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The seventy weeks (Daniel 9:20-27)

 

by Harry Honigh

 

The prophecy of the seventy weeks in Daniel 9 is also called “the backbone of the prophecy”. It gives a tremendous oversight to Daniel about the future events for his people Israel. This important truth of seventy periods of seven years is slowly disappearing among believers and with it also the realisation of the future which awaits the world: the last year-week.

 

 

 

Desperate

 

Israel has come to a very low point in her history. The people has been taken from the land into exile, first the ten tribes to Assyria and now also the two tribes to Babylon. For non-Jews it is hardly to comprehend what it means for a Jew to be separated from his country, from Jerusalem and from his temple. After all, the people, the land and the city of Jerusalem are in inseparably connected with each other in the Bible.

 

Daniel is absorbed in the book of Jeremiah and reads about the seventy years of exile. “For thus saith the LORD. That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, in causing your return to this place.” (Jeremiah. 29:10 comp. 25:11) These seventy years are almost past. From Daniel’s plea of guilt in this ninth chapter it is obvious that he clearly sees that this exile is the consequence of the sin of his people. In particular it is a compensation for the seventy Sabbath-years which Israel did not keep for many years. For each Sabbath-year which they did not keep the people is in exile for one year. (see also Lev. 26:34, 35 and 43). After the seventy years of exile the people will come back and be restored. Daniel beseeches the Lord to turn away His wrath from Jerusalem (vs. 16). Notice that he makes no appeal for the promise of the seventy years. Neither does Daniel say that the people has atoned enough or that she has bettered her life now. No, he appeals on God’s goodness: “according to all Thy righteousness” (vs. 16) for “Thy city and Thy people are called by Thy name” (vs. 19). Here in the Old Testament we even see already a beautiful example of God’s grace. At a very low point in her history, when the people has no hope left, when Jerusalem is in ruins, then the time of God’s grace is ripe.

 

According to Ezechiel 37:1-14 something like this will take place in future. Then the desperation will even be greater, for then the situation of the people is like a valley full of dry bones, completely helpless: “Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts.” (Ezekiel 37:11).

 

Then too God will intervene and revive the remnant (Ezekiel 37:9). Then the restoration will be complete: the land, the people and the town of Jerusalem will be reunited. They will enter into the new covenant about which we read in Jeremiah 31. It is exactly this last and final restoration in which the Lord gives insight to Daniel.

 

 

 

The seventy weeks

 

From verse 24 of Daniel 9 we see the prophecy about the seventy weeks described. Seventy weeks will pass and then the complete restoration of Israel will take place. “Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon the 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. 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. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for Himself; 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. 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, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.” (Daniel 9;24-27)

 

Notice how complete that restoration will be: “to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for the iniquity and to bring in everlasting righteousness….” (vs. 24). This restoration goes much further than ‘only’ the return from Babylon and the restoration of the temple and the town of Jerusalem. This restoration speaks about the time of the Kingdom of Peace, in which the Lord Jesus will be King over and amidst His people. All this will take place under the new covenant, which first of all was meant for Israel (Jer. 31). Gabriel explains to Daniel that “seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon the holy city”, before all this can happen.

 

After ‘seventy weeks’ the suffering of Israel shall come to an end. When we read this portion of Scripture carefully, we see that the following will happen:

 

 

 

Time Events Vs

 

After 7+62=69 Termination of the Messiah-King 25, 26

 

weeks

 

the last week a very difficult week 27

 

After 70 weeks Complete salvation and eternal 24

 

justice for Israel

 

 

 

That the weeks mentioned cannot be normal weeks of seven days, is obvious. In fact it says literally ‘seventy sevens’ We know from history that 69 weeks (that is 483 days) after the command to rebuild Jerusalem no anointed one has been cut off. It is also clear that the promised restoration of Israel did not take place after seventy weeks (so 490 days). After all, it would be a complete restoration. So the seventy weeks have to mean something else than weeks of seven days.

 

There is only one reasonable explanation for these seventy weeks and that is, that it is about seventy periods of seven years. We will consider three arguments for this:

 

  1. the well-known periods of seven years in Israel
  2. the characteristics of the last year-week and
  3. the characteristics of the Great Tribulation, which the Lord Jesus describes

 

in His sermon about the end of time.

