THE SEVENTY WEEKS' PROPHECY OF DANIEL
The writings of the prophet Daniel constitute another major section of biblical prophecy leading to the time of the end. Much of what was foretold by Daniel's interpretation of the dream-image of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 2:31-45) has already come to pass, with world domination passing from Babylon (symbolized by the head of gold) to Medo-Persia (symbolized by the breast and arms of silver), to Greece (symbolized by the belly and thighs of bronze), and to Rome (symbolized by the legs of iron and the feet of iron and of clay). The same sequence of empires was symbolized in the vision of the four beasts that came to the prophet some sixty days later, (ch. 7). The interpretation of the vision of the fourth beast with its ten horns and another horn "that had eyes, and a mouth that spake very great things" (7:20) will be considered later, along with the interpretation of the Revelation made to John.
Probably the most misunderstood and misinterpreted passage from Daniel's writings is the prophecy of the "seventy weeks", (9:24-27). In Sir Robert Anderson's The Coming Prince the claim is made that "history contains no record of events to satisfy the predicted course of the seventieth week." Elsewhere in the book the writer states: "If then the event which constitutes the epoch of the seventieth week must be as pronounced and as certain as Nehemiah's commission and Messiah's death, it is of necessity still future." 1
These assertions, however, are supported neither by Scripture nor by the consensus of commentators from the second century to the present.
Commenting on this passage early in the third century, Africanus wrote:
"For in the Saviour's time, or from Him, are transgressions abrogated, and sins brought to an end. And through remission moreover are iniquities along with offences blotted out by expiation; and an everlasting righteousness is preached, different from that which is by the law."
Five centuries later, in England, the Venerable Bede commented:
"No one doubts but that these words refer to the incarnation of Christ Who bore the sins of the world, fulfilled the law and the prophets, and was anointed with the oil of gladness above His fellows."
In more recent times, Henry Cowles wrote concerning the same passage:
"Seventy sevens of years... are cut off from the source of future time for thy people and thy holy city, at the end of which provision will be made for the full pardon of sin and for putting it utterly out of My sight as a thing shut up, sealed and covered; and to bring in a system of everlasting righteousness whereby pardoned sinners may both be accounted righteous and may become righteous before me."
Auberlin writes in a similar vein:
"The sacrifice by which this atonement for sin would be made is pointed out in the 26th verse by the expression, 'Messiah shall be cut off.' With this also is connected the expression in the 27th verse, 'He shall confirm the covenant with many,' and the prophecy that the sacrifices of the Old Testament, both with and without blood ('sacrifice and oblation') shall cease."
And F. Godet on the same theme:
"In the midst of this notable week the Messiah disappears: for one part of the nation the covenant is confirmed and renewed by His death; but for the mass of the people, sacrifice is forever abolished..."
These views of Daniel's prophecy of the seventy weeks are summed up by E.B. Elliot in his Horae Apocalypticae:
"For alike Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian, and I may add too Tatian, all before the end of the second century, and Julius Africanus at the commencement of the third century, explained Daniel's seventieth hebdomad and their abomination of desolation as having had their full accomplishment in Christ's death and the consequent desolation of Jerusalem by the Roman armies; and as having no reference whatsoever to any desolation by the then future Antichrist." 2
This centuries-old trend of interpretation by devout and qualified expositors cannot be lightly brushed aside by mere assertions of futurist interpreters like the author of The Coming Prince. Let us look now at the prophecy itself, as a whole and in detail, to see just what is predicted in these four verses.
The prophetic vision came to Daniel as he was praying for his people and his city (which he speaks of as God's city and people, v.19), and it concerned their restoration in preparation for the central crisis of history. It came as an answer to his prayer, foretelling the accomplishment of the outstanding purpose of God in connection with both the people and the City. In the light of the New Testament we know that from the despised Jewish remnant was to come the Deliverer of all nations, and outside the walls of the City was to be offered the "one sacrifice for sins." This was the supreme reason for the restoration.
