The Third Vision: The Seventy Weeks
The Book of Daniel has told us about the coming dominance of the kingdom of God, but Daniel 9 pulls us back and reminds us that before the gospel can conquer the world, it must first conquer our own hearts.
Message starts at approx. the 33 min mark.
For the last several weeks we’ve been looking at the great triumph of God over the nations. We’ve been reading these prophecies and we’ve seen in each that the kingdom of our God will eventually triumph. We’ve seen how the nations, savage that they are in sinfulness and destruction, will eventually give way to a kingdom of superior dominance—an everlasting kingdom which is inaugurated by Christ. We’ve seen how no power of hell really can stand against Him. Christ’s kingdom will triumph and all other nations will be squashed under his feet.
This truth, I hope, has been encouraging to you. I hope that it has impressed upon you the great power and greatness of our God and what he is doing in our age. But today, I believe it is good to pause. It is important that we do not lose sight of the greater victory Christ achieves. It is a wonder to think of his victory over the nations, but we must never forget that the greatest victory he achieves is the one he gains over us.
To be sure, the victories of the growing, everlasting kingdom is based upon this one chief victory. There would not be this dominant force in the world if it had not first been for the domination of the gospel. Sin would thrive and we would never gain entrance into the kingdom of God if it had not been for saving grace of God which is manifested in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
If we fail to remember this most fundamental building block, we will do a great injustice to the kingdom of God. Indeed, we will thwart the kingdom’s growth and power.
And I believe this is why Daniel 9 was written for us. Daniel 9 may have some obscurity to it—those ending verses may present some difficulty, but the Spirit of God gave us these words to center our focus on the pardon that our God grants to us. Yes, it is here to remind us that though our sins be mounted as high as the heavens, our God is one who delivers his people from all their transgressions.
You may notice that our text today divides quite easily into three parts. In the first two verses we see the incredible grace that Daniel perceived. Then that is followed by an incredible prayer that he offered. Subsequent to that, in verses 20 to the end of the chapter, Daniel receives an incredible answer.
In each of these sections, we have one truth reiterated: It is the good news of the Gospel. Our God saves his people from their sins.
Let’s begin by looking at the first two verses. And let’s take to heart the incredible grace that Daniel perceives.
I. The incredible grace that Daniel perceived [1-2]
The passage starts out in the first two verses by telling us that Daniel had been doing his regular morning devotions. He was studying for his Bible Bee exam and was reading in the book of Jeremiah. Specifically he was reading in Jeremiah 25. And there he read these words,
“This whole land will become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then after 70 years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the Lord.”
Now this is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, Daniel and Jeremiah were basically contemporaries. Jeremiah was born a number of years before Daniel. They lived through the fall of Jerusalem and into the exile. It’s possible that they even knew each other. For Jeremiah was a priest and Daniel was of the royal family. So they might have rubbed shoulders in their earlier years. Now, by this point Jeremiah may have passed away. But Daniel is reading Jeremiah’s scrolls. So we already have a testimony of how Jeremiah’s writings are already regarded as canonical Scripture.
Another way it is interesting is that Daniel is a prophet. God’s using Daniel to bring His word into this world. But Daniel is not neglecting his own personal study in God’s word. That’s pretty fascinating. And it should speak to us: If Daniel needed Scripture, how much more do we?
But what is really incredible, at least to Daniel, is that he sees how God has pledged grace to sinners.
Think about what Jeremiah had written. He was talking about the doom of Jerusalem. He was telling them that their sins would be punished. God would bring Babylon in and the curse of God would fall upon them for all their transgressions. But yet, while he brought the charges of God’s covenant, he spoke words of hope. He mentioned that it would only last 70 years.
And right here Daniel realizes that God had made a promise. God had promised to redeem them. And that promise is right on the precipice of coming to pass.
This is good news to Daniel. You understand that this was something of a light at the end of the tunnel for Daniel. This was a signal to Daniel that the Lord would act favorably to his people. And this to a people who did not deserve it.
That’s the beauty of the Lord. The Lord gives promises to sinners. He offers grace and mercy to those who have done nothing to deserve it. The Lord’s generosity is boundless in that way.
And that’s a message that we should take to heart too. God has set forth many good and precious promises in his word. And each one of them is offered to us. The Lord offers restoration and redemption; he offers grace and mercy; he offers us the opportunity to be relieved of this dismal existence and a chance to enjoy the blessings of eternal paradise.
