While Judah was in exile, God continued to give His people hope. Daniel, who grew up in the court of Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon, had some of the most far-reaching revelations of the coming of the Messiah, the rise and fall of future world empires, the throne of God, the Last Judgment and the joy of the redeemed! It was as if God removed the bottle lid and poured out revelation through this man. One particular passage, the “70-week” prophecy, has been the subject of major debate since it was taken by dispensationalist teachers to be the foundation of their teaching on the alleged “seven-year tribulation”. Today it is rare to find an evangelical Christian who even realises there is an alternative to the dispensationalist understanding of the prophecy. However, for the first 1800 years of her existence, the Church has had a totally different view. We will look at that view first.
Daniel prays and is visited by the angel Gabriel
Daniel, at the beginning of Daniel chapter 9, has realised that God, through Jeremiah, had promised a restoration of the temple and Jerusalem after 70 years of exile. Aware that this seventy years had nearly expired, he was praying for the promised restoration. He was confessing to God the sins of Israel, and reminding Him of this most precious promise when the angel Gabriel came to him. We will pick up the Bible narrative at the coming of Gabriel:
Daniel 9:21………. while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, reached me about the time of the evening offering. 22 And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, “O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you skill to understand. 23 At the beginning of your supplications the command went out, and I have come to tell you, for you are greatly beloved; therefore consider the matter, and understand the vision:
24 “Seventy weeks are determined
For your people and for your holy city,
To finish the transgression,
To make an end of sins,
To make reconciliation for iniquity,
To bring in everlasting righteousness,
To seal up vision and prophecy,
And to anoint the Most Holy.
25 “Know therefore and understand,
That from the going forth of the command
To restore and build Jerusalem
Until Messiah the Prince,
There shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks;
The street shall be built again, and the wall,
Even in troublesome times.
26 “And after the sixty-two weeks
Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself;
And the people of the prince who is to come
Shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.
The end of it shall be with a flood,
And till the end of the war desolations are determined.
27 Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week;
But in the middle of the week
He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering.
And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate,
Even until the consummation, which is determined,
Is poured out on the desolate.”
The remarkable accuracy of the 70-week prophecy
The Keil Delitzsch commentary (Delitzsch) states: “Most of the church fathers and the older orthodox interpreters find prophesied here the appearance of Christ in the flesh, His Death, and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70.” This is implied by the 6 events listed in v. 24 which are going to happen within the period of seventy weeks, or seventy Sabbaths, an alternative translation (Haynes) amounting to the same things. It has always been the case that the majority of commentators interpret the “seventy weeks” time-scale of the prophecy assumes each day represents one year, so 70 weeks stands for 70 times 7 days, which is 490 years. The start date of the 490 years, and the exact command referred to, has been subject to much debate between scholars. I will take it as the decree of Artaxerxes to Ezra in Ezra 7:12-26, held to have been given in 457 BC (LeBrun), (UCG). This means the timing of the prophetic fulfilments are as follows:
- 457BC – Decree of Artaxerxes
- 408 BC – 7 weeks of years ie 49 years later – Restoration of Jerusalem complete? (Street and wall built again?)
- 27 AD – 62 weeks of years ie 434 years later – 70th week begins; people causing destruction; the Messiah (Jesus) begins His ministry; He confirms the New Covenant
- 30/31 AD – Messiah cut off; brings to an end old covenant sacrifice and offering
- 34 AD – end of the 70th week; desolations are determined. In 70 AD the city will be completely destroyed. The prophetic sees a thing of the future as if it had already come to pass in the present, so in that sense the desolation of Jerusalem is already accomplished.
- the six things prophesied in v 24 have all happened:
- The transgression is completed: the Jews were in rebellion against God and their final rejection of Jesus, by handing Him over for crucifixion marks this completion. In addition, at the end of the 70th week, they rejected the Holy Spirit at the stoning of Stephen finished their transgression
- Sins have been made an end of: Jesus “condemned sin in the flesh”(Romans 8). This line alone would establish that we are dealing with the coming of Jesus. None other has ever completely forgiven sin, so it is totally finished.
