This Daniel 9 Commentary provides an overview of the prophecy, discusses the key points of dispute and analyses the four major interpretations:
– The Consistent Symbolical,
– Dispensational and
– Historical-Messianic Interpretation.
Overview of the prophecy
This section is a summary of the article Overview Daniel 9.
When Daniel received the prophecy in Daniel 9 in 538 BC, the Jewish nation was in captivity in Babylon, and Jerusalem and the temple were in ruins. The first 19 verses of Daniel 9 record Daniel’s prayer for the temple and the city. While he was still praying (9:21), the angel Gabriel appears to him and gave him the extremely compact prophecy. It covers only four verses (9:24-27), but is critical for our understanding of end-time events.
Gabriel told Daniel that seventy weeks have been decreed for his people and their holy city. Israel’s calendar followed a seven-year cycle in which every seventh year was a Sabbath for the land (Lev. 25). The 70 weeks are 70 of those seven-year cycles, and consequently equal to 490 years. The is confirmed by the Covenant in Daniel 9.
The prophecy has two major foci:
The one is the city Jerusalem. Daniel prayed for Jerusalem (9:18), and Gabriel told him that Seventy Weeks were decreed for the city, starting with “the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” (9:25). Jerusalem will be rebuilt (9:25), but, Daniel had to also hear that Jerusalem would again be destroyed (9:26).
The other focus of the prophecy is “Messiah the Prince”: He will appear at the end of 69 weeks (483 years), but “will be cut off”, which means he will be killed. For more detail, see Poetic Pattern.
The 70 weeks is sub-divided into three sub-periods; 7 weeks (49 years), 62 weeks (434 years) and 1 week (7 years). All the action is reserved for after the long period of 49+434=383 years, implying that the purpose of the long period of 483 years is simply to locate the last seven years in time. The last week is therefore the real purpose of the 490 years.
The seventy weeks has a specific purpose. Gabriel announced six glorious goals for the seventy weeks, including “to make an end of sin” and “to bring in everlasting righteousness” (9:24). These goals, namely to solve the sin problem of the whole human race, were to Israel to fulfill, and Israel was given 490 years to fulfill these goals. This the last seven years are the real purpose and core of the prophecy, these six goals were to be fulfilled during those seven years.
The last seven years are interpreted by liberal scholars as the work of Antiochus IV, 168 years before Christ, by traditional Protestantism as fulfilled in the seven years around Christ’s death and by Dispensationalism as the work of the Antichrist during the seven years prior to the return of Christ.
This extremely compact prophecy gave to Israel six glorious goals, and gave them 490 years to fulfill these goals. But it also promised the messiah, through whom these goals would be fulfilled. However, neither the Liberal-Critical not the Dispensational interpretations include Jesus Christ in the last week, which is the real purpose of the prophecy.
Messiah after 49 Years
Daniel 9 prophecies a period of 490 years. It also predicts that a messiah will appear. In some translations the messiah appears at the end of the first 49 years. In other translations the messiah appears after the first 483 years. This difference in the translations is due to assumptions with respect to punctuation, for there was no punctuation in the originally text of Daniel 9. The article When does the Messiah Appear? shows that the messiah appears after 483 years.
Does Daniel 9 describe the same crisis as the other prophecies in Daniel?
The article Same Crisis compares the Daniel 9 prophecy to the other prophecies in Daniel and concludes that Daniel 9 deals with Israel specifically, and with the 490 years allocated to her, while the other prophecies deal with all nations and cover all time from the time of Daniel to the Return of Christ. Another difference is that the other prophecies are symbolic, while Daniel 9 does not use symbolism at all.
Jeremiah’s 70 Years
The Daniel 9 prophecy was received in the year after Babylon was conquered by Cyrus (9:1). Daniel knew that LORD revealed to Jeremiah that Babylon will rule for 70 years. These 70 years were from 609 BC to 539 BC. Daniel also knew that God promised to restore Israel to Jerusalem after those 70 years (Dan 9:2). These things caused him to pray for His people and for Jerusalem. For a detailed discussion, see Jeremiah’s 70 years.
