There is a certain relatively niche interpretation of the ninth chapter of the book of Daniel that claims that there will be a ‘tribulation’ that will last exactly seven years at some point in the future. Even though this view is quite new, it has become very popular in American Evangelical circles. This view involves a future Anti-Christ figure that will rebuild the Jewish Temple, make a covenant, break it, put an end to sacrifices, destroy Jerusalem and the Temple, and finally spark a massive war.
‘Dispensational’ theology, which is less than 200 years old, is an interpretative method that forces many Biblical prophesies to seek a future fulfillment, which requires ignoring how some historical events already match them. If history shows us how some Biblical prophesies have already happened, then it lends massive credibility to the authority of Scripture. Thankfully, when it comes to the 70th week of Daniel, history and Jesus confirm that it has already happened.
What We Can Agree On
Daniel’s prophecy was given to Israel. Because Israel had been unfaithful to Yahweh, he allowed his people to go into exile in Babylon, where Daniel was writing. The 70th week can be found in Daniel 9, in particular verses 24-27, where an angel explains how Israel will be extended a time of mercy.
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 Place.
Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One [Messiah], 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.
After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One [Messiah] will be put to death 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. 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 the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.
Daniel 9:24-26 NIV, 27 ESV
It should be noted that the first half of this prophecy is generally agreed upon by traditional and Dispensationalist interpreters. The ‘sevens’ or ‘weeks’ are understood to be spans of seven years (Genesis 29:27, Leviticus 25:8, Numbers 14:34, Ezekiel 4:4-6), so “seventy sevens” would be 70×7 equal to 490 years. This span of time of mercy is said to be decreed for the people of Israel to accomplish these six things (Daniel 9:24): 1. to finish transgression, 2. to put an end to sin, 3. to atone for wickedness, 4. to bring in everlasting righteousness, 5. to seal up vision and prophecy, and 6. to anoint the Most Holy Place. All six of these things needed to be accomplished within a 490 year period. We’ll come back to these later.
So when does this 490 year period start? The angel tells Daniel: “From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One [Messiah], the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’” (Daniel 9:25). There is incredible detail here. The prophetic clock of 490 years starts “from the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.” This exact event happened in 457 BC under Artaxerxes, the king of Persia (Ezra 7:12-26).1 From the time the clock starts, there will be “seven sevens and sixty-two sevens” (7×7+62×7), which equals 483 years “until the Messiah, the ruler, comes.” Starting with the year 457 BC and adding 483 years, we land on the year AD 27—the exact year that Jesus came onto the scene. This is by far the most illustrious prediction of Christ in all the Old Testament. But it gets even more incredible—the prophecy even says that the Messiah will die (Daniel 9:26).
Where The Paths Diverge
So far, we’ve seen that there is a prophetic countdown clock containing 490 years that started in 457 BC, which details when the Messiah would arrive (483 years later) and be put to death. Nearly all scholars agree on these details. But in the most bizarre of interpretive methods, Dispensational theology claims that after 483 years in the clock to reach 490, it took a pause. A very long, undetermined long pause. The claim is that the last 7 years of the clock have been on pause for 2,000 years and are reserved for some time in the future where there will be a “Great Tribulation,” which lasts those 7 years. Why the pause in the clock? No reason, only because it must be that way to back up their Dispensational set of Futurist predictions.2 There is no example in Scripture of a stated time period starting, stopping, and then starting again. All biblical references to time are consecutive: 40 days and 40 nights (Genesis 7:4), 400 years in Egypt (Genesis 15:13), and 70 years of captivity (Daniel 9:2). Logic also requires that the 70th week follow immediately after the 69th week. If it doesn’t, then it cannot properly be called the 70th week. Aside from the preposterous and unwarranted pause on the 490-year clock, Dispensational interpretation also makes the dangerous mistake of interpreting Jesus as the ‘Anti-Christ.’
