Debating Bible Basics Duncan Heaster  


5.6 Christian And Jewish Interpretation Of Daniel 9

Objections To The Christian Usage Of Daniel 9 Include:

a) The prophecy of the 70 weeks in Dan. 9 has been mistranslated - it would take 7 weeks for Messiah to come, not 69 or 70. It should be translated, " From the going forth of the word to restore and build Jerusalem unto one anointed, a prince, shall be seven weeks; and for sixty two weeks shall it be built again with streets and moats" (see S. Levine, " You Take Jesus, I'll Take God" , p. 30).

b) " Two events were to occur after the 62 weeks - the anointed one would be cut off AND the city and the sanctuary would be destroyed" . The death of Jesus and the destruction of the temple were not simultaneous.

c) The Christian interpretation makes the first 69 weeks consecutive, and then there is a long gap of about 1900 years until the 70th. week occurs.

d) The anointed one was Cyrus - this is what he is called in Isa. 45:1.

e) " Messiah" (Heb. " Mashiach" ) only means " anointed one" - it does not necessarily refer to one particular person.

f) The passage speaks of " Messiah the prince" . Christians say that this prophecy applies to the first coming of Jesus; but he was not a prince then.

g) Dan.9:27 says that Messiah was to confirm the covenant for one week. If a day represents a year, this means for seven years. But the ministry of Jesus only lasted 3.5 years.

Daniel 9

Any study of the prophecy of the seventy weeks must keep the context of the whole of chapter 9 in mind. In this chapter Daniel is praying for the sufferings of Jerusalem to come to an end, and for the forgiveness of Israel's sins. The prophecy being about the fortunes of Jerusalem, any reference in it to Messiah is incidental; He is not the main thrust of the prophecy. However, there can be no doubt that what mention that is made of him is valuable evidence as to both the character of Messiah and his identification with Jesus of Nazareth.

God's reply to Daniel's requests is found in the prophecy of the 70 weeks. It is clear from the Biblical history of Israel during their captivity in Babylon and in the period of their return and partial restoration that there were major spiritual weaknesses in the nation which ultimately would warrant God's judgment. The reply to Daniel's prayer typically shows the goodness and severity of God; He promises that:

- In the short term, there will be a decree made to enable the rebuilding of Jerusalem;

- A time for the ending of Israel's iniquity does lie ahead; their cleansing will be through the coming of their Messiah;

- To enable this, a new kind of covenant would be established with them;

- The means to forgiveness would involve a doing away of animal sacrifices and a destruction of the temple, with abominable idols standing there making it " desolate" .

- Eventually this desolation would be done away with.

Thus Daniel's prayer for the forgiveness of Israel and his enquiry about the fortunes of the temple is given a complex answer; very soon a command would go forth to rebuild the temple, but the full judgment for Israel's iniquity still had to come. This would be through the death of their Messiah, great desolation of the temple and other times of trouble. However, ultimately the death and work of their Messiah would enable the eventual cleansing of Israel from their iniquities in a permanent fashion, so that never again would God's House lie desolate.

This seems a fair interpretation of the passage under discussion:

" Seventy weeks have been determined upon thy people, and upon the holy city, for sin (offerings?) to be ended, and to seal up transgressions, and to blot out the iniquities (of Israel, which Daniel had been confessing in v.20), and to make atonement for iniquities, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal the vision and the prophet, and to anoint the Most Holy. And thou shalt know and understand that from the going forth of the commandment for the answer and for the building of Jerusalem until Christ (A.V. " Messiah" ) the prince there shall be seven weeks and sixty two weeks: and then the time shall return, and the street shall be built, and the wall, and the times shall be exhausted (" even in troublous times" , A.V.). And after the sixty two weeks the anointed one shall be destroyed (" cut off" , A.V.), and there is no judgment in him: and he shall destroy the city and the sanctuary with the prince that is coming: they shall be cut off with a flood, and to the end of the war which is rapidly completed he shall appoint the city to desolations. And one week (" he" A.V.) shall establish the covenant with many (Jews -Dan.12:2): and in the midst of the week my sacrifice and drink offering shall be taken away: and on the temple shall be the abomination of desolations; and at the end of the time (the 70 weeks?) an end shall be put to the desolation." (Dan.9:24-27, Septuagint version; the Greek version of the Old Testament, translated by Jews 200BC).

