A CHRISTOTELIC VIEW OF DANIEL 9:24-27 – PART 3

A CHRISTOTELIC VIEW OF DANIEL 9:24-27

-PART 3-

THE SEVENTY ‘SEVENS’

“Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city” (Dan 9:24). The Hebrew word for “weeks” (שִׁבְעִים – šib‘îm) is derived from שֶׁבַע (šeba‘) meaning seven.[1] How are we to understand the seventy sevens? Are these periods of days, months, or years? Since the “seventy years” (Dan 9:2) of Jerusalem’s desolation are clearly associated with the sabbatical yearly cycle (cf. Lev 25:2-5; 2 Chr 36:21-22), most commentators agree that the seventy ‘sevens’ are seventy weeks of years. However, are these seventy weeks of years literal or symbolic? This post will attempt to argue that the seventy ‘sevens’ are four hundred-ninety symbolic years. 

 

Cyrus II of Persia: Issuer of the Decree

One of the most decisive factors in determining whether the seventy ‘sevens’ of Daniel 9:24-27 are literal or symbolic is accurately identifying the prophecy’s terminus a quo, that is to say, its starting point. The biblical data strongly points to Cyrus II of Persia (also known as Cyrus the Great) as being the individual who in 538 B.C issued the decree to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple. However, Classical Dispensationalists reject Cyrus as the author and issuer of the decree, preferring instead Artaxerxes I, the Persian monarch who tasked Nehemiah in 445/444 B.C. to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. Why do Dispensationalists reject Cyrus as the issuer of the decree “to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” (Dan 9:25)? Their principal argument is that 2 Chronicles 36:22-23,[2] Ezra 1:1-4,[3] and Ezra 6:3-5,[4] the biblical passages which reproduce portions of Cyrus’ decree, only make mention of the temple, not the city of Jerusalem.[5]

 

Although these three segments of Scripture do not address the rebuilding of Jerusalem, such a fact does not necessarily exclude Cyrus’ decree as the edict which initiates the ‘seventy sevens’. First, many biblical scholars have proposed that both Chronicles and Ezra were written by either priests or Levites, and some have suggested that both were written by the same individual. For example, Tremper Longman and Raymond Dillard observe: “The book of Chronicles shows so much interest in the temple and particularly its Levitical personnel…that many have suggested that the author was himself a Levite, possibly a Levitical musician.”[6] Even, MacArthur, a Dispensationalist, states the following:

 Ezra is most likely the author of both Ezra and Nehemiah, which might have originally been one book….Although Ezra never states his authorship, internal arguments favor him strongly….Ezra is believed possibly to be the author of both Books of Chronicles. It would have been natural for the same author to continue the OT narrative by showing how God fulfilled His promise by returning His people to the land after seventy years of captivity. There is a strong priestly tone in Chronicles, and Ezra was a priestly descendant of Aaron (cf. 7:1-5). The concluding verses of 2 Chronicles (26:22, 23) are virtually identical to the beginning verses [of Ezra] (1:1-3a), affirming his authorship of both.[7]

A priest or a Levite would have considered Yahweh’s Temple to be the most important location in Jerusalem, not to mention more important than the city itself. After all, Jerusalem was “the city of the great King” (Matt 5:35), because Yahweh had “caused His Name to dwell there” (Ezra 6:12; cf. Deut 12:11). Therefore, it should not be a surprise to us if a priest or Levite only mentioned the rebuilding of the temple, even if the decree allowed for the rebuilding of both the sanctuary and the city.[8] This would constitute a synecdoche, a literary device where a part (i.e. the temple) is for a whole (i.e. the city and the temple).

 

Second, it is highly likely that 2 Chronicles 36:23, Ezra 1:2-4, and Ezra 6:3-5 are excerpts of Cyrus’ decree, not the decree in its entirety. Vern S. Poythress writes: “Cyrus’s decree, as recorded in Ezra 1:2–4 and 2 Chr 36:23, focuses on the rebuilding of the temple. But we do not have the complete text of the decree here. Ezra 6:3–5, an alternate report of the decree, contains some details not recorded in Ezra 1:2–4. Perhaps still more details exist that have not been included in either summary” [emphasis mine].[9] Just as it would be unwise for readers of the Bible to assume that Peter’s sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-40) or Paul’s sermon on Mars’ Hill in Athens (Acts 17:22-31) constitutes the sum total that these two apostles taught on those particular occasions (as each is likely an infallible, inerrant, Spirit-inspired summary), it is unwise to assume that 2 Chronicles 36:23 and Ezra 1:2-4 constitute complete reproductions of Cyrus’ edict. Rather, both of these passages are infallible, inerrant, Spirit-inspired excerpts of the decree.

