*This is Part 1 of a series on the Coming of Jesus.
To fully understand Jesus’s first, and indeed what is commonly called his “Second Coming,” we need to understand the book of Daniel. This prophetic books give many details and glimpses into the future about coming kingdoms, rulers and above all, the Messiah. I’m going to be focussing on just one part of the book, chapter nine, often referred to as “Daniel’s 70 Weeks”. But just what is “Daniel’s 70 Weeks” you might be asking as you read this. For those unfamiliar with Old Testament prophecy, it is a prophetic vision that Daniel was given from God, and interpreted by the angel Gabriel. You can read the prophecy in full below:
Dan 9: 20-27 (NRSV)
While I was speaking, and was praying and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God on behalf of the holy mountain of my God— while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen before in a vision, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. He came and said to me, “Daniel, I have now come out to give you wisdom and understanding. At the beginning of your supplications a word went out, and I have come to declare it, for you are greatly beloved. So consider the word and understand the vision:
“Seventy weeks are decreed for your people and your holy city: 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 a most holy place. Know therefore and understand: from the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the time of an anointed prince, there shall be seven weeks; and for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with streets and moat, but in a troubled time. After the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing, and the troops of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. He shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall make sacrifice and offering cease; and in their place shall be an abomination that desolates, until the decreed end is poured out upon the desolator.”
Now, in this prophecy, it speaks of “weeks” (or literally, “sevens”) – 70 in total, which if taken at face value would only be just over a year in length. This would be a very short time to do all that is spoken of by the angel — especially the rebuilding of a city!
The prophecy in Daniel gave the time span for the rebuilding of the city and even mentions that it will be in a “troubled time” as Gabriel told Daniel, which we can see happen in the book of Nehemiah in about 444 BC (around 94 years later):
But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and the gaps were beginning to be closed, they were very angry, and all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it. (cf. Neh 4:16-18; Ezra 3:3)
The is a prophetic metaphor for years – each day equals one year. You may wonder how the “sevens” or “week” equals 7 years, and by looking at other examples of prophetic language in the Bible, we can find two other places where one day is equal to one year in a prophetic sense: Ez 4:6 and Num 14:34. There’s also two other places where one day is equalled with one thousand years: Ps 90:4 and 2 Pet 3:8 – unlike the previous examples, these aren’t spoken of in a prophecy or vision as to have a specific time meaning, but are rather hyperbole to make a point, as the surrounding context of those verses will show.
If we were to calculate Daniel’s prophecy based on 1000 years to each day, it would cover a timeframe of 70,000 years instead of 490 – which is just slightly ridiculous!
So lets break down the prophecy to see what’s going on and being said:
“Seventy weeks are decreed for your people and your holy city” — 70 weeks, or 490 years (70×7), have been decreed by God as the time set for the following things to take place for the Jews and Jerusalem. These things can be split up into six parts:
- To finish the transgression
- To put an end to sin
- To atone for iniquity
- To bring in everlasting righteousness
- To seal both vision and prophet
- To anoint a most holy place (Heb. or “thing” or “one”).
The angel Gabriel then gives a brief overview of how all of these things will happen, when the seventy week countdown begins, and the timescale for each part. The nation of Israel were basically on probation from God to get their act together; they have 490 years to get right with God, which is point 1. Then follows points 2-6. This prophecy is actually very precise and specific!
…from the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the time of an anointed prince, there shall be seven weeks; and for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with streets and moat, but in a troubled time. After the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing, and the troops of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.
I’m going to include this same quote from the NIV translation too (all other quotes are NRSV), as it keeps the original wording of “sevens” instead of using “weeks”, which I find makes the grammar of the sentence flow a little better:
From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble.
This in total means that there are to be 483 years from when the word “goes out” to start restoration on Jerusalem. I point this out because of the way the English translations make the initial seven and the sixty-two sevens appear as separate events, as in the NRSV (“there shall be seven weeks; and for sixty-two weeks…”) whereas the NIV quote doesn’t come across that way, and neither does it in some other versions, such as the KJV. I looked this up in a Hebrew interlinear (since I can’t read ancient Hebrew) and the flow of the sentence is more akin to the NIV, KJV etc., with a Sof passuk (ie. a full stop/period) marking the end of the sentence at the end of verse 25. But I’m not a Hebrew expert so I may be overlooking other aspects of grammar here.