- Reconciliation has been made for iniquity: “reconciliation” is a translation of kaphar – pronounced “kawphar”- Hebrew, usually translated “atonement”. It is the technical term used for making an atoning sacrifice, used fifty times in Leviticus. This is exactly what Jesus has done in the seventieth week!
- Everlasting righteousness has been brought in: no-one else could have brought in everlasting righteousness except Jesus. The seventieth week is when He did this!
- To seal up vision and prophecy: Jesus fulfilled and/or sealed all the Old Testament prophecies. Some 333 prophecies were fulfilled by His life.
- The most Holy One has been anointed: Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit in the seventieth week. Many modern translations render this as “most holy place”, but there is no word for “place” in the Hebrew. The “Most Holy” is Jesus!!
The early church view of the prophecy
Can anyone doubt that this prophecy is about the coming into the world of our wonderful Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ? As mentioned above, this has been understood by the Church down the ages. Julius Africanus, a third-century church father, had no doubt about this understanding. Fragments of his writing have survived, including the following:
“That the passage speaks then of the advent of Christ, who was to manifest Himself after seventy weeks, is evident. For in the Saviour’s time, or from Him, are transgressions abrogated, and sins brought to an end. And through remission, moreover, are iniquities, along with offences, blotted out by expiation; and an everlasting righteousness is preached, different from that which is by the law, and visions and prophecies (are) until John, and the Most Holy is anointed. For before the advent of the Saviour these things were not yet, and were therefore only looked for. And the beginning of the numbers, that is, of the seventy weeks which make up 490 years, the angel instructs us to take from the going forth of the commandment to answer and to build Jerusalem. (Schaff)”
Julius goes on to show in considerable detail that the coming of Christ did indeed occur 483 years after the decree of Artaxerxes, and then expresses amazement that the Jews and others have not been convinced of Jesus as Messiah as a result of this remarkable prophecy:
“But I am amazed that the Jews deny that the Lord has yet come, and that the followers of Marcion refuse to admit that His coming was predicted in the prophecies when the Scriptures display the matter so openly to our view.”
The 70-week prophecy according to dispensationalism
We discussed in chapter- how Francesca da Ribera wrote a treatise on Bible prophecy, to the effect that the Book of Revelation largely portrayed a time far in the future when an individual antichrist figure would rule the world prior to the return of Jesus. His interpretation of the 70-week prophecy was made to harmonise with this view. Little interest was paid to this treatise until over 200 years later, when Irving and Darby found it in the Bodlean Library, Oxford, and its doctrines were employed to shore up their invention of dispensationalism. As seen already, the doctrine spread, was consolidated in the Scofield Reference Bible, and was widely disseminated via the latter. Here’s the commentary of the Scofield Bible on the 70th week:
The Scofield Reference Bible on Daniel’s 70th Week
“When the Church- age will end, and the seventieth week begin, is nowhere revealed. Its duration can be but seven years. To make it more violates the principle of interpretation already confirmed by fulfilment. Daniel 9:27 deals with the last week. The “he” of Daniel 9:27 is the “prince that shall come” of Daniel 9:26, whose people (Rome) destroyed the temple, A.D. 70. He is the same with the “little horn” of chapter 7. He will covenant with the Jews to restore their temple sacrifices for one week (seven years), but in the middle of that time he will break the covenant and fulfil ; Daniel 12:11 ; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4. Between the sixty-ninth week, after which Messiah was cut off, and the seventieth week, within which the “little horn” of Dan. 7. will run his awful course, intervenes this entire Church-age.”
