Daniel 9 and the 70 Weeks

Daniel 9 and the 70 Weeks

According to Daniel 9:1 a period of 70 years had been divinely marked off for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem inflicted by Babylon. Daniel's knowledge (from reading Jeremiah) of this allotted span of time destined to end with the restoration of the city led him to pray for the promised restoration. This he knew must occur after 70 years. Daniel's plea was for God's face to shine once again on the desolate sanctuary (9:17). In his own words his prayer was "on behalf of the holy mountain of God," i.e., the temple mount in Jerusalem (v. 20).

It is in the light of these facts that the famous 70 "weeks" prophecy is presented to us, the foregoing context being essential to our understanding. Gabriel's revelation in Daniel 9:24-27 is in direct response to Daniel's request. The new information revealed to Daniel discloses that a further period of seventy "sevens" (Heb. shavuim) of years, i.e., 490 years, has been mapped out in the divine plan for Daniel's people and the holy city. The end result will be an ultimate completion of desolations, this time not after 70 years but after 490 years. Following this period everlasting righteousness will be introduced and peace will be restored to the holy city (v. 24).

War Until the End

At the heart of Gabriel's message is the fact that "until the end there will be war, desolations are determined…until a complete destruction is poured upon the desolator" (vv. 26, 27). There is a parallel here with the previous desolation of 70 years during the Babylonian captivity. At the end of it Jerusalem was restored. So also, during the last seven of the 490 years "there will be war…desolations are determined." After that all will be well. Restoration will follow.

The Logic of Daniel 9

The seventy weeks prophecy must be understood in terms of the inner logic of the whole of chapter 9. In other words, the revelation provided by Gabriel must answer to the request made by Daniel. Request and response must correspond. The terminus of the 490 years must provide the desired solution to Daniel's problem: How long will it be until the city is finally restored?

It has been maintained that AD 33/34 marks the end of the 490 years. We may test that hypothesis by asking whether any war ceased and whether the city was restored at that time. The answer is that no war was going on in the seven-year period AD 27-34, and no restoration occurred at the end of that period. It is therefore impossible that AD 34 can mark the end of the 490 years.

The so-called historical view claims that the seventy weeks ended in 33/34 AD. But no restoration of the city occurred then. Desolations did not terminate. What's more, a further desolation of Jerusalem followed forty years later! The missing element in this historical view (often associated with amillennialism) is the restoration of Israel and the city of Jerusalem.

The End of the Age

What, then, is the proper time for the end of the 490 years? Clearly, the same end to which all the other prophetic chapters in Daniel direct us - the end of the age marked by the return of Jesus to establish the Kingdom. It is disturbing to the organic unity of Daniel to recognize in chapters 2, 7, 8, and 11-12 the "end" marked by the resurrection and parousia, but to place the "end" in chapter 9 in AD 34. There is an impressive harmony to be found in the events described by all the predictive chapters. In each the eschatological tyrant comes to an end at the hands of the Messiah. Chapter 2 shows us the ten toes crushed by the arrival of the Messianic Kingdom. Chapter 7 shows the three-and-one-half-year reign of the tyrant followed by the Kingdom to be administered by the Son of man and the saints (cp. Luke 12:32: "Fear not, little flock; it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom"). Chapter 8 describes how the tyrannical king will oppose the Messiah, but be brought to ruin. Verse 11:45 sees the same king destroyed just prior to the resurrection in 12:1. But chapter 9 follows the same pattern. The desolator is annihilated at the completion of the seventieth week. The week will terminate when "destruction is poured out on the desolator" (Dan. 9:27). No such event occurred in AD 33/34. AD 33/34 cannot be the terminus for the 70 weeks. The proper terminus is the time of the arrival of the Messiah at the second coming. In this way the organic harmony of Daniel is preserved.

Daniel asks for information about the length of time which must run before the desolations come to an end and the sanctuary is restored. It would be little comfort to be told that the moment of triumph is AD 34 since Jerusalem was totally destroyed again 40 years later in AD 70. In fact, that date would fall entirely outside the allotted 490 years, if they ended in AD 34. This seems to be quite contrary to the natural sense of the whole of chapter 9.

The Gap

Since the 490 years must run until the Kingdom is established, desolation comes to an end, and Jerusalem is restored, there must be a gap between the 69th and 70th week. Gabriel's striking presentation of the 70 weeks in the form 7+62+1 allows for the possibility of the gap and suggests that the periods are not necessarily connected. Moreover, the gap principle is established by the other chapters of Daniel. In chapter 11 a gap must exist somewhere between the reference to history (four kings yet to arrive in Persia - 11:2) and the description of Antichrist in verse 21 onwards. All systems of interpretation recognize a gap in this chapter (except the critical school which would not allow that anything beyond Antiochus Epiphanes is described). In chapter 8 a gap must exist between the reference to Alexander as the notable horn and the subsequent description of Antichrist.

