A Peek into God’s Calendar
February 27, 2000 | Ray Pritchard
My text has long been considered the most important passage in the book of Daniel. For 2000 years Christians have debated its true meaning. It is the key to prophetic interpretation and the backbone of biblical prophecy. If you understand what these verses mean, you will have a good framework for understanding all that the Bible says about the future. Miss this, and Revelation will be a mystery to you.
Many years ago Alva J. McLain published a fine little book on this passage. In the first chapter he mentions three reasons why Daniel 9:24-27 matters so much.
1. It is a witness to the truth of divine revelation.
These words, given by Gabriel to Daniel in 538 BC, describe in detail certain events that would not happen for hundreds of years. These events include the death of Christ and the sacking of Jerusalem by the armies of Rome. What is remarkable is that in these verses God ties himself to a definite chronology regarding the future of Israel. According to some scholars, this passage pinpoints the exact moment in history when the Messiah would present himself to the Jewish people, and it does so over five hundred years before the event took place.
2. It is the rock on which naturalistic theories have foundered.
For generations liberal scholars have tried to late-date Daniel in order to remove the onus of predictive prophecy. They say the book was written after the events occurred but in such a way as to appear that it was written beforehand. However, no one late-dates the book to the time of Christ. This leaves us with one clear case of predictive prophecy, which establishes the credibility of everything else. No wonder the critics try so hard to debunk this passage.
3. It is the key to all New Testament prophecy.
If you have wondered where certain popular writers get the concept of a future seven-year Tribulation period, you will find the answer in this passage. Jesus refers to it in Matthew 24:15 as does Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4. And the amazing events of Revelation 6-19 are simply an expansion of Daniel 9:27. What is presented here in a condensed form is greatly expanded in the New Testament. This passage is the key that unlocks many other biblical prophecies.
The background is very simple. In 538 BC Daniel was reading Jeremiah when he realized that the exile in Babylon was soon to end. He then prayed a passionate prayer (Daniel 9:1-19), confessing the sins of his people and asking God to restore them to their homeland. When the angel Gabriel comes with an answer from God, you might assume that the answer would be: “Good news, Daniel. Your prayer has been heard. Your people will be going home soon.” But that is not the case at all. Daniel asked for a small thing (from God’s point of view), but the answer he receives is huge. To use a modern phrase, God answered his prayer and showed him the whole nine yards. Daniel looked to the small issue of Israel returning from Babylon. Because God lives in eternity, he sees the whole picture and says, “Here is what must happen before Israel is completely restored.”
Gabriel tells him that Israel’s rest will not come for 490 more years. Specifically there will be 49 years of rebuilding followed by another 434 years then Christ will be cut off and sometime after that Jerusalem will be sacked and the Temple destroyed. Then at some future point the Antichrist will make a seven-year treaty with Israel. At the halfway mark of the seven years, he will claim to be God (the abomination of desolation), ushering in the Great Tribulation, but in the end he will be decisively cut off. Then and only then will the six promises of verse 24 be fulfilled. This will usher in a period of unprecedented blessing for the nation of Israel.
As we study this passage, let’s remember that this is about Israel exclusively. The church is nowhere in view. What the angel says has to do with “your people and your holy city.”
I. The Meaning and Purpose of the “70 Weeks”
Seventy “sevens” are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy (Daniel 9:24).
Almost all Bible expositors agree that the “seventy sevens” describe 70 weeks of years. That is, the angel tells Daniel that a period of 490 years will pass before God’s purposes for Israel are completed. This is a much larger subject than the question on Daniel’s mind: How soon will we return to our homeland? God’s purposes far transcend the return of the Jews from Babylon. The six phrases in verse 24 describe God’s full intention. He intends to deal once and for all with the sin of the nation and to establish the Jewish people in a state of everlasting righteousness and eternal blessing. None of these six things have been fulfilled yet as regards the nation of Israel. The death of Christ has made them all possible but as long as the nation itself remains in sin, the application of those blessings remains in the future. And though it is a fact that many Jews are coming to Christ in our day, the vast majority of the Jewish people remain in a state of spiritual blindness regarding Jesus Christ.
II. The First 69 “Weeks”
Having laid out the general outline and purpose of the “70 weeks,” the angel now gives more detail. First, he tells us when the 70 weeks of years will begin. It will be tied to a specific point in time.
