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. In verses 20 to 23 the angel Gabriel appears to Daniel and verses 24 to 27 contain the extremely compact prophecy itself.
Verse 24 starts with Gabriel informing Daniel:
Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city …
Israel 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 and usage. The word for “week” occurs six times in Daniel 9:24-27; each time without qualification. In the only other place in the book of Daniel where this word “week” occurs, it is qualified with the words “of days” (10:2, 3 see YLT). The very fact that Daniel felt that qualification was necessary when merely a week of seven days was indicated, suggests that when he used the word without qualification in Daniel 9:24-27, a period of seven literal years is intended.
Furthermore, during the Seventy Weeks the city was to be rebuilt, and after the 69th week the Messiah must appear. It is not feasible for all of this to happen within 490 days.
It is therefore 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 detailed chronological explanation.
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 his people, and the prophecy confirms that the city will be “restored” (9:25), which means to be given back to Israel (see discussion below), but what Daniel perhaps would not have expected is the time limit of Seventy Weeks which the angel announced for Daniel’s people (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 70 weeks (490 years) starts with “a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem”. Gabriel explains 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 beyond the long period of 434 years, implying that the purpose of the long period of 434 years is simply to locate these dramatic events in time.
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 the messiah. A relationship between the wonderful goals and the Messiah is implied.
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: the liberal, the traditional (also known as the historic-messianic interpretation), the dispensational, and 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:
- by critical liberal scholars as the work of Antiochus IV, 168 years before Christ,
- by traditional Protestantism as the death of Christ and
- by dispensationalism as the work of the Antichrist during the seven years prior to the return of Christ.
- The purpose of this document is to evaluate these alternative interpretations.
MESSIAH AFTER 49 YEARS (PUNCTUATION)
In the RSV and some other translation of Daniel 9:25 the messiah prince appears after 49 years:
… from the going forth of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again …
The messiah therefore cannot be Jesus Christ because the decree, as will be discussed, was issued more than 400 years before Christ. The AB, ERV and the NEB follow a similar translation. But In the NASB, KJV, NIV, ASV, ERV [margin], MLB and the JB and some other translations the messiah prince appears after 7 + 62 weeks (483 years), and therefore can be Jesus Christ:
… from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again …
The reason for the difference in the translations is punctuation (commas, full stops, etc.). In the original Hebrew there was no punctuation. The original Hebrew did not even have spaces between words. When the Hebrew was first translated into Greek, about 2000 years ago, punctuation was added. The punctuation of all the ancient Greek translations, namely the Septuagint (LXX) and those of Theodotion, Symmachus, and Aquila and the Peshitta, treat the 7 and 62 weeks of Daniel 9:25 as a single period at the end of which the Messiah would appear. The Vulgate and Syriac, and in modern times also the NASB, adopted this punctuation.
The Jews first started to add punctuation to the Hebrew about 500 years after Christ; in the Masoretic period. The Masoretic version of Daniel 9 adds an athnach (a principal disjunctive divider within a verse) after the words “seven weeks.” This athnach resulted in the RSV translation, with the messiah prince appearing at the end of the 7 first weeks.
Which punctuation is correct? In the Old Testament, all punctuation is interpretation. The context must determine the punctuation.
The RSV follows the punctuation added by the Jews about 500 years after Christ. There seems to be no reason to follow the Jewish translation. They had a motive to remove Jesus from the prophecy.
The addition of an athnach seems to indicate an anti-Christian bias. Pusey, p. 190, n. 1, quotes Rashi to the effect “that on account of ‘heretics,’ i.e. Christians,” the clause was divided by an athnach.
Fair treatment of the text requires that the Messiah in 9:26 be the same as the Messiah in 9:25. Two different messiahs in two consecutive verses are unlikely. If there is only one messiah in this prophecy, and if he appears at the end of the first seven weeks (49 years), and if he is killed after the end of the 69th weeks, then he is at least 434 years old when he is killed, which cannot be. He must therefore appear at the end of the 62 weeks, as in the NASB, NIV, KJV, Young’s Literal and many other translations.
This problem can be resolved by noting that this passage is poetry and then by analyzing its structure. The table below presents a portion of the prophecy:
from .. decree to restore .. Jerusalem
until Messiah the Prince
and sixty-two weeks
will be built again
cut off after 62 two weeks
This analysis shows that the text alternates between the City and the Messiah. It further shows that the seven weeks relate to the rebuilding of the city and that the end of the sixty-two weeks relates to the Messiah. (source William Shea)
This poetic analysis rules out the Masoretic punctuation and confirms that the Messiah will appear at the end of the 62 weeks.
THE SAME CRISIS AS THE OTHER PROPHECIES OF DANIEL?
Most interpreters assume that Daniel 9 refers to the same crisis as the other prophecies in Daniel. The “2300 evening morning” is commonly interpreted as the same as the last half of the last seven years (last week) of Daniel 9, due to similarities:
- In Daniel 9 sacrifice and oblation cease, while in Daniel 8 “the continual burnt offering was taken away”.
- Sacrifices cease for more or less the same length of time. In Daniel 9 sacrifices cease in the “midst” of the last seven years, and it is often assumed that the sacrificial system is reinstated at the end of the last seven years, although Daniel 9 says nothing about it. Sacrifices therefore “cease” for more or less 3½ years, which is interpreted as the same as the 3½ times (time, times and a half) in Daniel 7 and 12. In Daniel 8 the daily sacrifice is taken away (8:11), but the sanctuary is cleansed after 2300 days (8:14). Interpreters often interpret the 2300 “evening morning” as 2300 sacrifices, of which there were two each day as part of the “tamid”. They therefore interpret the 2300 “evening morning” as 1150 days, which is roughly 3 years and 2 months.
- In Daniel 8 “the place of his sanctuary was overthrown” while in Daniel 9 “the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary”.
In contrast it is proposed here that Daniel 9 does not refer to the same crisis, for the reasons below.
The following, found in the other prophecies, is absent from Daniel 9:
- Persecution of the saints is a central focus in the other prophecies (7:25; 8:24; 11:33; 12:7), but apart from the Messiah that is cut off, this theme is absent from Daniel 9.
- According to Daniel 8 the sanctuary will be restored after the prophesied destruction (8:14). There is no mention of this in Daniel 9. Daniel 9 ends in chaos and desolation.
- The beasts (kings 7:17) and horns (kings 7:24) that precede the evil power.
- Daniel 9 ends with “desolate, even until a complete destruction” (9:27). There is no indication at all in Daniel 9 that this vision goes even to the “time of the end”. But the other prophecies end with the return of Christ:
the “time of the end” (8:17);
the destruction of the evil one (7:26; 8:25; 11:45);
the return of Christ and the eternal kingdom (2:44; 7:18, 27; 8:25 (without human agency, compare 2:45); 12:2), and
the resurrection of the dead will arise (12:2) and “everlasting life” (12:2).
Some translations end 9:27 with destruction on the one who makes desolate (NASB, GNB), but that is an interpretation. There is nothing in the original about a desolator that is made desolate. The KJV, YLT and other translations end Daniel 9 simply with complete desolation on the desolate one. And there is no mention of the eternal kingdom.
The following, found in Daniel 9, is absent from the other prophecies:
- In Daniel 9 the city is destroyed (9:26). This is not mentioned in the other prophecies.
- Killing of the Messiah;
The following are differences between Daniel 9 and the other prophecies:
- In Daniel 9 the temple is destroyed (9:26) while in the other chapters it is only profaned by taking away the continual (11:31). (The “cast down” of the place of his sanctuary in 8:11 should not be understood literally, because the stars and the truth are also “cast down” (8:10, 12). In contrast to Daniel 8, Daniel 9 does not use symbols. It has been received in clear, literal language.)
- The prophecy in Daniel 9 promises the restoration of the temple, but also predicts that it will again be destroyed. It says nothing about another restoration. The sequence is rebuild-destroy. In the other prophecies the sequence is reversed, namely desecrate-restore (8:14).
- The time periods are different. One could possibly argue that the time, times and a half that is found elsewhere in Daniel (7:25; 12:7) is equal to half of the last seven years, but the 490 years, 49 years, 434 years and 7 years are not found elsewhere in Daniel and the 1290 days and the 1335 days (12:11, 12) are not found in Daniel 9. If the 2300 “evening morning” (8:14) is converted to 1150 days, it is equal to 3 years and 55 days, which still does not equal to anything in Daniel 9. Why would the time periods vary from 1150 days (8:14) to 1260 days (7:25 and 12:7) to 1290 days and to 1335 days, if they all refer to the same period?
- The time periods in the other prophecies are all given in a symbolic context, and form part of long range prophecies. Daniel 9 uses no symbolic language, and the last 7 years are seven literal years.
- Daniel 9 focus specifically on the Jewish nation, the Holy City, and the sanctuary (9:24), while the other prophecies predict a series of heathen empires and kings. The horns in Daniel 7 and 8 are preceded by beasts (kings 7:17) and horns (kings 7:24). Daniel 11 also describes the preceding empires and kings, but in more literal terms. There are no preceding empires or kings in Daniel 9.
Daniel 9 therefore does not describe the same crisis as the other prophecies.
GOALS FULFILLED IN JESUS CHRIST
Daniel 9:24 lists six goals to be attained during the 70 weeks:
- to finish the transgression
- to make an end of sin
- to make atonement for iniquity
- to bring in everlasting righteousness
- to seal up vision and prophecy and
- to anoint the most holy place
Many different interpretations are forwarded for these goals by the different schools of thought, and it is difficult to determine their meaning with complete certainty. However, the meaning of the third and the fourth goals seem clear:
The third goal for the 490 years is “to make atonement for iniquity”. This Jesus did. He was “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). His blood was “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28). He was sacrificed for our sins and did away “with sin” once for all when he offered himself (Hebr. 7:27, 9:26-28). Through His own blood He has obtained eternal redemption (Hebr. 9:12). See also Hebrews 10:10, 12, and 14.
The fourth goal is “to bring in everlasting righteousness”. People sometimes argue that Christ did not bring in “everlasting righteousness” because this is still a world dominated by sin. However, on the other hand, note how the Bible speaks of the everlasting consequences of the cross as a current reality:
- “Eternal redemption” already exist (Heb. 9:12).
- We are already reconciled to God by the death of His Son (Rom. 5:10, 11; Col. 1:20).
- He already does not count our trespasses against us (2Co 5:19 NASB; see also; Col 1:22).
- Justification of life to all men is already obtained (Rom 5:18).
- The world is already saved (John 3:17).
- God already reconciled all things to Himself, and already made peace through the blood of His cross (Col 1:19-20)
Dispensationalism proposes that everlasting righteousness will be brought in at the Second Advent, which is also the end of the 490 years, in their prophetic reconstruction. However:
- Dispensationalism also believes that the Second Advent will not bring complete righteousness. They believe there will still be sin during the Millennium.
- Furthermore, Daniel 9:24 reads:
Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city … to bring in everlasting righteousness”.
In other words, everlasting righteousness was to be attained through Daniel’s people. It also means that everlasting righteousness was to be attained during the 490 years, not at the end of it. If the intention was that everlasting righteousness was to be achieved at the end of the 490 years, then the “to” in Daniel 9:24 must be replaced by “then:
“Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city … then everlasting righteousness will be brought in”.
END OF THE SACRIFICIAL SYSTEM
According to Daniel 9:27 “he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering”. This is interpreted by critical scholars as the work of Antiochus IV, 168 years before Christ, by dispensationalism as the work of the Antichrist during the seven years prior to the return of Christ and by historical Protestantism and in this document as the death of Christ.
The death of Christ did not cause the Jewish sacrifices to cease immediately. The Jewish sacrifices continued until the destruction of Jerusalem forty years later. But when Jesus ascended to heaven and became High Priest (Hebr. 6:20), the law changed (Hebr. 7:12), including the sacrificial system (Hebr. 7:19; 8:4; 9:22). Jesus set “aside the first [sacrifices and offerings] to establish the second” (Hebr. 10:9). (See also Hebr. 8:13; Eph. 2:15)
This was strikingly confirmed by a miracle. At the moment Jesus died “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matt. 27:51; cf. Mark 15:38). This unmistakably signified the end of Israel’s sacrificial temple rituals.
The sacrificial system pointed forward to the Lamb of God. When Jesus—the Lamb of God—died, He fulfilled the significance of those sacrifices. The sacrificial services terminated at the death of Christ in the sense of its loss of meaning. The sacrifices offered after His death could no longer be regarded as legitimate and valid in God’s sight.
While verse 24 lists six goals, verses 25 to 27 describe a number of events:
- A decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem (v25).
- Appearance of Messiah the Prince (v25).
- Rebuildingof Jerusalem in times of distress (v25).
- The Messiah cut off (v26).
- The city and the sanctuary destroyed (v26).
- A firm covenant will be made with many for one week (v27).
- In the middle of the week a stop will be put to sacrifice and grain offering (v27).
- desolation and a complete and a decreed destruction
Notice that the first 5 events—in verses 25 and 26—alternate between Jerusalem and the Messiah. Verse 27 does not refer to either directly, and ends with abominations, desolation and a complete and a decreed destruction.
The six goals of verse 24 must be achieved by the seven events in the next three verses, but how?
