The academic consensus (at large, independent universities) is that Daniel is a forgery because it pretends to predict future events but really was written after these things already happened. This is because the universities of the world – including their theological faculties – no longer accept the supernatural. Therefore, they do not accept that God guided the writing of the Scriptures or that God gave predictions of future events. (See Critical Interpretation for a discussion of their interpretation of Daniel 9.)
The dispensational interpretation is the dominant conservative interpretation. To contrast it with the traditional historic-messianic interpretation of Daniel 9, in which the entire Daniel 9 was fulfilled in the events in the first century A.D., the dispensational interpretation may also be called the eschatalogical-messianic interpretation because it does believe that the Messiah in Daniel 9:24-27 is Jesus Christ, but it believes that the last seven years are eschatological, namely, that it will be the last seven years before Christ returns.
This article evaluates the Dispensational Interpretation of Daniel 9 by summarizing various other articles that discuss specific aspects of Daniel 9. Links are provided to the articles where more detail is available.
The 490 years began with Artaxerxes’ second decree 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 final seven years are separated from the first 483 years by a huge gap and are the final seven years before Christ returns, commencing with the rapture of the church. During the 70th week, the Antichrist – a prince of a revived Roman Empire – will oppress the Jews and, during the latter half of the seven years, bring upon the world a 3½ year tribulation.
A summary of this article is available HERE.
WHICH DECREE BEGAN THE 490 YEARS?
The 490 years begin with “a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” (Dan 9:25). In Dispensationalism, that was Artaxerxes’ SECOND decree of 445/4 BC. However:
Firstly, that decree did not “restore” Jerusalem. The word that is translated as “restore,” does NOT mean the same as “rebuild.” It means to return Jerusalem to the Jews to serve as their capital from where they would govern themselves according to their own laws. Artaxerxes’ second decree did not “restore” the city because:
(1) His first decree already did that,
(2) The second decree said nothing about the right of Jews to rule themselves, and
(3) The second decree only dealt with the physical construction of the walls of the city. (Which Decree)
Secondly, the second decree does not fit the time of Christ. If we add 483 years to 445/4 BC, we come to about seven years after Jesus died. To make the 445/4 decree fit the time of Christ, Dispensationalism interprets the 483 years as ‘prophetic years’ of 360 literal days each. This reduces the 483 years by about 7 years. However, Israel had two types of weeks: Weeks of days and weeks of years. In both, every seventh was a Sabbath (year or day of rest). The 70 weeks are 70 weeks of years and, therefore, equal to 490 LITERAL years; not ‘prophetic years’ (Overview).
Thirdly, interpreting the 483 years as ‘prophetic years’ brings us to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, but that was only a few days before His death. In other words, that was the END of His ministry. In contrast, the implication of Daniel 9:25 is that the Messiah’s ministry will BEGIN at the end of the first 483 years. Jesus’ ministry began about three years earlier when He was “anointed” at His baptism.
In Dispensationalism, God suspended His covenant with Israel at the Cross and postponed the last seven years to just before Christ returns. However, the first chapters of Acts show that God’s covenant with Israel did not come to an end at Christ’s death. Israel had one final opportunity to repent. For this purpose, God sent His Holy Spirit, but ONLY TO Jerusalem and ONLY TO Jews (Acts 10:45, 47-11:3, 18, 19). (End of the Covenant) See also – Jerusalem Phase of the Early Church.
The end of the covenant came two to four years after the Cross when Israel, by killing God’s Spirit-filled disciples, rejected the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 6:8-13). Thereafter, for the first time, God allowed Gentiles to receive the Holy Spirit.
Specifically, Stephen’s death was the turning point. Since the 490 years of Daniel 9 were an extension of God’s covenant with Israel (Extend Covenant), the 490 years came to an end when Christ stood to announce, through Stephen, announced judgment on the Jewish nation (End of the Covenant).
Furthermore, Daniel 9:27 is the core of the Daniel 9 prophecy. All important events occur AFTER the long period of 69 weeks (483 years). The purpose of the first 69 weeks is, therefore, merely to help us to know WHEN the last week will be. Hence, to postpone that final week of years and to propel it into the far distant future is to defeat the purpose of the 69 weeks.
WHO CONFIRMS WHAT COVENANT?
According to Daniel 9:27, “he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week.” This is the last of the 70 weeks; the last seven years. The “he” must refer to somebody mentioned in the previous verse. That verse refers to two people:
- The Messiah who is “cut off” and
- “The prince that shall come,” whose people will destroy the city.
