(Note: the following is a handout prepared for one of our church's Bible studies, which lays out detailed interpretive options for Daniel's vision of the seventy weeks in Dan. 9:24-27)
- A total period of seventy “weeks” of years is prophesied (i.e., 490 years total, though it is possible the numbers are symbolic instead of literal)
- This period will culminate with the “end of sin, atoning of wickedness, and bringing in everlasting righteousness” (v.24)
- The seventy weeks begin from the issuing of a decree to rebuild Jerusalem (v.25)
- Three divisions of the weeks are envisioned: the first seven weeks, then sixty-two weeks (though these two together might just constitute a single period of 69), and then a final week, which is divided into two 3½-year periods
- An “anointed one” (literally, Messiah/Christ) will come at the end of the first 69 weeks (this figure is sometimes also referred to as a “ruler/prince,” as in v.25)
- The Anointed One will be “cut off” at this time (v.26)
- A “ruler/prince” comes at this time (possibly just another name for the Anointed One because the same title is used of him in v.25, or possibly a different character altogether), and after instituting a covenant of some kind, an end of sacrifices, war, and destruction will result (vv.26-27) in the final week.
o Please keep in mind: the terms used in v. 27 can be legitimately translated in a number of different ways, allowing for plausible fulfillments in any of the interpretations below
Interpretive Option #1: Fulfillment in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes and the Maccabees
- The prophecy views the period between King Cyrus’ decree allowing the Jews to return to their homeland (539/538 BC) to the period of the Maccabees (167-160 BC) – this results in a total of about 380 years, which means the seventy sevens must refer to symbolic time periods, not an exact tally of literal years
- The first seven weeks might refer to the time period between the Temple’s destruction under the Babylonians (586 BC) until the re-consecration and anointing of a new high priest (possibly Joshua the priest, a character known from other Old Testament books)
- The period of sixty-two weeks, then, would be the time in which there were anointed priests in the rebuilt Temple, a period that would end with the murder of high priest Onias III by the followers of the wicked Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes around 170 BC. Onias III, then, would be the “anointed one” who was “cut off.”
- Antiochus Epiphanes would correspond to the second mention of a “ruler/prince” character (v.26), and his actions, over a roughly seven-year persecution (after affirming a “covenant” with apostate Jews who abandoned their religion), resulted in the end of sacrifices to God and the desecration of the Temple.
- This interpretation fits well with several other places in Daniel, which focus significant attention on prophecies regarding the time of the Maccabees (as, for example, in Dan. 8:19-25), and fit very well with other descriptions of Antiochus; however, the vast majority of the Christian tradition sees this passage as finding its fulfillment in Christ. As with many other Old Testament prophecies, it is possible that it has a partial fulfillment in earlier events (the Maccabean period), but a complete and final fulfillment in later events (the coming of Jesus Christ).
Interpretative Option #2: Fulfilment in Jesus Christ
- Most interpretations pointing to Jesus accept the seventy sevens as a literal set of numbers. (There are, however, some Christian interpretations that allow the numbers to be symbolic rather than exact: in such cases, the first seven weeks would signify the period of Jerusalem’s rebuilding after the exile, with the next sixty-two weeks being the interim period between the Old Testament and the New). In the traditional Christian interpretations, the first seven weeks and the sixty-two weeks are often taken together as a single period of 69 weeks (483 years).
- The starting-point of the prophecy (“from the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem”) is usually taken as one of the two declarations of King Artaxerxes to this effect (earlier decrees by other Persian kings had to do with the end of exile or the construction of the Temple, but not specifically with the rebuilding of Jerusalem itself):
o Artaxerxes’ decree in 457 BC + 69 weeks of years = late 20s AD, which may correspond roughly to the time of Jesus’ baptism and the beginning of his ministry
o Artaxerxes’ decree in 445 BC + 69 weeks of years (using a possible ancient calendar of 360 days per year) = early 30s AD, which may correspond to Jesus’ death and resurrection
- The final week of years, the 70th week, can be interpreted in several different ways:
o A few interpret it as the period of Jesus’ ministry (for the first 3 ½ years) to the scattering of the Jerusalem church by persecution (the second 3 ½ years) in Acts.
o Others see it as Jesus’ ministry (3 ½ years), then a gap during the apostolic age, and then the final 3 ½ years in the Jewish war against Rome (67-70 AD), up to the destruction of Jerusalem’s Temple, since the language of “desolation” and “abomination” in Daniel 9 relate better to that event than to the persecution of the early church.
o Still others, who see Jesus’ ministry as ending with the end of the 69th week, see the final seven in the full span of the Jewish war (67-73 AD), with the destruction of Jerusalem in the middle (70 AD).
o A popular current position has Jesus’ ministry as the end of the 69th week, and then a very long interim throughout the church age before the 70th week begins (at some future point) with the coming of the Antichrist in the end times.
- The characters of verses 26-27 can be read in two different possible ways:
o 1.) Jesus may be both “the Anointed One” and the “ruler/prince” throughout the passage (verses 25 & 26). In this scheme, it’s important to note that Daniel says it is the people of the ruler, not the ruler himself, who bring on the destruction of the city and Temple (that is, the Jews’ actions in their revolt against Rome). The “covenant with many” would be Jesus’ establishment of the New Covenant, and his “end to sacrifice” would be his death on the cross, rendering the Temple sacrifices empty. The final phrase of v.27 can be translated as “and on the wing of abominations will come the desolator, until the decreed end is poured out upon the desolator.” In such a case, it is clear that Jesus as the ruler/prince does not cause abominations or become the desolator; rather, the Jews cause the abominations of war, and the “desolator” is Vespasian, Titus, and the Romans.
o 2.) Alternatively, Jesus might be the “Anointed One” and the first “ruler/prince” mentioned in v.25, but not the “ruler/prince” mentioned in v.26. In this scheme, the second ruler/prince would be an Antichrist-type figure, either Vespasian/Titus/Romans in a 70 AD fulfillment, or a final Antichrist in a future fulfillment, who causes abominations, desolations, and an end to Temple sacrifices.
Bottom Line: This prophecy shows an astonishingly accurate prediction of the coming of Jesus Christ, the Anointed One. His ministry occurs exactly within the window of 69x7 years after the decree of King Artaxerxes for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, just as predicted by Daniel hundreds of years beforehand. And with the coming of Christ, as Daniel foretells, comes “the end of sin, atoning of wickedness, and bringing in everlasting righteousness” (9:24). The passage also includes hauntingly accurate portrayals of destruction and judgment that recur in cycles of fulfillment during the Maccabean revolt (160s BC), the Jewish war against Rome (70 AD), and possibly also in the end times.