The Historical and Literary Context
The context of this passage is where Daniel considers the prophecy in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:10-14; 29:10-14) regarding the seventy years of captivity (Daniel 9:2). Daniel knows that the seventy years is coming to an end soon since it is 539 B.C. and the Jews have been in captivity since 605 B.C.1 This would mean that four years are left. He prays before God and pleads for forgiveness for Israel’s sin (3-19). Daniel then sees the angel Gabriel who tells him important information about the future of Israel (24-27).
"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," (Dan. 9:24-27, NKJV).
It is impossible to deal with all of the issues relating to Daniel 9. Motyer notes the significance of this text, “It is something to say of any passage of the OT that it has attracted more interpretive inquiry and suggestion than any other, yet this is probably the case with Dn. 9:24-27.”2 However, this prophecy contains the most fascinating evidence for the accuracy of the Biblical prophets in predicting future events.
Seventy Sevens (9:24a)3
There are a number of important facts about the first section of this prophecy. First, some have argued that the text is not speaking of years, but weeks or months. However, the Hebrew word shabuim, the context (Daniel 9:2; 10:3), Jeremiah’s prophecy (Jeremiah 25:10-14; 29:10-14), the nature of the captivity, and the translation in the Mishna each indicate that years are in view.4 Biblical chronologist Harold Hoehner wisely concludes, “The term shabuim in Daniel 9 most reasonably refers to a unit of seven years. To make it anything else does not make good sense.”5 Second, the seventy years begins at 605 B.C., which was the time of the first deportation of the Jews to Babylon. Third, this section indicates that there are 490 years cut out for the times of the Gentiles. Fruchtenbaum summarizes this portion well, “This 490-year period had been ‘determined’ or ‘decreed’ for the accomplishment of the final restoration of Israel and the establishment of the Messiah’s kingdom.”6
The Purpose of the Seventy Sevens (9:24b)
This section lists six specific things that Israel must do. Three of them are negative, and three are positive.7 It is necessary only to comment on the importance of some of them. First, the text says, as Gleason Archer translates it, “to finish/bring transgression/the sin of rebellion to an end.”8 This could refer to the climax rather than the end of sin. A parallel passage in Isaiah 59:20 indicates that the apostasy of Israel is the rejection of the Messiah.9
Second, the text says “to make an end of sin” or “to finish/seal up sins.”10 This concept has Messianic overtones elsewhere in the Old Testament (Isaiah 27:9; Ezekiel 36:25-27; 37:23; Jeremiah 31:31-34).11 Third, the text says to “make atonement for iniquity.” Fourth, the prophecy says to “bring in everlasting righteousness.” This most likely refers to “an age” since olam can have that meaning (Isaiah 1:26; 11:2-5; 32:17; Jeremiah 23:5-6; 33:15-18). Fifth, the text says to “seal up vision and prophecy.” The phrase "seal up" literally means to shut up prophecy. It appears to indicate that the prophecy is fulfilled. Sixth, the text says to “anoint the most holy place or the holies of holies.”12 This appears to be a reference to anointing the temple, though others argue that it refers to Christ.13
The Start of the Seventy Sevens (9:25a)
The seventy sevens start with the decree to rebuild Jerusalem. The question is to which decree Daniel is referring. There are four possible decrees:
- The decree of Cyrus in 538-536 B.C. (2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4; 6:1-5; Isaiah 44:28; 45:13);
- The decree of Darius Hystaspes in 521 which reaffirmed Cyrus’ decree (Ezra 6:6-12);
- The decree of Artaxerxes to Ezra in 458 B.C. (Ezra 7:11-26);
- The decree of Artaxerxes in 444 B.C. to Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:1-8).14
The decree recorded in Nehemiah is unlikely to be the decree that Daniel is referring to since Nehemiah expresses disappointment that the rebuilding had not already taken place (1:1-4). Archer argues, “This strongly suggests that there had already been a previous decree authorizing the rebuilding of those city walls.”15 Archer notes that the earliest the decree could have taken place would have been 457.16 At any rate, there is much debate among scholars regarding the decree to which Daniel is referring. There does not seem to be an easy solution. However, Fruchtenbaum wisely notes, “It is not necessary for our purpose here to deal with the various arguments of either option, but one thing is certain: by the year 444 B.C., the countdown of the Seventy Sevens had begun.”17
