Daniel 10: Who is the man dressed in linen?

In a final look at appearances of the angel of the LORD in the Book of Daniel, we should consider Daniel’s final recorded vision (Dan. 10-12), which includes the appearance of a “man dressed in linen.” It is now the third year of King Cyrus’ rule (536/535 B.C.). Daniel is about eighty-five years old. He enters an extended time of prayer and fasting as he mourns, perhaps because the Samaritans are hampering work on the temple in Jerusalem (cf. Ezra 4:5, 24). As he stands on the banks of the Tigris River, he enters what is clearly a visionary state (Dan. 10:1, 7). Here’s how Daniel describes it:

I looked up, and there was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of gold from Uphaz around his waist. His body was like beryl, his face like the brilliance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and feet like the gleam of polished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a multitude.

Dan. 10:5-6

Only Daniel sees the vision. The men with him, however, are aware something supernatural is taking place. They are stricken with such terror that they run and hide. As Daniel stands alone, studying the vision, his strength is sapped, his face grows deathly pale, and he finds himself powerless. He listens to the words this man speaks and then falls facedown into a deep sleep (10:7-9).

Daniel describes the man as dressed in linen. Priests (Lev. 6:10), angels (Ezek. 9:2-3, 11: 10:2, 6-7), saints in heaven (Rev. 3:5; 6:11; 7:9, 13), and even God (Dan. 7:9) are depicted as clothed this way, so Daniel gives us additional details. The man wears a golden belt around his waist. This suggests wealth and power – perhaps a king or a judge. His body is like beryl, or chrysolite (Hebrew tarsis), a yellow-colored precious stone. His face is as brilliant as flashes of lightning, and his eyes gleam like flaming torches. His arms and feet (which include the legs) shimmer like polished bronze, indicating that his body has a fiery appearance, like burning metal. When he speaks, the sound of his words carries the strength of many people.

So, who is this man?

Perhaps it’s the angel Gabriel, who has appeared to Daniel on two previous occasions (8:16; 9:21). But more likely, this “man dressed in linen” is none other than God himself in the person of the divine Messiah. His appearance here resembles the theophany presented in Ezekiel 1:26-28 and even more closely parallels the apostle John’s portrait of Christ in Revelation 1:12-16:

Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me. When I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was one like the Son of Man, dressed in a robe and with a golden sash wrapped around his chest. The hair of his head was white as wool ​— ​white as snow ​— ​and his eyes like a fiery flame. His feet were like fine bronze as it is fired in a furnace, and his voice like the sound of cascading waters. He had seven stars in his right hand; a sharp double-edged sword came from his mouth, and his face was shining like the sun at full strength.

The challenge to the view that Daniel’s vision is a Christophany comes in the rest of Daniel 10, starting with verses 10-14, in which a figure who touches and speaks to Daniel clearly is depicted as inferior to God. For example, the figure requires Michael’s help to fight through opposing angelic forces (10:13). However, if we consider the context of the entire vision (Dan. 10-12), we see that the “man dressed in linen” and the interpreting angel introduced in Dan. 10:10 are distinct personalities. 

In fact, at least four holy angels – the interpreting angel (10:10-14 and throughout chapters 10-12), Michael (10:13, 21), and two others (12:5) – appear in this vision, and the “man dressed in linen” is clearly in charge (12:6-7). “In the Book of Revelation, there is a similar pattern,” writes Stephen Miller. “On occasion John encountered Christ himself (e.g. 1:12-20), whereas at other times he was instructed by an angel (e.g., 17:1-6).”

Another, more subtle, clue is that Daniel addresses the interpreting angel as “my lord” (Hebrew adown) three times (10:16, 17, 19), never as “LORD” (Yahweh) or “God” (elohim). This seems to distinguish the terrifying divine figure in verses 2-9 from the angelic interpreter in verses 10 and following. The phrase “my lord” is used several times throughout the Old Testament, often with reference to kings or other earthly authorities (cf. 1 Sam. 29:8; 1 Kings 1:20; 2 Chron. 2:14). 

Further, note the similarities between Daniel’s encounter with the “man dressed in linen” and appearances by Christ to Paul and John more than five hundred years later, after his ascension into heaven (cf. Acts 9:1-9; Rev. 1:9-20). Daniel states emphatically, “Only I, Daniel, saw the vision,” while his companions flee from the very real but unseen supernatural presence (10:7). In a parallel fashion, Christ appears only to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, although the men traveling with him sense the presence of the Lord and become speechless with fear (Acts 9:7). 

Next, the divine aura of the “man dressed in linen” so overwhelms Daniel that when he hears the visitor’s voice, he falls into a deep sleep with his face to the ground (10:9). Compare this with Revelation 1:17, where John falls at Jesus’ feet like a dead man. Taken together, these events suggest Daniel encounters a divine figure on the banks of the Tigris River, not merely a spirit being.

Finally, keep in mind that “one like a son of man” in Daniel’s previous vision (Dan. 7:13-14) is given an everlasting dominion and a kingdom that is never destroyed. Elsewhere, the preincarnate Christ rides on the divine chariot-throne above the cherubim (Ezek. 1). He rules the unseen realm as the LORD of Armies (cf. 2 Kings 6). And he holds an exalted place in the divine council (Zech. 3). 

Even after his incarnation, in his most vulnerable state – during forty days of fasting in the wilderness – he deflects Satan’s arrows with the word of God (Matt. 4:1-11). We never see demonic forces delay Jesus or successfully deter him from his mission; rather, he overcomes them. So, the intense angelic conflict to which we are briefly exposed in Daniel 10:10-20 tells us a great deal about the ongoing battles in the unseen realm between the forces of Satan and those God has sent as ministering spirits (Heb. 1:14). But it shouldn’t lead us to confuse the interpreting angel with the “man dressed in linen,” who appears to be the eternal Son of God.

Next: Zechariah and the angel of the LORD

This post is excerpted from Jesus Before Bethlehem: What Every Christian Should Know About the Angel of the Lord, available from Amazon and other retailers.