Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Seventy Sevens of Daniel

24 "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.
25 "Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem 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. 26 After the sixty-two 'sevens,' the Anointed One will be cut off 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. 27 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 on a wing of 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

This passage is a part of the message the angel Gabriel brought to Daniel during the first year of the reign of Darius the Mede. Daniel was mourning the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 BC.

The message that Gabriel brings is a prophecy of the restoration of Jerusalem and the coming of the Jewish Messiah, the “Anointed One.” The Jews were exiled from their homeland and forcibly assimilated into Babylonian culture. They looked to the promised Messiah as a political and military leader who would restore Israel as a nation.

One of the primary rules of prophecy is to read it literally when possible. The term “sevens” is obviously symbolic of a period of time. Days and months do not leave time for the fulfillment of the prophecy so they can be eliminated. There are a total of seventy sevens. There are seven sevens and sixty-two sevens (totaling sixty-nine sevens) between the order to restore Jerusalem and the coming of the Messiah (v. 25). An additional seven makes up the covenant between the ruler who destroys the city and sanctuary and the “many” (v. 27). This makes a total of seventy sevens.

If we assume that a “seven” is a seven-year period, then we have a total of 490 years (seventy times seven) for the prophecy to be fulfilled. This is remarkably close to the time that elapsed between the command to rebuild Jerusalem in 445 BC until the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in AD 32. Gabriel specifically mentioned three separate periods of sevens rather than a single period of seventy sevens.

The seven sevens (49 years) points to Cyrus, the Persian king who ended the Jewish captivity in 538 BC. Forty-nine years elapsed between the fall of Jerusalem (586 BC) and Cyrus’ decree (587-49=538). Interestingly, God calls Cyrus his “anointed” even though he did not acknowledge God (Isaiah 45:1-4).

The sixty-two sevens is equivalent to 434 years. Some scholars theorize that there is a gap between the seven sevens and sixty-two sevens. A logical starting point for this period would be 440 BC, when Nehemiah went to Babylon to start the period of rebuilding the city walls of Jerusalem. 434 years after 440 BC points at 6 BC. 6 BC is a reasonable time for the birth of Jesus, since Herod is widely believed to have died in 4 BC.

A second possible interpretation points at the death and resurrection of Jesus. When combined, the period of seven sevens plus sixty-two sevens equals a total of 483 years. This 483-year period occurs between the order to rebuild Jerusalem and arrival of the Anointed One. Artaxerxes issued a decree to rebuild Jerusalem in 444 BC, which started the clock on this 483-year period (Nehemiah 2:1-8).

Before we go to the next step, we must apply a conversion to account for differences in the ancient Jewish calendar and our own. Historians believe that ancient Jews used a calendar of 360 days and fixed months of 30 days each. They would apply an extra five days at some point during the year.

483 years multiplied by 360 days per year gives us a total of 173,880 days. Our modern calendar uses 365.25 days per year, so to find a meaningful number of years for the prophecy, we must divide 173,880 days by 365.25 days per year. The result is 476 modern years.

If we start with 443 BC, the year following the decree, and add 476 years according to our modern calendar, we arrive at AD 33. In that year, Jesus Christ, Yeshua Messiah, was crucified, “cut off,” and, according to the Gospels, rose from the dead and ascended to Heaven.

Josh McDowell makes the point that Jesus was reported to have ridden into Jerusalem prior to his execution on a donkey. Another messianic prophecy in Zechariah 9:9 foretells that the king will one day ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. Jesus fulfills this prophecy in Matthew 21:5, Mark 11:6-7, Luke 19:30-35, and John 12:14-15.

The remainder of the seventy sevens has not yet occurred. The single seven that is the duration of a covenant between a destructive ruler and “the many.” The identity of the ruler is linked to the people who destroyed the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in AD 70, the Romans.

This ruler is seemingly linked with the “little horn” of Daniel 7:25 through the term “time, times, and half a time.” This points to a time period equivalent to “middle of the seven” in verse 27. It is also equivalent to the 42 months granted to the “beast from the sea” in Revelation 13:5. All three verses refer to a three and one half year period. All three verses also are commonly understood to refer to the demonic ruler commonly known as the Antichrist.

The belief that the ruler is the Antichrist is further supported by the fact that Gabriel tells Daniel that the ruler will end sacrifice in the Temple and set up an “abomination that causes desolation” in the Temple. This prophecy is partly understood through Antiochus Epiphanes, a Syrian king who occupied Jerusalem in 168 BC. He entered the Temple’s Holy of Holies, defiled the altar, plundered the Temple’s treasures, and rededicated the Temple itself to the Roman god, Jupiter.

Antiochus Epiphanes cannot be the ruler foretold in Daniel, though, because he did not make and violate a treaty with “the many,” Israel. We can, however, expect the latter-day ruler to take blasphemous actions similar to those of Antiochus. Both Jesus (Matthew 24) and Paul (2 Thessalonians 2) point to this abomination as a sign of the approaching end times. The final seven is commonly referred to as the Tribulation Period.


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