The phrase Ancient of Days is unique to the book of Daniel. A careful study of the text helps reveal the identity of this supernatural being.
The phrase Ancient of Days occurs three times in the Bible, and all three references are found in chapter 7 of Daniel (verses 9, 13, 22). This chapter documents “a dream and visions” that Daniel received to show there would be four powerful human kingdoms followed by the Kingdom of God (verses 1, 17-18). For a more complete explanation of this chapter, see “Daniel 7: Four Beasts and a Little Horn.”
The phrase Ancient of Days “denotes an elderly or old person. … It is employed, probably, with reference to the fact that God is eternal” (Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, commentary on Daniel 7:9). The passages in Daniel 7, which show how the Ancient of Days appears and what He does, make it clear who He is.
First reference to the Ancient of Days
The first reference in Daniel 7 is of this being having great authority and executing judgment: “I watched till thrones were put in place, and the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame, its wheels a burning fire; a fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him. A thousand thousands ministered to Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated, and the books were opened” (verses 9-10).
The being who has all authority is God the Father. As Moses explained, “The LORD Himself is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other” (Deuteronomy 4:39).
As for the thousands of beings standing before the Father, this image is repeated in the vision John recorded in the book of Revelation: “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands” (Revelation 5:11).
Second reference to the Ancient of Days
“I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).
Here, the being “like the Son of Man” is Jesus Christ and the “Ancient of Days” is once again God the Father. While “son of man” almost always refers to a human in the Old Testament (the book of Daniel is the only book that varies from this pattern), we must note that this was the primary name used by Christ during His earthly ministry (Matthew 16:13).
The “Son of Man” in Daniel 7:13-14 must be Jesus because He appears before God the Father to present to Him an everlasting kingdom. Paul spoke of this future act by Jesus when he wrote: “Then comes the end, when He [Jesus] delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15:24).
Third reference to the Ancient of Days
The last reference to the Ancient of Days is found in Daniel 7:21-22: “I was watching; and the same horn was making war against the saints, and prevailing against them, until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom.”
Some have assumed that the Ancient of Days in this passage must be a reference to Jesus Christ instead of God the Father, since Jesus is prophesied to return to earth to establish the Kingdom of God (Matthew 24:30; Revelation 11:15). While Christ most definitely will return to earth for this purpose, we must also remember that only God the Father will determine the “day and hour” for Jesus to return (Mark 13:32) and that when Jesus returns, He will again come to the earth as the authorized representative of God the Father.
While on earth as a human, Jesus said, “I can of Myself do nothing” (John 5:30). Explaining His relationship with the Father, Jesus said, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works” (John 14:10). Though each is a distinct being, God the Father was symbolically on earth through Jesus fulfilling His plan of salvation.
In a similar way, Jesus will once again represent God the Father when He returns to rule the world. The Holy Spirit—which is the power of God—will again be in Christ when He comes to earth “a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” (Hebrews 9:28). Recognizing that Christ is the representative of God, we see that the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7:21-22 is again God the Father.
Lesson for us
God the Father has supreme authority in both heaven and earth. Through His Son, Jesus the Christ, God the Father will judge all mankind. Each of us will have to appear before “the judgment seat of Christ” (Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10), and the judgment we receive will determine our eternal destiny.
To learn more about the spiritual judgment we all face, we recommend the article “Judgment of God.” For a better understanding of the Kingdom that will replace all human governments, see the articles in the section “Kingdom of God.”