Daniel’s prophecy of the seventy weeks – Part 3
Andrew Wilson, Dunstable, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Daniel chapter 9 verses 24-27
The Six Goals to be accomplished in the Seventy ‘Sevens’, v. 24
Verse 24 is a six-part outline of the objectives involved in God’s plan for the restoration of Daniel’s people and city.
|1. To finish the transgression||4. To bring in everlasting righteousness|
|2. To make an end of sin||5. To seal up vision and prophet|
|3. To make reconciliation for iniquity||6. To anoint the Most Holy|
Seventy Sevens are determined
The Hebrew word for ‘weeks’ used here, shabua, is based on the word for ‘seven’, sheba, and it is legitimate to translate the word either as ‘weeks’, Dan. 10. 2-3, or as a ‘seven’ or a heptad or a ‘period of seven’ depending on the context. Tregelles writes, ‘the word, however, does not necessarily mean seven days – but a period of seven parts: of course it is much more often used in speaking of a week than of anything else, because nothing is so often mentioned as a week which is similarly divided’.1 The term ‘weeks’ appears difficult to sustain in its normal English sense, for seventy weeks is less than a year and a half, and more time than this was required from the ‘command to restore and build Jerusalem’ to fulfil this prophecy. We shall look further at what is being referred to by this expression when we consider the chronology of the seventy sevens in a later article.
The word ‘determined’ used here comes from a root meaning ‘divided’ or ‘cut’. This idea of ‘cut’ occurs later in the prophecy in verse 25, ‘the wall’ (or ‘cutting’), verse 26, ‘cut off’, and verse 27b, ‘determined’ (a different word to that in verse 24). It reminds us here that the seventy ‘sevens’, along with all of the predetermined purposes of God, are carefully measured and will be strictly fulfilled.
For your people and for your holy city
Edward Dennett writes, ‘It must also be borne in mind that this revelation entirely concerns the Jewish people and Jerusalem. It is strange indeed that this should need to be insisted upon, considering the language employed; but the tendency is so persistent in some quarters to explain away, by spiritualizing, the scriptures which have in view the future restoration of the chosen nation, that it becomes necessary to affirm and to hold fast their manifest application. Gabriel says to Daniel, ‘Thy people’, and ‘thy holy city’. Even a child, if he knows but the elements of the New Testament, understands that Christians have no holy city upon earth. And should it be contended that it is the heavenly city, new Jerusalem, which is here indicated, it might well be enquired, when were its walls thrown down, so as to need rebuilding? No, the city prayed for is the city of which Gabriel speaks, as is evident from verse 25; and consequently Daniel’s people are the Jews, and his city is the earthly Jerusalem’.2
To take two examples of the tendency here referred to, E. J. Young applies it to ‘the true people of God’ (i.e., the church) and accuses Gaebelein of trying to ‘restrict the reference’3 by taking the prophecy to refer exclusively to the Jews while, more recently, Joyce Baldwin asserts that it concerns ‘the grounds on which God could forgive human sin’.4 By contrast, William Kelly writes, ‘I would call your attention to this . . . all his thoughts are about Israel and about Jerusalem. The prophecy is not about Christianity, but about Israel . . . Some are startled and ask, Have we, then, nothing to do with “reconciliation for iniquity” and “everlasting righteousness”? I ask, Of whom does the verse speak? You will find other scriptures, which reveal our interest in the blotting out of sin, and the righteousness which we are made in Christ. But we must adhere to this golden rule in reading the word of God – never to force Scripture in order to make it bear upon ourselves or others . . . Thus, if we take the Bible as it is, without being too anxious to find ourselves here or there . . . we shall not feel that we have been taking other people’s property, and claiming goods upon a tenure that can be disputed, but that what we have is what God has freely and assuredly given us’.5
Forgiveness of sin rests upon the same basis whether for Jew or Gentile, but the prophecy is concerned with more than simply the basis of forgiveness. It concerns the city of Jerusalem, the Jewish people, the prophetic scriptures, the temple sanctuary, Israel’s sins, their promised Messiah, their great enemy and their eventual triumph; it is the prophecy itself which restricts itself to Jewish concerns.