Know and understand this: 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.” It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble (Daniel 9:25).
The commentaries contain long discussions about which “decree” is intended here. Several are mentioned but the most likely candidate is the decree of Artaxerxes in 444 BC allowing Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem to supervise the rebuilding of the city walls. This decree seems to fit closest with the description of rebuilding the street and digging some sort of defensive moat around the city to protect it from invaders. And we certainly know from Nehemiah’s own account that the rebuilding took place in a time of trouble.
You will note that the 70 “weeks” of years is broken down into two smaller segments: seven weeks of 49 years and 62 weeks of 434 years. The first 49 years take us from Nehemiah’s day down to the end of the Old Testament, approximately 395 BC. The next 434 years take us to the time of the ministry of Christ.
It is at this point that an important question arises. How precisely should this prophecy be dated? It is clear that Christ (the “Anointed One”) appears sometime near the end of the 69 weeks of years. The first phrase of verse 26 gives us an important clue about the dating: “After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing” (Daniel 9:26a).
This is crucial because it means that Christ will be born sometime near the end of the 69 weeks but will die (the term “cut off” means to die in an execution-style death) “after” the 69th week has ended.
Anderson and Hoehner
Is there a way to precisely nail this down? Many years ago a man named Sir Robert Anderson exhaustively investigated this prophecy and concluded, on the basis of intricate calculations, that the words of Daniel 9 had been fulfilled with remarkable accuracy. He also proposed that the years of Daniel 9 were Jewish lunar years of 360 days each. This evidently corresponds with the various numbers given for the Tribulation period in Revelation 6-19. Putting it all together he concluded that the 69th year ended on the exact day Jesus made his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem just a few days before his crucifixion.
About 25 years ago one of my professors at Dallas Seminary, Dr. Harold Hoehner, reworked Sir Robert Anderson’s calculations, updating them on the basis of newer information. When all was said and done, he came to the following the conclusion: the “70 weeks of years” began on March 5, 444 BC. After you make the appropriate adjustments for moving from a Persian calendar to a Jewish lunar calendar to the Julian calendar we use today, the end result is that the 69th week does in fact end precisely on March 30, AD 33, the day of the Triumphal Entry. Jesus was crucified four days later, which is “after” the 69th week, just as the angel predicted. You can find the details in his book Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ.
In fairness it should be mentioned that finding exact dates in ancient history can be very difficult and there are other ways to figure the first 69 weeks of years. However, all the various theories clearly demonstrate that the 483 years end sometime during the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The rest of the verse describes the sacking of Jerusalem in AD 70 by the Roman armies.
The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed (Daniel 9:26b).
The “prince who is to come” is the Antichrist who will arise out of the revived Roman Empire in the Last Days. He is not identified further because Daniel revealed his identity in Chapter 7.
The “Prince that shall come” is
The Little Horn of Daniel 7 who is (figuratively)
The Small Horn of Daniel 8 who is also
The willful king of Daniel 11 who is
The man of sin of 2 Thessalonians 2 who is
The beast of Revelation 13.
The Antichrist will be the last, worst persecutor of the Jews. He is Satan’s false Christ. He is both “against” Christ and “in place of” Christ.
III. The 70th “Week”
So far we have accounted for 69 of the 70 “weeks” of years. Verses 25-26 discuss the first 483 years God has ordained for Israel. But what about the last “week” of seven years? Evidently it must be very important because Gabriel singles it out for special discussion in verse 27.
He will confirm a covenant with many for one “seven.” In the middle of the “seven” he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him (Daniel 9:27).
This describes a yet-future period when the Antichrist will rise to power, make a seven-year treaty with the Jewish people, breaking it in the middle by proclaiming himself as God, thus setting off three and a half years of terrible persecution and worldwide destruction, at the end of which the Antichrist himself will be suddenly destroyed by God.
This interpretation means that there is a “gap” between the 69th and 70th weeks, a “gap” that is at least 2000 years long. I don’t think we should be surprised at this since the text itself mentions two events that happen between the 69th and 70th weeks. First, the Messiah must be “cut off,” and second, Jerusalem will be sacked by the Roman army. The very end of verse 26 says that wars will continue until the end, which seems to imply a long and undefined period.