The prophecy of Daniel 9 implies that the sin problem would be solved through, first, the appearance of the messiah (verse 25), followed by his killing (verse 26) and “a stop to sacrifice and grain offering” (9:27). With the hindsight of the New Testament, this seems very much like a prediction of the Jesus Christ and of His death on the cross. He was “Jesus the Messiah” (Matt 1:1, cf. 1:16, 17; 2:4; John 1:41, 4:25). He was put to death, resulting in the end of the sacrificial system. Jesus is therefore the link between the goals and the predicted events.
However, the academic world does not accept that Daniel 9 refers to Jesus Christ. In the academic world the view is that the book of Daniel was written in the time of Antiochus, about 165 years before Christ, and that the book describes Antiochus’s persecution of the Jewish nation. In this view Daniel does not point to any event beyond the time of Antiochus. But the academics are wrong. The academic world is caught up in the scientific method, which does not accept the supernatural. In the scientific method everything must be explained and proved. That is not possible when we deal with Scriptures.
Although Jesus Christ is a clear link only between two of the goals and three of the predicted events, but this link provides the foundation for interpreting the other goals and events.
Daniel did not pray for a messiah. He prayed for the temple and for Jerusalem. But the prophecy includes a Messiah because that was Israel’s purpose. God elected Israel to bring forth eternal redemption through the Messiah. To remove this goal from Israel is to remove the reason for their election. To remove the Messiah from the prophecy is to remove the purpose of the 490 years.
JEREMIAH’S 70 YEARS
Chapter 9 opens with Daniel noticing that the LORD revealed to Jeremiah that Jerusalem will be desolated for a period of 70 years (Dan 9:2, compare Jer. 25:8-14; 29:10-14). He then prayed earnestly and interceded with God concerning the tragic condition of His backslidden and disobedient people, and for the desolation of Jerusalem and the sanctuary (verses 3-19). In this way the 70 years set the stage for Daniel’s prayer.
… when seventy years are completed I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation,’ declares the LORD (Jer. 25:11, 12, compare v1)
When the prophecy of Daniel 9 was received, the king of Babylon was already punished. This means that the 70 years has already come to an end. When did it start?
Jerusalem was finally destroyed in BC 586. However, this was not the start of the 70 years. The 70 years is not the period of Jerusalem’s desolation. The 70 years was the period of Babylonian rule over Judah and the surrounding nations:
I will send to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon … against this land and against its inhabitants and against all these nations round about; and I will utterly destroy them … these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. (Jer. 25:9, 11)
For thus says the LORD, When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. (Jer. 29:10)
Judah came under the Babylonian heel in 605 BC (Daniel 1:1), but Babylon’s ruling of nations actually dates from the overthrow of Assyria a few years earlier. After the fall of Nineveh in 612 BC (to the allied forces of the Medes and Babylonians), the Assyrian king Ashuruballit established his government at Harran. This city fell to the Babylonians in 610 BC, and Assyria was finally obliterated when Ashuruballit failed to recapture it in 609 BC. Seventy years later—in 539 BC—Babylon herself was conquered by Cyrus. It is therefore possible to count the seventy years from 609 BC to 539 BC.
The 70 weeks begin with the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem:
So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress (NASB 9:25)
The passage identifies the beginning and the end of the prophetic period by using the prepositions “from” and “until.”
The identification of this decree is therefore critical for a correct interpretation of Daniel 9. Unfortunately there are a number of decrees and different dates have been suggested by scholars.
Critical scholars are theologians who do not believe in the divine inspiration of Daniel. They believe that Daniel 9 does not refer to Jesus, but was written during the persecution of the Jews by the Greek king Antiochus (around 165 BC) in the form of a prophecy. Since they have to fit 490 years between the decree and the time of Antiochus, they must select the earliest possible decree. For this reason they propose that the decree of Daniel 9:25 is a decree of God via the prophet Jeremiah.
But even if they take the very first mention by Jeremiah of the destruction and restoration of Jerusalem in about 605 BC, they only end up with 440 years between 605 BC and the time of Antiochus—not 490 (70×7) years. They usually try to explain the difference as a mistake by the author in 165 BC, but for those that accept that Daniel was supernaturally inspired, and particularly if it was accepted that the messiah in Daniel 9 refers to Jesus Christ, the announcements by Jeremiah do not fit the specification of the prophecy.
If it is not a decree by God via Jeremiah, it must be a decree by an earthly king. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah mention four different “decrees“, issued by three Persian monarchs over a period of 93 years, which deal with the return of the exiles and the rebuilding of the temple and city:
- Cyrus in 538/7 BC allowed Jews to return to Judah and to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1-4; cf. Isa 45:1).
- Darius I, about 520 BC, reaffirmed and expedited the order of Cyrus to rebuild the temple (Ezra 6:1-12).
- Artaxerses I, 457 BC to Ezra (7:12-26), reestablished the autonomy of Judah.
- Artaxerxes I, 445/444 BC to Nehemiah, granted permission to repair Jerusalem.
One of these must be selected for this starting point, but which one?
Cyrus issued a decree in 538/7 BC which allowed Jews to return to Judah and to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1-4; cf. Isa 45:1). This decree was prophesied by Isaiah. More than a century before Cyrus was born, Isaiah wrote:
Who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose’; saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be rebuilt,’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’ (Is. 44:28)
He (Cyrus) shall build my city and set my exiles free (Is. 45:13)
This is also what Cyrus did:
“This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you … let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel.” (Ezra 1:2-4)
To allow the Jews to return to Judea, implies the right to rebuild their cities, including Jerusalem. It makes no sense to argue that Cyrus allowed the Jews to return, but that they were not allowed to rebuild their cities. But this does not “restore” Jerusalem, as required by the prophecy:
The decree of Daniel 9:25 actually specify that Jerusalem firstly will be restored (shûb) and secondly be rebuilt. Because it is mentioned first, “restore” may be understood as more significant than “rebuild”. “Restore” and “rebuild” are two related but very different actions. Rebuild is used in the Old Testament to designate a physical reconstruction, but “restore” means to return. When the Old Testament indicates that the exiles are restored, it means they “return” from captivity to Jerusalem (e.g. Jer. 12:15; 23:3). When the Old Testament indicates that a city is restored, like in Daniel 9, it means that the city would again be ruled by the Israelites. The Aramean king once said to Ahab, king of Israel:
I will return (shûb, “restore”) the cities my father took from your father. (I Kings 20:34).
These cities have not been destroyed. To “restore” is to return the cities to the original owner. It does not include the idea of rebuilding. Another example is Azariah, king of Judah, who is:
the one who rebuilt Elath and restored it to Judah (2 Kings 14:22)
We find here the same two verbs we found in Daniel—”to rebuild” and “to restore.” The city had been in ruins. It was rebuilt and then it was restored (returned) to Judah to rule as their own. The verb “to restore” means that it was to function again as a city ruled by the Israelites (cf. 1 Kings 12:21).
Based on the usage of the verb “shûb” (restore) in those passages we can conclude that the restoration of Jerusalem in Daniel 9:25 points to much more than rebuilding. Jerusalem was the judicial and executive capital of the nation and symbol of the Israeli people. To restore Jerusalem means much more than to allow the Jews to live in the city, or to rebuild the city. That right they had. Most of the Jews remained in Judea after Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city in 586 BC. To restore Jerusalem means that it will be returned to the Jews to serve as their capital from which they would rule their whole nation, according to their own laws as a theocentric society.
The decree by Cyrus allowed the Jews to return and rebuild the temple, which implied the right to rebuild their cities. But that decree did not allow the Jews to rule themselves. It did not give Jerusalem back to the nation to serve as their national capital; to make their own laws, or to govern themselves. Jerusalem, as capital of the Jews, was not yet “restored”. They were still ruled directly by Persian laws.
It is therefore proposed that Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled by Cyrus in the sense that he initiated a process that ultimately led to a decree authorizing Jerusalem to be returned to the Jews, to serve as their judicial capital. Hence, Cyrus stood not just for his own person but he represented the other Persian kings that came after him, one of whom would issue the decree announced by Isaiah.
In response to Cyrus’ edict the Jews slowly began to return to their homeland (Ezra 3). More than 15 years later Haggai and Zechariah (their ministry began about 520 BC) tell us that instead of making the rebuilding of the temple their priority, the returnees had set about their own business. While the affluent built luxury homes, the majority of the returned exiles lived in and around the ruined city and suffered crop failures and droughts . The temple was still in ruins (Hag 1:1-11).
17 years after the decree of Cyrus, Zerubbabel and Joshua, under the influence of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, again started rebuilding the temple, but experienced resistance (Ezra 5). Israel old enemies—the Samaritans—complained to the authorities. In response, the local governor inspected the work, and wrote a letter to Darius to verify the claims of the Jews. An investigation was made and the decree of Cyrus was found. Darius confirmed the decree of Cyrus by means of an additional edict (ca. 520 BC) (Ezra 6:3-12). The temple was finished and dedicated in March, 515 BC (Ezra 6:13-18).
The decree of Darius is not significantly different from Cyrus’ edict. Darius ordered Tatnai not to interfere with the project of rebuilding the temple and to impale anyone who would oppose it. The royal decree of Darius I mentions only the restoration of the temple. The decree of Darius simply confirmed Cyrus’ edict, and therefore also did not restore Jerusalem as legislative and executive capital of the nation in order that the Jews may govern themselves.
Therefore the main contenders are the two decrees by Artaxerxes I. He issued decrees in 458/7 and in 445/4 BC.
ARTAXERXES IN 458/7
The decree in 458/7 BC (Ezra 7:12-26), about 60 years after the temple had been completed, granted permission to the exiles to return to Jerusalem, assigned funds for the support of the temple in Jerusalem and exempted the temple and temple personnel from tax. These are not different from the previous decrees. But what was now added is that the decree established a legal system based on the Torah for all the Jews in Judea. This included setting up magistrates and judges to enforce the law. Judea was to enjoy significant judicial and civil autonomy under the larger overlordship of Persia. Of particular importance is vs. 26:
Whoever does not obey the law of your God and the law of the king must surely be punished by death, banishment, confiscation of property, or imprisonment.
In this way the Persian king made the Mosaic law part of his own law, and granted authority to the Jews to govern themselves on the basis of the law of God. It does provide for a measure of civil autonomy unknown since the Babylonian desolation of Jerusalem and Judea (vss. 25-26).
In response Ezra and a considerable company of people-priests, Levites, singers, gate-keepers, and temple servants went up from Babylon In Mesopotamia to Jerusalem in the seventh year of his reign (Ezra 7:6-7, 11-17). After a journey lasting several months, they arrived at Jerusalem.
All historical sources point unanimously and harmoniously to the fact that the seventh regnal year of Artaxerxes I extended from March/April of 458 BC to March/April of 457 BC. The Jews who lived in this historical period, however, did not use the Persian-Babylonian March/April calendar. Their calendar began in September/October:
Nehemiah 1:1 and 2:1 provide specific evidence for this. Both verses date the events to Artaxerxes’ twentieth year, but to different months. In 1:1 it is the “month Chislev” and in 2:1 it is the “month Nisan”. But in the Persian-Babylonian calendar Chislev was the ninth month and Nisan was the first. If Nehemiah had used the Persian-Babylonian calendar, then Nehemiah 2:1 should have been dated to Artaxerxes’ twenty-first regnal year. The fact that the regnal year number did not change is direct evidence that Nehemiah employed the Jewish calendar, which used the same names for months, but started the year in a different month.
Since Ezra was a contemporary of Nehemiah, it is possible to apply the same Jewish calendar to the dates in Ezra. This would mean that the decree recorded in Ezra 7 was issued sometime in the year that began in the September/October of the year 458.
ARTAXERXES IN 445/4
In the king’s twentieth year (Neh. 2:1) (445/4 BC) Nehemiah, cupbearer to Artaxerxes I, received a report from a group of Jews who had arrived in the Persian capital from Jerusalem:
The survivors there in the province who escaped exile are in great trouble and shame; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire. (Neh 1:3; cf. 2:3).
Nehemiah then requested and obtained permission from Artaxerxes to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city (Neh. 2:5).
In choosing between the two decrees of Artaxerxes, it is proposed that the 458/7 decree fits the specifications of the prophecy better, because it fits the time of Christ and restored Jerusalem to the Jews.
One standard objection against the decree of Artaxerxes I to Ezra in 457 BC (Ezra 7:1-26) is that it does not specifically refer to a rebuilding of Jerusalem. However, the right to rebuild the city is implicit in the authorization to set up a judicial system at a central place, based on the law of God. It would be only natural for the Jews to proceed with the construction on Jerusalem, the national administrative center (cf. Ezra 7:25-26). Even the decrees of Cyrus and Darius implicitly authorized the Jews to rebuild their cities. It will furthermore be shown below that this decree did authorize the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem. It will be shown that
- Ezra understood his decree to allow construction.
- Construction was done before Nehemiah.
- This rebuilding was authorized by the decree of 458/7.
- Nehemiah expected the rebuilding to be completed by 445/4.
- Nehemiah did not ask to rebuild the city.
- Nehemiah really put into effect the decree of 458/7 BC.
1. The decree of 458/7 for the first time “restored” the city to the Jews by allowing the Jews to rule themselves from their capital city.
The Nehemiah-decree did not restore the city to the Jews and substantially added nothing to the previous decrees. It deals only with the physical construction of the walls.
