One might well argue that Daniel 9:24-27 is both the most complex and the most crucial text in either testament bearing on the subject of biblical prophecy. Its complexity is questioned only by those who have not studied it, or perhaps by those whose conclusions concerning its meaning were predetermined by unspoken theological commitments. That Daniel 9 is as crucial as I have suggested can hardly be denied. For example, dispensationalists have largely derived from Daniel 9 several of their more distinctive doctrinal and prophetic themes, among which are,
1) distinctive divine programs for Israel and the Church based on the idea of a prophetic and historical gap, during which time God’s purpose for the former is suspended and his purpose for the latter engaged (that “gap,” of course, being identified with this present age);
2) the reality of a future period of intense tribulation, precisely seven years in length, during which the divine program for Israel is resumed;
3) the rebuilding of a temple in Jerusalem at the inception of this seven year period and its subsequent destruction;
4) the emergence of a personal antichrist who will establish a seven year covenant with Israel, reinstitute the Levitical sacrificial system, only to break the covenant after three and one half years.
One could conceivably make an argument that apart from the dispensational interpretation of Daniel 9, these and related prophetic doctrines would lack substantial biblical sanction.
My purpose, however, is not to offer an extensive critique of dispensationalism. It will, of course, be necessary to review briefly what dispensationalists have said about Daniel 9. But, my goal is to be more constructive than destructive, and to that end I have devoted the bulk of this lesson to what I believe is the correct meaning of the text and its contribution to our understanding of God’s purpose in redemptive history. The passage reads as follows:
Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, 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’ (v. 24).
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 (v. 25).
Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined (v. 26).
And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate (v. 27). (NASB)
The Dispensational Interpretation
of Daniel 9:24-27
1. What are the 70 weeks of Daniel 9?
According to 9:24, “seventy sevens” have been decreed. The latter of these two terms, here translated “sevens,” literally means a unit of seven things (hence, a “week”). The question, however, is: a unit of seven what? days? weeks? hours? months? years? Most commentators of the dispensational school conclude that Gabriel had in mind units of years. Consequently, “seventy” of these “units of seven years” would equal 490 years. Although commentators refer to this period as Daniel’s 70 “weeks,” the period of time in view is one of 490 years.
2. When do the 70 weeks of Daniel begin?
According to 9:25 the 70 weeks (i.e., the 490 year period) begin with “the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.” Dispensationalists have opted for either one of two dates for this decree: (1) the seventh year of Artaxerxes in 458-57 b.c. (Ezra. 7:11-26), or (2) the twentieth year of Artaxerxes in 445-44 b.c. (Neh. 2:1-8). The latter of these two dates is preferred by most dispensationalists, and for two reasons. First, this decree pertains to the rebuilding of the “city,” in accordance with Dan. 9:25. Second, v. 25 also indicates that between the decree and the coming of Messiah sixty-nine of the seventy weeks transpire. In other words, 483 years (or, 173,880 days, on the questionable assumption that a year = 360 days) from the decree brings us to Jesus Christ. If one begins with the first of Nisan (March 14), 445 b.c., and counts off 173,880 days (taking into account years that have an extra day due to leap year), one arrives at April 6, 32 a.d., the occasion of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. If one chooses to begin the count in 444 b.c., instead of 445, the 69th week terminates on March 30, 33 a.d. Many people are obviously quite impressed with this sort of chronological precision and have embraced the dispensational view because of it.
The dispensational view, therefore, appears to depend upon two crucial facts: (1) 445-44 b.c. is the only year in which a decree relative to the rebuilding of Jerusalem was issued; and (2) the 490 years or 70 weeks is a chronologically precise period of time, and must therefore span the period from the decree to the Messiah to the very day. If either or both of these assertions is false, the dispensational interpretation is seriously undermined. That is to say, if it can be shown that the decree of Cyrus in 538 b.c. meets all the qualifications for the decree which inaugurates the 70 weeks (Dan. 9:25), and if it can be shown that the 490 years or 70 weeks need not be taken with chronological and arithmetic precision, the dispensational view is considerably weakened.
