Daniel’s 70 Weeks – The Key to Prophecy
by James Allen
Most serious students of scripture agree that Daniel 9:24-27 are the key to the understanding of scriptural prophecy. Sir Edward Denny, a respected expositor of the last century, called them, ‘The Backbone of Prophecy’. Their vital importance stems from a number of considerations: (a) this is the only prophecy that dates the arrival of the Messiah (Christ); (b) this date is linked with a verifiable date in secular history; (c) the exact literal fulfilment of the first part of the prophecy, vv. 25-26, given 570 years before the event, is an assurance that the second part, v. 27, will be fulfilled just as literally; (d) other prophecies link with the divine time-line given here and in doing so they complete the prophetic picture.
The Prayer of Daniel (Dan 9:1-23)
In the city of Babylon, Daniel, an old man of 85 years, is on his knees in the presence of his God. Dramatic events have taken place on the world stage. Just months before, mighty Babylon, capital of the great Babylonian Empire, had fallen to the Medo-Persian armies (13th October 539 BC) as recorded in Daniel chapter 5. The date of Daniel’s prayer is given as, “the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes” (9:1). Using our chronology, this is the year 538 BC. Daniel is deeply burdened about the future of his people – the nation of Israel.
In divine discipline upon His disobedient and rebellious people, God had allowed Nebuchadnezzar, at that stage crown prince of Babylon, to capture Jerusalem in 606 BC. As a result, Nebuchadnezzar had deported to Babylon the leading families of Judah. Daniel, as a teenager, was in this first group of deportees. Despite clear warnings from the prophet Jeremiah, the puppet kings of Judah continued to rebel against Babylon until, exasperated by their recalcitrance, Nebuchadnezzar returned in 586 BC, deported the remaining people and completely destroyed Jerusalem.
It would be perfectly natural to assume that the promises God had given to Abraham of a great people (Gen 12:2), and a national home in Canaan (Gen 15:18), and to David of a throne to his house for ever (2 Sam 7:16), could never be realised. However, Daniel knew that in the ministry of Jeremiah God had set a divine limit upon the captivity and shown, even before the first invasion, that, “He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem” (Dan 9:2; Jer 25:11-14). Daniel has spent 68 years in Babylon and, realising that the period is almost over, is burdened as to what lies ahead for his people. Is it any wonder that Daniel is praying?
In his prayer there is: (a) a confession of sin as he identifies with his people (9:3-16). Notice, “we have sinned” repeated in verses 5, 8, and 15; (b) a claim that “thy great mercies” in the character of God, v16, demand that He “hear” and “forgive2, vv. 17-19. In response to the godly exercise of Daniel, addressed as “greatly beloved”, God gives him a vision that would not only implicitly unfold the immediate future of Daniel’s people, Israel, and Daniel’s city, Jerusalem, but explicitly unfold the distant future when that nation would become a blessing to mankind under the sovereignty of One identified as “the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt 1:1; Gal 3:16).
The Prophecy Given to Daniel (Dan 9:24-27)
In answer to Daniel’s exercise, Gabriel is commissioned to show to Daniel (9:23), that within a specified period of years, seventy sevens, or 490 years, God will literally fulfil all the promises to Abraham and to David. When the promises are fulfilled the people of Israel, “thy people” (v24), will dwell in peace in the land of Canaan under the king of David’s line, ruling in Jerusalem, “thy holy city” (v24), with consequent blessing to mankind.
The Period Determined
Hebrew scholars agree that the word “weeks” is a generic term meaning “sevens” without specifying days, weeks, months or years. Perhaps the best translation would be heptad, meaning something composed of seven parts. Since Daniel had in his thoughts the 70 years of captivity (v2), now coming to an end, and he receives an answer in terms of “seventy sevens”, it is a logical inference that the subject is still years and the period becomes seventy sevens of years – thus 490 years. It is to be noted that Israel, and Babylon, used the lunar-based year of 360 days. Thus, the period of 490 years of 360 days totalling 173,880 days “are determined” – the Hebrew root of the verb means “to cut” suggesting this period is “cut out” of history for a specific purpose. Within this specified period the purpose of God is to be accomplished.