2. The decree of 458/7 fits the time of Christ.
If the 490 years began in 458/7 BC, and if His appearance at the end of the 7+62 weeks was the inauguration of His public ministry (Mark 1:11-14; Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38) at His anointing by the Holy Spirit at His baptism (Acts 10:37, 38), in the fifteenth year of the Roman emperor Tiberius (Luke 3:1, 5, 21), then it fits the time of Christ perfectly. Finegan (Handbook of Biblical Chronology, Princeton, 1964, p265) dates His baptism to AD 26/27. This was exactly 483 years after the decree in 458/7 (7×7+62×7=483), as specified by the prophecy. (Remember, no year nil. From 1 BC to 1 AD is one year, not two.)
If the 490 years began in 445/4 BC, then the Messiah would appear 483 years later in 39/40, which is far beyond the time of Jesus. The dispensational scheme, preferring the decree of 445/4 BC, interprets the 483 years as “prophetic years” of 360 literal days each. This reduces the 483 years by approximately 7 years in order to end the period at the time of Christ. However, the prophecy of Seventy Sevens is based on the annual sabbatical cycle. This means that the 70 weeks are 70 literal cycles of seven literal years each. No symbols are used in the prophecy of Daniel 9.
3. Ezra understood his decree as allowing construction.
In prayer Ezra said that God gave them, through the Persian kings “to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem” (Ezra 9:9, NASB). Some argue that “wall” should be understood figuratively because a city wall in those days was extremely important. It gave protection and formed the basis for self-governance. But if it was meant figuratively, it should have read “a wall around Judah”, and not a “wall in Judah”. Furthermore, this verse mentions two things that require physical construction; the temple and the wall. Since “the house of our God” is literal, the wall probably is also.
4. Construction of the walls was initiated before Nehemiah arrived.
Firstly, Nehemiah 2:15 describes how Nehemiah inspected the wall before he did any work on the wall. In the next verse there is a reference to “the Jews, the priests … who did the work”. “Work” was therefore done before Nehemiah arrived. It could not have been work on the temple because the temple was completed 70 years earlier in 515 BC (Ezra 6:13-18).
Secondly, Nehemiah repaired the walls in only 52 days (Neh. 6:15). It is unlikely that the damage caused in 586 BC, together with the neglect of the next 150 years, could be reversed in less than two months while battling constantly with opposition. Substantial work must have been done before Nehemiah.
Thirdly, a group of Persian officers wrote to Artaxerxes complaining that “the Jews who came up from you to us have gone to Jerusalem. They are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city; they are finishing the walls…” (Ezra 4:12). The letter asked the king to stop this project, which he did. When the governors received his reply, “they went in haste to the Jews at Jerusalem and by force and power made them cease” (vs. 23). This interruption does not refer to Nehemiah’s work on the walls since no such interruption is recorded in the book of Nehemiah and because Nehemiah completed the walls of the city within 52 days. Since Nehemiah finished the walls, this interruption, and therefore this work on the walls, must have been before Nehemiah.
5. Nehemiah expected the walls to be completed before he went to Jerusalem.
About 13 years after Ezra arrived at Jerusalem—in 445/4 BC—Nehemiah is informed that “the walls of Jerusalem” were broken down and the gates destroyed by fire (Nehemiah 1:3). Nehemiah was deeply shocked at the news—he wept for days (Neh. 1:4). The fact that Nehemiah was devastated by the news implies that he expected to hear that the walls and gates have been completed. This means that permission to rebuild the walls and gates was already granted, and that Nehemiah knew about people that went to Jerusalem for that purpose.
6. Nehemiah did not ask to rebuild the city.
Nehemiah only asked for permission to go to Jerusalem (2:5) and for wood to build the walls (2:8). These requests imply that permission has already been granted for the reconstruction of the walls.
In summary, the 458/7 decree fits the specifications of the prophecy better because it fits the time of Christ, restored Jerusalem as judicial capital to the Jews, and authorized them to rebuild the city.
THE COVENANT IN DANIEL 9
Modern higher criticism does not accept that Daniel 9 forms a unit. According to them Daniel’s prayer does not fit the prophecy, but has been added later. They argue as follows:
Axiomatically they reject the sixth century origin of the book as a whole. They believe the book was compiled in the second century BC, during Antiochus’ persecution of the Jews. Consequently they must provide a reason for the inclusion of Daniel 9 in the book by a second century writer. Their solution is that the seventy weeks prophecy was produced to clarify the meaning of, or to reinterpret Jeremiah’s prophecy of the seventy years (Dan. 9:2). But then Daniel’s prayer should be a petition for such illumination. Since that is not the case, it does not correspond to the prophecy and must have been added later.
In contrast it is argued here that Daniel 9 does indeed form a unit.
NO NEED FOR RE-INTERPRETATION
In the first place, the assumption by modern criticism that the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks is a reinterpretation of the 70 weeks, is not accepted. In the second century BC there was no need for perplexity over the plain words of Jeremiah. Jeremiah prophesied that the end the seventy years would be closely associated with the fall of Babylon (Jer. 25:11 ff.). Cyrus issued a decree in the first year after the fall of Babylon, allowing the Jews to return, and soon the restoration was actually under way. The rebuilding of the temple and the city was completed hundreds of years before the crisis in the second century. There was no failure in the historical realization of the prophecy of Seventy Years that called for an embarrassed reinterpretation of its simple sense.
DANIEL PRAYED FOR FULFILLMENT
Secondly, if one accepts that the book was written in the sixth century BC, as claimed by the book itself (9:2), then the link between the prayer and prophecy is clear. The urgency of Daniel’s prayer is understandable. Babylon fell the previous year (539 BC; cf. Dan. 9:1). Babylon’s reign of 70 years (Jer. 25:9, 11) has come to an end. The clear meaning of Daniel 9:2 ff. is that Daniel prayed for the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophetic promise.
GABRIEL DID NOT REINTERPRET JEREMIAH’S PROPHECY
Thirdly, It is also perfectly clear from the prophecy (Dan. 9:20 ff.) that Gabriel did not interpret or reinterpret Jeremiah’s prophecy of restoration, but assured Daniel that it was about to be fulfilled.
VARIOUS OTHER LINKS
Fourthly, there are various other links between the prayer and the prophecy that indicates the unity of Daniel 9. Gabriel provides assurances (vs. 24) which answer Daniel’s plea for forgiveness. The prophecy repeats or plays on the sound of various words in the prayer. The two parts of the chapter share certain expressions not found elsewhere in the book. See Meredith G. Kline’s article “The Covenant of the Seventieth Week” for more detail.
But the most persuasive evidence of the unity of Daniel 9 is the fact that Yahweh’s covenant with Israel is the common thread through both prayer and prophecy. Yahweh’s covenant is the theme that pervades the entire chapter. Before this is illustrated, a synopsis of the covenant process, as delineated in the covenant sanctions passage in Leviticus 26, is provided as background:
The chapters prior to Leviticus 26 list all the good laws which the LORD gave at Mount Sinai via Moses (Lev. 25:1). Particularly important for Daniel 9 is that when they come into the land which He shall give them, the land shall enjoy a sabbath year of rest every seventh year (v2), similar to the sabbath day of rest which the people enjoyed every seventh day. The Lord instructed Israel to work the land for six years (v3), but during the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath rest—a sabbath to the LORD. In the seventh year Israel shall not work the land (v4).
Leviticus 26:14-39 records the covenant curses. These are the awful things that will happen to Israel should they fall in disobedience. These curses climaxed in the curse of exile. God will lay waste their cities, make their sanctuaries desolate (v31) and scatter the people among the nations (v33). While they are scattered among the nations, the land will enjoy its sabbaths (v34). The land will observe the rest for all the days which it did not observe while Israel was living on it (v35). It is implied that the number of years of exile will be equal to the number of sabbath years that the land did not get its rest, while Israel lived on it (v43). The sabbath year cycle was therefore part of the curse of exile.
But, as the next step in the “covenant lawsuit process”, as scholars call it, Leviticus 26 records that if Israel in exile would confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers (v40), then YHWH will remember His covenants with Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham. He will also remember the land (v42). Israel’s repentant turning is therefore a prerequisite for the covenantal promise of restoration (cf. Deut. 30: 1 ff).
The covenant sequence is therefore as follows: (1) Disobedience, (2) Exile, (3) Confession and (4) Restoration.
It is very important to notice that this covenant sequence is the central theme in Daniel 9:
1. The 70 years, that sets the stage for Daniel 9 (see verse 2), was a fulfillment of the covenant curse of exile:
to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths. All the days of its desolation it kept sabbath until seventy years were complete. (2Ch 36:21)
Daniel also confirmed this in his prayer when he said that Israel’s desolate condition was the result of God bringing the covenant curses on His disobedient people, because of their covenant breaking (vss. 11-13).
2. Daniel fulfilled the requirement for covenant renewal after exile.
On behalf of Israel Daniel confessed the justice of the sentence, the righteousness of Yahweh (v7) and Israel’s guilt (v5-11), as required by the covenant (Lev. 26:40).
3. Daniel prayed for the renewal promised by the covenant (Lev. 26:42 ft.; Deut. 30: 3 ft.).
Daniel prayed that God would restore Israel. Although his appeal does not explicitly refer to the covenant, but to God’s “great compassion” (v18), Daniel did, right at the beginning of his prayer, set his hope in the Lord who “keeps the covenant” (9:4). Thecovenant is both the ground of Daniel’s confidence and the basis for his plea.
4. Daniel’s prayer is replete with covenant terminology.
Daniel 9 is the only chapter in the book to use the peculiarly covenantal name YHWH (vss. 2, 4, 10, 13, 14, 20). Equally appropriate to the covenantal context is the repeated use of Adonay (Lord); the characteristic designation of the dominant party in the covenant. In the book of Daniel this name is used only in this chapter and in 1:2.
The many other covenant words found here are ‘ahab, “love” (vs. 4), hesed, “covenant loyalty” (vs. 4), sub, “turn” (vss. 13,16), and hata, “sin” (vss. 5,8, 11, 15). The prayer is indeed saturated with formulaic expressions drawn from the Mosaic treaties, particularly from the Deuteronomic covenant. [Compare verse 4 with Deut. 7:9, 21; 10:17; verse 5 with Deut. 17:20; verse 10 with Deut. 4:8, 30; 11:32; verse 11 with Deut. 29:20; 33:1; 34:5; verse 12 with Deut. 2:25; 4:19; 9:5; verse 15 with Deut. 6:21; and verse 18 with Deut. 28:10.]
It would therefore be fair to say that Daniel’s prayer was founded on the covenant. We should thus expect that God’s response through His angel Gabriel will also be based on the covenant.
5. The prophecy promises covenant renewal.
Also without explicitly referring to the covenant, the prophecy (God’s response to Daniel’s prayer) assures Daniel that his prayer would be answered and Israel would be restored as God’s covenant people (v25), as promised by the covenant:
If they shall confess their iniquity (Leviticus 26:40a) . . . then I will remember my covenant (vs. 42a) . . . the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the heathen, that I might be their God (vs. 45).
6. The 70 weeks are sabbatical weeks of years, and the sabbatical pattern is integrated into the covenant.
The Seventy Weeks are sabbatical because the “weeks” refer to the seven-year chronological cycle in which each seventh year was a sabbath for the land (Lev. 25:2 ff.).
This is confirmed by the relationship between the Seventy Weeks and the seventy years prophesied by Jeremiah. As “prophesied” by Leviticus and confirmed by 2 Chronicles 36:21 quoted above, each of the 70 years was a Sabbath, and each of the 70 years represented 7 years of disobedience. Consequently the 70 years represent the equivalent of 490 years of disobedience. The prophecy of Daniel 9 therefore awards Israel a new cycle of 490 years, in which each seventh year would also be a Sabbath.
The sabbatical pattern is covenantal because God made it part of the covenant by using it to count the number of years of exile (Lev. 26:35, 43), and because the Lord elevated the Sabbath to be a perpetual sign of the covenant between Him and His people (Ex. 31:13-17; Ezek. 20:12, 20).
You shall surely observe My sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you. … For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD … So the sons of Israel shall observe the sabbath, to celebrate the sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever (Ex. 31:13-17)
Also I gave them My sabbaths to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD who sanctifies them. … Sanctify My sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the LORD your God.’ (Ezek. 20:12, 20)
In conclusion, Daniel 9, as a whole, follows the covenant pattern of Leviticus 26. The prayer (Daniel 9:4 ff.) corresponds to the confession required by the covenant (Leviticus 26:40-41), and the Seventy Weeks prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27) corresponds to the covenant restitution and renewal of Leviticus 26:42, 45. This pervasive covenant theme evidences the unity of the chapter as a whole. It is only by obscuring the obvious that one can fail to see that Daniel’s prayer and Gabriel’s response suit each other very well.
The covenant in Leviticus 25 and 26 is an important source standing behind the prophecy of Daniel 9. It presents a prophetic overview of the history of Israel down to the exile, and Daniel’s prayer and the Seventy Weeks are fulfillments of that covenant.
THE COVENANT IN DANIEL 9:27
Daniel 9:27 reads:
And he will make a firm (higbir) covenant with the many for one week
Since the divine covenant is the central theme throughout Daniel 9, it is also God’s covenant with Israel, as extended by the prophecy of Daniel 9 for a further 70 weeks of years, which is in view in 9:27. The context speaks against the supposition that an altogether different covenant is abruptly introduced here at the climax of the prophecy. Further evidence for this is as follows:
1. In most instances where the word “covenant” is used in the book of Daniel, it refers to God’s covenant.
The word “covenant” appears in 6 verses in Daniel. In four verses it is explicitly God’s covenant with Israel (Dan 9:4; 11:28, 30, 32).