 

 

 

Sabbaths of years

 

For people in the West a period of seven years may seem some handy arithmetic trick, but a Jew will recognise this period immediately. Namely, it concerns the so-called ‘sabbaths-of-years’ about which we read in Leviticus 25: “And thou shalt number seven Sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven Sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years. Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land. And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof’ it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family” (Lev. 25:8-10).

 

 

 

We all know the Sabbath, in which man after working for 6 days, could rest, and recouperate from work. Each week the Jews looked forward to the Sabbath, which was really celebrated in the home-circle. They greeted each other by singing Shalom alechem. The Sabbath points to the rest of the Kingdom of Peace and the following eternal glory, in which the people of Israel will enter one day. This applied even stronger to the year of Sabbath (each seventh year) in which the land had to rest from 6 years of harvesting.

 

In the seventh year they were not allowed to harvest, not to sow: “Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof. But in the seventh year shall be a Sabbath of rest unto the land, a Sabbath for the LORD: thou shalt neither sow the field, nor prune thy vineyard. That which groweth of its own accord of thy harvest thou shalt not reap, neither gather the grapes of thy vine undressed: for it is a year of rest unto the land.” (Lev. 25:3, 4)

 

Then above all each Hebrew who had sold himself as slave, had to be released (comp. Lev. 25:1-7 and Ex. 21:2 and 23:10, 11).

 

It speaks for itself that the entire Jewish life is focussed on this thinking in seven years. At least in the periods that they kept to these instructions. What a marvellous picture of abundance and freedom is this institution which the tormented Israel will receive one day in the Kingdom of Peace and the eternal glory which will follow hereafter. The Sabbath as well as the year of Sabbath point to the rest in which Israel will enter into. (comp. Heb. 4:1-11) and which will mean the end of slavery for the people.

 

We also read about the year of jubilee, the year following the seven year-weeks (7x7=49 years) in which on top of all that the sold possessions had to be returned (see Lev. 25:8-23). This was truly called a year of jubilee. It was opened with trumpet sounds on the great day of atonement. Here we see the spiritual restoration (redemption of sins) merge with the material restoration (of land and properties).

 

So the Israelites were completely used to take in account periods of seven years, as these were closely related to their religion, their economy and their social lives. So for Daniel there was nothing strange about the periods of seven years about which Gabriel spoke.

 

 

 

Why these 70 and 490 years?

 

Why did the Lord choose these ‘seventy weeks’ as time for the restoration of His people? The answer is not difficult. Israel had been disobedient for many years by not keeping these years of Sabbath. In the description of ‘the blessing and the curse’ He had announced what the punishment for this would be: “Then shall the land enjoy her Sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemy’s land; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy her Sabbaths.” (Lev. 26:34)

 

The seventy years of exile in Babylon were a compensation for the seventy years of Sabbaths the people did not keep. It seems the Lord counted these seventy years up to the day: “all the days….”. Above-mentioned will also say that the Israelites apparently did not keep the laws of the Lord during a period of 70x7=490 years, among them these years of Sabbaths and jubilee. And that is exactly the time in our prophecy which Israel had to wait for the definite restoration. At the end of the 70 years of exile a humbling took place, among others by Daniel, on which the first return to the land took place. But we cannot speak of a true repentance. It was only a partial restoration, it happened “in troublous times” (Dan. 9:25) After another 490 years Israel will truly come to repentance and call for her Messiah, the Lord Jesus. Then there will definitely come an end to her suffering and the restoration will be complete.

 

 

 

Beginning and end of the 483 years

 

The prophecy in Daniel 9 tells exactly when the seventy year-weeks will commence, namely:

 

 

 

“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” (vs. 25)

 

 

 

In the Bible it gives four assignments to rebuild the temple and/or of Jerusalem, of which two qualify for the command, “from the going forth of the commandment”.

 

 

 

Verse of Scripture Description Consequence

 

Ezra 1:2 The command of Cyrus Return of Zerubbabel and

 

rebuilding of the temple

 

Nehemiah 2 The letters of Artaxerxes Return of Nehemiah and

 

rebuilding walls of Jerusalem

 

 

 

The command of Cyrus (Ezra 1:2) could be noted as ‘the command’ of which is spoken in Daniel 9. That first return under Zerubbabel namely marks the end of the Babylonian exile. The seventy year-weeks then would connect to seventy years of exile. Isaiah 44:28 can point to the fact that Cyrus was not only instructed by God to rebuild the temple and the town of Jerusalem, but that in fact he actually gave that command.

