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What is the Meaning of Daniel’s 70 Weeks?

In this article, the famous prophecy of the “70 Weeks” (Daniel 9:24-27) is concisely and helpfully expounded by Gabriel B. Fyfe (1909-1999), a Bible expositor who for many years taught the Word of God to appreciative audiences in Ealing, London, UK.

Daniel 9 is one of the key chapters of the prophetic word. If understood (with other key chapters), the ways of God through the ages will become plain.

The “70 weeks” constitute a period cut out of the calendar of time for special consideration. “Determined” (9:24) means “marked-off” or “cut out”, and in only four verses the entire history of the Jews, from Daniel’s own time to the deliverance and blessing of the nation, is epitomised.

For the sake of clarity it may be helpful in this article to view the subject under several specific headings:

1) The setting of the prophecy
2) The subjects of the prophecy
3) The scale of the prophecy
4) The sections of the prophecy
5) The start of the prophecy
6) The sequence of the prophecy
7) The separated week of the prophecy.

1) The Setting of the Prophecy

In B.C. 606, when Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah, Daniel was carried off into Babylon. At the time of the vision of the “70 weeks”, 68 of the 70 years spoken of in the prophecy of Jeremiah 25 (see also Jer 29:4-10) had already run their course; so that the period of the captivity in Babylon was due to expire within two years.

Daniel had apparently been studying this prophecy in Jeremiah with considerable interest and deep exercise of heart. He was by now an old man, and in such a condition of spiritual maturity that God could reveal to him the intentions in His mind.

The vision of the 70 weeks was given to Daniel in order to resolve the problem that was occupying his mind concerning reconciling the 70 years predicted by Jeremiah and Isaiah, with the vision of the four wild beasts he himself had received (Dan 7). Cyrus had by now overcome Babylon, as prophesied in Isaiah 44:28. This, then, is the background to the vision of the 70 weeks.

2) The Subjects of the Prophecy

The prophecy concerned Daniel’s people (the Jews) and Daniel’s holy city (Jerusalem). We note the pronouns – “thy people” and “thy holy city”. “Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city” (Dan 9:24).

It was a case of “thy people”, for Israel had at this time been disowned by God. They were “Lo Ammi” (“not my people”), Hos 1:9; and this sentence imposed upon His earthly people because of their defection and idolatry will not be removed until the Day of the Lord. God, nevertheless, is watching over them providentially, and any who harm the Jews, even during the time they are disowned by God will incur dire consequences from God.

The period of the 70 weeks marked off in time’s calendar will include some five important features relative to Israel:-

a) “To finish the transgression”; that is, their evil course will be terminated.

b) “To make an end of sin, and to make reconciliation (expiation) for iniquity”, that is, pardon will be procured for them through the sacrifice of Calvary.

c) “To bring in everlasting righteousness”, that is, justification brought in for Israel, as shown in Zechariah 3.

d) “To seal up the vision and prophecy”, all the items of the prophecy being thus fulfilled.

e) “To anoint the most Holy”, the sanctuary in Jerusalem being restored to Israel at the commencement of the kingdom age as described in detail in Ezekiel 40.

3) The Scale of the Prophecy

We must determine the time-scale upon which this notable prophecy is structured.

It is called the prophecy of the 70 weeks – literally, the “seventy sevens”, hebdomad, or a period of seven parts. Strictly, something divided into, or consisting of seven parts. So we have ‘seventy sevens’ here in Daniel 9. The length of the periods is not stated, so they could be days, or months, or years. The context must indicate which and there may be a pointer in verse 2 of this chapter to the effect that years are intended. This is also corroborated by the fact that some of the predictions have been already fulfilled.

Both the natural world and the spiritual realm are framed on the principle of sevens, which stamps them with a common origin. Seven is the number of spiritual completeness or perfection. It is made up of 3 + 4; 3 being the number of deity, and 4 the number of the world (e.g. 4 seasons, 4 cardinal points, etc.). Moreover, the ‘law of sevens’ runs throughout scripture from the book of Genesis to the final book, The Revelation.

Now, the prophetic time-scale is probably enunciated in Numbers 14:34 – “Each day for a year”. The scale is therefore 1 day = 1 year. A similar reference occurs in Ezekiel 4:6. Therefore the prophecy of the 70 weeks, or 490 days, covers a period of 490 years in the prophetic time-scale.