In Dispensationalism, the first 69 weeks came to an end in the year when Jesus died but the 70th week will be the last seven years before He returns. The “he” is then interpreted as the “prince” of verse 26 and as an end-time Antichrist that will make a covenant with “many.”
In contrast, the article What Covenant shows that:
(1) “He” cannot be the Antichrist,
(2) The covenant of the 70th week (Dan 9:27) is God’s covenant with Israel, and
(3) “He,” who confirms the covenant, is the “Messiah” (Jesus Christ).
The following are some of the arguments to support these conclusions:
The prince who destroys the city in verse 26 is a supernatural being; not a human.
By determining “seventy weeks” for Israel, God extended His covenant with Israel by 490 years (Covenant Extended). Consequently, the covenant that is confirmed during the “one week” (the 70th week – Dan 9:27) is the final seven years of God’s time-limited renewed covenant with Israel; not the covenant of an Antichrist.
The poetic pattern of the prophecy, which shifts the focus back and forth between Jerusalem and the Messiah, identifies the “he,” who confirms the covenant (v27), as Jesus (Chronological Sequence). He died in the middle of that week. He confirmed the covenant with Israel personally before His death and, after He died, through the Holy Spirit, which He sent to Jews only.
Daniel 9:25-27 is also structured as a chiasm. It identifies the “he” in verse 27 as the Messiah and the destruction in verse 27 as Jerusalem (Chronological Sequence).
The purpose of the 490 years is to solve this world’s sin problem (Dan 9:24). This must be achieved through the appearance and killing of the messiah (Dan 9:26), while, at the same time, an end will be made to the sacrificial system (Dan 9:27). In the light of the New Testament, this is a prediction of Christ’s mission. The animal sacrifices pointed forward to the Lamb of God. When He died, the sacrifices ceased in terms of meaning.
In conclusion, the final seven years are the period from Jesus’ baptism in AD 26/27 until Stephen’s death in about AD 33/34. During these final seven years, Jesus confirmed God’s covenant with Israel: Never before or after in human history has God appealed so strongly for the heart of any nation as He did, firstly, through Christ’s personal ministry on earth for 3½ years and, secondly, through the Holy Spirit during the 2 to 4 years after He died.
WHO IS DESTROYED IN VERSE 27?
Verse 26 ends with the destruction of Jerusalem. Verse 27 begins with the seven last years and ends with further destruction. The question is what that last destruction is:
Most translations of verse 27 read that a desolator will be destroyed (e.g. NASB). In that case, in the context of verse 26, where the Roman Empire destroys Jerusalem, this would refer to the destruction of the Roman Empire. If that is correct, and if we also assume that that destruction happens at the end of the last seven years, it cannot be the fall of the Roman Empire in the sixth century AD. Then it is possible to argue, as Dispensationalism does, that it is the destruction of an end-time revived Roman Empire.
However, in certain more literal translations, the desolations are poured out on the desolated one, which, again in the context of verse 26, would be Jerusalem.
Since different translations are possible, we should use the context to interpret this verse. For various reasons, the destruction in verse 27 is the same as the destruction mentioned in verse 26, namely the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 (Who is destroyed in verse 27?). For example:
- In the poetic pattern, the last part of verse 27 is the destruction of Jerusalem.
- In the chiasm, the destruction in verse 27 stands in opposition to (links to) the construction of Jerusalem.
- The destruction in verse 27 uses the same words as the destruction in verse 26.
- Jesus possibly referred to the destruction of verse 27 in Matthew 24:15, and that is a reference to the destruction in AD 70 (Luke 21:20-23).
Verse 27 says that a desolator will arrive shortly after (on the wing of) some repulsive sin (an abomination). In the context, the repulsive sin is Israel’s rejection and killing of its Messiah. The desolation is the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans 40 years later.
If the last part of verse 27 refers to the destruction of AD 70, the last week, described in the first part of verse 27, must be prior to AD 70.
Daniel 9 first mentions the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and then the “firm covenant” of the 70th week (Dan 9:26-27). Dispensationalism argues that the 70th week will be later than AD 70, which would require a gap between the first 483 years and the last seven years.
However, Daniel 9 does not list events chronologically. For example, while verse 25 mentions the appearance of the Messiah first and then the rebuilding of the city, the city was rebuilt four centuries before the Messiah appeared.
To understand the sequence in which the events are listed, the article Chronological Sequence shows that the prophecy alternates between two foci; Jerusalem and the Messiah:
The Jerusalem-events are in chronological sequence and the Messiah-events are in chronological sequence.