Some propose that this is not God’s covenant with Israel because of the absence of the article “the”, but in Daniel 11:28, 30, 32 “covenant” is also used without the article, but the reference is clearly to God’s holy covenant.
2. The “he” in verse 27 refers to the Messiah.
This “he” is often interpreted as “the prince that shall come” (vs. 26) and as a future Roman enemy of the people of Israel whose people destroyed “the city and the sanctuary” (9:26) nearly 2000 years ago in 70 AD. This means that the people and their prince live 2000 years apart. This is an unnatural interpretation.
The dominant figure in verse 26 is the “Messiah”. The “prince” in verse 26 is a subordinate figure. It is not even the subject of the clause. The subject of the clause is “the people.” The fitting grammatical antecedent of the “he” in verse 27 is the “Messiah” in verse 26.
Actually, this nagid (prince) in 26b is, in all likelihood, the Messiah, for, after referring to Messiah as masiah nagid in verse 25, Gabriel divides the expression in the description of the two stages of his career in verse 26. He is the masiah that will be cut off and he is the nagid who is to come at the end of the 483 years. He will exercise His royal heavenly rule over all the nations, sending forces of destruction against Jerusalem. There certainly would have been no need to confuse the matter by using this same unusual title (nagid), rather than a different, more common title, if the prince of 26b is somebody different from the masiah nagid in verse 25. If then the nagid of 26b is the masiah, then the “he” that makes a firm covenant in 27a must also be the same masiah. Therefore the covenant is God’s covenant with Israel.
3. The verb translated “make” in 9:27 is actually the word for “make strong”, or “confirm”, which means it refers to a covenant that existed before the last seven years.
The verb here is “gâbar” (make strong, cause to prevail). It is translated “make” in the NASB, but the evidence of the usage of gâbar in the Bible (“The covenant of the Seventieth Week” by Meredith G. Kline, available on internet) indicates that verse 27 has in view the enforcing of the terms of a covenant previously granted. It is not a verb for the initial making of a covenant. It should therefore be translated as “make firm a covenant”, and not as “make a firm covenant”. The KJV translates it as “confirm the covenant” and Young’s Literal Translation as “strengthening a covenant”. “Confirm” and “strengthen” imply a covenant that existed before the last seven years. If so, it can only refer to God’s faithful fulfillment of the covenant He has given to His people.
According to the dispensational interpretation a future antichrist will enter into some pact at the beginning of the last seven years and then succeeds—in the course of that week—to break his covenant. Such a situation, it must be insisted, would be the diametrical opposite of what verse 27 describes. The evidence of the usage of gâbar refutes conclusively the idea that it is some new covenant.
And even if “he” makes a new covenant for one week, then he cannot break his covenant in the middle of the week, as interpreted by dispensationalism.
4. “The many” with whom the covenant is made most often refers to God’s people
the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. (Isa 53:11)
“Those who have insight among the people will give understanding to the many; yet they will fall by sword and by flame, by captivity and by plunder for many days. (Dan 11:33; See also Dan 11:39; 12:3; Matt. 26:28; Hebr. 9:26-28; Rom 5:15, 19; 1Co 10:33)
The covenant in 9:27 is therefore God’s covenant with Israel.
Daniel 9 does not specify a specific event for the end of the Seventy Weeks, but the end of the Seventy Weeks will be the end of all Jewish privileges as the covenant people, argued as follows:
- The Seventy Weeks was an extension of God’s covenant with Israel, and therefore ends when God’s covenant with Israel ends, as also indicated by the phrase, “Seventy weeks are cut off for your people and your holy city” (9:24).
- Since verse 27 indicates that “he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week”, this last of the 70 weeks come to an end when the messiah no longer maintains His covenant with Israel.
For a few years after Jesus’s death, under God’s guidance, the Christians continued to live practically as Jews (a sect of Judaism), the gospel was preached only to the “circumcised” (cf. 10:45 – i.e. Jews) and the dramatic actions of the young church were still confined to Jerusalem. This is indicated by the following:
1. There is no mention of non-Jews in the first seven chapters of Acts.
2. God guided the message to the Jews only in those early years.
The apostles and other believers received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, when Jews from all every nation were gathered in Jerusalem (2:10, 5). This implies that God chose this occasion in order that the apostles would preach repentance to the Jews. Peter preached to the gathered Jews to repent (2:38). On that day 3000 were added to the church (2:41, cf. 5:11).
In Acts 3 God gave Peter to heal a lame man at the temple (3:2, 7). This implies that God chose this location to provide the opportunity for the gospel to be preached at the temple. All the people gathered around them, full of amazement (3:11). Peter urged them to “repent, so that your sins may be wiped away” (3:19). Many believed, and the church grew to 5000 men (4:4).
After the apostles were jailed (5:18), an angel released them and told them to go and speak to the people in the temple (5:20). They preached every day in the temple (5:42).
3. As from Acts 10 God suddenly and powerfully redirected the gospel message to non-Jews.
God gave Peter the vision of unclean animals (Acts 10:19-20) to convince him to accompany “without misgivings” the uncircumcised men which Cornelius sent. Many people think that this vision was about what Christians may eat or not eat, but when Peter arrived at Cornelius, he interpreted his vision: “God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean” (10:28). Peter also declared “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (v34-35). Peter therefore previously thought that God was partial to the Jews, and that non-Jews were unholy or unclean. The fact that God had to give Peter this vision confirms that disciples and other believers in the first few years after the cross did not associate with the “uncircumcised”.
A number of circumcised believers went with Peter to Cornelius (10:23, 45). While Peter was speaking to a group of uncircumcised people in Cornelius’ house, the Holy Spirit fell on the listening gentiles (10:44, cf. v45) and they spoke in tongues (10:45). This amazed the “circumcised” that came with Peter (10:45). The fact that they were amazed is evidence that this was the first time that the Holy Spirit fell in this way on uncircumcised people.
When “the circumcised” in Judea heard about these things, they took issue with Peter (11:2), asking why he went to uncircumcised men and ate with them (11:3). After Peter explained what happened, they declared: “God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life” (11:18). This again confirms that, prior to this point in history, the believers did not associate with the uncircumcised, which means that the gospel was focused exclusively on the circumcised.
This sudden shift in gospel focus was caused by the persecution of God’s Spirit filled people.
In Acts 6 the gospel still focused on the circumcised. “The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith” (6:7). But in Acts 10 God redirected the gospel to the gentiles by giving Peter the vision. Most of the intermediate verses describe the persecution of the believers, which started with the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7 (8:1) and ended with the conversion of Paul (9:31).
This sudden shift in gospel focus occurred about 3½ years after the Cross.
The dating of Stephen’s death is entirely dependent on the date of Paul’s conversion. Merrill C. Tenney, in his book “New Testament Times” (Inter-Varsity Press, 1967, chapter 7), gives 30 AD at the most probable year for the crucifixion and 32/33 as the most probable date for Stephen’s death and the conversion of Paul. R. Jewett (A Chronology of Paul’s Life (Philadelphia, 1979), pp. 1-2.) dates Paul’s conversion to AD 34. Since this should at the most months after the stoning of Stephen, the Stoning of Stephen could be as late as 34 AD. Therefore, God’s covenant with Israel ended two to four years after the Cross.
This sudden shift in gospel focus was the end of the Seventy Weeks.
As argued above, the Seventy Weeks come to an end when the Messiah no longer maintains His covenant with Israel. Since the gospel went exclusively to the Jews during the first few years after the Cross, God’s covenant with the Jews did not come to an end at the Cross. But since God suddenly redirected the gospel from the Jews to all people a few years after the cross, this must be the end of the Seventy Weeks.
It also seems appropriate that Israel would seal the termination of the covenant with the rejection and persecution of the people to whom God gave His Holy Spirit, just as they persecuted Jesus a few years prior.
This conclusion also fits the time specifications exactly. There was exactly 483 years from the decree to the inauguration of Jesus’ public ministry at His baptism, as required by the prophecy. 3½ years later He offered Himself as the Lamb of God, “putting a stop to sacrifice and grain offering” (9:27). Another 3½ years later, at the end of the 490 years, the covenant with Israel came to an end.
Still further evidence for this conclusion is found in Stephan’s speech:
Stephen announced the end of the Seventy Weeks.
Like Daniel 9, Stephen’s speech is based on God’s covenant with Israel. While Daniel confessed the sins of his people and prayed for the mercies of the covenant, Stephen’s speech was a pronouncement of God’s judgment in terms of the covenant.
In contrast to Peter some time earlier (cf. Acts 4:8-12), Stephen made no effort to defend himself. He did not refute the charges against him. In contrast to other speeches in Acts, he did not call his hearers to repentance. Rather, he cites God’s mighty acts on behalf of His people in the past—keeping His side of the covenant. Then he lists the failures of the Jewish people—explaining that the Jewish people did not keep their side of the covenant. After his long recital of Israel’s history, he announced his verdict:
You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it (Acts 7:51- 53).
After announcing the verdict, Stephen “gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (7:55). The Bible consistently says that Jesus sat down at the right hand of God (Luke 22:69; Hebr. 8:1-2; 10:12; cf. Col 3:1; Rom 8:34; Acts 2:33; 5:31; Mar 16:19; 1 Peter 3:22). But Stephen saw Him standing. It is therefore proposed that Jesus stood in judgment, and that Stephen was the conduit through which Jesus’ judgment was announced to the Jewish nation.
Therefore both Daniel’s prayer and Stephen’s speech were based on the covenant, but while Daniel confessed the sins of his people and prayed for the mercies of the covenant, Stephen pronounced judgment on the Jews for consistently disobeying God, culminating in the murder of His Anointed. Stephen brought to the Jewish leaders not only another of God’s covenant lawsuits, but the final one.
Their time of probation had come to an end and they have failed to keep the covenant (cf. v. 53), and because of this they were no longer the people of the covenant. The change of the pronoun from “our” (vs. 11, 19, 38, 44 and 45) to “your fathers” (v. 51) means more than a simple breakage in Stephen’s solidarity with his audience. It also implied the definitive end of the covenant relationship between God and Israel as a nation.
God does not hold the Jews’ sin against them.
The period of special privileged for the Jews did not end at the Cross, but at the stoning of Stephen. Jesus explicitly told the apostles to stay in Jerusalem (1:4). The Holy Spirit steered the gospel to the Jews. Peter told them that Jesus had been exalted by God “to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31). God was offering a last opportunity to Jerusalem and its leaders. If the opportunity was accepted, repentance and forgiveness would be received as God’s gift.
But when the Jews rejected the Holy Spirit by rejecting the people on which the Holy Spirit fell, the Holy Spirit announced the verdict through Stephen and reversed Jesus’s initial instruction to His followers (to stay in Jerusalem—1:4), by dispersing the believers through persecution. The fleeing believers initially took the message only to Jews (11:19), but in a number of ways the Holy Spirit steered the gospel towards the non-Jews, as evidenced by the Cornelius-episode and the vision Peter received. Stephen literally represented end of Christianity as a Jewish sect and the beginning of Christianity as a universal religion, though it cost him his own life.
The final seventy weeks that God had decreed for Israel were finished, and they were now no longer the people of the covenant.
The martyrdom of Stephen therefore occupies a position of extreme importance in the history of the apostolic church. Up till then Christianity had been a sect of Judaism. It was the last event which took place while the actions were still confined to Jerusalem and the Christians still living practically as Jews. But it was also the event which first involved Paul and which initiated the Christian message being taken to the Gentile world.
It must be noted that the covenant which God had with Israel was not synonymous of salvation, but a provision by which God’s salvation could be taken to the entire world (cf. Genesis 12:1-3). God elected Israel for Himself and conferred to them a series of privileges, such as the multiplication of their seed, the gift of the land, and His own presence in blessing and protection, in order to enable them to be the channel for His blessing to all other nations. Thus the covenant must be understood in terms of mission. So to state that the Jews are no longer the people of the covenant does not mean that God has rejected them, as sometimes has been suggested (cf. Romans 11:1–10), but only that God has chosen another method to execute His missionary plan. God’s covenant with Israel was established on a corporate basis—i.e., it involved the entire nation as an entity. The end of the covenant with Israel, therefore, does not imply the end of God’s interest in the Jews as individuals. Because of this, the gospel was still preached to them even after Stephen’s death (cf. Acts 28:17-28) (92). But the privilege of being “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9) was no longer exclusively theirs. The people of the covenant now were no longer defined by bloodline, but by faith in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:26-29; cf. Romans 11:25-32).
In his last moment Stephen prayed: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:60). These words, however, were much more than a prayer. They were the genuine expression of God’s will in relation to those people. “If they do not continue in their unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again” (Romans 11:23).
Next, the four major interpretations of Daniel 9 will be discussed.
CONSISTENT SYMBOLICAL (AMILLENNIAL) INTERPRETATION
The key notion in this interpretation is that the numerical figures in 9:24-27 do not define precise periods of time, but are symbolic:
- The first division of 7 weeks begins with the edict of Cyrus in AD 538 and ends with the first advent of Christ.
- The second division of 62 sevens is the period of the Christian church; from the First to the Second Advent. It extends from the construction of Jerusalem—interpreted as “spiritual Jerusalem,” or the church—down to the final consummation at the end of time.