3. What is the goal or purpose of the 70 weeks?
The goal of Daniel’s 70 weeks is stated in the six-fold declaration of v. 24. Without going into detail at this time, suffice it to say that most dispensationalists insist that some, if not all, of these goals will only be achieved at the second advent of Jesus at the end of the age, perhaps not even until the end of the “millennium.” For this reason they insist that the 70th week is yet future.
4. When exactly will the 70th week begin?
The dispensationalist says that, according to v. 26, two events will occur after the 69th week but before the 70th. In other words, these two events will occur in the “gap” between the 69th and 70th weeks. These two events are, first, the cutting off of Messiah (the crucifixion), and second, the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 a.d. When, then, is the 70th week to occur? Only at the end of the present age when Christ returns to consummate the 6-fold purpose outlined in v. 24. This 70th week, the so-called “Great Tribulation,” says the dispensationalist, is described in v. 27.
5. Who is the coming “prince” of v. 26 and the one who makes the covenant in v. 27?
Both the “prince” who is to come in v. 26 and “he” who, in v. 27, makes a covenant with the many for one week refer to the final, personal Antichrist. This “one week” or 7 year covenant will entail the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem and the reinstitution and observance of sacrificial offerings. After 3-1/2 years, i.e., “in the middle of the week,” Antichrist will break the covenant, persecute the people of God (Israel), only to be destroyed by the return of Christ Jesus at the close of the 7 year tribulation period (i.e., at the close of the 70th week).
6. On what basis does the dispensationalist posit a “gap” between the 69th and 70th weeks of Daniel 9?
It is absolutely fundamental to the dispensational interpretation that there be a gap or interval or historical parenthesis between the 69th and 70th weeks. Thus far in history this gap has spanned some 1,950 years. On what basis do dispensationalists justify this remarkable length of time? The arguments of Alva McClain are here taken as representative:
a) If one interprets the text as presenting the events in strict chronological and historical sequence, a gap is implied. First, in v. 25, there is a period of 69 weeks ending with the appearance of Messiah. Then, after these 69 weeks two other events occur: the death of Messiah and the destruction of the city. Finally, in v. 27, and after the events of v. 26, the final or 70th week occurs. Since two of the prophesied events occur after the 69th week but before the 70th week, a gap is implied.
b) The events of v. 24 were not fulfilled at Christ’s first coming, nor have they been fulfilled at any time in history since his appearance. Therefore, the 70th week, in which time they will be fulfilled, must be future.
c) An unseen gap in prophetic time is not unusual in the OT. See, for example, Isa. 61:1-2 and Luke 4:16-21.
d) Jesus himself declared that the 70th week of Daniel is still future (see Matt. 24:15ff.).
Although other arguments may be cited to support the gap theory, these are certainly the more important ones.
Instead of responding critically to the dispensational interpretation, I prefer to present what I believe is a far superior understanding of the text. By means of asking and then answering a series of ten questions, I hope that the sense of Daniel’s 70 weeks will become clear to us.
