Chapter Nine The Seventy Weeks

The main feature of Daniel 9 is the great prophecy of the seventy weeks. Sir Edward Denny, a noted prophetic student of the last century, commonly called this “The backbone of prophecy.” This title seems well given, for if the seventy weeks are misunderstood, then an effort must be made to bend all the other prophetic scriptures into accord with that misinterpretation. But if we have a correct understanding of the teaching of this chapter, we can then see readily how all prophecy falls right into place without any forcing, for it is all intimately connected with this greatest of time-prophecies.

We will first note what led up to the giving of this special revelation. Daniel was himself a student of the prophetic Word. He realized deep in his own soul, though the words had not yet been written, that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16). So in the opening verses we see this devoted man, in the first year of the reign of Darius, bending over the prophetic word in the Holy Scriptures. He did not have the complete Bible as we have, but he valued what he had and searched diligently. In fact the last book that had been added to the Bible was that of Ezekiel. We do not know for certain that this ever came into his hands, but we do know from the opening verses of Daniel 9 that he had the book of Jeremiah. As he studied it carefully, he noticed that twice in that book it was written that God would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.

As Daniel looked back over his captivity he reckoned the years he had spent in the court of Nebuchadnezzar, then the days that had followed during the period of Babylon’s difficulties, succeeded by the triumph of the Medes and Persians. As he counted it all up he evidently realized that the seventy years must have very nearly run out. Therefore, the day of the deliverance of the Jews must have drawn very near. He could probably look back over almost seven decades himself, for he had been carried away as a captive in the reign of Jehoiakim when he was a boy, and he had become an old man.

We find that the study of prophecy exercised the heart and the conscience of Daniel; he was not merely interested in it from an intellectual standpoint. The mere computing of times and seasons could not satisfy this devout man of God. When he learned that the time had almost drawn near for the people of Judah to be restored to their land, it stirred him to the very depths of his soul and brought him down to his knees. He might have said, “If it is God’s purpose to restore His people, He will carry that purpose out, whatever their condition, and I need not concern myself about this matter.” But Daniel realized that when God is about to work, He begins by exercising His people that they may be restored in soul if they have wandered from Him; then they would be blessed through self-judgment and humiliation before God.

We will be blessed if the study of the book of Daniel has the same effect on us that the study of the book of Jeremiah had on Daniel. If not, I fear it will have a hardening effect and leave us in a worse condition than when we began. The things God has been bringing before us should cause us to bow before Him and cry, “O Lord God, we have sinned, we have much reason to be before Thee in confession and brokenness, because of the failure of Thy people, the church of which we form a part.” If they have this effect on us and in us, it will be indeed for God’s glory and our blessing.

We have serious cause to be on our knees before God when we think of all the failure and the sin that has marred our testimony. We will not feel much like finding fault with others if we fall before God concerning our own shame in all this. Sometimes I hear people criticizing other denominations and Christians, while glorying in their own position and utterly ignoring their true state. How little such persons enter into the thoughts and feelings that filled the heart of Daniel and brought confession from his lips. Notice that he does not begin by accusing the Jews who had acted so badly in the past, nor his contemporaries at that solemn moment in Israel’s history. Rather he sets his face to seek Jehovah in prayer and supplication with fasting and sackcloth and ashes—the outward expression of deep and heartfelt repentance. We are told that he prayed to the Lord his God and made his confession. He said, “We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments: Neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets, which spake in thy name” (5-6, italics added). He acknowledged the righteousness of God in the judgment that had come on Daniel’s people; yet he dared to appeal to the mercies and forgiveness of the Lord his God, though Israel had so grievously rebelled against Him. In all His dealings with them, God had confirmed His own words and demonstrated the faithfulness of His testimony through Moses His servant.

How much we may learn from all this! When we look around and see the failure in the church, let us not be content to pass our judgment on them. Let us not lift up our hearts in spiritual pride and say, “Thank God, we are not as others.” But let us remember that we too are part of that church which has failed. We cannot dissociate ourselves from other Christians; we have to take our place with them, bow our heads in the presence of God, and admit that we have sinned. If we would remember this, it would cure us of railing against the people of God who have less light than we have, or think that we have.

I remember the dear servant of God, Paul J. Loizeaux, writing to me a number of years ago from a place where he was laboring in the gospel: “Prejudice is very strong here, and I regret to have to feel that in large measure our own dear brethren are to blame for much of it. In times past they have spent so much time stoning what, no doubt, very much deserved to be stoned, but which we have no authority to stone.” God has not raised us up to go around stoning His people. We have not been appointed to be the censors of Christendom. He has said: “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth” (Romans 14:4).