Immediately we can see the problem with Scofield and the dispensationalist view. The prophecy is not a 69-week prophecy, it is a 70-week prophecy. Line 1 of v 24 says 70 weeks are “determined” – Hebrew chathak pronounced khaw-thak: “to cut off”, or figuratively “to decree”. A literal reading would be “70 weeks are cut out for your people and for your holy city” to experience the following six things (as expanded above)”. My comments on Scofield are as follows:
An answer to Scofield
- It makes no sense whatsoever to say the 70th week will fall somewhere in the indeterminate future. Let’s think of an analogue. If I were a painter, and I was giving you a quote for painting your house, suppose I were to say “I will complete the job in 70 weeks”. After 5 years you are getting rather annoyed because I still have not finished the job, so you come to see me and say, “Why is the job still not finished? You said you would take 70 weeks.” My reply, following Scofield’s example, might be “ah, but – the 70th week hasn’t started yet. I never said seventy consecutive weeks. I worked at painting the house for 69 weeks, but I’ve no idea when the 70th week will start!” You would rightly feel aggrieved, and my reply is a nonsense, as is Schofield’s theory here. The fact is God accomplished all the verse 24 list of six things within the seventy weeks-of-years prophetic period, as demonstrated above.
- There is no reason to suppose the “he” of Daniel 9:27 is the antichrist (a Roman leader, the “little horn” of Daniel 7), as Scofield asserts. In fact there are good linguistic reasons to regard the “Most Holy” of v24, “Messiah the Prince” of v25, “Messiah” and “the prince who is to come” of v26, and the two occurrences of “he” in verse 27 as all referring to the Messiah – see (Haynes).
- The phrase “the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary” would be better rendered, “the people….. shall be responsible for the destruction of the city and the sanctuary”. The people are the Jews, who brought this destruction on themselves, by rejecting the Messiah. (Haynes)
- These points make much more sense of the whole prophecy. As seen above, Messiah is cut off in the middle of the seventieth week of years (is it just co-incidence that Jesus’ ministry spanned 3 ½ years, half a “week of years”?). Indeed He did confirm a covenant with many – the New Covenant! The “for one week” is an inaccurate translation. It should convey the meaning of “during a certain week”, which in context means the 70th week. As the seven weeks and the 62 weeks have been discussed in vv 25 and 26, it is logical to follow with the 70th week in v 27
- There is nothing whatsoever in the passage relating to the alleged end of the so-called “Church-age”. This is purely a dispensationalist construct, superimposed on the text! The main fault of dispensationalism is that it diminishes the status of the Church. As we can see from this extract, dispensationalism sees the “Church-age” as merely a parenthesis between the cutting off of the Messiah and the “seven-year tribulation”, imagined as the 70th week of the 70-week prophecy, and an instrument to deal with the Jews.
- If the thesis of this chapter is correct, there is no such thing as a gap between the 69th and the 70th weeks of the prophecy, and therefore no “7-year tribulation”. Jesus and the apostles did speak of tribulation, but no clear scripture defines for it a seven-year duration.
As always, I leave it for the reader to judge! There are different views and I enjoy a good debate. What is annoying, though, is when dispensationalists or others pronounce their views as though there were no other possible interpretation. Many dispensationalists would say something like “the Bible teaches that there will be a seven-year tribulation after the rapture.” The Bible teaches nothing of the sort, as I hope I’ve been able to show.
Beware inaccurate Bible translations
One thing to be careful of is that some translations have been written by people who have allowed their personal doctrinal position to influence the translation. This is particularly the case with Daniel 9:27. Take for example the New Living translation. The verse is rendered:
Daniel 9:27 The ruler will make a treaty with the people for a period of one set of seven, but after half this time, he will put an end to the sacrifices and offerings. And as a climax to all his terrible deeds, he will set up a sacrilegious object that causes desecration, until the fate decreed for this defiler is finally poured out on him.”
The way the verse is translated makes it impossible to take any other position than dispensationalism from it. But this is not the case at all with the original Greek. A glaring instance is translation of “beriyth” (Hebrew), covenant. Here it is translated “treaty” as in “The ruler will make a treaty with the people” – completely different from the King James version, “ he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week”
Extract from Robin’s soon to be published book, “The Day of the Lord”