From this it is clear that after 69 weeks (literally " sevens" ) from the decree to rebuild the temple Messiah was to be " cut off" . This ought to silence once and for all the constant Jewish objection to a suffering Messiah; he was to be " cut off" . The decree of Artaxerxes to rebuild Jerusalem was given, according to profane history, BC457. Gentile commentators have frequently multiplied 69 by 7 to give a period of 483 day/years that were to elapse before Messiah's death. However, Jewish time is often reckoned in Lunar cycles rather than Solar, as Europeans are accustomed to. On the basis of Lunar time, 69 weeks of years comes out at 486.5 Lunar years. Allowing for a BC/AD calendar inaccuracy of 4 years, this brings us to AD33.5 for the time of Messiah being cut off; which is exactly when Jesus was crucified, 33.5 years after his birth.

The 69 weeks being split into 7 weeks and 62 weeks is understandable once it is appreciated that most Bible prophecy has some immediate reference to the period around which it was given. 7 weeks of years would come to around 50 years. According to the records of the rebuilding of Jerusalem in Ezra, Nehemiah and Haggai it would appear that the bulk of the work was done in the 50 years after the issuing of the decree for rebuilding. This mini time period would doubtless have been of great encouragement to the Jews of the time as they laboured in the rebuilding work amidst so much opposition.

No matter how much debate there may be over the events of the 70th week, the above reasoning concerning the 69 weeks still holds true as regards the time when Messiah would die. The description of the sacrifices ceasing and the temple being desecrated by an " abomination" must apply to the final destruction of the temple in AD70. It cannot apply to the time of the Maccabees -despite the disruption of the temple services, the sacrifices did not " cease" permanently. The Hebrew word for " cease" is also translated in the Old Testament as " to cause to fail" , " suffer to be lacking" , " put down" , " to rid" , " to take away" , showing that the sacrifices in the second temple were to be ended permanently. The placing of abominations in the temple sounds like the Roman desecration of it with the idols of their legions after its final capture in AD70. Jesus also interpreted this part of Dan.9 with reference to the events of AD70 (Matt.24:15).

The abomination that caused desolation in AD70 can also be referred to the abomination of Israel's sins, which finally resulted in the desolation of both the land and the temple. Dan.8:11-13 (R.V.) has many connections with the prophecy of Dan.9 under consideration: " The daily sacrifice was taken away, and the place of his sanctuary was cast down...an host was given against the daily sacrifice by reason of (Israel's) transgression...the transgression of ('making') desolation" . Israel's sins reached the maximum degree to which God was willing to let them accumulate without intervening in judgment. If the Jewish crucifixion of Jesus a few years earlier was indeed their rejection of God's Messiah, then this is understandable. Deuteronomy chapters 28-31 consistently link the ideas of desolation and Israel's disobedience. Josephus (Wars of the Jews, 4.6.6-8) records how the Jewish Zealots made the temple a garrison in AD70 and thoroughly desecrated it by their actions even before the Romans took it.

If the middle of the 70th week was the destruction of the temple in AD70, and there ought to be little Jewish objection to this, then it follows that from BC457 to AD70 is 69.5 " weeks" . Now no commentator, Jewish or Gentile, has devised a scheme of interpretation which attempts to fit the 69.5 weeks into this period. Therefore, if AD70 was the middle of the 70th week, it follows that there was a gap in the fulfilment of the prophecy. Thus it should not appear unreasonable to say that the first 69 weeks had a chronological fulfilment from BC457 to AD33, and that the first half of the 70th week ended in AD70. Now it is of the utmost significance that the Jewish wars which culminated in the sacking of Jerusalem in AD70 began 3.5 years previously in AD66/67. Thus the first half of the 70th week of the judgments upon Jerusalem started at this time. We must ever remember that the 70 weeks prophecy was concerning the judgments upon Jerusalem and how God was going to deal with their sins, which formed the burden of Daniel's initial prayer.

