This article has been substantially revised. Please see Introduction to Dispensationalism Daniel 9 for the revised article. The current article is still valid, and serves as a summary of the main point.
Overview of the Text and of the Dispensational Interpretation
Daniel received the Daniel 9 prophecy in 538 BC. At that time the Jewish nation was in captivity in Babylon, and Jerusalem and the temple were in ruins. Daniel prayed for Jerusalem, the sanctuary and his people. While still praying, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and gave him the prophecy in verses 24 to 27:
70 sevens have been decreed for Israel and their capital city, Jerusalem, to achieve 6 goals (v24).
It is generally agreed that each seven represents seven years. The 70 sevens consequently equal 490 years.
The 490 years began with the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem (v25).
In a typical dispensational interpretation this is the second decree of Artaxerxes I, dated to 445 BC or 444 BC.
483 years later the Messiah Prince would appear (v25).
In Dispensationalism this is Jesus Christ, but 483 years from 445/4 BC would extend to about AD 40—far beyond the time of Christ. Consequently, the 483 years are understood as prophetic years of 360 days each. In this way the 483 years are shortened by 7 calendar years to fit the actual historical time from this decree to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the Sunday before His death, assuming the crucifixion was in AD 33 or AD 32.
Jerusalem would be rebuilt “in troublous times” (v25).
After the 483 years the Messiah would be cut off (killed) (v26).
Jerusalem will be destroyed again.
Notice how the prophecy moves back and forth between the two foci; Jerusalem and the Messiah. These two foci stand in cause-effect relationships; the city is constructed to receive the Messiah, but is again destroyed because it did not receive the Messiah.
“He” will make strong a covenant for the full seven years and will stop sacrifices in the middle of the seven years (v27).
The only event during the first 483 years is the reconstruction of Jerusalem. But much happens during the final seven years, as described by verse 27. These final seven years are therefore the real purpose of the prophecy. The 483 years merely serve to locate the last seven years in time.
The 490 years are not viewed as continuous, but a “parenthesis” or “gap” is proposed between the first 483 years and the final seven years, which will be the seven years before the return of Christ.
The final seven years describe the acts of antichrist. He is a prince of a revived Roman Empire that will oppress the Jews and bring upon the world a 3½ year tribulation.
The second part of verse 27 describes destruction (v27).
Verse 26 refers to two people: the Messiah that is “cut off” and “the prince that shall come”. Verse 27 continues with a “he”:
… he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week; and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease
Dispensationalism argues that “he” refers to the prince whose people destroyed the city in AD70, and that this prince will reign during the last seven years before the return of Christ.
The article (Who is he?) discusses the identity of the “he” in verse 27 and concludes that the “he” in 9:27 is the Messiah because:
The God’s Covenant with Israel is the central theme in the entire Daniel 9. The covenant in 9:27 must therefore also be God’s covenant, and it must therefore be the Messiah who confirms it.
The word “confirm” (9:27) means that this covenant existed prior to the 70th week. Then it can only be God covenant with Israel, and it must be the Messiah that confirms it.
The parallelism of the Poetic Pattern of the entire prophecy indicates that “he” in verse 27, who makes strong the covenant for seven years, is the same as the Messiah that is cut off in verse 26.
The dominant figure in the entire prophecy and in verse 26 is the “Messiah”. He is therefore the appropriate antecedent for “he” in verse 27.
The prince in 9:26 is a supernatural being who represents the Roman nation, while the “he” of verse 27 is a human being, and therefore cannot refer to a supernatural being. Therefore the proper antecedent for “he” is the Messiah.
According to Daniel 9 this world’s sin problem would be solved by the killing of the messiah (v26), and an end will be made to the sacrificial system (v27). In the light of the New Testament the end is made of the sacrificial system by the Lamb of God. The “he” therefore is the Messiah.
“He” in 9:27 cannot be an end-time despot, because:
The desolation in verse 27 is a repeat of the destruction of Jerusalem in verse 26. The covenant in verse 27 is therefore confirmed prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. It cannot be an end-time covenant.
How can the Roman Empire be revived 1500 years after it ceased to exist?
Since the 490 years have been determined for the city of Daniel’s people, the sanctuary and its services will not be destroyed during the 490 years, but only after the end of the 490 years. The last seven of the 490 years therefore cannot be the end of the age.
