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Paul writes to the Thessalonians:

After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 1 Thes. 4:17

Is this an allusion to Daniel 7:13?

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.

Is Paul borrowing on the language from Daniel, but simply changing pieces (i.e. "son of man" for "we who are still alive and are left")? Is it possible to make such a determination?

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2 Answers 2

Yes, I think we can conclusively determine that Paul is associating the second coming of Christ in ‘the clouds’ with Daniel’s vision. The New Testament associates ‘the clouds’ with the second coming of Christ in multiple locations, making it pretty much a prophetic norm.

First, Jesus himself referred to his second coming as ‘coming on the clouds of heaven’ (Mark 14:62). John also borrows the prophetic norm to introduce Christ ‘coming with the clouds’ (Rev 1:7). The fact that John even described Christ in Chapter 1 in a near identical manner of Daniel’s vision makes the connection of ‘the clouds’ unmistakably connected to the Daniel prophetic imagery. For example, Daniel’s vision (Dan 10:5-6) was: of ‘a man’, ‘dressed in linen’, with a belt of find gold’, ‘face like lightening, ‘eyes like flaming torches’, arms and legs like ‘bronze’ and voice like the sound of a ‘multitude’. John’s vision of Jesus was like ‘a son of man’, dressed in a ‘robe’, ‘with a golden sash’, ’eyes were like blazing fire’, feet like ‘bronze glowing’, and his voice ‘like the sound of rushing waters’. Since Jesus and John connected the son of man coming in the clouds as Christ’s second coming according to the images of Daniel’s vision, certainly we can conclude Paul is also using the common language of the predicted event. There is something about the descending onto the clouds (a cloud often denoting God’s presence) that indicate this ‘man’s divinity’ and his approach to the world in a time of reckoning, or landing upon, which majestically suits all of its usages in these places. Taking this all into account there is a strong unity on the subject across the entire scripture.

Of course this argument assumes Dan 10 is the same vision as Rev 1, which the commentaries are divided on. If that is not true there than our conclusion here is not as sure. However, I think we can maintain confidence that the visions are the same. Instead of copying all the references here, I leave the link:

Is the man in Daniel's vision in Daniel 10 Jesus?

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There are many theological reasons for answering one way or another, but theology aside, I think there are some very important hermeneutical reasons for saying no.

What not to do

When we interpret symbols, it is very important that we interpret them in context. It is very poor procedure to attempt to assign symbolic meaning to a word everywhere it appears in Scripture simply based on the fact that the word was used. This even applies to symbolic usages of a word. (See here.) So, it is very poor procedure to say that everywhere the word "clouds" appears -- or even everywhere it appears symbolically -- that it means "rapture" (or anything else for that matter.)

What to do

To determine whether 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is an allusion to Daniel 7:13, we need to do two things:

  • First, we need to understand each of the verses in their own context and determine whether or not they are even talking about the same thing. Similar language does not mean similar subject matter.

  • If the two verses pass the first test, we can then look for textual clues that the author of 1 Thessalonians intended to make an allusion to Daniel 7:13. We do this by looking for similar language, presentation, form, etc.

The topic of Daniel 7:13

Daniel 7 is about a vision that Daniel saw of four beasts arising from the great sea. We read about a lion, a bear, a leopard, a monster with ten horns, and then a little horn arises amidst the other ten. Then, starting in verse 9, thrones are set up, and God sits on His throne of fire and the court is now in session. Then the fourth beast with the little horn is slain and destroyed in the fire. Then we read the following:

I kept looking in the night visions,
And behold, with the clouds of heaven
One like a Son of Man was coming,
And He came up to the Ancient of Days
And was presented before Him.
And to Him was given dominion,
Glory and a kingdom

So the Son of Man comes before God with the clouds of heaven. It is at this time that we are given the interpretation of the dream. We learn that the four beasts are four kingdoms that would arise. The ten horns are ten kings that would arise out of the fourth kingdom, then another "little horn" king would arise. But judgment would be passed in favor of the saints, the kingdom of the little horn would be annihilated, and the Son of Man and His saints would receive all the kingdoms under the whole heaven.

The topic of 1 Thessalonians 4:17

The passage begins in 4:13 where the tone is clear: Paul does not want his readers to worry about the Christians they have known who died. He consoles them, assuring them that just as Jesus rose from the dead, so also, those Christians who had died would rise from the dead. In fact, they will rise before those who are alive. Then he says:

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.

Paul then ends the paragraph in verse 18 with a call to comfort one another. So here we see Jesus descending from heaven with a shout, an archangel voice, and a trumpet, then the dead will rise, then the living will meet them in the clouds, after which all of them would be with Him forevermore.

Analysis

  • Daniel 7:13 appears to be about the Son of Man being presented before the Ancient of Days to receive a kingdom for Himself and His saints. He comes to God with the clouds of Heaven.

  • 1 Thessalonians 4:17 appears to be about Jesus descending from heaven to receive His people -- dead and alive -- so they can be with Him forever. The people meet Jesus in the clouds.

So, are these two verses talking about the same event? It would seem that the most unbiased answer would be no. Note, however, that this conclusion does not favor one eschatological perspective over another. Perhaps the event in 1 Thessalonians precedes the event in Daniel 7, as if Jesus first gathers His saints and then goes before God, or perhaps the event in Daniel 7 precedes the event in 1 Thessalonians, as if judgment must first be passed in favor of the saints, and then Jesus can gather them to Himself. But either way, the text appears to fail the first criteria of an allusion.

For what it's worth, it also appears to fail the second criteria of an allusion. The only similarity between the two passages is the word "clouds."

So, in conclusion, 1 Thessalonians 4:17 was probably not intended as an allusion to Daniel 4:13.

Excursus: What is Paul referring to?

Daniel 7:13 is not the only passage that Paul could have been alluding to. Here are a few other possibilities that might be worth considering:

In that day the Lord will start His threshing . . . and you will be gathered up one by one, O sons of Israel. It will come about also in that day that a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were perishing . . . will come and worship the Lord in the holy mountain at Jerusalem. -Isaiah 27:12-13

And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. -Matthew 24:30-31

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep [i.e. die], but we will all be changed . . . at the last trumpet . . . the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. -1 Corinthians 15:51-52

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