God's Final Jubilee
1. What is the Historical and Literary context of Daniel 9?
The opening verses of Daniel 9 indicate that Daniel prayed to God in the light of the prophecy uttered by Jeremiah relative to the 70 years captivity of Israel (Jer. 25:1-11) and the punishment of Babylon when the 70 years were complete (Jer. 25:12). Daniel prays “in the first year of Darius, son of Xerxes” (9:1-2), i.e., in the first year of Cyrus’s reign (539-38 b.c.). If the beginning of the 70 years captivity is to be reckoned from 605 b.c. (Jer. 25:1,9) when Daniel and his friends were deported to Babylon, it is obvious that the prophesied period was nearing completion. In fact, 66 of the 70 years had passed. This motivated Daniel to pray for the restoration of Israel and Jerusalem (9:16,18,20). Certainly, then, Gabriel’s response in Dan. 9:20-27 is to be understood as an answer to Daniel’s prayer (see esp. 9:20-23). Thus, Vern Poythress concludes:
"The logical conclusion from this language is that the beginning point of the 70 weeks basically coincides with the end of Jeremiah’s 70 years. That is, it occurs in 538 b.c. or shortly thereafter. On the other hand, a beginning point in 444 b.c. would not really answer Daniel’s prayer. It would not be quick enough to satisfy Daniel’s urgency. And it would not be related to the basis of Daniel’s prayer in Jeremiah’s prophecy of 70 years."
This relationship between the conclusion of Jeremiah’s 70 years prophecy and the beginning of Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy is substantiated when we consider the nature and purpose of Cyrus’s decree, to which we now turn our attention.
2. What is the “decree” of Dan. 9:25, or when do the 70 weeks begin?
In his first year, after the fall of Babylon in fulfillment of prophecy, the Persian king, Cyrus, issued a decree relative to the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem:
"Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, 'The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel'" (Ezra 1:2-3; cf. 2 Chron. 36:23).
We are told explicitly in 2 Chron. 36:21-22 that the decree of Cyrus signaled the end of Jeremiah’s prophecy and the beginning of the restoration of Israel. This corresponds directly with Daniel’s concern for the completion of Jeremiah’s prophecy, on the basis of which he utters his prayer (9:2).
In Dan. 9:25 the decree that inaugurates the 70 weeks is “to restore and rebuild Jerusalem,” and that is precisely what Isaiah prophesied that Cyrus would do:
"It is I who says of Cyrus, 'He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.' And he declares of Jerusalem, 'She will be built,' and of the temple, 'Your foundation will be laid'” (Isa. 44:28).
“I have aroused him [Cyrus] in righteousness, and I will make all his ways smooth; he will build my city, and will let my exiles go free, without any payment or reward,” says the Lord of hosts (Isa. 45:13).
Let me now summarize. In 605 b.c. Jeremiah prophesied that Israel would be taken captive in Babylon for 70 years and that Jerusalem and its temple would be destroyed. He also prophesied that at the end of this period Babylon would fall. In 539 b.c. Babylon fell to Cyrus of Persia. Consequently, in that very year, sensing the completion of Jeremiah’s prophecy, Daniel prays for the restoration of Jerusalem. Gabriel (as God’s messenger) responds to Daniel’s prayer with the prophecy of the 70 weeks, the beginning of which would be a decree to rebuild and restore the city. In 538 b.c. Cyrus issued just such a decree! The point, then, is this. The decree of Cyrus in 539-38 b.c. is both the conclusion of Jeremiah's prophecy of captivity (2 Chron. 36:21-23) and the beginning of Daniel's 70 weeks prophecy of restoration (Dan. 9:25).
3. Did Cyrus’s decree pertain to the rebuilding of the city as well as the temple?
Dispensationalists insist that the decree of Cyrus in 538 cannot be the beginning of the 70 weeks because his decree did not include reference to the rebuilding of the city, only the temple. Several things may be said in response to this charge.
First, as Poythress points out, we must bear in mind that the Israelites
"lived in an atmosphere where the restoration of the temple, the restoration of the city of Jerusalem, and the restoration of the land itself were closely bound up together. The city represented the heart-beat and security of the land around; the temple represented the heart-beat and security of the city (Jer. 7:4). Jeremiah prophesied desolation for the land, for the city of Jerusalem, and for the temple. In particular, Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning 70 years of desolation speaks explicitly of restoration of the people to the land (Jer. 29:10,14), but is naturally interpreted to imply restoration of the city (Dan. 9:2,16,18) and of the temple (Dan. 9:17)."
