Understanding the Truth of Daniel’s 70 Weeks

Yesterday, I was reading through Leviticus, and upon hitting chapter 25, my mind immediately went to Daniel 9:24-27. I am convinced that people completely misunderstand Daniel 9, and therefore misunderstand his prophecy. I made a quick post about the necessity of understanding Jeremiah 29, 2 Chronicles 36, and especially Leviticus 25 in order to rightly understand Daniel 9 and the 70 weeks. Later I added Isaiah 61 and Luke 4. I was asked if I could explain, so I quickly did, but I don’t believe I did as thorough a job as I could have. Here is my complete explanation. Be forewarned; it is lengthy.

To understand the prophecy of Daniel’s 70 weeks, one needs to understand Daniel’s prayer in the first 19 verses of Daniel 9.  If we missed the point and the context of this prayer that we are very likely to misunderstand and miss the point of the answer given in verses 24-27.

To do just a quick recap, Daniel read the prophecies of Jeremiah.  He did the math and realized that those prophecies were about to come true.  The problem was that no one had really repented as God had called them to do.  Thus Daniel takes it upon himself to do exactly as God had instructed he should do praying and confessing his sin and the sins of his people.  Throughout the prayer Daniel used covenantal language, and specifically God’s covenantal name: YHWH.  He used language verbatim to God’s covenant with Israel given through Moses, as well as language used by Solomon who proclaimed the way in which Israel out to repent.

God’s covenant with Israel stated that if they obeyed the covenant then He would bless the nation, but if they would not they would find themselves cursed and in exile.  Yet if they would repent He would release them from that exile.  This is exactly what happened.  And we realized as we studied this passage that the thing that determined the length of the exile was the fact that Israel had neglected to observe its Sabbath years and years of Jubilees.  For 490 years they had rebelled and refused to observe the Sabbath years and the Years of Jubilee, and since the Sabbath year was every seventh year, you take 490 divide it by 7 and you come up with 70 years.  That is the same amount of time the people were in exile.

We must keep this prayer in mind as we head into the answer to the prayer.  We can’t simply listen to one end of a phone conversation and expect to know what is going on.

Daniel 9.24-27 is complex, but simple.  It’s simple in meaning and yet complex in structure.  So as we look at these verses I want us to look at the purpose statement, then the poetic structure, and finally the prophetic substance.

The Purpose Statement

Daniel’s prayer was interrupted by Gabriel coming to speak to him.

While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the LORD my God for the holy hill of my God, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice, (Dan 9.20-21).

Why did he come?  He came to answer Daniel’s prayer; to give Daniel understanding about what going to happen, because things are not going to play out as Daniel had imagined.

He made me understand, speaking with me and saying, “O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding. At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision,” (Dan 9.22-23).

Gabriel wastes no time bringing Daniel to understand what God is doing: “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place,” (Dan 9.24).

There is so much to unpack and so little time to do it.  The purpose of what Gabriel is about to explain is six-fold.  It first is to finish the transgression.  Then to put an end to sin.  Then it is to atone for iniquity.  It is to bring an everlasting righteousness.  It is to seal vision and prophet.  It is to anoint a most holy place.

What is the transgression that needs to be finished?  It’s the transgression of the Jews.  For 490 years they had disobeyed, rebelled, and blasphemed the God from whom they willingly accepted a covenant.  They had gone into exile for 70 years in order to allow the land to have its Sabbaths (2 Chronicles 36:20-21), and yet that was not an end to their transgressions.  They had rebelled for 490 years in the land, and so for another 490 years they would reap what they had sown, though they would do it in their own land.

Daniel thought it was over, but Gabriel is telling him it’s not really over.  Yes, they are leaving Babylon to go back home, but punishment is not over.  They had done more than just not observe the Sabbaths.  They had done every unimaginable, unspeakable sin you can think of.  Cannibalism and child sacrifice was not excluded in their list of sins.  There must be a reckoning.  It would come 490 years in the future.

But there was to be an end to sin.  Not just their sin, but sin.  We’re not talking about sins, as individual sins, but sin as in the whole gamut of sin.  As in we are born into sin.  Gabriel is telling Daniel that sin is going to be dealt with in 490 years.

