Daniel’s Seventy Weeks and Biblical Prophecy

The chronology provided in Daniel’s prophecy of the Seven­ty Weeks (Dan. 9:24–27) is a linchpin in the dispensa­tional system, although it is not crucial to any of the other millen­nial systems. John Walvoord comments that the “interpretation of Daniel 9:24–27 is of major importance to premillennialism as well as pretribulationism.” Being such, it is the “key” to prophecy and, consequently, “one of the most important prophecies of the Bible.” Surely O.T. Allis is correct when he observes that “the impor­tance of the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks in Dispensa­tional teaching can hardly be exaggerated.”

This dependence upon Daniel 9 is unfortu­nate for dispensat­ionalism for two reasons. First, historically: great difficulties are associated with the interpretation of this passage. J.A. Mont­gomery calls the prophecy “the Dismal Swamp of Old Testa­ment criticism.” E.J. Young comments: “This passage … is one of the most difficult in all the OT, and the interpretations which have been offered are almost legion.”

Second, theologically: this “extremely important prophecy” is the most difficult for dispensationalists to make credible to those outside of their system. Even dispensationalist Robert Culver admits: “The difficulty of the verses that now lie before us is evident.”  He says, “Premillennial writers of two or three genera­tions ago were very far apart on the details. Much of the same diver­sity appears in premillennial contemporary writers.”  In fact, Daniel’s Seventy Weeks prophecy leads dispensationalism into one of its most strained peculiarities: the doctrine of the gap theory of the Church Age. I will consider this later.

Covenantal Structure

As we get started, it is crucial to grasp the structure of the prophecy. Meredith Kline provides a thorough presentation of the strongly covenantal cast of Daniel 9 that leads up to the prophecy, noting that it is “saturated with formulaic expressions drawn from the Mosaic treaties, particularly from the Deuter­onomic treaty” (cf. Dan. 9:4–6, 10–15).  This prayer regarding covenant loyalty (hesed, 9:4) is answered in terms of the coven­antal sabbath pattern of the Seventy Weeks (9:24–27), which results in the confirmation of the covenant (9:27). Daniel 9 is the only chapter in Daniel to use God’s special covenant name, YHWH (vv. 2, 4, 10, 13, 14, 20; cf. Exod. 6:2–4).

Recognizing the covenantal framework of the Seventy Weeks is crucial to its proper interpretation. It virtually demands a focus on the fulfillment of covenantal redemption in the ministry of Christ. Let us see why this is so.

The prophecy of the Seventy Weeks is clearly framed in terms of sabbatical chronology. The first phase of the Seventy Weeks is “seven weeks,” or (literally) “seven sevens” (Dan. 9:25), which results in a value of forty-nine. This reflects the time frame leading up to the redemptively significant Year of Jubilee (Lev. 25:8ff). The total period of “seventy sevens” is also coven­antal. Seventy represents ten seven-week periods: ten jubilees. The seventy sevens (weeks) appear to point to a completed re­demptive Jubilee. This appropriately points to Christ, who brings in that ultimate Jubilee (cf. Luke 4:17–21; Isa. 61:1–3; Matt. 24:31) and who is the leading char­acter in Daniel’s pro­phecy. Consequently, the time frame re­vealed to Daniel demar­cates the period in which “the Messianic redemp­tion was to be accomplished.”

Chronological Value

The Seventy Weeks represent a period of seventy times seven years, or 490 years: (1) In the preceding context, the original seventy years of Jeremiah’s prophecy is in Daniel’s mind (Dan. 9:2). Years are suggested, then, by the prior reference, which is crucial to the historical context. (2) The sabbath year (the seventh year of the sabbath peri­od) is frequently referred to simply as “the sab­bath.”  Thus, a “sabbath day” (Gen. 2:2; Exod. 20:11) is expanded to cover a year. (3) There is Scriptural warrant for measuring days in terms of years in certain passages (Gen. 29:27–28; Num. 14:34; Deut. 14:28; 1 Sam. 2:19; Ezek. 4:6; Amos 4:4). (4) Daniel seems to shift gears and even notify the reader of the change in Daniel 10:2, where he qualifies his situation by saying he mourned “three weeks of days” (Heb.).