The 490 years begin with a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. Restore means to return the city to the Jews to serve as their capital from which they would rule their whole nation, according to their own laws. In the article Which Decree, four Persian decrees are considered:
(1) The decree by Cyrus in 538/7 BC allowed Jews to rebuild Jerusalem, but did not give Jerusalem back to the nation to serve as their national capital.
(2) The decree by Darius I 520 BC simply confirmed Cyrus’ edict.
(3) The decree by Artaxerses I 457 BC for the first time granted autonomy of Judah, and if we add 490 years to 457 BC, we come to the time of Christ. This was therefore the decree referred to in the prophecy.
(4) The second decree by Artaxerxes—in 445/4—was too late to fit the time of Christ and simply confirmed his previous decree.
Prayer and Prophecy form a unit
Daniel 9 consists of two parts; the prayer by Daniel, and the prophecy which Daniel received even while he was still praying. A separate article shows that the Prayer and Prophecy form a unit:
God promised, through Jeremiah, to bring Israel back from exile in Babylon after 70 Years (Jer. 29:10). When Daniel prayed, in Daniel 9, the 70 Years of Babylonian exile was nearly over and Daniel prayed for the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophetic promise.
In response God sent Gabriel to give Daniel the 70 Weeks prophecy as assurance that Jeremiah’s promise will be fulfilled.
Covenant in Daniel 9
Leviticus 26 lists the covenant curses, climaxing in exile. They would be in exile one year for every Sabbath year not observed; “then the land will enjoy its sabbaths”. But if Israel in exile would confess its iniquity, then Israel would be restored to Jerusalem.
Through Jeremiah God informed Israel that they will be in exile for Seventy Years.
The Leviticus 26 covenant sequence of disobedience – exile – confession – restoration is the central theme in Daniel 9, and binds together prayer (confession) and prophecy (of restoration). For more detail, please see Covenant in Daniel 9.
Covenant in Daniel 9:27
During the last of the seventy weeks “he” will “confirm the covenant” with “the many”. The article Confirm the covenant shows that this refers to God’s covenant with Israel. Through the seventy weeks-prophecy God extended His covenant with Israel for a further 490 years. But during those last seven years the Messiah will confirm God’s covenant with many from Israel. After that God’s covenant with Israel comes to an end.
Chronological sequence in Daniel 9
The prophecy lists 8 events, but not chronologically. The prophecy has alternates between two foci—Jerusalem and the Messiah. The Jerusalem-events are in chronological order and the Messiah-events are in chronological order. For further information, see Chronological sequence in Daniel 9.
End of the Covenant
The 490 years promised to Israel in Daniel 9 came to an end a few years after the Cross; at the stoning of Stephen: In those first few years after Jesus died, when the Holy Spirit worked with power through the disciples, the gospel was preached only to Jews. The Christian Jews continued to live like Jews. Christianity was a sect of Judaism, with its headquarters in Jerusalem. Two to four years after the Cross the Jewish persecution of the Jewish Christians commenced with the stoning of Stephen. This was the end of the 490 years which God added to His covenant with Israel through Daniel 9. For more detail, please see the separate article Stoning of Stephen.
Consistent Symbolical Interpretation
The major interpretations all understand the Daniel 9 prophecy to be literal, in contrast to the other prophecies in Daniel, which are symbolic. In the Consistent Symbolical Interpretation everything is symbolic.
Critical View of Daniel 9
The book Daniel was written during the Babylonian Empire in the sixth century BC and contains very precise predictions of the later Medo-Persian and Greek Empires. The liberal critical view of the Bible, which dominates the academic centers of the world, makes the a priori assumption that knowledge of the future is impossible. It therefore must show that Daniel was written after the events it predicts. Its solution is that Daniel was written during the second century BC crisis under Antiochus IV, and that Daniel contains no predictions of events beyond than time. But if this is true, then Daniel 9 predicts 490 years from the decree to restore Jerusalem until Antiochus, while there are less than 400 years between the Babylonian Empire and Antiochus. These scientists therefore propose creative solutions.