But on top of that, he informs Daniel that in 490 years there will be an atonement made for iniquity.  This is the dealing with the guilt that is associated with the sin.  The sin is dealt with and the guilt that comes with it.  It is atoned for.  We are declared not guilty, which goes hand in hand with the next thing that was to be accomplished: there will be a provision made for everlasting righteousness.  We will be forever in right standing with God.  We will be forever justified.

Then we see the fifth purpose is to seal both vision and prophet.  In other words to see that which Daniel has seen and written comes about.  What specifically?  He has seen kingdoms come and go.  He has seen evil men rise and fall.  He has seen an everlasting kingdom begin (vision of the statue in Daniel 2).  It would take 490 years for these visions to be complete.

Finally, the last purpose given is to anoint a holy place.  This phrasing is a little tricky.  The reason is because you have a verb that is expected to be used with a person in mind.  Most often it is a person, namely: Prophets, Priests, and Kings.  You will see that articles in the tabernacle were anointed, but what we never see is the holy of holies being anointed.  Which leads to the second dilemma: you have a noun that is translated as a thing and not a person.  In reality, what you have is a Hebrew word that just simply says “the most holy” and it is translated as place.  Other translations say, “Holy of holies.”

After looking at all of these six purposes for giving this vision, the question comes: did these things come about?  Did Israel’s transgressions finish?  Did sin come to an end?  Did iniquity get atoned for?  Some would say no, these things haven’t happened yet, but what does the Bible say?

The 490 years is just a time thing.  It would be 490 years.  Has 490 years passed since Daniel lived?  Yes.

I can give passage after passage for the next few, but let me give you two:

“For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace,” (Rom 6:14)

Sin has lost its power under grace.  The whole point of Romans 6 and 7 is to show how sin ends in the life of the believer.  We are dead to sin.  Its power came by the law, but when we are under grace, we are set free from sin.  This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead” (Rom 7:8).  When grace came, sin died.

Does that mean that all Christian’s are sinless?  No.  It means that sin has no right over us.  Its reign is over.  We are, as Augustine once said, “Posse non peccare”: possible not to sin.  It is no longer master over us because of grace.

The second place, John tells us that atonement has been made in 1 John 2:2, “He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world,” (ESV).  So did the first three take place at any time in Daniel’s future?  Absolutely, at the cross.

What about the second three?  Was everlasting righteousness given?  2 Cor 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” (ESV).  The sealing up of vision and prophecy?  The Medes and Persians came, the Greeks came, and the Romans came.  And what we see is that when Jesus comes both He and John the Baptist declare that the Kingdom of God is at hand.  And what of the anointing?  Jesus is the Anointed One.  He is the Messiah.  He declared Himself to be the very temple of God.  So yes, all three of these purposes have been fulfilled as well.

The Poetic Structure

Now that we understand the purpose statement of Gabriel’s answer to Daniel, we now turn our attention to the poetic structure of the answer.  Hebrew poetry isn’t poetry because it rhymes.  There are various types of Hebrew poetry, but one of the most common is parallelism.  It’s saying the same thing over again in a different way.  Jesus used this type of poetry often in His teaching.  “Ask and it shall be given to you.  Seek and you shall find.  Knock and the door shall be opened.”  He is saying the same thing all three times but just in a different way.

A subcategory of parallelism is step parallelism or you might call it climatic parallelism.  This simply means that rather than repeating the same thing in a different way, you actually are giving a line, and then on the next line you are taking the reader to the next step, or to the climax.  Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  The first line states that he didn’t come to abolish them.  The second line takes you a step further than that.  He’s not only keeping the Law and the Prophets, but He is fulfilling them.

Step parallelism is what we have in Daniel 9:26-27, but it is a bit more extended than the example I gave with Jesus.  We will deal with 9:25 later.  What we have is Gabriel giving Daniel a piece of the action in verse 26 and then taking him a step further in verse 27.

Verse 26a: And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing, (ESV).  This is something beneficial that the Messiah is doing. The Messiah, whom you would think to be rich and powerful, would be poor and lowly.