- The third division of one week is the last period of history—the time of tribulation caused by the antichrist—which begins with the advent of the antichrist and ends with his defeat at the Second Advent of Christ. The objective of the antichrist is to destroy “the city and the sanctuary,” that is the church, causing the visible church to disappear for a time.
The consistent symbolical interpretation emphasizes generalities rather than details in history and interpretation. “Jerusalem” is symbolically understood as the church.
This interpretation has some serious shortcomings:
- The third division is made a part of the second division. The one week occurs in the closing portion of the second era. In this manner the prophecy is truncated to 69 weeks instead of 70.
- Daniel wanted to know when the desolation of Jerusalem—the symbol of his nation—will end. If Gabriel gave him a prophecy in which the periods of time are not definite, then Daniel did not receive an answer. Daniel 9:25a is especially formulated as a reference to a particular time.
- The numbers 62, 1 and 3½ are not typical symbols in apocalyptic literature.
- There is no exegetical evidence anywhere in the book of Daniel to support the view that Jerusalem should stand for anything other than the actual city of Jerusalem. The Jerusalem of 9:2 and 9:16 is the literal capital city of the Israelites. The “inhabitants of Jerusalem” in 9:7 are physical Israelites. The “city” in 9:18 can mean only the physical city of ancient Israel. Accordingly, the “holy city” of 9:24 and the Jerusalem of 9:25 cannot refer to anything other than that to which the reader constantly has been pointed.
- If the 70 weeks end with the defeat of the anti-Christ, why does the prophecy not say anything about the eternal kingdom, as the other prophecies do (Dan 7:13-14, 27; 12:1-3), but rather ends in the accumulation of desolations?
These weighty objections have drawn few interpreters in recent years to adopt the consistent symbolical interpretation.
CRITICAL VIEW OF DANIEL 9
The point of departure in the critical perspective is that the book of Daniel was written during the persecution of the Jews by the Greek king Antiochus IV, somewhere between 168 and 163 BC. They believe that all the visions in Daniel describe that conflict; even Daniel 9. They propose that Daniel was written after the events described in the prophecies have taken place, even though presented as prophecies.
According to this interpretation:
- The first division (seven weeks) is the period from destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC to Cyrus’s decree of liberation for the Jews in 538 BC.
Critical scholars believe that the second century writer obtained the idea of the 70 sevens from Jeremiah’s predictions of the 70-year-captivity (Jer. 25:11-13; 29:10), referred to in Daniel 9:2. The standard critical approach is that the 70 weeks of years is a reinterpretation of Jeremiah’s prophecy. Consequently critical scholars begin the 490 years with the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC:
The first division (seven weeks) is then the period from the Chaldean destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC to Cyrus’s decree of liberation for the Jews in 538 BC. Babylon fell in 539 BC. The next year Cyrus issued a decree allowing both the return of the Jews and the building of the temple. From 586 to 538 is 48 years, which is only one year short of 49.
- The “anointed one” of Daniel 9:25 appears at the end of the first 49 years (7 weeks), and is Cyrus.
Critics therefore use the Masoretic punctuation—as for instance used in the RSV—which places the appearance of the anointed in verse 25 at the end of the first 49 years. Theyfind support for this from Isaiah 45:1, where Cyrus is called the anointed of the Lord:
Thus says the LORD to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have held”.
- The second division (62 weeks) extends from 538 BC to the murder of the high priest Onias III in 171/0 BC.
This is actually 367 years, significantly less than the “predicted” 434 years, but this difference is accepted on the assumption that the chronological knowledge of that age was not very exact. For instance, the Seder ‘Olam Zuṭa (ed. Meyer, p. 104) computed the Persian rule to have lasted fifty-two years.
- The last week starts in 171/0 BC with the death of Onias. Onias III was the “anointed one” to be “cut off” after 62 weeks (9:26).
Priests are called “anointed” in Leviticus 4:3 and following. Critics therefore have two different messiahs in the prophecy. In this view Daniel 9 does not refer to Jesus at all. The messiahs in Daniel 9 is either Cyrus and one or more Jewish high priests.
- The “prince who is to come” (9:26), whose people “will destroy the city and the sanctuary” (9:26) is Antiochus Epiphanes.
His armies partially destroyed Jerusalem and massacred many of its inhabitants.
- The “he” that will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering in the middle of the last week (9:27) is also Antiochus Epiphanes.
Antiochus did stop the Jewish sacrifices. According to the book of 1 Maccabean the “desolating sacrilege”—a heathen altar—was erected on the great altar of burnt sacrifice on December 4, 167 BC (15 Kislev, 145; 1 Maccabees 1:54). The first sacrifice on it was offered ten days later on December 14, 167 BC (25 Kislev, 145; 1 Maccabees 1:59).
- The abomination of desolation, mentioned elsewhere in Daniel, is this heathen altar.
- The crisis in Daniel, including the persecution of the saints (Daniel 7:25), and the throwing down of the sanctuary (Daniel 8:11), occur during the second half of the last week; therefore during the 3½ years after December 167 BC.
The persecution and the throwing down of the sanctuary are described in the other prophecies of Daniel, but not in Daniel 9. The abomination of desolation, described elsewhere in Daniel, is the altar erected by Antiochus Epiphanes in place of the Lord’s altar for burnt offering (see I Macc. i. 54). (Jewish Encyclopedia).
- The “firm covenant” that “he” will make with the many for one week (9:27) is the cooperation between Antiochus and the Hellenizing Jews.
The Hellenizing Jews are the Jews that adopted Greeks customs at the expense of Jewish customs.
- The last week concludes with the rededication of the altar of sacrifice by the victorious Judas Maccabeus. This is the “anointing of a most holy place” listed as one of the purposes of the seventy weeks (9:24).
The altar of sacrifice was rededication on December 14, 164 (December 14, 164 BC – 25 Kislev, 148; 1 Maccabees 4:52), exactly 3 years after the heathen first sacrifice in the temple.
In Daniel 9 there is no indication of a rededication of the altar after the sacrifices have been terminated. Daniel 9 ends with an accumulation of desolations. This is inconsistent with the history in the time of Antiochus, where the loyal Jews (Maccabeans) were able to defeat Antiochus’ army, run them out of their country and rededicate the temple. The critics’ solution to this is that the book of Daniel was put in its final form during this last half of the final week, but prior to the restoration of the sanctuary services and even before the revolt, or at least before the success of the revolt. This is why they believe that they are able to date the compilation of the book accurately.
One of the problems critics have to deal with is that Daniel 9 says that “the prince who is to come”—which they interpret to be Antiochus IV—will “destroy the city and the sanctuary” (9:26). Antiochus never destroyed the sanctuary, but turned it into a temple of his own god. But to justify that Antiochus did destroyed the city, critics argue that the city walls defined a city (no walls, no city) and that Antiochus pulled down the wall of the city (1Macc.1:30-31, 39; Josephus’ Ant., XII, V, 4).
OBJECTIONS TO THE CRITICAL VIEWPOINT
1. Critics limit the events of Daniel to the time of Antiochus, but:
(a) Jesus put the abomination of desolation Daniel’s prophecies in His future (Mat 24:15).
Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand) (Mat 24:15)
For many this is sufficient evidence against the critical interpretation. Daniel is the only book in the Bible which Jesus directly recommended that we understand. Daniel’s prophecies cannot be limited to the time of Antiochus, approximately 200 years before Jesus spoke.
(b) It will require substantial creativity to find application for goals such as “to make an end of sin” and “to bring in everlasting righteousness” to the time of Antiochus in the time prior to the success of the Maccabean revolt. Why would a Jew compiling the book of Daniel during the period of temple desecration under Antiochus, give these as the goals for the 490 years? “Everlasting righteousness” was certainly not brought in by the Maccabees!
The conflict in the time of Antiochus IV was more of a civic war between pro-Hellenistic and an anti-Hellenistic Jewish factions than it was a conflict with an external oppressor. “The severest condemnation of the writer of I Maccabees goes, not to the Seleucid politicians, but to the lawless apostates among his own people” (The introduction to I Maccabees in the NAB). It is difficult to see how a second century writer could write 9:24 to describe a Jewish civil war.
(c) Antiochus destroyed only part of Jerusalem, and he did not destroy the temple at all, while 9:26 requires the destruction of both. A second century author would have seen with his own eyes that Antiochus did not destroy the temple, but only defiled the temple (1Macc.1:30-31, 39).
2. In the Critic’s view there are two messiahs. The Messiah of 9:25 is Cyrus and the Messiah in 9:26 is Onias III. However:
(a) According to the discussion of the punctuation above, there is no messiah after the first seven weeks.
(b) Two different messiahs in two consecutive verses are unlikely. 9:25 and 9:26 must refer to the same Person because both are described as “Messiah”. This is confirmed by the fact that the word translated “prince” in both these two verses is “nagid”. (The word prince occurs 9 times in Daniel. In 6 instances it is translated from the word “sar”. Only in these two occurrences in Daniel 9 and in 11:22 is it translated from “nagid”).
(c) The Bible use the term “messiah” exclusively for people that rescue Israel from danger. Onias could not have been a messiah because he was killed 4 years before Antiochus IV desecrated the temple. He was killed a few years after Antiochus IV replaced him as high priest with his more liberal brother Jason.
(d) According to Daniel 9:25 there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, until Messiah the Prince. The messiah therefore appears at the end of the 483 years. In the critics’ scheme this messiah (Onias) disappears at the end of the 483 years.
3. According to the critics Antiochus is the one that kills the “prince of the covenant” (11:22). The “prince of the covenant” in 11:22 must surely be the same as the prince that confirms the covenant for one week (9:27). But this latter prince is also Antiochus in the critical interpretation. Therefore Antiochus kills himself.
4. Critics use the destruction of Jerusalem as starting point, but the 490 years begin with a “word” to restore and rebuild Jerusalem (Daniel 9:25). There is no “word”, datable to 586 BC, which speaks of a rebuilding of Jerusalem.
5. Critics view the revelation received by Jeremiah as the “word” or “decree” (NASB) specified by Daniel 9:25, but:
(a) Jeremiah received this “word” in 605 BC (year one of Nebuchadnezzar Jer. 25:1); nineteen years before Jerusalem fell (Jer. 52:12).
(b) Neither Jeremiah 25 nor Jeremiah 29 (25:1-2, 11-12; 29:10) speaks of the rebuilding or restoration of Jerusalem—as required by Daniel 9:25, but merely of its desolation.
6. Critics view the 490 years as a reinterpretation of Jeremiah’s seventy years, but then the first subdivision of the 490 years should have been 70 years, not 49.
7. Critics make Jeremiah’s 70 years of desolation part of the Seventy Sevens or 490 years, but during those 70 years the land received its rest which it did not receive during the previous cycle of 490 years. The 490 years promised in Daniel 9 is a new cycle that follows after the exile.
8. Critics believe that 9:24-27 is history written down after the events, in the form of prophecy. If this was true, one could rightly expect that the “prophecy” would fit the figures of 49 + 434 + 7 years (7 weeks + 62 weeks + 1 week) perfectly, but that is not the case. The second division of the 70 weeks is 62 weeks, and should therefore be 434 (62 x 7) years, but from 539/8 BC to 171/0 BC is only 368 years. This period is too short by about 67 years. Consequently the full period of 490 years is actually only 586-164 = 422 years.
Some expositors simply dismiss the matter as a chronological miscalculation on the part of the writer. This is based on the widely held supposition is that the historical memory of the Jews at the time of the writing of Daniel (supposedly at 164 BC) was very vague regarding facts and spans of time. But it should be noted that the book of Daniel does indeed contain amazingly accurate historical information (although poorly known during the later pre-Christian centuries). For example:
- The author of Daniel is correct in his description of Nebuchadnezzar as the builder of Babylon (4:30). RH Pfeiffer was compelled to concede, “We shall presumably never know how our author learned that the new Babylon was the creation of Nebuchadnezzar, as the excavations have proved.”
- The author was correct in his knowledge that Belshazzar, mentioned only in Daniel and in cuneiform records, was functioning as king when Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 BC.
- On the basis of cuneiform evidence the vexing chronological problem between Daniel 1:1 and Jeremiah 25:1; 46:2 has been solved without any discrepancy. (See the article on when Daniel was written for more information.)
These examples indicate that the author of Daniel knew history quite well, and would not have made such a massive mistake.
9. Critics have the sacrificial system re-instated at the end of the last seven years, but:
- There is no indication in Daniel 9 that the sacrifices will be reinstituted. Daniel 9 ends in the opposite, namely in increasing chaos.
- If 70 weeks have been determined for the city of “thy people” (9:24), then the sacrifices will not be reinstated at the end of this period.
10. Critics say that Antiochus will “make” an agreement with the Hellenizing Jews for one week, but Antiochus IV did not conclude or confirm an agreement with anybody for one week. His general support for the pro-Seleucid faction cannot be limited to one week. He replaced Onias with his pro-Seleucid brother a number of years before Onias was killed.
In any case, the Hebrew of 9:27 does not read to “make” an agreement, but to “confirm” (KJV) a previously existing agreement for one week. This is discussed in more detail in the section above dealing with the covenant in Daniel 9:27.
