The prophecy of the seventy weeks in Daniel 9 has been called the “dismal swamp of Old Testament criticism.” It is a difficult text, and the challenge of interpretation has been compounded by the speculative theories of dispensational premillennialism. A more sober assessment will show that this prophecy concerns the events of the coming of the Messiah and the destruction of the temple in AD 70.
I. Daniel’s Prayer (9:1-23)
A. Setting (9:1-2).
1. “In the first year of Darius” would be 539 BC if we are correct in understanding Darius as a subordinate of Cyrus (9:1).
2. Daniel realized that the timeframe prophesied by Jeremiah of seventy years of captivity was coming to a close (9:2; cf. Jer. 25:12).
B. The prayer of penitence (9:3-19).
1. Along with Ezra 9 and Nehemiah 9 this is one of the most profound prayers of national repentance found in Scripture. It is centered around God’s own glorious purposes and His covenant with His people.
2. The first half of the prayer acknowledges that the nation had violated the terms of the covenant and deserved the penalty of exile found in the curses of the law (9:3-15; cf. Deut. 28:62-65).
3. The second half of the prayer is a plea for God to act for the sake of His own name on behalf His holy city and people (9:16-19).
C. The response of Gabriel (9:20-23).
1. While Daniel was praying, the angel Gabriel (whom Daniel had seen in 8:16), came to him in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice (9:20-21).
2. Gabriel says that Daniel was heard “at the beginning” of his prayer, and that he came to give Daniel the word (9:22-23).
II. The Vision of the Seventy Weeks (9:24-27)
A. General comments.
1. The text literally says “seventy sevens,” as in the NIV. Most commentators take this as a reference to 70 weeks.
2. Further, most commentators take the view that these are not weeks comprised of days (as would be normal), but based on texts like Ezek. 4:5-6 and Gen. 29:27-28 these are weeks of years (1 week = 7 years).
3. “Seventy sevens” is a combination of important symbolic numbers, 7 x 10 x 7.
a) Seven makes us think of the Sabbath day, the seventh day of the week which signified rest from the curse of sin and commemorated deliverance from the toil of Egyptian bondage (Deut. 5:12-15).
b) It also makes us think of the Sabbath year, the seventh year when the land was to remain unworked (Lev. 25:1-7). Israel’s failure to follow this command is the reason for the captivity of seventy years according to 2 Chron. 36:21, one year of captivity for each Sabbath year that was ignored.
c) And every seventh Sabbath year was the year of Jubilee, when debts were cancelled, slaves freed, and property returned to its owners (Lev. 25:8-17).
4. Therefore, rather than reading the seventy weeks of Daniel as a prophecy of 490 literal years, we should read it as a prophecy about the ultimate Jubilee of all Jubliees, Jubilee times ten. And the natural connection would be to the coming of Christ, who opened His ministry with reference to the Jubilee (Luke 4:17-19).
B. The goal of the seventy weeks (9:24). There are six goals listed for the seventy weeks:
1. “To finish transgression,” meaning either that the transgression will come to an end or it will be resolved.
2. “To put an end to sin,” either by destroying sinners or forgiving sinners.
3. “To atone for iniquity,” which in the light of the NT can only refer to the death of Jesus.
4. “To bring in everlasting righteousness.”
5. “To seal both vision and prophet,” which could mean to conclude the era of prophecy, but in this case probably refers to the validation of the vision and prophecy (a “seal of approval”).
6. “To anoint the most holy,” which could refer to a place (as in the ESV) or a person (the Messiah).
7. NOTE: Everything in this list can reasonably be said to have taken place by the time of the coming of Christ, the Anointed One, who came to take away our sins.
C. The first sixty-nine weeks (9:25).
1. From the decree of Cyrus to leave and rebuild Jerusalem to the coming of “an anointed one” there would be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks (NASB, NKJV, NIV; the ESV punctuation of this passage is incorrect).
a) No one is sure why the first seven weeks are separated from the next sixty-two, but it could be that the first seven weeks represent the first of the ten Jubilee cycles.
b) Gabriel says that Jerusalem will be rebuilt, but it will face trouble.
2. The best interpretation of the coming of the anointed one is in reference to the coming of Jesus.
D. The seventieth week (9:26-27).
1. After the first sixty-nine weeks an anointed one is cut off (9:26a).
a) In dispensationalism, there is a gratuitous gap inserted between the 69th and 70th weeks, and the last week is the seven year tribulation period which will begin with the rapture.
b) But the most straightforward interpretation is that the cutting off the anointed refers to the death of Jesus.
2. The next thing Daniel is told is that a coming prince will destroy the city of Jerusalem and its sanctuary (9:26b), and there is no reason to identify this as anything other than the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
3. “He” in verse 27a could either be the destroying prince or the anointed one. It is ambiguous, but I will assume it is in reference to the Messiah, and the “covenant” is the new covenant.
4. Sacrifices and offerings are ended (9:27b), either by virtue of the new covenant of Jesus which replaced the old, or by virtue of the fall of the temple where the sacrifices and offerings were made.
5. Finally, Gabriel says that abominations which make desolate are coming, which Jesus quotes in Matt. 24:15 with reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.