It’s the hardest passage of Scripture in the Bible. I’m betting my money on it. And I had a little over 3 days to try and figure it out and then teach it to my congregation.
I’m referring to Daniel 7:24-27, also known as “Daniel’s 70 Weeks”. These four short verses are some of the most difficult in the Old Testament and have provoked countless debates that show no sign of abating.
To add to my affliction, it is also the central text for dispensationalists. This is where they get their 7-year tribulation, future temple and pre-tribulation rapture from. This passage is serves as the lynchpin for their entire system. I knew there were a number of those who would be sitting there on Sunday. And they would be watching to see what I would do with this.
Here’s the passage in its simplicity (how I wish):
Daniel 9:24–27 (CSB)
24 Seventy weeks are decreed
about your people and your holy city—
to bring the rebellion to an end,
to put a stop to sin,
to atone for iniquity,
to bring in everlasting righteousness,
to seal up vision and prophecy,
and to anoint the most holy place.
25 Know and understand this:
From the issuing of the decree
to restore and rebuild Jerusalem
until an Anointed One, the ruler,
will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks.
It will be rebuilt with a plaza and a moat,
but in difficult times.
26 After those sixty-two weeks
the Anointed One will be cut off
and will have nothing.
The people of the coming ruler
will destroy the city and the sanctuary.
The end will come with a flood,
and until the end there will be war;
desolations are decreed.
27 He will make a firm covenant
with many for one week,
but in the middle of the week
he will put a stop to sacrifice and offering.
And the abomination of desolation
will be on a wing of the temple,
until the decreed destruction
is poured out on the desolator.
Verse 24 literally reads, “seventy sevens” or seventy units of seven. The question however, is a unit of seven what? Days? Weeks? Months? Years? That’s just the start of it. Here’s a list of the interpretive calls that I had to make:
- How long are the “weeks”? Are they exact seven-year periods, are they symbolic, or are they approximations?
- When do the seventy weeks begin?
- What (or who) is the “most holy place” (v. 24)?
- Who issued the word (or “decree”) to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, and when (v. 25)?
- Who is the “anointed one” (v. 25)?
- Does the “anointed one” come after seven weeks, or after seven-plus-sixty-two weeks (v. 25)?
- Who is the “anointed one” who is “cut off, having nothing” (v. 26)? Is it the same as the anointed one of v. 25, or someone else?
- Who is the “coming ruler” (or “prince to come”) whose people destroy the city and sanctuary (v. 26)?
- Is there a chronological “gap” between the sixty-ninth and seventieth week?
- Who is the “he” who makes the “strong covenant” (v. 27)? Is it referring to the anointed one, or to the coming ruler?
- What is the abomination of desolation (v. 27)?
- When do the seventy weeks end?
Where do you start? Well, it’s good to remember the three most important words for any bible interpretation: 1. Context, 2. Context, and 3. Context. If you don’t understand the context, you’ll go off on all kinds of tangents. What is the context of verses 24-27? Answer: Daniel’s prayer in 9:1-19. I believe that is the most overlooked factor in this passage. Daniel’s prayer, along with its answer is the key to everything.
The chapter opens with Daniel with his nose in the bible (actually the scrolls, as there was no bible back then). He’s reading from the prophet Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 25:11 there is a prophecy that tells the Israelites what’s going to happen. They will be taken into captivity by the King of Babylon and serve him for 70 years. Then, later in Jeremiah 29:10-11 God says:
“When seventy years for Babylon are complete, I will attend to you and will confirm my promise concerning you to restore you to this place.”
God is promising after 70 years of exile he is going to restore his people to their land and he’s going to show favour to them once again. Daniel does some quick math and realizes those 70 years are nearly up. And what does he do? He’s starts praying! What’s he praying for? He’s praying for restoration – not just back to the land, but back to God. The only way that can be fulfilled in Daniel’s mind is by getting back to Jerusalem and back in temple where sacrifices can be made to restore this broken relationship.
And it’s while this prayer is being made, while he’s pouring out his heart to God that Gabriel suddenly appears, interrupts his prayer and gives him the answer. Daniel’s eyes have been fixed on the end of the 70 years of exile and a return to the land. But Gabriel shows Daniel that God has a far more extensive plan that goes beyond a return to the land. “Don’t just think 70 years, Daniel. But 70 Sevens.” God’s timescale is bigger than Daniel ever imagined.