CRITICAL VIEW: 62 WEEKS START IN 605 BC
One variation on the critical schema, developed to solve the problem of the middle division that is too short, has been suggested by Lacocque. He proposed that the first seven weeks began with the Captivity (587 BC) and ended with the enthronement of the High Priest Joshua (538 BC; see Hag. 1.1, 14; Zech. 3.1ff.). This is exactly 49 years. He further proposed that the 62 weeks (434 years) started in 605 BC, the date Jeremiah prophesied:
This whole land will be a desolation and a horror, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then it will be when seventy years are completed I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation,’ declares the LORD, ‘for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans; and I will make it an everlasting desolation. (Jer. 25:11, 12, compare v1)
The advantage of Lacocque’s proposal is that there are exactly 434 years between 605 BC and 171 BC. This is equal to the 62×7=434 years required by the prophecy. Another benefit is that the 62 weeks start with a “word”. But also this alternative has insurmountable problems:
- Jeremiah 25:11-12 does not speak of the rebuilding of Jerusalem at all.
- The wording of 9:25 requires “seven and sixty-two weeks” (that is, 69 weeks) and not just 62 weeks from “the word to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” until Messiah the Prince.
- There is absolutely no justification to let the first two divisions (7 + 62) of the three (7 + 62 + 1) run parallel to each other rather than in sequence. It is just a clever trick. Lacocque actually has two different beginning dates, namely 605 BC for the 62 weeks (434 years) and 587 BC for the seven weeks (49 years).
CRITICAL VIEW: ANCHOR BIBLE
Another computation of the 70 weeks by critical scholars is the Anchor Bible Commentary by Hartman and Di Lella. They suggest that the 490 years begin with Jeremiah’s later statement as recorded in 29:10, which they date to 594 BC:
For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.
They propose that the first 7 weeks (49 years) is the period from 594 to the return of the first exiles from Babylonia to Jerusalem in 538 BC. The second and longest section of the 490-year period reaches from 538 BC to 171 BC. The major difference of the Hartman-Di Lella chronological schema with the standard critical computation is its beginning date in 594 BC.
The benefit of this proposal is that the 490 years do not start with the destruction of Jerusalem, but with a “word”, as required by Daniel 9. However:
- Jeremiah 29:10 was also not a “word to rebuild and restore Jerusalem” (Daniel 9:25). Jeremiah 29:10 only speaks of bringing back exiles to Judah.
- From 594 BC to 538 BC is 56 years, not 49 years. Hartman and Di Lella suggest that 56 years is “sufficiently close to the quasi-artificial figure of ‘seven weeks’ of years. Not everybody would accept the 7 weeks as “quasi-artificial.”
- The second section remains too short. The full period from 594 BC to 164 BC is only 430 years; 50 years short of the required 490 years.
CRITICAL VIEW: A PRIORI
The critical interpretation is today the standard view of modern liberal scholarship, but it is not an unbiased interpretation. It is based on the a priori assumption that the book of Daniel does not contain any inspired prophecy, that it was written during the conflict under Antiochus IV and that the book only focuses on that conflict. All the prophecies of Daniel are interpreted to refer to that conflict. The critical interpretation tries to also force Daniel 9 into that stranglehold. But if one counts 490 years back from the time of Antiochus you arrive at the year 655 BC; 50 years before the Babylonian exile. At that time there was no “word to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.” Therefore critics have to create imaginative solutions to shorten the 490 years, resulting in the solutions discussed above. 490 years can never be reached by any critical scheme. There is no critical scheme of chronological interpretation that can harmonize 9:24-27 with actual history.
A separate article is available on the date of Daniel, which contains more than sufficient evidence that it must have been written in the sixth century BC, and therefore must be inspired prophecy.
The dispensationalist view on eschatology is today held extensively by evangelical Christians, in spite of its recent origin. It is often linked with the teachings on prophecy by John Nelson Darby (1800-1882)—from the 1830s on—and the Plymouth Brethren of Ireland. Scofield (1843-1921) of the United States was influenced by Darby and presented the view of seven dispensations from Eden to the new creation in the notes of the widely used Scofield Reference Bible.
The importance of the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks in Dispensational teaching can hardly be exaggerated. Daniel 9 is often appealed to as the clear proof that the entire Church age is a parenthesis in the prophetic program which is to be discovered between verses 26 and 27 of Daniel 9. The other schools of Christian thought on eschatology may remain standing if their view of Daniel 9 is dislodged, but Dispensational eschatology is primarily dependent on its interpretation of Daniel 9.
The dispensational interpretation of the time aspects of 9:24-27 is also known as the “parenthesis” or “gap” interpretation. The 490 years are not viewed as continuous. Instead the interpretation posits a “parenthesis” or “gap” between verses 26 and 27 of Daniel 9; between the first 69 weeks and the last or 70th week. The last week is still to come in our future.
The dispensational view is as follows:
- The “word” (9:25) to build Jerusalem refers to the second decree of Artaxerxes I Longimanus (Neh. 1-2), which gave permission to Nehemiah to repair Jerusalem. This decree is dated by most dispensationalists to 445 BC (e.g. Sir Robert Anderson), but by some to 444 BC.
- The Messiah Prince (Jesus Christ) would appear 483 years later, but 483 years from 445/4 BC would extend to about AD 40—far beyond the lifetime of Christ. Consequently, the 483 days are to be understood as “prophetic years” of 360 days each. This gives a total of 173,880 days (483 x 360), which is equal to 476 solar years plus some days. In this way the 483 years are shortened by 7 years to fit the actual historical time from Nehemiah to the crucifixion, assuming the crucifixion was in AD 33 or AD 32.
- Artaxerxes granted his permission to Nehemiah on Nisan 1 (it is assumed), and the 173880 days stretch to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday:
o Interpreters that use March 14, 445 BC as the date of the decree (e.g. Sir Robert Anderson) count 173880 days to end on 6th April, AD 32 as the date for the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
o Interpreters that use March 5, 444 BC as the date of the decree (e.g. Hoehner) count 173880 days to March 30, AD 33 as the date for the triumphal entry, and the crucifixion six days later on April 5, AD 33.
- The 70th week is separated from the 69th week by a vast gap of over nineteen centuries. The entire “church age” is a gap during which the prophetic clock has stopped ticking. The 70th week will not be fulfilled until the end of the church age.
- The gap ends and the last seven years begin with the “rapture”. This includes the resurrection of dead saints and the translation of living saints. They will secretly be removed from the earth.
- The 70th week pertains to the acts of antichrist. The antichrist is a revived Roman empire whose prince is said to be the antichrist—a future God-opposing tyrant. The antichrist will oppress the Jews and bring upon the world a 3½ year tribulation during the latter half of a delayed seventieth week.
- The 70 weeks do not include the death of Christ. The 69th week ends 6 days before His death, while the 70th week is still in our future. Consequently the promises of 9:24 have not been fulfilled in the work of Christ on earth, but will only be fulfilled at the end of the future 70th week.
This interpretation of Daniel 9 is grounded on the view that “Israel” throughout the Bible always refers to literal Jews. According to this belief the Old Testament prophecies and promises of the glorious rule of God’s people must be fulfilled unconditionally and literally to the restored Jews.
OBJECTIONS TO THE DISPENSATIONAL INTERPRETATION
The objections to the dispensational interpretation are summarized below.
Dispensational statements are given in bold.
This is followed by counter-arguments in normal text.
1. The 490 years start with Artaxerxes’ second decree.
This decree did not “restore” Jerusalem as judicial and executive capital of the nation, as required by the prophecy. See discussion above.
2. The 490 years have 360 days each.
The “weeks” of the Seventy Weeks are sabbatical weeks of years, where each seventh year is a Sabbath. Each year is therefore a normal literal solar year. There is no justification for reading this prophecy symbolically.
3. The appearance of the Messiah (9:25) at the end of the 483 years is Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Jesus appeared about three years earlier when He was “anointed” and introduced to the world at His baptism. “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power” (Acts 10:38) and proclaimed this Anointed One to be His Son or King (Mark 1:9-11; cf. Ps. 2:6, 7) on the day of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist:
so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water. (John 1:31)
4. The Jewish period ended at Jesus’s triumphal entry, to be resumed much later.
The Jewish period did not end at Jesus’s triumphal entry, or at the Cross. For the first three or four years after the Cross the gospel was preached with the power of the Holy Spirit exclusively to Jews. It was only three or four years after the Jews started to persecute the believers that Peter, in a dream, received the instruction to take the gospel to the gentiles (Acts 10).
5. The “firm covenant” of the 70th week (v 27) follows after the destruction of the city in verse 26 in AD 70. Therefore the 70th week must follow after 70 AD, which necessitates a gap between the 69th and 70th weeks.
The events in the prophecy are not presented in chronological sequence, for instance:
- The rebuilding of the city (25c) is mentioned after the appearance of the anointed one (25b), while the city was rebuilt four hundred years before the Anointed.
- The prince causes sacrifices to cease (9:27) after the sanctuary is destroyed (9:26), but if the sanctuary is destroyed there remains no sacrificial system to be ceased. Dispensationalism responds that the temple will be rebuilt after the destruction in verse 26, but this view is not supported by the text.
- Since 70 weeks have been determined for the city of “thy people” (9:24), the destruction of the city and the sanctuary in verse 26 must occur after the 70 weeks, and therefore after the 70th week of verse 27.
To determine the actual chronological sequence it must be noted that the prophecy is presented in a poetic form of parallelism with two foci—Jerusalem and the Anointed, and alternates between the two:
9:25a commandment to restore
9:25b unto the anointed one
9:25c Seven weeks
9:25c – and 62 weeks
9:25d shall be built again
9:26a – after the 62 weeks anointed cut off
9:27a – firm covenant – one week – sacrifice cease
9:27b abominations … maketh desolate
Because of this poetic parallelism, the assumption of a strict chronological sequence is incorrect. A consequence of this literary analysis is that everything in the column on the left relates to the city and is chronologically sequential. Similarly everything in the column on the right relates to the Messiah is chronologically sequential.
But there is a relationship between the two foci; Jerusalem and the anointed. Verse 25, by mentioning the messiah immediately after the decree to rebuild Jerusalem, implies that the city is restored and rebuilt to receive the messiah. Verse 26, by mentioning the destruction of the city immediately after the killing of the messiah, implies that the city is again destroyed because it did not receive the messiah. This cause and effect relationship was confirmed by Jesus:
They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you (Luke 19:44; cf. Luke 21:20-24).
6. The desolation at the end of verse 27 is concurrent with the end that is made to sacrifice and offering “in the middle” of the 70th week (earlier in the same verse). Daniel therefore placed the “abomination of desolation” exactly in the middle of the last week. Our Lord placed the “abomination of desolation” at ‘the end,’ just before His second coming in glory (Matthew 24:15, 21, 29, 30). The Seventieth Week therefore must also come at the end of the present age, just prior to Christ’s coming in glory.
The first assumption is the reasoning above is that the desolation of verse 27 is concurrent with making an end to sacrifice and offering. This is not so:
- According to the literary analysis the termination of the sacrifices relates to the Messiah while the desolation has to do with the city, some 40 years later.
- The messianic context of the prophecy demands that the termination of sacrifices must refer to the Cross.
The second assumption in the reasoning above is that Daniel 9:27 refers to an “abomination of desolation”. This is also not true. 9:27 refers to a desolator that arrives shortly after (on the wing of) abominations. The phrase “abomination of desolation” is used elsewhere in Daniel for something that is set up (11:31; 12:11), not a desolator. Similarly, our Lord spoke about the “abomination of desolation” as something that stands in the holy place (Matthew 24:15; or “standing where it should not be” Mark 13:14). The abomination of Matthew 24:15 and the desolator in Daniel 9:27 are related, but different things. An “abomination of desolation” is some repulsive sin, which leads to destruction. A desolator is a destroyer. It is therefore not appropriate to link Matthew 24:15 to Daniel 9:27 as if they refer to the same thing. The “abomination of desolation” is something that belongs to the other prophecies in Daniel, and those are not limited to the 490 years or to the Jewish nation, as is the prophecy in Daniel 9.
Thirdly, Jesus mentions the “abomination of desolation” in Matthew 24:15 in the context of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. (Compare Mat 24:16-19 to Luke 21:20-23.) Perhaps one can also apply it to the time before His return (v23), but that would be an additional meaning.
The reasoning therefore includes three major errors, any one of which would refute the conclusion.
7. There is a gap of 2000 years or more between the first 69 weeks and the 70th week.
- An important conclusion from the literary analysis above is that the first part of verse 27 elaborates on the Messiah, while last part of the same verse elaborates on the destruction of the city. This denies the dispensational approach of detaching verse 27 from the previous verses and propelling it into the distant future to the end of time, to describe the events of the last seven years of earth’s history.
- Verse 27 is arguably the core of the prophecy. All important events occur after the long period of 69 weeks (483 years). The purpose of the 69 weeks is therefore to foretell the timing of these events. 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.
- Many of the words used to describe the destruction of the city in verse 26 are repeated in the description of the destruction at the end of verse 27 (desolations – decreed – flood/poured out – end of/complete destruction), which implies that these two verses refer to the same events:
The second part of verse 27 is translated in two main ways by different translations. The KJV translates it as desolations that are poured on the desolated one which, in the context, would be the city. The NASB translates it as desolations that are poured out on a desolator which, in the context, would be the people that destroy the city. This translation thereby introduces something not mentioned previously.