TO: Who is he?
The previous section discussed the identity of “he”. This section investigates the time indications to identify the final seven years during which “he” works.
The 490 years begin with the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem (v25). Restore means to give the city back to be ruled by its previous owner. Dispensationalism identifies this as the second decree of Artaxerxes I in 445/4, but this decree did not “restore” Jerusalem. The decree that did restore Jerusalem was the first decree of Artaxerses I in 458/7 BC (Ezra 7:1-26).
Dispensationalism claims that the second decree of Artaxerxes I for the first time authorised the rebuilding of Jerusalem, but that is not true. Different decrees were issued by different Persian kings over a period of about 90 years prior to this decree, and all of them, by allowing the Jews to return to Judah and to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1-4; cf. Isa 45:1), implicitly allowed the Jews to rebuild their cities. This is confirmed by evidence from the Old Testament.
The Messiah would appear 483 years after the decree (9:25), but 483 years from the second decree of Artaxerxes would extend to about AD 40—far beyond the time of Christ. Dispensationalism therefore interprets the 483 years as “prophetic years” of 360 days each. In this way the 483 years are shortened by 7 years to fit the actual historical time from the second decree to the crucifixion.
However, as discussed in The Covenant in Daniel 9, the covenant pattern forms the framework for Daniel 9. As “prophesied” by Leviticus and confirmed by 2 Chronicles 36:21, each of the 70 years of exile was a Sabbath year. Therefore, each of the 70 years of exile represents 7 years of disobedience, and the 70 years of exile represent in total 490 years of disobedience. The prophecy of Daniel 9 therefore extends God’s covenant with Israel for a new cycle of 490 years. Since the covenant timing is based on the seven year cycle, every seventh year would also be a Sabbath for the land (Lev. 25:2 ff.), and every year a normal literal solar year.
This means that the second decree of Artaxerxes does not fit the time of Christ.
The Messiah will start to act as such at the end of the 69 sevens (9:25). In the Dispensational interpretation this is His triumphal entry into Jerusalem; 5 days before His crucifixion, but Jesus began His work as Messiah about three years earlier at His baptism when He was “anointed” and introduced to Israel.
JEWISH PERIOD AFTER THE CROSS
In the Dispensational interpretation the first 483 years came to an end at Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem (a few days before His death), with the last seven years postponed to the end of time.
However, the 490 years are promised by God as years of Jewish preference, and the preference which Jews enjoyed continued after the Cross. During that period the Holy Spirit only came on Jews and the gospel was preached only to Jews. The period of Jewish preference came to an end about three or four years after the Cross, when the gospel was suddenly redirected from Jews only to all people. These three or four years after the Cross were therefore part of the 490 years.
Dispensationalism puts a vast gap of 2000 years between the first 69 sevens and the last seven. However, the wording of the text of Daniel in no way indicates a gap. To postpone the last seven years of final crisis to the end of the age destroys the simple unity of the prophecy and divides it into two completely separate and unrelated prophecies; one about Christ 2000 years ago, and one about some future antichrist. It redirects the focus of the prophecy from Jesus to an end time antichrist.
The last seven years is the climax of the 490 years because all important events occur after the long period of 483 years. The only purpose of the 69 sevens is therefore to foretell the timing of the final seven years. Hence, to dislodge that final seven years from the previous 483 years and to propel it into the distant future is to defeat the purpose of the 483 years.
RETURN OF CHRIST
Dispensationalism maintains that the last week ends with the return of Christ. If this was the case, would verse 27 not end with a description of His glorious return, as the other prophecies in Daniel do? In contrast the Daniel 9 prophecy ends in the accumulation of desolations and chaos.
THE TIME OF THE MESSIAH
The time-indicators in the text identify the final seven years as follows:
The 490 years began with the decree in 458/7 BC.
Exactly 483 literal years later the Messiah appeared at His baptism in AD 26/27.
This was also the beginning of the final seven years.
About seven years later the gospel was suddenly redirected from Jews only to all people. This was the end of God’s promised 490 years of Jewish preference.
In the midst of those seven years Jesus was killed, thereby causing the forward-pointing function of the sacrificial system to cease.
