Daniel’s Seventy Weeks
By Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
The Seventy Weeks of Daniel 9:24-27 is probably one of the more familiar Old Testament prophecies to evangelical students of eschatology. Yet at the same time it is one of the most misunderstood passages in the Old Testament. This difficult prophecy has received special prominence in the dispensational system.
It is important to recognize that Daniel as a whole has been greatly mishandled by expositors. Charles H. H. Wright lamented: “The commentaries on Daniel are innumerable. On no other book, save the Book of Revelation in the New Testament, has so much worthless matter been written in the shape of exegesis.” Such a lamentation might be even more narrowly focused on the four verses that compose the prophecy before us. Nevertheless, the debate is engaged, let us enter the fray.
The chronology provided in Daniel’s prophecy of the Seventy Weeks is a veritable linchpin in the dispensational argument, although it is not crucial to any of the other millennial systems. Walvoord comments that the “interpretation of Daniel 9:24-27 is of major importance to premillennialism as well as pretribulationism.” Being such, it is the “key” to prophecy and, consequently, “one of the most important prophecies of the Bible.” McClain suggests “no single prophetic utterance is more crucial.” Pentecost agrees with McClain that Daniel 9 gives us “the indispensable chronological key to all New Testament prophecy.” English calls it an “extremely important prophecy.” Surely Allis is correct when he observes that “the importance of the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks in Dispensational teaching can hardly be exaggerated.”
This dispensational dependence upon Daniel 9 is unfortunate for dispensationalism for two reasons: Historically, great difficulties are associated with the interpretation of this passage. J. A. Montgomery calls the prophecy “the Dismal Swamp of Old Testament criticism.” Young comments: “This passage . . . is one of the most difficult in all the OT, and the interpretations which have been offered are almost legion.” The challenge of the passage is indicated in Hengstenberg’s important Christology of the Old Testament, where he devotes more pages analyzing these four verses than any other Old Testament prophecy: a total of 127 pages.
Theologically, this “extremely important prophecy” is the most difficult for dispensationalist to make credible to those outside of their system. Even dispensationalist Robert Culver admits: “The difficulty of the verses that now lie before us is evident.” “Premillennial writers of two or three generations ago were very far apart on the details. Much of the same diversity appears in premillennial contemporary writers.” Daniel’s Seventy Weeks prophecy leads dispensationalism into one of its most strained peculiarities: the doctrine of the gap theory of the Church Age.
Let us consider this interesting prophecy by first providing what I believe to be its proper interpretation. Then I will review and analyze briefly the dispensational interpretation, upon which so much of dispensationalism is precariously perched.
As we get started, it is crucial to grasp the structure of the prophecy. Meredith Kline provides a thorough presentation of the strongly covenantal cast of Daniel’s prophecy. He meticulously demonstrates that Daniel’s prayer (Dan. 9:3-19), which leads up to the prophecy, is “saturated with formulaic expressions drawn from the Mosaic treaties, particularly from the Deuteronomic treaty.”
The covenant looms large in Daniel’s prayer and in the Lord’s answer to him: God is a covenant keeping God (9:4), while Israel violates God’s covenantal statutes (9:5), even to the point of repudiating the prophetic covenant-lawyers (9:6, 10) and enduring covenantal curse (9:11-15). Daniel 9 is the only chapter in Daniel to use God’s special covenant name, YHWH (“LORD,” vv. 2, 4, 10, 13, 14, 20; cf. Exo. 6:2-4). This prayer regarding covenant loyalty (Heb.: hesed, 9:4) is answered in terms of the covenantal sabbath pattern of the seventy weeks (9:24-27), which results in the confirmation of covenant (9:27).
The recognition of the covenantal framework of the Seventy Weeks is important to its proper interpretation. It virtually demands the focus be on the fulfillment of redemption in the ministry of Christ. Let us see how this is so.
The number seven is familiar to students of Old Testament sabbatic law. The prophecy of the Seventy Weeks is clearly framed in terms of sabbatic chronology (cf. Lev. 25). The very Hebrew word shabua, which is translated “week,” literally means “sevened.” This prophecy was given to Daniel in the first year of Babylon’s fall (Dan. 9:1), as he contemplated the soon conclusion of the seventy years captivity (9:2). The Babylonian Captivity was caused by Israel’s failure to observe levitical sabbaths for the land (Lev. 26:43; 2 Chron. 36:21). In his ninth chapter, Daniel wonders what the future holds for Israel, now that Jeremiah’s seventy years prophecy is about to be completed. God’s answer to Daniel’s prayer is the presentation of a new period of seventy that will issue forth in six primary results (Dan. 9:24). In this prophecy Israel is given a renewed period of time framed by the number seventy: a period of “seventy weeks.”
The first phase of the Seventy Weeks is “seven weeks,” or (literally) “seven sevens” (Dan. 9:25). This period of “seven sevens” results in a value of forty-nine. This interval of forty-nine years (as we shall see), reflects the time-frame leading up to the Year of Jubilee (Lev. 25:8ff). This is of strong covenantal significance, and directly related to the redemptive meaning of the passage.
The total period of “seventy sevens” is also covenantal. Seventy represents ten seven week periods, thus ten jubilees. The imagery associated with the use of the number ten is generally conceded to be completion (accomplishing the full number of digits on a man’s hand). Thus, the seventy sevens (weeks) would appear to point to a complete redemptive Jubilee. It would appropriately point to Christ, who brings in that ultimate Jubilee (cf. Luke 4:17-21; Isa. 61:1-3; Matt. 24:31), and who is the leading feature of Daniel’s prophecy. Consequently, the time-frame revealed to Daniel demarcates the period in which “the Messianic redemption was to be accomplished.”