 

Third, Yahweh clearly declares in Isaiah 44:24 to 45:13 that He appointed Cyrus II of Persia to issue the decree for the rebuilding of His Temple and the city of Jerusalem. In Isaiah 44:28, the Lord declares, “It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.’ And he declares of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built,’ And of the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid’” [emphasis mine]. In Isaiah 45:13, Yahweh again proclaims, “I have aroused him [Cyrus] in righteousness, and I will make all his ways smooth; he [Cyrus] will build My city, and will let My exiles go free, without any payment or reward.” It almost goes without saying that this is a powerful argument. To state that the decree “to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” (Dan 9:25) refers to anyone but Cyrus is to in effect disregard these very clear and direct statements made by Yahweh Himself. Moreover, in Isaiah 45:1, the Lord calls Cyrus “His anointed” (i.e. His messiah), thus designating Cyrus to be a type of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, who would free His people from sin and death, build the true Temple (i.e. His Resurrected Body, and the Church by virtue of her connection with Him), and build the New Jerusalem (i.e. the Church). How do Dispensationalists address Isaiah 44:28 and 45:13? In his work Daniel: the Key to Prophetic Revelation, Walvoord acknowledges the Isaianic passages but makes no attempt to reconcile their meaning with that of 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 and Ezra 1:1-4.[10] Instead, he grants interpretative priority to 2 Chronicles 36 and Ezra 1, thereby concluding that Cyrus cannot be the issuer of the decree.[11] In doing so, Walvoord contradicts not only Dispensationalism’s literal hermeneutic (with regard to Isaiah 44:28 and 45:13) but also the analogy of Scripture, an interpretive principle which teaches that clearer biblical passages (Isa 44:28; 45:13) interpret less clear ones (2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4). So how are we to reconcile these passages from Isaiah 44 and 45 with 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 and Ezra 1:1-4? We must recognize that the priestly author or authors of the latter two passages incorporated excerpts of Cyrus’ decree which emphasized the rebuilding of Yahweh’s Temple in Jerusalem.

 

Another reason why Classical Dispensationalists reject Cyrus as the author and issuer of the decree is that to do otherwise would contradict the literal or normal hermeneutic of Dispensationalism. If the “issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” (Dan 9:25) refers to the decree of Cyrus, the seventy ‘sevens’ cannot be interpreted as a literal 490-year period. Why? Daniel 9:25 states that sixty-nine ‘sevens’ transpire from the issuing of the decree “until Messiah the Prince.” Sixty-nine ‘sevens’ of literal years totals to 483 years, yet there are over 560 years between Cyrus’ decree (538 B.C.) and the coming of Christ (30/33 A.D.). If Classical Dispensationalists accept Cyrus’ edict as the decree mentioned in Daniel 9:25, they would undermine not only their literal hermeneutic but also their entire theological system as well. As a result, they reject Cyrus as the issuer of the decree rather than facing the possibility that their literal hermeneutic is inadequate.[12] However, since Cyrus’ edict is the decree of Daniel 9:25, the ‘seventy sevens’ are not literal seven-year periods. Moreover, since the ‘seventy sevens’ are not literal seven-year periods, Christ’s crucifixion and the destruction of Jerusalem can and did occur in the seventieth and final ‘seven’, removing yet another reason for inserting a temporal gap.

 

Josephus’ Account of Cyrus’ Decree

 

Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews constitutes a historical witness confirming that Cyrus II of Persia issued the decree to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple (Isa 44:24 to 45:13). In Antiquities 11.1.3, the Jewish historian records that Cyrus “sent an epistle to the governors that were in Syria” which began with the following words:

 KING CYRUS TO SISINNES AND SATHRABUZANES, SENDETH GREETING. I have given leave to as many of the Jews that dwell in my country as please to return to their own country, and to rebuild their city, and to build the temple of God at Jerusalem, on the same place where it was before. I have also sent my treasurer, Mithridates, and Zorobabel, the governor of the Jews, that they may lay the foundations of the temple, and may build it sixty cubits high, and of the same latitude, making three edifices of polished stones, and one of the wood of the country, and the same order extends to the altar whereon they offer sacrifices to God [emphasis mine].[13]

“Thus Josephus maintains that Cyrus’s decree included reference to the city, not merely the temple.” [14] The royal letter goes on to list the generous provisions with which the Persian monarch equipped those Jews returning to Judea for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its temple.[15] The letter ends with an admonition against disobeying Cyrus’ command: “But my will is, that those who disobey these injunctions, and make them void, shall be hung upon a cross, and their substance brought into the king’s treasury.”[16]

 

It may be objected, however, that Josephus’ record of Cyrus’ decree cannot be trusted, since his work Antiquities of the Jews is a non-inspired, secular historical account from the first century A.D. Perhaps Josephus mistakenly confounded and comingled the decrees of Cyrus and Artaxerxes I. Poythress counters such an objection:

 Of course, Josephus may be conflating the decrees of Cyrus and Artaxerxes, but this would be just a supposition…. But let us even grant, for the sake of argument, that Josephus was wrong and that Cyrus’s decree contained no explicit word about the restoration of the city. Such a restoration of the city, at least on a humble level, would nevertheless be presupposed as an accompaniment to the restoration of the temple. For one thing, there would have to be workers there in the city to engage in the restoration work on the temple. And the temple would make little sense without a body of priests to serve in it. Some priests would have to be settled in Jerusalem.[17]

To be sure, I agree with John Calvin’s assessment of Josephus: “I candidly confess that I cannot place confidence in Josephus either at all times or without exception.”[18] However, if Josephus’ record of Cyrus’ edict is in fact erroneous, it must be proven, not assumed, to be so. Otherwise, such an objection is mere speculation.[19]

 

 

‘Seven’ in Biblical and Contemporary Literature

 The number seven often possesses a symbolic meaning in biblical and ancient Near Eastern literature. Bruce Waltke remarks:

