(Revised 07-09-16, 2:40 pm)
This is part of a series examining the flawed exegesis of Dispensational theology. (See also: Who is Israel?, Dispense the Truth, Is Satan Bound? and Our High Priest).
The Seventy Weeks of Daniel (chapter 9) is one of the most difficult passages of Scripture. We will proceed with an assumption that many Bible students still aren’t sure of its meaning.
Dispensationalists believe that sixty-nine of the prophetic weeks have been fulfilled with the final week to be completed at some point in the future when all of these things will come to pass — rebuilt temple, man of sin, rapture, Great Tribulation and Millennium. Upon a more careful reading of Scripture we will see that the LORD decreed seventy weeks to fulfill, or complete the prophecy. The church fathers believed that Messiah appeared at the beginning of the 70th week, while Dispensationalists assert that Christ died in the 69th week with the final week having been put on hold 2000 years.
The implications of these divergent views are, metaphorically speaking, earth-shaking. Essentially, 19th century liberals overturned centuries of ecclesiastical teaching with the introduction of dispensational theology that adopted a futuristic interpretation of prophecy.
The church fathers believed that Daniel 9 was a Messianic prophecy that was fulfilled with the first coming of Christ. Rabbis also adhered to this interpretation, that is, until the temple was destroyed — and Messiah did not save them from the Roman army which, ironically, was sent in judgement by the LORD.
Though Dispensationalists cite the subsequent order of Artaxerxes, the commencement of the Seventy Weeks was historically understood by the church fathers to be the issuance of the royal decree by Cyrus which ended seventy years of Babylonian captivity. The terminus was the first advent of Christ which some proposed to be His birth, ministry or crucifixion. Though it extends the prophesy another 36 years, Clement saw the fulfillment of the seventy weeks in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. This is so determined because Christ had already put an end to the oblations by His sacrifice upon the cross. The offerings of the people after the cross had no spiritual efficacy, and the desolation of the sanctuary was simply an exclamation mark of Messiah’s prophetic judgement that not one stone would be left upon another (Matthew 23:38, 24:2).
What are the Seventy Weeks?
v24 Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most Holy.
Church fathers clearly understood this to be a Messianic reference. We will discuss the seventy weeks later, but this was a mistranslation by the King James translators. The text is properly interpreted seventy “sevens”. As the Jews were coming to the end of their seventy years of exile (Jeremiah 25:11), the LORD spoke unto Daniel that another judgement of sevens had been decreed — see also Leviticus 26:18.
v25 So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks (69 weeks); it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.
Messiah would come at the end of 69 weeks (7 + 62), and begin His ministry at the beginning of the 70th week — in contrast, as we have seen, with Dispensationalists who believe that Messiah was crucified in the 69th week with a parenthetic suspension of the final week.
v26 Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined.
Remember, the prophetic timeline is segmented into seven weeks, and sixty-two weeks for a total of sixty-nine weeks. If Messiah is cut off after the sixty-two weeks, and we know that the first seven weeks have been fulfilled with the completion of the post-captivity temple, the prophecy foretells the crucifixion and desolation sometime after the 69th week.
v27 And he (Messiah) will make a firm covenant with the many for one week (70th week), but in the middle of the week (His ministry lasted 3 1/2 years) he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering (by His sacrifice upon the Cross); and on the wing of abominations (the Roman army) will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction (within that generation), one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate (the holy city).
He is not the future Antichrist nor the prince of verse 26. The prince is the object of the preposition. Neither are the people to be construed as the subject of the verse since the pronoun, in context of these passages, is unequivocally the Messiah.
We will revisit these verses later, but it might be helpful at this point to answer a couple of questions: When was the decree issued to restore the temple, and how do we interpret the seventy weeks?
There were, actually, several orders to restore the temple: Cyrus (539 BC), Darius (520 BC), Artaxerxes I (457 BC) and Artaxerxes (444 BC). It would take the length of this paper to examine the details of these royal decrees — as documented in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah — but one of the decrees fits the timeline better than the others. For example, the most obvious choice would be the first order issued by Cyrus though it preceded Messiah by 570 years thus exceeding Daniel’s timetable by 80 years — but only if we utilized the secular, historical records of Ptolemy which were incomplete, and viewed with uncertainty by ancient scholars.
Not only is (Ptolemy’s) method of procedure fundamentally wrong in that it tries to make events of Bible-history fit in with a man-made chronological scheme, but the fact is that every chronological System covering the period we have to do with (i. e., from the beginning of the Persian monarchy down to Christ) is largely a matter of guesswork. All those systems, without any exception, are based upon the “canon” of Ptolemy, that is to say, a list of supposed Persian kings, with the supposed length of the reign of each, which list was compiled by Ptolemy, a heathen astronomer and writer of the second century AD. But Ptolemy does not even pretend to have had any facts as to the length of the Persian period (that is to say, from Darius and Cyrus down to Alexander the Great). Ptolemy estimates or guesses this period to have been 205 years long. And this is what has caused all the trouble and uncertainty; for every one who has attempted to construct a Bible chronology has based himself on Ptolemy’s estimate. In a word then, there is no chronology in existence of the period from Cyrus to Christ except in the Bible.
Concerning the dates given in Ptolemy’s table of Persian Kings, Martin Anstey (Bible Chronology, 1913) says: “They rest upon calculations or guesses made by Eratosthenes, and on certain vague floating traditions, in accordance with which the period of the Persian Empire was mapped out as a period of 205 years.” And he shows, by a great variety of proofs taken entirely from the Scriptures, that the period which Ptolemy assigns to the Persian Empire is about eighty years too long. It follows that all who adopt Ptolemy’s chronology, or any system based upon it (as all modern chronologists prior to Anstey do) would inevitably be led far astray. It is impossible to make the real Bible-events agree, within 80 years, with the mistaken chronology of Ptolemy. This single fact makes many modern books on Daniel utterly worthless, so far as their chronology is concerned; and the chronology is the main thing. 
