The Seventy Weeks
There are two things to remember as we study this word about Israel’s future. First, the word is from God and is for Daniel’s insight and understanding. God gave this instruction and vision to Daniel so that he might understand the future of God’s people. Second, the context of this prophecy are the approaching end of the 70 year exile and Daniel’s prayer for God to restore Jerusalem and the Temple.
Daniel, in fact, was not looking for just physical restoration, of stone and wood buildings. He looked for spiritual restoration. He wanted Israel to repent and be restored to the covenant with the Lord. He wanted them to be God’s people again. And he likely looked forward to the coming of the Messiah with a new covenant, who was prophesied by Jeremiah just as he prophesied exile and return.
Gabriel told Daniel that 70 weeks (literally “sevens”) were decreed for his people and the holy city. (24) In other words, God decreed there would be 70 periods of 7 that concerned the nation of Israel, the temple and the city of Jerusalem. Most commentators assume that the sevens\weeks are periods of 7 years. Therefore, the period is 490 years.
So, the underlying message is that yes, the original period of 70 years decreed by Jeremiah will end and the Jews will return to Jerusalem. But the problem with their sinful and rebellious hearts is not solved. A longer period of time will be used to fix that problem.
Some people believe that means a literal period of exactly 490 years. Others believe the time period is symbolic. This is based on the idea that Leviticus 26:18-28 says God will punish Israel sevenfold for their sins. Therefore God multiplied the 70 years of exile by 7. Since the number 7 is the number is the number of God and 70 a number for completeness in God’s work, multiplying the 70 years of exile by 7 years might be a symbol of a long period of time in which God acts to make his people holy. In Matthew 18:22, for example, when Peter asked Jesus if he should forgive 7 times, Jesus said forgive 70 x 7 times, a long unlimited number of times representing the patience and forgiveness of God. Interestingly, no ones seem to take that number literally.
God’s time for making his people holy was longer than Daniel imagined, and is likely longer than we imagine also.
For those who see this as a literal 490 years, there are 3 different approaches. First are those who believe the whole prophecy concerns the persecution of the Jews by Antiochus Epiphanies. Second are those who see the prophecy focused on the first coming of Christ (the First Advent View). Third are those who believe the prophecy deals with both the first and second coming of Christ (Second Advent View). it is this one that requires the insertion of a long time period between the 69th and 70th weeks.
When does the 70 sevens\weeks start? It makes sense that the 70 weeks begins at, or near, the end of the 70 year exile, since that is the context of Daniel’s prayer. Gabriel said the first period of time in the 70 weeks began “from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem”. (25)
There are debates about which “word” or “command” that is. People point to the different decrees of different rulers.
The first thing to think about that word is that it is the word of the Lord. Gabriel told Daniel “as soon as you began to pray, an answer was given”. (9:23) That would appear to mean once Daniel began his prayer asking for God to restore Israel, God answered.
That word or command of God is then reflected in the decree of Cyrus to rebuild the temple. 2 Chronicles 36:21-22 (repeated in Ezra 1:1) tells us this specifically. It says the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus to make a proclamation to rebuild the temple that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled.
That Cyrus’s decree is the word to which Gabriel referred is further shown by Isaiah’s prophecies.
In Isaiah 44:28, the Lord said: (I am the LORD from verse 24) who says of Cyrus, He is my shepherd and he shall fulfill all my purpose, saying of Jerusalem, She shall be built, and of the temple, our foundation shall be laid.
Also, in Isaiah 45:13, the Lord said:
I have stirred him up in righteousness and I will make all his ways level; he shall build my city and set my exiles free, not for price or reward, says the Lord of hosts.
During this time period of 490 years, several things are to happen:
to finish the transgression;
to put an end to sin ;
atone for iniquity;
to bring in everlasting righteousness;
to seal both vision and prophet;
and to anoint the most holy (the word place is not in the Hebrew text).(24)
The 6 things that would be achieved during the 70 weeks\sevens can be combined into 3 groups:
dealing with the sin of Israel (1 & 2);
inauguration of the time of the Messiah (3 & 4); and
The fulfillment of everything (5 & 6).
Although there are 6 things written, it is likely written in parallelism. This is a common idiom for Jewish writing. They says things twice for emphasis. So, here, there are likely 3 things to be accomplished, each said 2 different ways.
The 70 weeks are also divided into 2 periods:
49 years (7 weeks) plus 434 years (62 weeks), so 69 sevens or 483 years; and
7 years (1 week\seven).