 Biblical numbers are often used indefinitely – as round figures – or rhetorically, for emphasis or in a hyperbolic sense. Seven plays an exceptionally important role in the ancient Near East antiquity. It was sacred to the Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, and the Vedic people in India. In the Bible the number seven is connected with every aspect of religious life. In relation to time, seven represents a fitting (or sacred) period (Gen. 1:3 – 2:3; 8:12; 50:10; Exod. 7:25; Lev. 8:33; Josh. 6). More generally it indicates a complete or round number of moderate size (Est. 1:10; 2:9; Job 1:2; Ps. 12:6; Prov. 26:16, 25; Isa. 4:1; 11:15; Mic. 5:4).[20]

 One of the clearest biblical examples of seven being used symbolically is Matthew 18:21-22.[21] When Peter asked Christ how many times he was to forgive his brother (18:21), Christ told him “seventy times seven” (18:22). Clearly, Christ was not telling Peter to forgive his brother only four-hundred and ninety times. Rather, he was symbolically telling him that he must continuously forgive his brother. Consider also Revelation 13:1, where Satan is described as a dragon with seven heads. The Apostle John is not attempting to teach us that the devil is a literal seven-headed dragon. Rather, he is informing us of the immense power which God has temporarily granted to Satan (cf. 2 Cor 4:4; 1 John 5:19). A symbolic use of seven also frequently appears in the ancient Near Eastern literature. Arvid Kapelrud states that “the number seven is a holy number in the ancient Near East and simply a round number.…the number of completeness.”[22] Consider the following ancient Near Eastern references: “seven and seven” demons of the Akkadian myth “Nergal and Ereshkigal,”[23] the seven gates of the underworld in “The Descent of Ishtar to the Nether World,”[24] the seven whirlwinds of “The Myth of Zu,”[25] the sevenfold drinking in the Hittite “Song of Ullikummis,”[26] El’s seven chambers,[27] the multiple series of seventy animals sacrificed to Baal,[28] the “seven times seven” transgressions in the Sumero-Akkadian “Prayer to Every God,”[29] or the sevenfold obeisance to ancient kings.[30] Consider also Yam, the mythical serpent of Ugaritic (i.e. Canaanite) mythology, who, like Satan in Revelation 13:1, possesses “seven heads.” [31] Regarding this seven-headed serpent, Kapelrud declares that “here seven is most probably a round number, indicating the might of Yam.”[32] The number seven often possesses a symbolic meaning in biblical texts as well as ancient Near Eastern texts. Thus, it is possible and perhaps likely that the seventy ‘sevens’ are to be understood symbolically.

 

Jubilee Cycles

In light of the fact that both seven and seventy are often used symbolically in both biblical texts and ancient Near Eastern literature, how are we to understand the seventy ‘sevens’ of Daniel’s prophecy? Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes the following:

 I am led to the conclusion that it is unwise to regard the ‘seventy’ and ‘seven’ as exact terms. I suggest to you that in prophecy numbers are symbolical. They are not meant to be exact, but are meant to convey an idea….I suggest to you, therefore, that a good way of understanding these numbers ‘seventy’ and ‘seven’ is this: in biblical symbolism seven is always a perfect number, as is the number ten. So seven times ten, which is seventy, suggests the complete era, the complete period, divided again into perfect periods suggested by the figure seven. [33]

Craig Blomberg similarly states that “seventy ‘weeks of years,’” being “seven times seven times ten,” “almost certainly represents a symbolic number for a perfect period of time.”[34] Though both Lloyd-Jones and Blomberg are correct in their assertions, it is possible to achieve an even more biblically precise definition of the seventy ‘sevens’ of Daniel 9:24-27. The seventy ‘sevens’ constitute ten symbolic jubilee cycles.

 

What is a Jubilee Cycle?

 

The Law of Moses commanded the people of Israel to let the land lie fallow every seventh year, that is to say, to allow the land to experience a sabbath rest (Lev 25:2-5). Additionally, seven sabbatical cycles (forty-nine years) were to be counted with the fiftieth year being the jubilee year. Consider Leviticus 25:8-12:

8You are also to count off seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years, so that you have the time of the seven sabbaths of years, namely, forty-nine years. 9You shall then sound a ram’s horn abroad on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the day of atonement you shall sound a horn all through your land. 10You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, and each of you shall return to his own property, and each of you shall return to his family. 11You shall have the fiftieth year as a jubilee; you shall not sow, nor reap its aftergrowth, nor gather in from its untrimmed vines. 12For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you. You shall eat its crops out of the field.

The Hebrew word translated as jubilee is יוֹבֵל (yôbēl) and possesses two primary meanings. Not only can the term indicate the “year of release” or “jubilee year,” but it can also mean “ram” or “ram’s horn.”[35] Why the association between the jubilee year and a ram? The jubilee year was “inaugurated by blowing the ram’s horn” on the Day of Atonement (cf. Lev 25:9-10).[36] To reiterate, the seventy ‘sevens’ constitute ten symbolic jubilee cycles (7 x 7 x 10).

