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Alex's Blog for March 16, 2012 - Daniel's Seventy Weeks (Daniel 9:24-27)
By Alex Dodson
So much of modern day prophecy interpretation goes back to Daniel's Seventy Weeks recorded in Daniel 9. Especially does the popular teaching of the dispensational view of the Second Coming depend much on the interpretation of this passage. We hear a lot about a seven year tribulation period predicted for the future and the destruction of Israel and the rapture of the church. All of these are taught in relationship to Daniel's Seventy Weeks (Sevens) prophecy and especially the seventieth week (seven). By reading so much evangelical literature on this subject, you would think that this popular view of Daniel's Seventy Weeks (Sevens) is the only correct one. Yet, could there be another interpretation that is more in line with the rest of the Bible? How has this passage of scripture in Daniel been interpreted by earlier evangelicals? Has the present day popular interpretation always been what evangelicals believed? The answer to this last question is definitely "no". The older evangelical interpretation of Daniel 9 was much more in line with the Bible as a whole. This older view saw the passage simply as a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah and the destruction of Jerusalem. Both of these events have already been fulfilled in the first century. Therefore, there is no further fulfillment of this prophecy. This, of course, is in stark contrast to the modern evangelical interpretation that sees much of this prophecy as future. Could it be that modern evangelical teaching has gone too far and that the older view of these verses is correct after all?
Edward J. Young in his excellent commentary on Daniel refers to this old evangelical interpretation when he says, "It regards this passage as a prophecy of the first advent of Christ in the flesh, the central point of which is His death, and it speaks also of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans." (The Prophecy of Daniel, p. 192) Rather than trying to project the fulfillment of this prophecy into the far distant future as many modern evangelicals do, the position that older evangelicals and as Young himself takes is that the prophecy is simple. It predicts the coming of the Messiah in the first century and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The whole focus of the passage is on the Messiah and his coming. It points to the cross and the beginning of the age of the Messiah and the end of the old Jewish ceremonial law and temple sacrifices. Jesus came to fulfill all of those and once he came, they were no longer needed.
I will quote the entire passage first and then make some comments upon it. This article is not an in depth study of the prophecy but rather an overview. Daniel 9:24-27 says, "Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate." (KJV) The whole passage points to the Messiah who would come. He is the center of the passage and therefore the whole passage should be interpreted in relation to the Messiah and his work.
There is some difference of opinion as to exactly when the seventy weeks (sevens) begin. Edward J. Young presents a good case for the beginning as the first year of Cyrus (538-7 BC). Young writes, "The word which went forth became evident in history during the first year of Cyrus. This seems to be the year (538-7 BC) in which the exile came to an end, and a new order of things appeared. Thus in Daniel 1:21 we are told that Daniel - the great statesman at the Babylonian court, the court of that nation which oppressed Israel - continued until the first year of Cyrus. This was the year of the great change, as far as Israel was concerned. Also, it was in this year that the great edict of liberation was issued, the edict which marked the formal termination of the exile (Ezra 1:1-4). This edict, furthermore, was issued in fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah, and speaks expressly of going to Jerusalem and building there the temple - the first and most important step in the rebuilding of the city. In this connection also one should consider the prophecies of Isaiah 44:28 in which Cyrus is described as 'saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.' Likewise Isaiah 45:13 declares of Cyrus, 'he shall build my city, and he shall let go my captives.' Lastly, it should be noted that the book of Ezra pictures Jerusalem as an existing city (Ezra 4:12, 9:9)." (The Prophecy of Daniel, p. 202-203) However, Dr. Henry Morris writes, "The 490-year period begins with the commandment to rebuild the holy city. Some have taken this to be the decree of the emperor Cyrus, in about 536 BC, recorded by Ezra. This is unlikely, because that commandment only decreed the rebuilding of the temple (Ezekiel 1:3). Evidently there was no formal commandment to rebuild the city itself until the time of Nehemiah, when a later Persian emperor, Artaxerxex, did make such a decree (Nehemiah 2:4-8). This was in about 446 BC." (The New Defenders Study Bible, p. 1275) Others put forth a similar date. So, there is a difference of opinion for the starting date. The difference in the dates cited above is about 90 years. The seventy weeks (sevens) or 490 years, taking each week (seven) to represent seven years as most commentators do, can be taken as a precise number of years or as a more representative or rounded number. The Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible makes this comment on the seventy weeks (sevens): "Many attempts have been made to understand this chronology as precise numbers of years, but all attempts fall short of completeness due to the fact that these numbers were intended as round figures of representative periods of time." (p. 1394)
