Daniel's Seventy Weeks

by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

"Now while I was speaking, praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God for the holy mountain of my God, yes, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, reached me about the time of the evening offering. And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, "O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you skill to understand. At the beginning of your supplications the command went out, and I have come to tell you, for you are greatly beloved; therefore consider the matter, and understand the vision: 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. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublesome times. And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it shall be with a flood, and till the end of the war desolations are determined. Then 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. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, even until the consummation, which is determined, is poured out on the desolate."" (Daniel 9:20-27).

Many thoughts have been given concerning Gabriel's prophecy given to Daniel, both regarding what Gabriel was referring to and when it would take place. Instead of just giving out ideas, let's look at what is said in detail.

The Historical Context

Israel had greatly sinned before the God of Heaven. Because of her apostasy, Jeremiah foretold that the Jews would be held captive in Babylon for seventy years (Jeremiah 25:12; 29:10). That prophecy came true and is confirmed for us by Daniel who lived to see the end of the captivity (Daniel 9:1-2).

But why seventy years? Israel was to be in captivity "until the land had enjoyed her Sabbaths. As long as she lay desolate she kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years" (II Chronicles 36:21). The Old Law required that the ground not be plowed every seventh year (Leviticus 25:1-7). Apparently the Israelites ignored this commandment; certainly there is no recorded of it being followed prior to the captivity. God did warn through Moses of the consequence of not following this commandment: "I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you; your land shall be desolate and your cities waste. Then the land shall enjoy its sabbaths as long as it lies desolate and you are in your enemies' land; then the land shall rest and enjoy its sabbaths. As long as it lies desolate it shall rest -- for the time it did not rest on your sabbaths when you dwelt in it" (Leviticus 26:33-35). One way or the other God was going to make sure the land had its Sabbath rests. Each year of the captivity represented a year that the Sabbath rest for the land was not kept. Therefore, the seventy years of captivity represented 490 years of Israel neglecting God's laws.

While the captivity looked back 490 years, the prophecy given to Daniel looks forward 490 years to the coming Messiah, the "Anointed One," who would make an end to sin (Daniel 9:24). Thus, when Daniel received this prophecy, he stood at the half-way point between two major eras in Israelite history.

Daniel had been praying because he knew that the prophecy of Jeremiah was about to end (Daniel 9:1-2). He confessed the sins of himself and his people before the righteous Judge, and asked that God restore Jerusalem and rebuild the temple (Daniel 9:16-17). While Daniel prayed, God answered his prayer by sending Gabriel with an answer.

Daniel was told that a decree would be going forth to restore Jerusalem and rebuild the temple (Daniel 9:25). However, Daniel was also informed that something far more important would happen in the future -- the Messiah would come.

The Messiah's Mission

Dealing with Sin

Israel's real problem was not their captivity but their sins. The Messiah would make an end of sins. That is why Jesus was sent into the world. Jesus, whose name means "Savior," would save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). He died for our sins in his sacrificial death on the cross (I Corinthians 15:3; Galatians 1:4).

Moreover, he would make reconciliation for iniquity. Sins place a barrier between the sinner and his God (Isaiah 59:1-2). Jesus came to give his life as a ransom payment for sin (Matthew 20:28). Thus, we were given forgiveness through his shed blood (Ephesians 1:7). In his death he reconciled all things to himself (Colossians 1:20).

In the place of sin, the Messiah would bring in righteousness. He took on our sins so that we might have righteousness (II Corinthians 5:21). We were healed by his strips, so we might live for righteousness (I Peter 2:24).

Daniel had prayed for forgiveness for Israel. The answer he received was beyond what he was expecting. God wasn't just going to forgive Israel for their past sins; God was going to deal with the problem of sin. Christ's coming did not end sin in the sense of eradicating it from the world, but he did solve the problem of sin for mankind. He introduced a system that would free men from their sins. "He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (Hebrews 9:26). Never again would a sacrifice for sin be necessary. Jesus died once for all people and for all times.

Isaiah 53 uses the same words -- transgression, sin, and iniquity -- to describe the Messiah's work in dealing with the problem of sin. That is important because it helps us place when Gabriel's prophecy was to take place. Isaiah 53 deals with Jesus' physical coming into the world. Jesus dealt with the problem of sin during his first coming, and, as Hebrews 9:23-28 indicates, that problem only needed to be solved once. Sometimes you will hear people say that Gabriel's prophecy could not be dealing with the first coming of the Lord because sin is still in the world, but such misses the point that sin was dealt with by Jesus' death.

Bring in Everlasting Righteousness

After charging everyone with sin, Paul shows that Jesus brought in an era of righteousness into effect (Romans 3:21-26). This righteousness was brought by the gospel to all people. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith"" (Romans 1:16-17).

Vision and Prophecy Would Be Sealed

To seal something is to bring it to a conclusion. God used visions and prophecies in the past to communicate with His people (Hebrews 1:1). A chief focus of the Old Testament prophecies was the coming of the Messiah and the era which would follow him. "Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven -- things which angels desire to look into" (I Peter 1:10-12).

With the completion of the New Law, the need for prophecy ended (I Corinthians 13:8-13). God foretold that when sin was dealt with, He would stop sending prophets into the world (Zechariah 13:1-3). Even Jesus spoke of this when He said that those who claimed to prophesy in His name would be cut off. "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (Matthew 7:21-23). Daniel was told that visions and prophecies would be sealed during the time the Messiah came.

The Most Holy Will Be Anointed

The term "Most Holy" is a reference to God. Thus, Daniel was told that the Messiah, the Anointed One, would be God (John 1:1-4, 14).