 

The Purposes of the Jubilee Year. In the Old Testament, the jubilee year served three primary purposes. First, although the jubilee year was preceded by a sabbatical year, it was itself a year-long rest for the land of Israel. Leviticus 25:11 declares: “You shall have the fiftieth year as a jubilee; you shall not sow, nor reap its aftergrowth, nor gather in from its untrimmed vines.” How were the people of Israel to provide for themselves without farming for two straight years? Leviticus 25:20-21 states: “But if you say, ‘What are we going to eat on the seventh year if we do not sow or gather in our crops?’ then I will so order My blessing for you in the sixth year that it will bring forth the crop for three years.” Second, the land reverted to its original owners during the jubilee year (cf. Lev 25:10-38; 27:16-24). Merrill Unger writes:

 The laws of Moses provided that all the Promised Land was to be divided by lot among the Israelites, and then it was to remain absolutely inalienable. Therefore, at Jubilee all property in fields and houses situated in villages or unwalled towns, which the owner had been obliged to sell through poverty and that had not been redeemed…, was to revert without payment to its original owner or his lawful heirs. The only exceptions were houses in walled cities, which remained with the buyer unless redeemed within one year (25:29-30), and those fields which, unless redeemed by the owner, had been sold and thereby rendered unredeemable (27:17-21), in which case they reverted to the priests.[37]

 Third, during this special year-long Sabbath, all slaves and indentured servants who could not or had not been redeemed were released from service (Lev 25:39-55). In addition, all debts were cancelled during the jubilee year. For these reasons, the jubilee year could be considered the ultimate Old Testament Sabbath.

 

Christ and the Ultimate Jubilee. Luke 4:16-21 describes an incident which occurred in the synagogue of Nazareth at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. When the Lord Jesus stood and exercised His right as a Jewish male to read from the Hebrew Scriptures, He read from the book of Isaiah. Interestingly, the passage which Jesus read was Isaiah 61:1-2: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners; 2to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD.” This Isaianic passage, along with Isaiah 48:16 and 49:8, describes the messianic Servant of Yahweh (cf. Isa 40-55).[38] Furthermore, 11Q13, a Qumran document, links Isaiah 61:1-2 with such passages as Leviticus 25:13; Deuteronomy 15:2; Psalm 7:8-9; 82:1-2; and Isaiah 52:7, to “portray the expectation of the eschatological Jubilee.”[39] Luke 4:17-19 states:

17And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book, and found the place where it was written, 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, 19to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

 After the Lord Jesus finished reading, He sat down and declared, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). In other words, Christ’s earthly ministry inaugurated the fulfillment of the eschatological or ultimate Jubilee. Riddlebarger notes: “The Messiah would deliver the captives and proclaim that the ultimate jubilee to which the 490 years [Dan 9:24-27] had pointed had at long last come to fruition.”[40] The jubilee year was typological of this final end-time Jubilee. In the traditional jubilee year, the land experienced a year-long Sabbath rest, the land reverted to its original owners, all debts were canceled, and all slaves/indentured servants were freed. In the ultimate Jubilee, believers experience the inaugurated fulfillment of true rest in Christ (Heb 4:9), the new heavens and new earth[41] will be given to believers (Rom 8:19-23; 2 Peter 3:10-13), the debt of sin will be completely dealt with, and believers will be completely freed from the slavery of sin.

  

Ten Jubilee Cycles

The seventy ‘sevens’ constitute ten jubilee cycles after which comes the ultimate Jubilee – the eternal state. In Sealed with an Oath, Paul Williamson writes the following:

 The ‘seventy sevens’ chronography is probably best understood against the background of Jewish sabbatical years, and the Jubilee year in particular (cf. Lev. 24:8; 25:1-4; 26:43; cf. 2 Chr. 36:21). Thus understood, the seventy sevens constitutes ten jubilee years, the last (the seventieth seven) signifying the ultimate Jubilee (cf. Isa. 61:2). Given the Jeremianic context that prompted this revelation (Dan. 9:2; cf. Jer. 25:11-12; 29:10), some explicit association between this climactic Jubilee and the anticipated new covenant is not unexpected [emphasis mine].[42]

Vern Poythress similarly concludes: “Seventy sabbatical years, making up 10 jubilee periods, is a number of completeness. It could correspond to whatever was the complete length of years during which Israel inhabited the land without observing the sabbatical years.”[43] Moreover, Riddlebarger affirms: “The total period of seventy-sevens in Daniel 9:24-27, therefore, constitutes ten jubilee eras, with the emphasis falling on the ultimate jubilee yet to come after 490 years had passed. In other words, the messianic age.”[44] Since ten is a round number which the Bible frequently uses as a symbol for completeness, the fact that there are ten jubilee cycles further supports a symbolic interpretation of the seventy ‘sevens.’ When the seventy ‘sevens’ of Daniel 9:24-27 are considered from this perspective, their true significance begins to emerge.

 

 

The Six Prophetic Goals of the Seventy ‘Sevens’

“Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy” (Dan 9:24). The six goals of the seventy ‘sevens’ cannot be fully understood apart from the already-not yet principle.[45] Riddlebarger rightly observes: “The fact that the angel Gabriel envisioned the ultimate jubilee after the 490 years were completed pointed forward to the already/not yet distinction – present blessings and future consummation.”[46] Joyce Baldwin declares: “If we may tentatively interpret the verse, it is speaking of the accomplishment of God’s purpose for all history. If we look at this from our vantage-point it was accomplished partly in the coming of Christ, but it still has to be consummated (Eph. 1:10; 1 Cor. 15:28).”[47] In other words, each of these prophetic purposes was inaugurated by Christ at His First Coming but awaits its full consummation at His glorious return. In terms of classifying the six prophetic goals, the first three concern “the removal of sin,” while the second three pertain to “the restoration of righteousness.”[48]

 

The First Three Goals: Removing Sin

The first three prophetic goals focus on removal of sin: “to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity” (Dan 9:24). Three different words for sin are used: transgression (peša‘), sin (ḥaṭṭ’ôt or ḥaṭṭā’t), and iniquity (’āôn). This language strongly indicates that Yahweh would effect a decisive and permanent removal of sin. Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension leveled the decisive deathblow against sin. However, the creation remains in the corrupting bondage of sin. Believers are still affected by their fallen nature. Sin still rules over the unbelieving mass of mankind. When Christ returns at His Second Coming, He will consummate the first three purposes of Daniel 9:24 by completely and permanently removing sin. A Christotelic understanding of Daniel 9:24-27 strongly favors such an interpretation, for “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev 19:10).

