In this essay we continue our study of Daniel, chapter nine. Last session we began that study and did a preliminary study of four interpretive approaches to the vision.
We saw in the first two verses that the vision came at a time when Daniel was meditating on Jeremiah’s prophecy that the Babylonian Exile would last for seventy years (Jer. 25:11-12 and 29:10). Since Daniel’s personal captivity had begun 67 years earlier, Daniel was quite aware that the 70 years prophesied by Jeremiah were about up. But Daniel also was aware that the chastisement of the Exile had not produced fruits of repentance among the people. So Daniel prayed. We saw his prayer in verses 3-19.
Daniel prayed in two ways. First, he confessed the sins of Israel (vv. 3-15). Then second, he petitioned God on behalf of Israel (vv. 16-19). Amazingly, God began to answer Daniel’s prayer even before he finished it. Gabriel suddenly appeared to Daniel and gave him a vision of seventy sevens (vv. 20-27).
We noted that the first of the four interpretive approaches to the vision is typical of liberal interpreters. Therefore I called it the liberal view. The heart of it is that the events of the seventy sevens were fulfilled in the days of Antiochus IV, because they believe that the book of Daniel was written after the second-century events it predicts took place.
The second approach I called the symbolic. These interpreters understand the phrase “seventy sevens” as a symbolic measure of time. They understand the “seventy sevens” to be coming from Jeremiah’s seventy years, on which Daniel had been meditating. The first seven sevens symbolizes the period from the Babylonian Exile to the first coming of Christ. The sixty-two sevens symbolize the period from the first coming of Christ to the coming of the Antichrist. And the seventieth seven symbolizes the rise and fall of the Antichrist. There is no connection to literal weeks or years. Only symbolic periods of time are intended.
The third approach is that of dispensationalism. Dispensationalists interpret the seventy sevens as weeks of years. In other words, these are not regular weeks of seven days each, but they are weeks of years, containing seven years each.
They arrive at this conclusion, because the context itself rules out seven-day weeks. There is no way that all of the things indicated could have happened in 490 days. Therefore they conclude that the seventy weeks means weeks of years. Thus the seventy sevens, or weeks, weeks represent a period of 490 years.
Their basic view says that the first 69 weeks (483 years) extend from the time of Daniel to the time of the death of Jesus and the destruction of the Temple in the first-century A.D.
Then they say that the seventieth week is still in the future, meaning in our future. Since the events of the seventieth week have not yet happened, this means that there is a long separation between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks.
The fourth approach is what I called the traditionalist. The traditionalist view has some things in common with that of the Dispensationalists. For instance, like dispensationalists, traditionalists believe that the sevens are weeks of years. But there are major differences as well. In the traditionalist view, the seventy weeks are consecutive. That is, there is no separation between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks. All seventy weeks are in our past, and the events of the seventy weeks had an historical fulfillment in the first century A.D.
But this view includes the prophetic perspective, which allows for more than one historical fulfillment. It is not uncommon in biblical prophecy to have more than one fulfillment. For example, Isaiah’s prophecy that a child would be born who would be Emanuel, had an historical fulfillment in Isaiah’s day as a sign to the king of Israel. But that prophecy also had a future fulfillment at the time of the birth of Jesus. Similarly here, the vision of the seventy weeks not only had an historical fulfillment at in the first century A.D., it had an additional historical fulfillment at the time of Antiochus IV in the second century B.C. and will have still another fulfillment in the end-time when the end-time Antichrist comes on the scene.
Since most evangelicals hold one of the latter two positions, we will focus on these two approaches. If you look at verse 24, you will note that there are six events that are to take place during the seventy weeks. First, the transgression will be finished. This refers to Israel’s rebellion against God. It will be stopped, in the sense of sealed up. Second, sin will be ended. Third, iniquity will be atoned for. Fourth, everlasting righteousness will be brought in. Fifth, both vision and prophet will be sealed up, again the sense of stopped. That is to say, when rebellion against God is ended, the need for vision and prophet will be ended. And sixth, an holy thing, place, or person will be anointed. This difference in possible meanings leads people interpret this last event differently.
Many believe that Gabriel was speaking about a holy place. Some of them suggest that Zerubbabel’s reconstruction of the temple after the Exile fulfilled the prophecy. Others believe it was fulfilled when the temple was reconsecrated following the victory of the Macabees in the days of Antiochus IV. But neither of those temples was anointed. Dispensationalists apply it to a future rebuilt temple, in harmony with their understanding that the seventieth week is still in our future.
