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Is Daniel 9:24-27 The/A Key to the End Times?

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In my first in-depth study of Jesus’s return and the surrounding events, I was told that Daniel 9:24-27 was the key to understanding the end times in general, and the Book of Revelation in particular. Years later, I learned that there was some controversy on Daniel 9:24-27 because of various issues regarding chronology, grammar, etc.; so much so that one of my seminary professors didn’t want to answer any questions on this passage because he himself had so many questions! I want to look a little more at the passage to examine some of the different views while recognizing that a blog post cannot cover all the issues on this difficult subject.

Background

Before digging into the interpretative options on this passage, we should note its context. The prophet Jeremiah had predicted that there would be a 70year period in which the people of Israel would be in exile (see Jeremiah 25:8-11; 29:10-14). The end of these 70 years seemed to be coming during Daniel’s time, but as Daniel was reading these words from Jeremiah (see Daniel 9:1-23), the angel Gabriel gave a new message. Instead of thinking of 70 years, he was told that he should be thinking of 70 “sevens” (or weeks – likely weeks of years)! At the end of these 70 “sevens,” Gabriel notes that the transgression (sin) will be put to an end and atoned for (“to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity”) and that there will be ongoing righteousness along with authentication of God’s Word and the anointing of “a most holy place” (9:24). 

The vision also shows that these 70 “sevens” are divided up, as there is a group of 7, group of 62, and group of 1, as it says: “From the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator” (ESV translation). Daniel effectively hears that the promised restoration will take longer than what he thought and that there are various stages in this restoration. Now we have to figure out what it means!

What To Make of the Numbers?

All of the views on this passage that try to be precise with the number of years run into some difficulties in pinpointing different events according to this timeline. Something to note in terms of sevens and tens is their symbolic importance in this time and throughout the Bible (especially in a writing like Daniel that deals with visions; this is known as apocalyptic literature, using symbols and visions to speak about earthly realities of what is and what will be). Seven is the number of perfection while ten is the number of completion; thus 70 would be a complete and perfect time. In addition, seven had a significance when it came to years in the Old Testament, as there was a sabbath year every seven years and a Jubilee after every seven sabbath years (so after 49 years – see Leviticus 25 and 26). Seventy sevens would thus be ten (number of completion) Jubilees. Therefore, it might be wise to focus less on finding a precise date and more about broad periods of time that the messianic kingdom would come. In addition, we have to recognize some of the challenges involved in ancient calendars –  for example, we think of 365 days in a year, but in the ancient world, there were 360 days; we thus might have difficulty pinpointing exact dates. The point is that the end of this exile is not yet, and God’s plan to put an end to sin will come at a future (and perfect) time that is much further off. 

When Do These Begin?

The first group of seven (seven sevens) is said to be, “From the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks.” There is debate about what this refers to, whether it is the decree to rebuild the temple (around 538), Jerusalem (460), or the city walls (445). If the 490 years are to be taken as literal years, the events would thus be fulfilled either in 48 BC, 30 AD, or 45 AD. The first and the last of those years do not seem to have much significance, but the middle number does as it is right around the time of Jesus’s ministry (with his death either viewed as being 30 or 33 AD). Thus it would seem that the anointed one was “cut off” at that point, with his death and resurrection part of teh way that God would put an end to sin. Therefore, to me, it seems best to view this timeline as beginning with the decree to rebuild Jerusalem around 460 BC.

Events That Happen After The 62 Weeks

The text notes some things that will happen after the 62 weeks: the anointed being cut off, the people of the prince will destroy the city, wars, and desolations. While at first glance it seems these events would happen right at the end of the 62 weeks (shifting from the 62 to the last seven), it could simply be that these things happen after the 69 weeks — so perhaps in the 70th week (or even the following week). In addition, the gist of what is noted here seems to be that the appearance of the anointed one (Messiah) does not bring the peace, as he is cut off and there is destruction that happens in the holy city. However, those things do not prevent God’s saving plan from working out.

What to Make of the Final Week?

The final seven is where there seems to be the most debate. There is discussion of a covenant made for one week, which would seem to be the 70th week discussed here. The question is who makes this covenant — is it the “people of the prince to come” discussed in v. 26 or the anointed one who would appear (and be cut off)? Some believe it is the prince since that is the last noun for the “he”, but it seems wise to note that the subject of that statement is not the prince but the people…so the last singular subject would be the anointed one. This can make a huge difference, as if it is the anointed one, it refers to the covenant that Jesus made, and if it is the prince, it would be an opponent. What seems to happen in this week is that there is a covenant, and for half of the week there is an end of sacrifice (also see 12:11), with an abomination coming at the end of that time. This could be a way of interpreting Jesus’s ministry, as he makes a covenant (the term is actually not making a covenant but confirming it, which Jesus does as he renews and confirms God’s covenant of grace but in a new moment)  and this covenant puts an end to sacrifice. Therefore, this 70th week could be fulfilled in Jesus’s ministry. The prophecy does not say that the 70 weeks is what leads to the end of the world, but rather “to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place” (9:24).

Others think that this final week has not happened yet. This is key tenet in the theological tradition known as dispensational (which is not a denomination but a view held by many in denominational and non-denominational churches), as it says this 70th week has been delayed and awaits a future time of fulfillment; there is a parenthesis (what is called the church age) as God shifts from dealing with Israel to dealing with Gentiles. Thus, there is a final seven year period right before Jesus’s return; this then serves as the basis for a view of a seven-year tribulation. As I have studied the text, I did not see this as a natural reading, as nothing in Daniel 9:24-27 points to this parenthesis between the 69th and 70th week; I think it has to be read into the text. In addition, this is not something I see directly in the Book of Revelation either. There are references to three year and a half year periods in Revelation (see 11:2-3; 12:6, 15; 13:5), but this “time, times, and half a time” is not directly linked to this section in Daniel or the end of sacrifices (though Daniel discusses it again in Daniel 12:11 – but there uses 1,290 days, not 1,260). In fact, the Book of Revelation does not seem to connect a tribulation with this final week in Daniel. The only connection I see is the numbers, with these numbers being common in symbolic sorts of teaching (seven churches, seven spirits of God, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls, seven thunders, seven heads of the beast are all mentioned in Revelation, but never does it say seven years).

Another view is that the 70th week is a symbol for the church age — that this continues until the end of time. Part of that is tied to the use of the term “abomination of desolation” in Jesus’s teaching on the end (see Matthew 24:14; see previous post on Olivet Discourse), when he seems to speak of it as something in the future. Jesus could be referring to what happens right before the Fall of Jerusalem when Rome comes and destroys the temple (this is a potential reading of that Olivet Discourse as I needed in a previous post). If this is the case, this event was future in Jesus’s time but has been fulfilled. 

Therefore, there are effectively three major views of this 70th week: 1) it concluded in the first century, 2) it is happening right now, or 3) it will occur in the future.

Final Thoughts

There is much more that could be said about this passage (see this helpful overview by another church if you want to explore more), but I don’t want the details and debate to miss the main point. The goal of this passage was to remind Daniel and God’s people that God has a plan to make things right and to trust that plan, enduring the hardships and challenges of the present time. The focus of the passage is actually not on the end times, but rather on God sending the Messiah to come again. He will put an end to sin and we will see Jesus — regardless of what view we believe makes the most sense. 

Questions about the Bible or theology? Email them to Pastor Brian at Theology@WeAreFaith.org. You can also request to receive weekly emails with our blog posts by filling out the information on the right side.

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