The first verse of the prophecy sets a time limit to its accomplishment: within a period of seventy weeks from a certain event which to Daniel was still future, certain purposes of God were to be accomplished. Evangelical Christians generally agree that these seventy weeks were symbolic, for if ordinary seven-day weeks were meant, the period would have been designated as "one year and four months" or as "sixteen months." On the basis of one week representing a [week of years, i.e.- seven years], the period was to cover 490 years. During this period, six things were to be accomplished:
(a) "To finish the transgression." In commenting upon this passage in the Hebrew text, Barnes writes:
"The reading in the (Hebrew) text is undoubtedly the correct one but still there is not absolute certainty as to the signification of the word, whether it means to finish or restrain. The proper meaning of the word in the common reading of the text is to "shut up, confine, restrain." It seems most probable that the true meaning here is that denoted in the margin (of the Authorised Version) and that the sense is not that of finishing but that of restraining, closing, shutting up." ( 1 Sam. 6:10; Jer. 32:2, 3; Psa. 88:8) 3
In each of these three references the same Hebrew word is used as in Daniel 9:24. The opinion expressed here by Barnes is decidedly supported by these references. In each case the word is rendered "shut up" and in each case the context makes this the obvious rendering, so we take this prediction to foretell that sin should be "shut up."
(b) "To make an end of sins." Concerning this phrase, Barnes says: "The weight of authority is decidedly in favour of the common reading in the Hebrew text." Note that the reading referred to is not that of the Authorised Version, "to make an end of sins," but that of the Hebrew "to seal sin" (so that it is removed from sight). Barnes adds further: "Thus in Job 9:7, 'and sealeth up the stars,' that is, He shuts them up in the heavens as to prevent their shining." This expression could well be compared with Isaiah 44:22: "I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy... sins."
(c) "To make reconciliation for iniquity." One word in the Hebrew is rendered by the Authorised Version "make reconciliation." Its meaning is "to cover." "It is the word which is commonly used in reference to atonement or expiation." (Barnes) Thus there appears in these three predictions, a common emphasis: transgression was to be shut up, sin was to be sealed and iniquity covered. One is reminded of the words of the psalmist: "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered," (Ps. 32:1).
(d) "To bring in everlasting righteousness." This is a general statement that righteousness is to be established on the earth on a permanent basis, for it is to be "everlasting". This concept of an enduring righteousness may be found elsewhere in the Old Testament; for instance, Isaiah writes: "My righteousness is near my salvation is gone forth... My salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished," (Isa. 51:5,6). In Daniel 9:24 however, nothing is said about how everlasting righteousness is to be accomplished -- whether through the repression of sin by strict law enforcement; by raising the ideals of humanity; or, as in the Christian system, by the imputation and impartation of righteousness. This prediction moreover, should not be separated from the preceding statement concerning the transgression, sin and iniquity.
The only righteousness acceptable to God was provided for all who would receive it 1900 years ago, when grace began to "reign through righteousness" (Rom. 5:21) from the beginning of the Church age "to the Jews first, and also to the Greek," (Rom. 1:16). True, the Jews as a nation have not yet received their righteousness, nor can they while they continue to reject Him who is "Jehovah our Righteousness," but the fulfilment of this prophecy, "to bring in everlasting righteousness," does not require the immediate acceptance of this righteousness by that nation, nor does any part of this prophecy so imply. Anderson's contention that "the close of the seventieth (week) was to bring to Judah the full enjoyment of the blessings resulting from that death" has no support from this Scripture. It might be inferred from the prayer of Daniel which precedes this prophecy if we assumed that his petitions were granted, but they were not, except to a partial extent and for a limited time. This is shown by verses 16 and 17 in the light of Jewish history between A.D. 32 and 70. As to Judah's "full enjoyment of blessings" resulting from the death of the Messiah, this will certainly come to pass with the return of the Lord but it is not the subject of this prophecy, nor does the word "blessing" even occur in this passage.