But the relationship between the Jerusalem-events and the Messiah-events is not chronological but one of cause and effect: The city was rebuilt to receive the Messiah (Dan 9:25) but again destroyed because it did not accept the Messiah (Dan 9:26; cf. Luke 19:44; 21:20-24).
The previous two sections have argued that the first part of verse 27 describes the seven years around the Cross and that the last part of verse 27 describes the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. This means that verse 27 repeats verse 26. Both verses first describe Christ and then the destruction of Jerusalem. Verse 27, therefore, does not follow chronologically after verse 26.
WHEN ARE THE GOALS FULFILLED?
Daniel 9:24 sets 6 goals for the 490 years. In the traditional interpretation, Jesus’ life and death fulfilled these goals.
In Dispensationalism, in contrast, these goals will only be fulfilled at the end of the 490 years, namely when Christ returns. However, verse 24 gave these goals to Israel and gave Israel 490 years to fulfill them. To propose that these goals will only be fulfilled when Christ returns is to deny Israel its responsibility and to deny the 490 years their purpose. Israel must fulfill these goals DURING the 490 years.
Furthermore, Daniel did not pray for a messiah or for the goals in verse 24. He only prayed for Jerusalem and the temple. But the prophecy includes a Messiah because the goals were to be fulfilled through the Messiah.
The article on the goals argued as follows:
The first two goals, “to finish the transgression and to make an end of sins,” were given to Israel to fulfill. They had to make an end to the sins in their society that led to the exile. These two goals were not fulfilled.
The third and fourth goals, “to make reconciliation for iniquity and to bring in everlasting righteousness,” were fulfilled by Jesus through His life and death.
The fifth goal, “seal up the vision and prophecy,” was that the Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah would come true through the events of the 490 years; particularly through the appearance and the death of the Messiah (e.g., Rom 15:8).
The sixth and final goal, “to anoint the most holy,” symbolizes the eternal and cosmic consequences of His death.
That these goals were fulfilled will only become visible when Christ returns, but the way in which the Bible speaks about redemption, reconciliation, and everlasting righteousness, these things are a current reality.
TEMPLE REBUILT TWICE
The Daniel 9 prophecy explicitly promises that Jerusalem will be rebuilt. This was fulfilled with the rebuilding of Jerusalem a few hundred years before Christ. But, in Dispensationalism, the temple will be rebuilt a second time, namely at the end of the age. If the temple was to be rebuilt after the destruction of Daniel 9:26, would the prophecy not have explicitly stated that, given that it is so clear about the rebuilding in Danie; 9:25?
in Dispensationalism, sacrifices will be resumed. However, there can never be a valid return to the old covenant and its earthly temple worship.
ANTICHRIST BREAKS HIS COVENANT
According to Daniel 9:27, “he” will confirm the covenant for the full seven years but, in Dispensationalism, the Antichrist breaks his covenant with Israel and “put a stop to sacrifice” in the middle of the last seven years.
DESTROYED WITHIN THE 490 YEARS
According to the prophecy, 490 years have been determined for the city of Daniel’s people (Dan 9:24). Therefore, the sanctuary and its services will not be destroyed during the 490 years; only at the end or after the end of the 490 years.
But, in Dispensationalism, the sanctuary will be destroyed in the middle of the last week, when “he will put a stop to sacrifice.”
DESTROY THE ROMAN EMPIRE
In Dispensationalism, the last part of 9:27 describes the destruction of the Roman Empire, and since the Roman Empire was not destroyed in Christ’s time, it argues that this verse must describe the destruction of the Roman Empire when Christ returns. But how can the Roman Empire be revived 1500 years after it ceased to exist?
There is no indication in the prophecy of a gap. On the contrary, this prophecy is very concerned about specifying time precisely. To insert an undefined period into the 490 years seems to contradict the spirit of the prophecy.
RETURN OF CHRIST
If the seven last years end with Christ’s return, as Dispensationalism proposes, we should expect the prophecy to refer to that earth-shattering event, as the other prophecies in Daniel do. But there is no indication in the prophecy of the return of Christ. In contrast, the Daniel 9 prophecy ends with the accumulation of desolations and chaos.
Dispensationalism’s interpretation of the book of Revelation is based on its interpretation of Daniel 9. The typical Dispensational interpretation puts everything in the last 19 chapters of Revelation in the final seven years of Daniel 9, which it interprets as the final seven years before Christ returns. Since this article has shown that those seven years do not describe end-time events, but the Messiah-events 2000 years ago, the whole Dispensational interpretation of Revelation collapses.