I recently re-read Crispin Fletcher-Louis' article, "The High Priest as Divine Mediator in the Hebrew Bible: Dan 7:13 as a Test Case" (from the SBL 1997 Seminar Papers). It is a fabulous article and I confess that I was persuaded when I first read it and remain persuaded.
The mysterious figure of the 'one like a son of man' in Dan 7 has long been the centre of much scholarly debate. Who is this caped crusader? Is it Sarge? No. Is it Rosemary the telephone operator? No. (OK - I'll cut the Hong Kong Phooey reference there). But there remains no agreement as to whether he is an angel (and, if so, which one), a symbol for the nation of Israel, a Davidic king, a prophet (Daniel himself?), and so on and so forth.
Crispin wades into this debate with a suggested solution which, I suspect, represents the best of all worlds.
He proposes that the 'son of man' coming on the clouds before the Ancient of Days represents the High Priest coming into the Holiest Place on the Day of Atonement surrounded by clouds of incense. Here is why this might just be right (and this is no more than a super-brief, no-details sketch):
1. The son of man character in the vision clearly represents the nation of Israel (7:18, 22, 27). Whilst the Davidic King could certainly play such a role, the book of Daniel has no interest in the Davidic King. Daniel's interests are much more temple-focused. The High Priest also represented the nation before Yhwh (thus he wears the breastplate with the 12 stones and the names of the 12 tribes when he approached Yhwh). He is thus equiped to play out this role.
2. The High Priest, argues Crispin, played a role in the Israelite cult in which he represented Israel before God but he also represented God himself. He is a figure at once human and divine. The son of man in Daniel is much the same. He is clearly a human figure approaching God and yet he comes in clouds (something only God does in the Hebrew Bible).
3. The High Priest played a role in relation to Yhwh in the temple cult akin to Baal's role in relation to El in the ANE Chaoskampf tradition. This could explain the allusions to the Chaoskampf tradition in Dan 7 (sorry - yuo'll have to read about that elsewhere - space is short).
4. Dan 7-12 was written (so most scholars think) in 2nd C BCE during the Antiochene crisis. This explains Daniels focus on the temple, its desecration and restoration. It would also make a High Priest who could offer an atoneing sacrifice thereby delivering Israel a plausible candidate for the son of man character. (Also, a priest who had kingly dominion would make sense in this context in a way that it would not have done at an earlier period).
5. The Temple was the zone where heaven and earth met - where the wall bewteen the spiritual and the physical dimensions of reality was thin. A temple context for the son of man coming in the clouds resolves the scholarly debates about whether the location of the vision is heaven or earth. A = we don't have to choose.
6. A temple context also might explain some of the weird creatures (although I'm not committed to this idea). They are ritually unclean mixtures of animals representing pagan nations. That's possible.
7. Dan 7 also has clear alusions to Genesis (with Adam's dominion over the animals). Adam plays a high priestly role in creation (a claim that has been argued by more than a few people and I don't have time to do so now - my family are waiting for me to cook a meal) and the High Priest plays out an Adamic role in the temple. This Adam-Priest link makes the son of man = Adam = High Priest link make sense.
8. The Dan 7-Enoch links strengthen this idea as Enoch is arguably presented as an ideal High Priest.
9. Crispin argues that the High Priest was an angelomorphic figure in Israelite thinking and this would allow us to give some weight to the suggestion that the character seems in some ways like an angel.
OK - the family are really complaining now so I must go. But I will conclude with this: if Crispin is right then in Daniel 7 we have a representation of a High Priest - an angelic figure who represents God, the people of Israel, Adam, etc, etc. It also means that when Jesus reappropriates Dan 7 as a reference to himself he may, against the majority view of scholars, have seen himself in a High Priestly role. That's a topic for another day (Crispin has written on this topic too and it won't surprise you to learn that I think he has some really interesting stuff to say about it also).