But what is the chronological value of this period of seventy weeks? The seventy weeks seems to represent a period of seventy times seven years, or 490 years. Though framed in terms of sabbatical symbolism, the prophecy should not be voided of its chronological intent, as per some who see it as expressive of an indefinite period. The prophecy “bears all the mark of chronological precision,” even upon a cursory reading. The numbers are carefully measured and divided. This fits well with Daniel’s chronological concern in the Maccabean prophecies in Daniel 8 and 12. There is ample justification for the days standing for actual years:
First, a period of a literal seventy weeks would be too short to accomplish the fulfillment of all that is expected. Besides what comfort would flow to Daniel in learning the city would be rebuilt and destroyed within such a brief period? Thus, we must look beyond the literal for the proper measure.
Second, in the preceding context the original seventy years of Jeremiah’s prophecy is in Daniel’s mind (Dan. 9:2). Thus years, rather than literal weeks, are suggested by the prior reference, which is crucial to the historical context. In addition, these seventy years even suggest the framework of his prophecy.
Third, the sabbath year (the seventh year of the sabbath period) is frequently referred to simply as “the sabbath.” Thus, the idea of a “sabbath” day (Exo. 20:11) may refer to a sabbath year.
Fourth, there is Scriptural warrant for measuring days in terms of years. In Genesis 29:27-28 Jacob is said to labor a “week” for Rachel, which was seven years (v. 20). In Numbers 14:34 the forty year wandering is caused by the forty days of spying the land. Ezekiel 4:6 employs the same standard of prophetic measure as Daniel: “I have laid on you a day for each year.”
Fifth, in the immediately following context and separated from our passage by only one verse, we discover Daniel redefining his use of “weeks.” Daniel 10:2 reads: “In those days I, Daniel, was mourning three weeks of days” (Heb.: yom). He does this, it would seem, to distinguish the preceding weeks-of-years from the following literal weeks-of-days.
Sixth, even on the most extreme terminus ad quo suggested by evangelical scholars (the decree of Cyrus in 538 B.C.), the 490 years comes relatively close to measuring the time to Christ’s death: it would only be off around seventy-five years. This should suggest that we are correct in choosing a day/year measure. A careful analysis of the passage leads to the conclusion that the “command” of verse 24 actually fits the chronological framework, when properly understood (as I will show).
The Terminus ad Quo
Undoubtedly, one of the initial problems confronting the interpreter interested in the chronology of the passage is the determination of the “command” spoken of in Daniel 9:25: “Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem. . . .” At first appearance it would seem to be Cyrus’ decree in 538 B.C., which is mentioned in 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 and in Ezra 1:1-4; 5:13, 17, 6:3. Certainly Cyrus did give a command that the city be rebuilt (cf. Isa. 44:28), although the bulk of the references to his decree in the historical books have to do with the rebuilding of the Temple. Daniel, however, specifically speaks of the command to “restore and build Jerusalem,” which is an important qualification, as Hengstenberg has so capably shown. Though half-hearted efforts were made to rebuild Jerusalem after Cyrus’ decree, for a long time Jerusalem was little more than a sparsely populated, unwalled village.
Yet Daniel speaks of the command to “restore” (shub, “return”) Jerusalem (Dan. 9:25). This requires that it be returned to its original integrity and grandeur, as per Jeremiah’s prophecy: “I will cause the captives of Judah and the captives of Israel to return, and will rebuild those places as at the first” (Jer. 33:7). This must involve the restoration of the city, complete with its streets and protective wall: “the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublesome times” (Dan. 9:25). It was not until the middle of the fifth century B.C. that this was undertaken seriously. Hengstenberg points to the decree of Artaxerxes I in Nehemiah 2:1 (cf. v. 18) as the beginning point (although his vigorously argued date of 455 B.C. for the twentieth year of Artaxerxes is not widely held today). Payne and Boutflower point to the spiritually charged endeavor under Ezra in Ezra 7:11-26 as the starting point. This date would be 458 B.C. Julius Africanus, Vitringa, Ideler, and most dispensationalists compute the years by Jewish 360-day years. Woodrow, following Anstey, disputes the Ptolemic chronology in favor of a more biblically-based chronology of ancient times. In addition, it could be that the “command” is a secret divine command that gives the providential impulse to the pagan kings to allow the rebuilding and/or to the Jews actually to engage the effort with diligence. In this event, it would not be exactly datable except in retrospect, after the prophecy had run its course in the coming of the Messiah. Adopting any of these scenarios, we discover a possible reason why the Messiah was so expected in the first century -- and He did appear then.
It is abundantly clear in the references to Jerusalem decades after Cyrus’ decree that little was done towards rebuilding Jerusalem. Nehemiah speaks of Jerusalem’s walls as fallen down (Neh. 1:3; 2:3-5, 17; 7:4). Zechariah speaks of Jerusalem as destroyed in his day (Zech. 14:11). He even speaks of its soon-coming rebuilding (Zech. 1:16). The enemies of the Jews warn Artaxerxes that the Jews will become a problem if they rebuild the city (Ezra 4:12-23). This explains why Ezra can speak of Jerusalem’s utter affliction “even to this day” (Ezra 9:7-9, 15).
The process of diligent rebuilding, which climaxed in a restored Jerusalem, seems to have begun either: (1) in seed in the spiritual revival under Ezra (Ezra 7); or (2) in actuality under the administration of Nehemiah (Neh. 2:1, 17-18; 6:15-16; 12:43). There were several political commands preparing for the restoration of Jerusalem and one divine command: “So the elders of the Jews built, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they built and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the command of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia” (Ezra 6:14).