The Purpose Defined
The objective to be achieved in this specified period is clearly defined in six statements. The first three deal with the national problem that had brought Israel to their present state. The issue of sin must be dealt with before blessing can be enjoyed. Daniel is not told how this is to be done but Isaiah’s ministry in setting forth the Servant of Jehovah, Christ, will fully explain. It is to be noticed how the words sin, iniquity and transgression run through Isaiah chapter 53. Here, the results of the great work of the Servant are made good to the nation.
Three expressions are used: (a) “to finish transgression – the noun ‘transgression’ comes from a verb that means ‘to rebel’. Thus, the rebellion endemic in Israel is to be ‘finished’; the picture in the verb is that of a ‘beast – shut up’. Transgression has been so dealt with there can be no subsequent breaking out of the rebel nature seen in the past; (b) ‘to make an end of sins’ – the verb means to ‘seal up’ and the picture is of a ‘book – sealed up’. Sin has been so dealt with that the record is righteously cleared and there can be no additions; (c) “to make reconciliation for iniquity” – the basis of the verb is ‘to make atonement’. In New Testament terms, propitiation has taken place, satisfaction has been given to God. The picture is of a ‘bill – settled up’. Sin fully dealt with, the nation can now enjoy the blessing intended by God. The blessing is centred in the acceptance of a person – indeed, a sovereign.
Three terms are used: (a) “to bring in everlasting righteousness” (Isa 32:1) – a new rule in the land under a new ruler; (b) “to seal up the vision and prophecy” – a revelation that makes interim measures unnecessary; (c) “to anoint the most holy” – a recognition of a divine person for whom the holiest is anointed as He takes up permanent residence in Jerusalem. The sovereign has arrived – the promises to Abraham and David are fully realised in a person who takes the place of prophet, priest and king. He will be identified in the next verse as Messiah.
The Prince Designate (v25)
This verse deals specifically with the commencement of the period that will culminate in the arrival on the scene of “Messiah the Prince” – the Anointed – the Christ. The date that allows the clock to start ticking is given as “from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem”.
There are three edicts in scripture regarding the building of the temple (2 Chron 36:22-23, Ezra 6:6-12, 7:12-26), but there is only one with regard to the city and we are not surprised to find it carefully dated. This is the decree given by King Artaxerxes Longimanus to Nehemiah (Neh 2:1-8). It is dated in his 20th year in the month Nisan. Since it was standard practice in Babylon and in Medo-Persia to date edicts from the first of the month in which they were issued, the starting date for this decree becomes, in our chronology, 1st Nisan 445 BC. Implicit in this verse is the return of a remnant of the nation of Israel to Jerusalem. So Daniel’s immediate concern about his people is answered. This return took place between 536 BC and 445 BC when the temple was built. The key dates for the temple may be noted: founded under Zerubbabel 536 BC; finished under the ministry of Haggai and Zechariah 516 BC; furnished under Ezra 458 BC. It is thus 90 years from the first return under Zerubbabel in 536 BC through the exercise of Nehemiah that attention was focussed on the city and the decree issued in 445 BC. Daniel had been dead many years when this key date starts the prophetic clock.
From the commencing date to Messiah the Prince would be measured as ‘seven weeks’ and ‘three score and two weeks’ – thus a total of sixty-nine weeks of years that covers 483 years. The reason for the break after the seven weeks (49 years) is clearly to point to the completion of the city. The ‘street’ or ‘open place’ is used of the public area where civic gatherings took place and ‘wall’ is not the usual word for wall but is best translated as ‘the scarped rampart’ (F.A. Tatford), denoting the completion of the defences of the city. “Even in troublous times” points to Nehemiah’s time and the following years until the prophetic voice fell silent in Malachi, 396 BC, 49 years from 445 BC.
The “threescore and two weeks” period brings us to “Messiah the Prince” or, as the Revised Version reads, “Unto the Anointed One the Prince”. So, from the 1st Nisan 445 BC to the expected Christ would be 483 years of 360 days or a total of 173,880 days.
