God Appearing

There is some debate among bible interpreters as to the identity of the “man” who speaks to Daniel in Daniel 10. The debate is on whether this “man” is pre-Christmas appearance of the Son of God or the appearance of an angel like Gabriel. The key biblical data include the description of this “man” in v6 and the activity of this “man” as described in vv13-14. The debate, while interesting itself, brings to mind the more interesting matter of God appearing to his creation. For this reflection, I hope to address the identity of this “man” first and then turn to the matter of God appearing and its significance for us.

As for the identity of this “man” in Daniel 10, the description of him paints a striking picture: “His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a multitude” (Dan 10:6 ESV). Beyond the fact that it seems like Daniel is straining to find appropriate words to adequately describe what he’s seeing, this description is striking for its similarities to how the Apostle John describes the risen Lord Jesus in the opening chapter of Revelation:

and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. (Rev 1:13-16 ESV)

Note the similarities in the descriptions of the face, eyes, feet, and voice of the “man” of Daniel 10 and the risen Lord Jesus of Revelation 1. Because of these similarities, some scholars are inclined to see Daniel 10’s “man” as an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ.

On the other hand, this “man” says something that does not appear to fit with a divine identity: “The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia,” (Dan 10:13 ESV). How could the Son of God be so effectively opposed by an evil spirit (the prince of Persia) that he needed the help of an angel? For some, this limitedness rules out the possibility that the “man” is an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ.

In response to this question of the limitedness of the “man” when opposed by the prince of Persia, I wonder how we can make sense of Jacob’s wrestling the “man” in Genesis 32. It suggests a voluntary limitedness of God as he wrestled with his creation to make his point, and in that case may parallel what is described in Dan 10:13. Someone might object that Jacob and the prince of Persia are not good parallels because God seems to be teaching his child a lesson in Genesis 32.

But isn’t God engaged in teaching Satan a lesson in Job 1-2? Is it outside the realm of possibility that God would engage in a voluntary and temporary limitedness for his own purposes as he engaged with the prince of Persia? Isn’t it fascinating when Mark tells us that Christ “could do no mighty work” in Nazareth on account of their unbelief (Mark 6:5-6)? I, for one, can’t rule out the possibility that this is an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ.

Now, whether this “man” is an angel, an ambassador of God and a conveyer of the majesty of God, or the Son of God himself, Daniel 10 describes God appearing through the word of this “man” along with a glimpse of God’s majesty in this “man”—no matter who he is. This is a revelation of God that anticipates the permanent appearing of God in Christ, the eternal Word of God, whose both person and promises reveal God. From that perspective, it is one step along the path of the purposes of God “to establish communion with mankind.” As Vern Poythress notes, the final step on that path is the establishment of the new heavens and new earth in which the saints will see God’s face in Jesus Christ (Rev 22:4).[1] Debates about this “man” aside, it is a clear revelation of God for our good as it ultimately points us to eternal communion with God in Christ.

[1] Vern S. Poythress, Theophany: A Biblical Theology of God’s Appearing (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 23.

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