Introduction to the Daniel 9 Prophecy and its Four Interpretations

ABSTRACT: Daniel received the prophecy at a time when Israel was in captivity and Jerusalem in ruins. The prophecy gave Israel seventy weeks of years (490 years) to fulfill six goals, including to solve the sin problem for the whole human race. Particularly, the crisis of the final seven years is interpreted very differently by the different schools of thought, including as:

    • Antiochus IV, 168 years before Christ (liberal),
    • Jesus Christ in the first century AD (traditional), or
    • An end-time Antichrist (Dispensationalism).

A summary of this article is available HERE.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

Jerusalem destroyedDaniel received the prophecy in Daniel 9 in 538 BC. At that time, Israel was in captivity in Babylon and Jerusalem and the temple were in ruins.

The first 19 verses of the chapter record Daniel’s prayer. He prayed for Jerusalem, the sanctuary, and for his people (Dan 9:16, 17, and 19).

While he was still praying, the angel Gabriel appeared (Dan 9:21) and gave him this extremely compact prophecy. It is contained in only four verses (Dan 9:24-27) but is critical for our understanding of end-time events.

PURPOSE OF THE 70 WEEKS

The prophecy begins in verse 24 with the announcement that 70 weeks have been decreed for Israel and for its capital city (Jerusalem) to fulfill six wonderful goals, namely, to:

    • Finish the transgression,
    • Make an end of sins,
    • Make reconciliation for iniquity,
    • Bring in everlasting righteousness,
    • Seal up the vision and prophecy, and to
    • Anoint the most Holy. (KJV)

In other words, the purpose of the 70 weeks, allocated to the Jewish nation, seems to include solving the sin problem of the entire human race. These goals would have brought great joy to Daniel.

WEEKS OF YEARS

Israel had two types of weeks. They had weeks of days like we still have today but they also had weeks of years. Every week of years consisted of seven years in which the seventh was a year of rest; a Sabbath for the land (Lev 25).

It is generally agreed among Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant scholars alike that the “weeks” in Daniel 9:24 are weeks of years and not weeks of days. The following supports this conclusion:

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

Secondly, during the “seventy weeks,” the city was to be rebuilt. Seventy weeks of days are less than 1½ years and is too little time to rebuild a city. It took several decades to rebuild the city. Therefore, these must be weeks of years.

(3) The 490 years are a promise by God to renew His covenant with Israel after the exile and, in the covenant, God used weeks of years to measure time (see Extend Covenant). This also implies that these are weeks of years.

Since these are weeks of years, the 70 weeks are equal to 490 years. No day-for-a-year symbolism is required to convert days into years. It is notable that the other prophecies in Daniel use much symbolism, such as beasts representing empires, but Daniel 9 does not seem to use symbols at all.

Daniel was obviously very glad to receive this prophecy as an assurance that God would restore Israel to their country and their capital. What must have puzzled him is the time limit of 70 weeks that the angel announced.

VERSE 25

The remaining three verses describe the events through which the six goals above were to be fulfilled.

Verse 25 contains a “from … until”-statement:

From the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem
until Messiah the Prince
there will be seven weeks
and sixty-two weeks

This means that the 490 years will begin with “the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.” The Messiah Prince would appear 69 weeks (483 years) after that decree. Daniel did not pray for either these wonderful goals or for “Messiah the Prince.” It is implied that these wonderful goals would be fulfilled through the Messiah.

No specific event marks the end of the first 7 weeks (49 years) but because this would be 49 years after the decree to restore Jerusalem, most commentators assume that the restoration of the city was then completed. This is confirmed by the poetic pattern of the prophecy, as will be explained later.

VERSE 26

Verse 26 says that two things will happen “after the sixty-two weeks:”

      • The Messiah will be cut off (killed) and
      • The people will destroy the city

If we deduct 7+62 weeks from the promised 70 weeks, only one week remains. Verse 26, by listing things that will happen “after” the 62 weeks, does not say whether they will happen during or after the 70th week. But since verse 24 says that a full 70 weeks have been determined from the city, it may be assumed that the city will not be destroyed during the 70 weeks but either at the end of or after the 70th week.

VERSE 27

Verse 27 refers to “one week.” The 70 weeks are sub-divided into three sub-periods:

      • 7 weeks (49 years),
      • 62 weeks (434 years), and
      • 1 week (7 years):

Verse 27 says two things will happen during the 70th week:

      • For the full week, “he” will “make a firm covenant.”
      • In the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice.”

INTERPRETATIONS

It is a sad fact that this wonderful prophecy is interpreted very differently by the different schools of thought within Christianity. J. Barton Payne, Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), 383-389, points out that there are basically four different kinds of interpretation of Daniel 9:24-27:

(1) the liberal,
(2) the traditional (also known as the historic-messianic interpretation),
(3) the dispensational, and
(4) the symbolical interpretations.

Particularly the final seven years are interpreted very differently by the different schools of thought. In the Critical Interpretation, the final week describes the work of Antiochus IV, 168 years before Christ. In the traditional interpretation, it describes the seven years around Christ’s death. In Dispensationalism, this is the work of the Antichrist during the 7 years prior to Christ’s return:

MESSIANIC-HISTORICAL

The historical messianic view was held by many throughout church history. While not all of the details are worked out the same way, Calvin, Luther, and many others, including contemporary scholar E. J. Young, held a form of this view. For this reason, Ellicott’s Commentary refers to is as “the traditional interpretation.”