The First Sixty-Nine Sevens (9:25b)
There are also several important considerations in this section. First, the seventy sevens are divided into seven sevens, sixty-two sevens, and one seven. During the first seven sevens, Jerusalem would be “build again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.”18 The second set of sevens is sixty-two, which totals to 434 years. This would make a total of 483 years so far. Fruchtenbaum notes, “There is no implication of a gap of time between the first and second subdivision of the Seventy Sevens.”19
Second, the sixty nine sevens are to be “until Messiah the prince.” This is a clear prediction of the time frame during which the Messiah is to appear. Fruchtenbaum comments, “As clearly as Daniel could have stated it, he taught that 483 years after the decree to rebuild Jerusalem had been issued, Messiah would be here on earth.”20 Third, one has to ask if the Messiah did not come during the sixty-nine weeks, then is Daniel a false prophet? Michael Brown wisely points out, “Since Daniel 9:24-27 speaks of events that must be fulfilled before the destruction of the Second Temple (which took place in 70 C.E.) . . . if Jesus did not fulfill Daniel 9:24, then no one fulfilled it and the prophecies of Daniel cannot be trusted.”21
The Events between the Sixty-Ninth and the Seventieth Seven (9:26)22
In continuation, there are also a number of important considerations in this section. First, the third division of sevens (1 seven) was not immediately to follow the second division (62 sevens). Archer notes, “Significantly, the seventieth heptad is held in abeyance until v.27.”23 Also, Daniel notes that there are three things that will occur between the end of the 69th and the beginning of the 70th sevens. Second, the text states that the Messiah will be “cut off” after sixty-nine weeks. The word “to cut off” karah, can mean to die a violent death.24
The phrase “have nothing” could have two meanings. It may simply mean “nothingness,” which would emphasize Messiah’s state of death, as in the sense of being alone.25 However, it could also be translated “but not for himself,” indicating that the Messiah died for others. This would carry the notion of a substitutionary death in accordance with Isaiah 53. Fruchtenbaum wisely notes, “The first three purposes of the Seventy Sevens – to finish the transgression; to make an end of sin; to make atonement for iniquity – have all to be accomplished by some means of atonement.”26 It is quite possible that the Messiah’s death is the means by which Israel receives atonement for their sins.
Third, during this interim period, the temple would again be destroyed sometime after the death of the Messiah. Ankerberg, Weldon, and Kaiser note, “Whoever the Messiah is, He will appear on the scene after the rebuilding of Jerusalem (Dan. 9:25-26) and be killed before Jerusalem and the temple are again destroyed.”27 Since historians acknowledge that the destruction of the temple took place in 70 A.D., the Messiah’s death would have to take place before then.
The Seventieth Seven (9:27)
When interpreting this passage as referring to Jesus, it does run into some difficult but not insurmountable problems. Many aspects of the seventieth seven remain unfulfilled since Jesus has not yet ruled as king. It is not, however, necessary to conclude that the Messiah could not come unless he fulfilled everything in the seventy weeks at one time. It is quite possible for the Messiah to come twice.
In fact, there would be a huge difficulty for the Messiah to both die and reign if there were not two comings of the Messiah. Fruchtenbaum notes this paradox “. . . would appear to be a contradiction unless Daniel was speaking of two comings of the Messiah. The first time was to be after the Sixty-ninth Seven, when He would die a penal, substitutionary death for the sins of Israel . . . The second time, still future, was to be after the Seventieth Seven, when He will establish the Messianic Kingdom.”28 Therefore, it is not impossible to foresee one Messiah coming twice. Indeed, due to the seeming conflict in the death and reigning aspects, many Jews interpreted this text as referring to two Messiahs, so the idea of two distinct messianic appearances is not in conflict with this passage, and in fact may be implied by it.