The “command” in Daniel 9:25 is “Know there­fore and understand, that from the going forth of the com­mand to restore and to build Jerusalem.” At first appearance it would seem to refer to Cyrus’s decree to rebuild the Temple in 538 BC. This command is mentioned in 2 Chronicles 36:22–23 and in Ezra 1:1–4, 5:13, 17; 6:3. Daniel, however, specifically speaks of the command to restore and build Jerusalem, which is an important qualification.

Though half-hearted efforts are made to rebuild Jerusalem after Cyrus’s decree, for a long time Jerusalem is little more than a sparsely populated, unwalled village. Daniel speaks of the command to “restore” (shub, return) Jerusalem (Dan. 9:25). This requires that it be returned to its original integrity and grandeur “as at the first” (Jer. 33:7). It was not until the middle of the 5th century BC that this is undertaken seriously.

The first period of seven weeks must indicate something, for it is set off from the two other periods. Were it not significant, Daniel could speak of the sixty-nine weeks rather than the “seven weeks and sixty-two weeks” (Dan. 9:25). This seven weeks (or forty-nine years) apparently witnesses the successful conclusion of the rebuilding of Jerusalem.

The second period of sixty-two weeks extends from the conclusion of the rebuilding of Jerusalem to the introduction of Israel’s Messiah at His baptism when He begins His public ministry (Dan. 9:25), sometime around AD 26. This interpretation is quite widely agreed upon by conservative scholars, being virtually “universal among Christian exegetes” — excluding dispensationalists. The third period of one week is the subject of intense controversy between dispen­sationalism and other conservative scholarship. I will turn to this shortly.

Interpretation of Daniel 9:24

In Daniel 9:24 the overriding, glorious expectation of the prophecy is stated: “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.”

The six infinitival phrases of verse 24 should be understood as three couplets (Payne, Terry, Maurer, Hitzig, and the Massoretes), rather than as two triplets (Keil and Young). These six results are the main point of the prophecy, serving as the head­ing of the explication to follow. The “know therefore and un­derstand” statement in verse 25 begins that explication.

The general view of Daniel 9:24 among non-dispensational evangelicals is that “the six items presented … settle the termi­nus ad quem of the prophecy,” that is, they have to do with the First Advent. Dispensationalists, however, hold that these events are “not to be found in any event near the earthly life­time of our Lord.” Rather they teach that “God will once again turn His attention in a special way to His people the Jews and to His holy city Jerusalem, as outlined in Daniel 9:24.” The dispensationalist takes a decidedly futurist approach to the prophecy — when he gets past the first sixty-nine weeks.

Let us notice, first, that the Seventy Weeks will witness the finishing of the transgression. As just noted, Daniel’s prayer of confession was regarding Israel’s sins (Dan. 9:4ff) and the pro­phecy’s focus is on Israel (Dan. 9:24a). Consequently, this finish­ing (kala) the transgression has to do with Israel’s finishing, i.e., completing, her transgression against God. The finishing of that transgression occurs in the ministry of Christ, when Israel culminates her resistance to God by rejecting His Son and having Him crucified (Matt. 21:37–38, cf. 21:33–45; Acts 7:51–52).

The second part of the couplet is directly related to the first: having finished the transgression against God in the rejection of the Messiah, now the sins are sealed up (NASB marg.; chat­ham). The idea here is, as Payne observes, to seal or to “reserve sins for punishment.” Because of Israel’s rejection of Messi­ah, God reserves punishment for her: the final, conclu­sive destruction of the temple, which was reserved from the time of Jesus’ ministry until AD 70 (Matt. 24:2, 34). The seal­ing or reserving of the sins indicates that within the Seventy Weeks, Israel will complete her transgression, and with the completing of her sin by crucifying Christ, God will act to reserve (beyond the Seventy Weeks) her sins for judgment.

The third result (beginning the second couplet) has to do with the provision of “reconciliation for iniquity.” The Hebrew word kaphar is the word for “atonement,” i.e., a covering of sin. It clearly speaks of Christ’s atoning death, which is the ultimate atonement to which all temple rituals looked (Heb. 9:26). This also occurred during His earthly ministry — at His death. The dispensationalist here prefers to interpret this result as applica­tion rather than effecting. He sees it as subjective appro­priation instead of objective accomplishment: “[T]he actual appli­cation of it is again associated with the second advent as far as Israel is concerned.” But on the basis of the Hebrew verb, the pas­sage clearly speaks of the actual making reconcilia­tion (or atone­ment).