 

The Second Three Goals: Restoring Righteousness

The second three prophetic goals focus on the restoration of righteousness: “to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy” (Dan 9:24). It is unlikely that “to bring in everlasting righteousness” refers to the installation of an earthly, millennial kingdom as taught by Classical Dispensationalists. The Old Testament principally associates the concept of everlasting righteousness with Yahweh’s personal righteousness (e.g. Ps 119:42), Yahweh’s testimonies (e.g. Ps 119:144), and Yahweh’s salvation (e.g. Isa 51:5-8). Since the seventy ‘sevens’ symbolize the entire period between Cyrus’ decree and the Second Coming of Christ, everlasting righteousness most likely refers to Yahweh’s salvation or saving acts found in Christ alone. Notice the close relationship between righteousness and salvation in Isaiah 51:5-8:

5My righteousness is near, My salvation has gone forth, and My arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands will wait for Me, and for My arm they will wait expectantly. 6Lift up your eyes to the sky, then look to the earth beneath; for the sky will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment, and its inhabitants will die in like manner, but My salvation shall be forever, and My righteousness shall not wane. 7Listen to Me, you who know righteousness, a people in whose heart is My law; do not fear the reproach of man, neither be dismayed at their revilings. 8For the moth will eat them like a garment, and the grub will eat them like wool. But My righteousness shall be forever, and My salvation to all generations [emphasis mine].

Of course, Yahweh’s salvation is intimately related to His personal righteousness, as rightly defined according to the doctrines of justification and imputation (cf. Rom 1:16-17).

Regarding the fifth prophetic purpose, “to seal up vision and prophecy,” Sinclair Ferguson comments: “He came ‘to seal up vision and prophecy’ (v. 24). He is God’s last word (Heb. 1:1ff.). In Him all the promises of God receive their ‘yes’ and ‘Amen’ (2 Cor. 1:20). In Him alone is found the vision of God and His purpose; in Him, prophecy and prophet are united.”[49] In accordance with a Christotelic hermeneutic, Christ is both the nexus of God’s redemptive purpose and the One who fulfills the Old Testament: again “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill” (Matt 5:17; cf. Rev 19:10). Although Christ’s First Coming initiated the ultimate fulfillment of biblical prophecy, many prophecies have yet to be fulfilled, while others await their consummation at the Lord’s return. All prophecy will be fulfilled when the Lord Jesus returns in power and glory.

The sixth and final goal of Daniel 9:24 is “to anoint the most holy.” Although some English translations of the Daniel 9:24 include the word place, the Hebrew words קֹדֶשׁ קָדָשִׁים (qôdeš qādāšîm) literally mean “holy of holies.” The inclusion of the word place is the result of interpretative translation, where the translators understood “holy of holies” to refer to the most sacrosanct area of the Temple. However, recall that the entire Temple cultus foreshadowed the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus. Also recall that the New Testament teaches that Christ is the ultimate Temple of God (cf. Matt 1:23; 9:6; John 1:14; 2:19-21; Col 1:19; 2:9; Heb 9:11; Rev 21:3, 22) and is, therefore, “greater than the temple” (Matt 12:6). Thus, Ralph Woodrow writes:

 We believe this reference [“to anoint the most holy”] is to Jesus Christ. Gabriel announced to Mary: “The HOLY thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God (Lk. 1:35). Peter referred to him as “the HOLY ONE” (Acts 3:14). John referred to him as “the HOLY ONE” (1 John 2:20). Even demons had to recognize him as “the HOLY ONE of God” (Mk. 1:24). David spoke concerning Christ: “Neither wilt thou suffer thine HOLY ONE to see corruption” (Acts 2:27). In Revelation 3:7 he is called “HOLY” and the heavenly creatures rest not from saying: “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY” before this one “which was, and is, and is to come” (Rev. 4:8).[50]

Christ was not anointed with oil as earlier Israelite kings had been. Rather, He was anointed with the Holy Spirit (Isa 61:1-2) at His baptism when the Spirit of God descended and rested upon Him (Matt 3:16). A Christotelic hermeneutic yet again favors understanding “to anoint the most holy” as a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

The Divisions of the ‘Sevens’

 The seventy ‘sevens’ of Daniel’s prophecy are divided into three distinct segments (i.e. 7 ‘sevens’ – 62 ‘sevens’ – 1 ‘seven’). How are we to understand these internal divisions? Grier states that the divisions of the seventy ‘sevens’, mark significant events “in Israel’s history” without interrupting “the sequence of time.”[51] The break between the sevens ‘sevens’ and the sixty-two ‘sevens’ “marks a great event in Israel’s history- the restoration of Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah.”[52] Since the Bible frequently employs seven as a symbolic round number, the seven ‘sevens’ (or first jubilee cycle) likely symbolize the complete period from the decree of Cyrus to the complete restoration of city of Jerusalem. Furthermore, there is no temporal gap between the seven ‘sevens’ and the sixty-two ‘sevens.’ Because there is no temporal break between the first two segments and because the seventy ‘sevens’ must be chronologically continuous, the division between the sixty-ninth and seventieth ‘sevens’ is likewise a non-temporal break. Moreover, this particular break marks the most tremendous event in all of redemptive history, “the eventful appearance of Christ.”[53] Additionally, the seventy ‘sevens’ are ten symbolic jubilee cycles (except for the first half of the seventieth week – see Chapter 6). As a result, one would naturally expect the Ultimate Jubilee (i.e. the eternal state – the new heavens and new earth) to immediately follow the seventy ‘sevens’. However, the new creation of the ‘age to come’ has already broken forth into the present age with the First Coming of Christ. Therefore, the seventieth ‘seven’ begins with Christ’s earthly ministry and spans the entire New Covenant Age until His glorious return.

