The Seventy Weeks of Daniel Nine
by Prof. David J. Engelsma
I. The Premillennial Interpretation
A. Who they are
1. They are those who teach that in the near future Jesus will return to set up an earthly kingdom in Palestine for a thousand years.
2. They teach that the literal nation of Israel will then accept Him and be His special people as they were in the Old Testament.
3. They derive their name, premillennialists, from their doctrine of a literal millennium, before which the Lord returns (pre means “before;” millennium means “1,000 years” and is taken from Revelation 20).
B. They hold that the 70 weeks of Daniel 9, the whole prophecy, is exclusively for national Israel, the Jews
1. Nothing here for the church at all.
2. They appeal to the fact that it is “my people Israel” and literal Jerusalem that Daniel has been praying for.
3. They point to verse 24, where “thy people” is literal Judah and “thy holy city” is Jerusalem.
C. They explain the 70 weeks as a definite period of time
1. Not literal, for a literal interpretation would take the period as 490 days—a little more than a year.
2. A week, in the prophecy, is a week of years, they say.
3. 70 weeks, therefore, is 70 periods of 7 years, or 490 years.
D. Their breakdown of the 70 weeks, taken as 490 years
1. The starting–point, according to the text, is the “going forth of the word to restore and to build Jerusalem” (v. 25).
a. Premillennialists differ as to when this is.
b. Some say that it is Cyrus’ decree that Judah could return to Canaan; others refer to Darius’ permission to build the temple (cf. Ezra 6); others refer to Artaxerxes’ letter of Nehemiah 2:8.
c. It is important to them to establish the starting–point exactly, so that their definite period of 490 years comes correctly.
2. There are 69 weeks from that date to Messiah Prince (v. 25): “seven weeks and threescore and two weeks” = 69 weeks).
a. On the basis of 1 week = 7 years, a period of 483 years.
1) At this point, premillennialism has a problem and its attempt to solve the problem has resulted in many huge books of dates and numbers.
2) The problem is that it is difficult to get 483 years between a command to rebuild Jerusalem and “Messiah.”
a) Cyrus decreed Israel’s return in 537 B.C.—this is the best date for the going forth of a command to build Jerusalem, but it leaves too many years intervening before Messiah, and is therefore unacceptable to the premill.
b) So, many date the period from 445 B.C., the date of the letter of Artaxerxes of Nehemiah 2; they then carry the 69 week-period (483 years, on their view) to some late (arbitrary) date in the life of Christ.
c). This 69-week (or 483-year) period is divided into two parts, 7 weeks and 62 weeks (v. 25).
1) The 7 weeks, or 49 years, is the time of the actual rebuilding of Jerusalem, ending, roughly, at the time of the conclusion of the Old Testament Bible.
2) The 62 weeks, or 434 years, is the long period between the Testaments, up to some point in Christ’s life. (Some say His baptism; others, His triumphal entry.)
3) It is their view of the 70th week, however, that is the most important aspect of the premill interpretation of the passage and that lies at the very heart of the premill doctrine of the last days.
c. The last week, a definite period of 7 years, is still future.
1) It does not follow the 69 weeks.
2) Between the 69th week and the 70th week lies the nearly 2,000 years of our present age.
3) In the future (from our standpoint), the 70th week of verse 27 will occur.
a) At the end of the present age, the church will be raptured out of this world into the air and Antichrist will arise. (The “he” of verse 27 is supposed to refer to the Antichrist of the future.)
b) For 3? years, or ? of the 70th week, he will make a covenant with Israel, restored to the “Holy Land” of Palestine.
c) Suddenly, “in the midst of the week” (v. 27) he will begin persecuting Israel.
d) For 3? years, national Israel is persecuted—this is supposed to be “the great tribulation” of the Bible.
e) At the end of the 70th week, Jesus will return to destroy Antichrist, save Israel, and set up the millennial kingdom for 1,000 years, during which He reigns with national Israel from Palestine.
f) The importance of this interpretation of the seventy weeks and especially, of the 70th week for premillennialism is evident: this gives them the huge gap (or parenthesis) between the first advent of Christ and the supposed period in the future when Christ shall deal again with national Israel, the gap during which Christ gathers a church.
II. The Correct, Scriptural Interpretation
A. In opposition to the premill view, there are two basic objections as a whole
1. First, they can give no proof that the weeks are definite periods of 7 years each.
a. Often, the premill is quite dogmatic about this, but wrongly.
b. The fact is that nowhere in Scripture does the term week mean “7 years.”