Let us be diligent in pursuing individual holiness and faithfulness to God and concerned about corporate righteousness and freedom from unholy associations. But let us not seek to sit in judgment on our fellow Christians who may not happen to see eye to eye with us; their love for the Lord Jesus and faithfulness to what they believe might be an example well worthy of our imitation. Let us rather take Daniel’s place of self-abasement and repentance in the presence of God and throw our arms of love and faith about all His dear people and say: “O God, we,”—not they,—“we have sinned and done this evil in Thy sight.” When we are in that place of meekness we can count on His blessing and can look to Him expectantly for a measure of recovery. It is this humility that shines out so beautifully in Daniel. He identified himself, though a man of unusual faithfulness (perhaps the most devoted man of his generation), with his failed and failing nation.

In simplicity and faith Daniel then looked up to God, beseeching Him to turn away His anger and His fury from Jerusalem and to cause His face to shine on the desolate sanctuary. Note the earnestness and pathos of verses 18-19 with which he concludes his touching petition:

O my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name: for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousnesses, but for thy great mercies. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God: for thy city and thy people are called by thy name.

Prayer of such a character could not fail to be answered. While he was speaking and making his confession, the angel Gabriel, “being caused to fly swiftly, touched [him] about the time of the evening oblation” (21) —that is at the time when the smoking sacrifice, pointing on to the offering of our Lord Jesus Christ, would have been ascending to God had Jerusalem not been in ruins. Gabriel declared that he had been sent to give Daniel skill and understanding in regard to the times, foreknown by God, of Israel’s blessing. I quote his message in full and ask you to note carefully every word.

Seventy weeks are determined [or, cut off] upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy [or, the Holy of Holies]. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times [or, the strait, or narrow times]. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself [or, and shall have nothing]: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined [or, until the end shall be war and desolations as determined]. And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate [or, upon the wing of abominations shall come one who maketh desolate], even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate [or desolator] (24-27).

In considering this prophecy in detail, it is important to notice that the time period of seventy weeks clearly refers to years. Daniel had been learning from the Scriptures that the Lord would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem. But in answer to his prayer God made known to him that in seventy weeks, or sevens of years, all prophecy in connection with His people Israel will be fulfilled. The word here rendered weeks does not necessarily mean weeks of days; it is a generic term (like our word dozen) for a heptad, meaning a series of seven and may be applied to whatever subject is under consideration. On the chart I have used the word heptad, which is the equivalent of weeks, in order to avoid confusion of terms.

It is also important to notice that these seventy sevens or 490 years are cut off from the entire period of time for the Jews and the holy city of Jerusalem. Therefore the seventy weeks are only running on while there is a remnant in Jerusalem acknowledged by God as His people.

This brings me to a third point, which many have not noticed: the cycle of the seventy weeks is divided into three parts. You can see this clearly by referring to the chart. First we have seven sevens, or 49 years. This is the period called the strait or narrow times in which the city and the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt. The second part of the cycle consists of sixty-two weeks, or 434 years, after which Messiah was to be cut off and have nothing. This leaves one week, or seven years, yet to be fulfilled. This period cannot be fulfilled until there is again a remnant of Judah, acknowledged by God as His people, in the city of Jerusalem.

A cycle of 490 years had closed in the Babylonian captivity. Now, God said He was about to give them another period of the same length, at the end of which things would be different. Notice how much was to be accomplished before this period would close: Their transgression would be finished; an end made of sins; reconciliation, or properly, atonement would be made for iniquity; everlasting righteousness, the millennial kingdom, brought in; vision and prophecy all sealed up because fulfilled; and the Holy of Holies anointed in the future temple at Jerusalem. It is very evident that there is a great deal here that has never yet been accomplished, consequently the 490 years have not yet been completed.

But can we tell definitely when the seventy weeks began? Yes, look at verse 25: “Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem, unto the Messiah the Prince, shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks.” “The going forth of the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem” is given to us in Nehemiah 2, and there can be no question about the dates. The edict was given in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king, a year well known to historians as 445b.c. Observe the commandment that went forth in the days of Cyrus as recorded in Ezra 1. That edict is clearly not the starting point referred to in Daniel because it only had to do with the rebuilding of the house of God at Jerusalem, that is the temple of Zerubbabel. There is nothing said there about rebuilding the city or the wall. It is therefore the order of Artaxerxes that the angel mentioned as the true starting point.

From the time of this decree to the coming of Messiah the Prince, seven weeks and sixty-two weeks were to elapse, making sixty-nine weeks in all, or 483 years. The 49 years (seven weeks) are distinguished from the rest because in them the city and the wall were rebuilt. This distinction also directs our attention to the fact that the 490 years are divided into three series and do not necessarily run on in direct chronological order. The sixty-two weeks immediately followed the completion of the seven weeks. But God distinctly separates the sixty-two weeks from the seven that went before; just as the last week, or seven years, is separated from all that preceded.

Able chronologists have shown that the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ occurred immediately after the expiration of 483 prophetic years, of 360 days each, from the time of Artaxerxes’ order. By reference to the other time-prophecies of this book it will become evident that this is the true method of computation. The time, times, and the dividing of time of Daniel 7:25 and 12:7 (representing exactly three and a half years, as is evident by a comparison with the seven times in which Nebuchadnezzar was driven out from among men) are clearly identical with the 1260 days of the Apocalypse (Revelation 11-12).

