The season of Advent is a time when Christians look forward to the coming of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, in the period we celebrate at Christmas. Part of that time of preparation is spent considering Old Testament prophecy that looks forward to the coming of this Messiah. This Advent season, I want to tackle one of the more controversial passages of the Bible, that many say points hundreds of years in advance, with incredible accuracy, to the time of Jesus, the so-called “Seventy Weeks” prophecy of Daniel 9. Though not directly a “Christmas prophecy,” per se, nevertheless, some Christians believe that the “Seventy Weeks” of Daniel 9 is the most important prophecy about Jesus in the Bible. Have you ever heard of that before?
In churches that emphasize teaching on the “End Times,” the topic of Daniel’s “Seventy Weeks” gets talked about a lot. On the other hand, there are other churches that tend to steer clear away from the “Seventy Weeks.” There is a good reason for all of this: Daniel 9 is loaded with mystery.
The “Seventy Weeks” prophecy in Daniel 9 is a significant, yet difficult, part of the Bible to grasp. Throughout my life as a Christian, I have heard plenty about the “Seventy Weeks,” but to be honest, my eyes have tended to glaze over whenever someone starts to explain it. But over the past couple of years, or so, I finally decided that I needed to make a concerted effort to grasp what the fuss was all about.
I must warn you: This gets complicated. Like with any investment in something worthwhile, there is great reward, though it does require a good degree of concentration. Nevertheless, despite the challenges, it really is an amazing passage of the Bible.
I will try not to get too technical, but I would suggest that you grab a chair, pour yourself a beverage, and keep your thinking cap handy, as we embark on this series….
How I Got Into Digging Deep into Daniel 9’s “Seventy Weeks”
So, what actually pushed me to start digging deep into Daniel 9? Well, it started some thirty-plus years ago in college, when someone handed to me Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict, with a whole section on Daniel 9. It just seemed like this was standard-issue back in those days among Christian college students. I got about two sentences into the discussion before I put it down, saying to myself, “I will get to this later.”
Well, almost two years ago, in a Sunday school class, a good friend and professor emeritus of physics at the College of William and Mary, Ken Petzinger, presented to us a way where biblical prophecy from the Hebrew Bible, as early as the 6th century before Christ, makes a profound prediction. It is not about Jesus’ birth, but rather this prophecy, with amazing accuracy, predicts nearly (if not exactly) the date of Christ’s crucifixion hundreds of years later in the first century A.D.
That sounds quite impressive.
I listened to and read Ken’s presentation. I was intrigued. Ken is an astronomer, so the general theme is broadly about predicting the time of the crucifixion of Jesus, by looking at the science of the moon. Ken also looks at the New Testament and Daniel 9, for further confirmation. I will skip over the moon and New Testament material and just focus on Daniel 9.
The math can be a bit complex to follow, but by the end you will notice that the date calculations are indeed quite impressive. It is as though the prophet Daniel in the sixth century before Christ was able to pinpoint this far future date with extraordinary precision.
But I began to wonder: are there any problems with these date calculations? As it turns out, these date calculations do work out very well, if you make certain assumptions. So while my friend Ken did a great job in his presentation, the more I started to dig into Daniel 9, the more I became convinced that the assumptions we bring to the text have an important role in determining where we end up.
Please do not misunderstand me. The assumptions that undergird Ken Petzinger’s approach to the “Seventy weeks” passage, Daniel 9:24-27, may indeed be correct. However, the complexities surrounding these assumptions need to be explored. As a result, we will learn that there are actually a number of different viable solutions in how we are to interpret the “Seventy Weeks” of Daniel 9:24-27.
The Dismal Swamp
As Ken Petzinger readily acknowledged in his presentation, most Bible commentators admit that this can be a tricky passage to interpret. Ken sure got that right. In one commentary by an early 20th century scholar, James A. Montgomery remarked that this passage is “the Dismal Swamp of Old Testament criticism.”
That does not sound terribly inviting. At first thought, I would rather keep my shoes dry and free of mud!
On the other hand, the idea of wandering through a swamp, trying to find someone or something that will expand your horizons in a brand new way, can be both spooky and exciting at the same time. It sort of reminds me of Luke Skywalker in the “The Empire Strikes Back,” where Obi-Wan Kenobi directs Luke to go to this swamp planet, where he will learn more about “the Force.” Before long, Luke Skywalker stumbles upon this creature, that he soon discovers is Yoda, the great “Jedi master.” Yoda teaches Luke all about the Force, which becomes a pivotal part in the whole Star Wars saga. If Luke had never gone to the swamp planet, the whole Star Wars story would have been quite different and a lot less interesting.
Could it be that there is something about the “Seventy Weeks” of Daniel 9 that is a pivotal part of the Bible? Let us see.
Interpreting Daniel’s Seventy “Sevens”
So, where do we begin to try to make sense of the “Seventy Weeks” in the last part of Daniel 9, specifically verses 24-27? Let us begin with some context for these verses.
Earlier in chapter 9, the prophet Daniel is lamenting in prayer about the disobedience of the Jewish people, which led to their exile into Babylon for seventy years. Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed Jerusalem, along with its Temple, and the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:11-12 and 29:10) had written about God’s judgment on the Jewish people for their sins. Daniel pleads with the Lord to restore the people in the city of Jerusalem with their temple. Here is a sample of Daniel’s prayer:
“O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us. Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate (Daniel 9:16-17 ESV).
A messenger, Gabriel, then comes to Daniel in a vision to offer an answer to his prayer:
“Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place. Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuildJerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. 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 until the end, and desolations have been decreed. He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him” (Daniel 9:24-27, NIV 2011).
There you go. You can compare the above NIV translation with the ESV version below:
“Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator” (Daniel 9:24-27 ESV).
If you find yourself scratching your head on this one, have some comfort: You are not alone.
You might want to just read the passage again a few times, in both translations, to get your feet wet first, and then wait until the next post before tackling it at full throttle. But if you want to jump right in, I refer you to Ken’s work to show how the dates are arrived at to demonstrate Daniel’s incredibly precise knowledge of events happening hundreds of years later.
Ken’s dating method is not his own, as it is an example of a dispensationalist approach to Bible prophecy. Dispensationalism is a system of interpreting the Bible, that from the perspective of many of its outspoken advocates, attempts to understand the Bible literally, avoiding symbolic readings as much as possible, while emphasizing a distinction between Israel and the church, in the plans and purposes of God.
If you find this of any interest, as I hope you do, please stick around for the blog posts in the rest of this series, as we dig in deeper into this very interesting, albeit mysterious, passage of the Bible.