MESSAGE FOR FEBRUARY 18, 2007 FROM DANIEL 9:20-27

 

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"The 70 Week Decree - continued."

MESSAGE FOR FEBRUARY 18, 2007 FROM DANIEL 9:20-27

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This morning, we come to verses 24-27 in the ninth chapter of Daniel which contains what is known as the “70 weeks of Daniel.”  You’ll recall that in the first 19 verses of this chapter Daniel prays an inspiring prayer of confession, pleading for God’s mercy on God’s people.  He fully and humbly acknowledges their national sin of repeatedly turning their back on God and the covenant relationship he had graciously established with them.  Daniel pleads with God that he vindicate his great name among the nations by allowing his chosen people to return from their Babylonian captivity in exile among these pagan people.  In response to that prayer, the angel Gabriel is sent to Daniel.  Last week, we looked at Gabriel’s introductory words to Daniel that teach some valuable lessons on prayer.  This week, we delve into the heart of God’s response to Daniel.  As we said last week, Daniel did not ask for a vision or prophecy about God’s future dealings with his people, but God gives him one nonetheless and this week, we examine the contents of that prophecy.

Before I treat this text I want to give you the lens through which I have come to look at it.  My approach to this is marked by three elements.  First, I have a very non dogmatic approach to my understanding of this very difficult text.  Last week, I confessed to you in my introduction, “I don’t know what this text means.  This morning, I am only slightly further along in my quest to understand these verses.  Second, as I have said before, with many apocalyptic texts we should take a broad view of the author’s meaning so as not to miss the forest for the trees.  We shouldn’t become obsessed with the very complex and at times highly speculative questions surrounding many of these apocalyptic prophecies.  Instead, we should feed our soul on those elements of the text that are more clearly seen and which will be spiritually profitable. Our task this morning requires that we get into some of those questions today, but our intent is not obsession, but some level of depth of understanding.

Third, given its extreme difficulty, my opinion is that we should place little weight on this text to help us determine God’s plan for the future.  There are people in the church today that have dogmatically drawn some fairly weighty and highly specific conclusions about God’s future plan for his people on the basis of their understanding of these exquisitely difficult verses.  This has become a “pillar text” in shaping their understanding of the final days of this age.  As I hope to show, to place much weight on any interpretation of these verses is probably unwise. 

Having said that, I want to clarify something here.  That is, because these verses are the word of God, we must work hard at understanding their meaning.  I am not intending to communicate that we should just skip over these verses because they are difficult to understand.  They are God-breathed and therefore not to be ignored.  I am simply conceding that we will only conclusively understand how some of these more obscure apocalyptic verses apply to events within God’s redemptive plan when we are in glory.  A second point of clarification is that as Protestants we believe all the central truths of the Bible can be grasped by anyone who seeks to understand them and that should encourage us to work hard to study them.  We dare not forget that crucial truth in the context of these very difficult verses.  There are in fact a comparatively tiny number of verses, none of them defining the major themes of Scripture, that in 2000 years of church history have proven to be very elusive in their meaning.  To help you see just a few of the reasons why these verses fit into that very limited class of Biblical texts, I want to briefly raise some basic questions about the meaning of this passage that have caused many like myself to be very humble in our conclusions about these verses.  My intention here is not to bring confusion to anyone, but merely to help you see why we should be very hesitant to base any significant part of our understanding of God and his redemptive plan particularly on verses 25-27 of Daniel chapter nine.  Here are seven reasons why that is the case.

          First, during these “seven weeks” or “seven weeks of years” that are decreed for Daniel’s people and the holy city, God through Gabriel predicts that six earth-shattering accomplishments in salvation history will be transpire.  These are in verse 24—“to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint the most holy place.” These six elements are absolutely central to our understanding of this prophecy because they show God’s main agenda for these 70 weeks.  These represent devastatingly important milestones in the history of redemption.  They give us God’s perspective on what is of ultimate importance for the period of these 70 weeks of years.  That means that what you believe about these six elements of redemption history will shape your understanding of this entire prophecy.  A significantly debated question among conservative, Bible-believing saints is—to what do these six accomplishments refer?

          For instance, some believe that these things were all accomplished on the cross and in the period immediately following it and they see no need to understand any part of this prophecy as being related to the end of this age because God’s central agenda for the 70 weeks was already accomplished at Calvary.  If however you believe that some of these things will not be accomplished until the time of Jesus’ return, that will have a profound impact on how you understand this period of “70 weeks.”  Those issues have enormous implications on how you understand these texts and yet, there are multitudes of good conservative evangelicals who have laid out internally consistent, Biblically defensible cases for both positions.  That difference alone means there are big unsettle questions on what these verses mean.