 

The Seventieth ‘Seven’

             To briefly reiterate, the seventy ‘sevens’ are ten symbolic jubilee cycles (except for the first half of the seventieth week) which are immediately followed by the Ultimate Jubilee (i.e. the eternal state – the new heavens and new earth). The first seven ‘sevens’ of the prophecy symbolize the complete period from the decree of Cyrus the Great to the complete restoration of the city of Jerusalem, while the sixty-two ‘sevens’ symbolize the complete period between Jerusalem’s restoration and the coming of Messiah the Prince. Furthermore, the ‘covenant with the many’ refers to the New Covenant inaugurated by Christ’s death on the cross. In light of such information, how should the seventieth seven be understood? In brief, the final ‘seven’ begins with Christ’s earthly ministry and spans the entire New Covenant Age until His glorious return. The first half of the seventieth ‘seven’ corresponds to Christ’s earthly ministry of three and one-half literal years, while the second half symbolizes the entire New Covenant age.

 

The Biblical Significance of Three and One-Half

Whereas the number seven is often a symbol for perfection or completeness, the number three and one-half, which is half of seven, frequently symbolizes a limited period of persecution or hardship in the Scriptures. This symbolism can be clearly seen throughout the Bible. For example, the little horn (Dan 7:8) will oppress God’s saints for “a time, times, and half a time” (Dan 7:25), that is to say, three and one-half years. Daniel 12:7 declares that “the power of the holy people” would be shattered “for a time, times, and half a time.” Similar phraseology is used throughout the apocalyptic Book of Revelation: 1,260 days (Rev 11:3; 12:6), three and one-half days (Rev 11:9, 11), 42 months (Rev 13:5), and a time, times, and half a time (Rev 12:14). Vern Poythress comments on this numerical symbol:

 This is a limited time of distress and intense conflict between God’s people and their opponents (13:5). It is also described as 1,260 days (11:3; 12:6), or as a time, times, and half a time (12:14), which means three and a half years. (In symbolic context like this one, a month is reckoned as consisting of 30 days.) This is half of seven years which suggests a complete period of suffering, cut short by half. The main background for this is found in Daniel 7:25, which in turn is related to other passages in Daniel (9:27; 12:7, 11-12). Some futurist interpreters look for a period of time of this length shortly before the Second Coming. But, like other numbers in Revelation, this one is symbolic. It is related to the three and a half days mentioned in 11:9, 11. Thus, it designates a period of persecution of limited length.[54]

George Ladd similarly states:

 Three and a half years is the time of the domination of evil before the end. The little horn which arises out of the ten horns of the fourth beast in Daniel 7 will oppress the saints of the Most High for “a time, two times, and half a time” (Dan. 7:25; see also 12:7). In the Revelation, this figure is the time of the oppression of the holy city (Rev. 11:2), of the mission of the two witnesses (11:3), the time of the preservation of the heavenly woman (the church) in the wilderness (12:6, 14), and the time during which the beast is allowed to exercise his authority (13:5).…We must conclude that the forty-two months (1,260 days) represent the period of the satanic power in the world, with particular reference to the final days of the Antichrist. All that God’s people are to suffer at the hands of satanic evil throughout the course of the age is but a preview of the final convulsive oppression by Antichrist in the time of the end. In this sense, the entire course of the age may be viewed as the time of the end.[55]

In addition, consider that “in the days of Elijah” when Ahab and Jezebel sought to exterminate God’s faithful remnant “the sky was shut up for three years and six months” (Luke 4:25). Thus, three and one-half years, which is half of seven, symbolizes a limited period of persecution or hardship in the Scriptures. Gregory Beale writes that the “apocalyptic use of ‘half’ in numerical designations of time…in Revelation and in Daniel confirms that the number…concerns a time of crisis and judgment (11:3, 9; 12:6-9; 13:5; Dan. 7:25; 9:27; 12:7).”[56] This becomes especially important with regard to the seventieth ‘seven’ which Daniel 9:26-27 clearly states is divided into two halves of three and one-half.

 

The First Half: Christ’s Earthly Ministry

The first half of the seventieth seven corresponds to Christ’s earthly ministry of three and one-half literal years. Recall that the break between the sixty-ninth and seventieth ‘sevens’ marked the coming of Messiah the Prince. For reasons that will soon become apparent, the terminus a quo, that is to say, the starting point of the seventieth seven is Christ’s baptism when He was anointed with the Holy Spirit (Isa 61:1-2; Matt 3:16). This unique, milestone event triggered the earthly messianic ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, which we know lasted “about three and one-half [literal] years.”[57] Does Christ’s earthly ministry qualify as a time of suffering and hardship? Indeed, it does. Consider Isaiah 53:2-4:

2For He [Christ] grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. 3He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 4Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

Recall also Hebrews 5:7-8: “In the days of His flesh, He [Christ] offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. 8Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.” Christ, the Man of Sorrows, suffered immensely throughout His earthly ministry, and His ministry culminated in His substitutionary and atoning death upon the cross for the sins of His people. The Lord Jesus was “cut off” (Dan 9:26a) for His people after the sixty-ninth ‘seven,’ that is to say, in the middle of the final week. Through His death, Christ fulfilled the Mosaic Covenant, established the New Covenant, permanently ended the Levitical sacrifices (Dan 9:27a), and inaugurated the fulfillment of the six prophetic purposes of Dan 9:24.