There is also an indication here that the Messiah would not only be “cut off” and die but that he would also rise from the dead. Fruchtenbaum notes an interesting fact, “The Messiah would be killed after His First Coming, yet he would be alive at His Second Coming. The implication is that the Messiah would be resurrected from the dead after He was killed.”29 The resurrection is not a foreign concept to Daniel (Dan. 12:2). Even most liberal scholars (who propose multiple authors for the book of Daniel) agree that the author of Daniel chapter 9 also wrote chapter 12. Interestingly, Jesus came and died around 30 A.D. and died a penal death for the sins of Israel. Three days later he was resurrected. Brown wisely notes, “With Yeshua in the middle of the picture, Daniel 9:24-27 makes perfect sense. Take Yeshua out, and these verses become completely obscure and unintelligible.”30
Evaluation as an Apologetic Argument
There are many good reasons to use this text in an apologetic case for Jesus as the Messiah. First, though it is difficult to demonstrate the exact time of the decree for the start date or the exact date of Christ’s crucifixion, Daniel definitely predicts an event that would take place extremely close to Christ’s life. The skeptics would have difficulty arguing that this text is mistaken. Second, the fact that this is a Messianic prophecy is not up for debate. Even the Jewish Rabbi Rashi interpreted the text as referring to events in the first century relating to the Messiah.31 The passage even uses the word Messiah! Third, it seems reasonable to argue there is a gap between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks. Therefore, it seems reasonable to conclude that this text at least predicts the exact year of the Messiah’s coming, which was fulfilled in Christ.
Though not without its hermeneutical questions, this text is certainly an amazing prophecy that one definitely should use in his or her apologetic case for Jesus as the Messiah. One should feel compelled to agree with Archer’s conclusion, “Only God could have predicted the coming of His Son with such amazing precision; it defies all rationalistic explanation.”32
- 1. John Ankerberg, John Weldon, and Walter C. Kaiser, The Case for Jesus the Messiah: Incredible Prophecies that Prove God Exists, Chattanooga: The John Ankerberg Evangelistic Association, 1989, p. 70.
- 2. Motyer, J. A. “Messiah,” in The New Bible Dictionary, electronic edition, eds. D. R. W. Wood and I. Howard Marshall, Downers Gove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996, p. 751.
- 3. I am indebted to the insightful work of Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Christology: A Study of Old Testament Prophecy Concerning the First Coming of the Messiah, Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1998, for this helpful division of Daniel 9:24-27.
- 4. Ankerberg, Weldon, and Kaiser, p. 70.
- 5. Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977, p. 118, in Ibid.
- 6. Fruchtenbaum, 95.
- 7. Motyer, 747.
- 8. Gleason Archer, New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982, p. 289.
- 9. Fruchtenbaum, 95.
- 10. Archer, 289.
- 11. ibid.
- 12. ibid.
- 13. Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Messianic Prophecy Objections, volume three, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000, p. 97.
- 14. Fruchtenbaum, 96.
- 15. Archer, 290.
- 16. ibid
- 17. Fruchtenbaum, 96.
- 18. Ibid., 97.
- 19. ibid
- 20. ibid
- 21. Brown, 92.
- 22. According to Archer, 290-91, the calculation would run something like this. Since the number of years is 483, one would subtract 457 for the rough date of the decree and then add 1 for the change from B.C. to A.D. since there is no zero. This would bring the end of the sixty-nine weeks to 27 A.D. (483-457=26+1=27). It is generally acknowledged that Jesus died around 30 A.D. and he began his public ministry around 27 A.D. This leads to an amazing conclusion!
- 23. Ibid., 289.
- 24. Ankerberg, Weldon, and Kaiser, 70.
- 25. Archer, 291.
- 26. Fruchtenbaum, 97.
- 27. Ankerberg, Weldon, and Kaiser, 69.
- 28. Fruchtenbaum, 98.
- 29. ibid
- 30. Brown, 100.
- 31. Ibid., 89-90.
- 32. Archer, 291.