Daniel says nothing about a seven-year period of ‘tribulation,’ a ‘rebuilt’ Jewish temple, or any ‘antichrist.’ The term ‘anti-christ‘ obviously doesn’t even appear in the Old Testament. So let’s try to read the following passages without reading an anti-christ into the text. “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.” (Daniel 9:26). Both traditional and Dispensational interpreters do agree that this verse is in reference to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. But while traditional interpreters see this as already fulfilled when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed in 70 AD, Dispensational interpreters require the Temple to be rebuilt a third time in order to be destroyed again, as predicted in this verse. Traditional interpreters see “the people of the ruler” to be “the Roman armies of Titus,” and Dispensational interpreters see it as “the armies of the Anti-Christ.” This is where this new view goes off the rails.
Because the “Anti-Christ” is read into the text, the following verses are falsely interpreted as applying to this figure instead of Jesus. “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.” (Daniel 9:27). Keep in mind, the majority of this passage pertains to the Messiah, so when the word “he” is used, it is likely referring to him.3 Who do we know that we know for certain confirmed a covenant with many and put an end to sacrifice and offering? Jesus, of course!4 No evil figure in the Bible ever makes a covenant. Jesus came to declare the arrival of the New Covenant (Luke 22:20).5 Jesus also put an end to sacrifice and offering.
The End of the Temple System
Daniel says that “in the middle of the seven he will put an end to sacrifice and offering.” This seven is in reference to the last seven years of the 490 year period of grace, starting at the time of the Messiah’s arrival. In the middle of the last seven, after 3.5 years, Jesus put an end to sacrifice and offering when he died on the cross, and the Temple’s curtain was torn in two (Matthew 27:51). Jesus was the final sacrifice that covered all the sins of the entire world; no more would ever be needed (Hebrews 7:27, 9:24-26). As far as God is concerned, “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all“ (Hebrews 10:10). Because of Christ’s death on the cross, “sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary“ (Hebrews 10:18).6
When the Temple’s curtain was torn completely from top to bottom, the daily sacrifices would have ended. So both by God’s standards and the Jew’s standards the sacrifices were put to an end. But of course, the Jews repaired the curtain and resumed sacrifices in defiance of the Messiah’s once and for all sacrifice. Because of this, we can see a double-fulfillment of the end of sacrifices7—first for the Christians, as far as God is concerned because of the Lamb’s sacrifice halfway through the final seven (John 1:29), and secondly for the Jews, when the Temple is completely destroyed by the Roman armies led by Titus in AD 70.8
The people [armies] of the ruler [Titus] who will come will destroy the city [Jerusalem] and the sanctuary [Temple]. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed.
Now because of Jesus, today, the Church is the Temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:17, 6:19; Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:4-5). Jesus and his followers have replaced the Temple building; any physical temple is now in defiance of the King. Just as the Temple has been replaced, the Priesthood has also been (1 Peter 2:9). Because the entire Temple system has been fulfilled and replaced by Jesus and his followers, the physical Temple system could be done away with, and Daniel 9 prophesies exactly that. So why would anyone think the Temple needs to be rebuilt so someone can tear it down again?
Abominations and Desolations
Everything is pretty clear up until the last verse when we get to some tricky translation issues.
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 at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.
Daniel 9:27 NIV
As we’ve seen, Jesus was the one who confirmed a new covenant with many and put an end to sacrifice directly in the middle of the final week of years. In the NIV translation, it then says that “at the temple, he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.” Well, we know that Jesus clearly doesn’t set up any abominations, so what is going on? Dispensationalist interpreters see this verse as proof that the covenant and end of sacrifices can be attributed to someone other than Jesus, but it isn’t that easy. There are several issues. First, the word ‘temple’ is incorrect. Second, the words ‘he’ and ‘him’ don’t appear in the original Hebrew. You should now be beginning to see how this verse could be so misunderstood.