(e) "To seal up the vision and prophecy." A common misconception is that this "sealing" refers to a confirmation of the prophecy by the appearing, ministry and redemptive work of the Messiah but Daniel doesn't use the word "seal" in that sense; he uses it to mean the closing up or concealing the meaning of his prophecies. For example, "Shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end...," (12:4); "the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end...," (12:9). Another reference contains the same thought, though not the identical word "seal", "Wherefore shut thou up the vision; for it shall be for many days," (8:26).
So understood, this prophecy accords remarkably with the facts of Israel's history. When the Jews rejected their Messiah, foretold by prophecy, prophecy became to them a closed book. Jesus recognized this as He prayed, even while hanging on the cross, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do," (Luke 23:24). Afterward the nation in general rejected the gospel preached by the early church, and as it is written, "Blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in," (Rom. 11:25). This blindness has persisted to this day, as even a brief discussion with a Jew about messianic prophecies will show.
(f) "To anoint the most holy." The commentary by Jamieson, Fausset and Brown suggests that this refers primarily to the most holy place but mainly to Messiah, as the antitype to the most holy place. Likewise certain sacrifices and oblations of the Mosaic law were called the "most holy," (Lev.2:3,4,10; 6:17,29; 7:1,6; 10:12-17). As the author of the letter to the Hebrews points out, these were only types of the Messiah, who offered himself as the "one sacrifice for sins for ever," (Heb. 10:12). So understood, there is an evident connection between the first three items of verse 24 and its end. Transgression was to be shut up, sin sealed, and iniquity covered by the offering of this most holy sacrifice.
Referring now to the anointing predicted here, it is a commonplace of exposition that the Messiah ("The Anointed One") was to be the anointed Prophet, Priest and King in succession to those anointed dignitaries of the Old Testament. In the first recorded sermon of His ministry, Jesus left no doubt he considered Himself the Anointed One, for after reading the words of Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor...," he declared, "This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears," (Luke 4:18, 21). The anointing to which He referred had already taken place at his baptism when the Holy Spirit descended upon Him and the voice of God the Father was heard from heaven.
In this verse that we have been considering, then, the whole prophecy of the seventy weeks is comprehended and its subject defined. It relates to the coming of Christ and His atonement for sin by the sacrifice of Himself. It has nothing to do with Antichrist. The following verses deal more specifically with the chronology of the seventy-week period, or the 490 years of the prophecy.
The starting point for reckoning the 490 years is given in verse 25 as "the going forth of the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem." Inasmuch as there were several decrees made concerning the return of the exiles and their homeland, several dates have been suggested from which to reckon the period of the prophecy, but there is only one date which precisely meets its requirements, and that date is the date of the command of Artaxerxes which sent Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem. The earlier decree to Ezra granted him widespread powers but said nothing about rebuilding the city of Jerusalem (see Ezra 7:11-26), even although it is probable that considerable building was done. Some years later, when Nehemiah inquired about the state of affairs in Jerusalem, he was informed about the survivors who had escaped deportation and exile and about the dilapidated condition of the walls and the gates, which was a cause of much distress to the inhabitants (Nehemiah, ch. 1). When he spoke of this to the king, he asked specifically to be allowed to go and rebuild the city walls. His request was granted, and soon Nehemiah journeyed to Jerusalem.
As the commandment of Artaxerxes meets the exact requirements of Daniel's prophecy, we conclude that this must be the starting point of the seventy weeks. It was given in the month Nisan in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes (Neh. 2:1) which, according to Sir Isaac Newton's calculations, corresponds to the Spring of 444 B.C. At that time the ruler of the world empire appointed Nehemiah, this eminent Jew of his court, to rebuild Jerusalem. It was a well-publicized appointment, for "these things were not done in a corner."
The rebuilding of the city is mentioned as being accomplished "in troublous times," and the inference is that it would be done within a period of seven "weeks" or 49 years, the Jubilee cycle of the Mosaic law, (Lev. 25:8). This restoration of the city is mentioned only as a passing reference, the total length of time to the coming of Messiah being seven plus sixty-two, or 69 weeks of years, or 483 years. These were lunar years in common use during that period of world history. The lunar year was based on the movement of the moon around the earth (rather than on the earth's movement around the sun, which is the basis for our calendar year), and consisted of about 354 days. A simple arithmetical calculation, multiplying 483 by 354 and dividing by 365, gives the number of solar years as 468. By subtracting 444 and adding 1, we arrive at the date A.D. 25. This is the year in which the Lord Jesus was baptized and began His public ministry.