And you have to recognize that not one bit of that should be presented to us in any way. We deserve nothing but the disfavor of God. Every day we sin in thought word and deed many times over. We have broken God’s commands day in and day out. And we all know that the wages of sin is death. But the promise of God is life and salvation.
He promises even to make death, which is a curse for sin, into a blessing. Death for us becomes a grace in that we die to sin and no longer have that it as a part of our lives.
The promise that Christ gives is that He who believes in me will never die, and though he die, he will live.
That’s the incredible grace that dawned upon Daniel. In the Scripture he perceived hope of restoration. And he clung to it. He grabbed hold of it. He embraced it. And, you know he did that because this incredible grace led him to offer an incredible prayer.
II. The incredible prayer that Daniel offered [3-19]
I don’t know if you know this or not but Daniel 9 contains one of the longest and most beautiful prayers in all the Bible. This chapter is known for the wild prophecy at the end of the chapter. That’s what everyone really dwells on. That’s what typically gets the most press. But you know what, this prayer should be the thing that people spend the most amount of time on. This is an incredible prayer that Daniel prays. And you can sum it up by saying it is a prayer for restoration.
You see, Daniel knows that they do not deserve to have the Lord deliver them. He knows that God could very well say, “Well, you haven’t learned your lesson yet. You’re all still a bunch of wicked idolaters. You are still not walking in my ways. So I’m just going to leave you in your time out.”
And, you might think about Daniel’s situation. It probably, for all intents and purposes, looks like God would do just that. There’s no indication that this exile is going to end. Just because the kingdom has changed hands, doesn’t mean that things are looking up for Daniel and his people. The Medes and the Persians are no more friendly to the people of God than the Babylonians. The Persians don’t owe the Jews any favors. So who’s to say things would change? From Daniel’s perspective, they were still damned.
So Daniel takes to prayer. Seeing their desperate condition, He cries out to God for his grace. He grabs hold of that promise by faith and looks to God for its fulfillment in his life.
Now, there are several things that stand out in this prayer. First, Daniel recognizes who God is. At the very beginning of this prayer he addresses God as the one who is great and awesome. He’s the one who keeps covenant and steadfast love. You know what he is doing there? He’s acknowledging the fact that God is the only God and he is a gracious God. He’s the God who loves his people and will honor the covenant he has established with them.
Then in verse 7 he calls God righteous. And throughout this passage he acknowledges the fact that God has been right. He’s been just and has done exactly what he should have done by punishing them for their sins. But then in verse 9 he comes back to the fact that the Lord is merciful. He says, “you are the God who forgives.”
But not only does he acknowledge who God is, but he acknowledges how wicked they have been. You can’t help but say that Daniel is brutally honest about their sin. He doesn’t try to fudge things or excuse their behavior in any way, does he? He talks about how they had sinned and acted wickedly. They turned aside from his commandments and did not listen to his servants the prophets. They rebelled and did not obey the voice of Lord their God. He says that all the calamity that they have experienced was just and right. They deserved it; they had it coming. And he says in verse 8 “to us belongs open shame.”
Daniel makes no bones about how sinful they have been. And as he asks God to act, he recognizes that it is not because they deserve it (it’s not because of their righteousness), but because of the Lord’s own sake.
Now what I want you to understand is that if you are going to be one who receives God’s grace, this is the kind of attitude that you need to have. You need to have a repentant attitude and confess your need of God’s grace. As the promises are held out to you, you can’t grab hold of them while clinging to your self righteousness and presumed goodness.
Jesus tells the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee stands up and prays about how great he is: God I thank you I am not alike other men; I am not a gentile or like this tax collector. I’m a pretty good guy and I’m not living a scandalous life. But then if you look over in the corner, you see that tax collector. He can’t even lift his head towards the sky. He’s so burdened by the sins he’s committed. And he beats his chest and says, “Lord, forgive me, a sinner.”
That prayer is much shorter than Daniel’s, but it is just as good. And any sinner who wants to receive God’s grace must make the same sort of supplication.
This brings us then to the final portion of our passage. Daniel perceives an incredible grace and offers an incredible prayer. And in the last section he receives an incredible answer.
III. The incredible answer that Daniel received [20-27]
The angel Gabriel comes to Daniel and tells him (in verse 24) that 70 weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city. And be sure to note the next portion of verse 24. These 70 weeks were designed to “put an end to sin, to atone for iniquity, and bring in everlasting righteousness.” This is a vision of the gospel. It is talking about the coming of grace and forgiveness to the people of God.