 

The Second Half: the New Covenant Age

The second half of the seventieth ‘seven’ corresponds to the entire New Covenant age between Christ’s ascension and His glorious return. Why? Beale states “that a three and one-half year period is chosen to represent the church’s witness” because “Christ’s ministry lasted about that amount of time.”[58] Thus, the Church’s ministry throughout the New Covenant age not only parallels but also in many ways recapitulates (i.e. repeats) Christ’s earthly ministry of three and one-half years. Just as a special anointing by the Holy Spirit initiated Jesus’ ministry (Isa 61:1-2; Matt 3:16), the Church’s ministry began with her ‘birth’ at Pentecost (and its apostolic extensions) when the believing remnant was baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2, 8, 10, 19). Just as Christ suffered during His earthly ministry, the Church will also suffer throughout the course of her earthly ministry. Poythress rightly declares: “The 1,260 days [Rev 11:3; 12:6], then, cover the entire interadvental period, viewed as a time of persecution and distress (cf. 2 Tim. 3:1-13; 2 Thess. 1:4-8).”[59] Riddlebarger similarly states: “The final three-and-one half years of the seventieth week as interpreted by John is symbolic of the church on earth during the entire time of its existence. It also is a reference to the tribulation depicted in Daniel.”[60] Beale likewise affirms that the three and one-half terminology repeatedly used throughout the Book of Revelation (Rev 11:3, 9, 11; 12:6, 14; 13:5) symbolizes “the eschatological period of tribulation repeatedly prophesied by Daniel (7:25; 9:27; 12:7, 11-12),”[61] which “commences at Christ’s ascension and continues until his return.”[62] Therefore, the second half of the seventieth ‘seven’ is the entire New Covenant age between Christ’s ascension and His return. When the Lord Jesus returns in glory and ushers in the eternal state (2 Pet 3:10-13), the six prophetic purposes of Daniel 9:24-27 will be consummated.

 


[1]A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament [HALOT], ed. William L. Holladay (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1971; reprint 1988), 359. See also Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament with An Appendix Containing the Biblical Aramaic [BDB] (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), 359; and Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures, trans. Samuel P. Tregelles (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1979), 802.

[2]2 Chronicles 36:22-23 declares: “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia– in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah– the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, 23Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, “The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up!” [emphasis mine].

[3]Ezra 1:1-4 states: “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, 2Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, “The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3Whoever there is among you of all His people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel; He is the God who is in Jerusalem. 4And every survivor, at whatever place he may live, let the men of that place support him with silver and gold, with goods and cattle, together with a freewill offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem” [emphasis mine].

[4]Ezra 6:3-5 declares: “In the first year of King Cyrus, Cyrus the king issued a decree: ‘Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the temple, the place where sacrifices are offered, be rebuilt and let its foundations be retained, its height being 60 cubits and its width 60 cubits; 4with three layers of huge stones, and one layer of timbers. And let the cost be paid from the royal treasury. 5And also let the gold and silver utensils of the temple of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, be returned and 1brought to their places in the temple in Jerusalem; and you shall put them in the house of God.’”

[5]See Gaebelein, Daniel – Minor Prophets, 26; Hoehner, Chronological Aspects, 121-23; McClain, Daniel’s Prophecy of the 70 Weeks, 23; Pentecost, Things to Come, 244; The Pulpit Commentary – Daniel, ed. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell (New York, NY: Funk and Wagnallis Company, 1909), 269; Charles H. Ray, “A Study of Daniel 9:24 – 27, Part II,” CTJ 5:16 (Dec 2001): 314; Walvoord, Daniel, 225-27; Walvoord, Every Prophecy of the Bible, 253; John F. Walvoord, Major Bible Prophecies (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991), 169-70; and Walvoord, “Part X: End Times,”1311-12.

[6]Raymond B. Dillard and Tremper Longman III, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 193. See also page 204. See also William S. Lasor, David A. Hubbard, and Frederic W. Bush, Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 548.

[7]MacArthur, MacArthur Bible Commentary, 518. See also page 478. See also Lasor, Hubbard, and Bush, Old Testament Survey, 558.

[8]See Ralph Woodrow, Great Prophecies of the Bible (Riverside, CA: Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association, 1971), 108.

[9]Vern S. Poythress, “Hermeneutical Factors in Determining the Beginning of the Seventy Weeks (Daniel 9:25),” TrinJ 6:2 (Fall 1985): 136. See also J. A Thompson, The Bible and Archaeology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962; reprint 1972), 177.

[10]Walvoord, Daniel, 226-27

[11]Ibid.

[12]See Ray, “Daniel 9:24 – 27, Part II,” 314.

[13]Flavius Josephus, Josephus: The Complete Works, trans. William Whiston (Nashville, TN:

Thomas Nelson, 1998), 370.

[14]Poythress, “Hermeneutical Factors,” 136.