Because of this atonement to cover sin, the fourth result is that everlasting righteousness is effected. That is, the final, com­plete atonement establishes righteousness. This speaks of the objective accomplishment, not the subjective appropriation of righteousness. This was effected by Christ within the seventy-week period as well (Rom. 3:21–22a).

The fifth result (the first portion of the third couplet) has to do with the ministry of Christ on earth, which is introduced at His baptism: He comes “to seal up vision and prophecy.” By this is meant that Christ fulfills (and thereby confirms) the prophecy (Luke 18:31, cf. 24:44; Acts 3:18).

Finally, the seventy years are for the following goal: “to anoint the Most Holy.” This anointing (mashach) speaks of the Christ’s baptismal anointing for the following reasons: (1) The overriding concern of Daniel 9:24–27 is Messianic. The temple that is built after the Babylonian captivity is to be de­stroyed after the Seventy Weeks (v. 27), with no further mention made of it. (2) In the following verses the Messiah (mash­iyach, “Christ,” “Anointed One”) is specifically named twice (vv. 25, 26). (3) The “most holy” phraseology speaks of the Messiah, who is “that Holy One who is to be born.” It is of Christ that the ultimate redemptive Jubilee is prophesied by Isaiah (Isa. 61:1–2a; cf. Luke 4:17–21). It was at His baptismal anointing that the Spirit came upon Him (Mark 1:9–11). This was intro­ductory to His ministry, of which we read three verses later: “Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the king­dom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled [the sixty-ninth week?], and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14–15). Christ is pre-eminently the Anointed One.

The Seventieth Week

The Messiah now experiences something “after the sixty-two weeks” (Dan. 9:26), which follow the preceding “seven weeks” (v. 25). This is to occur, then, sometime after the sixty-ninth week. A natural reading of the text shows this is in the seventi­eth week, for that is the only time frame remaining for the accomplishment of the goal of the prophecy listed in verse 24. That which occurs at this time is “Messiah shall be cut off.” The Hebrew word translated “cut off” here (karath) “is used of the death penalty, Lev. 7:20; and refers to a violent death,” i.e., the death of Christ on the cross.

Given the Hebraic pattern of repetition, we may easily dis­cern a parallel between verses 26 and 27; verse 27 gives an expansion of verse 26. Negatively, Messiah’s cutting off in verse 26 is the result of Israel’s completing her transgression and bringing it to a culmination (v. 24) by crucifying the Messiah. Positively, verse 27 states this same event: “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.” Considered from its positive effect, this confirming of the covenant with many makes reconciliation and brings in everlasting righteous­ness (v. 24). The confirming of a covenant (v. 27) refers to the prophesied covenantal actions of verse 24, which come about as the result of the Perfect Covenantal Jubilee (Seventy Weeks) and are mentioned as a result of Daniel’s covenantal prayer (cf. v. 4). The covenant mentioned, then, is the divine covenant of God’s redemptive grace. Messiah came to confirm the coven­an­tal promises (Luke 1:72; Eph. 2:12). He confirmed the cove­nant by His death on the cross (Heb. 7:22b).

The word translated “confirm” (higbir) is related to the angel Gabriel’s name, who brought Daniel the revelation of the Sev­enty Weeks (and who later brings the revelation of Christ’s birth, Luke 1:19, 26). “Gabriel” is based on the Hebrew gibbor, “strong one,” a concept frequently associated with the covenant God.[31] The related word found in Daniel 9:27 means to “make strong, confirm.” This “firm covenant” brings about “everlast­ing righteousness” (Dan. 9:24) — hence its firmness.

Daniel’s prayer was particularly for Israel (Dan. 9:3ff), and it was uttered in recognition of God’s promises of mercy upon those who love Him (v. 4). Therefore, the covenant will be confirmed with many for one week. The reference to the “many” speaks of the faithful in Israel. “Thus a contrast is introduced between He and the Many, a contrast which appears to reflect upon the great Messianic passage, Isaiah 52:13–53:12 and particularly 53:11. Although the entire nation will not receive salvation, the many will receive.”

