Overview of the Daniel 9 Prophecy and the Four Major Interpretations

Overview Daniel 9: This extremely compact prophecy gave to Israel six glorious goals, and gave them 490 years to achieve these goals but also promised that the messiah would appear, through whom these goals would be fulfilled.  However, both Critical scholars and Dispensationalism removes Jesus Christ from the prophecy.

Historical Context

Jerusalem destroyed
Jerusalem destroyed

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.

Weeks of years

Verse 24 starts with Gabriel informing Daniel:

Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city …

Daniel 9 Seven weeksIsrael had two types of weeks.  They had a weekly cycle of seven days, with the seventh day a day of rest.  They also had an annual cycle of seven years, with the seventh year a year of rest.  The meaning of “week” in Daniel 9 must be determined by context:

Firstly, the word for “week” occurs six times in Daniel 9:24-27; each time without qualification.  The only other place in the book of Daniel, where this word “week” occurs, is immediately after the prophecy (10:2, 3), and there it is qualified as “of days” (see YLT).  The very fact that Daniel felt that qualification was necessary when merely a seven-day week was indicated, suggests that, when he used the word without qualification in Daniel 9:24-27, a period of seven literal years is intended.

Secondly, during the Seventy Weeks the city was to be rebuilt, and after the 69th week the Messiah must appear.  It is not possible for all of this to happen within 490 days.

Thirdly, as discussed in The Covenant in Daniel 9, Leviticus 26 lists the covenant curses, climaxing in exile.  Israel 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.  In other words, God made the seven-year cycle part of His covenant with Israel.  Through Jeremiah God informed Israel that they will be in exile for Seventy Years.  An analysis of Daniel 9 shows that 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).  See . This implies that the 490 years promised in Daniel 9 is a time-limited extension of God’s covenant with Israel.  And since the seven-year cycle has been made part of His covenant with Israel, these “weeks” are weeks of years.  The reader is encouraged to read The Covenant in Daniel 9, for this concept is critical for an interpretation of the prophecy.

It is generally agreed among Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant scholars alike that each “week” represents seven years and that the Seventy Weeks consequently indicate a period of 490 years. No day-for-a-year symbolism should be used here to convert days into years because Gabriel does not use symbols in this prophecy.

The two Foci

The city Jerusalem is one of the two major foci of the prophecy.  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).

By praying for Jerusalem, Daniel actually prayed for Israel, and the prophecy confirms that the city will be “restored” (9:25), which means to be given back to Israel (see Which Decree), but what Daniel perhaps did not expect was the time limit of Seventy Weeks which the angel announced for Jerusalem and for Israel (9:24).

The other main focus of the prophecy is the ‘Messiah the Prince.  Daniel was told that the Messiah would appear at the end of 69 weeks (483 years) (9:25), but “will be cut off” (9:26), which means to be killed.

The last week is the purpose of the 490 years.

The 70 weeks (490 years) starts with “a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem”.  Gabriel explained that the 70 weeks is sub-divided into three sub-periods; 7 weeks (49 years), 62 weeks (434 years) and 1 week (7 years):

No specific event marks the end of the first 49 years, but because this would be 49 years after the decree to restore Jerusalem, most commentators assume that it relates to the restoration of the city.

Then, for a very long time (62×7=434 years) nothing happens.  At the end of this long period the messiah appears (9:25) and is later “cut off” (9:26).

During the last seven years a covenant is confirmed and an end is made of “sacrifice and grain offering” (v27).

All the action is therefore reserved for after the long period of 49+434=483 years, implying that the purpose of the long period is simply to locate the last seven years.  These last seven years are the real core and purpose of the prophecy.

Six glorious goals

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).  This means that the purpose of the Seventy Weeks, allocated to the Jewish nation, was to solve the sin problem of the whole human race.  Sin is a real barrier between us and God, but God’s intention was to use Israel to remove this barrier, which would allow His earthly creatures to return to His holy presence.  These goals would have brought great joy to Daniel.  Daniel did not pray for either these wonderful goals or for the messiah.  It is implied that these wonderful goals would be fulfilled through the Messiah.

Interpretations

It is a sad fact that this wonderful prophecy is interpreted very differently by the different schools of thought within Christianity.  J. Barton Payne, Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), 383-389, points out that there are basically four different kinds of interpretation of Daniel 9:24-27: (1) the liberal, (2) the traditional (also known as the historic-messianic interpretation), (3) the Dispensational, and (4) the symbolical.  Arguably, the phrase in Daniel 9 that illustrates the different interpretations the best, is the following:

in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering” (9:27)

This is interpreted:

(1) By liberal scholars as the work of Antiochus IV, 168 years before Christ (see Critical Interpretation)
(2) By traditional Protestantism as referring to Jesus Christ and
(3) By Dispensationalism as the work of the Antichrist during the seven years prior to the return of Christ. (See Dispensationalism)

Both the critical scholars and Dispensationalism removes Jesus Christ from the prophecy.  The purpose of this series of articles is to evaluate these alternative interpretations.

NEXT: When does the Messiah Appear?
TO: Daniel 9 Interpretations Overview
TO: Daniel 9: List of available articles

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