An even more basic question is—“Should the number represented by “70 weeks” and understood by many as 490 years—be understood literally or symbolically?”  The Bible at times uses numbers symbolically—the number 666 as the number of the antichrist is the best example of a clearly symbolic number.  If the “70 weeks” is to be understood symbolically, then all hopes to finding any specific end-times chronology, much less making up highly precise end times charts are shipwrecked. 

A related question is—“Is there a delay or lengthy chasm of time between the 69th and 70th week of Daniel?”  The overwhelmingly popular view today within evangelicalism put forth by people like the authors of the “Left Behind” series claim there is perhaps a 2000 year (or more) break between the 69th and 70th week of Daniel.  This is far from the undisputed understanding of this in church history from godly and careful scholars.  Another contested question is—“what is the identity of the main character(s) identified as the “anointed one” in the second half of verse 25, the “prince”
 in verses 25 and 26 and the “ruler” in verse 27?
  A strong element within Christian tradition makes a case that verse 25 refers to Christ and that is my view as well.  There is however strenuous disagreement about whether the “anointed one” and “prince” in verse 25 is the same person as the “prince” in the second half of verse 26 and the pronoun “he” in verse 27.  One group of scholars sees them as the same person.  Many others see the “prince” in verse 25 to be a reference to Jesus, while the reference to “prince” in verse 26, refers to the end time antichrist.  The internal evidence in these verses is not nearly as clear as many would have you believe. This is a very difficult exegetical judgment.  My reading of the rationale behind both views is that they are far from conclusive.

If you assume the “anointed one” is Jesus and take the 490 years as a literal period of time, then you must take the dates related to his life and ministry as a historical reference point and figure back from that, making the prophetic dates fit into that period.  One question that is regularly asked in that discussion is—“What kind of years does the author have in view represented in the 70 weeks?” You may ask, “What do you mean—what kind of years?”  That is actually a much contested question in the discussion around any chronology of the events in these 70 weeks.  Many of those who claim “the anointed One” in verse 25 is Christ, including the most popular view of this as espoused by the “Left Behind” books and people like Hal Lyndsey who wrote “The Late, Great Planet Earth” hold that these years are “lunar years” with 360 days rather than the  365-day calendar year.  That’s how they make their understanding of the chronology fit the dates of Jesus’ ministry.

The problem with that is that not a few very respected scholars think the notion that the Jews employed lunar years to measure chronologies is “very unlikely.”  None of the many chronological statements in Kings and Chronicles use a 360-day year—none.  There is no internal Biblical support for this notion that has become such a significant part of the most popular understandings of this text. 

A related and vigorously debated question has to do with when this period of seventy weeks began.  If you are figuring a literal period of 490 years for the total of these 70 weeks as many do and Christ’s life is part of that time table, then a very important question is—“when does this period begin?’  That’s a difficult question because Gabriel doesn’t give a specific date when the clock on these “70 weeks” should begin ticking.  His rather ambiguous statement is in verse 25, “from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem.”  When did the word go out to restore and build Jerusalem?  It just so happens there are multiple decrees of this type given at different times.  There are at least six alternative dates proposed as to when this word went out and therefore when the 70 weeks of Daniel began.  These range from 605BC, to 597 to 587 to 539 to 521 to 457 to 445 and those who propose those dates root their reasons in the Bible.  Yet having the correct date of the beginning of this “70 weeks” is crucial to many interpretations in order for their complex calculations of years to fit together correctly.

          There are literally dozens of other questions of those sort but you get the idea.  Perhaps now you see the reason why some Biblical scholars make the following kinds of statements about these verses. “The history of the exegesis [interpretation] of the 70 weeks is the dismal swamp of Old Testament criticism…[It is] the trackless wilderness of assumptions and theories…”  More than 12 major interpretations of these verses have been proposed.  The one that is currently in vogue through the “Left Behind” series is only one of those and it did not exist in church history before the middle of the 19th century.  Again, my purpose is not to confuse or discourage anyone, but simply to lay out some of my (and what I think should be your) reasons for approaching these verses with humility and to help us see that it is unwise to place a great deal of weight on them to shape our understanding of the future. 