 

However, there are also arguments to accept that the letters of Artaxerxes (Nehemiah 2) have to be considered as ‘the command’. In that decree the town of Jerusalem is clearly mentioned and as a result of that the walls are rebuilt. Most commentators see Nehemiah 2 as ‘the command’.

 

The end of the 69 year-weeks is clearer. “unto Messiah, the Prince” can only point to the Lord Jesus Christ. Nobody else is qualified to fulfil this role in this crucial prophecy. Most commentators presume that it implies the crucifixion.

 

 

 

A jump in time

 

That what we read in Daniel 9 about the last year-week, has never taken place in history. The much heard suggestion that Antiochus Epiphanus would have fulfilled this prophecy in 168 b.C., can be refuted easily. He has in fact desecrated the sanctuary, but did not ruin Jerusalem and the temple. Moreover the promised restoration of Israel did not follow hereafter. Neither on the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in the year 70 a.C.

 

In the third place the statement of the Lord Jesus in Mathew 24:15 shows that this prophecy was not yet fulfilled in His time, but was yet to be fulfilled. All in all there is enough proof to come to the conclusion that this last year-week is yet in the future.

 

Though we can see the above mentioned historical facts as a pre-fulfilment of this prophecy, we always have to keep the overall-view in mind. When events do not fit completely in the Biblical context and order, it does not apply to the definite fulfilment. Unfortunately we have to see many of these attempts as an understatement of the worldwide temptations and catastrophes which still await Israel and the world.

 

 

 

When after the 69th year-week the Lord Jesus is crucified, God stops the calendar. Israel has rejected her Messiah and is temporarily put aside. If she would hot have rejected Him, the events of this last year-week would probably have taken place immediately or within much shorter time. If…. such a jump in time is nothing abnormal in Biblical prophecy. We see something like this also in Luke 4:18 when the Lord Jesus reads in the synagogue of Nazareth from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; because the he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted,” (comp. Isaiah 61:1).

 

Here he stops and indicates that this word has come to fulfilment. The rest of the prophecy concerning the Kingdom of Peace, He does not speak. Why? Because that did not yet come up; first He had to be accepted as the Messiah. Here too we see that the calendar is set still for a period which in the mean time has lasted some two-thousand years. Moreover it concerns the same period. After the last year-week the restoration of Isaiah 61 from vs. 2 will commence for Israel.

 

Two arguments rest us, which prove to us that these seventy weeks of years speak of a period of 490 years. First of all the order of the last year-week in two parts and in the second place the events which take place in the last year-week.

 

 

 

The order of the last year-week

 

The last year-week lasts for seven years and falls apart in two periods of three and a half year according to Daniel 9:27. This period is indicated in different ways, as proves from the following outline.

 

 

 

Indication To be found in

 

a half week Daniel 9:27

 

1260, 1290, 1335 or 1350 days*) Revelation 11:2, 3; Daniel 12:11, 12

 

42 months Revelation 11:2, 3; Revelation 13:5

 

a time, times and half a time Daniel 7:25; Daniel 12:7; Revelation 12:6, 14

 

*) In the periods of 1290 and 1350 days it concerns events that occur just before or just after the half week.

 

 

 

Please read the above mentioned portions of Scripture in their context. In that way you will obtain a good insight in the events of the last year-week.

 

 

 

The events of the last year-week

 

A third proof about the length of the seventy weeks-of-years we find among others in Mathew24. When we project the address about the end of time over the last year-week, we see that the events fit exactly:

 

“When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand. Then let them which be in Jerusalem flee into the mountains; Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house; neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day, for then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, now ever shall be.” (Mathew 24:15-21)

 

 

 

This pronouncement of the Lord Jesus first of all sweeps the floor with all Bible critics who ascribe the book of Daniel to ‘someone’ who posed for Daniel about 150 b.C. in order to write the events of his time as prophecy. “Do not listen to them”, says the Lord, “this prophecy has been spoken by Daniel, the prophet”.

 

 

 

We see in Mathew 24:15 again ’the abomination of desolation’ of our verse in Daniel 9:27 (and Daniel 11:31; 12:11). The Lord Himself says here that the events of the last year-week are still future. It cannot be clearer. He tells us in Mathew 24:15 extensively what will happen in the second half of the last year-week. The raising of ‘the abomination of desolation’ ushers a period of great tribulation and this period will last three and a half years. Or: the second half of the last year-week will be a period of unknown great tribulation for Israel and the world. Therefore we call these last three and a half years also ‘ the Great Tribulation.”