What has this got to do with Jesus?
Now you may be asking, what has all this got to do with the “Second Coming?” Well, in order to fully understand when the return and “the end” is to take place, we must first understand the timing of Daniel’s prophecy about the Messiah as his first coming and death, and then what’s oftern thought to be his return are all wrapped up in this 70 weeks.
“From the time the word went out” is often related to King Cyrus, who gave the initial decree that allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem to begin rebuilding their temple (cf. 2 Chron 36:23; Ezra 1:2-5). This is assumed because Cyrus was prophesied about by Isaiah 150-200 years before he was born. The amazing thing about this prophecy is that Isaiah actually named Cyrus and that he would do this! Check it out:
…who says of Cyrus, “He is my shepherd,
and he shall carry out all my purpose”;
and who says of Jerusalem, “It shall be rebuilt,”
and of the temple, “Your foundation shall be laid.”
But what is often overlooked in this is that Cyrus only gives a decree to rebuild the temple. We see this fulfilled in Ezra 3:8-13 which tells of when the foundations were laid after the Jews returned to Jerusalem following Cyrus’s decree. Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, gives a nice little insight into this aspect of Jewish history (Antiquities 11:1,2) when he recounts that King Cyrus didn’t realise this was written but when it was shown to him, he then had a desire to go about and fulfil it – despite being a Persian king who didn’t even know nor worship the God of the Jews (Isa 45:5)!
So when did the seventy week clock begin ticking, if not with Cyrus? There are four decrees by three kings to the Jews concerning the rebuilding of the temple and the city, over a period of time: Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes (twice, although there is some dispute over whether there was a second king with the same name later on).
But is it the decree of Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:11-26) in which the Jewish people were allowed to go back to Jerusalem with the blessing of the king, so that they may restore it fully. This happened in the 7th year of his reign (Ezra 7:8), which according to historical records, would have been 457 BC.
As a point of interest, there is another way in which these initial 7 weeks and 62 weeks can be read which could also explain why the “weeks” are phrased in two parts (“until the time of an anointed prince, there shall be seven weeks; and for sixty-two weeks…”). This first anointed price could well reference Cyrus (as “anointed” doesn’t always mean the Messiah in the Saviour sense), and the “word” that went out could be a reference to Jeremiah’s prophecy about the Babylonian captivity (which is during the time that Daniel was written). Jeremiah prophesied about Jerusalem about 587 BC, which would in fact be 49 years before Cyrus gave his decree, around 538 BC. The break in the time, and then continuing with “and for sixty-two weeks it shall be built…” would still begin when the rebuilding actually took place, in the reign of Artaxerxes, still leading us up until the time of Jesus.
Linking into the New Testament
It is generally accepted that Jesus was baptised around 26 or 27 AD, given the timescales and points in history the authors of Scripture give us (eg. Luke 3:1). This now brings us from “the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” right up until “after the sixty-two weeks” when the next “anointed one” appears in the prophecy, as when Jesus was baptised it was then he was anointed by the Holy Spirit to begin his ministry (Matt 3:16-17; Acts 10:38). As an aside for those reading who may not realise the connection: Messiah is the Hebrew word for “anointed,” and Christ is the Greek version of that Hebrew word – hence Jesus Christ, or Jesus the Messiah (although, not all who were anointed were thought or expected to be the promised Saviour-Messiah).
This timescale brings us perfectly up to the 69 “weeks” of Daniel’s prophecy, which is 483 years leaving only the remaining “week” to go.
There is a ‘pause’ here, similar to the first 7 weeks, in the way the angel Gabriel phrases the prophecy to Daniel in verse 26: “After the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing” – so the initial 483 years brings us up to the next appearance of the Anointed One, and then after this he shall be “cut off”, ie. killed. Jesus was crucified after about 3 years of ministry.
Before getting into that last 7 year period, I’d just like to point out some aspects of the Gospels and Galatians which should hopefully make more sense now in light of Daniel’s prophecy and its timing:
Gal 4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law… (emphasis mine)
Mark 1:14-15 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (emphasis mine)
Jesus began his ministry at that time because it was when the “time [was] fulfilled”, referencing Daniel’s prophecy (which would also “seal both vision and prophet” about this event; v.24) , which his original audience would have understood. The Jewish people had that time while Jesus was with them to repent and turn back to God and enter his eternal kingdom which was promised to the Messiah – the kingdom which Daniel also prophesied about in Daniel chapter two, that would be founded not by human hands, and which would last forever. That was the time which God had given his people, and those who rejected it would suffer what was prophesied about in the final “week”.