[15]Josephus, Josephus, 370.

[16]Ibid.

[17]Poythress, “Hermeneutical Factors,” 136. See also Woodrow, Great Prophecies, 108.

[18]Calvin, Daniel, 198.

[19]Poythress, “Hermeneutical Factors,” 136.

[20]Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 550-51.

[21]Commenting on the use of ‘seven’ in Daniel 4 (vv. 16, 23, 25, 32), Sinclair Ferguson declares: “‘Seven times’ (vv. 16, 23, 25, 32) may refer to months, years, or (most probably) the complete period fixed by God’s decree (seven being taken as the number representing perfection or completeness in Scripture).” Sinclair B. Ferguson, Daniel, in vol. 21 of The Preacher’s Commentary Series, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1988), 95.

[22]Arvid S. Kapelrud, “The Number Seven in Ugaritic Texts,” VT 18:4 (October 1968): 494-95.

[23]Ancient Near Eastern Texts [ANET] Relating to the Old Testament, ed. James B. Pritchard (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), 103, 508-9, 512.

[24]Ibid., 107-9.

[25]Ibid., 112.

[26]Ibid., 122.

[27]Ibid., 137. See also Kapelrud, “Number Seven,” 495.

[28]Ibid., 139.

[29]Ibid., 392.

[30]Ibid., 484-90.

[31]Kapelrud, “Number Seven,” 495.

[32]Ibid.

[33]Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Great Doctrines of the Bible, Volume III:  The Church and the Last Things (Wheaton: Good News Publishers, 2003), 122-23. W.J. Grier notes: “We are not justified in taking the 70 ‘sevens’ as [literal] 490 years. Nowhere in the Old Testament is a period of seven years called a week or a ‘seven.’ It is best with Keil to take these ‘sevens’ as ‘an intentionally indefinite designation of a period of time, measured by the number 7, whose chronological duration must be determined on other grounds.’” Grier, The Momentous Event (Edinburgh, Scotland: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 128.

[34]Craig Blomberg, “Matthew,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. Gregory K. Beale and Donald A. Carson (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 86.

[35]HALOT, 130. See also BDB, 385.

[36]HALOT, 130.

[37]Merrill F. Unger, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1957; reprint 1985, 1961, 1966, 1988), 409.

[38]David W. Pao and Eckhard J. Schnabel, “Luke,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. Gregory K. Beale and Donald A. Carson (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 288.

[39]Ibid., 288.

[40]Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker

Publishing Group, 2007), 152.

[41]Dispensationalists typically understand the ultimate fulfillment of the Sabbath (and the jubilee year is a special sabbatical year) to be the millennial kingdom. Consider Bruce Scott: “The purest form of the Sabbath will be the millennial reign of Jesus Christ on the earth. This period, known in Jewish tradition as the “world to come” or the “Great Sabbath,” will be characterized by such perfect rest and harmony that today’s Sabbath considered a mere one-sixtieth of what it will be like during that blissful time.” Scott, The Feasts of Israel: Seasons of the Messiah (Bellmawr, NJ: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 1997), 34.

[42]Paul R. Williamson, Sealed with an Oath: Covenant in God’s Unfolding Purpose (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press 2007), 174.

[43]Vern S. Poythress, “Hermeneutical Factors in Determining the Beginning of the Seventy Weeks (Daniel 9:25),” TrinJ 6:2 (Fall 1985): 148-49.

[44]Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism, 151.

[45]For a fuller discussion, see Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1979), 68.

[46]Ibid., 156.

[47]Joyce G. Baldwin, Daniel, in vol. 23 of Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1978), 188. See also Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, 562.

[48]Frank E. Gaebelein, Daniel – Minor Prophets, vol. 7 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985), 112. See also C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Volume IX: Ezekiel, Daniel (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdsmans Publishing Company, 1973), 341.

[49]Sinclair B. Ferguson, Daniel, in vol. 21 of The Preacher’s Commentary Series, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1988), 186.

[50]Ralph Woodrow, Great Prophecies of the Bible (Riverside, CA: Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association, 1971), 116. See also Baldwin, Daniel, 188; and Ferguson, Daniel, 186.

[51]W.J. Grier, The Momentous Event (Edinburgh, Scotland: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 128. See also Mauro, Seventy Weeks, 101.

[52]Grier, The Momentous Event, 216.

[53]Ibid.

[54]Vern S. Poythress, The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2000), 127-28.

[55]George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972), 153.

[56]Gregory K. Beale, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 453.

[57]Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1977), 60.

[58]Beale, Revelation, 567. Classical Dispensationalists without exception understand the second half of the seventieth ‘seven’ as the Great Tribulation, a period of three and one-half literal years which immediately precedes the return of Christ. For example, see Alva J. McClain, Daniel’s Prophecy of the 70 Weeks (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1940; reprint, 1969, 2007), 22. See also J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1964), 250, 278-80; J. Dwight Pentecost, Thy Kingdom Come: Tracing God’s Kingdom Program and Covenant Promises Throughout History (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1995), 122, 250, 305; and Louis T. Talbot, God’s Plan of the Ages: A Comprehensive View of God’s Great Plan from Eternity to Eternity (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1936), 158.

[59]Poythress, Returning King, 128.

[60]Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism, 156.

[61]Beale, Revelation, 565.

[62]Ibid., 646. See also Gregory K. Beale and Sean M. McDonough, “Revelation,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. Gregory K. Beale and Donald A. Carson (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 1118.

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