2. Secondly, the passage does not indicate in any way that the 70th week is separated from the preceding 69 by a huge span of time.
a. If you think of it, this is a very bold bit of eisegesis (reading into a passage something that is not by any stretch of the imagination there).
b. To be sure, the 70th week follows the 69th, but at once.
B. Positively, what the 70 weeks are
1. Gabriel tells Daniel of one period of 70 weeks. Literally, it is 70 “sevens” (the Hebrew word for week). 70 is a symbolical number.
a. The premill will object to our taking the number symbolically; he will insist that it be taken literally.
1) Our reply to the premill is: “Do that. Take it literally. Then you have a period of 490 days.” But the premill does not want to take it literally, for he wants to make it 490 years.
2) In addition, we point out that prophecy of the 70 weeks is given to Daniel as a vision (v. 23: “consider the vision”). A vision is characterised by symbolism.
a. Seven is the number of the covenant of God with His people; 10 is the number of fullness. 70, therefore, symbolizes the fulfilment of the covenant of Jehovah, the covenant with Abraham and his seed.
b. The 70 weeks are the period of time from the command to rebuild Jerusalem to Jesus Christ, as the period of the fulfilment of the covenant. In this period, the covenant (7) will be fulfilled (10).
1) Understanding the70 weeks is not a matter of computing dates and figures.
2) We are basically uninterested in juggling dates and figuring calendar years.
3) That it happens to be about 575 years is irrelevant.
1. This one period of 70 weeks ends in an event in which, according to verse 24, six things are realized, the finishing of transgression, etc.
a. All of these occur during the first advent of Christ Jesus (from His Incarnation through His resurrection and ascension).
a. The 70-week period terminates in the first advent of Christ, so that the whole period is from our standpoint past, not at all future.
1. The breakdown of the 70 weeks in detail:
a. The period begins with the going forth of a command to build Jerusalem (v. 25).
1) This is the decree of Cyrus that Judah may return to Canaan in 537 B.C.
2) See Isaiah 44:28 and Isaiah 45:13.
3) This was a crucial juncture in Israel’s history and a wonderful manifestation of God’s faithfulness.
a) Israel is desolate, doomed.
b) God then, amazingly, orders Cyrus to give Israel deliverance, life from the dead.
a. 69 weeks takes us to Christ Jesus, “Messiah Prince” (v. 25).
1) This period is divided into two parts: 7 weeks and 62 weeks.
2) The 7 weeks are the period of the troublous building of Jerusalem.
a) Under Zerubbabel, Ezra, Nehemiah.
b) This takes us to about the time of the end of the Old Testament canon.
3) The 62 weeks are the period between the testaments.
4) The 69 weeks takes us up to “Messiah Prince.”
a) The premills argue over which event in the life of Christ is meant.
b) It is natural to understand verse 25 to refer to the coming of Messiah, that is, His birth.
(1) When Jesus was born, “Messiah Prince” appeared.
(2) “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” the wise men asked, at the occasion of Jesus’ birth.
c) The 69 weeks, therefore, extend from Cyrus’ decree to the birth of Jesus.
b. Then, the 70th week follows, the “one week” of verse 27.
1) It is the period of the life and work of Jesus Christ that belongs to His first advent, inclusive of the resurrection, ascension, and perhaps, the outpouring of the Spirit.
2) The period of Jesus’ ministry was the 70th week, the period of the fulfilment of the covenant (7x10).
1. Objections against this interpretation of the 70th week by the premill.
a. Basically, there are two objections; both concern verses 26-27.
a. First, the premill points out that Messiah is cut off after the 69th week (v. 26) and before the 70th week (v. 27): the same thing, he says, is true of the destruction of the city by the people of the prince.
1) The latter, all agree, refers to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans under the general, Titus, in A.D. 70.
2) The premill argues that both the death of Jesus and the destruction of Jerusalem occur before the 70th week, not in it, according to the passage.
b. In close connection with this first objection, the premill maintains that verse 27 (“he shall confirm the covenant”) refers to the Antichrist and to a covenant which he will make with Israel at the end of the world, when the 70th week will finally come.
c. Our answer to these objections:
1) It is true that the death of Messiah comes after the 69th week (v.26); it is not the case however, that the text says that it occurred before the 70th week.
2) The one who confirms the covenant in verse 27 is not Antichrist, but Christ: He does this, not in the future, but in the past (from our present standpoint).