Daniel's prophecy (9:26) predicts the subsequent death of the Messiah "after three score and two weeks" or after the total period of 69 weeks of years. Note that in this verse no hint is given as to how long after the 69 weeks His death is to occur. It is foretold only that sometime after 483 (lunar) years from the decree of Artaxerxes-- not immediately upon its expiration, as futurist interpreters maintain-- the Messiah is to be "cut off." This expression signifies death by violence or by divine judgement, so from Daniel's point of view this prophecy was astonishing and appalling because following the appearance of Israel's Messiah there was to be a mysterious calamity-- He was to suffer death.
After the death of the Messiah, the next important event foretold in this prophecy is the destruction of the city and the temple. In connection with this there are three points of major importance to be considered:
(1) There is a close connection between Daniel's prayer prior to the vision and the events predicted. His prayer reaches a moving climax in a petition that the city of Jerusalem might be raised from its ruins, that the temple be restored and the people regathered. The prophecy foretells the answer to his prayer: the city will be rebuilt, but once more both city and temple will be swept by destruction and left in desolation. Perhaps Daniel's saddest memory was of the day, many years before, when the news came to him as an exile in Babylon, of the destruction of his beloved city and its temple. His devotion to that city is seen in his habit of prayer with his windows open toward Jerusalem.
(2) The construction of the verse implies that the desolation of city and temple is related to the death of the Messiah.
(3) Nothing is said as to the time when this destruction should occur except that it would be after the Messiah's death. It could be soon after or long after, and even beyond the chronological limit of the 70 weeks.
The prophecy ends with verse 27 predicting the events of the seventieth week, which might be called "Messiah's great week." There is nothing in the text to indicate, or even to suggest a break in the chronology between the 69th and the 70th week. Futurist interpreters nevertheless interpose a gap of centuries between the two periods asserting that the 70th week begins after the rapture of the Church with the appearance of Antichrist who will make a covenant with Israel under the terms of which their temple will be rebuilt. Suffice it to say that there is no hint in the entire 9th chapter of Daniel to justify such a mutilation of the Scriptures, and no precedent in the Bible for such juggling with the chronology of prophecy. We maintain, therefore, that the 70th week began immediately at the close of the 69th.
This whole prophecy concerns the long-promised Messiah: verse 24 foretells the works to be accomplished by the Messiah; verse 25 reveals the lapse of time to "Messiah the prince;" verse 26 predicts the supremely important event of all ages, the death of the Messiah, with the subsequent destruction of city and sanctuary. In line with this, we understand the Messiah to be the subject of verse 27 also.
It is true that verse 26 refers parenthetically to "the prince that shall come," but it is his people, not he himself, who are to destroy the city and the sanctuary. This individual is not named or described (except as a prince); nothing to be done by him is foretold and he is mentioned only as the subject of a passing allusion. It is perverse exegesis indeed to ignore the divine Personage who is the dominant theme of this prophecy and to refer the pronoun "he" of verse 27 back to the obscure "prince" of the preceding verse.
It bears repeating, therefore, that the subject of all four verses of this great prophecy is the Messiah. In this passage there is the most definite prophecy in the Old Testament of the ministry and death of the Messiah, for the meaning of Psalm 22 was veiled until the crucifixion, and the Servant of Isaiah 53 might be understood to be Israel until its fulfilment made clear that it spoke of Jesus Christ. History also bears testimony to the fulfilment of the prophecy of verse 26 regarding the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by "the people of the prince that shall come" as having occurred in A.D. 70 when the Roman armies of Titus sacked the city and destroyed the temple.