And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall this kingdom be left to another people. It shall crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever
2 Peter 1:11
For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.
The Final Week
There is some contention about this final seven years. The details about what happens during that time are divided in half: a ruler will come to destroy for the first half (3.5 years), and then war will ensue until the end, which will also be this ruler’s end too when the final 3.5 years are complete.
Some say that it is still yet to come, in some far-flung future, as the “prophetic clock” stopped when Jesus was killed. I suspect if you’ve ever been taught anything about the “End Times,” that is what you believe or expect, especially if you have read or watched the Left Behind books or films which are based heavily on a futurist interpretation of Daniel, Revelation and the Olivet Discourse.
But it may surprise you to know that this isn’t the only interpretation or school of thought, despite how popular this view is. I used to believe that this was what was going to happen, that it could happen at any moment as “Jesus is coming soon!” along with great tribulation and “armageddon” as people often proclaim. But after studying this topic for quite some time now, I’ve found that it doesn’t reconcile with what the Scriptures say, or what Jesus taught, nor what history shows, and thus have had to adjust my views.
Lets have a look at what is to happen in the final seven years:
After the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing, and the troops of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. He shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall make sacrifice and offering cease; and in their place shall be an abomination that desolates, until the decreed end is poured out upon the desolator.
Now some say that since Jesus’ ministry was about 3 and a half years long, that this was the final week and why the sacrifices were ceased. On the face of it this seems to make sense, as the sacrificial death of Jesus was the be the final sacrifice for sins for all time in the eyes of God, thus any other animal sacrifices aren’t accepted. While Jesus’s death did fulfil other aspects of this prophecy: “an anointed one shall be cut off … to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness” which the New Testament authors were clearly aware of and saw fulfilled in Jesus, I won’t write them all out here but will give references – John 1:29; 1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 5:17-19,21; Romans 3:21-22 ; Romans 5:17-19; Heb 13:12; Heb 9:15; 1 Peter 2:24; Col 1:20, plus many more.
I will quote one passage though, which I think summarises the fulfillment of Jesus in Daniel’s prophecy:
But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself.
Not only does this state that the early Christians saw Jesus as being the ultimate sacrifice to remove sins for all time, and give those who believe in him everlasting righteousness, but that they also recognised the times as being “the end of the age”. I will be going more into that topic later in this series.
So while I do see a fulfillment here in part, and agree with the New Testament authors that Jesus’s sacrifice did put an end to the need for animal sin sacrifices, however I don’t believe that this is what Dan 9:26-27 is all about, as the Jews will have continued to sacrifice in the temple as they always did, even after Jesus’s death.
No, this part is also what Jesus prophesied about in Matt 24:15 “So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel” and also in verse 30, “they will see ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven’” which is also a reference to the book of Daniel chapter seven: “As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven.”
Here, Jesus also says that the temple will be destroyed too, which is what this final week in Daniel is also saying: “the prince … shall destroy the city and the sanctuary” – contrast this with Matt 24:1-2.
Some reading this now may be thinking of something else Jesus said, “But about that day and hour no one knows” — this can still be true despite the preciseness of Daniel’s prophecy, simply because the 70 weeks appear to have some time breaks which leave it open to happen only when certain events are in play – by which point the signs of what’s coming will be obvious yet still not definite.
“After the sixty-two weeks … the troops of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city…” – there’s an indefinite period of time here, which is why Jesus told his disciples, “when you see all these things, you know that he is near…”
I’ll be discussing Matthew 24-25 in more detail in Part 3 of this series; the next part will be looking at what exactly “coming on the clouds of heaven” means in terms of it’s usage in the Old Testament prophetic texts, and how the disciples and those listening to Jesus would have understood it, as all these phrases link the New to the Old Testament. As 1st century Jews who knew their Scriptures, they would have undoubtedly have heard it differently to how we do in a 21st century context with all of our “End Times” baggage and bias.
© Luke Wilson