The Seventy Weeks

by Mike Ratliff

1 In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of Median descent, who was made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans— 2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, observed in the books the number of the years which was revealed as the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. Daniel 9:1-2 (NASB) 

One of the worst parts about expounding scripture while not allowing “what men say” to influence that exposition is that there will always be some people who are “offended” or in disagreement with the analysis. I desire to offend no one. I deeply desire to be of use to my Lord in bringing His people into agreement about what His Word says. Therefore, I will continue to simply exposit scripture. As we have moved through Daniel I have tried very hard to look at extra-biblical sources only when necessary. I am very well aware that Daniel 9 is a hot button with some people. However, we must proceed.

Daniel was a very godly man. He was taken to Babylon before Nebuchadnezzar’s army destroyed Jerusalem. He was a youth who came into the King’s service as his “Prime Minister” because in him was found an excellent spirit. Daniel survived the Babylonian Kings who followed Nebuchadnezzar into the reign of Cyrus the first King of the Medo-Persian Empire. Daniel had a copy of Jeremiah’s prophecy about how long Jerusalem was to remain desolate. He read the part that we call Jeremiah 25:1-14. We will concentrate on vv8-14.

8 “Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Because you have not obeyed My words, 9 behold, I will send and take all the families of the north,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will send to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land and against its inhabitants and against all these nations round about; and I will utterly destroy them and make them a horror and a hissing, and an everlasting desolation. 10 Moreover, I will take from them the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones and the light of the lamp. 11 This whole land will be a desolation and a horror, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.
12 ‘Then it will be when seventy years are completed I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation,’ declares the Lord, ‘for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans; and I will make it an everlasting desolation. 13 I will bring upon that land all My words which I have pronounced against it, all that is written in this book which Jeremiah has prophesied against all the nations. 14 (For many nations and great kings will make slaves of them, even them; and I will recompense them according to their deeds and according to the work of their hands.)’” Jeremiah 25:8-14 (NASB) 

In this passage we read why God allowed the Judeans to go into captivity and that there would be a definite timetable for a restoration of city and nation. The prophecy says that Jerusalem will be desolate and the sons will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. After the seventy years are complete God will punish Babylon. Daniel would have also read Jeremiah 29, which is Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Babylon exhorting them to not rebel, but serve their masters. In v10 we read, “For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.” Daniel was a very sagacious man. He knew His God and believed Him. He knew that the time was nearing for the seventy years to end and also the Persians had conquered the Babylonians.

Daniel was probably in his eighties or even older here. He was not a young man. However, he was a godly man who served His God day and night. His heart yearned for Jerusalem and the restoration of the temple worship. Then he prayed.

3 So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes. 4 I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed and said, “Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, 5 we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances. 6 Moreover, we have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers and all the people of the land.
7 “Righteousness belongs to You, O Lord, but to us open shame, as it is this day—to the men of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those who are nearby and those who are far away in all the countries to which You have driven them, because of their unfaithful deeds which they have committed against You. 8 Open shame belongs to us, O Lord, to our kings, our princes and our fathers, because we have sinned against You. 9 To the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against Him; 10 nor have we obeyed the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in His teachings which He set before us through His servants the prophets. 11 Indeed all Israel has transgressed Your law and turned aside, not obeying Your voice; so the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against Him. 12 Thus He has confirmed His words which He had spoken against us and against our rulers who ruled us, to bring on us great calamity; for under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what was done to Jerusalem. 13 As it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come on us; yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our iniquity and giving attention to Your truth. 14 Therefore the Lord has kept the calamity in store and brought it on us; for the Lord our God is righteous with respect to all His deeds which He has done, but we have not obeyed His voice.
15 “And now, O Lord our God, who have brought Your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand and have made a name for Yourself, as it is this day—we have sinned, we have been wicked. 16 O Lord, in accordance with all Your righteous acts, let now Your anger and Your wrath turn away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain; for because of our sins and the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people have become a reproach to all those around us. 17 So now, our God, listen to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplications, and for Your sake, O Lord, let Your face shine on Your desolate sanctuary. 18 O my God, incline Your ear and hear! Open Your eyes and see our desolations and the city which is called by Your name; for we are not presenting our supplications before You on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Your great compassion. 19 O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For Your own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name.” Daniel 9:3-19 (NASB) 