For a discussion of this view, read: The critical interpretation of Daniel 9.
Seven articles are devoted to Dispensationalism Daniel 9. See Dispensationalism. The objections to this view in these articles may be summarized as follows:
This section is a summary of the article Time indications in Daniel 9.
The 490 years began with “a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem”. Dispensationalism takes this as Artaxerxes’ second decree.
However, the word “restore“, in the original text, does not mean to rebuild. Restore means to give the city back to its previous owner. Artaxerxes first decree in 458/7 BC already restored Jerusalem as judicial and executive capital to the nation. Artaxerxes second decree only dealt with the physical construction of the city walls.
Furthermore, adding 483 years to the second decree does not brings us to the time of Christ, while adding 483 years to his first decree does bring us to the time of Christ; more specifically, to His baptism. For detail, see Which decree.
Difference in dates
Different renowned Dispensational interpreters use different years for Artaxerxes’s decree and for the Cross. This raises some doubt over to the calculations.
Since the second decree of Artaxerxes is too late to fit the time of Christ, Dispensationalism reduces the first 483 years by about 7 years by interpreting these as “prophetic years” of 360 days each; rather than literal years of 365 days each.
However, the Jewish calendar was divided into cycles of seven years each, with each seventh year a Sabbath year. God warned Israel that they would be in exile one year for every Sabbath year not observed. They were in exile for 70 years, which therefore represent 70 weeks of years (490 years) of disobedience (prior to the exile). This implies that the 70 weeks of years promised by Daniel 9 is a renewal of God’s covenant with Israel for a further 490 literal solar year.
This is confirmed by the fact that the covenant pattern (disobedience – exile – repentance – covenant renewal) forms the framework for Daniel 9. For a discussion of this fundamental issue, see Covenant in Daniel 9 or the section Seventy Weeks in Time indications in Daniel 9.
“Messiah the Prince” will appear after 69 weeks (483 years – 9:25). Dispensationalism takes this as Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem; 5 days prior to His crucifixion.
However, that was not His appearance, as required by 9:25; it was His disappearance. Jesus began His work as Messiah about three years earlier at His baptism, where He was anointed and introduced to Israel.
Covenant suspended at the Cross
Dispensationalism assumes that God suspended His covenant with Israel at the Cross.
However, God continued His covenant with Israel for about four years after the Cross. Actually, God’s strongest effort ever for the hearts of the Jewish nation came in those years after the Cross. At that time God sent His Holy Spirit with power, but only to Jerusalem and only to Jews. See Jerusalem Phase of the Early Church. God’s covenant with Israel, and therefore the 490 years, only came to an end when the Jews rejected the Holy Spirit by persecuting His Spirit-filled disciples. Then, for the first time, God allowed the gospel to be preached to Gentiles. See Judea and Samaria Phase of the Early Church.
This section is a summary of the article Whose covenant is confirmed in Daniel 9:27; God’s covenant with Israel or the devil’s?.
Dispensationalism interprets the covenant in 9:27 as a covenant of an end time Antichrist.
However, it is proposed here that this is God’s covenant with Israel, for God’s covenant with Israel is the central theme throughout the entire Daniel 9. An analysis of the covenant in Leviticus 25-26 and of Daniel 9 shows that Daniel 9 follows the covenant pattern: Disobedience – Repentance – Covenant Renewal. See The Covenant in Daniel 9. This covenant theme binds together the prayer and prophecy into a single unit and implies that the 490 years promised by Daniel 9 are a time-limited extension of God’s covenant with Israel. The last part of it (the last week in 9:27) must therefore also be God’s covenant with Israel.
The word “confirm” (9:27) in the phrase “confirm the covenant” supports this conclusion, for it means that this covenant existed prior to the 70th week. Then it can only be God covenant with Israel.
The covenant in 9:27 is confirmed with “the many”, which also supports this conclusion, for this phrase most often refers to God’s people.