Jesus Christ confirmed God’s covenant with Israel during the final seven years through His personal preaching for 3½ years before His death and by sending His disciples to Israel only for a further 3½ years after His death.
Since 490 years were decreed for Jerusalem (v24), Jerusalem was destroyed after those 490 years in 70 AD.
The prophecy promises the rebuilding of the city and the sanctuary, followed by its destruction. This was fulfilled with the rebuilding of Jerusalem a few hundred years before Christ and its destruction in 70 AD. But the Dispensational interpretation requires the sanctuary to be rebuilt again in the future. Such a second rebuilding is not promised by the prophecy. If the intention was that the sanctuary would be rebuilt again after the destruction of the city in verse 26, but before the termination of the sacrifices in verse 27, then the prophecy would have explicitly stated this, given that it is so clear about the rebuilding in verse 25.
In the Dispensational interpretation the Jewish sacrificial system will be revived, but there never can 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” (see Hebr. 7:22; cf. chap. 10:12; Rom. 3:22, 25).
Daniel 9:24 lists 6 goals to be achieved by the events of the 70 sevens, including:
- “to make atonement for iniquity” and
- “to bring in everlasting righteousness”.
Dispensationalism proposes that these goals will be fulfilled by the return of Christ, which will occur at the end of the last seven years. Apart from the fact that the 490 years do not end with the return of Christ, this proposal denies the 70 sevens their purpose. Daniel 9:24 declares that the 70 sevens were allocated to Israel to achieve the goals stated in verse 24 during the 490 years, through Daniel’s people, not by the end of the 70 sevens.
In the dispensational interpretation the antichrist breaks his covenant with Israel after 3½ years, but according to 9:27 the covenant is confirmed for the full seven years.
In the dispensational interpretation the return of Christ will make an end to sin, but Dispensationalism also proposes that sin will continue for 1000 years after the return of Christ.
Dispensationalism postulates the Millennium as a period of Jewish dominance, thereby allocating in total 1490 years to the Jews. The prophecy allocates only 490 years.
GOALS FULFILLED IN JESUS CHRIST
Dispensationalism protests against the traditional Protestant interpretation of Daniel 9, as defended by this article, by claiming that Christ’s first advent did not fulfill the six goals for the seventy weeks (9:24). A possible interpretation of these goals is therefore presented:
The first goal (to finish the transgression) was a challenge to the Jewish nation to manifest their loyalty toward Him and bring an end to the sinful state of their society that led to the exile.
The second goal (to make an end of sin), the third goal (to make atonement for iniquity) and the fourth goal (to bring in everlasting righteousness) were achieved by Jesus through His death. According to the New Testament Bible “eternal redemption” already exist (Heb. 9:12).
The fifth goal is “to seal up vision and prophecy; the Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah were to be validated by what the Messiah did.
The sixth and last goal is “to anoint the most holy place”. The “most holy” refers to the most holy portion of the temple. But it is not an earthly temple. It was the temple in heaven (Hebrews 8:2); the “true tabernacle” (8:2), not made with hands (9:24; cf. 8:1-2) that was anointed with “better sacrifices” (9:19, 21, 23) “through His own blood” (Hebr. 9:12).
Verse 27 is the key verse of the prophecy and the major point of disagreement between the traditional Protestant and the Dispensational interpretations. It has been argued above that this is a description of Jesus in His work as Messiah during the final seven years of God’s renewed but time-limited covenant with Israel, nearly 2000 years ago.
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If you want to check out what I think is a more up to date interpretation of Daniel 9, go to http://www.prophecysociety.org/PDF/HITO_FREE.pdf for a free download of my booklet HE IS THE ONE.
One of the papers presented the 2009 Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics was by John Master. He made a very important observation about the relationship between the OT and the New Covenant: The context of the OT text relates to corporate Israel; not simply to individuals per se. It is dealing with national transformation; not simply individual regeneration (John Master, New Covenant Considerations, Sept., 2009).
This is a fact that most people overlook. Individual Jews were being saved and having their sins forgiven before the Cross (Luke 7:48-50) even though it was to be the New Covenant promised to Israel which was to provide for a forgiveness of sins (Jer.31:34). Since individuals were receiving the forgiveness of sins prior to the ratification of the New Covenant it is obvious that the New Covenant applied to corporate Israel.