Verse 27a: “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,” (ESV).  Once again, the Messiah is doing something beneficial.  We will get into these beneficial acts in a few moments.  At this time I just want you to see the stepping stone that is taking place:  The Messiah is cut off and at the same time makes a strong covenant with many.

Verse 26b: “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,” (ESV).  Here Daniel wrote of the destruction of the city and war and desolations.

Verse 27b: “And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator,” (ESV). Again, desolation, and the decreed end poured out has the same air of war about it.  So Daniel took us from city destruction and desolation to the next step: an abomination that makes desolate and the destruction of the desolator.

So if we brought it down to its lowest common denominator we would come out with this:

Beneficial work of the Messiah

Destruction

Beneficial work of the Messiah

Destruction

If you are able to go back to your poetry classes in high school you would recall that this is an A: B: A: B: pattern.  This is the poetic structure of Gabriel’s answer to Daniel

The Prophetic Substance

So let’s go on to the prophetic substance of all of this.  This is what we’re all after isn’t it?  What does this answer mean?  In order to get to the full meaning of Daniel 9:24-27 we have to take everything that we have learned up to this point and apply it.

Daniel had been praying for God’s deliverance.  He was praying in covenantal language.  The 70 years that Jeremiah had prophesied about were nearing an end, and Daniel wanted his people to go home.  Gabriel comes to answer Daniel’s prayer.  He wants him to understand what God is up to, because Daniel thinks he’s got it all figured out, but in reality he doesn’t.  Daniel thinks that the people are going home and that will be the end, but that’s not true.  It isn’t the end of it.

Gabriel begins by talking about 70 weeks.  “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city,” (Dan 9.24a, ESV).  The literal translation is seventy sevens, almost always translated as weeks.  Yet we look at it and say that this is not weeks but rather years.  We don’t do that because we have to make it fit our time records.  We do that because it’s biblical.  There is one other place in Scripture that talks about weeks as if they are years and that is in Leviticus.  And it is within the confines of the covenant.

You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years. Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, (Lev 25:8-10a).

So Daniel is praying in covenantal language, and now is receiving an answer that goes back to covenantal language as well.  A week has seven days, thus seven weeks of years is 49 years.  That’s when the year of Jubilee would begin, specifically on the Day of Atonement.  When we are talking about 70 weeks we are talking about 490 years (again the number of years that Israel lived in the land and broke the covenant).  God is continuing the judgment against them for the same amount of time that they disobeyed Him.  And the rest now is how it is played out.

First there are 49 years.  In other words there is one year of Jubilee to be celebrated.  “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,” (Dan 9:25).  I generally like the ESV, but in this case, this is a bad translation.  It makes the sentence structure convoluted and it seems to say something that it doesn’t say.  Just about any other translation is going to have it better: “Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince will be seven weeks and 62 weeks. It will be rebuilt with a plaza and a moat, but in difficult times,” (HCSB).

The ESV made it sound as if the Messiah was coming after only 49 years.  What it really states is that the Messiah is coming after a period of 49 years and then another period of 434 years.  The purpose for dividing it this way is because something significant happened after the first 49 years or after the first year of Jubilee.  Jerusalem had finally been rebuilt.  It took a while.

Cyrus issued a decree to send the people back to rebuild the temple.  The problem is that this didn’t happen.  Some people went back, but if you know your Old Testament history, you remember the people got discouraged and overwhelmed and intimidated that they just stopped.  They poured the foundation but did nothing for twenty years or so.  Under the authority of Darius I, a different Darius than in Daniel, Haggai comes and blasts them for the insolence and so they get started up again, but it was the decree from Artaxerxes to Ezra that brought about the work to its completion.  All that to be said, these three decrees are actually looked upon as if they were one decree.  The original was Cyrus’ but the others were simply a re-acknowledgement of that decree.  So Ezra wrote, “They finished their building by decree of the God of Israel and by decree [singular decree] of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia,” (Ezra 6.14, ESV).  This all came about in 457 B.C.  So here is the beginning of the first week of years (49 years, 1 year of Jubilee).