Finally, please do not conclude from my uncertainty as to the meaning this Biblical text that I am in any way undermining the integrity of God’s word.  Just the opposite!  The reason I am not preaching dogmatically the meaning of this text is because I do not see that the word itself gives me permission to do so.  Two thousand years of church history interpreting this text teaches me one lesson about it. That is—no one can say with integrity on the basis of the difficult textual evidence—they know with certainty what these verses mean.  It seems unwise to make these verses the indispensable key that opens the door to correctly understanding New Testament end-time prophecies as some in the church have asserted they are. 

With that to give you my lens on this text, here is my current understanding of verses 24 to 27.  First, when Gabriel says, “70 weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city” I think it is unwise to assume that any number given in the context of an apocalyptic prophecy represents an exact period of time and then allow that period of time to control the entire understanding of a text.  I would much rather look at the context within Daniel, how the author uses certain words and subsequent Biblical history that seems to correlate back to this prophecy for clues to its meaning.  I am not comfortable with plotting out a detailed historical chronology based on a certain date that is not even explicitly given in the text and then figuring everything back from that date so as to make everything fit into a cast-iron chronological mold.  That seems to me to be asking too much from this text.  It reminds me of the scene in the movie “Cinderella” where near the end of the story one of her stepsisters tries to place the dainty glass slipper on her enormous foot.  After heroic efforts, the thing finally fit on her foot, but she placed no weight upon it.  History proves that approach has caused many interpreters to engage in what are in my opinion some intensely creative “mathematic manipulations” in often highly forced efforts to make everything neatly fit together.  I certainly could be wrong here, but a less tightly literal approach to the 70 weeks, in light of sound rules of Biblical interpretation seems to be the most reasonable to me. 

The six accomplishments in verse 24 are the most important details in this section.  My view of them and these verses as a whole is rooted firmly in my understanding in the fact that the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ are THE central accomplishments of redemptive history, past, present or future.  It is almost unthinkable to me that when God lists his major accomplishments or agenda for this 70 week period, some of which unambiguously speak of Calvary, that he would not make the cross and all that was accomplished there the centerpiece of this 70 week period.  Anything that is accomplished at Christ’s Second Advent is absolutely grounded and made possible by his redeeming work on the cross. The second coming of Christ and what is accomplished there is important, but I see insufficient evidence in this text that those events are in view here.

 The first three are: “to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin and to atone for iniquity.”  I see all of those as being synonymous and all were in my view fulfilled at Calvary.  Let’s take the last one first—“to atone for iniquity.”  One reason I see these three being fulfilled on the cross is because this last of the three—the atoning for sin was obviously done on the cross.  It doesn’t make sense to me that the two redemptive works listed prior to the atoning work would come after his work on the cross.  The first accomplishment listed is “to finish the transgression.  I see the action word in the original to be best translated as the ESV has it, “finished.” Jesus said on the cross after he had paid the penalty of sin, “It is finished.”  Though sin clearly still occurs, the work has been completed by Christ to finish it and all that remains is for Christ to return and consummate his victory on the cross. The same can be said of “putting an end to sin.  

The fourth accomplishment I believe speaks to another work done on Calvary.  I think Jesus on the cross did “bring in everlasting righteousness.”  I see this in texts like Romans 3:21-22 where Paul says, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:” Now, through justification it is possible to be declared righteous and that righteousness is everlasting.  This righteousness will not be perfectly manifested in how we live until heaven, but it has been “brought in” (what Daniel 9:24 says) by Christ’s work on the cross.   The fifth accomplishment is “to seal both vision and prophet.  This is difficult.  I currently see this as meaning that the events in salvation history described in this vision as well as the prophet who uttered them, Daniel will be vindicated by the then future atoning work of Christ on the cross.

The sixth accomplishment is “to anoint a most holy place.”  This phrase probably refers to the temple of God as fulfilled in Christ who in John 2:19 claimed to the temple of God.  Further, near the end of the Bible Revelation 21 says, “22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.”  This is a temple, unlike all the other previous temples that will never be defiled. I do not see as many do that there will be another literal physical temple built where sacrifices will be offered.  That does not seem to square with the message of the New Testament, the book of Hebrews in particular.  Christ and his church are the fulfillments of the temple of God to which the Old Testament building pointed.  The reference to the temple being anointed is difficult.  It could be a reference to Christ’s baptism when the Holy Spirit came and anointed him.