Who confirms the Covenant?
This section is a summary of the article Who confirms the covenant?
Dispensationalism assumes that the “he”, who will confirm the covenant with the many for seven years (9:27), is the prince whose people destroyed the city in AD 70 (9:26), and that this prince will reign during the last seven years before Christ returns.
However, it cannot be this prince, for he is a supernatural being, representing the Roman Empire.
The following indicates that the “he” is the Messiah that is cut off in 9:26:
The Daniel 9 prophecy has a poetic pattern: it repeatedly shifts the focus back and forth between Jerusalem and the Messiah. In this pattern “he” in the first part of verse 27 is the Messiah.
The Messiah is the dominant figure in the entire prophecy, and therefore the appropriate antecedent for “he” in verse 27.
The purpose of the 490 years is to solve this world’s sin problem (9:24) through the killing of the messiah (9:26), while an end will be made to the sacrificial system (9:27). In the light of the New Testament this is a prediction of Christ’s mission. The animal sacrifices pointed forward to the Lamb of God. This astounding sacrifice caused all animal sacrifices to cease in terms of meaning. In this context the “he”, who makes an end to the sacrificial system, is the Messiah; the Lamb of God.
When are the last seven years?
This is a summary of the article Last seven years.
In Dispensationalism the last week is the last seven years before Christ returns, when the Antichrist will rule. The entire church age is a gap or parentheses between the first 483 years and the last seven years, when the prophetic clock stopped.
Abomination of desolation
Dispensationalism finds support for a gap between the first 69 weeks and the 70th week in Matthew 24:15, where Jesus mentioned the “abomination of desolation”. Dispensationalism claims that Jesus here referred to the stop that will be put to sacrifice in the last week (9:27) and that Jesus put the “abomination of desolation” at the end of the age.
However, the parallel verses in Luke 21:20-23 shows that the abomination of desolation in Matthew 24:15 refers to the Roman armies surrounding Jerusalem in AD 70. See Little Apocalypse. If we assume that Jesus in Matthew 24:15 referred to Daniel 9:27, as Dispensationalism does, then Jesus’ statement in Matthew 24:15 confirms that the “abominations … desolate” in the last part of 9:27 refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, which means that the last week must be prior to AD 70.
Dispensationalism assumes that there must be a gap between the first 69 weeks and the 70th week because the “firm covenant” (9:27) of the last week is mentioned after the destruction of the city in AD70 (9:26).
However, the events in the prophecy are not presented in chronological sequence. For example, the prince causes sacrifices to cease (9:27) after the sanctuary is destroyed (9:26). See Chronological Sequence in Daniel 9.
Destruction of the Roman Empire
Dispensationalism interprets the last part of 9:27 as referring to the destruction of the Roman Empire, and since the Roman Empire was not destroyed in Christ’s time, it argues that this verse must describe end-time events.
However, the prophecy has a Poetic Pattern, and in that patterns the last part of verse 27 is the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, already mentioned in 9:26. This is confirmed by the repetition of words from 9:26 in 9:27. The last week, described earlier in verse 27, must therefore be prior to AD 70.
Other arguments against an end-tem fulfilment of the last week include:
(1) How can the Roman Empire be revived 1500 years after it ceased to exist?
(2) Verse 27 is the core of the Daniel 9 prophecy. All important events occur after the long period of 69 weeks (483 years). The purpose of the 69 weeks is therefore merely to foretell the timing of the events of the last week. Hence, to postpone that final week of years and to propel it far into the future is to defeat the purpose of the 69 weeks.
(3) The wording of the text of Daniel in no way indicates a break or gap.
(4) It has already been concluded above that it is the Messiah that confirms God’s covenant with Israel during the last week. The last week therefore cannot be the time of an end-time Antichrist.
Because of the emphasis which Dispensationalism places by on the Antichrist rule during the last seven years, the Daniel 9 prophecy is converted from a prophecy about Christ into a prophecy about the Antichrist.
This section is a summary of the article Other Anomalies.