Anointing was used to dedicate something or someone to God. It was a way to declare something or someone as holy. For example, kings and prophets were anointed (I Kings 19:16), as well as priests (Exodus 28:41). Interestingly, Christ functions in all three of these roles. He is the Prophet (Acts 3:22-24), our High Priest (Hebrews 3:1), and our King (Matthew 21:5).

It was prophesied that the anointing of the Messiah would be by the Spirit of God. "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound" (Isaiah 61:1). That prophecy was fulfilled at Jesus' baptism (Matthew 3:16-17) and confirmed for us by the apostles (Acts 10:38). When we speak of Christ we are using the Greek word for "the Anointed One."

He Will Make a Firm Covenant

As Jeremiah prophesied in Jeremiah 31:31-34, the Old Covenant made with Israel would be replaced with a new one. "For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah -- not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD" (Hebrews 8:7-9).

Jesus brought in a new Covenant. "And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance" (Hebrews 9:15). It is a firm covenant in that it will last until the end of the world (Jude 3).

Sacrifice and Offerings Will End

The change took place when Jesus died on the cross. With Jesus' sacrifice, the sacrifices of the Old Low ended (Hebrews 10:8-10). "Having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross" (Colossians 2:14). Its removal abolished the division between Jew and Gentile, allowing salvation to spread to all the world (Ephesians 2:13-17).

When Would the Messiah Come?

The prophecy given to Daniel not only told Israel what would happen, it also pinpointed when they would happen. The starting point for measuring time is placed at the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. The length would be seventy weeks, or 490 days. It is generally agreed that each day of this prophecy represents one year. The time is divided into three periods: seven weeks, sixty-two weeks, and the seventieth week. In the middle of the seventieth week sacrifices would end. That would be a reference to the death of Jesus upon the cross when his sacrifice brought to an end of all sacrifices for sin. Therefore, Daniel was told that the Messiah would be cut off (die) 486 1/2 years after the decree was issued to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.

There are three possible starting points for measuring this time frame. But since we know the event that marks its ending point, it is straightforward to determine the starting point.

  • Zerubbabel led the first group out of captivity in 536 B.C. 486 years after this would be 50 B.C., about 80 years prior to Christ's death.
  • Nehemiah led the third group out of captivity in 444 B.C. 486 years after this would be A.D. 42, or about 12 years after Christ's death.
  • But in 457 B.C. Ezra lead the second group from Babylon to Jerusalem. 486 years from this date would be A.D. 30, the year of Christ's crucifixion.

Ezra and the people came for the purpose of rebuilding Jerusalem (Ezra 7:6-7; 9:9). It wasn't until Nehemiah came thirteen years later that the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt. In fact, in Gabriel's prophecy seven weeks (49 years) were allotted for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple in troubled times (Daniel 9:25; Ezra 4:1-6).

Adding the 62 weeks to the 7 weeks gives us 483 years, which would be A.D. 26, the year of Jesus' baptism and the beginning of his ministry. In the midst of the seventieth week (3 1/2 years later), Jesus was killed (cut off).

The Consequences of Rejecting the Messiah

There are many people who wish to rewrite history, but the fact remains that Jesus was rejected and killed by his own people (John 1:11). The prophecy given to Daniel speaks of the consequence of that rejection in Daniel 9:26-27. A prince would come who would destroy the city and the temple like an overwhelming flood. That end is firmly determined, set in place by God, as a result of their rejection.

Jesus explains this portion of the prophecy in Matthew 24:1-34, especially in Matthew 24:15. See "The Fall of Jerusalem" for more details on Jesus' statements. In A.D. 66 the Jews, who were subjects of Rome, revolted against the empire and fought a bloody war with Rome for several years. Vespasian, the emperor, sent Prince Titus, his successor to settle the matter.

Just prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, the "abomination of desolation", which Daniel prophesied, would take place (Daniel 9:27; 11:31). In Luke's account of these same matters, Jesus said that the Roman army would surround Jerusalem just prior to the desolation (Luke 21:20). Josephus speaks of a tyrant, named Simon, who slew the priests "as they were about their sacred duties ... many persons, who came thither with great zeal from the ends of the earth, to offer sacrifices at this celebrated place ... fell down before their own sacrifices themselves, and sprinkled that altar ... with their own blood; till the dead bodies of strangers were mingled together with those of their own country, and those of profane persons with those of the priests, and the blood of all sorts of dead carcases stood in lakes in the holy courts themselves." This happened just prior to Titus marching on Jerusalem. This then was the abomination.

Titus overthrew Jerusalem after a five month siege in the summer of A.D. 70. Jerusalem was burned (Matthew 22:7) and the temple was destroyed (Matthew 23:38). The burning of Jerusalem caused the precious gold in the temple to melt and flow into the cracks of stones. The Romans tore up the stones to get to the gold, leaving not one stone in place (Matthew 24:2). J. N. Geldenhuys said, Titus “overran the city with his army, destroyed and plundered the temple, and slew the Jews — men, women, and children — by tens of thousands. When their lust for blood had been sated, the Romans carried off into captivity all the able-bodied remnant of the Jews (for they had done away with all the weaklings and the aged), so that not a single Jew was left alive in the city or its vicinity. Only on one day in the year — the day of remembrance of the destruction of the temple — were they allowed to mourn over the city from the neighboring hilltops.” This was the desolation.

Even the Jews recognized that the destruction of Jerusalem was a fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy. Jewish historian Josephus wrote, "Daniel also wrote concerning the Roman government, and that our country should be made desolate by them."

Think how mighty is our God who foretold the future in such detail, naming both the events and the timing in which they would occur down to the very year from nearly 500 years in advance.