The first period of seven weeks must indicate something, for it is set off from the two other periods. Were it not significant, Daniel could have spoken of the sixty-nine weeks, rather than the “seven weeks and sixty-two weeks” (Dan. 9:25). This seven weeks (or forty-nine years) apparently witnesses the successful conclusion of the rebuilding of Jerusalem. The city was rebuilt during this era, despite the opposition in “troublesome times” (cp. Neh. 4:18), which God ordained for them in this prophecy (Dan. 9:25).
The second period of sixty-two weeks, extends from the conclusion of the rebuilding of Jerusalem to the introduction of the Messiah to Israel at His baptism at the beginning of His public ministry (Dan. 9:25), sometime around A.D. 26-30. This interpretation is quite widely agreed upon by conservative scholars, being virtually “universal among Christian exegetes” excluding dispensationalists. The third period of one week is the subject of intense controversy between dispensationalism and other conservative scholarship.
In that our inquiry into the Seventy Weeks is eschatological and not apologetical, we need not make a final determination of the exact manner of reckoning the terminus a quo of the command. We do take comfort in the several closely related possibilities open to us, yet the Messianic events alluded to by Daniel are more crucial to our eschatological concerns than the determination of the date of the “command.” We turn now to a consideration of the matters of important difference separating dispensationalism and the other evangelical viewpoints.
Interpretation of Daniel 9:24
In Daniel 9:24 the overriding, glorious expectation of the prophecy is stated: “Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy.” Let me briefly point to the proper interpretation of the events in verse 24 within the context of the whole prophecy.
The Importance of Verse 24
The six infinitival phrases of verse 24 should be understood as three couplets, as suggested by Payne, Terry, Maurer, Hitzig, and the Massoretes, rather than as two triplets, as proposed by Keil and Young. Clearly, these six results are the main point of the prophecy, serving as the heading to the explication to follow. The “know therefore and understand” statement in verse 25 begins that explication. There should be, then, correspondences between the events of verse 24 and the prophecy of verses 25-27.
The general view of Daniel 9:24 among non-dispensational evangelicals is that “the six items presented . . . settle the terminus ad quem of the prophecy,” that is, they have to do with the First Advent. The early Culver puts the matter into bold dispensational relief, when he notes that these events are “not to be found in any event near the earthly lifetime of our Lord.” Ryrie points to our verse and says: “God will once again turn His attention in a special way to His people the Jews and to His holy city Jerusalem, as outlined in Daniel 9:24.” The dispensationalist takes a decidedly futurist approach to the prophecy, when he gets past the first sixty-nine weeks.
The Seventy Weeks prophecy definitely focuses on Israel (v. 24), as a result of Daniel’s contemplation of Israel’s captivity (Dan. 9:2) and his prayer of confession in behalf of Israel (Dan. 9:4-22). But, of course, Israel’s Messiah is the only Savior of men, so the accomplishments of His work reach beyond the Jewish people (e.g., Psa. 72:8; Isa. 2:2-4; 11:9-10). We see this universal saving work in other prophecies and we see it again here. But the emphasis on Israel here is significant. Daniel ends with the “anointing of the Most Holy” (v. 24), not because it is chronologically final, but so he may lead directly to the presentation of the “Messiah” (Heb.: Anointed One, v. 25). As we shall see, these elements involve a mixture of blessing and curse, as is common to covenantal promises.
The Interpretation of Verse 24
Let us notice, first, that the Seventy Weeks will witness the finishing of the transgression. As just noted, Daniel’s prayer of confession was regarding Israel’s sins (Dan. 9:4ff) and the prophecy’s focus is on Israel (Dan. 9:24a). Consequently, this finishing (Heb. kala) the transgression has to do with Israel’s finishing, i.e., completing, her transgression against God. The finishing of that transgression occurs in the ministry of Christ, when Israel culminates her resistance to God by rejecting His Son and having Him crucified: “Last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance’” (Matt. 21:37-38; cf. 21:33-45; Acts 7:51-52).
The second part of the couplet is directly related to the first: Having finished the transgression against God in the rejection of the Messiah, now the sins are sealed up (NASV marg.; Heb., chatham). The idea here is, as Payne observes, to seal or to “reserve sins for punishment.” Because of Israel’s rejection of Messiah, God reserves punishment for her: the final, conclusive destruction of the Temple, which was reserved from the time of Jesus’ ministry until A.D. 70 (Matt. 24:2, 34). The sealing or reserving of the sins indicates that within the “Seventy Weeks” Israel will complete her transgression and with the completing of her sin God will act to reserve (beyond the seventy weeks) their sins for judgment. This is a major point in the Lord’s Olivet Discourse: Though just before His crucifixion Christ says, “Your house is left to you desolate” (Matt. 23:3), He then reserves His judgment for one generation (Matt. 24:2, 34).
The third result (beginning the second couplet) has to do with the provision of “reconciliation for iniquity.” The Hebrew word kaphar is the word for “atonement,” i.e., a covering of sin. It clearly speaks of Christ’s atoning death, which is the ultimate atonement to which all Temple rituals looked (Heb. 9:26). This also occurred during His earthly ministry—at His death. The dispensationalist here prefers to interpret this result as application rather than effecting; he sees it as subjective appropriation instead of objective accomplishment. Walvoord admits that this result “seems to be a rather clear picture of the cross of Christ,” but that “the actual application of it is again associated with the second advent as far as Israel is concerned.” But on the basis of the Hebrew verb, the passage clearly speaks of the actual making reconciliation (or atonement). The seventy weeks necessarily includes the effecting of this result, as well.