In his book The Coming Prince (pg. 127), Sir Robert Anderson has shown that exact calculation of the days brings us to the date 10th Nisan 32 AD. The expression “Messiah the Prince” implies a public presentation of Christ and thus rules out any reference to His birth or to His baptism. However, there is one very public event recorded in all the Gospels and dated in the Gospel of John. This is the arrival of Christ in Jerusalem riding on the colt. The Jewish Passover was, of course, on the 14th Nisan. For His last Passover, Christ went up to Jerusalem six days before the Passover (John 11:51), which would be the 8th Nisan 32 AD. In this year the 8th fell on a Friday. Christ would rest on the Sabbath, 9th Nisan, and then attend the supper after sunset in the house of Simon the leper (Matt 26:6, John 12:1-9). On the next day (John 12:12), the first day of the week, the 10th Nisan, Christ presented Himself officially to His nation as “Messiah the Prince”. Zechariah was given a prophetic view of that moment when the nation was challenged, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation: lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” (Zech 9:9). Messiah the prince had arrived, exactly on schedule!
The Programme Deferred (v26)
“After the threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off.” In sober prophetic statement the most dramatic moment in earth’s history is stated. Instead of a crown the nation of Israel gave Christ a cross!
Four days after the closing of the 69th week, on the 14th Nisan 32 AD, Christ died on the cross of Calvary. “The Lamb of God” (John 1:29), having been ‘kept’ the four literal days, dies on the Passover day in keeping with scripture. ‘Cut off’ is a word used in scripture to describe deliberate judicial action (Isa 53:8) – the nation refusing His claim took action to put Him to death. The KJV reading, “but not for himself” may be replaced by the more exact reading of the RV, “and shall have nothing”. No crown, only a cross for the Messiah the Anointed! The consequence is that the clock of prophecy stopped. The purpose of God for this nation was not cancelled but temporarily suspended. Before the Sovereign could reign, Israel would have to face her sin.
That there is a gap between the 69th and 70th week of the prophecy is obvious. Two events are noted as taking place after the 69th week has closed with the arrival of Christ and before the 70th week opens in the next verse. The first event is the cross, Messiah cut off, four days after his presentation to the nation. The second event is the destruction of the city, Jerusalem, and the sanctuary, the temple, just 38 years later. In 70 AD in the process of subduing the rebellious province of Judaea, a Roman army under Titus destroyed both the city and the sanctuary. The agent of this destruction is very carefully identified as, “the people of the prince that shall come”. The participle that describes the prince as “coming” makes it clear that the people would come before this particular prince would appear on the historical scene. In other words, while the people are certainly the Roman army, the prince cannot be Titus. The prophecy looks beyond Titus to show that a far greater than Titus would emerge from the West. From the people who arrive with Titus – a western people – the one identified as the “Coming Prince” would arise. In retrospect, the gap between people and prince lengthens to centuries. In this statement is foreshadowed the coming upon the world stage of a mighty leader from an imperial Western power, inheritor of all the might of Rome. As the next verse will show, he is an end-time figure who has not yet appeared. The action of the next verse may well mark his political debut as a peacemaker.
The ferocity of the Jewish defence of Jerusalem incited the Roman soldiers to unparalleled brutality. Crosses around the city were in such numbers that it was said that not a tree was left in Judaea. Titus had given orders that the sanctuary was to be preserved but such was the rage of the soldiers that the magnificent Herodian temple was deliberately set on fire. In the burning temple the gold melted and ran down between the stones. To get the gold the soldiers prised the stones apart.
A greater than Titus had said, “There shall not be left one stone upon another” (Matt 24:2). The subsequent history of Jerusalem is summarised in three statements: (a) “and the end thereof shall be with a flood”; (b) “and even unto the end shall be war”; (c) “desolations are determined”. These statements cover the intervening centuries until the commencement of the 70th week. The word ‘flood’ in the Old Testament is used frequently of an enemy invasion, (Nah 1:8, Isa 28:28). It is simply a matter of historical record that, in these intervening years down to the present, Jerusalem has endured 36 major wars, experienced 20 sieges and been destroyed 17 times.
When subsequent New Testament revelation is taken into account, it is clear that within this time-break lies: (a) the resurrection of Christ on the 17th of the month Nisan and His ascension 40 days later; (b) the setting aside temporarily of the nation of Israel (Rom 11:25); (c) the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the incorporation of the church (Acts 2); (d) the mission of the church in the preaching of the gospel worldwide; (e) the removal of the church from earth when Christ comes to the air (1 Thess 4:13-18). It should be noticed that since the church is not introduced until after Israel is set aside, it is clear that the church must be removed before Israel comes back into the prophetic timetable, with the confirmation of the covenant of the next verse.