4) The Sections of the Prophecy

This celebrated prophecy is divided into three distinct sections:-

Section 1 = “7 weeks”, or 49 years.
Section 2 = “62 weeks”, or 434 years.
Section 3 = “1 week”, or 7 years.

Total “70 weeks”, or 490 years.

5) The Start of the Prophecy

The starting point of the 70 weeks was from the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.

There are, however, four different decrees which have been considered in connection with the start of this prophecy:-

i) The Decree given by Cyrus in B.C. 536, Ezra 1:1-2. But nothing is stated in this decree about the restoring and rebuilding of Jerusalem. It is the house for God, the temple, which had to be reconstructed. 50,000 captives returned to Palestine at this time – see Ezra 2:64-65.

ii) The Decree of Darius in B.C. 519, which was simply in confirmation of the decree of Cyrus, Ezra 6:1-12.

iii) The Decree of Artaxerxes, King of Persia in B.C. 458. This was in the form of a letter which gave Ezra permission to return to their land with the captives – see Ezra 7:11-22.

iv) The Decree of Artaxerxes Longimanus in B.C. 445, issued in the twentieth year of his reign. This decree was to restore and rebuild Jerusalem – see Neh 2:5-9. The date of this decree was 14th March, B.C. 445.

The fourth decree listed seems to be the one in question, relative to our present subject. And thus the 70 weeks commenced on 14th March, B.C. 445.

6) The Sequence of the Prophecy

“From the going forth of the commandment…unto Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks” (Dan 9:25).

Some have suggested that there may have been a break in the sequence between the 7 weeks and the 62 weeks. But the text would seem to indicate that the 62 weeks flowed on without interruption from the end of the 7th week. No doubt it took the 7 prophetic weeks, or 49 literal years, to restore and rebuild Jerusalem (see v25), and this operation, according to Nehemiah, was accomplished in troublous times.

The first period (7 weeks or 49 years) ended in B.C. 396 – the time of the prophecy of Malachi, and the date of the close of the Old Testament prophetic scriptures.

The second period of 62 weeks, or 434 years, ended with the coming of Messiah the Prince, most likely with the public presentation of Himself as King to the nation as a whole, when He rode in triumph into Jerusalem on the colt of an ass (Zech 9:91, Matt 21:15, Luke 19:30). This event, rather than the event of His birth, would seem to be the day on which the second period terminated, that is, 483 years in all, since the date of the commencement of the 70 prophetic weeks = 173,880 days, which some have calculated to be precisely the number of days from 14th March B.C. 445 to 2nd April A.D. 30.

7) The Separated week of the prophecy

There is clearly a gap between the fulfilment of the 69th week and the beginning of the 70th week. This parenthesis (of which Daniel was totally unaware) is the church age, the dispensation of grace, and it covers a period of unprescribed duration.

Certain notable events are predicted which would occur before the last and detached week would commence:-

i) Messiah would be cut off and have nothing; that is, He would not have the kingdom and dominion. This would take place after 62 weeks – when the second section of the prophecy had expired (Dan 9:26).

ii) The city (Jerusalem) and the sanctuary (the temple) would be destroyed. This took place historically in A.D. 70 by the Romans under Titus (Dan 9:26).

iii) A prince would come, of the same people (i.e. the Romans), who would destroy the city and the sanctuary. He will be the great dictator of the revived Roman empire at the time of the end of the age (v26).

iv) Palestine (the land) would be desolated until the consummation – until the 70 weeks have run their course, and Christ returns to deliver the faithful remnant of the Jews at His second coming.

The last week of the ’70 weeks’ prophecy is divided into two equal parts of 3 1/2 years each. The second of the halves is the period known as the great tribulation, the time of Jacob’s trouble, the unprecedented time of suffering and tribulation spoken of by the Lord in His Olivet discourse.

This period is variously referred to as either 3 1/2 years, 42 months or 1,260 days (see Dan 9, Matt 24, Mark 13, Luke 21 and Rev 13).

Thus, under the foregoing seven headings we have sought to convey something of the substance of the celebrated prophecy of the 70 weeks – sometimes termed the “backbone of the prophetic word”.