The Daniel 9 prophecy explicitly promises that Jerusalem will be rebuilt. This was fulfilled with the rebuilding of Jerusalem a few hundred years before Christ. But Dispensationalism reads into 9:27 that the temple will be rebuilt again, namely during the last seven years before Christ returns. There is no evidence in the text for a second rebuilding. If the temple was to be rebuilt after the destruction of verse 26, would the prophecy not have explicitly stated this, given that it is so clear about the rebuilding in verse 25?
Furthermore, there can never be a valid return to the old covenant and its earthly temple worship.
Breaks his covenant
In Dispensationalism the Antichrist breaks his covenant with Israel and “put a stop to sacrifice” in the middle of the last seven years.
However, according to 9:27 the covenant is confirmed for the full seven years.
Furthermore, since the full 490 years have been determined for the city of Daniel’s people (9:24), the sanctuary services will not be stopped during the 490 years.
Return of Christ
In Dispensationalism the last week ends with the return of Christ, but the prophecy in no way indicates the return of Christ. If the 490 years are to end with Christ’s return, would verse 27 not end with a description of His glorious return, as the other prophecies in Daniel do? In contrast, the Daniel 9 prophecy ends with the accumulation of desolations and chaos.
In Dispensationalism the 70 weeks do not include the death of Christ, and the goals in 9:24 have not been fulfilled by the Cross. Dispensationalism proposes that these goals will be fulfilled at the end of the last seven years, with the return of Christ. But this proposal denies Israel its responsibility and it denies the 490 years their purpose. The goals in 9:24 were set for Israel to achieve, and Israel was given 490 years to accomplish those goals. In other words, these goals were to be achieved during the 490 years, through Israel.
The Goals of 9:24
Dispensationalism argues that the last week must be in our future because the goals set for the seventy weeks (9:24) have yet not been fulfilled. This is true, but remember, these goals were given to Israel and Israel was given seventy sevens (490 years) to fulfil them. But Israel failed. If Israel succeeded in their task, the Daniel 9:24 goals would have been fulfilled. Since they failed the kingdom of God has been taken away from them. For more detail on this important subject, see the article Daniel 9:24.
This interpretation is called Messianic because it interprets this entire prophecy as pointing to Jesus Christ. It is called historical because the full 490 years is interpreted as past history. Daniel 9 has been understood this way ever since the early church. It is only in the recent centuries that dispensationalism and liberal criticism have become the dominant interpretations.
Eight short articles have been written to explain this interpretation. See Historical Messianic Interpretation. It may be summarized as follows:
Start of the 490 years
The “decree” (9:25) that began the “seventy weeks” was Artaxerxes’s first “decree” of 458/7 BC. This decree restored Jewish self-rule through Jerusalem. See Which Decree.
49 years later
There is no messiah after the first 49 weeks. Using the punctuation as reflected in the NASB, the Messiah the prince appears at the end of 483 years. This is Jesus; the One that is called Christ. See When does the Messiah Appear?
At the end of 483 years
The Messiah appeared when He was anointed by the Holy Spirit at His baptism. This also marked the inauguration of His public ministry. He was baptized in AD 26/27, exactly 483 years after the decree in 458/7.
Last Seven Years
The last “one week” of years follows immediately after the 69th; therefore immediately after His baptism. There is no gap, as in Dispensationalism
The “he” who makes a firm covenant with many for one week is still Jesus Christ, and the covenant is God’s covenant with Israel. The prophecy of Daniel 9 extended God’s covenant with Israel for a final 490 years. Jesus made the covenant strong (Young’s literal translation):
By His personal preaching for 3 or 4 years before His death, and
By sending His disciples to Israel, powered by the Holy Spirit after His death, when the infant church was still a Jewish sect, . In those seven years the gospel went exclusively to Jews. God’s covenant with Israel therefore did not come to an end when they crucified the Messiah.