The logic of Daniel's request and Gabriel's reply demand that on the completion of the 490 years final restoration will occur. During the final seven years before the "end" there will be a war and a desolator who comes on the "wing of abominations." The phrase reminds us of Jesus' reference to the abomination of desolation in Matthew 24:15. The appearance of the abomination in the Holy Place is to be the sign for Judean Christians to flee and the trigger for the onset of the great tribulation.

At this point it is all-important to follow Jesus' interpretation. He must be allowed to settle the question of the 70th week for us. It is clear that he saw the abomination and consequent unprecedented tribulation as events of the (to him) far future closely connected with the second coming. This point is proved by the temporal phrase "immediately after" in Matthew 24:29. It is to be immediately after the period of tribulation triggered by the abomination of desolation that Jesus reappears in glory. It is not possible, therefore, that Jesus could have had in mind the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 (even though the AD 70 event may be seen as a "type" of the future destruction). Jesus clearly did not appear immediately after the tribulation in AD 70, and yet he promised to return immediately after the tribulation to which he refers in Matthew 24:21. Logically, therefore, he cannot have meant the events of AD 70.

It is the disregard of this strikingly simple and clear adverbial phrase "immediately after" which has caused all the problems in the reading of Matthew 24. Commentators seem mesmerized by the idea that prophecy must already be history. The simple sequence given by Jesus in Matthew 24 has been overlooked by countless commentators. Jesus foresees tribulation, heavenly signs, second coming in quick succession. Liberal commentators have been ready to admit that Jesus thought he would return after the great tribulation, but they then place that event in AD 70 - making Jesus a false prophet. Why not give Jesus the credit and honor due to him as God's Son and understand that there is a yet future abomination and tribulation just prior to his return?

The Link with Daniel

Jesus was, after all, merely following the scheme laid out by Daniel. Daniel 11:31 foresaw the abomination of desolation during the career of the evil ruler, and some 3½ years were to elapse between the placing of the abomination and the "end" (Dan. 12:11). Moreover, the resurrection was to follow the tribulation initiated by the placing of the abomination in Daniel 11:31:

Daniel 11:31 - They shall set up the abomination of desolation.

Daniel 12:1 - There shall be a time of unprecedented tribulation.

Daniel 12:2 - Many of the sleepers in the dust shall awake to life in the coming age.

Daniel 12:11 - 3 ½ years will elapse between the setting up of the abomination and the end.

Jesus works with the same framework:

Matthew 24:15 - When you see Daniel's abomination of desolation, flee.

Matthew 24:21 - Then shall be unprecedented tribulation.

Matthew 24:29-31 - Immediately after the tribulation the Son of man will appear.

Combining the data of Daniel 9 and Matthew 24 we have the following picture: The 70th week contains wars in connection with the abomination of desolation. Jesus places the abomination immediately before his return. The seventieth week must therefore lie in the future, just before Jesus' advent.

To end the seventieth week in AD 34 destroys the connection between chapter 9 and the other prophetic chapters. It also disturbs the link between the 3½ years of Daniel 9 and the 3½ years of Revelation 13:5, which is clearly future. AD 34 does not end a period of war, but Daniel's 70th week does. Gabriel sees ultimate relief from trouble and full restoration for Jerusalem at the close of the seventieth week. But in AD 70 no such end to trouble came.

A Future Covenant

Furthermore the natural grammatical sequence of Gabriel's message is overlooked by those who see Jesus in the "he" who makes a covenant for seven years. The Hebrew word order makes this clearer than most of the English versions. In Hebrew the prince who is to come appears as the last element in the sentence just before the pronoun "he." We may show this by citing the Jerusalem Bible: "And the city and the sanctuary will be destroyed by the people of the prince who is to come, and his [the prince's] end will come in the flood" (see Keil's exhaustive discussion in his OT commentary). The point to be noted is that the masculine pronoun ending on the Hebrew word for "end" refers naturally to the nearest masculine antecedent, the prince. The next sentence begins with "he," which must refer to the masculine antecedents "the prince" and "his." It would be most strange for the "he" to refer to the Messiah who was "cut off" in verse 26.

It is "he," the evil prince, who makes a covenant for seven years and breaks it after 3½ years. It is also the same "he" who carries on a desolating campaign (v. 27). The masculine present participle connects easily with the same masculine subject, the prince. Moreover it is the same wicked prince who interferes with the sacrifices in the parallel chapters 7, 8, 11, 12. Once again the organic unity of Daniel is preserved when we see the same wicked desolator in each chapter.

The opposite conclusion to the one described here (i.e., that the seventieth week ended in AD 33/34) can only be arrived at by overlooking the context of Daniel 9:24-27, namely, the desire for Daniel to see a complete and final restoration for his people. Though certainly the death of Jesus prepared for this, its fulfillment for the city and people of Israel awaits the second coming. Most significant of all is the teaching of Jesus himself, who refers to Daniel for information about the future. Directing us to Daniel 9:27 and 11:31, he connects the abomination of desolation with the time of unparalleled tribulation followed, as in Daniel, by the resurrection and the second coming. The point may be made as follows:

Jesus places the awful horror in the future yet.

In Daniel's seventieth week the abomination will be set;

That the seventieth week is future, therefore, let us not forget.

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