The whole period of the seventy weeks (sevens) is summed up in verse 24 telling what the ultimate purpose of this time period is. It is all for the purpose of leading up to the Messiah and the beginning of his reign. Verse 24 says, "Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy." (KJV)
The three phrases - finish the transgression, make an end of sins, and make reconciliation for iniquity - all point to what Jesus did on the cross. It is there that He dealt with sin once and for all. Edward J. Young sums up the meaning of these three phrases when he writes, "To sum up; sin is here pictured as transgression, sins and iniquity. These three words well represent in its fullness the nature of that curse which has separated man from God. The first stated purpose of the decreeing of the period of 70 sevens is to abolish this curse. It is to be restrained, so shut up by God, that it may no longer be regarded as existing; it is to be brought to an end, that it may no longer be present to enslave; it is also to be done away, because the guilt which it involves has been expiated. How is this to be accomplished? The text does not say, but who, in the light of the New Testament revelation, can read these words without coming face to face with that one perfect sacrifice which was offered by Him who 'appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.' Hebrews 9:26?" (The Prophecy of Daniel, p. 199)
The next phrase, bring in everlasting righteousness, also points to the work of the Messiah. It can refer to the perfect righteousness that Jesus brought by his life and death. He lived a perfectly righteous life and he died on the cross paying the penalty for our sins that we might be declared perfectly righteous in the sight of God by faith. In other words, He brought the righteousness of God. Romans 1:17 says, "For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.' " In another sense, He brought in everlasting righteousness through the beginning of His Messianic reign. His reign would produce righteousness in the lives of His followers and bring righteousness to the nations through their influence. As it says in Isaiah 61:11 concerning the Messianic reign, "For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seed to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations."
"To seal up vision and prophecy" could also be translated 'to seal up vision and prophet'. The meaning would simply be that the coming of the Messiah would fulfill the Old Testament prophecies concerning His coming. Edward J. Young comments, "'For sealing vision and prophet' - The reference is not to accrediting the prophecy, but to sealing it up so that it will no longer appear. Its functions are finished, and it is not henceforth needed….However, the particular description herein chosen very clearly refers to the Old Testament period. Vision was a technical name for revelation given to the Old Testament prophets (Isaiah 1:1; Amos 1:1). The prophet was the one through whom this vision was revealed to the people. The two words, vision and prophet, therefore, serve to designate the prophetic revelation of the Old Testament period. This revelation was of a temporary, preparatory, typical nature. It pointed forward to the coming of Him who was the great Prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15). When Christ came, there was no further need of prophetic revelation in the Old Testament sense." (The Prophecy of Daniel, p. 200
"To anoint the most holy" points to the anointing of the Messiah when he came. This was signified when Jesus began his earthly ministry and was baptized by John the Baptist and when the Holy Spirit came down upon Him in the form of a dove. Edward J. Young comments, "'Anointing a holy of holies' - The words refer to the anointing of the Messiah. Since the phrase occurs without the definite article, it means a most holy thing. In what sense, then, may this be applied to Christ? In the Old Testament the anointing oil was a symbol of the Spirit of God (Zechariah 61:1)…Hence, it may be concluded with Hengstenberg - 'the anointing of a Holy of Holies can only denote the communication of the Spirit to Christ, to which prominence is given in other prophecies of the Old Testament, as a distinguishing characteristic of the Messiah.'" (The Prophecy of Daniel, p. 201)
Verse 25 says, "Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven 'sevens,' and sixty-two 'sevens.' It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble." The Anointed One is the Messiah who would come. He would also be a ruler or king. Young writes, "'Unto an anointed one, a prince' - The fact is that there is only One in history who fully satisfies the two essential requisites of the theocratic king, Jesus who is the Messiah. He was anointed and appointed a Prince as was required and this in a most perfect manner…Daniel therefore was to look for the one who at the same time was both an anointed one and a prince (the definite article is missing) and when such a one appeared, the prophecy would be fulfilled." (The Prophecy of Daniel, p. 204) There is a total of sixty nine weeks or sevens from the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the coming of the Anointed One. During that time the city will be rebuilt but in times of trouble. During the time of Ezra and Nehemiah the city and temple were rebuilt and it was during a time of trouble. So, this rebuilding of the city did occur at least in the first section of this sixty nine weeks (sevens). Young comments, "It is best, therefore, to understand (although I am painfully aware of the difficulties) the text as stating that between the terminus a quo (beginning of the period) and the appearance of an anointed one, a prince, is a period of 69 sevens which is divided into two periods of unequal length, 7 sevens and 62 sevens. To what, then do these two subdivisions have reference? The 7 sevens apparently has reference to the time which should elapse between the issuance of the word and the completion of the city and temple; roughly, to the end of the period of Ezra and Nehemiah. The 62 sevens follow this period….The 62 sevens therefore have reference to the period which follows the age of Ezra and Nehemiah to the time of Christ." (The Prophecy of Daniel, p. 206)