Midst of the week
The Messiah who is cut off (killed) is our Lord Jesus Christ. “In the midst of the week” (that is, 3 or 4 years after His baptism), Jesus caused the cessation of the entire system of sacrifices appointed for Old Testament times by offering Himself as the once-for-all and all-sufficient sacrifice for sins. The sacrificial system lost its meaning at the Cross because it pointed forward to the Lamb of God.
During the last seven years, including through His atoning death, the purposes of the seventy weeks, as set out in verse 24, were to be fulfilled. These include to make “atonement for iniquity” and bring in “everlasting righteousness” (9:24). For more detail, see When will the Daniel 9:24 goals, set by for the 490 years, be fulfilled?
End of the 490 years
The 490 years came to an end when “he” no longer “confirm the covenant with the many” (9:27). The phrase “seventy weeks are cut off for your people and your holy city” (v. 24), also implies the end of God’s covenant with Israel at the end of that period. The kingdom of God was taken away from the Jews (Mat. 21:43).
When was Jesus crucified?
Scientists are unable to determine the year in which Christ died with certainty. The chronologist must be content to simply cite the range of possibilities and their likelihood. Some give the most probable date as April, AD 30. If Jesus was baptized in AD 26/27, then April, AD 30 was approximately in the middle of the seven years after His baptism.
Since seventy weeks were decreed for Jerusalem (9:24), the city was destroyed after the end of the seventy weeks. God did not purpose the Jewish nation to fail, but through their rejection of the Holy Spirit they lost their divine protection. This led to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
The decree of Artaxerxes in 458/7 “restored” Jerusalem to the Jews. In AD 26/27, 483 years later, Jesus was baptized. 3 or 4 years later, in AD 30/31, He was crucified. Another 3 or 4 years later, in AD 33/34, God’s covenant with Israel came to an end. The period from 26/27 to 33/34 is seven years, with the crucifixion “in the midst of” these seven years. Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD, after the end of the seventy sevens.
The historical-messianic interpretation offers those that accept it a testimony to God’s foreknowledge.
The essence of Daniel 9:24-27 is that within 500 years from the restoration of Jerusalem (after the Babylonian captivity) and therefore before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, the Messiah would arrive. It is understandable that the Talmud places a curse on those who attempt to compute the seventy weeks of Daniel (Sanhedrin 97b (Soncino ed.), p. 659).
It is an irrefutable fact that Jesus Christ, the Messiah, began his public ministry 483 years (69 weeks) after Artaxerxes’ first decree. Furthermore, the specifications of the prophecy find complete fulfillment in the events during the seven years around the Crucifixion.
While objections can be raised against all four of the major interpretations of Daniel 9:24-27, the historical-messianic interpretation is not subject to the difficulties encountered by the other systems. The exact date of the crucifixion and of the end of the 490 years remains uncertain, but compared to the difficulties facing the other interpretations, the relative chronological uncertainty appears to be insignificant.
A person that accepts Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of this prophecy is astounded by the mathematical exactness of the prophecy, received five hundred years prior to those tremendous events that changed the entire course of human history. Daniel 9:
Confirms that God knows the future precisely.
Proves Jesus Christ to be the true and only Messiah.
Affirms the truthfulness and reliability of the Bible when predicting future events.
These give me confidence that we will one day see God with our own eyes. The things that we read about in the Bible are really true. There is a wonderful future ahead of us.
The accurate fulfillment of the prophecy is compelling support for the argument that Daniel is real prophecy written in the 6th century BC, and not in the second century BC, as liberal scholars propose.
Daniel did not pray for a Messiah. He prayed for Jerusalem and the temple. But the prophecy he received includes a Messiah because the purpose of the additional period awarded to Israel was to bring fourth the Messiah, and through the Messiah, to achieve the goals listed in verse 24. Israel would be restored, but as a means to an end.
There is no greater unfolding of the gospel provisions in all the prophetic Word than is revealed here and in Isaiah 53. The prophecy of Daniel 9 is precious because it sets forth Jesus Christ as our atoning sacrifice, made on Calvary nineteen centuries ago. We are all sinners and do not deserve to live. Through Him, through faith, we are justified from our sin.