Second, the focus of the decree in Ezra 1:2-4 and 2 Chron. 36:23 is indeed the temple, but these passages may not give us the complete text of the decree. Ezra 6:3-5, an alternate report of the decree, contains details not mentioned in Ezra 1:2-4. When Josephus wrote of the decree he included direct reference to the city. But let us grant, for the sake of argument, that Josephus was wrong and that the decree of Cyrus contained no explicit reference to the rebuilding of the city. The restoration of the city, observes Poythress,
"would nevertheless be presupposed as an accompaniment to the restoration of the temple. For one thing, there would have to be workers there in the city to engage in the restoration work on the temple. And the temple would make little sense without a body of priests to serve in it. Some priests would have to be settled in Jerusalem."
Third, according to Dan. 9:2, Daniel himself believed that the desolation of the city of Jerusalem would last for 70 years. It is only natural, therefore, that the restoration of the city, as well as the temple, would begin when the 70 years were completed. “To say that the restoration of the city had to wait until Nehemiah’s time [as the dispensationalist insists] is a denial of the validity of Jeremiah’s prophecy”.
Fourth, we have already seen that Isa. 44:28 and 45:13 include reference to the rebuilding of the city.
Fifth, numerous texts indicate that Jerusalem was at least partially inhabited before Nehemiah’s time (cf. Hag. 1:4,9; Neh. 3:20,21,23,24,25,28,29; 7:3; Ezra 5:1; 6:9; 4:6). That the restoration was not at that time complete is no proof that it had not begun.
Sixth, and finally, what about Dan. 9:25b and the reference to “plaza and moat”? This poses no problem, for one must distinguish between the decree itself and the historical results. It is the verbal (or literary) act that marks the beginning of the 70 weeks. Dan. 9:25b simply describes the non-verbal historical results.
Given the available evidence, I see no reason why we should look for any decree other than that of Cyrus in 539-38 b.c. as the fulfillment of Dan. 9:25 and thus the beginning (the terminus a quo) of the 70 weeks. Consequently, one of the principal foundations for the dispensational interpretation has crumbled.
4. What is the goal or purpose of the 70 weeks?
Daniel 9:24 makes it clear that the goal of the 70 weeks prophecy is six-fold in nature: (1) “to finish (or, “restrain”) the transgression”; (2) “to make an end of sin” (or, “to seal up sin”); (3) “to make atonement for iniquity”; (4) “to bring in everlasting righteousness”; (5) “to seal up vision and prophecy”; and (6) “to anoint the most holy ‘place’.”
Most are agreed that (3) pertains to the propitiatory sufferings of Jesus. The dispute concerning (1) and (2) focuses more on the time of their fulfillment. Are these statements descriptive of what our Lord already accomplished at his first advent, or do they pertain to what he will achieve at his second advent (particularly, for Israel)? My opinion is that this is a false disjunction. What Jesus fulfilled at his first advent he will consummate at the second. More on this later.
The fourth stated goal, “to bring in everlasting righteousness,” is a reference either to the justified state of the one who has faith in Christ (Rom. 3:21-22) or to the righteousness of the new heavens and new earth (2 Pt. 3:13). And yet, on further reflection, we discover that this too is a false disjunction. The witness of Scripture is to the interrelation between the redemption of the creature and the cosmos (Rom. 8:18-25; 2 Pt. 3:13-14). The reconciliation of both man and the material world has, in a sense, already occurred (Col. 1:19-20), and yet both await the consummation at the end of the age (Rom. 8:21).
The fifth purpose, “to seal up vision and prophecy,” means that “the period of preparation and type, characterized by the visions which the prophets received and proclaimed, will be sealed up, because its purpose has been completed. It will no longer be needed, since the Messianic age has come, and its work is finished." Again, should one insist that the ultimate consummation of all prophetic utterance in the second coming of Christ is intended, no objection is forthcoming. One need not conclude, however, that the 70th week is therefore altogether future. If the 70th week of Daniel 9 is the present age, as I intend to argue, one may find the consummation of each goal in the second advent of Christ without conceding the validity of the dispensational scheme.
The sixth purpose, “to anoint a most holy,” is a reference to the baptism (anointing) of Jesus (cf. Acts 10:38; Luke 4:34,41). There is absolutely no evidence in the OT that the temple was ever anointed (aside from the single reference to Moses’ anointing of the wilderness tabernacle in Lev. 8:10-11).
5. Who is the coming “prince” of Dan. 9:26?
Dispensationalists believe that this “prince” is the final Antichrist who will appear at the end of the age. However, we are told in v. 26 that the city and sanctuary are to be destroyed by the people of the prince who is to come. The dispensationalist rightly insists that this refers to the Roman armies of 70 a.d. But the prince, says the dispensationalist, to whom these armies or people belong, was not Titus, the Roman general, but a prince who is to arise from a revived Roman empire conceivably 2,000 years after the people had died! Young responds:
"Now it is impossible thus to speak of the Roman armies who attacked Jerusalem in 70 a.d. These armies cannot be said to belong to a prince who has not even now appeared, although nearly two thousand years have passed. The genitival relationship [people of a prince] shows clearly that the people and prince are contemporaries. The people belong to the prince, they are his people. Now, how can the Romans of 70 a.d. be said to belong to a prince who has not appeared yet? They are not his people; they belong to a prince who is their contemporary. Suppose that this prince should appear upon the scene of history; he cannot look back to the armies of Titus and call them his armies. To take a modern example, Mussolini could not have spoken of the armies of Titus as being his own armies. The very language itself rules out this interpretation."
Simply put: the “prince” who is to come (i.e., who is future to Daniel), is Titus, the Roman general, whose armies destroyed the city of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 a.d.
6. Are vv. 26 and 27 sequentially related, or are they parallel descriptions of the same series of events?
The key to the dispensational interpretation is that since v. 25 concludes with the 69th week and v. 27 opens with the 70th, v. 26 must describe events that occur in a gap between the two. That gap has now stretched to some 1,950 years. By way of response, two observations are in order:
a. According to LaRondelle, “when Daniel announced that seventy weeks are determined for national Israel and that the Messiah will be ‘cut off’ after the first sixty-nine weeks, the natural presumption can only be that the death of the Messiah will take place sometime during the last week. J. Barton Payne [thus] concludes, ‘What could be more naturally assumed than that it [the death of Messiah] concerns the 70th week?’”
b. The dispensational argument for a gap between the 69th and 70th weeks is based on the belief that verses 26 and 27 are phrased in a modern style of prose that describes events in a strictly sequential and chronological order. But a close examination of these two verses reveals that they are structured in the poetic style of synonymous (or perhaps synthetic) parallelism in which the 27th verse repeats and elaborates the content of the 26th verse. Thus, events that occur “after” the 69th week (v. 26) occur “in” the 70th week (v. 27). The death of Messiah and the destruction of Jerusalem are the two principal events portrayed in vv. 26-27. Note especially the verbal correspondences between v. 26b and v. 27b.
7. The dispensationalist insists there is a gap between v. 26 and v. 27. Why is this not true?
a. The principal reason has just been given: vv. 26 and 27 are not relating events that are sequential (i.e., A B C D) but rather parallel (i.e., A B A B).
b. Even should we concede that some or all of the goals stated in v. 24 await the second advent of Christ for their fulfillment, a gap between the 69th and 70th week is unnecessary. If it can be demonstrated that the 70th week (or, more accurately, the latter 1/2 of the 70th week) is the present age, then clearly it followed immediately upon the 69th. As noted earlier, what Jesus fulfilled at his first coming he will consummate at his second.
c. The appeal to the alleged gap between Isa. 61:1-2a and 61:2b is invalid. Although our Lord in Luke 4 did not cite the entire passage, it may easily be demonstrated that the day of God’s wrath as well as the day of redemption were inaugurated by our Lord’s ministry. See Mt. 3:10-12; 23:37ff.
d. It is also argued that the 70th week is wholly future because Jesus declared as much in Mt. 24/Mark 13. However, a careful study of these texts will reveal that “the abomination of desolation” to which he refers, as well as the “great tribulation,” pertain to the events of 70 a.d.
e. Jeremiah’s 70 years on the pattern of which Daniel’s 70 weeks were constructed admit of no gap.
f. There is no gap between the 7 weeks and the 62 weeks (v. 25), making it unlikely for there to be a gap between the 69 weeks (the 7 + the 62) and the 70th.
g. After examining other cases in which prophecy refers to a determinate specification of time (Gen. 15:12; 45:6; Num. 14:34), Philip Mauro concludes: “We are bold, therefore, to lay it down as an absolute rule, admitting of no exceptions, that when a definite measure of time or space is specified by the number of units composing it, within which a certain event is to happen or a certain thing is to be found, the units of time or space which make up that measure are to be understood as running continuously and successively. ‘Seventy years’ would invariably mean seventy continuous years; ‘seventy weeks’ would mean seventy continuous weeks; ‘seventy miles’ would mean seventy continuous miles."
h. Assuming for the sake of argument that the 490 units of time = 490 literal years, consider this: “Is it credible that this prophecy, which speaks so definitely of 70 weeks and then subdivides the 70 into 7 and 62 and 1, should require for its correct interpretation than an interval be discovered between the last two of the weeks far longer than the entire period covered by the prophecy itself? If the 69 weeks are exactly 483 consecutive years, exact to the very day, and if the 1 week is to be exactly 7 consecutive years [these are assumptions, again, made only for the sake of argument], is it credible that an interval which is already more than 1900 years, nearly four times as long as the period covered by the prophecy, is to be introduced into it and allowed to interrupt its fulfillment?”
i. I am also convinced that the theory of a gap is motivated as much by the antecedent determination to find additional justification for distinguishing between Israel and the church, as it is by any factors actually present in the text itself. In other words, if one had not already decided in favor of two distinct peoples of God with distinct dispensations in which God deals with each, would Dan. 9 ever have been interpreted in such a way as to yield the concept of a gap between the 69th and 70th weeks? Or, again, to put it even more bluntly, dispensationalists find a gap in Dan. 9 because they are predisposed to find one in order to justify an already existent theological construct.
8. What is the meaning of 9:27?
As noted earlier, in view of the parallel construction of vv. 26 and 27, the Messiah of v. 26a = the “he” of v. 27a, and the “prince” of v. 26b = the “one who makes desolate” of v. 27b, i.e., the Roman general Titus in 70 a.d. In addition to this, I conclude that he who, literally, “causes a covenant to prevail” is Jesus, the Messiah. This he does through the shedding of his blood (cf. Mt. 26:27-29; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25; Heb. 8-10).
Finally, to what does Daniel refer when he speaks about Messiah putting “a stop to sacrifice and grain offering”? There are two possibilities, as I see it. This may be a reference to the sacrifice of Christ whereby he abrogated the Jewish sacrificial system (see Heb. 7:11-12,27; 9:26-28; 10:9; Mt. 27:51; Mark 15:38). Or, more likely still, this is a reference to the cessation of Jewish sacrifices by the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 a.d. (see Mt. 23:37-24:2).
9. Are the 70 weeks to be interpreted “chronologically” or “theologically”?
We are immediately made aware that the 70 weeks are probably not to be taken with chronological precision by the fact that the 70 years of Jeremiah’s prophecy were not precisely 70 years. The fall of Babylon by which the end/conclusion of Jeremiah’s prophecy is reached occurred in 539 b.c. There are several suggested beginning points for the prophecy, none of which, however, add up to precisely 70 years:
fall of Nineveh in 612 b.c. = 73 years;
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