Now, literally it should be translated “70 sevens.” A week is seven days. And most people believe that this is pointing back to Leviticus 25. Lev. 25 is the part of God’s law that talks about the Sabbath years and the Year of Jubilee. The people of God were commanded to take a Sabbath year every 7th year. For 6 years they were to till and cultivate their land, but the 7th year they were to leave it alone. And they were also to count of 7 “weeks of years.” So 7x7. That 49th year was to be a special year and the follow year (the 50th year) was to be a year of Jubilee. It was a year of liberty and rejoicing.
So when you come to Daniel 9 we have these 70 weeks. And we get the idea that they are to be 70 weeks of years. So 490 years. And the passage tells us that these 70 years are divided up into segments. There are 7 weeks, then 62 weeks (which makes 69 weeks) then the 70th week is divided in half.
Now there are all kinds of ways to interpret this. And I want to give you a quick overview. The main question is when did this 490 years begin?
There are a couple different answers to this: The one that is most common today is the dispensationalist view. This view puts the beginning of the 490 years during the time of Nehemiah. That would be around 444, when the walls of city of Jerusalem were completed. They then count 69 weeks (or 483 years) forward and come to about 30 BC, which is the time of Christ. He is the anointed one of verse 25. But then they put a large gap between the 69th week and the 70th week. They believe there is a break (or parenthesis) in the 70 weeks, and that is what they call the church age, which is our present age. They believe that sometime in the future, the church will be raptured and taken into heaven. After that happens, the 70th week will continue. There will be a revived Roman Empire. During that time we will pick up in verse 26 and there a half a week (or three and a half years) of tribulation, there will be the cutting off of the anointed one. Then, the anti-Christ will make a covenant of peace with Israel, which he will break. After all this, the Lord will return and he will reign for 1000 years.
I find this view a little difficult, mainly for the reason that Daniel 9 doesn’t put any gap in between the 69th and 70th weeks. When you read Daniel, the weeks seem to flow together consecutively. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to put a break in it.
Personally, I believe the passage should not be read quite as literalisitically. We have to remember that this is a vision. That’s what verse 23 says. Remember we are in apocalyptic literature, and apocalyptic literature has a symbolic literary style.
And you get that when it talks about 70 weeks. These are not literal weeks. These are “dream like” weeks. And we are drawing on Leviticus 25 and what it says bout the year of Jubilee. And the numbers become more symbolic.
So in this case we start in 539 when Cyrus made a decree that the Jews could return to Jerusalem. This would be right about the time Daniel prays this prayer. Verse 25 says that from the going out of the word to build Jerusalem to the time of an anointed one there shall be 7 weeks. This might be a reference to Ezra, who was a priest (i.e. An anointed one). Then after the time of Ezra there were 62 weeks where the church was built up and the people of God were protected (that’s what the moat symbolizes). And as we know, this was a “troubled time” (as it says in verse 25). It was the time of the Greeks and Antiochus Epiphanes who persecuted the Jews.
Then after this 69th week Jesus came along. He is the anointed one of verse 26 who is cut off. The idea of being cut off is a biblical one. Isaiah 53 tells us that the Servant of the Lord would be cut off from the land. And it was his being sacrificed on the cross that put an end to sacrifices. And ultimately, because he was rejected by the Jews, the Lord brought the Romans in and destroyed the Temple. The Roman general Titus was the Desolator who destroyed the temple.
You also have Matthew 24 which backs this up. Jesus talks about the coming destruction of the temple in that passage. And he says to be on the watch for the abomination that causes desolation, which is a reference here to Daniel 9.
But here’s another thing to consider. What was to happen the 50th week? It was to be a year of which was special. It was to be consecrated to the Lord and filled with liberty and rejoicing. Is that not what we have now? The time leading up to the destruction of the Temple was the “70 weeks of years” (the 490 years) Now we may say that we have entered into the 500th year.
And this is what Daniel has been saying all through these last few chapters. The everlasting kingdom would come. The kingdom would reign supreme and dominate the world. Here we are told that this same time period would be a period consecrated to the Lord, a time of liberty and rejoicing.
But we must come back to the 70 weeks. What we see is that it is a prophecy of Christ’s coming. And there is the good news of the gospel. The Lord dealt with the sin that Daniel grieved. Daniel prayed for the Lord to act and overcome the sins of God’s people.
The temple and the sacrifices could not do that. There needed to be a sacrifice for sin that could really bring atonement. And that is what Christ has done. Through his sacrifice on the cross, he put an end to sacrifices, and (what’s more) he brought an end to sin. The answer Daniel receives is probably more than he could have asked for. The Lord gave him a vision of the complete restoration of God’s people in Christ.