Because of this atonement to cover sin, the fourth result is that everlasting righteousness is effected. That is, the final, complete atonement establishes righteousness. This speaks of the objective accomplishment, not the subjective appropriation of righteousness. This was effected by Christ within the seventy week period, as well: “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God” (Rom. 3:21-22a).
The fifth result (the first portion of the third couplet) has to do with the ministry of Christ on earth, which is introduced at His baptism: He comes “to seal up vision and prophecy.” By this is meant that Christ fulfills (and thereby confirms) the prophecy. The careful dispensationalist resists the idea that this has to do with the sealing of prophecy in Christ’s earthly ministry because He did not fulfill all prophecy at that time. But neither does He within the seventy weeks (up through the Tribulation), nor in the “millennium”! For following these are the resurrection and the New Heavens and New Earth. Actually, the sealing of prophecy regards the subject of Daniel 9: the accomplishment of redemption from sin, i.e. atonement. This Christ accomplished: “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all [!] things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished” (Luke 18:31; cp. Luke 24:44; Acts 3:18).
Finally, the seventy years are for the following goal: “to anoint the Most Holy.” This anointing [Heb. mashach] speaks of the introduction of “Christ” by means of His baptismal anointing. This seems clearly to be the case for the following reasons: (1) The overriding concern of Daniel 9:24-27 is Messianic. The Temple that is built after the Babylonian Captivity is to be destroyed after the seventy weeks (v. 27), with no further mention made of it. (2) In the following verses, the Messiah (Heb., mashiyach, “Christ,” “Anointed One”) is specifically named twice (vv. 25, 26). (3) Contrary to the dispensational interpretation, there is no evidence of an anointing of any Temple in Scripture—whether Solomon’s original Temple, Zerubbabel’s rebuilt Temple, Ezekiel’s visionary Temple, or Herod’s expanded Temple.
(4) The “most holy” phraseology well speaks of the Messiah, who is “that Holy One who is to be born.” It is of Christ that the ultimate redemptive Jubilee is prophesied by Isaiah in these words: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD” (Isa. 61:1-2a; cp. Luke 4:17-21). It was at His baptismal anointing that the Spirit came upon Him (Mark 1:9-11). And this was introductory to His ministry, of which we read three verses later: “Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled [the Sixty-ninth week?], and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15). Christ is pre-eminently the Anointed One.
The Seventieth Week
The Messiah now experiences something “after the sixty-two weeks” (Dan. 9:26), which followed the preceding “seven weeks” (v. 25). This is to occur, then, sometime after the sixty-ninth week. A natural reading of the text shows this is in the seventieth week, for that is the only time-frame remaining for the accomplishment of the goal of the prophecy listed in verse 24. That which occurs at this time is: “Messiah shall be cut off.” The Hebrew word translated “cut off” here (karath) “is used of the death penalty, Lev. 7:20; and refers to a violent death,” i.e, the death of Christ on the cross.
Given the Hebraic pattern of repetition, we easily discern a parallel between verses 26 and 27; verse 27 gives an expansion of verse 26. Negatively, Messiah’s cutting off in verse 26 is the result of Israel’s completing her transgression and bringing it to a culmination (v. 24) by crucifying the Messiah. Positively, verse 27 states this same event: “He shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; but in the middle of the week He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering.” Considered from its positive effect, this confirming of the covenant with many makes reconciliation and brings in everlasting righteousness (v. 24). Thus, these parallels refer to the same event, considered from the two angles of blessing and curse (cp. Deut. 11:26; 30:1), both of which are determined to occur within the seventy weeks.
The confirming of covenant (v. 27) refers to the prophesied covenantal actions of verse 24, which come about as the result of the Perfect Covenantal Jubilee (Seventy Weeks), and is mentioned as a result of Daniel’s covenantal prayer (cf. v. 4). The covenant mentioned, then, is the divine covenant of God’s redemptive grace. Messiah came to confirm the covenantal promises: “to perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant” (Luke 1:72). He confirmed the covenant by His death on the cross: “by so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant” (Heb. 7:22b). The word translated “confirm” (Heb: higbir) is related to the angel Gabriel’s name, who brought Daniel the revelation of the Seventy Weeks (and who later brings the revelation of Christ’s birth [Luke 1:19, 26]). “Gabriel” is based on the Hebrew gibbor, “strong one,” a concept frequently associated with the covenant God. The related word found in Daniel 9:27 means to “make strong, confirm.” This “firm covenant” brings about “everlasting righteousness” (Dan. 9:24) -- hence its firmness.
Daniel’s prayer was particularly for Israel (Dan. 9:3ff) and it was uttered in recognition that God promises mercy upon those who love Him (v. 4). Therefore, the prophecy holds that the covenant will be confirmed with many for one week. The reference to the “many” speaks of the faithful in Israel. “Thus a contrast is introduced between He and the Many, a contrast which appears to reflect upon the great Messianic passage, Isa. 52:13-53:12 and particularly 53:11. Although the entire nation will not receive salvation, the many will receive.”
This confirmation of God’s covenant promises to the “many” of Israel will occur in the middle of the seventieth week (v. 27), which parallels “after the sixty-two [and seven] weeks” (v. 26), while providing more detail. We know Christ’s three and one-half year ministry in the first half of the seventieth week was decidedly focused on the Jews, for He commanded His disciples: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans” (Matt. 10:5b; cp. Matt. 15:24). Then for a period of three and one-half years after the crucifixion, the apostles focused almost exclusively on the Jews, beginning first “in Judea” (Acts 1:8; Acts 2:14) because “the gospel of Christ” is “for the Jew first” (Rom. 1:16; cf. 2:10; John 4:22).