The next 62 weeks of years (434 years) is uneventful.  Another 8 years of Jubilee were to be celebrated.  But nothing as big as the rebuilding of Jerusalem.  This leads us to A.D. 27.  What happened in A.D. 27?  Jesus was baptized and began his ministry.

“And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing, (Dan 9:26a).

After the 62 weeks (thus during the 70th week) an anointed one is cut off.  Who is the anointed one?  The Hebrew word here is Messiah.  Hence if you read it in the Holman Christian, the New American, or the King James, it is translated as Messiah.  The Anointed One, the Messiah, and as he is described in Daniel 9.25, the Prince is going to be cut off.  He will die.  He will die poor and lonely.  He will have nothing.  Much like what Isaiah wrote about the Suffering Servant: “He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death,” (Isa 53:8b-9).

He could not even afford a burial place, but had to be buried in a borrowed tomb.  He had nothing. But still talking about this Prince, this Anointed One, Gabriel also said that “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,” (Dan 9.27a, ESV).  The wording is not the best, “make a strong covenant” is better translated “confirm a covenant.”  To make a strong covenant almost makes it sound as if it is a new covenant.  But Gabriel is actually saying that this covenant will be strengthened, or rather made firm.  He is strengthening the covenant.  How does he strengthen it?  By bringing in a new covenant.

I am not trying to confuse you, but I do want to make sure we all understand what Daniel is saying and what he is not saying.  He is not talking about a brand new covenant, though he would have been familiar with Jeremiah’s prophecy just a few paragraphs after the mention of 70 years that brought up the new covenant.  What he is saying is that the covenant, the very one he has been praying over will be strengthened.  It just so happened that it was in God’s plan to strengthen the Old Covenant by incorporating a New Covenant at the same time.

Let’s go to Romans 7. “For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code,” (vv. 5-6).

In other words, sin took advantage of the law as Paul would later write in Romans 7.  When Jesus strengthened the covenant He did so by taking away the letter of the law that kills and giving us the new way of the Spirit, writing the law upon our hearts, rather than just having them in our hands.  How did this happen?  It happened by His death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave.  It happened as a result of the new covenant prophesied by Jeremiah.  He did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it and then taking that same law that was outward and putting it in our hearts.

And so it put an end to sacrifices.  The writer of Hebrews wrote,

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all, (Heb 10.8-10).

For all intents and purposes the sacrifices were over.  They were completely unacceptable to God.  The curtain was torn in two.  There was no more holy of holies.  There was no need for the temple.  There was no need for sacrifice.  The hardness of the Jewish hearts ignored this and kept them going, but they were of no value, just the loss of animal life for no purpose.

What we have lastly is the destruction of the city and desolations and war.  “And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary,” (Dan 9.26b, ESV).

It talks of the people of the Prince.  The question is of course: who is the Prince?  There is only one prince mentioned in this chapter: The Anointed One, the Messiah.  In other words, the Jews.  So the Jews destroyed their own city and sanctuary?  If you know your history they did.

While I can’t go into all the long history of this time period, I want to give you a decent understanding of what happened, starting in 66 B.C.  When Caligula had tried to desecrate the temple, more and more people became anti-Rome.  Before then they were tolerated but disliked.  Now the people were turning completely against Rome.  A man by the name of Eleazar was able to garner enough people to start a rebellion against Rome, and actually took back over control of Jerusalem.  Soon after this, Rome sent reinforcements but a man by the name of John was able to stop them for a time.  Another man by the name of Simon was able to do the same from a different front.

The Jewish leadership, including the High Priest, was trying to work things out with Rome and did not like having Eleazar around, and so they made sure that Eleazar didn’t have much power, even though the commoners liked him.  They kept him at bay and he had to retreat and set up headquarters in the inner court of the temple.  More and more people were drawn to his movement and so the leadership asked for John to come in and swear an allegiance to them, wanting him to kick Eleazar and his troops out of Jerusalem.  John went in to speak with Eleazar and lied about the leadership, telling him instead that the High Priest was inviting Rome back in to take back over the city (which was a lie).  This caused Eleazar to send word to the Idumeans to join forces, which in turn had the High Priest killed.  Once the Idumeans learned that they had been misinformed they repented and left, leaving John in charge, as he had wanted all along.  John was a despot, cruel and cunning.  Killing whom he would, stealing their goods, and so forth.

