Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said, “I am,and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Mark 14:61b-62
After Jesus was arrested he was brought before the high priest and the ruling council to stand trial. Many made false accusations against him, but notably no two witnesses agreed. The law required that two or three witnesses must provide the same testimony in order to convict a person, particularly in death-penalty cases. (Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15)
Finally, the high priest asked Jesus directly. “Are you the messiah?” Any kind of affirmative answer would have resulted in Jesus’ conviction, not his acquittal. The high priest wasn’t looking for a reason to believe.
To the high priest’s amazement, Jesus didn’t just say, “Yes, I am the messiah.” He claimed much more than that. His response had the high priest tearing his clothes at what he could only hear as blasphemy. Who did Jesus think he was?
In his answer to the high priest, Jesus alluded to a prophetic vision described in the the seventh chapter of the Book of Daniel. Daniel’s vision took him to the courts of heaven with the Ancient Days seated as judge and the great kingdoms of this world standing in the dock. The kingdoms of this world are represented by creatures half-human and half-beast. In Daniel’s vision, the worst of beasts terrorized the world, boasting of its power, devouring its victims and destroying everything in its path.
At the appointed time, the court was seated, books were opened and the beast condemned to death. After the sentence was carried out, its lifeless carcass was thrown into the fire to complete its utter destruction.
Then, Daniel saw “one like a son of man was coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was escorted before him. He was given dominion, and glory, and a kingdom; so that those of every people, nation, and language should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)
Exalted and Coming King
So Jesus makes an extraordinary claim to the high priest. Jesus is indeed the messiah, and not just in an earthly military sense. He is not the head of a military force that is going to overthrow Rome and its corrupt Judean accomplices. He is, rather, the heavenly king who will be enthroned at God’s right hand forever, and whose reign will become visible to all when he comes again.
It’s notable that the gospels reverse Daniel’s thought order. Daniel sees the Son of Man coming on the clouds and then escorted into God’s presence. The evil beasts come before God from the sea, the place of danger, disorder and monsters. The beasts are stripped of authority and condemned. The righteous Son of Man comes before God from the heavens and is enthroned on earth. Daniel wants to contrast the beasts and the Son of Man in every way: animal vs human, from the sea vs from the heavens, evil vs righteous, mortal vs immortal. The Son of Man is the truly human one, the one who embodies ideal humanity. The kingdom of the Son of Man is the only truly humane kingdom.
Matthew and Mark, on the other hand, say that people will see the Son of Man seated at God’s right hand and (then) coming on the clouds. As recorded in the gospels, the sequence of events corresponds to the great tradition that will be encapsulated in the Nicene creed: Jesus’ exaltation to God’s right hand precedes his return in glory to judge the world.
He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead. His kingdom will never end.
In the midst of the passion narrative, Mark points us beyond the cross, not just to Jesus’ resurrection, but to his exaltation and his coming return.
In addressing this word to his accusers and earthly judges, Jesus is announcing his future vindication. In a great reversal of fortunes, those who sit in judgment of him now will stand before him when he comes again to judge the earth.
John of Patmos makes this same point as he begins the Book of Revelation, alluding to both Daniel 7:13 and Zechariah 12:10.
Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of him. So it is to be. Amen. Revelation 1:7
Beholding the Son of Man
If his enemies will not see Jesus until he openly comes again, those who believe in him see him now in another way. There is a hint of this way of seeing in the accusation made against Jesus.
Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.’” Yet even then their testimony did not agree. Mark 14:57-59
Jesus did not say that he would destroy the temple – his accusers misheard him or misrepresented him – but he did foretell the temple’s destruction. Specifically, John the Evangelist tells us that Jesus said something very close to what he was accused of.
The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. John 2:18-22
“Three days” is a reference to the period between the cross and the empty tomb. In some way, in his death and resurrection, Jesus has become a replacement for the temple and its cult.
Through his death and resurrection, the exalted Jesus has become the locus Christian worship. He is the one we worship, the one through whom we worship and the one in whom we worship.
Jesus is already visible (and tangible) to the church that both offers and receives the gift of his body and blood. At the table, we join our voices with the thousands upon thousands of saints and angels who surround his throne. The Lord is indeed enthroned on the praises of his people (Psalm 22:3). The church will continue to glorify the one who died and rose again until the day when all behold his glory.