covenants 110:3). Perhaps these are similar because they are mortal attempts at describing glorious figures that defy usual description; likening their glory to fire, their brightness to the whiteness of wool and snow, and their powerful voices to thunder are as close as one can get at approximating such an incredible manifestation.

[12] Louis F. Hartman, The Book of Daniel: A New Translation, Anchor Bible Series (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1978), 217. John H. Walton, in “The Anzu Myth as Relevant Background for Daniel 7?,” The Book of Daniel: Composition and Reception, ed. John J. Collins and Peter W. Flint (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 1:79, asserts, “The Ancient of Days has always been an intriguing yet obscure figure, though there is little doubt that in Daniel he can represent none other than Yahweh.” See also Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, ed. Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, Pieter W. van der Horst, 2nd ed. (Leiden: Brill 1999), s.v. “Ancient of Days.”

[13] Emphasis added. For an early version of this revelation, see “History, circa June 1839–circa 1841 [Draft 2],” p. 52, The Joseph Smith Papers, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-circa-june-1839-circa-1841-draft-2/58. In later accounts of Church history, this same concept is repeated. Similarly, among the grand congregation of the exalted righteous seen in vision by President Joseph F. Smith was “Father Adam, the Ancient of Days and father of all” (Doctrine and Covenants 138:38).

[14] “Journal, March–September 1838,” p. 44, The Joseph Smith Papers, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/journal-march-september-1838/30.

[15] “Discourse, between circa 26 June and circa 4 August 1839–A, as Reported by Willard Richards,” pp. 63–64, The Joseph Smith Papers, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/discourse-between-circa-26-june-and-circa-4-august-1839-a-as-reported-by-willard-richards/1.

[16] “It cannot be the Son of God, for he afterwards comes to the Ancient of Days. It cannot be the Father, for if the Saints were prepared to meet the Father and set in council with him, they would also be prepared to meet the Son, for the glory of the Father is equal to that of the Son.” “The Ancient of Days,” Times and Seasons, 15 May 1843, 4:204.

[17] “Ancient of Days,” 4:204.

[18] “Latter Day Saints, or Mormons,” Times and Seasons, 1 July 1842, 3:835.

[19] For a brief overview of the prophecies related to Adam-ondi-Ahman, see Jackson, Lost Tribes and Last Days, 156–60.

[20] The identification of the figure “Ancient of Days” with Adam or with God seems to depend on the reader’s hermeneutical tradition. Latter-day Saints are easily predisposed to identifying this figure with Adam based on modern revelation, while non–Latter-day Saints are more likely to read it in connection to God because of their traditional interpretation. There does not seem to be anything in Daniel 7, however, that requires an identification of this figure with God.

[21] The original Aramaic does not include a definite article for the figure “Son of man” in this verse, but some translations supply one: the Son of man. Kent Brown has stated, “Although most non-LDS scholars now accept the point of view that the critical phrase is to be translated with the indefinite article ‘like a Son of man’ and not the definite one ‘like the Son of man,’ . . . the force is hardly diminished. For it is clear that this Son of Man was to be given ‘an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away,’ plainly underscoring the formal, divinely royal sense of the appellation.” S. Kent Brown, “Man and Son of Man: Issues of Theology and Christology,” in The Pearl of Great Price: Revelations from God, ed. H. Donl Peterson and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1989), 59.

[22] Early Jewish commentators would tend to identify the figure “like the son of man” as a heavenly figure since he can appear like mortals but isn’t one and will exercise judgment, as Michael will do (see Daniel 10:13). Some postbiblical Jewish texts used this title for a messianic figure (see 1 Enoch 46.1; 48.10; 4 Ezra (or 2 Esdras) 13. As Trevan Hatch has pointed out, “Expectations of a divine messianic figure had expanded in the few centuries before Jesus’s ministry. The heavenly figure in Daniel who looked like a son of man was later called “Son of Man” in the book of 1 Enoch. According to these Jewish authors, this figure was a premortal being who was closely associated with God, would have dominion over all earthly kingdoms, would be worshipped by all people, would judge the wicked and overthrow his enemies, would establish an everlasting kingdom, and would be the ‘Messiah.’” Lincoln H. Blumell, ed., New Testament: History, Culture, and Society (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2019), 76.

[23] The Latter-day Saint Bible Dictionary, s.v. “Son of Man,” states some similar points: “The main ideas that probably underlie the title as applied to our Lord are (1) lowliness, humility, and suffering . . . ; (2) honor and dignity, as head and founder of the kingdom of God, and judge of all men . . . ; (3) the thought of Him as the representative or ideal Man, chosen by our Lord as expressive of His headship over the whole human family.”

[24] Reformation Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament XII: Ezekiel, Daniel, ed. Carl L. Beckwith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 338.

[25] It is perhaps noteworthy that even in many New Testament uses of “Son of man” within a heavily symbolic context, this title maintains the preposition like with it (ὅμοιος homoios; see Revelation 1:13; 14:14), while in the Gospels it is more direct without the added preposition (compare Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62; Luke 21:27). Kent Brown has stated, “The ancients are understood to have viewed God as possessing human-like traits. It is only modern thinkers who have ‘freed’ themselves from the naïve conceptions of an unenlightened past, ignoring the wealth of information that serves to underscore the idea that God does possess a body.” “Man and Son of Man: Issues of Theology and Christology,” 63.

[26] Although the Book of Mormon uses many titles to refer to Jesus Christ, it never uses the title “Son of Man” for him.

[27] See “Appendix 5, Document 1. Blessing to Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith, between circa 15 and 28 September 1835,” p. 9, The Joseph Smith Papers, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/appendix-5-document-1-blessing-to-joseph-smith-sr-and-lucy-mack-smith-between-circa-15-and-28-september-1835/1.

[28] Alexander L. Baugh, “The History and Doctrine of the Adam-ondi-Ahman Revelation (D&C 116),” in Foundations of the Restoration: Fulfillment of the Covenant Purposes, ed. Craig James Ostler, Michael Hubbard MacKay, and Barbara Morgan Gardner (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2016), 168.

[29] “History, 1838–1856, volume C-1 [2 November 1838–31 July 1842] [addenda],” p. 11 [addenda], The Joseph Smith Papers, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-c-1-2-november-1838-31-july-1842/546.

[30] LeGrand Richards, Israel! Do You Know? (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1954), 98.

[31] Joseph Fielding Smith, The Progress of Man (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1964), 481–82; see Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1970), 288–91. In a similar vein, Elder Bruce R. McConkie postulated that all who have held keys will make an accounting of them at this meeting, and many will assist in the judgment of the righteous; however, the judgment of the wicked will be in Christ’s hands. “Every prophet, apostle, president, bishop, elder, or church officer of whatever degree—all who have held keys shall stand before him who holds all of the keys. They will then be called upon to give an account of their stewardships and to report how and in what manner they have used their priesthood and their keys for the salvation of men within the sphere of their appointments. . . . There will be a great hierarchy of judges in that great day, of whom Adam, under Christ, will be the chief of all. Those judges will judge the righteous ones under their jurisdiction, but Christ himself, he alone, will judge the wicked.” The Millennial Messiah (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1982), 582, 584.