Old Testament

God’s Prophetic Plan of the Future

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We love to know about the future! There is nothing wrong with that–especially when God tells us what the future is going to be like in order to prove His sovereign control over world events. God relates future events through prophecies in His Word. One of the most important prophecies in Scripture is Daniel 9:24-27. This prophecy provides an essential framework for understanding God’s future program in dealing with Israel and the nations.

During Daniel’s time, Israel was in exile for sinning in not keeping the Sabbath. In 2 Chron 36:20-22 God promised Israel would be in exile until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths.

Because Israel was in trouble, Daniel prays. Daniel 9:24-27 comes as an answer to Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9:4-19. Daniel asks God to forgive the people of Israel and return them to their land. Daniel is prompted to pray for this having read and meditated on the prophet Jeremiah (9:2). Jeremiah had prophesied much earlier that Israel would be exiled for 70 years and then return:

For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you (Jer 29:10-12).

When Daniel read the prophet Jeremiah, he realized that the 70 years were approaching completion and so he prayed asking God to be merciful to His people Israel.

In response, the angel Gabriel brings a message to help Daniel understand the future of his people Israel (9:22-23). This message is called the 70 week prophecy. The word “weeks” can be confusing because in Hebrew the word simply communicates a group of seven. What exactly is grouped in sevens is not automatically specified (it could be days or years), but in the context of verses 24-27 a “week” is referring to a group of 7 years. Thus, the entire prophecy is dealing with 70 weeks (i.e., 490 years).

Gabriel tells Daniel that the prophecy is specifically related to the future of “your people” (Israel) and “your city” (Jerusalem). The result of the prophecy would be the finishing of transgression, making an end of sin, atoning for iniquity, bringing everlasting righteousness, sealing up the vision and prophecy, and anointing the most holy place (9:24).

The prophecy starts “from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” (Dan 9:25). Most scholars identify this time as 458 BC, when Artaxerxes commissioned Ezra to go to Jerusalem and complete the rebuilding of the Temple (Ezra 7:11-26). Although rebuilding Jerusalem is not specifically stated in Ezra 7, it is almost certainly implied as a condition for restoring the Temple.

Daniel 9:25 makes a threefold distinction in the 70 weeks. A grouping of 7 weeks, 62 weeks, and 1 week. The group of 7 weeks seems to imply that this time (49 years) is how long it will take to complete the rebuilding of Jerusalem (458-409 BC). This is supported by the Elephantine Papyri, a ancient fragment which says that in 409 BC Nehemiah was no longer governor of Judah (which seems to support the fact that his work was completed at or by 409 BC).

The next grouping, 62 weeks (434 years), is the amount of time after the initial 49 years until the Messiah (lit. the Anointed One) comes. Rather than simply stating that the weeks continue, Daniel 9:26 seems to indicate a significance of a break between the 69th and 70th week by indicating that the Messiah is cut off and the city and Temple are destroyed “after the sixty-two weeks.” The significance of Daniel 9:26 cannot be overstated. Here is a direct prophecy of the Messiah’s death as well as the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.

If we fast-forward to the New Testament, we see this is exactly the case. Most scholars agree that Jesus was crucified 30 AD. According to the prophecy of Daniel 9, if the prophecy begins in 458 BC, the end of 69 weeks (483 years) would be 26 AD, approximately right when Jesus comes on the scene. In fulfillment of Daniel 9:26 that Jesus is crucified after the 69th week, and Jerusalem and the Temple are destroyed not long after.

What about the 70th week of Daniel’s prophecy? In Daniel 9:26 the city is said to be destroyed by the people of the prince who is to come. In Daniel 9:27 this prince makes a covenant with Israel (“the many”, cf. Isa 53:11) for 7 years. But in the middle of those 7 years he breaks that covenant and puts a stop to sacrifice and offerings.

A sequence of events like this has yet to happen, however, the book of 2 Thessalonians speaks of this future time when the man of lawlessness sets himself up in Israel’s Temple as the object of worship (2 Thess 2:3-5). Additionally, the book of Revelation refers to this final 7 years of Daniel 9:27, describing the turning point when the prince turns on Israel for the last 3.5 years (Rev 11:2-3; 12:14; 13:5).

This leads to the observation that we currently are in an extended break between the 69th and 70th weeks of Daniel 9’s prophecy. This break may be unexpected, but it is not entirely surprising. Prophecies often combined two different phases (near and far) in one passages of Scripture (cf. Luke 4:16-21; Isa 61:1-2). Additionally, Daniel 9:26 grammatically provides a convenient place for a break by signaling the Messiah’s death would take place “after” the first 69 weeks (it does not say during the 70th week). Further, according to Luke 19:40-44 and 21:20-24, this break allows for the development of the time of the Gentiles until the end comes (i.e., the 70th week).

In conclusion, Daniel 9:24-27 gives a program for understanding God’s plan of redemption and the future for His people Israel. During the first phase, from 458-409 BC, Jerusalem was rebuilt. After 434 more years (62 weeks), the Messiah comes on the scene (26 AD) and is crucified (30 AD) and Jerusalem with its Temple is destroyed (70 AD). Currently we are in the time of the Gentiles (Luke 21:20-24; Rom 11:25), and the end of which time Daniel 9:27 will come to pass as expanded by 2 Thess 2 and the Book of Revelation.

photo credit: Calendar* via photopin (license)

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He is a husband, father, and sports enthusiast.

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