Still other scholars believe the reference is not to an holy place, bur to an holy person, the Christ. But there is no definite article in the Greek to indicate that this was the meaning. Therefore it may be best to leave the matter open for now. At least I cannot tell what was intended. But whatever Daniel’s intention was regarding the last event, all six were to take place within the seventy weeks.
Verse 25 presents an immediate problem. It tells us that the sixty-nine weeks began with the time, “from the going forth of the word to restore and build Jerusalem.” But what did this statement mean? Three possibilities have been offered.
The first possibility is Daniel’s time. Ezra 1:1-3 tells us that Cyrus, in the first year of his reign, issued a proclamation that the Jews who wished to do so could go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. That was 538 B.C.
The second possibility was Ezra’s time. Eighty years after Daniel (in 458 B.C.) King Artaxerxes issued a similar proclamation, though he went a step further and financed the project (Ez. 7:11-26).
The third possibility took place in 445 B.C. in Nehemiah’s time. This was a second incident connected with Artaxerxes. Nehemiah asked Artaxerxes for, and was granted, letters to enable him to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city and temple (Neh. 2:1-8). Some have interpreted the letters that Artaxerxes wrote as a third proclamation. And that makes a possible third date from which the seventy weeks can begin
Verse 26 says that after the sixty-two weeks (483 years), 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. This seems to be prophesying the death of Christ and the destruction of the Temple. The former took place about A.D. 30; and the latter in A.D. 70.
There are a number of problems with trying to interpret this passage using literal years. For example, in verse 25 we are told about an anointed prince who was to come on the scene in seven weeks (49 years). But there is no one in history at that time that fits the description. Zerubbabel was not anointed, and neither Ezra nor the high Priest Onias III were princes. Another problem arises in verse 26. No matter which starting date for the sixty-nine weeks you use, the period in literal years does not stretch to the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70.
Obviously, the symbolic approach has an advantage here, because it doesn’t have to worry about literal years. It identifies the anointed one after seven weeks as Christ in his first coming; and the anointed one after sixty-two weeks as Christ in his second coming. But as we have seen, most evangelicals do not accept that view.
Liberals of course identify the anointed one of verse 26 as Antiochus IV, and the abominations of verse 27 as the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus in 167 B.C. Thus in their opinion the passage is an account of Antiochus’ activities in the second century B.C.
Dispensationalists and traditionalists interpret the seven weeks as the period immediately following the Exile, during which the city of Jerusalem was rebuilt. Then the sixty-two weeks of verse 25 constitute the period between the rebuilding of the city and the time of Jesus’ death.
Both groups view verse 27 as representing the seventieth week, but in entirely different ways. And this is where we get the main difference between the two interpretations. As we noted earlier, dispensationalists believe that the seventieth week did not follow immediately upon the sixty-ninth. Indeed it still has not taken place. It is in our future.
The way they explain this is that God’s end-time clock stopped after the sixty-ninth week. When Jesus came the first time, he offered the end-time Kingdom to God’s people, Israel, but they rejected it. This is what led to the dispensation of the Church in which we now live. Israel still is God’s people; but so is the Church. In effect there now are two peoples of God, in the dispensationalist view.
When Christ comes again, he will rapture the Church to heaven before the Great Tribulation. Much of Israel miraculously will be converted; and they once again will be the people of God on the earth during the tribulation period.
The Antichrist will come on the scene at that point beginning the events of the seventieth week. Therefore God’s end-time clock will begin again. The anointed one of verse 26 is Christ, and the prince is Antichrist. In verse 27 the “he” of “And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week” is the Antichrist, and the “many” with whom he makes the covenant in mid-week is Israel.
But then the verse continues, “and for half of the week he shall cause sacrifice and offering to cease.” This will be an end-time desecration by the Antichrist of a rebuilt end-time temple.
As I said earlier, the traditionalists believe that the seventieth week follows immediately upon the sixty-ninth. Of course this completely changes the interpretation. It puts the seventieth week in our past, and the death of Christ during the seventieth week. It means that Christ is the one who made the strong covenant, rather than the Antichrist. And the ending of sacrifice and offering in the middle of the week is not a breaking of the covenant, but the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70.
One final comment I would make to make is the leap to the end time that we see here. This is a feature we have seen consistently in the book of Daniel. We saw it at the end of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and at the end of all of Daniel’s visions. This vision takes us to the time of Christ, and then leaps to the end time.