This confirmation of God’s covenant promises to the “many” of Israel will occur in the middle of the seventieth week (v. 27), which parallels “after the sixty-two [and seven] weeks” (v. 26), while providing more detail. We know Christ’s three-and-one-half-year ministry was decidedly focused on the Jews in the first half of the seventieth week (Matt. 10:5b, cf. 15:24). For a period of three and one-half years after the crucifixion, the apostles focused almost exclusively on the Jews, beginning first “in Judea” (Acts 1:8; 2:14) because “the gospel of Christ” is “for the Jew first” (Rom. 1:16, cf. 2:10; John 4:22).

Although the event that serves as the terminus of the sixty-ninth week is clearly specified, such is not the case with the terminus of the seventieth. Thus, the exact event that ends the seventieth is not so significant for us to know. Apparently at the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr of Christianity, the coven­antal proclamation began to be turned toward the Gentiles (Acts 8:1). The apos­tle to the Gentiles appears on the scene at Steph­en’s death (Acts 7:58–8:1) as the Jewish persecution against Chris­tianity breaks out. Paul’s mission is clearly stated as ex­ceeding the narrow Jewish focus (Acts 9:15).

This confirmation of the covenant occurs “in the middle of the week” (v. 27). I have already shown that the seventieth week begins with the baptismal anointing of Christ. Then, after three and one-half years of ministry — the middle of the seven­ti­eth week — Christ was crucified (Luke 13:6–9; Eccl. Hist. 1:10:3). Thus, the prophecy states that by His conclusive confir­mation of the covenant, Messiah will “bring an end to sacrifice and offering” (v. 27) by offering up Himself as a sacrifice for sin (Heb. 9:25–26, cf. 7:11–12, 18–22). Consequently, at His death the Temple’s veil was torn from top to bottom (Matt. 27:51) as evidence that the sacrificial system was legally disestab­lished in the eyes of God (cf. Matt. 23:38), for Christ is the Lamb of God (John 1:29; Acts 8:32; 1 Pet. 1:19; Rev. 5–7).

The Destruction of Jerusalem

 But how are we to understand the latter portions of both verses 26 and 27? What are we to make of the destruction of the city and sanctuary (v. 26) and the abomination that causes desolation (v. 27), which most non-dispensational evangelical commentators agree occurred in AD 70?

In verse 26 we learn that two events are to occur after the sixty-ninth week: (1) The Messiah is to be “cut off” and (2) the city and sanctuary are to be destroyed. Verse 27a informs us that the Messiah’s cutting off (v. 26a) is a confirmation of the covenant and is to occur at the halfway mark of the seventieth week. So, the Messiah’s death is clearly within the time frame of the Seventy Weeks (as we expect because of His being the ma­jor figure of the fulfillment of the prophecy).

The events involving the destruction of the city and the sanctuary with war and desolation (vv. 26b, 27b) are the conse­quences of the cutting off of the Messiah and do not necessarily occur in the Seventy Weeks’ time frame. They are an addendum to the fulfillment of the focus of the prophecy, which is stated in verse 24. The destructive acts are anticipated, however, in the divine act of sealing up or reserving the sin of Israel for pun­ishment. Israel’s climactic sin — her completing of her trans­gression (v. 24) with the cutting off of Messiah (v. 26a) — results in God’s act of reserving Israel’s sin until later. Israel’s judg­ment will not be postponed forever; it will come after the expi­ra­tion of the Seventy Weeks. This explains the “very indefi­n­ite” phrase “till the end of the war”: the “end” will not oc­cur during the Seventy Weeks. That prophesied end occurred in AD 70, exactly as Christ had made abun­dantly clear in Mat­thew 24:15.

The Dispensational Interpretation

The Gap in the Seventy Weeks

Dispensationalism incorpo­rates a gap or parenthesis between the sixty-ninth and seventi­eth weeks. This gap spans the entire­ty of the Church Age from the Triumphal Entry to the Rap­ture. The dispensational argu­ments for a gap of un­de­ter­mined length between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks are not convincing. Let us consider a few of their leading argu­ments for a gap.

First, the peculiar phraseology in Daniel: Daniel places the cut­ting off of the Messiah “after the 62 ‘sevens,’ not in the 70th ‘seven.’” This is so stated to allow for a gap between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks. If the cutting off did not occur during the sixty-ninth week or during the seventieth week, there must be a gap in between wherein it does occur.

