Hoyt H. Houchen
Question: Please explain Daniel 9.24-27. What are the "seventy weeks"?
Reply: This passage is one of the most difficult to interpret in the Old Testament. There are many interpretations of these verses that are given by commentators. First, let us read the passage.
"Seventy weeks are decreed upon thy people and upon thy Holy City, to finish transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy. Know therefore and discern, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the anointed one, the prince, shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: it shall be built again with street and moat, even in troublesome times. And after the threescore and two weeks shall the anointed one be cut off, 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 even unto the end shall be war; desolations are determined. And he shall make a firm covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease; and upon the wing of abominations shall come one that maketh desolate; and even unto the full end, and that determined, shall wrath be poured out upon the desolate" (Dan. 9:24-27).
Daniel was in the seventy years captivity which had been prophesied (Jer. 25:11). Toward the end of this captivity, Daniel prayed to God, confessing his sins and those of Israel, and asking the Lord to be merciful and forgiving. While Daniel was speaking and praying, the angel Gabriel approached him and gave him the message which is contained in the above quoted verses.
The period of time covered by the "seventy weeks" was from the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until "the anointed one" (Christ), followed by events and then the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. These "seventy weeks" are symbolical and not to be interpreted literally. If a week is seven years (believed by most commentators) is correct, then the span would be 490 years. There is some question in determining when the 490 years began – which decree to restore the temple and rebuild the city is meant. Some believe that the "seventy weeks" started with the decree of Artaxerxes to Nehemiah (445/4 B.C.) It seems that more in harmony with the context, is the earlier date, the decree of Cyrus (539/8 B.C.) – the very year of Daniel's vision. If it be argued that Cyrus did not mention the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and therefore the decree must be later, we simply refer back to the prophecy in Isaiah 44:28. Jehovah, predicting the role of Cyrus, said: "He is my shepherd, and shall perform my pleasure, even saying of Jerusalem, She shall be built; and of the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid." Also, that the earlier date is in harmony with the context, is the fact that Daniel asked the Lord in his prayer not to defer his request (v. 19). It is not plausible that the Lord would detain this action for 100 years! Chronological difficulties must only be explained by considering the period of "seventy weeks" (490 years) as being symbolical, not literal. To sum up the period of time covered by the "seventy weeks" . . . "they relate to the whole period between the proclamation of Cyrus and the end of the Jewish commonwealth" (see Foy E. Wallace, Jr., God's Prophetic Word, p. 515).
The "seventy weeks" is broken up into a pattern of 7 — 62 — 1. The first seven weeks embrace the period of the restoration and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple. The sixty-two weeks that follow include the time when sin would be restrained and prophecy would be sealed (validated, or fulfilled). This would be brought about by "the anointed one, the prince" (Christ), who would bring in everlasting righteousness" (v. 24). The remaining week of the "seventy weeks" is the period in which "the anointed one" would be "cut off." This took place when the enemies of Christ put him to death and he made atonement for the sins of the world. At the end of this last week of the "seventy weeks," Jerusalem and the temple would again be destroyed. The Jewish nation would end. This series of events fits into the projected goals, as set forth in the Daniel 9:24-27 prophecy and this interpretation is void of speculation. In fact, it is noteworthy that when Jesus was foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem, he alluded to this prophecy. Speaking to his disciples, he said: "When therefore ye see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place. . . " (Matt. 24:15). The destruction of Jerusalem – the end of the Jewish nation, is the terminating point of the "seventy weeks" in Daniel 9:24-27.
The prophecy under study is a "sugar stick" for premillennialists of different kinds, including Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses. Dispensationalists have postponed the seventieth week until "the rapture" takes place. They have waited for about 2,000 years for the seventieth week to be fulfilled. They believe that at the future coming of Christ, the saints will be taken up with him into heaven (a seven years rapture), and coexistent with seven years of tribulation on earth. According to this view, the last 3 V2 years of tribulation on earth will be the Great Tribulation, followed by the battle of Armageddon. This view of the "seventy weeks" has been popularized by Robert Anderson in his book, The Coming Prince (pp. 119-129). Of course, the Dispensationalists believe that the end of the seven years "rapture" in heaven and the tribulation on earth, Jesus will return to earth with his saints and will rule upon earth in Jerusalem for a period of one thousand years. At the end of this millennial reign, the final judgment will take place. They believe that all prophecy is to be literally fulfilled in the physical nation of Israel. Obviously, the view is based upon mere assumptions, in the absence of scriptural proof.
The Bible is clear as to what will occur at the second advent of Christ. (1) Both the wicked and the righteous will be raised from the dead (Jn. 5:28,29); (2) the earth will be destroyed (2 Pet. 3:10); (3) all will be judged (Rom. 14:10-12). There is no intervening period between the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked, not one day, much less 365,000 days. The resurrection of all the dead will take place at "the last day" (Jn. 6:44). If it is "the last day," no more will follow – not one day – a thousand years is eliminated. In view of this, the premillennial interpretation is false because it is contrary to the Scriptures.
All details of the Daniel prophecy may not be fully understood, but we can be safe in concluding that nothing in the span of "seventy weeks" extends beyond the destruction of Jerusalem in the first century.