Thursday, March 06, 2014

Daniel's Seventy Weeks (not for the faint of heart)

This is a very brief overview of my understanding of Daniel 9:24-27. I do not mean to caricature dispensationists, but probably have as I've tried to represent their view but haven't provided much detail as to how they reach their conclusions. Sorry to my dispensational brothers!
Before we get into Christian interpretation of Daniel’s 70 weeks and the 42 months, we should note how Jewish writings interpreted it. Here there were three overlapping understandings. First, that the 3 ½ years stands for a general time of trial for faithful Jews, or that it was to be associated with the Babylonian captivity, or as the period that Israel must pass through before its final redemption.
Without going into too much detail, dispensationalists believe the sixty-nine weeks (7+62) leads up to Christ. The last week is the final period of history, the seven year tribulation. Dispensationalists insert an indeterminate gap of great length (now approaching 2000 years) between the end of the sixty-ninth week and the beginning of the seventieth week.  Consequently, the events of v. 26 happen after week sixty-nine but before week seventy, in this indeterminate parenthesis. And, the events of v. 27 happen after the parenthesis (the church age) in the final seven years of tribulation. So, at the end of the sixty-ninth week, during this gap, the Messiah will be cut off, the ‘people of the ruler’ will destroy the city (70AD). The gap continues for 2000 years (and counting) until Christ’s second coming (rapture) when the seventieth week will start and the events of v. 27 will unfold. The ‘he’ of v. 27 is taken to be the AntiChrist who will confirm a covenant (a political/military treaty) for this week (7 years). In the middle of this seven years (3 ½ years into the tribulation), he’ll put an end to temple sacrifice and set up an “abomination that causes desolation”. Obviously, this requires a rebuilt temple and a reconstitution of sacrifices in the last days. This takes us to the end.
My understanding is vastly different. Looking at Daniel I believe the seventy-weeks (literally translated as seventy sevens) are symbolic of fullness. For example, when Jesus is asked how many times to forgive, seven or seventy, he replies ‘seventy times seven’. Of course, this is symbolic - I should forgive Lynn for being bossy on the 491st time just as much as the 490th time! In the context of Daniel, this seventy-sevens is similar – the seventy years of exile (a symbolic, round number) isn’t enough to change people’s hearts. Seventy sevens are needed 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” (Daniel 9:24). Like Peter’s scale of forgiveness was too small, so was Daniel’s timescale for restoration and salvation.
This complete restoration, which is what Daniel is asking God about in his prayer preceding and precipitating the vision, involves in all three stages. The first seven sevens (forty-nine years) begins with God’s decree to rebuild the temple (in response to Daniel’s prayer in v. 23) and continues till its completion. This time and the sixty-two sevens that follow are times of trouble (fitting well with what we know of the struggles to rebuild and the intra-testamental period).  So, the restoration has begun, but isn’t the full idyllic restoration hoped for.  A Messiah is needed for that. The sixty-two sevens take us from the rebuilding of the city to the time of Jesus and the cutting off of the Messiah. So far, dispensationalists would agree with most of this paragraph.  We will disagree radically (understatement) when it comes to the final week and how this plays out. Daniel 9:26-27 reads,
“25 Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. 26 And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. 27 And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.”(ESV)
As noted above, dispensationalists read a gap between v. 25 & 27. This gap is necessitated because they read the account as strictly chronological. I think it’s more natural to see v. 26 & 27 in parallel, not chronological, both describing what happens in the seventieth week. In other words, at the end of the sixty-ninth week (sixty-two weeks which were preceded by seven weeks) the seventieth week starts. This seventieth week takes us from the time of Christ till the end of history. It is a symbolic week covering the entire church age.
I mentioned that I disagree radically with the dispensationalist interpretation of these verses. It’s hard to imagine a more radical disagreement, for where they see Antichrist, I see Christ himself. The ‘anointed one’ introduced in v. 25 is also a ‘prince’. He makes his appearance at the end of the sixty-ninth week, but not triumphantly as Daniel and his fellow Jews in exile would expect. He will be cut off and have nothing – surely a reference to crucifixion. The anointed one and prince in v. 25 is the anointed one in v. 26 and also the prince of v. 26. No new antichrist figure is introduced here as dispensationalists assert. The ‘people of the prince’, the Jews, destroy the city and the sanctuary. This is a foretelling of the destruction of the temple and the city in 70AD, not a still future destruction of a rebuilt temple by antichrist. It is the ‘people of the prince’, the Jews, who are responsible for this, and that is true on two levels. The ‘people of the prince’ brought this judgment upon themselves in their rejection of Christ (see Luke 19:41-44; Matt 23:37-24:2 & 27:25).  Moreover, it was Jewish rebellion against Rome that brought on the siege and destruction in 70AD. The destruction of Jerusalem was not so much the work of Roman armies and General Titus as it was the work of God’s judgment in response to Israel’s transgression.
Furthermore, it is Christ who makes a strong covenant with many, referring to the new covenant in his blood, not a political treaty made by antichrist and many people. The context of Daniel 9 is covenantal. Daniel acknowledges God’s covenant faithfulness (Daniel 9:4) and pleads for mercy despite Israel’s failings. In response, Gabriel gives him this vision and tells of a coming Anointed Prince (Messiah) who will make a strong covenant for one week (i.e. the entire seventieth week, symbolic of the church age).
The second half of verse 27 is incredibly hard not only to interpret, but to translate. The words are simple enough, but hard to put into a coherent sentence. The best scholars disagree not just on interpretation, but translation. Taking the text as it stands above, it is possible to see ‘makes an end to sacrifices’ positively referring to Christ making sacrifices obsolete. More than likely though, it’s a negative reference to the destruction of the temple and the resultant cessation of the sacrificial system. This happens at some point in the middle of this symbolic week which began with Christ. And, in conjunction with this is “the abomination that causes desolation” (see Matt 24:15), probably referring to Titus, the Roman general, bringing his legionary standards with the symbol of Caesar and an eagle into the temple and offering sacrifices there (though other links to events of 70AD are also possible).
Having said that this refers to events around 70AD, I should clarify: I don’t think those historical events necessarily exhaust the references. The “abomination that makes desolate” in Daniel 12 most likely refers to the sacrifice of a pig on the altar by Anitochus Epiphanes IV in 168BC. Yet, Jesus doesn’t see this as the fulfillment that exhausts all fulfillments. With that precedent, it’s possible to look for further abominations surrounding the end, though not requiring a rebuilt, physical temple.
As mentioned above, this is likely one of the hardest passages in all of Scripture. There are aspects of my interpretation (taken from others, of course) that aren’t wholly satisfying. Yet, I find this interpretation to be the most compelling of all the proposed options, each having aspects that are less than satisfying. 

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