 

 

 

The Great Tribulation

 

If we observe carefully the events of the last year-week in Daniel 9:27, then we see that they fit exactly to the Great Tribulation, as described for instance in Mathew 24, 2 Thessalonians 2 and the book of Revelation.

 

The “prince that shall come” first of all refers to the Roman emperor Titus, who had the Jerusalem and the temple destroyed in 70 a.C. However, Titus was only a foreshadowing of the prince yet to come. The Roman Empire will arise again in the empire of the antichrist and will be more crewel, even more all-dominating, more destructive. That empire we also see in the states-statue of Daniel 2 (the entire statue which will be destroyed) en the horrible fourth animal in Daniel 7. The ‘prince that shall come’ in the end is the antichrist, which we find described in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 and of course in Revelation 13.

 

 

 

The ‘wing of abomination’ we find again in Mathew 24:

 

“When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them that be in Jerusalem flee into the mountains” (Mathew 24:15, 16).

 

 

 

Halfway the last year-week of Daniel, at the beginning of the Great Tribulation, an abomination (lit. dirty object of idolatry) will be raised in the rebuilt temple. The raising of this abomination will overflow the bucket and commence the destruction of the Great Tribulation. This will not just be a sacrilege of the temple, as had happened before, but it will be an unknown provocation towards the Lord God. This will then be the sign for the Jews to flee into the mountains. (Matth. 24:16)

 

 

 

There will come a ‘destroyer’. We read in Revelation 9:1-11 about a plague of grasshoppers, which will come up out of the abyss at the beginning of the Great Tribulation. Presumably these are demons which have taken on the image of outer space monsters. They will so torture the people, that they will seek death, but will not be able to find it. We read: “And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon” (Rev. 9:11).

 

 

 

The name Abaddon/Apollyon means ‘destruction’. The destruction he brings, is the consequence of unbelief. During the Babylonian exile the land lay desolate in order to recover from the overuse (Lev. 26:34). Israel is facing an even greater destruction, until it will call for her Messiah, the Lord Jesus, Who will come to terms with this destroyer. This one himself will then be destroyed. (Isa. 33:1)

 

 

 

That Israel will make ‘a covenant’ with the antichrist is nothing new. In the past Israel made covenants with Babylon, Assyria and Egypt. Also in our time Israel seeks for the solutions for her safety in earthly covenants of peace. There will come a time that the people will be so hard pressed, that it will make a covenant with her greatest enemy, the antichrist. He will make that covenant heavy during the period of the last year-week. He will betray Israel. In Isaiah 28:14-22 the Lord calls this covenant ‘a covenant with death’ and the ‘agreement with hell’. In John 5:43 we see that also this point of depth in Israel’s history is yet in the future: “I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not; if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive”.

 

 

 

 

 

The end of suffering is determined

 

 

 

The prophecy about the seventy year-weeks therefore warns us for the coming apostasy. But at the same time they promise that there will come a moment that this period of seventy weeks is finished:

 

 

 

 

 

“Seventy weeks are determined 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.” (Dan. 9:24)

 

 

 

 

 

After the Great Tribulation there will come an end to the trial and the suffering for the people of Israel. Jewish Tradition rightly teaches that the people is in exile until the coming of the Messiah to save her out of it. He will bring back Israel and restore the people and the land. Then the Kingdom of Peace will commence for the believers out of Israel and the nations. The Kingdom of Peace, in which all those magnificent Old Testament prophecies will be fulfilled. When we look in the world around us, we do not see much of that Kingdom of Peace yet, for the simple reason that first of all the Great Tribulation has yet to come. But the seventy weeks have been determined and the end thereof is in view!

 

This also concerns us as believers in this time: many of us are regularly confronted with sadness and suffering. But we too may look forward to the glorification of our bodies, when we will be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6-8). Then our ‘exile’ will come to an end, our being absent from the Lord.

 

And in a world which takes less and less notice of God and the salvation He offers in His Son Yeshuah, this is an immense encouragement. The end of suffering is determined, for Israel as a people as well as for you and me personally.

 

 

 

 

 

Footnotes:

 

1) In the prophecy years are accounted for 360 days.