Proponents regard the Book of Daniel as inspired and reliable and understand the prophecy to be primarily about the coming of Christ.

The following summarizes the messianic-historical interpretation:

The 490 years are an extension of God’s covenant with Israel that began with Artaxerxes’ first decree in 458/7 BC (Ellicott).

During the first period of 49 years, Jerusalem should be rebuilt.

The first 49+434=483 years came to an end with Jesus’ baptism in AD 26/27, where He was anointed by the Holy Spirit. (Ellicott proposes A.D. 25.)

The last seven years began with His baptism, which was also the beginning of His ministry on earth.

3½ years later, or in the “midst of a week,” He was killed, causing “sacrifice and the oblation to cease” (v27) in terms of significance. These sacrifices pointed forward to His death and, after He died, no longer had any meaning.

Allicott’s major criticism of this view is that it means that the 490 years came to an end 3½ years after Jesus died. He says that there is no indication in the New Testament that lead us to suppose that Israel’s probation continued for another 3½ years after Jesus died.

However, this website shows that God’s covenant with Israel did not end when Jesus died. God continued to send the Holy Spirit with power but to JEWS ONLY. God’s 490-year covenant with Israel came to an end in 33/34 AD when Israel rejected the Holy Spirit by persecuting His Spirit-filled disciples. After this, the Holy Spirit and the gospel were sent to Gentiles also.

Therefore, the final seven years stretch from 26/27 to 33/34 AD, with the crucifixion “in the middle of” these seven years.

During those seven years, Jesus Christ confirmed God’s covenant with Israel, first through His personal ministry for 3½ years before His death, and then, for a further 3½ years after His death, by sending God’s Holy Spirit to Israel only.

Since 490 years were decreed for Jerusalem (Dan 9:24), Jerusalem was not destroyed during those 490 years, but only about 40 years later in 70 AD.

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 are interpreted as past history.

DISPENSATIONALISM

ORIGIN

John Nelson DarbyDispensationalism 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.

Evangelical Christians today extensively hold to the Dispensationalism view on eschatology, in spite of its relatively recent origin.

TEACHING

In Dispensationalism:

The 490 years began with the second decree of Artaxerxes I (Neh 1-2) in 445/4 BC. 

The first 483 years came to an end with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem a few days before His death.

The 490 years are not viewed as continuous, but a huge “paren­thesis” or “gap” is inserted between the first 483 years and the final seven years. The entire “church age” is a gap during which the prophetic clock has stopped ticking.

The final seven years are the seven years before the Christ’s return, commencing with the rapture of the church. The rapture includes the resurrection of dead saints and the translation of living saints. They will be removed secretly from earth.

During the 70th week, the Antichrist – a prince of a revived Roman Empire – will oppress the Jews and bring upon the world a 3½ year tribulation during the latter half of the seven years.

IMPORTANCE OF DANIEL 9

The importance of the 70 weeks-prophecy for Dispensationalism can hardly be exaggerated. The other eschatologies are able to survive when their views on Daniel 9 are proven false, but Dispensationalism eschatology stands or falls on its interpretation of Daniel 9.

CONSEQUENCE

Dispensationalism’s interpretation of Daniel 9 dominates its interpretation of Revelation. It identifies Revelation 4:1 as the rapture at the beginning of the last seven years. Consequently, the rest of Revelation describes the events of the last seven years or later.

LIBERAL-CRITICAL VIEW

Critical scholarship emerged during the period of “higher criticism” of the later 19th and early 20th centuries and is the dominant view in academic circles today. Most proponents of this view do not believe that the Bible is God’s authoritative and reliable revelation. They also do not believe in miracles or in prophecies. In their view, the Bible is simply the product of the evolution of human thought. Therefore, they attempt to discern the “true authors” behind the Biblical text.

Since they do not believe in prophecy, and since the prophecies in Daniel mention the Medo-Persian and Greek empires by name, critical scholars argue that Daniel was written after these empires had come to power. Given that other ‘propheciers’ in Daniel agree with history, critical scholars believe that the book of Daniel was written during the mid-2nd century BC by an unnamed Jew who was seeking to provide a theological explanation of their current conflict with the Seleucids (Greek Empire) in general and the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes (167 BC) in particular.

In the standard liberal interpretation, the 490 years began with the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. The first 49 years came to an end with Cyrus’ decree in 538 BC, which allowed the Jews to return to Judah. At the end of the next 434 years, Onias III was the messiah that was “cut off” (murdered) in 171/0 BC. During the last seven years after Onias’ death, the Greek king Antiochus IV destroyed Jerusalem and put a stop to sacrifices. At the end of the seven years, after the successful Maccabean revolt, the temple was rededicated in 164 BC.

For an evaluation of the Liberal interpretation of Daniel 9, see the Liberal Interpretation.

SYMBOLIC

Except for Daniel 9, all Daniel’s prophecies are symbolic. But in the Consistent Symbolical view, Daniel 9 prophecy is also symbolic. For example, Jerusalem symbolizes the church. The time periods are also interpreted as symbols: The first 7 weeks end with Christ’s first advent, and the 62 weeks is the period of the Christian church. And the final week symbolizes the end-time rule of the Antichrist.

This view believes that Daniel is divinely inspired and that the purposes of the 70 weeks, as listed in Daniel 9:24, are fulfilled in Christ. Therefore, this may also be called the symbolic messianic view. For a further discussion, see The Consistent Symbolical interpretation.

The purpose of this commentary is to determine which is the correct interpretation.

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