1. The truth of verses 26-27:
a. The cutting off of Messiah and His having nothing (as it is in the original Hebrew) is the crucifixion of Jesus.
a. This occurred in the 70th week, which 70th week is the “one week” of verse 27; it is exactly the death of Messiah that makes that week the 70th week, that is, the week of the fulfilment of God’s covenant.
b. The first part of verse 27 refers to the Messiah, Jesus:
1) The meaning of verse 27 will be clearer from a more faithful translation than that given in the King James version: “And he shall confirm the covenant with many, one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and upon the wing of abominations [is] the one making desolate and unto completion and it is determined it shall be poured out on the desolate.”
2) It is Jesus the Messiah who confirms God’s covenant, “one week.”
3) It is Jesus the Messiah who puts an end to all Old Testament sacrifices and oblations by His one sacrifice of Himself on the cross in the midst of the 70th week (cf. Heb. 10).
4) If one asks concerning the rest of the 70th week, it is that which belongs to the first advent of Jesus following His death, namely, the period of His resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. One could make a good case, on the basis of the passage, for the contention that the end of the 70th week is the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. It was then that the new covenant as the fulfilment of the old covenant was definitively manifested.
c. Proof of this interpretation, as opposed to that of the premill:
1) It is exegetically incorrect to make “he” in verse 27a to refer back to “prince” in verse 26, and thus to come to the conclusion that the reference is to Antichrist.
a) The fact is that the subject of the phrase in verse 26 is not “the prince,” but “the people of the prince,” that is, the Romans who destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
b) The one, main subject of the entire prophecy is “Messiah Prince” and it is, therefore, to Him that “he” refers in verse 27a.
2) Verse 27 speaks of someone confirming a covenant.
a) The premill explains this to mean that the Antichrist will, in the future, make a covenant with the nation Israel.
b) But as the King James Version shows, verse 27 does not use the Hebrew word that means “make;” rather, it uses a word that means “to confirm;” the reference is not at all to the making of a new covenant but to the confirming of an already existing covenant.
(1) Jesus, “Messiah Prince,” did exactly this by His first advent: He confirmed the covenant with many.
(2) The covenant is God’s covenant with Abraham and Israel, the covenant Israel violated, as Daniel bitterly lamented in his prayer, the covenant which Daniel nevertheless besought God to keep.
(3) Jesus did confirm this covenant by His death and in the conformation revealed it in its full reality as including not only the elect of the Jews but also of the Gentiles.
1. In conclusion:
a. The 70 weeks are fulfilled in the first advent of Jesus.
a. The covenant of Jehovah has been confirmed—for the many elect of all nations.
b. All of the blessings of the covenant, the benefits mentioned in verse 24, have been obtained by Messiah and are now freely dispensed to God’s people.
c. We and all believers live in the enjoyment of that fulfilled covenant and its spiritual blessings, in the new dispensation.
III. Another Interpretation
Another interpretation of the 70 weeks given by some Reformed amillennialists is the following. The 70 weeks are the entire period from the command to build Jerusalem to the second advent of Christ, including the present age. From Cyrus’ decree to the first advent is 7 weeks; from the first advent to the appearance of Antichrist in the future is 62 weeks; the 70th week is the brief period in the future during which Antichrist will reign and which ends with Christ’s return. The interpretation is possible because of another possible reading of the last part of verse 25. It is possible to translate the last part of verse 25 as follows: “… unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks; and threescore and two weeks the street shall be built again” etc. According to this translation, the building of the street and the wall, during the 62 weeks, is symbolic of the gathering of the church in the new dispensation.
This interpretation is wrong for the following reasons:
1. Like the view of the premills, this interpretation supposes that verse 27a (“he shall confirm the covenant”) refers to the Antichrist. Everything said above against the premill explanation of verse 27 holds against this explanation.
2. It does injustice to the plain meaning of the last part of verse 25. By the building the street and the wall of Jerusalem in troubled times, Gabriel does not refer to the gathering of the church but to the literal rebuilding of Jerusalem after the return of Judah from captivity.
3. The most serious and obvious error of this interpretation is its distortion of the statement in verse 26 that Messiah shall be cut off and have nothing. According to this interpretation, this has to be the destruction of the church by Antichrist at the end of the world (“after threescore and two weeks …”). In fact, the text is speaking of the cutting off of the Messiah personally, that is, Jesus’ death on the cross.
4. The translation of verse 25 is correct as we have it in the King James Version.