Here is a basic schematic view of the prophecy (complements of Kyle Dillon of the Westminster Academy):
We have “seventy units of seven” broken down into three periods: 7 6 1 Gabriel then informs Daniel within this “seventy-seven” period six things will take place, which are listed in verse 24:
1. Rebellion will end
2. Sins will be brought to an end
3. Atonement would be made for iniquity (or sin)
4. Everlasting righteousness will be established
5. Vision and prophecy will be sealed up
6. The Most Holy Place will be anointed
The chart below shows the possible options (in tan colour) regarding the decree sent out (v.24), the Anointed One (v.26) and the city and sanctuary being destroyed (vv.26-27):
While the details vary from interpreter to interpreter, the options can generally be boiled down to three major views: 1) Preterist, 2) Dispensationalist, and 3) Covenantal–Futurist (there’s a fourth – the Maccabean–Typological, but I’ll leave that out for brevities sake).
The preterist view (from the Latin praeter, which means “past” or “beyond”) considers the prophecy to have been fulfilled by AD 70. By interpreting the “weeks” symbolically, preterists have more flexibility in determining the dates of the events predicted. The “anointed one” in both v. 25 and v. 26 is Jesus, who is also regarded as the one who confirms the “firm (or strong) covenant” of v. 27, and whose atoning work rendered the Jewish sacrifices obsolete. The Roman General Titus is the “prince to come,” whose armies destroyed the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Here’s what it looks like:
The dispensationalist view interprets the weeks as exact seven-year periods. By starting with one of the decrees of Artaxerxes – either in 458 BC (Ezra 7:11-26) if one uses a 365-day calendar, or in 445 BC (Neh. 2:1-8) if one uses a 360-day calendar, they arrive at the Triumphal Entry of Jesus in 33 AD for the end of the sixty-ninth week. However, the events of the seventieth week clearly did not take place in the seven years following Christ’s death, which is why dispensationalists put a “gap” between the sixty-ninth and seventieth week. This parenthesis (unforeseen by Daniel) will come to an end with the Rapture (also unforeseen by Daniel), which will then lead into the seven-year Great Tribulation, during which time the Antichrist will make a pact with the nation of Israel, only to break it after 3 1/2 years and desecrate the rebuilt Temple. Here’s what it looks like:
The problem I have with this view is, as you can see, the “Great Parenthesis.” Where did they get this from? It’s not in the text, nor is it found anywhere else in Scripture. It appears to be arbitrarily inserted, so as to make the system work. Dispensationalists read verses 24-27 in a sequential, chronological order. But another way to looks at these verses is to view them as a progressive (rather than sequential) unfolding of the future:
Verse 24 covers the entire period – ’70 sevens’
Verse 25 contains the first 69 (62 + 7) sevens
Verse 26 describes the final seven in general terms
Verse 27 describes the final seven in specific terms
That would bring to you the third view which is described below:
The covenantal-futurist view is a blend (of sorts) of the preterist and dispensationalist views. Like the preterists, covenantal futurists take a more symbolic reading of the weeks, but like the dispensationalists, they see some aspects of the prophecy as still awaiting fulfilment. They consider the events of AD 70 to have fulfilled the first half of the seventieth week, but the second half of the seventieth week represents the entire church age up to the present. They still anticipate a future Antichrist who will persecute the church. Here’s what it looks like:
In my message I covered the dispensational and covenantal future views. They differ mostly in the last “seven” or the seventieth week (verse 27). One projects verse 27 into the distant future (the 7-year tribulation and the antichrist) while the other views the last “week” in a telescopic way to refer to the church age up until Christ’s second coming.
I wasn’t entirely happy with the result. Given a second chance I would handle that differently. A few people were left rather bamboozled!
It certainly got our people thinking however. And I mean, really thinking. One individual commented afterwards, “I’ve never looked so hard for so long at so few verses.” That’s good. That’s what God wants us to do with his word. In his very helpful book, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals John Piper has a chapter called Brothers, show your people why God inspired hard texts. He asks the question, why has God placed such difficult passages in his book? His answer: to train us to pray earnestly (for understanding), read well and think hard. He writes,
“Education is helping people understand something that they don’t already understand. Or, more accurately, education is helping people (young or old) learn how to get an understanding that they didn’t already have. Education is cultivating the life of the mind so that it knows how to grow in true understanding. That impulse was unleashed by God’s inspiring a book with complex demanding paragraphs in it.”
This passage was both complex and demanding. And although it was jolly hard work, I am thankful for it.
Note: if you’re really keen you can have a listen to my message on this passage here. We also recording a Q & A session after the message which you can listen to here.
 Dispensationalism is a theological system that is a built on a consistent literal interpretation of the bible and views Israel and the church as being separate and distinct in God’s program. Dispensationalists believe in a future 1000-year reign of Christ on earth (where all the promises made to Israel in the OT will be literally fulfilled), and a return of Christ in two phases – a rapture and second coming. They also believe the 70th week in Daniel 9:24-27 refers to the future 7-year tribulation described in Revelation chapters 6-19.