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The Prophecy of the Seventy “Sevens”
(Chapter 9 verses 1-27)
Daniel chapter 9 verses 20-23
While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the LORD my God for his holy hill—while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. He instructed me and said to me, “Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. Therefore, consider the message and understand the vision:
God answered Daniel’s prayer even before Daniel had finished praying. God sent his answer through the angel Gabriel. Gabriel may have come in a vision, as he had once before, or he may actually have appeared to Daniel in visible form. We’re told Gabriel appeared “about the time of the evening sacrifice,” about sundown. To reassure Daniel, who was overawed in the presence of this heavenly messenger, the angel told Daniel that he was “highly esteemed.” In view of this special divine favor, Daniel would pay all the more attention to what Gabriel had to tell him.
“I have now come to give you insight and understanding. . . . Therefore, consider the message.” Here was God’s answer to Daniel’s prayer. Gabriel explained that he had a word of divine revelation to bring Daniel. God’s answer to Daniel’s prayer was a remarkable prediction of some plans God had in store for his people in the years ahead. The words are not easy to understand. They have been understood in widely different ways, and we will want to approach them with a prayer to God for guidance.
Daniel chapter 9 verses 24-26
“Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy.
“Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed.
The answer God sent Daniel through the angel Gabriel must have surprised Daniel because it really didn’t refer to the 70-year captivity at all. Instead, it spoke of a period of time called the 70 “sevens,” which God had determined for the accomplishment of certain matters relating to God’s people. The 70 “sevens” are divided into three periods of 7, 62, and 1, respectively.
These closing verses of the chapter provide one of the most difficult problems of biblical interpretation. Although no single interpretation solves all the problems that the passage raises, in general there are three different interpretations of the passage.
The first is the most ancient and the one favored by most Lutheran interpreters. This interpretation calculates the period of the 70 “sevens” as beginning with the time of the edict that permitted the Jews to return and rebuild Jerusalem and its temple, and concluding with the time when Christ came and finished his redemptive work. According to this view—and it is the one favored in this commentary—the 70 “sevens” represent a period of about 500 years.
The second interpretation is the traditional Jewish interpretation, as well as the one held by negative critical interpreters. This interpretation calculates the period of the 70 “sevens” from the same starting point as the first but extends the period only as far as the Maccabees (165 B.C.). The king referred to is Antiochus Epiphanes, whom we met in chapter 8. According to this interpretation, there is no reference here to the Messiah.
The third interpretation views the period of the 70 “sevens” as extending from the time of Daniel all the way to the end of the world. According to this view, God responded to Daniel’s prayer by saying, “Yes, Daniel, you are correct in concluding that the 70 years of exile Jeremiah wrote about are at an end. Now another period of 70 ‘sevens’ is beginning, during which I will bring all my work to a successful conclusion.” Bible students who believe in a millennium, a 1,000-year earthly reign of Christ, usually favor this third interpretation.
Since one cannot find the teaching of a millennium in the Bible, this third interpretation is unacceptable. Briefly, this interpretation divides the 70 “sevens” as follows:
The 7 “sevens” represent the period from the return and the rebuilding of Jerusalem until the time of Christ.
The 62 “sevens” represent the period during which the New Testament church will be built, in the face of persecution.
The 1 “seven” is the period of the great tribulation. The Antichrist will come, who will cause the sacrifice to cease and will usher in the final judgment.
Serious difficulties have been found with this interpretation. It ignores the fact that Gabriel’s prophecy properly refers to the rebuilding of Jerusalem and to the coming of the Messiah, not to the building of the New Testament church and the entire New Testament era. Another difficulty with this interpretation is that the time division (7 + 62 + 1 “sevens”) seems disproportionate. Why should the New Testament period up to the appearance of the Antichrist cover 62 “sevens” while his rule extends over only 1 “seven”?
This author supports the first of the three interpretations as the most faithful to the clear sense of the Scripture, and that is the one which will be presented here. Accordingly, the time between Daniel and Christ (a little more than 500 years) is divided into the following three periods:
The 7 “sevens” represent the period during which Jerusalem’s temple and its city walls were rebuilt at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah.
The 62 “sevens” represent the period from Jerusalem’s rebuilding to the Messiah’s coming and death.
The 1 “seven” is the time in which the Messiah will confirm a covenant of grace with many people. Many will be saved through faith in the Messiah before the enemy comes, who will destroy Jerusalem.
Now on to the details of the information Gabriel brought to Daniel in answer to his prayer. Gabriel announced that God had decreed a definite period of time (70 “sevens”) to accomplish his great work of rescuing the human race from the consequences of sin. The number 7 represents completeness: 70 “sevens” cover the time it would take for God to fulfill and complete his plan of salvation.
God’s magnificent rescue operation is described in six terms, three negative and three positive. In his prayer Daniel had confessed sin—his own and Israel’s—and had repeatedly asked God to forgive. Viewed negatively, God’s redemptive work will “finish transgression,” will “put an end to sin,” and will “atone for wickedness.” This work, to be accomplished during the period of the 70 “sevens,” points to Jesus Christ. He is the one who “has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews chapter 9 verse 26). As a result of Christ’s work, sin’s ruthless advance has been checked, the damage sin had done has been undone, the guilt of a whole world of sinners has been atoned for.
Gabriel’s answer to Daniel also views Christ’s work positively. Christ not only removed an evil that threatened to separate us from God; in its place he introduced something wonderful, again described by Gabriel in three different terms. First of all, Christ will “bring in everlasting righteousness.” “Righteousness” is the Bible word for “being right with God.” It describes the right relationship with God that comes to the sinner through faith in the Savior.
