In Daniel 9:24-27 we find the fascinating seventy-weeks prophecy. Contrary to popular views, there is no mention of the Beast, Antichrist or Armageddon. It is in fact, just like the rest of the Bible, all about Jesus. This prophecy is import in any understanding of the end-times as it gives important clues as to the purpose and timing of critical eschatological events.
The Covenantal Context
The prophecy in verses 24-27 is an answer to Daniel’s prayer in verses 3-19. God’s covenant with His people is the central concern of Daniel’s prayer. God is a covenant-keeping God (v4); He is faithful even when His people are unfaithful (v5). As a result, His people are now suffering under the curse of the covenant (vv11-15). In fact, Daniel 9 is the only passage in Daniel that includes the covenantal name of God (Yahweh, “LORD”). It is vital to note that Daniel’s prayer about covenantal faithfulness (v4) is answered in a covenantal pattern of seventy weeks (vv24-27).
The Covenantal Pattern of Weeks
The first phase of the seventy weeks is “seven weeks”, or literally “seven sevens” (v25), which results in forty-nine. Forty-nine years leads up to the Year of Jubilee in the fiftieth year, a time of great celebration and the releasing of slaves and debt. This underscores the covenantal and redemptive meaning of this passage.
The total “seventy weeks” covers ten multiples of these seven weeks, which signifies a ten-fold Jubilee. Ten is the number symbolizing completion, therefore pointing to a complete redemptive Jubilee. This undoubtedly points to Christ, who fulfills the Jubilee in bringing full and complete redemption (see Luke 4:17-21).
The Chronological Pattern of Weeks
Not only do the weeks have a covenantal implication, they also outline the time-line of the prophecy. The seventy weeks represent a period of seventy times seven years, or 490 years. A literal seventy week period would be too short to fulfill all that is prophesied and the understanding that each week represents a seven year period has a great deal of Biblical support (e.g. Gen 29:27-28, Num 14:34, Ez 4:6).
The Goal of the Prophecy
Daniel 9:24 is critical to understanding the prophecy. The six phrases form three couplets that provide the ultimate goal of the prophecy, what is to be accomplished within the seventy weeks.
“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.” (ESV)
Firstly, this prophecy focuses on the Jewish people and the city of Jerusalem. However, Israel’s Messiah is the only Saviour and so His work, although central to the Jews, reaches far beyond them to include the entire world.
Daniel’s prayer focused on Israel’s sins and the prophecy is focused on Israel. “Finish the transgression” refers to Israel completing her transgression against God. The second phrase relates to the first. The phrase “put an end to sin” can be translated as “seal up sins” (the same word is used further down in “seal both vision and prophet, see NASB, margin). Israel’s finishing of the transgression results in the sins being “sealed” or “reserve sins for punishment” (See Romans 2:5 for another example of this occurring).
It is the transgression of rejecting God’s Son and having Him crucified. As a result, God seals and reserves Israel’s sins for judgement which is ultimately exercised when the Temple is destroyed in A.D. 70.
The third goal is to “atone for iniquity”. This clearly points to Christ’s atoning death which fulfilled the Temple sacrifices (Heb 9:26). This act secures the next goal “to bring in everlasting righteousness”. Paul in Romans 3:21-25 states that this righteousness is the direct result of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested… through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood…”
“To seal both vision and prophet”. This speaks of Christ fulfilling the prophecies concerning Him. Clearly this cannot be referring to the fulfillment of all prophecy. Even Dispensationalism which teaches that this will occur at the Second Coming of Christ, does not say that all prophecy is fulfilled at this point. In that scheme there is still the prophecies concerning the final apostasy, the resurrection and the new heaven and earth. The prophecy here is limited by the express purpose in Daniel 9, that is the full accomplishment of redemption from sin and the ushering in of righteousness. Luke 18:31 (ESV), “…See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.”
The final phrase is related to this. Literally translated as “to anoint the most Holy”. This speaks of Christ’s anointing in his baptism and not the anointing of a Temple. This is clear because the context of the prophecy is Messianic, the verses following speak of the Messiah (“anointed one”, vv25,26) and no temple in scripture was anointed.
At Christ’s baptism, the Spirit came upon Him (Mark 1:9-11). In fact after this event, three verses later Jesus states “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” The time that has been fulfilled could very well refer to the timing outlined in the seventy-weeks prophecy of Daniel 9.
The goal of the seventy-weeks prophecy in Daniel is entirely Messianic. The seventy weeks (490 years) would see the following occur:
- Israel would finish the transgression by rejecting God’s Son and having Him crucified. God would then seal up and reserve her sins for judgment at a later date. Note, the prophecy does not say that the sins were to be judged in the seventy weeks, but that they are sealed up and reserved for judgement.
- Christ would atone for sin and bring in everlasting righteousness through his death on the cross.
- Christ is anointed at His baptism and He fulfills all the prophecies spoken about Him.
As we will look into in later posts in this series, all these things occurred by the time Christ was crucified. Update: Part II is now available.