To finish the transgression
The word ‘finish’, kalah, is quite common and used for a variety of purposes. It means to complete (in the sense of finishing a work like creation, Gen. 2. 1, or a building, 1 Kgs. 6. 38, to fulfil, in the sense of fulfilling prophecy, Dan. 11. 36, come to an end, as in a period of time, Gen. 41. 53; Dan. 12. 7, among other uses. We might say that it is the perfect word to use to describe the fulfilment of God’s eschatological (or, ‘end-times’) purposes.
‘Transgression’ here is a strong word, ‘combining . . . the idea of rebellion and self-assertion’.6 In contrast to a term like ‘sin’, which is of a general character, ‘transgression’ emphasizes human wilfulness in rebellion and revolt. The use of the article - ‘the’ transgression - would appear to refer back to the sins of the nation of Israel for which Daniel has made confession, for example in verses 5 and 11. Although Daniel used different Hebrew words in verses 5 and 11 for ‘rebelled’, and ‘transgressed’, the prophecy addresses the same issue.
This expression presents difficulties for all three of the main interpretive schemes. There seems to be no sensible way, on the critical view, to understand the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes IV as somehow ‘finishing the transgression’ of the people of Israel. Similarly, on the amillennial view, it is hard to understand how Calvary concluded ‘human’ rebellion. Some amillennialists would take the expression to refer to God forgiving sins and so putting them away, but the word ‘transgression’ looks at sin, not so much from God’s point of view (in the judicial or forensic sense of sin needing atonement), but from the human point of view, in mankind’s defiant rebelliousness. Young, from an amillennial viewpoint, translates the expression ‘to restrain the transgression’ and asserts that ‘the interpretation to finish or complete does not seem justifiable’.7 However, although the Hebrew allows Young’s rendering, it is not clear why the meaning ‘finish’ is inadmissible. In any case, Calvary did not restrain human transgression. Baldwin says, ‘If [the word means] to be finished, we are being told about the final triumph of God’s kingdom and the end of human history’.8
The problem, from a premillennial point of view9 is the question of how Christ’s return finishes human sin and rebellion, for there is still human sin during the millennium and in the final rebellion of the nations at its end, Rev. 20. 7-10, because of the millennial kingdom’s Judeo-centrism.
The key to understanding this problematic expression is the context of the prophecy: the restoration of national Israel. This means that ‘to finish the transgression’ means that Israel’s ‘rebellion will effectively finish at the return of Messiah to earth’, Tatford. 10
Here, then, we have the key idea of completion, and what it appears to be speaking about goes beyond the cross to the fulfilment of the work of restoration at the end of the age: the promised period of Messianic blessing.
To make an end of sin
The expression ‘make an end’ is similar in meaning to ‘finish’ earlier in the verse and means ‘to be complete or finished’. Although there is a textual variant here which reads ‘to seal up sins’,11 the weight of external evidence tends to favour the reading ‘to make an end of sin’. ‘Sin’ is a more common and general term than the word ‘transgression’ that has just been used, nor is there the article before the word ‘sin’ as we have before ‘transgression’.
Although, as Christians, our minds instinctively turn and think of the cross, yet as Gaebelein says, the words of this passage ‘concern exclusively Daniel’s people and not Gentiles but the holy city Jerusalem . . . The foundation upon which this future work of Grace for His earthly people rests is the death of Christ . . . [but] Up to now the transgression of the Jewish people is not yet finished nor is for them made an end of sins’.12 Romans chapter 11 verses 26-27 tell us that at Christ’s coming, ‘And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written, The Deliverer will come out of Zion and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins’.
To make reconciliation for iniquity
The word ‘reconciliation’ here means ‘atonement, propitiation, pardon or covering’. ‘Iniquity’ has at its root the idea of ‘to bend, distort, make crooked, pervert’, hence ‘to commit perversion, do wrong, sin’. It is not simply the idea of iniquity but also of the punishment for iniquity, Gen. 4. 13, and the guilt associated with iniquity, Josh. 22. 17.
