The Rosetta Stone of Prophecy, Daniel 9:20-27
One of the recurring themes throughout the book of Daniel is that in spite of appearances, God is still in control. God will fulfill His promises and prophecies. What were the appearances to Daniel and the Jews in captivity in Babylon in 538 BC? Israel did not exist as a nation. Jerusalem was destroyed, there was no Temple, no priests, and no organized religion. A small remnant of Jews lived in captivity in Babylon. All the blessings and promises of God for Israel were unkept. One enemy after another has been raised up to wipe out Israel. For Daniel and his friends, people were constantly trying to throw them in furnaces and lion’s dens. Therefore Daniel was praying according to the Word of God in Jeremiah, who predicted that after 70 years the Jews would go back and rebuild Jerusalem. Daniel believed the 70 years were about up, so he was praying to God for deliverance and restoration. No doubt he was wondering—How long would Israel have to suffer, when would the Messiah come, and when would the Kingdom of God be set up?
In Daniel 9:20-27, the way God answered his questions through the angel Gabriel has perplexed and confused theologians for 2500 years. At this point it might be helpful to speculate on why prophecy isn’t always clear. Why is it often cryptic, veiled, and cloaked in strange language or metaphors? I can think of at least two reasons, to reveal and conceal at the same time. We need to know that God has a plan and He is in control, but we are not ready or able to know all the details. The cryptic nature of prophecy also conceals the truth from unbelievers. Jesus was asked by His disciples in Matthew 13:11 why He spoke in parables. His answer was controversial, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom, but to them it has not been granted.” After He told the parables to a public audience, He would later explain the full meaning to His disciples as in Matt. 13:36-43.
The Rosetta Stone of Prophecy
For hundreds of years archeologists were baffled by the ancient hieroglyphs they found in Egypt. In 1799 French soldiers discovered a stone from an Egyptian temple dating back to 196 BC. It had three scripts of writing on it of the same text. One script was in hieroglyphs and one was in Greek. The Greek translation of the text on that stone provided the key to unlocking the ancient Egyptian language and writings. British troops defeated the French in Egypt in 1801, and now that original stone is in the British Museum in London. It is described as a black stone of granite bearing three inscriptions found at Rosetta. Today, the term Rosetta Stone is used in other contexts as the name for the clue or key to a new field of knowledge. Many theologians regard Daniel 9:20-27 as the Rosetta Stone of prophecy because it is the key to understanding Jesus’ teaching on the second coming, as well as the book of Revelation. Jesus quoted from Daniel 9:27 in His sermon about His second coming so apparently He held Daniel’s prophecy in high regard.
During Daniel’s prayer that God would deliver and restore Israel, the angel Gabriel came from God to answer his prayer and give him insight into the future. Gabriel told Daniel in v.23 that he was commanded to come and tell him because Daniel was highly esteemed, “so give heed to the message and gain understanding of the vision.” 2 Chronicles 36:21 tells us that the 70 year Babylonian captivity closed a cycle of 490 years in the history of Israel, and now Gabriel was explaining to Daniel another 490 year period in the future. In Dan.9:24, seventy periods of seven years were determined by God to accomplish six things. Perhaps at this time you wonder why are there so many sevens and seventies in the Bible? Seven has always been symbolic of completion and perfection, beginning with the creation account. It also played a big part in the Mosaic Law. The Jewish calendar was based on a seven day week. Every seventh year the soil was to be rested. You could only mortgage your land 7 times for 7 years, and after every 49th year all debt was cancelled. The period of seven was instrumental in prophetic periods. In your English translation it may say “seventy weeks”, but that weeks is not in the original Hebrew or Greek texts. In Hebrew the word is “shavuah” and in Greek “heptad” which mean simply period of seven. Virtually all theologians believe it means a period of seven years.
In verse 24, the six things accomplished in the 490 years are:
- Finish the transgression—Israel’s course of rebellion will finally be over
- Make an end of sin—the removal of sin awaits the second coming
- Make atonement for iniquity—a clear picture of the cross of Christ
- Bring in everlasting righteousness—accomplished by Christ but not yet fully realized
- To seal up vision and prophecy—all promises fulfilled
- To anoint the most holy place—could refer to the new Temple or to Christ Himself
Because these things have been made possible by Christ but not yet fully realized, it seems that the final fulfillment of this prophecy will be at the second coming.
