Daniel 9:24-27 is often misunderstood. It is used to justify the belief that there will be a seven-year tribulation, just prior to Christ's second coming. Those with this view see the passage as a description of the activities of the anti-christ. Careful study will be necessary to clarify its true meaning. Like Matthew 24, it is really a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem.

Daniel had been praying for his nation, which was in exile in Babylon. Gabriel who came to give him insight and understanding, said

Seventy "sevens" are decreed for your people and your holy city (Dan 9:24).

The seventy "sevens" are seventy weeks of years. The expression describes a period lasting 490 years (70x7). However the "sevens" or "weeks" are somewhat indefinite, and so we can expect that the events described would take place within about 500 years.

The starting point is given in verse 25. Daniel is told that the seventy "sevens" will begin "from the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem". This decree was issued by Artaxerxes King of Persia in the time of Nehemiah (Neh 2:1-9). Artaxerxes instructed Nehemiah to go and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in the twentieth year of his reign, so the decree would have been issued in about 445 B.C.

Six events are decreed for the seventy "sevens". They were all fulfilled through the ministry of Jesus. It is generally believed that Jesus was crucified soon after A.D. 30. Thus Jesus' ministry falls at the end of the seventy "sevens". The six events decreed are:

  1. "to finish the transgression". The Jews filled up their cup of iniquity by condemning Jesus to death. The transgressions of the nation were filled up.

  2. "to put an end to sin". Jesus was the lamb of God who took away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

  3. "to atone for wickedness". Jesus' death on the cross was an atonement for wickedness.

  4. "to bring in everlasting righteousness". Christ is our righteousness (1 Cor 1:30), so his people have an eternal righteousness in him.

  5. "to seal up vision and prophecy". With the coming of Jesus, the vision and prophecy of the Old Testament period was brought to completion. It was sealed up in Jesus.

  6. "to anoint the most holy". The word Messiah means "anointed one", and Jesus was the Messiah who fulfilled this part of the vision.

The angel was promising Daniel that the Messiah would come within 500 years of the decree to restore Jerusalem. The birth and ministry of Jesus fulfilled the promise.

The seventy sevens are divided into three parts.

There will be seven "sevens" and sixty-two "sevens" (Dan 9:25).

Nothing is specified for the first seven "sevens", but during the sixty-two "sevens", Jerusalem will "be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in a time of trouble". This is what happened. Jerusalem was restored as a city by Nehemiah, but right up to the time of Jesus, it faced continuous troubles.

A number of events are specified for the last "seven" (Dan 9:26,27). A number of commentators say that a seven-year tribulation just before the second coming is being described. To support this view, they put in a gap between the sixty-ninth and the seventieth "week", which coincides with the church age. This allows them to place the events of the last week thousands of years after the events of the earlier "weeks". There is no justification for this. Daniel makes no mention of a gap, and there is no precedent for one in any other part of the Bible. An examination of the events described shows that they all occurred within about 500 years of the decree for the rebuilding of Jerusalem. This is what we would expect from the statement that seventy "sevens" were decreed.

Four events are decreed for the last "seven" (vv.26,27)

  1. "The Anointed one will be cut off and will have nothing". This is a description of the death of Jesus. His life was "cut off". At his death, he was deserted by all his disciples and left with nothing.

  2. "The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: war will continue to the end and desolations have been decreed". This very vividly describes the destruction of Jerusalem. The people of the ruler was the Roman army. They destroyed the city and the temple. There was war to the end, which came like a flood of terrible desolation.

  3. "He will confirm a covenant with many for one 'seven', but in the middle of that 'seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering". The person referred to here is not the coming ruler, who would destroy the city, but the Messiah mentioned in verse 26. Jesus established a covenant which has brought salvation to great numbers of people. During the last "seven" which covered his whole life, from birth to ascension, Jesus confirmed a covenant which would last forever. The effect of the new covenant is to put an end to sacrifices and offerings. The perfect sacrifice of Jesus makes them unnecessary.

  4. "and one who causes desolation will come on the wings of abominations until the end that is decreed is poured out on the desolate". This is a more literal translation than is usually given. Misleading translations have caused a lot of misunderstanding about this verse. The subject of this verse, the one who makes desolate, is not the one who made the covenant, but the Roman ruler, who would destroy Jerusalem. His coming was an abomination for the Jewish people. The desolation is not poured out on a person, but on those who are desolate. The Jews were a desolate people once they had rejected the Messiah. Jesus was referring to this when he told them that their house would be left desolate (Matt 23:38).

The vision given to Daniel is a description of the events surrounding the life of Jesus. He was told of the salvation that Jesus would bring. And although he may not have understood it, he was also told that his people would reject the Messiah and be destroyed. If the Jews had understood this passage, they would have known the time when the Messiah would come and what would happen to them. Perhaps Simeon and Anna did understand this passage and realise that they lived in the time when the seventy sevens would be complete.

The vision is not a description of the manoeuverings of the anti-christ or a tribulation that is yet to come. It is a description of the ministry of Jesus, his rejection by the Jews, and their consequent destruction.

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