Israel Temporarily Sidetracked
Where is the church in all of this? From Daniel’s point of view, the church is completely hidden. Since this prophecy is about the future of the Jewish people, there is no reason to mention the church at all. It is as if Israel is a train riding on the rails of God’s purpose. Once the nation rejected Christ, the train was put on a sidetrack and the church has been at the center of God’s purpose since then. But in the future the church will be taken out of the way (at the Rapture), and Israel will once again be “riding the rails” of God’s purpose. This is analogous to what Paul says in Romans 11 about the wild olive tree (the Gentiles) being grafted into the tree of God’s eternal promise. This has happened because of Israel’s unbelief, but in the end their national blindness will be lifted and the natural olive tree (Israel) will resume its rightful place. Israel will not be on the “sidetrack” forever.
It’s not uncommon for us to speak in “gaps” like this. If you asked me about my life, I might tell you that I was raised in Alabama, went to school in Tennessee and Texas, and have pastored in Oak Park for ten years. That’s a true statement but it would leave out the years I spent pastoring in California and Texas before I came to Oak Park. Gabriel passes over the hundreds of years between the 69th and 70th week because they aren’t relevant to Daniel’s understanding. The angel wanted Daniel to focus on the 70 weeks of years, not on what happens in-between.
The “abomination that causes desolation” apparently describes an act of the Antichrist midway through the Tribulation whereby he stops the Jewish sacrifice (in the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem) and sets himself up as God. This is also tied in with the famous “mark of the beast” mentioned in Revelation 13.
This final verse is important because it gives us the framework for the events of the Last Days. The seven-year Tribulation wasn’t invented by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins or by Hal Lindsey. It comes straight from Daniel 9:27.
Putting it All Together
Here is a short summary of this passage. God has determined 70 weeks of years for the Jewish people. The first 69 weeks of years ended just before the death of Christ. In the future God will once again deal with Israel during the final 70th week, a period we call the Tribulation. When that terrible time comes to an end, the six great blessings of verse 24 will be fulfilled to Israel and Christ will establish his kingdom on the earth.
From this passage a number of truths emerge:
A) The sovereignty of God over all the details of history.
This whole prophecy must have seemed like a dream to Daniel. It would be hard enough to believe in 538 BC that the nation would soon return home. But Gabriel’s words tell us that all history is in God’s hands. Nothing happens by accident and all things work together to fulfill the divine purpose God has ordained.
B) The truth that God is not finished with the Jewish people yet.
Though today the vast majority of Jews live in unbelief, a day is coming when Israel will once again be front and center in God’s plan. Romans 11:26 promises that when Christ returns “all Israel will be saved.” The greatest revival in history is yet to be seen as “they look upon him whom they have pierced” and the Jews discover that a fountain of forgiveness has been opened for their sins.
Thank God, the final chapter for God’s Chosen People has not yet been written. There will be a terrible final judgment that will lead to a massive turning to the Lord. We are told that in this generation Jews are turning to Christ in greater numbers than ever before. That turning, wonderful as it is, is only a foretaste of what is to come.
C) The absolute, detailed truthfulness of God’s Holy Word.
The critics have attacked this passage but they cannot answer it. Today it stands as a rock upon which all the naturalistic theories must eventually be broken. Most of it has literally been fulfilled. This demonstrates that the Bible is indeed the inspired, inerrant Word of God. And it gives us faith to believe that what has not yet been fulfilled will happen just as the angel predicted 2500 years ago.
Let the unbelievers scoff if they will. The Bible stands. Every word is true because every word comes from God.
D) The unsettled course of this present age.
We should not be surprised when we hear of wars in many places. Gabriel said that “desolations are determined.” This means that God has ordained the unsettled nature of this present age. There can be no lasting peace until the Prince of Peace himself returns. This should not lead to pessimism nor should it cause us to give up our efforts to be peacemakers, but it ought to lead us to a kind of honest realism about our efforts. Until the beastly nature of man’s heart is changed, the killing will never end.
E) The importance of knowing Jesus Christ personally.