Although the event that serves as the terminus of the sixty-ninth week is clearly specified, such is not the case with the terminus of the seventieth. Thus, an exact event ending the seventieth is not as significant to know. Apparently at the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr of Christianity (Acts 8:1), the covenantal proclamation began to turn to the Gentiles: “Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (Acts 8:1). The apostle to the Gentiles appears on the scene at Stephen’s death (Acts 7:58-8:1), as the Jewish persecution against Christianity breaks out. Paul’s mission is clearly stated as exceeding the narrow Jewish focus: “he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15).
This confirmation of the covenant occurs “in the middle of the week” (v. 27). I have already shown that the seventieth week begins with the baptismal anointing of Christ. Then after three and one-half years of ministry—the middle of the seventieth week—Christ was crucified. Thus, the prophecy states that by His conclusive confirmation of the covenant, Messiah will “bring an end to sacrifice and offering” (v. 27) by offering up Himself as a sacrifice for sin: “Now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb. 9:25-26; cp. Heb. 7:11-12, 18-22). Consequently, at His death the Temple veil was torn from top to bottom (Matt. 27:51) as evidence the sacrificial system was legally disestablished in the eyes of God (cf. Matt. 23:38), for Christ is the Lamb of God (John 1:29; 1 Pet. 1:19).
The Destruction of Jerusalem
But now how are we to understand the latter portions of verses 26 and 27? What are we to make of the destruction of the city and sanctuary (v. 26) and the abomination that causes desolation (v. 27), which most evangelical commentators agree occurred in A.D. 70?
In verse 26 we learn there are two events to occur after the sixty-ninth week: (1) The Messiah is to be “cut off,” and (2) the city and sanctuary are to be destroyed. Verse 27a informs us that the Messiah’s cutting off (v. 26a) is a confirmation of the covenant and is to occur at the half-way mark of the seventieth week. So the Messiah’s death is clearly within the time-frame of the Seventy Weeks (as we expect because of His being the major figure of the fulfillment of the prophecy).
The events involving the destruction of the city and the sanctuary with war and desolation (vv. 26b, 27b) are the consequences of the cutting off of the Messiah and do not necessarily occur in the seventy weeks time-frame. They are an addendum to the fulfillment of the focus of the prophecy, which is stated in verse 24.
The destructive acts are anticipated, however, in the divine act of sealing up or reserving the sin of Israel for punishment. Israel’s climactic sin—their completing of their transgression (v. 24) with the cutting off of Messiah (v. 26a) -- results in God’s act of reserving their judgment until later. Israel’s sin will not be reserved forever; it will be judged after the expiration of the seventy weeks. This explains the “very indefinite” phrase “till the end of the war”: the “end” will not occur in the seventy weeks. That end occurred in A.D. 70, as Christ makes abundantly clear in Matthew 24:15.
The Dispensational Interpretation
There are three fundamental errors in the dispensational approach to Daniel’s Seventy Weeks. These involve the proper understanding of the terminus anticipated, the unity of the seventy weeks, and the identity of the covenant of verse 27.
Dispensationalists are pressed by their system radically to re-interpret Daniel 9:24: They place these events in the future from our own time, deferring them until Israel’s return to the Lord in their version of the seven year Great Tribulation. The following quotations in demonstration of this are from J. Dwight Pentecost’s commentary on Daniel, found in Dallas Seminary’s Bible Knowledge Commentary. I will use this as a representative of standard dispensationalism today.
Pentecost asserts that “to finish the transgression” refers to the removal of Israel’s tendency to apostasy, which occurs at the Second Advent as she is “restored to the land and blessed.” The making “an end to sins” means that “at Christ’s second coming He will remove Israel’s sin.” To “make reconciliation” for sins “relates to God’s final atonement of Israel when she repents at Christ’s second coming.” The bringing in of “everlasting righteousness” indicates “that God will establish an age characterized by righteousness. This is a reference to the millennial kingdom.”
When we read “to seal up vision and prophecy,” we are to understand that “all that God through the prophets said He would do in fulfilling His covenant with Israel will be fully realized in the millennial kingdom.” To “anoint the Most Holy,” according to Pentecost, “may refer to the dedication of the most holy place in the millennial temple” or “it may refer not to a holy place, but to the Holy One, Christ. If so, this speaks of the enthronement of Christ” as “King of kings and Lord of lords in the Millennium.” In summary Pentecost states: “These six accomplishments, then, anticipate the establishment of Israel’s covenanted millennial kingdom under the authority of her promised King.”
I have already provided an interpretation of the terminus in the ministry of Christ that is more broadly held by evangelicals. Clearly the dispensational view is radically in error. This will become even more evident in the next paragraphs as I turn to consider the gap theory of dispensationalism. At this point the reader should consider how incredible it is that on the dispensationalist’s interpretation, the all important First Advent of Christ, during which Christ died for sin in fulfillment of the Temple symbolism, Old Testament typology, and prophetic anticipation, is virtually overlooked in this prophecy, receiving but discrete reference. As Mauro complained long ago, the fundamental idea of verse 24 “happened in an unmentioned gap”! The first two periods of the Seventy Weeks unit lead us right up to Christ’s crucifixion—at least close to it, in the dispensational view. Then suddenly it skips over that all important work to the Second Advent!
The Gap in the Seventy Weeks
Dispensationalism incorporates a gap or parenthesis between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks. This gap spans the entirety of the Church Age from the Triumphal Entry to the Rapture. The dispensational arguments for a gap of undetermined length between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks are not convincing. Let us consider the leading arguments for a gap.
First, The peculiar phraseology in Daniel: Daniel places the cutting off of the Messiah “after the 62 ‘sevens,’ not in the 70th ‘seven.’” This is so stated to allow for a gap between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks. If the cutting off did not occur in the sixty-ninth or the seventieth weeks, there must be a gap wherein they do occur.