The text of this prophecy goes on to say that "he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week," (v. 27). "Confirm" simply means "to make strong" -- "he shall make strong a covenant." This could mean the making strong, or confirming, an already existing covenant or of making a new strong covenant, both of which were done by the Lord Jesus. The word here translated "covenant" occurs in the Old Testament more than 280 times and its equivalent in the New Testament 33 times. In the great majority of these cases it refers to a covenant between God and His people.
Isaiah records God's statements concerning His servant, the Messiah: "I will... give thee for a covenant of the people," (42:6; 49:8) and his promise of "an everlasting covenant," (55:3; 61:8). This last reference occurs in the very passage that our Lord applied to himself at the beginning of his ministry. Jeremiah tells of a promised "new covenant," (31:31) which is interpreted in Hebrews 8:7-13 as a prophecy of the Messiah's covenant. The Old Testament closes with a prophecy of the Messenger of the Covenant, (Mal.3:1) who is of course the Messiah. In the Epistle to the Hebrews a complete section is devoted to the "New Covenant." Finally, on the eve of his crucifixion the Lord told his disciples, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for the many unto remission of sins," (Matt. 26:28, RV). In what sense, then, did Our Lord confirm or make strong a covenant with many during the last week of years?
The Messiah made strong the Abrahamic covenant which is the Covenant of Promise that was not cancelled by the giving of the Law, as is evident from the statement in Galations: "...the covenant that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect," (Gal. 3:17). It continued in effect between God and those that were "of faith" in Israel, and still continues. This "covenant of promise" was of grace and through faith and therefore dependent upon the sacrifice of Christ, even though that sacrifice was then still a future event. So Paul speaks of this covenant as having been "confirmed before of God in Christ."
The question may arise as to how this confirmation of the covenant occupied the "week" or seven years mentioned in Daniel 9:27. The answer is that the Old Testament predictions of the Messiah were God's promises, and they belonged to that continuing "covenant of promise." Indeed, the coming of Messiah and his whole ministry was the most important element of this Covenant, and Matthew's Gospel notes particularly the repeated fulfilment of these prophecies in the ministry of Christ. These fulfilments of the Messianic promises were part of the confirmation of the Covenant. It is expressly said of the Lord that He did confirm these promises: "...Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers," (Rom. 15:18).
As these promises belonged to the Covenant of Promise, so in confirming the promises, he confirmed the Covenant. The meaning of the word "confirm" here in Romans is similar to that in Daniel 9:27: "to make strong, firm, or sure."
Some may ask, "What of the half-week, or three and a half years, following the crucifixion?" Here it is sufficient to reply that the Scripture itself speaks of the Lord's ministry continuing after His death. Peter at Pentecost ascribes the sending of the Holy Spirit to the Lord Jesus, and still later says to the Jews: "Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you," (Acts 3:26).
We may not be able to ascertain the events with which this week closed, but is should be noted that this prophecy does not mention anything occurring at the end of the 70th week. Adam Clark, however, dates the persecution which arose about the death of Stephen (Acts 7,8) as A.D. 32, and this would be at the end of the 70th week. This would place the turning to the Gentiles or the end of Israel's special privilege at the end of the 70th week and would mark the end of that seven-year period with a heavenly vision corresponding to that at the Lord's baptism.
The Messiah not only confirmed, or made strong, a covenant previously in force, but also made a New Covenant. This covenant is new in contrast to the Mosaic Covenant (not the Covenant of Promise). The Bible tells us that Our Lord was "made of a woman, made under the law," (Gal. 4:4). He lived under the law, fulfilling its demands and exemplifying its righteousness, but died under its penalty, "the just for the unjust," (1 Peter 3:18). The Mosaic Covenant, which had been broken by Israel, was replaced by the New Covenant based upon Christ's sacrifice. As the Messiah's holy life under the law was necessary before he could offer a satisfactory sacrifice for sin, so it is evident from this that his covenant making occupied at least the first half of this week, and the Scripture declares, as we have already seen, that his ministry to Israel continued into the second half, that is, after his ascension. Furthermore, the Covenant of Promise that he confirmed is really the same as the New Covenant instituted by him. The Covenant of Promise with its basic sacrifice revealed, and its gracious provisions proclaimed, is the New Covenant.