This week I read the story of Leopold Cohn who was born in the Orthodox Jewish community of Brezezna, Hungary in 1862. When he was seven both his parents died and he was left to fend for himself. Feeling a call from God, he set out to become a rabbi and graduated with high marks from the Talmudic academy at the age of 18. Soon he was married and in keeping with the custom of the time moved into the home of his wife’s parents. This allowed him a great deal of free time to study the Torah (what we call the Old Testament) and the Talmud, the collected writings of leading rabbis commenting on the Torah.
Every morning he repeated the 12th article of the Jewish creed: “I believe with a perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah, and though he tarry, yet will I wait daily for his coming.” As he studied one question burned itself into his mind. “Why does the Messiah tarry? Why has he not come to deliver his people?” The answers he found did not satisfy his mind or his heart. While reading the Talmud, he discovered that other rabbis before him had wrestled with this same question. As he continued to study he realized that the Messiah should have come long ago. Could it be that God had not kept his promise? He decided to study the words of the Hebrew prophets for himself, to see what they said about the coming of Messiah. He paid particular attention to Daniel’s prophecy of the “70 weeks” in Daniel 9:24-27. There he discovered truth he had never seen before. It seemed plain to him that Daniel predicted the coming of Messiah some 400-500 years after the prophecy was given. But that was 2500 years ago and the rabbis said that Messiah had not yet come. How could he resolve this contradiction?
He took it upon himself to visit with an older rabbi who served as a kind of mentor. When he posed the question, the older man advised him to drop the subject altogether or he might lose his rabbinical career. Such questions were not to be asked. The older man said he could not discuss the matter without losing his own job. Perhaps, he suggested, Leopold Cohn should go to New York where people were more free to discuss such forbidden topics. Thus emboldened, Leopold Cohn left his family behind and traveled to New York in search of the truth about the Messiah.
Soon after he arrived in 1892 the young rabbi passed by a church in a Jewish section of the city. A small sign advertised “Meetings for Jews.” What could that mean? There he met a Jew like himself, a man also trained in the Talmud. The minister gave Leopold Cohn a copy of the New Testament and urged him to read it. He did so, starting at 11:00 in the morning and finishing at 1:00 a.m. the next day. Although he did not understand everything, he came to the conclusion that Jesus Christ was indeed the promised Messiah. He was the one of whom Daniel had written, the one whose coming was predicted hundreds of years earlier. Not long after that he trusted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.
Little did he know the sorrow and travail that would come to him because of his act of faith. He would face years of persecution, hatred, and vicious attacks from his Jewish brethren who felt he had betrayed their ancient faith. Eventually Leopold Cohn set up a storefront mission in the Brownsville section of New York. For the former rabbi life itself had but one purpose—to tell others that the Messiah had already come and that his name is the Lord Jesus Christ. That little mission eventually became the American Board of Missions to the Jews. Later the name was changed to Chosen People Ministries. Many years later a man named Moise Rosen left that ministry to form Jews for Jesus. One of the Chicago leaders of Jews for Jesus is Jhan Moskovitz who preaches at Calvary almost every year.
From Hungary to Oak Park
There is a direct line from that little town in Hungary to Oak Park and from Leopold Cohn to Calvary Memorial Church. And the line runs through Daniel 9:24-27. That passage radically changed an Orthodox Jewish rabbi and led to a ministry that has touched thousands of lives around the world.
The most important thing in the world is knowing Jesus Christ. If you don’t know him, you have missed the very reason for your own existence. He alone is the way to life. He alone can take you to heaven. Apart from him there is no salvation. He is the promised Messiah of Israel and the Savior of all those who trust in him.
Do you know him? One day (perhaps not long from now) he will return and take his people to heaven. Are you ready to meet him? Are you sure? Run to the cross. Lay all your sins on Jesus. He alone can meet your deepest needs. He alone can forgive your sin.
He is the One of whom Daniel spoke. He is the fulfillment of the promises God made in the Old Testament. In the words of the psalmist, taste and see that the Lord is good. Come to Christ, and as you come, he will come to you.
Our Father, it is exciting to consider these ancient words and to realize that part of this prophecy is yet to be fulfilled. So much has been confirmed by history and the rest seems to be coming closer day by day. Forgive us for dabbling in the world when we ought to be living serious lives for you. Grant that we might be filled with joy as we contemplate the soon coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. May we all live to hear the shout and the trumpet call of God when the Lord returns for his own. Until then we pray that you would use us to point many people to Jesus, in whose name we pray, Amen.