Take a moment to pray. Ask God to speak to you through his word—for his Spirit to convict you of sin, teach you the truth, and lead you in walking by faith.
Setting the Scene
Infinite wisdom dictated the hour at which the Messiah should be born, and the moment at which He should be cut off. His advent and His work are the highest point of the purpose of God, the hinge of history, the center of providence, the crowning of the edifice of grace, and therefore peculiar care watched over every detail.
-C. H. Spurgeon
The problem has always been sin. When we struggle, hurt, fail, get sick, and suffer we naturally look for the causes. Crime is up—we need education! Cancer rates are up—we need a cure! My spouse is frustrating me—we (they) need therapy! But at the root of all the angst and brokenness in our universe is one single cause: sin.
Daniel’s third vision was given around 539 BC, towards the end of Israel’s time in exile. He and the other Israelite exiles in Persia (formerly Babylon) were painfully aware of the consequences of sin. They just wanted to be home. They wanted the fix.
In Daniel chapter 9, he tells us that he had been reading Jeremiah 25:11-13 where God promised the exile would last 70 years. He knew the first exiles had been taken around 605 BC, so they were potentially getting close to that 70 year mark.
This led Daniel to pray a prayer of confession and repentance on behalf of the nation (Daniel 9:4-19). He asked God to forgive Israel’s sins, to honor his promises, and to bring Israel home again.
Right in the middle of this prayer, the angel Gabriel interrupts Daniel to give him an answer in the form of a vision (Daniel 9:21-23). In this answer, Gabriel shows Daniel that the exile will end, but the problem of sin persists. In fact, God’s ultimate plan is not just about getting Israel to a particular piece of real estate. Instead, it’s about dealing with sin.
As we read this vision, we should be aware that we often desire the quick fix to a problem rather than God’s ultimate solution. Gabriel essentially tells Daniel that the spiritual exile isn’t just 70 years, but 70 “sevens” of years. Do the math—that’s 490 years. While that might seem like a discouragement, it’s a promise to Daniel that God will indeed deal with the problem.
Dan. 9:20 While I was speaking, praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my petition before the LORD my God concerning the holy mountain of my God— 21 while I was praying, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the first vision, reached me in my extreme weariness, about the time of the evening offering. 22 He gave me this explanation: “Daniel, I’ve come now to give you understanding. 23 At the beginning of your petitions an answer went out, and I have come to give it, for you are treasured by God. So consider the message and understand the vision:
This introduction to the vision clarifies how it relates to Daniel’s prayer in the previous verses. The angelic guide who gives a vision and explains it is a hallmark of Biblical apocalyptic visions.
Dan. 9:24 Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city—
to bring the rebellion to an end, to put a stop to sin,
to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness,
to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy place.
Daniel’s famous 70 weeks of years have been the subject of much speculation and disagreement among Christians. What is abundantly clear, and what everyone agrees on, is the purpose of these 490 years (70 x 7 = 490).
Gabriel states 6 related end results of these 490 years. They will result in an end to rebellion and sin, atonement for sin, ushering in of eternal righteousness, sealing of the vision, and dedication of the temple’s most holy place.
In short, after the 490 years, the problem of sin will be solved through an atoning sacrifice. A permanent, enduring righteousness will be available through faith. The prophecy will have been sealed, meaning that it will be authenticated as legitimate. Finally, the most holy place once again be available for ministry, although there is some ambiguity as to whether this most holy place is the temple or the Messiah himself.
Note that the first three results are negative—sin is removed, while the second three are positive—righteousness is given, the prophecy proven true, and the most holy place provided.
Gabriel now goes on to provide some specifics about these 490 years. This is where some Christians will disagree on the details, but remember that the overall purpose of these years is clear.
25 Know and understand this:
From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until an Anointed One, the ruler, will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks. It will be rebuilt with a plaza and a moat, but in difficult times.
Gabriel states that there will be a decree to rebuild Jerusalem. We’re not sure which decree this is, because there are actually 7 plausible starting dates, so the dating isn’t easy to nail down.
Translators differ as to the identity of the “Anointed One.” The CSB, as you see here by the capitalization, take this as a reference to the Messiah. This makes the best sense given what comes in verse 26.
So Gabriel says that after 483 years, Jerusalem will have been rebuilt and the Messiah will come. The initial thought might be that the Messiah will easily solve all of Israel’s problems. But first he has to deal with the problem.
26 After those sixty-two weeks the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the coming ruler will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come with a flood, and until the end there will be war; desolations are decreed.
