Celebrating Jesus’ ascension (one of our principle feasts) is hard liturgically, since most of the action happens off our stage: something like celebrating a wedding if all we were to see were the couple leaving for the church. Daniel’s dream may be the closest we get to an on-scene camera. Of the many things we might observe, here are two.
First, bottom line, our world’s future is human, not bestial. Many (most?) days that’s hard to believe in our race-to-the-bottom history. But there it is: Daniel sees something like a winged lion, then something like a bear, then something like a leopard, then something we only encounter in nightmares or the sci-fi/horror genre, but it is “one like a human being” who receives unending sovereignty.
Second, taking the chapter as a whole, we readers are often puzzled: is this “one like a human being” intended to represent an individual or a people? From the perspective of the New Testament that’s an illuminating puzzle: Jesus has so identified with his brothers and sisters (the second reading!) that his vindication and theirs are one.
The third reading. Before we succumb to the temptation to cue up “Land of Hope and Glory”, what is Jesus telling the eleven (us) to do? “Make disciples… baptizing… and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” “And teaching them” with us so good at obeying everything Jesus commands? Our discipling, evidence of a human future that is not bestial but humane?
Jesus, elsewhere (Matt. 19:26): “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” We can learn to obey while teaching others. But if only the “others” are being asked to change, that’s proselytism, not evangelism.