The next verse (26) says, "After the sixty-two 'sevens,' the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed." The meaning here is that the Messiah will be put to death at the end of the sixty-two 'sevens' and after that event the city of Jerusalem and the temple will be destroyed by the people of a ruler who will come. Christ's death on the cross and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Roman armies under Titus seem to be what is meant here. Young comments, "After the 62 sevens, two events are to occur, (1) the cutting off of the Messiah and (2) the destruction of the city. This verse does not state how long after the 62 sevens these things will take place but from verse 27 we learn that the cutting off of the anointed one occurs in the middle of the 70th seven. The destruction of the city takes place after the expiry of the 70 sevens." (The Prophecy of Daniel, p. 206)
The final verse (27) says, "And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate." (KJV) This verse is probably the most difficult of the entire prophecy. Yet it's meaning can be understood by the context and in comparison with the rest of scripture. Today's popular interpretation of this verse sees a separate 70th week separated from the other 69 weeks by two thousand years of history. The fulfillment of this verse is yet future according to the dispensational understanding of this prophecy. However, there is a danger in separating this week from the others by so far a distance. There is nothing in the prophecy that would make us believe that there is such a large separation involved. The prophecy itself seems to present the seventy weeks as a unit rather than segments separated by far distances. Young comments, "The (words) is decreed shows that the phrase is to be taken in a collective sense. We might paraphrase: 'A period of sevens - even 70 of them - is decreed.' The 70 sevens are thus to be regarded as a unit." (The Prophecy of Daniel, pp. 196-197) Therefore, to separate this seventieth week from the others by two thousand years is not a logical way to interpret this passage. The most logical and sensible way to see this 70th week (seven) is as a part of the whole unit of seventy weeks (sevens) and not separated from them by such a great distance but rather following closely after the weeks (sevens) that have preceded it.
The phrase, "And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week" is also a part of the verse that is popularly interpreted in a way that is contrary to the rest of the passage. The common dispensational understanding of this verse is to attribute it to a ruler who will confirm a covenant with Israel at some point in the future. Yet, the whole prophecy is about the coming of the Messiah and centers on Him. The most logical interpretation of the above phrase is that the "he" refers to the Messiah not to the ruler or prince mentioned in verse 26. Young comments, "The subject is Messiah, 'and he, i. e., Messiah, will cause to prevail, etc.' This is the view which seems to be most tenable.To construe 'prince' as subject, does not appear to be the most natural reading, for the word occupies only a subordinate position even in verse 26, where it is not even the subject of a sentence. The city and sanctuary are to be destroyed, not by a prince, but by the people of that prince. The people are in a more prominent position than is the prince. Furthermore, the phrase, and its end in verse 26 need not refer to the prince but more likely to the end of the destruction as such. The phrase of the prince in verse 26 is in such a subordinate position that it is extremely unlikely that we are to regard it as antecedent of 'he will confirm.'…Furthermore, this entire passage is Messianic in nature, and the Messiah is the leading character." The Prophecy of Daniel, pp. 208-209)
What does "confirm the covenant with many for one week mean"? The most likely interpretation is that the Messiah does the work He came to do in this final week or 'seven'. He lived a perfectly obedient life and went to the cross and died for our sins and He preached the gospel during his earthly ministry. He later sent the Holy Spirit to empower His disciples to proclaim the gospel first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. Young comments, "In what sense, however, may it be said that the Messiah causes the covenant to prevail for many? The answer to this question, it would seem, is to be found in the fact that the Messiah during His earthly ministry and by means of His active and passive obedience to the Law of God, did fulfill the terms of that covenant which was in olden times made with Abraham and his seed. Romans 15:8 speaks of this covenant as 'the promises made unto the fathers'…..This covenant is caused to prevail for the many. Thus a contrast is introduced between 'He' and the 'many,' a contrast which appears to reflect the great Messianic passage, Isaiah 52:13-53:12 and particularly 53:11. Although the entire nation will not receive salvation, the many will receive it. Here, the particular reference appears to be to the Israelitish believers 'for the period up to the stoning of Stephen, or perhaps, in mercy, until the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, at which time the 'new covenant,' which was in fact only the full unfolding of the old covenant and made no distinction between Jew and Gentile went fully into effect through the destruction of the temple and of Jewish national existence'. (Allis)." (The Prophecy of Daniel, pp. 212-213)