This third objective would appear straightforward enough, at first; the expression would most naturally look forward to the provision of spiritual forgiveness through the cross. This, after all, is the only righteous basis upon which pardon can be found. However, in view of the fact that the previous two objectives seem best understood in relation to national Israel, it seems better to also understand this objective in terms of national Israel’s experience of pardon in the future. ‘Although the basis for this was laid at the Cross, its effect will only be experienced when the nation looks upon the One whom they pierced and mourns repentantly for Him (Zechariah 12:10)’.13 Just as earnest prayer was a pre-requisite for the return from the Babylonian exile, Jer. 29. 13, so too, in the future, reconciliation will not be effected until Israel repents at the coming of the Son of God. Notice the time-marker: ‘in that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness’, Zech. 13. 1.
To bring in everlasting righteousness
Liberal/critical scholars insist that we must not impose New Testament theology upon an Old Testament passage. Thus, we must not think of righteousness here in terms of justification, as in Paul’s writings. Instead, they suggest that ‘righteousness’ refers to ‘vindication’ resulting from Antiochus being defeated by the Jews in 165 BC. However, if the defeat of Antiochus after the loss of about 100,000 Jewish lives was to somehow provide Jewish vindication (and it is hard to see how such a national catastrophe could be described in terms of divine vindication), then in what sense would this be ‘everlasting’? Instead, in view of the emphasis upon sin in the verse, and the fact that the word ‘pardon’ has just been used, it would appear that God is here promising to provide permanent ‘righteousness’ for the Jewish people. This ‘everlasting’ righteousness carries overtones of other ‘everlasting’ things in Daniel’s prophecy, notably Messiah’s Kingdom, chapter 2 verse 44, and particularly chapter 7 verses 14 and 27. Thus, righteousness here refers to justification (in Pauline terms) as well as the righteousness that will characterize Christ’s reign, Isa. 11. 4.
Whereas earlier items in the verse emphasized the completion of an old, sinful age, here we have the bringing in of a new order. For Israel as a nation, this age of righteousness will come only when Christ returns.
To seal up vision and prophet
The word ‘seal’ here is the same as the textual variant discussed in the second objective. Sealing could imply putting the finishing touch to a document, Dan. 12. 4, just as we put our signature to a letter, or, alternatively, closing something so that it could not be opened, read or understood (see Daniel chapter 12 verse 9 for this sense of a prophecy remaining ‘sealed’ and thus unfulfilled and not understood). Better still, Baldwin says, ‘To seal a document may involve closing it, but in law the meaning is rather to authenticate it with one’s seal and signature’.14
The mention of the word ‘prophet’ (not ‘prophecy’, KJV, NKJV) alongside ‘vision’ here suggests not so much that the scripture will one day be complete, but that the time will come when there is no longer any prophetic voice either. This seems to point to the future consummation of all things – even the most ardent cessationists would accept that the church still fulfils a prophetic role in today’s world by professing hope in the return of Christ. The mention of both the prophetic message (in scripture) and its prophetic messengers thus moves this objective beyond simply the fulfilment of a particular prophecy to the fulfilment of all prophecies at the return of Christ.