Notice that Daniel humbly comes before the Lord God his maker confessing the sins of the people and agreeing with God that they deserved far worse than they got. Then he prayed for God to turn aside His anger and wrath from the people and Jerusalem appealing not to their own merit but to God’s great mercy. Notice also how he pleaded with God to pay attention and act. He asked Him to not to Delay for His own sake. How often do we pray to God in a wimpy sort of way refusing to plead with Him over things like this? It is not wrong to pray for God to do something for His sake and great name as Daniel did here. Then Daniel got his answer.

20 Now while I was speaking and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God in behalf of the holy mountain of my God, 21 while I was still speaking in prayer, then the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision previously, came to me in my extreme weariness about the time of the evening offering. 22 He gave me instruction and talked with me and said, “O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you insight with understanding. 23 At the beginning of your supplications the command was issued, and I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed; so give heed to the message and gain understanding of the vision. Daniel 9:20-23 (NASB) 

Does God answer prayer? Does God love His people? Does God want us to pray in order to know Him and His ways? Yes, yes, and yes! Notice that God greatly loves Daniel. Why is that? Gabriel states, “you are highly esteemed!” It should be deeply ingrained in each of God’s people to serve Him as Daniel did. Those who walk through this life as Spirit-led believers are in this group. Yes, God loves His people, but those who are highly esteemed and used by Him for His glory are those who seek nothing from this life except His glory. Those living like this can take all sorts of abuse and even not seek to “be right” in every discussion, but they will come at others as lions for the sake of their Lord’s glory. Notice also how soon God’s answer to Daniel’s prayer was sent to him. God sent it at the beginning of his pleas for MERCY! He did not demand anything from God for self. He simply wanted to know the truth and for God to be merciful to His people.

24 “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. 25 So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. 26 Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. 27 And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.” Daniel 9:24-27 (NASB) 

For us to understand this prophecy or vision given to Daniel by Gabriel from God in answer to his prayer for mercy, we must look at some historical data.

605 B.C. – Jeremiah’s prediction of Judah’s captivity. Daniel and others were deported to Babylon after this.

587 B.C. – God’s Word came to Jeremiah promising the rebuilding or re-inhabiting of Jerusalem.

586 B.C. – Jerusalem fell, the first temple was destroyed and most of the remaining Jews were taken to Babylon.

558 B.C. – Cyrus the Great became King of Persia and partnered with Media.

539 B.C. – Cyrus’ general, Gobryas, attacked the Babylonians

538 B.C. – Gobryas defeats Babylon, kills Belshazzar, Daniel received the “Seventy Weeks” prophecy and Cyrus decrees to end Jewish captivity.

536 B.C. – Foundations of the second temple were laid, thus ending the 70 year captivity (605 B.C. to 536 B.C.)

458 B.C. – Artaxerxes’ decrees to rebuild temple.

445 B.C. – Artaxerxes’ decrees to rebuild Jerusalem.

6? B.C. – 33? A.D. Life of Christ

A.D. 70 – Roman General Titus destroys Jerusalem and the temple.

Along with these important dates we must also take a look at the “coming prince” mentioned in v26. This mercurial person is mentioned here in Daniel and in the New Testament. Here are a few cross-references about this coming prince from Daniel 9 (coming prince), 2 Thessalonians 2 (man of sin) and Revelation 13 (the beast from the sea).