Confirming that Cyrus is, indeed, the subject of the royal decree — the Bible has to be the authority:
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah’ (Ezra 1:1-2).
It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.’ And he declares of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built,’ And of the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid.’ ” (Isaiah 44:28)
“I have aroused him (Cyrus) in righteousness and I will make all his ways smooth; He will build My city and will let My exiles go free, Without any payment or reward,” says the LORD of hosts (Isaiah 45:13).
Clearly, Jesus did not come within a literal seventy weeks of the royal decree. The Bible is using prophetic language — it is to be understood as seventy weeks of years. That is to say, one day equals one year — one week equals seven years — and seventy weeks equals four hundred ninety years.
One might ask by what interpretive method do we understand a day for a year? To be sure, it is gleaned from ancient rabbinical text; but also from the Holy Scriptures:
For I have assigned you a number of days corresponding to the years of their iniquity … a day for each year (Ezekiel 4:5-6).
You are also to count off seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years, so that you have the time of the seven sabbaths of years, namely, forty-nine years (Leviticus 25:8).
Daniel breaks down his vision into a period of seven weeks (49 years), sixty-two weeks (434 years) and one week (7 years). From the time the decree is issued to the completion of the (second) temple, 49 years … the coming of Messiah, 434 years … the fulfillment of Christ’s ministry and crucifixion, 7 years.
Christian commentators and Rabbinic teachers posited that Daniel’s prophecy began at the end of Jeremiah’s prophetic seventy years of desolation, or Babylonian captivity which ended with the decree of Cyrus.
Let us examine more closely the two verses that pose the greatest interpretive challenge:
v24 Seventy weeks have been decreed to finish the transgression, make atonement for iniquity, bring in everlasting righteousness, seal the vision and anoint the most Holy.
Seventy weeks: Skeptics will dispute 490 years between the decree of Cyrus and the coming of Messiah. However, when you factor in the 360-day lunar calendar, and sketchy records of Ptolemy, it is reasonable to agree with first century Christians and Jews that the prophecy of Daniel 9 (all 70 weeks) has been fulfilled.
Finish the transgression (atonement): Of course, it is not difficult to understand that Messiah finished the transgression (John 19:30) though modern Bible critics — liberal in their theology — will cast doubt upon the Messianic interpretation of this passage even as they question the Virgin Birth and bodily resurrection. How they can doubt that Christ made atonement for sin is, well, perplexing.
Everlasting righteousness: Obviously, Jesus Christ. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets (Romans 3:21).
Seal the vision: Daniel’s sealed vision would be opened by the One who fulfilled the prophecy as revealed to John.
I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it. Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it; and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” (Revelation 5:1-5)
Anoint the most Holy: This passage of Scripture was uniformly interpreted — by Jews and Christians — as one of the most revelatory Messianic prophecies in all of the Old Testament. There are interpretive variations regarding the most Holy. Some translations render the passage most Holy One, or place. If Holy One, it is a clear reference to the Mashiach; and if Holy place it suggests the anointing of the Most Holy Place with the sacrificial blood of the Messiah (Hebrews 9:12) — a selfless offering that permitted the Son of Man to open Daniel’s sealed prophecy. In either case, the Messianic connotations were clearly understood in the first century.
Verse 27 is challenging in that it lays down the Dispensational foundation regarding the Antichrist and end time scenario. (Be aware that they will link this verse with 2 Thessalonians 2:4.)
v27 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.
Who is he? The key that unlocks our interpretation of this verse is the word covenant ( bə·rîṯ) which does not convey a civil compact, but a holy one — ex. Genesis 9:13, 15-18. The Hebrew text suggests that he will make strong or establish a holy covenant with the many, or the faithful elect. There are no other subjects in chapter 9 that would have the authority to confirm such a covenant, but Messiah.
In Isaiah, chapter 42, the LORD presents His righteous servant. Careful study of these verses will open your understanding as to the identity of he who was sent to establish the holy covenant:
Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations … I am the LORD, I have called You in righteousness, I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You, and I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations (Isaiah 42:1, 42:6).
Note that the LORD appointed His servant as a covenant. Messiah is the covenant spoken of in verse 27; and some Bible expositors will actually interpret that it was the covenant that caused the sacrifices to cease:
But bereeth ( bə·rîṯ) thus absolute, is used not of alliances, but of the Divine covenant … If bereeth is the Divine covenant, as by usage it is, then the prince whose people were to lay waste the temple and city cannot be he that confirms the covenant. We might take the last clause of ver. 26 as in a parenthesis, and regard the subject of the verb “confirm” as the Messiah who was cut off. It seems, however, preferable to take the construction as we have done above, and make bereeth the subject of the verb. And in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease. In accordance with our interpretation of the previous clause, we would interpret this, “The covenant shall cause offering and oblation to cease.” What covenant is this? The new Messianic covenant promised in Jeremiah 31:31. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 8:8) quotes this passage as Messianic, and as proving that sacrifice and offering had ceased with Christ’s sacrifice of himself. 
Messiah confirmed the (new) covenant and brought an end to sacrifices during the prophetic 70 weeks. Daniel 9 is not a prophecy to be fulfilled in a rebuilt temple amidst the political intrigue of a shaky peace agreement between Israel and the man of sin. That sells books and makes thrilling movies — but it is not Biblical.
1. Philip Mauro. The Seventy Weeks and the Great Tribulation; chapter 2, The Commandment to Restore and Build, 1921, Preterist Archive.
2. Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. Commentary on Daniel 9:27, The Pulpit Commentary, 1897, StudyLight.org.
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