Now we come to the phrase, "and in the midst of the week (seven) he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease." (KJV) In the whole context of this passage, this points again to the work of the Messiah. Through His death on the cross he brings to an end the need for sacrifices to be offered. He has now offered the one perfect sacrifice for all time. No further sacrifice is needed. This happens during this final "seven". It is during this final "seven" that the Messiah finishes His work by going to the cross and dying for our sins offering Himself as the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Young comments, "'and in the midst of the seven' - But, it should be noted that the word means 'midst' as well as 'half,' and such is the meaning here. The thought is not that for half of the seven, the sacrifice ceases, but at the midst of the seven…'He shall cause sacrifice and oblation to cease' - The subject is the Messiah, who by his death causes sacrifice and oblation to cease. The two words are intended to represent bloody and unbloody offerings, i. e., the entirety of worship by sacrifice….It has been objected that the death of the Messiah did not bring an end to the Jewish sacrifices. The Epistle to the Hebrews, however, argues that Christ by His death, did abolish the sacrifices of the Old Covenant….It is true that immediately after Christ's death the sacrifices did not cease. Nevertheless, at His death, the veil of the Temple was rent in twain; the way into the Holy of Holies was opened, the Gospel was preached, and the sacrifices of the Jews could not longer be regarded as legitimate. 'When Christ was put to death, Jerusalem ceased to be the holy city, and the temple was no longer the house of God, but an abomination.' (Hengstenberg) After Christ's death the sacrifices continued for a time, until the destruction of the city by Titus. However, this actual cessation was in reality but the outward manifestation of that which had already been put into effect by our Lord's death." (The Prophecy of Daniel, pp. 217-218)
The final phrase says, "and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate" (KJV). This is most likely a reference to the final destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman armies in 70 AD. It probably is meant to be after the 70th week (seven) or following the death of the Messiah and his confirming the covenant with the many. This describes the final desolation of Jerusalem and the Temple bringing an end to the Old Testament sacrificial system once and for all. Young comments, "'And upon the wing of abomination (is) one making desolate'…The historical reference, I believe, is found in the destruction of the Temple by Titus. This even must be regarded, not as necessarily falling within the 70th seven, but as consequent upon the action of the Messiah in causing the sacrifice and oblation to cease…'And until the end and that determined shall pour upon the desolate' or 'And until the full end which has been determined shall pour upon the desolate.'…The 'desolate' is not Titus, i. e., one who is made desolate, but rather is impersonal, that which is desolate, i. e., the ruins of the Temple and city. Thus, since the Messiah has caused sacrifices and oblation to cease, there comes a desolator over the temple, and devastation continues until a full, determined end pours forth upon the desolation." (The Prophecy of Daniel, pp. 218-219)
This whole prophecy has already been fulfilled at the first coming of Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. It is a Messianic prophecy through and through and pointed to the coming of the Messiah and his work. The modern popular evangelical understanding of this prophecy falls short of its true meaning. It seems to me that the dispensational scheme which places a gap between the 69th and 70th weeks (sevens) of thousands of years is wrong. Also, in taking that 70th week (seven) and putting it into our future and making it a seven year tribulation period that happens after the rapture and applying it to something that will happen to the Jews and Israel is a misinterpretation of the prophecy.
That's not to say that there are not prophecies that apply to the Jews and Israel in the future. There are, but this prophecy in Daniel 9 is not one of them. I believe that the Lord will yet deal with the Jews and Israel in time yet to come. We should look for the conversion of the Jews to Christ and their ingathering into His Church. Romans 11 seems to point toward that and their ingathering will accompany a time of worldwide revival. This is what we look forward to and what we should be praying toward.
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (1978) unless indicated otherwise
Morris, Henry M. The New Defenders Study Bible. World Publishing, Inc., Nashville, 1995, 2006.
Pratt, Jr., Richard L. ed. Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible. Zondervan Publishing, Grand Rapids, 2003.
Young, Edward J. The Prophecy of Daniel. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, 1949.