In response, it is obvious that seventy occurs after sixty-nine and thus fits the requirements of the statement. Consequently, such an argument does not prove that the “after” requires a gap. Besides, Daniel only has seventy weeks and, as LaRondelle has pointed out, Daniel most certainly does not say “after sixty-nine weeks, but not in the seventieth.” Such an explanation is a gratuitous assumption. Since he has yet to deal with the seventieth week and he has clearly dealt with the preceding sixty-nine weeks (v. 25), it is quite natural to assume this cutting off of the Messiah must be sometime within the seven year period covered by the seventieth week. The Seventy Weeks prophecy is the major, over- arching time-frame and the cutting off of the Messiah is an event of unsurpassable prophetic and redemptive significance in general and fundamental to explaining the goal of the Seventy Weeks stated in verse 24 in particular.
Second, the burden of Daniel’s prophecy: The “six actions [of verse 24] pertain to Daniel’s ‘people’ (Israel) and His ‘Holy City’ (Jerusalem), not the church.” McClain says “the fulfillment of the tremendous events in verse 24 cannot be found anywhere in known history.” These have yet to occur for Israel, thus the events must be future.
As I have argued above, the chief idea of the Seventy Weeks prophecy regards Messianic redemption. The Messiah is “the Most Holy,” who brings in “reconciliation” and effects “eternal redemption” (v. 24). He does this for Israel and everyone els. He actually effects this eternal redemption by His death (v. 24), which is clearly meant by His being “cut off” (v. 26). And as a matter of historical record, His death did occur within seven years of His baptismal anointing. What is to force us outside of a unified Seventy Weeks time-frame?
Third, a proper hermeneutic: Of the non-dispensational approaches Walvoord comments: “none of them provides literal fulfillment of the prophecy.” If literalism is the proper approach to all prophecy, then we must reject any view of the Seventy Weeks that places these events in the past.
The hermeneutic flaws inherent in literalism have been treated in a number of places. They need not be repeated here. It is interesting that dispensationalists are not consistent here, however. Walvoord criticizes E. J. Young and other amillennialists because they “resist the idea that this is a literal 490 years.” But Daniel literall speaks of “weeks,” not years!
Fourth, a fatal admission: “Historically the destruction of Jerusalem occurred in A.D. 70 almost forty years after the death of Christ.” Since this was given in Daniel’s prophecy and was to occur within the seventy weeks, “the continuous fulfillment theory [is] left without any explanation adequate for interposing an event as occurring after the sixty-ninth seven by some thirty-eight years.”
I have already explained the relation of the seventy weeks to the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70 (see above). The goal of the Seventy Weeks is no the A.D. 70 destruction of the Temple, which is not mentioned in verse 24. That destruction is a later consequence of certain events brought to fulfillment within the seventy weeks. The actual act of God’s reserving judgment (v. 24) occurred within the seventy weeks; the later removal of that reservation did not. There is no necessity at all for a gap.
Fifth, the general tendency in prophecy: “Nothing should be plainer to one reading the Old Testament than that the foreview therein provided did not describe the period of time between the two advents. This very fact confused even the prophets (cf. 1 Pet. 1:10-12).” The argument then is thus: Old Testament prophecy can merge the First and Second Advents into one scene, though separated by thousands of years. Consequently, we have biblical warrant for understanding the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks as merged into one scene, although separated by a gap of thousands of years.
This argument is wholly without merit. It must be noted that the Seventy Weeks are considered as a unit, though sub-divided into three unequal parts:
It is one period of seventy weeks that must transpire in order to experience the events mentioned; the parts make up a unified whole. Three separate periods of weeks are not the major chronology in the revelation; these three periods (7+62+1) total the over-arching time-frame of seventy weeks of years. The plural “seventy weeks” is followed by a singular verb “is decreed,” which indicates the unity of the time period. Dispensationalists even argue vigorously against allowing a gap in the midst of the seventieth week, in that “the week is one.”
An overriding concern of the prophecy, in distinction to all other Messianic prophecies, is that it is designed as a measuring time-frame. The very first words in the prophecy emphatically point to this fact; those words are: “seventy weeks.” If there were gaps between the units, the whole idea of measurement contained in the “seventy weeks” would be obliterated. None of the other prophecies brought forward as illustrations of a gap is set forth as a measure of time.
All are agreed that the first two units in the period (seven and sixty-two) follow consecutively. Why should not the final period of seven? Strangely, Walvoord—a gap theorist -- criticizes Mauro for allowing the last seven years to be an indefinite period of time: “In view of the precision of the seventy years of the captivity, however, mentioned in the same chapter, the context indicates the probability of a more literal intention in the revelation.” Mauro allows a forty year seventieth week, extended by God’s gracious longsuffering towards Israel. Walvoord has allowed a gap almost 2000 years long, wholly destroying the possibility of measurement. How is Walvoord “more literal”? Mauro’s view more closely measures than does Walvoord’s view—at least the events of this precisely measured time-frame are in the same century! Walvoord’s are separated by millennia!
If the dispensational gap theory regarding the seventieth week is true, then the gap separating the seventieth from the sixty-ninth week is almost 2000 years long, or four times the whole time period of the seventy weeks or 490 years! How can the dispensationalist expect to argue for the exact fulfillment of the first seventy weeks—to the day! --, when they allow an interruption of millennia between two of the weeks? Ryrie even chides amillennialists for dating the decree of Dan. 9:24 in 538 B.C., because “this has the effect of allowing the seventy sevens to be imprecise in duration”! Then he turns around later to note: “There is an interval of undetermined length between the first sixty-nine weeks of seven years each and the last or seventieth week of seven years”!