When does the 490 Years Start and End?
If we read all the available books (as I have attempted to do), the starting date of the 490 years is not controversial, but the ending date is in question. In v.25, we learn that the starting date is when “a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” is given. Since this decree has to do with rebuilding the city, wall, public square and moat, most agree this is the decree of Artaxerxes found in Nehemiah 2:1-8. It was given in 444/445 BC. It probably took 49 years to clear out all the debris and finish rebuilding the city, thus the first period of seven sevens. After the next period of 62 sevens, or 434 years, “Messiah the Prince” will come. It is left open whether this means an exact day of His coming or a period of His being in Jerusalem. Some think this refers to Palm Sunday, and others prefer a more general meaning. In 1895, Sir Robert Anderson wrote a book entitled THE COMING PRINCE in which he did computations of the 490 years. He claimed to measure that Artaxerxes issued his decree on March 14, 445 BC. Anderson then multiplied seven times 69 years using prophetic years of 360 days to come up with 173,880 days. He then determined that adding that number of days to the date of the decree brought us to April 6, 32 AD. According to Anderson that would have been the very day of Palm Sunday when Messiah came to Jerusalem. Since then, many critics have shot holes in Anderson’s dating, and I have seen several other attempts to figure out how the 483 years fits between the decree to rebuild Jerusalem and the coming of Messiah. Dr. Harold Hoehner of DTS had his own computations of Artaxerxes’ decree in 444 BC culminating in Palm Sunday in 33AD. It is a difficult task because the definition of a year is different on the Jewish calendar, the Julian calendar, and the Gregorian calendar. Add to this the fact that most date the crucifixion about 30 AD. What we can come away with is that the first 69 periods of seven years can fit in to the time between rebuilding Jerusalem and Jesus coming.
The Last Period of Seven Years
The real difference of opinions comes when trying to figure out the time of the last or 70th period of seven years. Just to recap-in 49 years the city would be rebuilt, and in another 434 years Messiah would come. Daniel 9:26 says that after those first 69 weeks of years, several important things will occur. The Messiah “will be cut off”, and another prince will destroy the city and the Temple. I did a word study on what “cut off” means. In the other places it is used such as Gen.9:11, Deut.20:20, Jer.11:19, it means to kill. Therefore v.26 seems to be saying that after the first 69 weeks of years the Messiah would be killed and the city destroyed. The most common views about the 70th week are the continuous fulfillment view, and the “gap” view. In the continuous view the 70th week immediately followed and ended with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The gap view reasons that since several things happened after the 69th week but before the 70th week, there is room for a gap of undetermined time which we call the church age. The adherents of this view believe that the 70th week will come in the end times and end with the second coming of Christ. This appears to conform to Jesus’ teaching in Matt.24 of a future “great tribulation” in the end times ended by His return. This seems logical to me since Jesus quotes Daniel in Matt.24. The continuous view that the 70th week ended in 70 AD brings closure to this prophecy, and is the majority view of Jewish scholars and the traditional church. Nevertheless, the last seven year period doesn’t fit anywhere between Christ’s coming and the destruction of Jerusalem. Added to that is the fact that the six accomplishments of Dan.9:24 which are supposed to be completed at the end of the 70 weeks won’t be fully realized until Jesus comes back.
As I said earlier, this prophecy is very cryptic, so I don’t believe we are given enough details to be certain of exactly what it means except that it is clear that God is in control, and God has a wonderful plan to sort all things out. The promises of Daniel 9:24 that God will put an end to sin and bring in everlasting righteousness are what we should all agree on and base our life on. The Bible is clear that Jesus is coming back to end all the violence and evil in the world. All the great kingdoms of ambitious men will be finished. Therefore, we base our hope and our outlook on that day. We have to live life now, but based on that future day of Christ, we have meaning, purpose and hope. The rest of the world bases their life on their current circumstances. Their philosophy of life ranges from “Eat drink and be merry” to “All is meaningless, life is hard and then you die”. In Christ, the outlook is clear that we don’t live for ourselves, but for the Living God. Therefore the question we deal with is, “When He comes back, what will He find us doing?” Peter said it well, “Be good stewards of the grace of God, serve in the strength which God supplies so that in all things God may be glorified.”