That lays the foundation for the rest of my understanding of these verses.  For the sake of time and to avoid confusion in what is an extremely complex couple of verses, let me give my current understanding of the major points found in the rest of these verses.  First, I do not currently believe there is a 2000 year (or greater) gap separating the 69th and 70th week.  That understanding, as popular as it is, is difficult for me to see clearly stated or implied in these verses.  That seems to be is imported into the text because of a particular understanding of the end times allegedly found in other passages of Scripture. In other words, there is a break between the 69th week and the 70th week largely because there just has to be given other end time assumptions.  The conclusion may be accurate, but that kind of interpretative method is not a good way to find the meaning of a Biblical text. I am open to suggestions here, but nothing in the many pages I have read on this has yet compelled me to see this that way.  I do not see these verses referring to a future seven-year tribulation period or a future antichrist, though other verses we have seen in Daniel do speak of the end-time antichrist.  I see these verses predicting the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the exiles return in verse 25 and the redeeming death of Christ on Calvary as communicated in verse 26 where it says, “an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing.”

 I believe both references to “an anointed one” and both references to “the prince” in these verses refer to the same person, Christ.  The very tight context seems to demand that and it is extremely confusing otherwise.  That means that “the people of the prince who is to come and destroy the city and the sanctuary” are probably people commissioned by the One who is sovereign over all armies including this one which I see to be the Roman army that destroyed the Jerusalem temple in AD 70.  Two reasons I find it acceptable to see the Roman army as “the people of the prince who is to come” is because this has been the “traditional view” of much of the church and because Jerusalem at the time of the prophet Daniel had been destroyed by a man who is repeatedly called by God in the prophets “my servant.” That person is none other than Nebuchadnezzar.  This pagan Nebuchadnezzar is according to the prophets, a servant of the prince.

The rest of this text describes the “flood” and “desolations” and “abominations” that defiled and destroyed the temple and from verse 27, “put an end to sacrifice and offering.”  The temple sacrifices did not end until 70 A.D. when the temple was destroyed.  This seems to reflect Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24:15 where he says, “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand).  In Daniel, there are four times when this expression “abomination of desolation” is used and this one appears to speak of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in AD 70.  The reference to the one who “will make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering” is especially difficult.  In light of the centrality of the cross of Christ within the 70 weeks context, it seems as if the strong covenant in view is the New Covenant through the blood of Christ and the ambiguous reference to one “seven,” I take to symbolize all future ages.  D.A. Carson’s whole Bible Commentary closes his treatment of these verses with this statement and it is a fitting close to my understanding as well.  It says, “For seventy years Daniel had longed for the restoration of the city and temple of God… Now that it was about to take place his attention was directed to a more distant and loftier peak in the history of redemption. Even a new temple in a rebuilt city made by human hands could be destroyed; Daniel’s eyes were therefore to be fixed on a final temple… on one that would be beyond all desecration.[1] 

That is my current understanding of these verses and if you want to argue with me about this understanding you will not find in me a willing combatant.  Frankly, just as this text should not be heavily leaned upon to dictate our understanding of the end-times, neither is it wise to become terribly worked up in disputing a text whose meaning is so difficult to determine.  There are many more clearly understood Biblical texts that we have an obligation to defend, such as those bearing on the truth about God’s nature and the gospel.  This however, is in my judgment not one of those.

Whatever our view of these difficult verses, the general points of application are surely the same.  That is—first, just as God has these 70 weeks of Daniel plotted out and his decrees will never fail, we can rest in the fact that there are no question marks in God’s mind as to what will occur in our future.  God is at the helm and he will never steer us off course.  If he can control the broad, sweeping flow of all redemptive history, he is surely in control of our lives even when we are in the midst of a terrible storm.  Job 42:2 says, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”

Second, the cross of Christ forever changed the way a redeemed sinner can relate to God and THAT and other gospel truths are surely the most important truths in all of sacred Scripture.  We should spend far more time meditating on what God has done for us and who He is for us in Christ, then pondering the details of his future redemptive plan.  Finally, a day is coming when all of what Jesus purchased for us on Calvary will be fully realized.  A day when there will be no more sin or desecration, no more war and no more unanswered questions about any verse in God’s revelation.  Whatever our understanding of these verses, may God give us the grace to live and fight in this dark world for his glory until that day.


[1]Carson, D. A. 1994. New Bible commentary : 21st century edition. Rev. ed. of: The new Bible commentary. 3rd ed. / edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer. 1970. (4th ed.) . Inter-Varsity Press: Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA cf. compare

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