The people asked for Simon, who had a large army to come in and defeat John and lead them.  Simon came in and for a time fought against John, but soon Eleazar had his troops fighting both John and Simon.  They were killing each other, stealing from the commoners, killing anyone they though was a traitor, burning the food storages and the like.

Meanwhile Titus shows up.  He attempts to enter but the Jews are still strong.  He waited a couple of months while the factions continued killing each other from the inside.  After a while, it was time for him to enter.  He is able to get a foothold and ultimately destroyed all the armies within.  Though he had ordered the Temple not to be touched, it somehow caught on fire and quickly burned, burning much of the city along with it.  Over a million Jews were killed in this timeframe.  The leaders were either killed or captured and imprisoned.  The final battle was fought in 70 A.D.

All of this coincides along with Jesus’ parable in Matthew 22.

And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.” ’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city, (vv. 1-7).

The city would have never been destroyed if the invited guests had come to the wedding.  Jerusalem would never have been destroyed if they had accepted their Messiah.  Look at what Jesus told the people in Matthew 23:37-39,

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

Jesus said these words and then left the temple.  The idea of desolation is the idea of being forsaken. Why is the house left desolate?  God has left the house.  Jesus here equates Himself with God.  He stated that the temple was forsaken.  Why?  Because they will not see Jesus again in that temple.  In fact, not just the temple is desolate, but Jerusalem (v. 37) as a whole is forsaken.

While they could not immediately tell that God had forsaken the temple, they should have caught one when the curtain tore in two.  But even then it was not until there was such a power struggle among the leadership between 66 A.D. and 70 A.D. and the destruction of the city by their leaders and armies and ultimately by Titus that they saw for certain God had abandoned them. “And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator,” (Dan 9.27b, ESV).

The idea of wing of abominations (not abomination) is the idea of being on the far end of the abominations.  The abominations have been taking place for a while.  What abominations?  The rejection of the Messiah and the continued sacrifices.  The Jewish people were thumbing their noses at God’s Son, trampling His blood under foot; what greater abomination can there be?  After 40 years of God giving them a chance to repent they are destroyed.  Titus destroyed Jerusalem and the temple.  Titus destroyed the desolator.

So what is the point of all this?  The covenant.  Specifically the Year of Jubilee.  The first 49 years that it took to rebuild Jerusalem was the first Jubilee.  Then there were 8 more Jubilees.  Jesus came the last set of sevens, ushering in the tenth Year of Jubilee.  Ten, in Hebrew literature is a number of completion.  There are Ten Commandments.  There are Ten Curtains surrounding the Tabernacle.  When David and his men were hungry they asked Nabal for hospitality.  He refused it, so Abigail his wife asked for it on their behalf.  He still refused.  So Abigail gave it to them on her own, and we read that ten days later Nabal died.  Ten is a number of completion.

Jesus was ushering in the 10th, last, and ultimate Year of Jubilee.  Listen to His Words in Luke (quoting Isaiah 61):

And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” (Luke 4:17-21).

The words “the year of the Lord’s favor,” are synonymous with the Year of Jubilee.  Jesus said, that this happened when He came.

The day that Daniel saw had arrived and it arrived exactly as Daniel had seen it.  Half-way through the 70th week Jesus was sacrificed, establishing a new covenant and strengthening the old.  We live in the Year of Jubilee, in the spiritual sense, because our Messiah has come.  While we struggle and have tribulation we have the joy of the Lord as our strength and the favor of the Lord is with us by His Holy Spirit.  When He comes again we will experience Jubilee even to the next level, matching the spiritual reality to its physical reality.

As always, I would love to read your thoughts, questions, and comments. If this was helpful, praise God. If not, my apologies. Please feel free to share, if you’d like.

All Scripture, unless otherwise indicated, was taken from the ESV, published by Crossway.

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