This extraordinary gap in the 70 weeks between AD33.5 and AD66.5 must be significant. Does it not imply that something happened in AD33.5 which gave Israel the opportunity to repent, and that during that time the judgments to come upon them were suspended, although being resumed in AD66.5-70, presumably due to Israel's failure to do anything in the former period to avert those judgments? The Christian reasoning surely sounds uncannily true, that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah who was crucified in AD33.5, and that due to Israel's failure to repent as they should have done the judgments continued. It is noteworthy that the judgments on Jerusalem in the first half of the 70th week were to be by Messiah's armies (Dan.9:26). The idea of Messiah commanding an attack on Jerusalem in order to punish Israel for their sins is impossible to fit into the standard Jewish concept of Messiah. Yet if he is Jesus, all fits into place nicely -having been given control of all things on earth (Matt.28:18) after his resurrection, Jesus was able to send the Roman armies, effectively His armies, against Jerusalem in judgment. Indeed, Jesus foretold the future destruction of Jerusalem by God's armies (Matt.22:1-7); which became His when God gave Him all power after his resurrection. If the New Testament and Christianity is indeed a fake, made up by men, as Jewry is forced to claim, then those men who worked out these elaborate connections of thought and theology must have had access to a mind of superhuman dimension. Surely the very intricacy of how the teaching hangs together so beautifully should be proof enough?

The final half (i.e. 3.5 day/years) of the 70th week is difficult by anyone's standards. Masada, the last outpost of Jewish resistance to the Roman re-invasion, fell in AD73.5, suggesting that the final part of this week and indeed the whole prophecy, finished then. This would mean that by AD73 " reconciliation for iniquity...everlasting righteousness" as promised in Dan.9:24 would have been brought in. This would imply that by that date a major atonement would have been made, and there is no record of any special sacrifice having been made to this end amongst Jewish records. The idea of Jesus as the perfect sacrifice which permanently overcame sin, thus doing away with the need for animal sacrifices, seems to fit the requirements of the prophecy perfectly. In passing, the significance that this prophecy attaches to AD70 is helpful in explaining why Paul was happy to allow Jewish Christians to continue to keep the Mosaic Law initially, but it may be reasonable to infer that after AD70 the changeover period from Moses to Jesus had ended, and therefore it was no longer advisable or necessary for Jewish Christians to keep the Mosaic Law. The (new) covenant of Messiah was " confirmed" (the Hebrew implies violently, with strength) during the 70th week (Dan.9:27), and therefore the Old Covenant of the law (Deut.4:13) was finally done away then, although fundamentally Christians believe that this was done at the death of Jesus on the cross (Col.2:14-17). The " vision and prophecy" being " sealed" (Dan.9:24) at this stage may hint that it was by AD70 or just after that the Holy Spirit gift of prophecy was taken away, and inspired writing ceased. There is ample internal evidence that the whole New Testament canon was written before AD70.

However, it is also possible to argue that the second half of the 70th week refers to a time yet future. The new covenant of Messiah must be powerfully confirmed to Israel, and finally an end of all Israel's punishment for sin must be made, with the result that an end (i.e. a permanent end) must be made to the powers that desolate Jerusalem (v.24,27). Such an end clearly did not come in AD73, and the final deliverance of Israel from God's judgment and desolators of the temple mount must be yet future. It is therefore suggested that there will be a final 3.5 year downtreading of Jerusalem during which time Messiah's covenant will be confirmed mightily to Israel, and at the end of which time there will be a final end to Israel's sufferings and the destruction of their desolator. Naturally it is impossible to be dogmatic about these things -Jewish commentators are also very open-ended about the meaning of prophecies such as these. However, there are other references to a 3.5 year period of trouble for God's people in Daniel: " A time (a year), times (two years) and an half" , i.e. 3.5 years (Dan.7:25; 12:7; Rev.12:14). The New Testament speaks of a similar period:1,260 days -also 3.5 years (Rev.12:6; 11:3); 42 months (3.5 years) (Rev.11:2; 13:5). It seems fair to assume that they are all speaking of an identical or associated period of time. We have stressed that during the 70th week, the covenant of Messiah will be powerfully confirmed. Therefore we should see this happening during this final 3.5 years; and Mal.3:1 describes the coming of the future Elijah prophet as " The messenger of the covenant" , i.e. he will preach Messiah's covenant to Israel. It is thrilling to find that Jesus and James mention that Elijah's first ministry lasted 3.5 years (Luke 4:25; James 5:17); it would be so fitting in the light of this for Elijah's second ministry to last the same period of time.