At the expiration of the sixty-nine weeks, therefore, the Messiah for whom Israel had waited so long had actually come only to be cut off and rejected by the very people who should have hailed His advent with joy. Up to this time, the great prophetic clock had been ticking out the years one after another in fulfillment of what we have in this chapter. But with the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ the great clock stopped, and there has not been another tick from it since. It will not begin again until a coming day, when a remnant of Jews in their own land are ready to acknowledge the claims of God’s Christ. Because of Jerusalem’s rejection of her Prince, He has rejected them; He prophesied before He died that their city and temple would be thrown down and not one stone left on another. This is also foretold in Daniel 9:26: “The people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.” These words briefly describe the history of Palestine from the coming of the Roman armies under Titus to the present time. Jerusalem, and Palestine as a whole, have been trodden down of all nations and will be, “until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Luke 21:24).

Observe that it is not said in verse twenty-six that the prince will come at that time. In fact it is distinctly stated that the city will not be destroyed by the coming prince, but by his people. The prince is that dreadful character yet to arrive on the scene; he will arrogate to himself supreme power in the days of the ten kingdom period of the Roman empire, which we have seen is still in the future. In other words, he is emphatically the beast of Revelation chapters 13:1 and 17:3.

The beast is the one who becomes prominent in Daniel 9:27. He will confirm a covenant with the many for one week. The seventieth week will begin when the Jewish people are restored in unbelief to their land and city and among them is found a faithful remnant that will acknowledge their sin and seek Jehovah’s face. The many, that is the apostate mass of the people, will enter into covenant relations with the prince whose people formerly were the instruments of the destruction of their city. That is, this great blasphemous Roman leader will guarantee protection and freedom of religious worship to them for seven years, in return they will promise allegiance to him as their sovereign. In the middle of the week (that is, after three and a half years) he will violate his part of the covenant and cause the sacrifices and offerings to Jehovah to cease. Idolatry of the most dreadful kind will be forced on them. The direct result of which will be to distinguish the remnant from the mass and bring in the great tribulation which will continue for forty-two months—”a time, times, and half a time,” or 1260 days.

The last clause we may read either as we have it in the King James version as “that determined shall be poured upon the desolate,” or, as others read it, “the desolator.” That which God has determined will be poured out on poor desolate Judah because of their rejection of their rightful King and Savior. Then, when their cup has been filled to the brim by the dreadful persecutions of the beast and antichrist, these arch-enemies of God and His people will be punished with everlasting destruction. We have their doom clearly foretold in Revelation 19:20: “And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.” In Revelation 20:10 they are shown in the lake of fire a thousand years later when the devil, the instigator of all iniquity, will be cast into the same fiery pit, “where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”

It is clear therefore that this last week of the seventy has not yet been fulfilled. If it had been, the Jews in their land would be a holy people, their temple anointed for divine service, their transgressions finished, and the years of their mourning ended. But God only counts time with Israel while they are owned as His people in the land of Palestine. All the years of their subjection to Gentile rule are viewed as wasted. In this present age of their rejection, God is taking out from among the Gentiles a people in the name of the Lord Jesus— the church, which will be His body and His bride for all eternity. When this great work is over He “will build again the tabernacle of David, that is fallen down” (Acts 15:16) and commence once more to fulfill Old Testament prophecy from the point reached at the cross of Christ. The Lord Jesus gave us the history of Palestine in one pregnant sentence when He said there shall be “wars and rumours of wars… but the end is not yet” (Matthew 24:6). This is characteristic of the entire dispensation and will be until the end. When will that end be? When the seventieth week begins, and God once more takes up the nation of Israel and begins to fulfill the promises made through the prophets. He will touch the pendulum of that great prophetic clock, as it were, and set it once more ticking off the years preparatory to ushering in the glorious kingdom of the Son of man when Jerusalem will become the capital city of the world, and Palestine again will be the garden of the Lord.

Before closing I briefly mention a rather peculiar interpretation which is frequently given to Daniel 9:27. It is said that the Lord Jesus is Himself to be “the prince that shall come” who confirms the covenant for one week. His own crucifixion is supposed to be the event which caused the sacrifice and oblation to cease. But this interpretation will not stand either chronologically or doctrinally when examined in the light of other Scriptures. With whom did the Lord Jesus ever confirm a covenant for seven years? His precious blood is called “the blood of the everlasting covenant,” not a covenant for one week of years. We may rest assured it is not Messiah, but the blasphemous prince who is yet to come who will fulfill what is predicted in this verse.

How near this world may be to entering all these things no man can say, but it is wise to learn from the prophetic scriptures and turn now to Him who alone can save. Own Him as Redeemer and Lord and be certain of being caught up to meet Him when He comes in the clouds, before the time comes for His righteous judgment to be poured out on this poor world.