In response, it is obvious that seventy occurs after sixty-nine and thus fits the requirements of the prophecy. Consequently, such an argument does not prove that the “after” requires a gap. Besides, Daniel mentions only seventy weeks and, as Hans LaRon­delle has pointed out, Daniel most certainly does not say “after sixty-nine weeks, but not in the seventieth.” Such an expla­n­a­tion is a gratuitous assumption. Since Daniel has yet to deal with the seventi­eth week, and since he has clearly dealt with the pre­ceding sixty-nine weeks (v. 25), it is quite natural to assume this cutting off of the Messiah must be sometime within the seven-year period cov­ered by the seventieth week.

Second, a fatal admission: “Historically the destruction of Jerusalem occurred in AD 70 almost forty years after the death of Christ.” Since this was given in Daniel’s prophecy and was to occur within the Seventy Weeks, “the continuous fulfillment theory [is] left without any explanation adequate for interposing an event as occurring after the sixty-ninth seven by some thirty-eight years.”

I have already explained the relation of the Seventy Weeks to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 (see above). The goal of the Seventy Weeks is not the AD 70 destruction of the Tem­ple, which is not mentioned in verse 24. That destruction is a later consequence of certain events brought to fulfillment within the Seventy Weeks. The actual act of God’s reserving judgment (v. 24) occurred within the Seventy Weeks; the later removal of that reservation did not. There is no necessity at all for a gap.

Third, the general tendency in prophecy: Walvoord writes: “Nothing should be plainer to one reading the Old Testament than that the fore view therein provided did not describe the period of time be­tween the two advents. This very fact confused even the proph­ets (cf. 1 Pet. 1:10–12).” His argument then is this: Old Tes­tament prophecy can merge the First and Sec­ond Advents into one scene, though separated by thousands of years. Conse­quently, we have Biblical warrant for understand­ing the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks as merged into one scene, although separated by a gap of thousands of years.

This argument is wholly without merit. The Seventy Weeks are considered as a unit, though subdivided into three unequal parts: (1) It is one period of seventy weeks that must transpire in order to experience the events men­tioned. The plural “seventy weeks” is followed by a singular verb “is decreed,” which indicates the unity of the time period. (2) An overriding concern of the prophecy, in distinction to all other Messianic prophecies, is that it is designed as a measuring time frame. If the dispensational gap theory regarding the seventieth week is true, then the gap separating the seventieth from the sixty-ninth week is now almost 2000 years long, or four times the whole time period of the Seventy Weeks or 490 years. And who knows how much longer it will continue. The concept of measuring is thus destroyed.

The Dispensational Covenant

The confirmation of the covenant mentioned in verse 27 is woefully misunderstood by dispensa­tionalists. According to Walvoord: “[T]his refers to the coming world ruler at the be­ginning of the last seven years who is able to gain control over ten countries in the Middle East. He will make a covenant with Israel for a seven-year period. As Daniel 9:27 indicates, in the middle of the seven years he will break the covenant, stop the sacrifices being offered in the temple rebuilt in that period, and become their persecutor instead of their protector, fulfilling the promises of Israel’s day of trouble (Jer. 30:5–7).”

Several problems plague this interpretation, some of which have already been indicated in another connection:

The covenant here is not made; it is confirmed. This is actually the confirmation of a covenant already extant, i.e., the covenant of God’s redemptive grace confirmed by Christ (Rom. 15:8).

As noted above, the term is related to the name of the angel of God who delivered the message to Daniel: Gabriel (“God is strong”). The lexical correspondence between the name of the strong angel of God (who reveals the Seventy Weeks to Daniel) and the making strong of the cove­nant, themselves suggest the divine nature of the covenant. In addition, covenantal passages frequently employ related terms, when speaking of the strong God of the covenant.

The parallelism with verse 26 indicates that the death of the Messiah is directly related to the confirming of the cove­nant. He is “cut off” but “not for himself” (v. 26a), for He “con­firms the covenant” for the “many” of Israel (v. 27a). His “cut­ting off” brings the confirmation of the covenant, for “without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Heb. 9:22).

The indefinite pronoun “he” does not refer back to “the prince who is to come” of verse 26. That “prince” is a subor­di­nate noun; “the people” is the dominant noun. Thus, the “he” refers back to the last dominant individual mentioned: “Messi­ah” (v. 26a). The Messiah is the leading figure in the whole prophecy, so the destruction of the Temple is relat­ed to His death. In fact, the people who destroy the Tem­ple are providen­tially “His armies” (Matt. 22:2–7).

By Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D.