A second work Christ achieved was “to seal up vision and prophecy.” During the many centuries of the Old Testament, God spoke through chosen men called prophets. By means of vision and prophecy, he let them see and describe the work the Savior would do for sinners. When Christ came, there was no longer any need for such visions and prophecies. Since Christ’s coming had fulfilled them, they were discontinued.
The third and final purpose of the Savior’s coming is the most difficult to explain. He will come “to anoint the most holy.” In the period of the Old Testament, the Most Holy was an inner room in the temple where God met his people. Does Gabriel mean to say that, in Christ, God—not symbolically now, but actually—comes to meet his people with his love and his pardon? Or does “the most holy” refer to God’s people, who are solemnly set apart by God’s Spirit to be God’s temple of living stones? “You,” wrote Peter, “like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house” (1st Peter chapter 2 verse 5). “It is not unreasonable to conclude that the founding of the Holy Christian Church is envisioned in this final objective” (Concordia Self-Study Commentary, page 583).
The six terms all point to the work the promised Savior will do. This fact lends support to the view that the 70 “sevens” terminate not at the time of Antiochus Epiphanes and not at our Lord’s second coming, but at his first coming. When Christ left this earth after completing his work here, not one of the six items prophesied by Gabriel was left undone.
The period of the 70 “sevens” begins with the decree to rebuild Jerusalem, to restore it as a place where people could again live and where they could worship Jehovah in his temple. This is the work later accomplished under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah despite bitter opposition or, as Gabriel explained to Daniel, “in times of trouble.” This activity occupies the first seven “sevens.”
The next 62 “sevens” extend from the time of Ezra and Nehemiah to the time of Christ, the Anointed One. The Hebrew word for “the Anointed One” is Messiah; the equivalent word in the Greek language is Christ. He is the Ruler, the King who comes to deliver his people.
At the end of the 62 “sevens,” two important events will occur.
1. The Messiah “will be cut off and will have nothing.” When the expression “cut off” is used in the Old Testament, it refers to a violent death. Here, surely, is a reference to Christ’s crucifixion. You may recall that Isaiah also predicted that the Messiah would be “cut off from the land of the living” (chapter 53 verse 8). Furthermore, he was utterly rejected, by both God and man. On the cross he had nothing; he was totally alone.
2. An enemy will come and destroy the city and the sanctuary. As a result, “the end will come like a flood.” The coming of this enemy (the Romans) would not be an ordinary invasion. Gabriel explained to Daniel that this would be a special judgment of God causing complete destruction of the city and temple of the Jews. Jesus himself describes that destruction, which would take place about 40 years after his crucifixion, as an act of judgment so awesome that he compares it to the judgment at the end of the world (Matthew chapter 24 verses 15-27).
Daniel chapter 9 verse 27
“He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.
The final verse of the chapter again is not an easy one and has been variously interpreted. Those who believe the 70 “sevens” extend to the end of the world place a tremendously long period of time between the 69th and the 70th “seven.” (If the 69th “seven” came to a close with Christ’s ministry and the 70th “seven” takes us to the end of the world, then that time span has already lasted two thousand years!) The natural assumption is, however, that the time periods referred to in the prophecy are consecutive. Gabriel here tells some details of what will happen after the death of the Messiah.
“He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ . . . He will put an end to sacrifice and offering.” Some have taken this to mean that an enemy of Christ and of his church, perhaps the Antichrist, would forcibly suspend the temple sacrifices and forbid the worship of the true God. “As he [the Antichrist] seeks to take the place of Christ, so he shall imitate Him. . . . He will inaugurate a covenant . . . but a covenant of terror, compulsion, and violence” (Leupold, Exposition of Daniel, page 432). According to this view, the prophecy closes with the message of doom that is reserved for this destroyer.
In seeking to interpret this closing verse, we need to remember the main emphasis of Gabriel’s message. This messenger of God consistently pointed forward to the fact that during the period of the 70 “sevens,” Christ would make atonement for sin and would replace it with his perfect righteousness. This closing verse may therefore also be understood as referring to Christ. With his perfect life and his innocent death, Christ fulfilled the covenant that God had made with Abraham centuries earlier, “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis chapter 12 verse 3). The worship ceremonies God instituted at Mount Sinai also found their perfect fulfillment in Christ. During that final “seven,” he put an end to the Old Testament worship ritual involving priesthood and blood sacrifices. On the basis of his work, all of the blessings promised in the Old Testament are given to a world of sinners: membership in God’s family, forgiveness of sin, and a place at God’s side forever.
Many will be saved through faith in the Messiah before a destroyer comes (perhaps Titus and his Roman legions). He will set up some abomination, perhaps an idol image in the temple, which had been an empty shell ever since the curtain had been torn in two on the first Good Friday. After the enemy has done his work, he himself will come under God’s judgment.
The text says nothing about the exact time when the 70 “sevens” will come to an end, just as it was deliberately vague about exactly when they were to begin. It is clear, then, that the emphasis is not on the beginning and the ending of this remarkable period of time, but rather upon the mighty events which were to take place in this period. These events have achieved our peace with God. Despite all the difficulties this chapter presents to the reader, one fact stands clear: the central figure is the Messiah. We can therefore afford to turn away from precise dates and mathematical calculations and instead focus our attention on Jesus Christ. He alone has made reconciliation for sin. Only through him can sinners call God Father.
The End of Part 9.2