The First 69 Weeks
We see in verse 25 that Gabriel said there are 69 sevens: 7 sevens\49 years and 62 sevens from the going out the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of the coming of the anointed one, a prince. This is 483 years if taken literally. During this time, the temple is built again, but in troubled times. The construction used by the ESV is a little hard to understand, since it inserts the word “then”. The NIV is easier, saying “from the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes there will be seven sevens and sixty-two sevens.”
The 69 weeks may be divided into 2 parts: first for the seven years it took Ezra and Nehemiah to restore Jerusalem, and second, 62 more sevens to the coming of the Anointed One. The Hebrew word for “anointed” is “masiyah”. It is a reference to Jesus. In John 1:41, John recorded Andrew telling Simon “We have found the Messiah” and translates for the Greeks “the Christ”
Christos in Greek meant anointed also, so it is a translation of messiah. We transliterate Masiyah into Messiah and Christos into Christ. The New American Standard Bible translates it as “”until Messiah the Prince”.
So we know Jerusalem would be rebuilt in troubles times. It was certainly troubled when it began, as the books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell us. But tyrants and persecutors continued to come up to the time of Christ and beyond. When Jesus began his ministry, the Romans governed Jerusalem, even appointed high priests, and often interfered with Jewish life.
So the restoration of Israel after exile was partial and incomplete. And we see that they continued to break the covenant. The last book of our Old Testament, Malachi, is full of God’s complaints against Israel for this. God’s very last words were, when John the Baptist comes, you will either repent or I will strike the land with a curse. (Malachi 4:5-6) Only would the coming of Jesus bring in complete restoration.
The 70th Week
Verse 26 tells us that after this period of time, the Anointed One (Messiah) will be cut off. This refers to the crucifixion of Jesus. Since this is after the 69 weeks (7 + 62), it seems logical that this happen in the 70th week. But there are those who want add an indefinite period of time between the 69th and 70th week. It is a bit confusing since the words “70th week” are never used. But, after the 69th implies the 70th.
Lastly, we are told in verse 26 that a people of a ruler to come will come and destroy the city and the temple (sanctuary). The end will come like a flood: war will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed.
Jesus is the ruler, as told in verse 25. He is the prince. The Hebrew word for ruler and prince are the same. He told the Jews that their rejection of him would lead to destruction.
We know that the Romans came in 70 A.D. and destroyed the city and the sanctuary. You can read about that in detail in the writings of Josephus. The Romans desolated the temple, defiling it with their images and sacrifices, then destroying it. The general who led the Roman forces later became the ruler of Rome as Emperor.
Jesus also foretold this event in Matthew 24:1, Jesus foretold the complete destruction of the temple. In 24:15 he spoke of the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet. He urged believers to flee from Judea into the mountains. Christians did in fact flee to Pella, in the Transjordan mountains, before the destruction of the city.
Verse 27 then tells us “he” will confirm a covenant with many for one seven and in the middle of the seven he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. I believe the “he” here is Christ. He brought in the New Covenant. The book of Hebrews tells us the New Covenant makes the Old Covenant obsolete. It further tells us the sacrifice of Jesus ended the lesser sacrifice of animals.
This interpretation fits with the context of the prayer and Gabriel’s answer. Daniel’s prayer is based on covenant. The Israelites broke the covenant, Daniel repents for them and asks for restoration. The 70 years of exile is a complete period (10) of sabbath years. The sabbath year, the 7th year, was to be one of rest and release. Israel did not observe it, so God imposed it via the exile. 7 cycles of 7 sabbath years brought about the year of Jubilee. We never see it observed in the Old Testament either. 490 years is 10 of those cycles, just as 70 was ten cycles of the sabbath year.
When the exile ended, after 10 cycles of Sabbath years, God sent an anointed one to deliver Israel. That one was Cyrus, who issued his decree at the bidding of the Lord. At the end of 490 years, 10 cycles of Jubilee years, God sent an anointed one, Jesus, to delver his people from sin into righteousness. As verse 24 says, Jesus put an end to sin, atoned for wickedness and brought in everlasting righteousness.
Finally, a desolator will come with abominations and make the temple desolate. (27) This will happen until complete destruction comes. One explanation of this is that the abomination is the crucifixion of Jesus that resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem. So, the end of the Jewish age comes after their Messiah is rejected. Their temple is destroyed because it is obsolete to the worship of God. The church age began and the temple is the body of Christ, the church.