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.” — the prophet Daniel (Daniel 7:13)
The Ancient of Days is one of many fascinating and powerful names / images given to God in the Bible. This particular term appears only in the Book of Daniel (in three different verses as part of the same story in Chapters 7). Daniel is one of only a couple of books in the Bible that was originally written in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke as his “native language. This term is an Aramaic name for God. The English transliteration of “Ancient of Days” is Atik Yomin. (Most Bible scholars believe that most or all of the Old Testament books of Daniel and Ezra were originally written in Aramaic as well as the New Testament’s Epistle of James.)” language. In both Christian and Jewish art, the Ancient of Days has been depicted both as a very old man, representing having existed before time began, and as a very young man, representing the fact that God transcends time.
In the Eastern Orthodox church, it has been decided that the Ancient of Days really refers to Jesus and witnesses to the fact that God the Son has been part of the Triune God since before there was time. In the Western church the term has generally been used to represent God the Father.
The names of God help us to understand his various aspects. While we can never fully comprehend God in our life times, the titles we apply to God help us to understand the roles he plays: The Creator, The Father, I AM and, of course, the Ancient of Days.
The term Ancient of Days speaks to the ongoing and always being nature of God. He is Ancient. How ancient? He’s been there since the very beginning, since before the beginning even. In the creation story in Genesis, in the beginning, God was already there. The term Days also gives us a sense of something that has been around a long time: it isn’t just day, singular, but the Ancient of all Days. From this we can understand that God has not only been God since before the beginning, but will continue to be God now and into the future, until after the end. He will be God of all the days, past, present and future.
In both Jewish and Christian art, the Ancient of Days is depicted as either an old man with a beard, or as a young, virile man, old but not aged.
There is a debate over exactly what manifestation of God is being identified with the term Ancient of Days. Given that the phrase comes from the book of Daniel, which was written long before the arrival of Jesus as the Messiah, the phrase is largely believed to refer to God the Father. This has generally been the Western Church’s perception of the phrase. A strong argument, however, can be made that the term should refer to God the Son. In the Moscow Synod of 1667, the Russian Orthodox Church officially determined that the term should refer to God the Son, Jesus.
The image created by the term Ancient of Days does coincide with some terms that are generally understood to apply to Jesus, aka God the Son. Several hundred years after Daniel received his vision and wrote down what he heard from God, another author wrote of his revelation. In the Book of Revelations, the author refers to Jesus as “the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” (Revelations 22:13)
It is difficult to know exactly how to interpret Daniel’s vision, to know what part of the Godhead his term refers to. The problem is that our human minds simply cannot fully comprehend the full nature of God.
In the verse listed above, Daniel 7:13, we have a reference to a person who is like a “son of man.” Even a casual reader of the New Testament Gospels will recognize this phrase as a regular reference to Jesus Christ. So, here, we have an instance where the “son of man” approaches the throne of the “Ancient of Days.” In this reading, we get a reference to two “persons” the Son of Man and the Ancient of Days. Further down in Daniel, however, it is the Ancient of Days who appears to be sent from Heaven to announcement judgment on the people, a role normally assigned to God the Son:
As I watched, this horn was waging war against the saints and defeating them, until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom. Daniel 7:21-22
No matter if the term is applied to God the Father or to God the Son, the name Ancient of Days speaks to the unending nature of God and to a powerful presence that has always been..
Many Christians do in fact sing praises directly to the “Ancient of Days” in a popular hymn:
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessèd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great Name we praise.
— Verse 1, “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise,” words by Walter C. Smith, 1876.