Given the present world situation, this 3.5 year downtreading of Israel by those who would take every delight in desecrating Jerusalem and the temple area with their anti-Jewish abominations could begin any moment now.

As a final piece of fascinating speculation, it should be noted that this prophecy is concerning the 70 " sevens" . The idea of seven weeks of years, i.e. 49 years, must make every Jewish mind think of the year of Jubilee. The 70th Jubilee year will be around 1996, if the first Jubilee was kept 49 years after Israel entered the land of Canaan under Joshua. This would therefore associate the period around the end of the 20th century with the time when Israel's sufferings will end, and when through their Messiah their desolators and desolation will finally end. It is significant that one of the few indirect references to the year of Jubilee in Scripture is in the time of Hezekiah, where it would appear that the great invasion of the land by the Assyrians was in a Jubilee year (Isa.37:30 and context). That invasion and its dramatic destruction by God's direct intervention would therefore typify the events at the end of the 3.5 year period of suffering.

With this in mind, we can now briefly comment on what remains of the original objections to the Christian use of this passage:

b) The cutting off of Messiah and the temple's destruction do not have to be simultaneous, although they both occurred at some stage after the end of the 62 weeks; Messiah's death resulted in the abolition of the temple, seeing that on account of his death the Old Covenant had been done away.

d) Cyrus lived long before the decree to rebuild the city which is mentioned in Dan.9. Cyrus gave permission to build the temple. Respected Jewish Rabbis such as Kimchi, Jarchi and Saadias all agree that the day-for-a-year principle should be used in the interpretation of this prophecy. This rules out any reference to Cyrus as the Messiah spoken of here.

e) It is true that the term 'mashiach' (messiah) can refer to an 'anointed one' like the High Priest, or a prophet (e.g. Elisha) or a king in David's line. However, in the prophecies of the future Messianic Kingdom, it must be one great, specific messiah who is referred to. This person was to be a descendant of David and would rule the whole earth -see prophecies like Psalm 45,72; Isaiah 9,11; Jeremiah 23 etc. Judaism certainly speaks of 'Messiah' as a specific individual who is yet to come (see, e.g., Rabbi D.J. Goldberg: 'The Jewish People, Their History and Their Religion'). Josephus (Book 7.31) describes how the Jews at the time of Jesus were looking for Messiah to come at that time due to their study of Dan.9 and other such prophecies: " That which chiefly excited them (the Jews) to war was an ambiguous prophecy, that at that time, someone within their country should arise that should obtain the empire of the whole world. This they had received, that it was spoken by one of their nation" . This is confirmed by the New Testament recording that " all men were musing in their hearts" about Messiah at this time.

f) Messiah is elsewhere described as a King coming in the line of David (e.g. 2 Sam.7:12-16); here in Dan.9 he is spoken of as being a prince when he appeared about 483 years after the decree to rebuild the city. This in itself indicates that Messiah was to have two comings: firstly as a prince, and then returning as a King who has received his Kingdom. This is how Jesus saw himself in the parable of the nobleman (Lk.19:12). The time period of 69 weeks from the command to rebuild the city ended in both " Messiah the Prince" (Dan.9:25) and also in him being " cut off" (Dan.9:26), i.e. killed. Thus it would appear that it was at His death that Messiah became " the prince" , the definite article suggesting that this was the specific Messiah and the greatest ever prince. This is all fulfilled by Jesus Christ's triumphant death/sacrifice being rewarded by His being exalted to God's right hand in Heaven, and being made a " Prince and a Saviour" by Him (Acts 5:31), so that due to His death and subsequent glorification in resurrection he became " the prince of (i.e. over) the kings of the earth" (Rev.1:5).

g) This assumes that Messiah's making of " the sacrifice and oblation to cease" was at the end of His 3.5 year ministry. The exposition offered above applies this to His death bringing about the destruction of the temple in AD70.