Gabriel describes the Messiah being cut off, and having nothing in the last 7 years of these 490 years. After that time, the people of coming ruler (the Messiah’s people, perhaps), will destroy Jerusalem. We know that the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70, and that was judgment for Israel’s sin.
27 He will make a firm covenant with many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and offering. And the abomination of desolation will be on a wing of the temple until the decreed destruction is poured out on the desolator.”
“He” in verse 27 refers to the coming ruler, which is likely still a reference to the Messiah. If it is, then this is a reference to the new covenant. If not, it could be a reference to the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV, or possibly the Roman general Titus who destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70.
This ruler will put a stop to sacrifice and offering. Many have taken this as a negative and assumed it is a reference to Antiochus IV, or Titus, or the antiChrist. But the Messiah will himself be a sacrifice to end all sacrifices. This makes better sense of the syntax and the consistent reference to the Messiah throughout this vision.
The last line of Gabriel’s explanation refers to the destruction of the temple that happened in AD 70 (check out Matthew 24:15 where Jesus refers to this prophecy). That destroyer would himself be destroyed, meaning his kingdom (Rome) would not be a lasting kingdom.
While these last specifics may be a bit hazy, the overall picture is clear: the Messiah will come, deal with sin, although with difficulty. Jerusalem will not be spared future judgment, but ultimately sin will be dealt with through an atoning sacrifice.
The Big Picture
It is no accident that in light of several of the possible starting dates, these 490 years culminate right at the time of Jesus’ earthly life, ministry, death, and resurrection. Given Gabriel’s stated purpose of this extended spiritual exile, we realize how this fits into the overall story of the Bible: the Messiah will deal with sin, which is the ultimate reason Israel is in exile.
In Matthew 24:15 Jesus understood the end of Daniel 9:27 to be a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem, but some take his words to refer to the future judgment. Either way, we know that God’s plan to deal with sin includes provision for forgiveness and judgment of those who reject him.
In the story of the Bible, Israel’s return from exile was a great moment where God showed his faithfulness, but it wasn’t the end of the story. The sickness of sin still plagued Israel (and the rest of the world). Therefore, God gave Daniel this vision to teach his people to look to a bigger program than just a literal return to the land. He wanted his people to look for the Messiah who would be the atoning sacrifice to take away sin.
When we read the New Testament, we find out that’s exactly what Jesus accomplished for us. Speaking of Jesus’ sacrificial death for us, the author of Hebrews says, “He did this once for all time when he offered himself” (Hebrews 7:27). The sin stops with Jesus, because he paid the price. As a result, eternal righteousness is available. The prophecy of Gabriel to Daniel is validated. Most of all, Jesus became the most holy place for us. This is the purpose of Daniel’s 70 weeks, and this is what Jesus accomplished for us.
Taking It Home
When people talk about Daniel’s 70 weeks, or especially the 70th week, they rarely talk about the atoning sacrifice of the Messiah. Yet we have no doubt that this is the main point of the vision. We want dates and details, all the while God wants us to focus on his mission to save sinners.
It’s not hard to imagine Israel getting distracted by the date of their possible return to the land, just like we are easily distracted by the little and big details of our lives. But when we pause and zoom out, we see that the Messiah’s mission is the center of God’s plan.
This means that God dealing with sin was more important than Israel getting back to the land. It means that God dealing with sin is more important than you getting that promotion, or solving that family problem, or never getting sick.
What are issues in your life that might be distracting you from the big picture? What are ways you can identity sin as the root cause of those problems? Now ask yourself, what does Jesus’ ministry 2,000 years ago have to do with my problems today? Maybe you’ve been seeking the wrong kinds of solutions for your problems. Take time to repent of your sin, and praise Jesus for being the solution.
The Messiah’s work for us on the cross means we can be confident our sins are forgiven. That means our eternal hope is secure. No sickness, suffering, or temporary trial can undo his work. The prophecy is sealed; our hope is alive because Jesus rose from the dead.
- Ask God to point out ways that sin is the root cause of problems you are facing. Pray for wisdom to know how to deal with those problems.
- Praise God for the plan of redemption. Praise him for sending Jesus at just the right time to be the atoning sacrifice to put an end to sin. Pray for more people to understand and believe the gospel.
- Pray for wisdom as we seek to walk by faith in the midst of a broken world. Pray for clarity as we have opportunities to explain to people how sin is the ultimate problem we all face.