Does the second part of verse 27 deal with a new topic? For two reasons the answer should be negative. It has already been indicated that its position in the literary structure implies verse 27b is concerned with the destruction of the city. Furthermore, the main words or ideas at the end of verse 26 also appear at the end of verse 27:
A Both refer to desolations (Strong number H8074) that are decreed (Strong number H2782). The NASB in v26 reads “desolations are determined” and in v27 “desolate … one that is decreed”.
B In both verses much water is used to describe the desolations. According to verse 26 the desolations will come with a flood, while they are poured out in verse 27.
C Verse 26 refers to the end of the city (NASB). Verse 27 does not refer to the city, but it does refer to a “complete destruction” (NASB), which is another way of expressing the end of the thing that is destroyed.
The principal difference between the second part of verse 26 and the second part of verse 27 is that verse 27 lacks the word for “war.” Given these rather direct relations, it seems preferable to take the final statement in verse 27 as applying to the fate of the city again, and not as taking off on a new idea in regard to the fate of the desolator. The second part of verse 27 should therefore be taken as indicating that at the end of the war all that was decreed concerning the desolation of the city would be poured out upon it. This statement parallels the clause at the end of verse 26 both in terms of its thought content and its position in the literary structure of this prophecy.
- The wording of the text of Daniel in no way indicates a break or gap. There appears to be no valid reason, or defensible ground, for separating the seventieth week from the previous 69. To postpone the last seven years of final crisis to the end of the age is a form of exegesis without a precedent in all prophetic exposition.
8. The covenant in verse 27 is a new covenant made by an end time Antichrist.
The covenant in Daniel 9:27 has been discussed above, and it was concluded that this refers to God’s covenant with Israel, for the following reasons:
- The divine covenant is the central theme throughout Daniel 9.
- The word “covenant” appears in 6 verses in Daniel. In four verses it is explicitly God’s covenant with Israel.
- The “he” in verse 27 is the Messiah.
- In verse 27 the covenant is “made strong”. It is not a new covenant.
- The “the many” with whom the covenant is made, are God’s people.
Consequently it is not a new covenant made by a future antichrist, as proposed by the dispensational interpretation.
9. The temple will be rebuilt again a second time, after the destruction in verse 26.
The prophecy explicitly promises only one rebuilding of the city and the sanctuary. There is not the least bit of evidence in the text for another rebuilding. If the temple was to be rebuilt after the destruction of verse 26, the prophecy would have explicitly stated this, given that it is so clear about the rebuilding in verse 25.
10. The sacrificial system will be resumed.
There is no indication in Daniel 9 that sacrifices will be resumed, as in Daniel 8. Daniel 9 ends in the opposite, namely increasing chaos. The re-instatement of the sacrifices stems from the assumption that Daniel 9 covers the same ground as the other prophecies of Daniel, an idea which has been refuted above.
Since the sacrificial system has been abolished 2000 years ago, there can never be a valid return to the old covenant and its earthly temple worship. Christ, the Antitype, has terminated once for all the “shadow” and inaugurated a “better covenant” that offers His righteousness as the everlasting righteousness (see Hebr. 7:22; cf. chap. 10:12; Rom. 3:22, 25).
The Dispensational view is that the sacrificial system will be re-introduced at the end of the 70th week, at the visible return of Christ, after which the sacrificial system and the Jewish period will be continued for one thousand years. However, if 70 weeks have been determined for the city of “thy people” (9:24), then the sacrifices will not be continued after this period. The dispensational interpretation allocates to the Jews not only 490 years, but 490 years plus the millennium; in total 1490 years.
11. The termination of the sacrificial system relates to an end time Antichrist.
In the dispensational interpretation the Cross does not fall within the 490 years. In the dispensational interpretation the 7+62 weeks end the Sunday before the Cross. It follows that none of the goals in verse 24 are fulfilled at the Cross.
According to the New Testament, through the sacrifice (death) of the Lamb of God, God brought the sacrificial system to an end, made atonement for sin and brought in everlasting redemption. If we—against this background—read that the purpose of the 70 weeks includes “to make atonement and to bring in everlasting redemption” (9:24), and that the events of the 70 weeks include the appearance and death of the messiah, it is more than fair to conclude that the context demands that the termination of the sacrificial system in verse 27 refers to His crucifixion. This prophecy is wholly messianic. To allocate verse 27 to an end time antichrist—as dispensationalism does—or to Antiochus—is to do injustice to the overall gist of the prophecy.
The prophecy discloses a most profound aspect of the Messiah’s mission, namely that His death would be the ultimate and real sacrifice for the sins of the human race. We, frail and tiny humans, living on a speck of dust floating in the immeasurable universe, find it difficult to believe in the supernatural. We must therefore cling to such proofs of the supernatural. Here Daniel, 500 years before the cross, disclosed a great truth, which is also disclosed by Isaiah 53 when he wrote, ‘pierced through for our transgressions’. Not only is this another proof of the supernatural, it tells us much about the nature of the universe. God knows where we are. He died for our sins. We cannot understand why and how because His thoughts are as far above our thoughts as the stars are above the earth, but it is wonderful to understand that the Source of all power and love feels this way about us; undeserving sinners.
12. The sanctuary will be destroyed in the middle of the last week.
70 weeks have been determined for the city of “thy people” (9:24). This promises safety for the city for 70 weeks of years. The sanctuary will not be destroyed during that period. For this reason the city and the sanctuary was destroyed after the end of the 490 years. The Jewish War, culminating in the siege and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, were the outward and visible consequences of something which had already taken place many years earlier. It was the direct result of the Jews’ rejection of Christ.
13. The 70th week ends with the return of Christ.
The prophecy ends in the accumulation of desolations. It does not refer to the return of Christ. If the end of the last week was the Second Advent, would verse 27 not end in a description of His glorious return, as the other prophecies in Daniel do?
14. The goals of 9:24 will be fulfilled at the end of the 490 years
Daniel 9:24 declares that “atonement for iniquity” and “everlasting righteousness” was to be attained during the 490 years, through Israel, not at the end of that period.
A strange aspect of Dispensationalism is the proposal that sin will continue for 1000 years after the return of Christ. Dispensationalism is internally inconsistent when it claims that the goals of 9:24 will be fulfilled at the return of Christ.
Furthermore, by postulating the Millennium as a period of Jewish dominance, it allocates in total 1490 years to the Jews; not 490 years.
It was argued above that Jesus made “atonement for iniquity” and consequently brought in “everlasting righteousness” for ages and ages to come.
The objections to the dispensational interpretation can be summarized as follows:
- It starts the 490 years with Artaxerxes’ second decree, but this decree did not “restore” Jewish rule to Jerusalem, as required by the prophecy.
- It interprets the 490 years as consisting of 360 days each, but the 490 years are based on the sabbatical cycle, in which each seventh year is a sabbath, and therefore each year a real solar year.
- It takes the appearance of the Messiah (9:25) at the end of the 483 years as Jesus’s triumphal entry, while Jesus was “anointed” and introduced to the world at His baptism.
- It ends the Jewish period at Jesus’s triumphal entry, but the Jewish period only ended three or four years after the Cross.
- It places the “firm covenant” in time after the destruction of the city in verse 26, but the prophecy is not presented in chronological sequence. The analysis of the poetic structure of the prophecy shows that the first part of verse 27 elaborates on the Messiah, and the second part of that verse pertains to the destruction of the city,
- It concludes that Jesus placed the desolation of verse 27 at the end of time, but Jesus was not referring to verse 27. Jesus was referring to the “abomination of desolation” found in the other prophecies of Daniel.
- It posits a gap between the first 69 weeks and the 70th week, but:
- The literary analysis of the prophecy and the repetition of words indicate that verse 27 elaborates on events in verse 26.
- A gap defeats the purpose of the 69 weeks, which is to foretell the time of the messiah.
- The wording of the text of Daniel in no way indicates a break or gap.
- It explains the covenant in verse 27 as a new covenant made by a future Antichrist, but this is God’s covenant with Israel, because the divine covenant is the central theme throughout Daniel 9, which is supported by an analysis of the words in verse 27.
- It reads into the text a second rebuilding of the temple, which does not exist.
- It assumes that the sacrificial system will be resumed, but:
- There is no indication in Daniel 9 that sacrifices will be resumed.
- There can never be a valid return to the old covenant.
- It allocates the last seven years to an end time Antichrist, but the messianic context of the prophecy demands that the termination of the sacrificial system in verse 27 refers to His crucifixion.
- It postulates that the sanctuary will be destroyed in the middle of the last week, but the promises safety for the full 490 years.
- It assumes that the 70th week ends with the return of Christ, while the prophecy ends in the accumulation of desolations.
- It proposes that everlasting righteousness will be brought in at the end of the 490 years, while 9:24 declares “everlasting righteousness” was to be attained through Daniel’s people, during the 490 years.
In conclusion, the wording of the text of Daniel in no way indicates a break or gap. To postpone the last seven years of final crisis to the end of the age is a form of exegesis without a precedent in all prophetic exposition. There appears to be no valid reason, or defensible ground, for separating the seventieth week from the previous 69. To suggest an indeterminate time interval between the sixty-two and the one last week is an unnatural assumption that militates against the expressed unit and goal of the seventy weeks.
HISTORICAL-MESSIANIC INTERPRETATION OF DANIEL 9
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 dislodge the historical-messianic interpretation as the dominant interpretation. Although this view is now discredited in most circles, it is supported in this document.
This interpretation can be summarized as follows (Most of the reasoning behind these points is provided above.):
The “commandment” (9:25, RSV) that began the “seventy weeks” was Artaxerxes’s first “decree” of 458/7 BC. This decree restored Jewish self-rule through Jerusalem.
The events in the prophecy are not given in strict chronological sequence, but should be read as discussing two related topics in parallel—Jerusalem and the Anointed, as illustrated by the table above. The actual chronological sequence starts and ends with Jerusalem. (See the left column in the table above.) It starts with its construction and ends with its destruction. Between its construction and destruction we find the Anointed One—His appearance, His death, His upholding the firm covenant and the end that He put to the sacrificial system in the midst of the last week. (See the right column in the table above.)
There is no messiah after the first 49 weeks. The messianic-historical interpretation uses the punctuation as reflected in the NASB. The anointed one, the prince, which appear at the end of 483 years, is Jesus; the One that is called Christ.
His appearance was His anointing by the Holy Spirit at His baptism, which also marked the inauguration of His public ministry (Acts 10:37, 38; Mark 1:11-14; Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38). He was baptized in AD 26/27, exactly 483 years after the decree in 458/7. He was baptized in the fifteenth year of the Roman emperor Tiberius (Luke 3:1, 5, 21). Finegan (Handbook of Biblical Chronology, Princeton, 1964, p265) dates His baptism to AD 26/27. (Remember, no year nil. From 1 BC to 1 AD is one year, not two.)
The last “one week” of years follows immediately after the 69th; therefore immediately after His baptism. There is no gap.
Anointed cut off
The “anointed one” that is cut off (killed) is our Lord Jesus Christ. 9:25 uses the word “unto” (until) to describe His public appearance at His baptism at the end of the 7+62 weeks (483 years), while 9:26 uses the word “after” to describe His atoning death; an unspecified period “after” the end of the 7+62 weeks. His atoning death links back to the purposes of the seventy weeks as listed in verse 24, namely to make “atonement for iniquity” and brought in “everlasting righteousness” (9:24). This was also predicted by Isaiah:
By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living For the transgression of my people … (Isa 53:8 NASB)
Cessation of the sacrifices
“In the midst of the week” (that is, 3½ 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. The supernatural rending of the Temple veil (Matt. 27:50, 51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45-46) was Heaven’s declaration that the typical Jewish animal sacrifices and oblations had ceased to have efficacy, and had forever ended in the plan of God.
Jesus died on a Passover, which is always the fourteenth of Nisan. But He also died on a Friday (Luke 23:56). Isaac Newton and many other scientists have tried to locate a fourteenth of Nisan that fell on a Friday in a year more or less when Jesus died. The ancient people calculated months on the basis of the phases of the moon. As a “moon” month is 29½ days, a typical month was therefore 29 or 30 days. Over time this would result in misalignment between months and the seasons. For that reason they added an additional month every third year or so, based on when the harvest ripens. The search for such a Friday Passover is complicated by the lack information on how extra months were inserted into the lunar calendar of Palestine in the first century. Given this and other uncertainties, the chronographer must be content to simply cite the range of possibilities and their likelihood.
Merrill C. Tenney in his book “New Testament Times) (Inter-Varsity Press, 1967), chapter 7) estimated that Jesus was crucified very probably on 7th April, AD 30. If Jesus was baptized in AD 27, then 7th April, AD 30 is at most one year from the exact middle of the last seven years. The best summary of modern scholarship is Jack Finegan’s Handbook of Biblical Chronology. He gave April AD 30 and Fri 1 Apr AD 33 as possible.
Through His atoning death the purposes of the seventy weeks, as listed in verse 24, have been fulfilled; namely to make “atonement for iniquity” and bring in “everlasting righteousness” (9:24). See below for a further discussion.
The “he” that 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) through His personal preaching for 3½ years before His death. He also made the covenant strong after His death, while the infant church was still a Jewish sect, by sending His disciples to Israel, powered by the Holy Spirit. In those seven years the gospel went exclusively to Jews. God’s covenant with the Jews therefore did not come to an end when they crucified the world’s Messiah.