Characteristics         Prince         Man of Sin         Beast
Makes Blasphemy
In Temple                     X                     X                     X

Makes Idol                    X                                             X

Demands Worship                               X                      X

Succeeds in Deceiving
With Signs                                             X                     X

Reign of Terror             X                                             X

Empowered by
Satan                                                      X                     X

3 1/2 Year Reign           X                                             X

Persecutes Saints          X                     X                     X

World Ruler             (implied)               X                     X

Destroyed by
Christ at His
Coming                     (implied)               X                      X

The Hebrew term “seven” (shabua’) is used six times in Daniel 9:24-27. In every usage outside of this passage it always indicates a definite period of seven. Gabriel tells Daniel that the period of the prophecy is for seventy “sevens.” Nearly all Biblical Scholars believe this is referring to seventy periods of seven years. Here is the breakdown of what Gabriel told Daniel about the Seventy Weeks. The first period is for Seven sevens v25. These 49 years will begin with a “word to restore and build Jerusalem.” It will end with the coming of an anointed one, a prince. Following this period will be Sixty-two sevens. This is made up of 434 years. During this period the temple and city of Jerusalem will be rebuilt in troubled times. At the end of this period, an anointed one shall be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy Jerusalem and the temple. Then there is another Seven, 7 years, where the prince who is to come will make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. The Abomination of Desolation spoken of by Jesus Christ will take place.

There is a reason for the three separate groups of seven. We cannot jam them together demanding that they be concurrent. No, God separated them into these three groups for a reason. Let’s look at v25 again.

25 So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. Daniel 9:25 (NASB) 

We must determine who sends out the word to restore and build Jerusalem. The time period from that moment to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. That is 49 years. The Hebrew for the “going out of the word” is “dabar.” This is simply a command, not necessarily a royal decree. It comes from someone with the authority to make it happen though. Also, we must not jump to the conclusion that the “anointed one” spoken of here is the Messiah. Scripture speaks of many other “anointed ones.” For instance God called Cyrus himself “His anointed.” When did Cyrus become king of Medo-Persia? That took place in 538 B.C. If we go back 49 years from that date we come to 587 B.C. Look at the chart above. That was when God’s Word came to Jeremiah promising the rebuilding or re-inhabiting of Jerusalem. Who has more authority than God? Then the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem is from God and took place in 587 B.C. through the prophet Jeremiah. 49 years later, Cyrus, God’s anointed, comes to power. This completes the Seven Sevens.

The Sixty-Two Sevens equals 434 years. We cannot simply start counting those years from the end of the Seven Sevens (538 B.C.). The only predictive event for this group of years is, “after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off.” It does not say how long after. There must be a time gap between the seven sevens and the sixty-two sevens, but how long? From this we see that the 490 years are made up of three sets of years that encompass a much longer span of time. What historical events would mark the beginning and ending of the sixty-two sevens then? From the text it would seem that the beginning of the rebuilding of the city walls of Jerusalem would be a good candidate for the beginning event. When was that? Nehemiah requested to go and rebuild the walls in April of 444 B.C. According to Josephus he then went to Babylon to seek volunteers from among the Jews to go with him. He also had to obtain building materials. Josephus tells us that he arrived in Jerusalem in the 25th year of Artaxerxes. That would be 440 B.C. If we then add 434 years to that date we get 6 B.C. Many scholars believe that his is probably the time of the birth of Christ because Herod the Great died in 4 B.C.

So far we have the seven sevens beginning with God’s word to Jeremiah and ending with the crowning of Cyrus the Great. Then there is a gap until 440 B.C. for the beginning of the sixty-two sevens which began with Nehemiah’s return to Jerusalem. It ended with the birth of Christ in 6 B.C. These dates are firm and the alignment of the events with the number of years in these first two groups of sevens is too exact to be dismissed lightly.

In v26 we have a summary of what the people of the prince who is to come do to Israel and Jerusalem and the Jewish people. Josephus describes this in horrible detail. Needless to say, the end for Jerusalem came like a flood. However, what about the final seven? We already know that there is a gap between the first seven sevens and the sixty-two sevens. The final seven of the seventy takes place in the future to us. The prince who is to come is the lawless one and the Beast from the sea. In v27 we see that he makes a strong covenant with many for one week. That week is the last seven. Here is a simplistic breakdown of this seven. The first 3 1/2 years will be made up of a covenant between the prince who is to come and Israel. At the end of the 3 1/2 years, he commits the abomination of desolation. This reveals who he is to those who have discernment. Then in the next 3 1/2 years the great tribulation falls upon the world. It is ended with the return of Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria!