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The Seventy Weeks of Daniel 9 Part Two

• Daniel Baker

Posted in Bible, Book of Revelation, Eschatology, Old Testament, Theology

In our last post we introduced Daniel's seventy weeks, this mysterious reference from Daniel 9:24-27. It is often used as a defense of a 7-year time of hardship called "the great tribulation." Yet, we are taking a different approach to the passage. We began with verse 24 yesterday, and today we will look at the rest of the passage going verse-by-verse:

"Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time." Daniel 9:25

With this verse we begin to get more detail about what actually happens during the seventy weeks. Verse 25 covers the first 69 weeks and verses 26-27 cover the 70th week. The ESV has made things a little harder for us by how they broke up this sentence. They ended one sentence with "seven weeks" and started the next one with, "Then for sixty-two weeks." This gives the appearance that the first 69 weeks have two time periods of 7 and then 62 weeks. Yet, commentators like E.J. Young (Geneva) and Joyce Baldwin (Tyndale) have pointed out that it is far better to translate it the way that the NASB does: "seven weeks and sixty-two weeks." The ESV marginal note reflects this as well. The point is that there is a 69-week stretch being discussed.

When do the 69 Weeks Begin?

These 69 weeks begin with "the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem." There have been many attempts to determine which exact decree is meant here. It could be Cyrus' decree in Ezra 1 or Artaxerzes in Ezra 7:12ff, the first happening in 538 B.C. and the second in 458 B.C. Those who want to see in Daniel an exact chronology work hard to distinguish these specific dates and then tie it to specific dates in the life of Jesus. All of them have serious problems, however, and break down at some point. At the very least they can feel arbitrary and forced (look at the ESV Study Bible for some options along these lines[1]). Since Daniel is in Babylon and praying about his people's return from exile, I think the decree in view is Cyrus' in 538 when the Israelites would have officially returned and begun to rebuild their city and temple.

The next major event in our prophecy is "the coming of an anointed one, a prince" (or, "Messiah the Prince," NASB). This is Jesus the Christ, the anointed of the Lord. It is certainly noteworthy that somewhere around 69x7 years (483 years) after the rebuilding of Jerusalem, Jesus indeed comes in the flesh. But it is still better to see these numbers as symbolic. Daniel gets inspired glimpses of Jesus all throughout his ministry, from the "stone" that destroyed all other kingdoms in 2:45 to a vague fourth person in the fiery furnace (3:25) to the "son of man" of 7:13. Now Jesus is even more explicitly portrayed as "Messiah the Prince."

As we continue in Daniel 9, we'll need to remember that Jesus is "Messiah the Prince." This means that the "prince" throughout this passage is Jesus, not the antichrist. Let's turn now to the 70th week, by far the most complex part of this text.

Daniel's 70th Week

"And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed." Daniel 9:26

Now we're into Daniel's 70th week. At the very end of the 69th week we were anticipating the coming of "Messiah the Prince," and now he is here. In fact, this whole passage is really about the work of Jesus.

First we learn that he is "cut off and shall have nothing." One can here echoes of the prophecy of Isaiah 53 where "he was despised and rejected by men….and we esteemed him not" (v. 3). Jesus was "cut off" at his crucifixion when the earth went dark and even his heavenly Father forsook him (Matt. 27:45-46).

We learn next that during this 70th week "the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary." Again, the "prince" has already been identified as Jesus the Messiah. This seems to be a straightforward reference to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in A.D. 70. That God is speaking of the Roman Titus and his army as "the people of the prince" is not a problem, for this event only happened because of God's decree and sovereign will. They were his people not because they believed in him but because they were being used to accomplish his will. He speaks of Cyrus the Persian king in a similar way: "who says of Cyrus: 'He is my shepherd'" (Isa. 44:28). This destruction was not the end of all things for "desolations are decreed." In other words, there are more desolations to follow.

It's interesting to see that the "prince" here is also called "the prince who is to come." There is a powerful double meaning here: For Daniel looking ahead at the incarnation, Jesus was "the prince who is to come," but for us as well who are looking ahead to the return of Christ, Jesus yet remains "the prince who is to come" (Rev. 19:11ff.). We have one verse left to address:

"And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator." Daniel 9:27

In verse 27 we are still in the 70th week. During this week we learn that God will "make a strong covenant with many." The NET Bible has preserved the sense better by translating this as, "He will confirm a covenant with many."[2] So, during this 70th week God "confirms" or "makes strong" his covenant. This is a powerful glimpse at the covenant of grace that is by grace through faith (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:1ff.), but also the new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8-10). It was a part of Jesus' earthly ministry to inaugurate a new covenant with his people (Luke 22:20), and now we see this prophesied.

There is still more to learn about the 70th week, however. We see that "he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering." Sacrifices end for all God's people at the cross of Christ when the veil in the temple was torn in two and the way to the holy place was forever opened (Matt. 27:51; Heb. 10:19-21). They also ended for unconverted Jews in a profound way when the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70. This could be in view with the reference to "the wing of abominations" (perhaps the pinnacle of the temple) and "one who makes desolate," which might point to the desecration of the temple by Titus in A.D. 70. Either way, Messiah the Prince put an end to sacrifice during this 70th week.

The last piece of our puzzle speaks of the end of all time: "until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator." Now we finally read about the antichrist. The Desolator is behind Titus in A.D. 70 and all of God's enemies, but in this verse his end has come. Daniel is here seeing that day when Satan himself will be thrown into a lake of fire and judged forever for his hatred of God and his persecution of the people of God (Rev. 19:20; 20:10).

The Significance of the 3 1/2 Days

What about the half-week mentioned in verse 27? Daniel tells us that it is halfway through this last week when certain of these events happen, that is, after 3 ½ days of this "week" or 3 ½ years. Our time in Revelation should make this number significant for you. As we said earlier, the more a number is used, the more confident we can be about interpreting it. In Revelation we read that the woman (who is Israel) gave birth to Christ and then "fled into the wilderness" for "1,260 days," which is just about 3 ½ years (12:6). She is not left alone in the wilderness, for "the serpent" oppresses her for "time, and times, and half a time" (12:14), a poetic way of speaking of 3 ½. Parallel to this we read that "the beast" is "allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months" (13:5). John is giving us a poetic and spiritual picture of the last half of Daniel's 70th week. Now we learn that during this second half of the week God's people ("the woman") will be oppressed in the wilderness by the devil. Of course, he is "the Desolator" (Daniel 9:27) and his end is sure, so he shall not triumph in this attack on God's people. Yet, we should not forget that throughout this age the devil prowls around like a roaring lion and attacks however and whenever he can. The fact it is for "forty-two months" is not a literal reference on a calendar but is an emphatic statement that it won't happen a second longer than God intends. It is a finite period of time that God absolutely controls. One day his time will be up. At that point we'll experience eternity without any of his influence on us in the least.

The Drumbeats of Redemption

So Daniel 9:24-27 is really giving us the whole panoramic view of God's redemption from the restoration of Israel after the Babylonian captivity to the destruction of the devil. We also got a vivid picture of the redemptive work of Christ and the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. That means there is no great tribulation to be found here. And if it isn't found here, it isn't found anywhere in the Bible. There are tribulations for Christians and unbelievers alike, but not a 7-year epoch we might refer to as "the great tribulation."

As I said before, this is only one possible reading of Daniel 9:24-27. Kim Riddlebarger's chapter on this issue in A Case for Amillennialism is an excellent resource for more study on the topic (and then you'd have the whole book, a double-bonus!). Further, the notes in The ESV Study Bible are excellent. Duguid and Wegner, the scholars who contributed on Daniel, make good observations and inform us about historical events in a useful way. Duguid also has a full-length commentary on Daniel so his insight is no surprise (Reformed Expository Commentary series).

I hope this brief look helps us to hear in Daniel's prophecy the familiar drumbeats that resound throughout our New Testament: God will complete his promised redemption! No enemy power, no demon, no sin or sinner, and no devil will stop him! His people shall experience the fullness of the promises of God!

But there's more revealed in Daniel 9:24-27. Here we see again the great gospel truth that we taste the joys of our redemption only because of the sufferings of our Messiah Prince. He was "cut off" so that we might never be. He had "nothing" so that we might have everything. He ended sacrifices for all time but only by being the "once for all" sacrifice that our sins demanded (Heb. 9:26; 10:10).

So, like Daniel in ages past and along with all of God's people throughout history, we join our voices and lift our eyes skyward and long for that moment when "the prince who is to come" bursts through the clouds (Daniel 9:26; 1 Thess. 4:16-17) and the sky is rolled up like a scroll and we can enter into the fully glory of our redemption. We may never be satisfied with our understanding of Daniel's 70th week, but let us rest continually in these great gospel promises.

Daniel (not the prophet)

[1] Iain M. Duguid and Paul D. Wegner are the primary contributors to the notes in Daniel in The ESV Study Bible. Duguid has a volume on Daniel in the Reformed Expository Commentary series.

[2] Cf. Riddlebarger (A Case for Amillennialism, 177ff.) and Kline, "The Covenant of the Seventieth Week." See Part One for the bibliographical info.

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