End of the 490 years
The prophecy does not singled out a specific event as marking the termination of the seventy weeks, but the 490 years end when “he” would 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 all Jewish privileges as the covenant people at the end of that period.
As discussed above, the period of special privileges for the Jewish nation came to an end about 3 years after Jesus was crucified. The last week comes to an end when God no longer work through Israel. Peter and his fellow Jews were reluctant to let go of the exclusive privilege, but through visions and miracles God led them to accept gentiles as equals. At this point in history the kingdom of God was taken away from the Jews (Mat. 21:43). Through the persecution of particularly the Greek speaking believers the gospel was carried to “all the world” (Col. 1:6).
God’s covenant with the Jews therefore did not come to an end when they crucified their Messiah. While the church still was a Jewish sect, God gave them another opportunity by pouring out the Holy Spirit on His Jewish disciples. The message continued to go to Jews only (Acts 10:47-11:3, 18, 19) until Peter had the dream of the animals (Acts 10:11, 12), whereby God showed him not to “call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28). The purpose of God’s powerful working through the primitive Jewish church may have been that the Jews would repent and preach the gospel to the world, so that Jesus may return in the first century. But, by persecuting the people that received the Holy Spirit, the Jews for the last time broke the covenant with God. There was nothing more that God could do for or through the Jewish nation, and they lost their special place in the plan of God. This was the end of the last seven years.
Destruction of the City
Since seventy weeks were decreed for Jerusalem (v24), the city would not be destroyed during 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. The destruction of “the city and the sanctuary”, the scattering of the Jewish people, and the succession of calamities sweeping over the Jewish people (9:27) was the consequence of the Jewish rejection of firstly the Messiah and secondly the Holy Spirit. As our Lord looked into the immediate future, He wept over the city (Luke 19:21), saying:
If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation. (Luke 19:42-44)
The phrase “upon the wing of” in verse 27 appears to be an idiom to express immediate consequences. The passage may be understood as “on the heels of abominations shall follow a desolator”. The literary analysis (of the poetic structure) above and the similarity of the words used identify this destruction (desolations) in verse 27 as the destruction of the city in the previous verse.
Beginning in AD 66, wars broke out between the Jews and the Romans. A few days before the AD 70 Passover, the Roman destroyers attacked Jerusalem, breached the wall and overwhelmed the city. The Temple was fired and destroyed. The Jews were ruthlessly slaughtered. Their blood, according to Josephus, flowed in streams down the steps. The desolater had come. The city and temple were in ruins; the desolation accomplished. Hundreds of thousands were slain, tens of thousands sold into slavery, and war followed upon war.
To summarize the messianic-historical interpretation, the decree of Artaxerxes in 478/7 “restored” Jerusalem to the Jews. In AD 26/27, exactly 483 years later, Jesus was baptized. About 3½ years later, in AD 30/31, He was crucified. Another 3½ years later, in AD 33/34, the exclusive role Israel played in the plan of God 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 has been the dominant one over the centuries, and has offered those that accept it a testimony to God’s foreknowledge revealed through this prophecy.
The events in verses 25 to 27 form a chiasm. This means that the first item corresponds to the last, the second to the second last, etc. The chiasm is as follows:
Messiah cut off 26a
Construction 25c —— Destruction 26b
and Unto Messiah 25b ———– Messiah covenant 27a
Construction 25a ———————- Destruction 27c
A chiastic structures is a literary device to place emphasis upon the statements at the center of the chiasm. In this chiasm the central point or apex is the death of the Messiah. Thus the chiastic structure of this prophecy emphasizes the importance of His death. This chiasm also supports the following conclusions:
- that 27c is the destruction of the city because it corresponds to 25a;
- that the “he” in verse 27a is the same as the Messiah in 25b;
Just as the death of the Messiah is placed at the center of the chiasm, so the real significance of His death is identified at the center of the chiasm of verse 24. His death would make atonement for all evil, and as a result, would bring in everlasting righteousness.
WERE THE SIX GOALS FULFILLED?
Dispensationalism denies that Christ’s first advent (His earthly life, baptism, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven) fulfilled the six goals of this magnificent Messianic prophecy. The third goal (to make atonement for iniquity) and the fourth (to bring in everlasting righteousness) were discussed above, and it was shown that Jesus did achieve these two goals as “the Lamb of God”. But dispensationalism also points to all the sin remaining in the world and also opposes the idea that the first two goals (to make an end of sin) have been fulfilled by Jesus.
Perhaps it should be pointed out that dispensationalism does not believe that an end will be made of sin at the return of Christ, which is for them the end of the seventieth week, but that sin will continue during the Millennium. Dispensationalism therefore cannot claim consistency between their eschatological schema and this particular objective for the Seventy Weeks.
The first three goals all have to do with sin, but the first two are to make an end to sin and the third is to atone for sin. This seems to be the wrong way round. It seems logical that the goals are listed in the sequence they are to be fulfilled, but one would expect the atonement before an end is of sin.
The first goal is “to finish the transgression”. The definite article (“the”) is used with this goal, but not with any of the others. It is therefore probably not transgression in general, but rather specifically the Jew’s historical transgression which Daniel was confessing when he received this prophecy (9:11, 20). If this is the meaning, this goal required the Jewish nation to manifest their loyalty toward Him. They were to bring an end to the sinful state of their society. If this was the intention, this goal was not achieved entirely.
The second goal reads “to make an end of sin”. This is similar, but because it is listed separately, and because it does not have a “the”, it probably refers to something different. Then the only option, in the historical-messianic interpretation, is that it refers to Jesus. He made an end to sin in the sense that, by never committing a sin, He made an end to the complete reign of sin over the peoples of the world. By never committing a sin, even when He was tested to the utmost by being nailed to a piece of wood, he defeated Satan as the accuser (Rev. 12:10) by showing that it is possible for man to live a life free of sin, thus making an end of Satan’s claim for dominion of the world. Jesus, as the second Adam and representative of the people of the world—not only the people of Israel—made an end to “the reign of” sin.
The fifth goal is “to seal up (hatam) vision (hazon) and prophecy (nabi). “Nabi” is actually is the word for prophet, not for prophecy. “Seal up” can have different meanings, such as to hide something, or making an end of something, or to validate something. Since this is mentioned immediately after the fourth goal of bringing in everlasting righteousness, which has been fulfilled by the cross, this sealing up must be related to—or be the consequence of—the cross. One possible meaning therefore is that the Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah were to be validated or authenticated by Cross:
Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers (Rom 15:8)
Since one possible meaning of hatam is to bring an end to something, the fifth goal could also be to bring an end to vision and prophet so that there would be no further vision and prophet. If this is the intended meaning, this goal may mean that, as far as Daniel’s people are concerned, “vision” and “prophet” are to come to an end at the close of the seventy sevens. The end of the 490 years was also the end of Israel’s special status as people of God. The end of the 490 years would therefore also be the end of the prophetic voice that from time to time urged that people to repentance. However, this does not make complete sense in the context. God gave Israel 490 years to fulfill the six goals. The implication is that the goals were to be fulfilled through Israel, during the 490 years. One consequence of their failure may have been to bring an end to vision and prophecy for Israel, but it does not make sense to say it was a goal to be achieved through Israel, or during the 490 years.
An alternative meaning for this goal is to validate specifically the 2300 “evening-morning” of Daniel 8. However, it is preferred to interpret the goals as referring to Christ. Furthermore, the goals should be understood as fulfilled through Israel, during the 490 year, which seems to eliminate this possible meaning.
The sixth and last goal is “to anoint the most holy place”. The word “place” is added by the translators. Many interpreters understand this as referring to Jesus Christ, but if the goals are listed in the sequence in which they are fulfilled, this could not be His anointing, because He was anointed at His baptism some years prior to His crucifixion. Furthermore, the phrase translated “most holy” (qodes qodasim) occurs more than 40 times in the Old Testament, and in every instance it refers to the sanctuary, with the possible exception of 1 Chronicles 23:13. The “most holy” must therefore refer to the most holy portion of the temple, but which temple is intended? If it referred to the temple that was rebuilt after the exile, the anointing should have been listed before the third goal of “atonement”.
There is another temple. Hebrews indicates that there is a temple in heaven (8:2). This is the “true tabernacle” (8:2), not made with hands (9:24; cf. 8:1-2). The earthly tabernacle was a copy of this true tabernacle (8:5; 9:24). It is called the “holy place” (9:24; 10:19); similar to the words in Daniel 9:24.
Hebrews also explains that this temple was also anointed. Just as the first covenant was inaugurated by sprinkling the tabernacle with the blood (9:21) of the calves and the goats (9:19), the “heavens”—therefore the sanctuary in heaven—were also “cleansed”, but with “better sacrifices” (9:23). “Not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebr. 9:12). In Hebrews Jesus entered the holy place after He obtained eternal redemption at the cross. We find the same sequence in Daniel 9:24—the goal of anointing of the most holy is mentioned after the goal “to make atonement for iniquity”. It is therefore proposed that the anointing of the “most holy” in Daniel 9:24 points to the inauguration of Christ’s priestly ministry in the heavenly temple following His ascension.
In conclusion, as proposed here, all six goals, with the exception of the first, were fulfilled through Jesus Christ on behalf of Israel (verses 25-27). This Hebrew man atoned for the sin of the whole world. Through Israel, and particularly through this Hebrew Man Jesus that became the Lamb of God, God reconciled the world to Himself (Rom. 5:10, 11; 2Co 5:19; Col 1:19-20).
Another possible approach to the goals would be to argue that it was God’s intention that the world of sin would come to an end shortly after the Cross. It is possible to postulate that it was never His intention that sin would continue for a further 2000 years. It may have been His intention that Israel, through the power of the Holy Spirit, would fulfill their mandate to preach the gospel with power to the whole world, and prepare the world for Jesus’s return soon after the cross, which would have made a complete end to sin on earth. Perhaps this is why Jesus said to His disciples:
But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes. (Mat 10:23)
If it was God’s intention to make an end to sin shortly after the Cross, the goals could be explained from that perspective. However, this approach is not supported here, for the following reasons:
- The goals are probably listed in the sequence in which they are to be fulfilled, and if it reflects our Maker’s intention to make an end of sin soon after the cross, then atonement for sin should be mentioned prior to the goal of making an end of sin.
- The events should align with the goals, and the events end in desolation, not in the return of Christ.
The six goals for the 490 years are discussed last because it is not possible to use the goals to prove a specific point of view. However, one should be able to provide a viable explanation of the goals from the perspective of your preferred interpretation of the events.
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 exactly 483 years (69 weeks) after Artaxerxes’ first decree. Furthermore, the specifications of the prophecy find exact and complete fulfillment in the life, ministry, death and present ministration of Christ, and in the subsequent desolation of the Jewish nation as a result of their rejection of the promised Messiah. This prophecy particularly points to His death:
- the nature of that death—murdered (cut off)
- His experience in that death—abandoned and rejected (not for himself), and
- the results of His death—atonement and everlasting righteousness
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. It thus recommends itself as the most adequate of the major interpretations. 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 uncertainty of the chronology of the life of Christ and the events of the early church appears to be insignificant.
Dispensational eschatology, which fits most of Revelation into the 70th week of Daniel, stands or falls at its interpretation of Daniel 9, and it has been adequately shown above that its interpretation of Daniel 9 cannot stand careful scrutiny.
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. It conclusively proves Jesus Christ to be the true and only Messiah.
It affirms the truthfulness and reliability of the Bible when predicting future events. This gives 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 copies of Daniel (Dead Sea Scrolls) have been available to the Qumran sect more than 100 years before the crucifixion.
The 490 years could well represent the “one more chance” which God gave the Jews in Jesus’s parable of Luke 13:6-9:
A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’ And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.’
If the Jews did not confirm their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah by the persecution of His Spirit-filled representatives, but rather accepted Jesus after His death, history would have been very different.
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.
Daniel must have been very sad to hear that the Messiah would be killed and the city would again be destroyed. He confessed in his prayer that the destruction of Jerusalem in his time was the result of disobedience. He must have realized that the prophesied destruction would also be the result of more disobedience. And there is no mention of another restoration or reconstruction in the prophecy. The prophecy ends in the accumulation of desolations and destructions.
The emphasis upon the Messiah and His experience ranks this passage alongside the other great Messianic prophecies of the OT that point to Him as the suffering servant of God (Ps 22. Isa. 53). Daniel 9 complements Isaiah 53 by specifying when the Man of sorrow will arrive. Consider the parallels between Daniel 9 and Isaiah 53. In both the main character is “cut off”. In Isaiah it is the man of sorrows (v3, 8) and in Daniel it is the anointed prince (v26). Both refer to the atonement. One of the goals of the seventy weeks is “to make atonement for iniquity” (v24) while “the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him” (Is. 53:6). He Himself bore the sin of many (Is. 53:11). In both this Person has a relationship with “the many”. In Isaiah “the many” are justified (v11) and in Daniel He confirms a strong covenant with “the many” (v27). The following is an extract from Isaiah 53:
2 … He has no …appearance that we should be attracted to Him. 3 He was despised and forsaken … A man of sorrows … 5 He was pierced through for our transgressions … 6 … the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. 7 He was … afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth … 8 By oppression … He was taken away; … He was cut off out of the land of the living For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? 9 … He was with a rich man in His death … He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. 11 … the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. … He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.
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, I am justified from my sin and you from yours.
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