The Power Displayed (v27)
One week of this prophecy awaits fulfilment. Consistent exegesis demands that this is a period of 7 years of 360 days – making a total of 2,520 days. If the first coming of Christ was accurate to the day, there is a very strong case for accuracy in the date of the second coming of Christ to earth. The starting point of this period is the confirming of a covenant between one identified as “he” and a leader in Israel who speaks for the “many”. The only possible antecedent for the “he”, both grammatically, the nearest antecedent, and logically, is the one described as “the Coming Prince” in the previous verse. The use of the word “Prince” suggests one who stands in contrast to Messiah the Prince and it has been shown that he is the powerful leader from the West. Other scriptures – Dan 2:40-43; 7:7-8 – indicate that he will lead a ten-power world kingdom on the pattern of, but far greater than, the Roman Empire. He is depicted as the Beast from the sea and called the “Man of Sin” (Rev 13:1-2, 2 Thess 2:3).
The emergence of a leader in Israel able to enter into such a covenant assumes that Israel as a people are back in their own land and, as a nation, are able to decide their own destiny. For a period of 2,554 years from 606 BC to 1948 AD this was never so. It must therefore be of prophetic significance that only since Israel became an independent nation on 14th May 1948 could such a covenant be made. They await a charismatic leader able to command a majority vote for peace. When such arises, he will be the one of whom the Lord warned that he would “come in his own name” (John 5:43), to claim the allegiance of the apostate nation of Israel.
This seven-year covenant, underwritten by the powerful Western leader, (a) brings peace in Israel (b) permits the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem (2 Thess 2:3-4), and (c) allows the re-establishment of the sacrificial system of Judaism. Isaiah has described it in scathing terms as “a covenant with death” and “an agreement with hell” (Isa 28:18). The confirmation of this covenant commences the seven-year tribulation, whose details are unfolded in Revelation 6:16.
In the middle of this period, at the three and a half years stage, a crisis develops. Suddenly, the recently established sacrificial system is interrupted. The “sacrifice”, the blood offerings, and the “oblation”, the nonblood offerings, of Judaism are made to cease. The action that brings this about is described thus, “Upon the wing of desolations shall come one that maketh desolate” (RV). The most justifiable interpretation is to see the “wing” as the “wing” or “pinnacle” of the temple from which Satan sought to persuade Christ to make a public claim to deity (Matt 4:5). It is here that the leader in Israel, the False Prophet, will place the image he has made of the Beast (Rev 13:14), and demand his worship. This is identified by the Lord as, “the abomination of desolation” (Matt 24:15). This happening, at the mid-point of the week, introduces the “great tribulation” (Matt 24:21), spoken of by Jeremiah as “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer 30:7), when unparalleled judgement breaks on earth. This is the period when Jerusalem is “trodden under foot for 42 months” (Rev 11:2), and every one who will not worship the Beast is put to death.
This idolatry, the worship of Satan’s man, is allowed to continue to the “consummation”, a word meaning “full end”. The judgement of this man will take place on the last day of this seven-year week, as Christ arrives on earth with the armies of heaven (Rev 19:11). The word “determined” is the same word as in verse 26 and means “decreed” – heaven has passed its judicial sentence upon unbelieving mankind both in Israel and the nations. Unbelievers who worship the Beast, bow to his image, and take his mark will share his doom. That judgment is defined in the final statement of the text – “shall wrath be poured upon the desolator” (RV). This points to the confrontation at Armageddon between Christ and the Man of Sin who has led the world into terrible desolation. The record of scripture is concise, “And the beast was taken and with him the false prophet…these both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone” (Rev 19:20). The desolator removed to the Lake of Fire and his armies destroyed (Rev 19:20-21), Christ moves to Jerusalem (Psa 24:7- 10), to claim the crown refused Him when He came the first time. The promises to Abraham and David will be fulfilled in the kingdom established at this point. The record of Zechariah thrills, “And he shall speak unto the nations, and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth” (Zech 9:10).