Sixth, the order within the prophecy: “In the record of the prophecy, the destruction of the city [v. 26b] is placed before the last week [v. 27a].” Since this occurred in A.D. 70, we must allow a gap to account for it.
This argument overlooks the peculiarities of Hebrew poetic style. The oriental mind often confounds the occidental concern for chronological succession; the Western framework may not be foisted upon the passage. This “revelational pattern” allows a parallel rehearsal and expansion of the topic, without requiring actual succession in time. The proper understanding of the relation between verses 26 and 26 is given above.
Seventh, the interpretation by Christ: “The testimony of our Lord Himself [in Matt. 24:15] shows that the Seventieth Week is still future.” This problem is already answered in the responses given to arguments Four and Six above. The Lord cites from the portion of Daniel’s passage that lies outside of the concern of the seventy weeks themselves.
The Covenant of Verse 27
The confirmation of the covenant mentioned in verse 27 is woefully misunderstood by dispensationalists. They apply it to a still future, malevolent ruler, who makes, then breaks a political covenant with Israel.
According to Walvoord: “[T]his refers to the coming world ruler at the beginning of the last seven years who is able to gain control over ten countries in the Middle East. He will make a covenant with Israel for a seven-year period. As Daniel 9:27 indicates, in the middle of the seven years he will break the covenant, stop the sacrifices being offered in the temple rebuilt in that period, and become their persecutor instead of their protector, fulfilling the promises of Israel’s day of trouble (Jer. 30:5-7).”
Pentecost states: “This covenant will be made with many, that is, with Daniel’s people, the nation Israel. ‘The ruler who will come’ (Dan. 9:26) will be this covenant-maker, for that person is the antecedent of the word he in verse 27. As a yet-future ruler he will be the final head of the fourth empire (the little horn of the fourth beast, 7:8).”
Many problems plague this interpretation, several of which have already been indicated in another connection:
The covenant here is not made, it is confirmed. The usual word for the initial establishment of a covenant is karat. This is actually the confirmation of a covenant already extant, i.e., the covenant of God’s redemptive grace confirmed by Christ (Rom. 15:8).
The word “confirmed” (Heb.: higbar) is the very emphatic form of gabar. Not only does the term itself indicate a confirming of covenant, but in its present form it is too strong an expression to apply to a covenant made, then broken by the Antichrist.
As noted above, the term is related to the name of the angel of God who delivered the message to Daniel: Gabriel (“God is strong”). The lexical correspondence between the name of the strong angel of God and the making strong of the covenant is in itself suggestive of the divine nature of the covenant. In addition, covenantal passages frequently employ related terms, when speaking of the strong God of the covenant.
The parallelism with verse 26 indicates that the death of the Messiah is directly related to the confirming of the covenant. He is “cut off” but “not for himself” (v. 26a) for He “confirms the covenant” for the “many” of Israel (v. 27a). His “cutting off” brings the confirmation of the covenant, for “without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Heb. 9:22). As Christ put it: “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28).
The indefinite pronoun “he” does not refer back to “the prince who is to come” of verse 26. That “prince” is a subordinate noun; “the people” is the dominant noun. Thus, the “he” refers back to the last dominant individual mentioned: “Messiah” (v. 26a). The Messiah is the leading figure in the whole prophecy, so that even the destruction of the Temple is related to His death. In fact, the people who destroy the Temple are providentially “His armies” (Matt. 22:2-7).
It was with the death of Christ that Judaism was legally (covenantally) disestablished, bringing “an end to sacrifice and offering” (Heb. 7:12, 18). The sacrifices were a legal confirmation of the divine covenant with the covenant people, Israel: “Gather My saints together to Me, Those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice” (Psa. 50:5). There is an unbreakable connection between the death of Christ and the ultimate destruction of the Temple (Luke 20:14-18; 23:28-31); it is the connection between legal cause and temporal effect.
A careful study of Daniel’s Seventy Weeks removes from our future the judgmental devastation indicated in its latter verses. It is only by hermeneutic gymnastics and a suspension of reason that a massive gap may be imported into Daniel in order to interrupt the otherwise chronologically exact time-frame. And this gap is necessary if Daniel’s Seventieth Week is to be projected into our future. But as we have seen, not only is this difficult to do, but it is wholly unnecessary.
Daniel’s famous prophecy has found its fulfillment in the first century of our era. Consequently, the pessimistic expectation of many evangelical Christians that is rooted in this passage is without warrant.
Allis mentions this teaching flowing out of the dispensational approach to Dan. 9:24-27 as "one of the clearest proofs of the novelty of that doctrine as well as of its revolutionary nature." Allis, Prophecy and the Church, p. 109. It is in Kline's analysis of Daniel 9 that he is led to call dispensationalism an "evangelical heresy." Meredith Kline, "Covenant of the Seventieth Week," in John H. Skilton, ed., The Law and the Prophets: Old Testament Studies in Honor of Oswald T. Allis (n.p.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1974), p. 452.
Kline, "Daniel 9," p. 452. Young, Prophecy of Daniel, p. 196. C. F. Keil, "Biblical Commentary on the Book of Daniel," in C. F. Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, rep. 1975), pp. 338-339. Milton S. Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics: A Study of the Most Notable Revelations of God and of Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker, rep. 1988 ), p. 201. Montgomery, Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Daniel, pp. 220-221.
The presence of streets seems to portray a stable, prosperous city open to trade and intercourse; whereas the destruction of streets are foreboding emblems of devastation and judgment. See: 1 Kgs. 20:34; Jer. 7:34; 33:10; 44:6, 17; Zeph. 3:6.
