The Historical-Messianic interpretation is the traditional understanding of Daniel 9. In this interpretation the 490 years are an extension of God’s covenant with Israel, which was based on Israel’s Sabbath Year cycle. Jesus confirmed God’s covenant with Israel during the last seven of the 490 years.
This interpretation is called Messianic because it understands the Messiah to be the one who confirms the covenant for the seven last years. It is called historical because the full 490 years is interpreted as past history.
Daniel 9 has been understood in such way ever since the early church. It is only in the recent centuries that Dispensationalism and Liberal Criticism have become the dominant views.
Below the Daniel 9 prophecy is explained from the Historical-Messianic perspective. The explanation will be phrase by phrase.
For discussions of the other interpretations of Daniel 9, see:
24a Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city (9:24)
These were Gabriel’s opening words.
Israel’s calendar followed a seven-year cycle in which every seventh year was a Sabbath Year for the land (Lev. 25). The 70 weeks are 70 of those Sabbath Year cycles, and consequently equal to 490 literal years.
By implication, these seventy weeks have decreed by God, for Gabriel brought this message from God (9:22).
“Your people and your holy city” refer to Israel and Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the capital and symbol of the Jewish nation.
Covenant in Daniel 9
This concept is fundamental to understanding many things in this prophecy. It also helps to explain the Seventy Weeks. It is discussed in The Covenant in Daniel 9, but explained briefly below:
In Leviticus 25 God commanded Israel to allow the land to rest every seventh year (v2), similar to the weekly Sabbath day of rest. Israel had to work the land for six years (v3), but in the seventh year was a Sabbath Year; the land had to rest (v4). In this way the years on the Jewish calendar were divided into sevens, with each seventh is a Sabbath Year.
Covenant Exile Pattern
Leviticus 26 contains the covenant promises and warnings. It states:
(1) Should Israel become unfaithful (Lev. 26:14-39);
(2) It will go in exile. God will scatter them among the nations (Lev. 26:33).
(3) If Israel in exile (Lev. 26:41, 44) “confess their iniquity” (v40);
(4) “Then I will remember My covenant … with Abraham” (v42) “that I might be their God” (v45). God would renew His covenant with them
The Covenant Exile Pattern is therefore (1) Disobedience – (2) Exile – (3) Confession – (4) Covenant Renewal.
Leviticus 26 furthermore uses the seven-year cycle to count the number of years of exile (Lev. 26:34-35, 43). Israel would be in exile for every Sabbath Year not observed. While they are in exile, the land will enjoy its rest. The Sabbath Year cycle was therefore made part of the covenant threat of exile.
490 years of disobedience prior to exile
Jeremiah prophesied that Israel would be in exile for 70 years. On the basis of Leviticus 26 we know that each of Jeremiah’s 70 years of exile was a Sabbath year. This is confirmed by 2 Chronicles 36:21. Each of the 70 years therefore represent 7 years of disobedience. Consequently, the 70 years represent the equivalent of Seventy Weeks (490 years) of disobedience, prior to the exile.
Daniel 9 follows this covenant pattern:
(1) This prophecy was received at a time when Jerusalem was in ruins and Israel in exile (9:2, 7). The exile was the covenant penalty for disobedience: Israel was scattered to allow the land to have its rest (2Ch 36:21; Dan 9:11-13; cf. Lev. 25:2).
(2) In his prayer (9:4-19) Daniel confessed the guilt of His people (9:5-11, 15-16), acknowledged the exile as the covenant penalty for disobedience (9:11-13), acknowledged that God had acted fairly (9:7, 14), but also prayed for the promise of covenant renewal after exile (9:4). He prayed for “Your city and Your people” (9:19, 16-17). In this way Daniel fulfilled the condition for covenant renewal after exile (Leviticus 26:40-41). On behalf of Israel, and he prayed for the renewal of Israel’s covenant privileges.
(3) This context means that, when Gabriel brought God’s answer, namely that “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city”, that this is a renewal of God’s covenant with Israel in terms of Leviticus 26:42, 45, for a new cycle of Seventy Weeks.
The important implications are:
(a) The covenant pattern forms the framework that binds together Daniel’s prayer in the first part of the chapter 9 and the prophecy at the end of it. God’s covenant with Israel is the central theme in the entire Daniel 9.
(b) The 490 years promised by Daniel 9 are an extension of God’s covenant with Israel.
(c) The covenant that is confirmed during the “one week” (9:27) is the final seven years of God’s time-limited renewed covenant with Israel.
(d) God’s covenant with Israel comes to an end at the end of the Seventy Weeks of years.
(e) Since Daniel 9’s 490 years are an extension of God’s covenant with Israel, and since the Sabbath year cycle is part of this covenant, every seventh year will be a Sabbath year. This means that these are 490 literal years, not prophetic years, as in Dispensationalism.
Verse 24 lists 6 goals for the 490 years, namely, to:
Finish the transgression, to make an end of sin
Make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness
Seal up vision and prophecy
And to anoint the most holy place
These goals are discussed in When will the Daniel 9:24 goals, set by for the 490 years, be fulfilled? However, the reader is advised to first read the explanation of verses 25 to 27 before reading the analysis of the goals.