Amillennialists, such as Philip Mauro, argue that ‘when our Lord ascended into heaven and the Holy Spirit descended, there remained not one of the six items of Daniel chapter 9 verse 24 that was not fully accomplished’.15 However, Alva McClain asks, ‘Where in the period of the Acts can we find any “sealing up of vision and prophecy”? On the contrary, it is during this very period and beyond that we find the greatest loosing of “vision and prophecy” in all the history of revelation. But at the second coming of our Lord in glory, which will take place at the close of the Seventieth Week, vision and prophecy will no longer be needed. The Word of God Himself will be present in visible manifestation, and His law will go forth from Jerusalem’.16
To anoint the most holy
Or literally, ‘to anoint a holy of holies’. According to a critical commentator, this refers to the re-dedication of the temple just over three years after its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes IV, celebrated ever since by Jews in the Feast of Channukah. In the Old Testament, ‘holy of holies’ often refers to the Most Holy place inside the Jewish tabernacle or temple, although other things associated with the temple are also declared to be ‘most holy’.17
Therefore, Daniel’s prophecy appears to be prophesying the anointing of an actual temple at Christ’s return. This would seem to respond to Daniel’s prayer for the restoration of the ‘sanctuary’ in verse 17. Some commentators would argue that the anointing being referred to here is not literal, but, like Christ’s baptism, anti-typical, ‘what is portrayed is the consecration of the millennial temple (Ezek. 40), perhaps not so much by literal anointing with oil as by the presence of the shekinah glory (Ezek. 43:1-5)’.18
Other commentators take the word ‘anoint’ here to refer to the fact that in the next two verses we read about an ‘anointed one’, referring to the Messiah, Christ. They argue that Christ, being Himself the fulfilment of the Old Testament dwelling place of God is in view, and that the reference is to His anointing by the Holy Spirit at His baptism, Acts 10. 38. However, the description ‘a holy of holies’ is never used anywhere in the Old Testament to refer to people, but is instead used to refer to things associated with the temple or tabernacle. One possible exception to this is the use of the expression ‘holy of holies’ to refer to Aaron the High Priest, 1 Chr. 23. 13. However, only the NASB translates the verse this way; all other translations reject this rendering.19 It seems hard to resist the conclusion, then, that what is being referred to here is the anointing of an actual temple.
There are four key ideas in this verse. Firstly, in three of the objectives, we have the idea of completion: of transgression, sin and the prophetic voice. Second, in the other three, we see the bringing in of something new: reconciliation, everlasting righteousness and a ‘Holy of Holies’. Thirdly, while the verse is concerned with the spiritual issues of sin and righteousness, it is also, fourthly, concerned with national and physical recipients: Daniel’s people and city.
This verse clearly lays out the terms of reference for Daniel’s prophecy. It is concerned with the nation of Israel, and assures them a glorious future.
- S. P. Tregelles, Remarks on the Prophetic Visions in the Book of Daniel, Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1852, pg. 104
- Edward Dennett, Daniel the Prophet and the Times of the Gentiles, Central Bible Truth Depot, 1967, pg. 145
- Edward J. Young, The Prophecy of Daniel, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1949, pg. 197
- Joyce G. Baldwin, Daniel, TOTC, IVP, 1978, pg. 187 (emphasis added)
- William Kelly, The Great Prophecies of Daniel, Pickering and Inglis, 1897, pgs. 152-4
- Baldwin, pg. 187
- Young, pg. 198
- Baldwin, pgs. 187-8
- Or, more properly, from a so-called ‘classic or historic premillennial’ viewpoint
- F. A. Tatford, God’s Program of the Ages, Kregel Publications, 1967, pg. 45
- The text of the Hebrew Bible (Kethib) reads ‘to seal up sins (pl.)’, along with Theodotion’s Greek translation, however what is read aloud in the Hebrew Bible (Qere) is ‘to make an end of sin (sing.)’, a reading followed by most of the other major ancient versions, the Greek Septuagint, the Syriac and the Latin Vulgate. The KJV and NKJV mix the two and read the least likely option: ‘to make an end of sins’.
- A. C. Gaebelein, The Prophet Daniel, Pickering and Inglis, n.d., pgs. 131-2
- Tatford, pg. 46
- Baldwin, pg. 188
- Philip Mauro, The Seventy Weeks and the Great Tribulation, Hamilton, 1923, pg. 53 (emphasis in the original)
- Alva J. McClain, Daniel’s Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks, BMH Books, 2007, pg. 36
- See Exod. 29. 37; 30. 10; Lev. 2. 3; Num. 4. 4, 19; Ezek. 43. 12
- Frederick A. Tatford, Climax of the Ages, Outreach Book Service, 1971, pg. 155
- Other translations use ‘most holy’, e.g., JND and JPS; Keil and Delitzsch give ‘to sanctify him to be a most holy one’. The Tanakh translation is ‘most holy’, and it does not just refer to Aaron, but to his sons as well. [Editor’s endnote]
AUTHOR PROFILE: Commended by the assembly at Bexley, Sydney, Australia, in 1994, and together with his wife, Gillian, has sought to serve the Lord in New South Wales, Australia, and then London, UK. Involved in evangelistic, children's and Bible teaching ministries.