Julius Africanus, in Eusebius, Demonstration of the Gospel 8:2. This may be found in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, rep. 1885), 6:134. For Vitringa and Ideler, see: Hengstenberg, Christology of the Old Testament, 2:891 n2. Harold Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977). J. Dwight Pentecost, "Daniel," in Walvoord and Zuck, Bible Knowledge Commentary, pp. 1363-1365.
Ralph Woodrow, Great Prophecies of the Bible (Riverside, CA: Woodrow Evangelistic Assoc., 1971, 1989), pp. 94-101. Martin Anstey, Romance of Bible Chronology (1913). Ptolemy (A.D. 70-161) has provided us with his important The Canon of Ptolemy, upon which much of ancient chronology today is based.
J. Barton Payne, "The Goal of Daniel's Seventy Weeks," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 21:2 (June, 1978) 111. Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics, p. 200. Young lists the others: F. Maurer, Commentarius grammaticus criticus in Vetus Testamentum, vol. 2 (Leipzig: 1838); F. Hitzig, Das Buch Daniel (1850).
The definite article, which occurred before "transgression" and "sins," is lacking here. There it referred to the particular situation of Israel. Here it considers the more general predicament of mankind.
Walvoord slips by letting this prophecy cover "the cessation of the New Testament prophetic gift seen both in oral prophecy and in the writing of the Scriptures" (Walvoord, Daniel, p. 222). This, however, does not occur in either the first sixty-nine weeks (up to "just before the time of Christ's crucifixion") or in the seventieth week (the future Great Tribulation), the periods which he claims involve the 490 years. John F. Walvoord, Prophecy Knowledge Handbook (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1990), p. 258. Yet he specifically says that the "six major events characterize the 490 years"! (Ibid., p. 251). After intensive study, I have changed my own view on this passage from an earlier published statement. See Gentry, The Charismatic Gift of Prophecy: A Reformed Response to Wayne Grudem (2nd ed: Memphis: Footstool, 1989), p. 54n.
Interestingly there was a current, widely held belief that there was to arise a ruler from in Israel "at that very time," i.e., during the Jewish War. Tacitus, Histories 5:13: "The majority were convinced that the ancient scriptures of their priests alluded to the present as the very time when the Orient would triumph and from Judaea would go forth men destined to rule the world. This mysterious prophecy really referred to Vespasian and Titus...." Suetonius, Vespasian 4: "An ancient superstition was current in the East, that out of Judaea at this time would come the rulers of the world. This prediction, as the event later proved, referred to a Roman Emperor...."Josephus even picks up on this idea, when he ingratiates himself to Vespasian by declaring he was the one to rule (Wars 3:8:9). The only prophecy regarding Israel that actually dates Messianic era events is Daniel 9:24-27. Josephus also applies the Daniel 9 passage to the rule of the Romans in another context: "In the very same manner Daniel also wrote concerning the Roman government, and that our country should be made desolate by them. All these things did this man leave in writing, as God had shewed them to him...." (Ant. 10:11:7).
Psa. 2:2; 132:10; Isa. 11:2; 42:1; Hab. 3:13; Acts 4:27; 10:38; Heb. 1:9. Vanderwaal denies the Messianic referent of this passage, preferring a Maccabean priestly referent. Cornelius Vanderwaal, Hal Lindsey and Biblical Prophecy (St. Catherines, ON: Paideia, 1978), p. 37.
When "covenant" is mentioned in Daniel, it is always of God's covenant, see: Daniel 9:4; 11:22, 28, 30, 32. This includes even Dan. 11:22; see: Pentecost, "Daniel," Bible Knowledge Commentary, 1:1369.
Deut. 7:9, 21; 10:17; Neh. 1:5; 9:32; Isa. 9:6; Dan. 9:4. Hengstenberg argues convincingly that the source of Daniel 9 seems to be Isaiah 10:21-23, where God is the "Mighty God" who blesses the faithful remnant.
Its length is alluded to in Luke 13:6-9. His crucifixion after three and one-half years of ministry is widely agreed upon. A. T. Robertson, A Harmony of the Gospels (New York: Harper and Row, 1922, 1950), p. 270. Eusebius comments: "since he began his work during the high priesthood of Annas and taught until Caiaphas held the office, the entire time does not comprise quite four years" (Eccl. Hist. 1:10:3).
Walvoord, Prophecy Knowledge Handbook, pp. 256-257. Ryrie, Basic Theology, p. 465. Pentecost, "Daniel," BKC, 1:161. Walvoord, Daniel, pp. 230-231. It is interesting to note that the early Fathers held to a non-eschatological interpretation of the Seventieth Week, applying it either to the ministry of Christ or to A.D. 70. See: Barnabus 16:6; Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies 1:125-26; Tertullian, An Answer to the Jews 8; Julius Africanus, Chronology 50. See: L. E. Knowles, "The Interpretation of the Seventy Weeks of Daniel in the Early Fathers," Westminster Theological Journal 7 (1945) 136-160.
Besides this, dispensationalists put asunder what God has joined together. That is, passages such as Isaiah 9:6-7 merge the earthly ministry of Christ with His kingship because they do find fulfillment in the first century!
Robert Anderson, The Coming Prince (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1909). Feinberg, Millennialism, p. 150. H. Wayne House and Thomas D. Ice, Dominion Theology: Blessing or Curse? (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1988), p. 321: "Daniel predicted precisely the year in which Messiah would be cut off." Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, p. 139: "The terminus ad quem of the sixty-ninth week was on the day of Christ's triumphal entry on March 30, A.D. 33."
Kline provides interesting arguments for the reference "the prince who is to come" (v. 27) being to "Messiah the Prince" (v. 25). If this were conclusive, the "he" would then refer back to the Messiah in either view.