Out of the top 50 most popular English Bible translations, the Hebrew word ‘כְּנַ֤ף’ is translated to ‘temple’ 10 times, ‘place’ 8 times, and ‘wing’ 22 times. While the word ‘temple’ favors a Dispensationalist interpretation, scholars generally agree this is inaccurate as all Hebrew dictionaries define ‘כְּנַ֤ף’ as ‘wing.’9 Another issue is that ‘he,’ ‘him,’ or ‘one’ is not in the Hebrew version of this verse, meaning the “abomination that causes desolation” are not in relation to ‘the one’ or ‘him’ but to a ‘wing.’ When the ESV and NRSV, versions concerned with literal word-for-word translations, are combined they render the Hebrew about as accurately as possible with, “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 the wing shall be an abomination that desolates, until the decreed end is poured out upon the desolator.“10
As Professor of Old Testament Interpretation, Peter Gentry, points out, the book of Daniel has several literary chiastic structures that can be identified with the trained eye. Below are excerpts from his paper, “Daniel’s Seventy Weeks and the New Exodus.”11
Verses 25-27 are not to be read in a linear manner according to the logic of prose in the western world based upon a Greek and Roman heritage. Instead, the approach in ancient Hebrew literature is to take up a topic and develop it from a particular perspective and then to stop and start anew, taking up the same theme again from another point of view. This approach is kaleidoscopic and recursive. It is like hearing music from stereo system speakers sequentially instead of simultaneously. First comes the music of the right speaker; then comes the music of the left speaker. Then the person hearing (i.e., reading) puts the two together into a three-dimensional stereo whole.
First, v. 25 introduces the first period of seven weeks and the gap of sixty-two weeks to the climactic seventieth week. This last week is described twice in verses 26 and 27. Verses 26a and 27a describe the work of the Messiah in dying vicariously to uphold a covenant with many and deal decisively with sin, thus ending the sacrificial system. Verses 26b and 27b show that ironically, supreme sacrilege against the temple at this time will result in the destruction of the city of Jerusalem. Thus verses 26-27 have an A-B-A´-B´ structure. This fits the normal patterns in Hebrew literature to deal with a topic recursively. The literary structure can be diagrammed as follows:
A. “And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing.” (v. 26a)
B. “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.” (v. 26b)
A’. “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.” (v. 27a)
B’. “And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.” (v. 27b)
In this structure, A and A’ refer to the same event: the sacrificial work of the anointed one. Sections B and B’ each have a single event in mind as well: the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple.
Observing this literary structure is crucial because one can explain difficulties in one section using the parallel section. For example, “the people of the coming leader” in v. 26b bring ruin to the reconstructed Jerusalem. Verse 27b provides further details showing that the “one causing desolation” does so in association with abominations.
Jesus can help us understand what the “abomination that desolates” is because he mentions it as well. When prophesying about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (which would take place in AD 70), Jesus says, “when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” (Matthew 24:15-16). Jesus is referencing several places in the book of Daniel that mention the abomination (Daniel 9:27, 11:31, 12:11). While part of Daniels prophesy was already fulfilled in 168 BC by Antiochus Epiphanes, the Greek king of the Seleucid Empire12, Jesus saw Daniel’s prophecy as having an echoed fulfillment in Rome’s siege of Jerusalem in AD 70. Christ’s words about the abomination of desolation are repeated in Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Matthew 24:15-16, Mark 13:14, Luke 21:20-21). Matthew references Daniel’s prophesy because of its primarily Jewish audience, which would have understood what it was, while Luke needs to actually explain what the “abomination of desolation” is for his Gentile audience. Luke replaces the phrase “the abomination that causes desolation” with “Jerusalem being surrounded by armies,” spelling out for us exactly what the phrase means: the Roman army.13
490 Years of Mercy
God spoke to Israel through Daniel, giving them 490 years of grace to straighten up and change their ways. As was mentioned earlier, the 490 years were given to accomplish six things. While Dispensationalist interpreters require the 490 to be split at 483 and 7 years with a gap of 2,000+ years in between, traditional interpreters see the entire 490 years being fulfilled sequentially without a pause or gap. The six items are listed in Daniel 9:24 as a requirement for completing the 490 years, so let’s take a look and see if they were.
…to finish transgression: By crucifying Jesus, the Jews filled up the measure of their transgression; thus, it was finished, and judgment was due upon that generation (Luke 23:27-30, Matthew 24:34).
…to put an end to sin: Jesus offered one sacrifice for sins forever and canceled our sins. This was fulfilled when the angel of the Lord told Mary to call her child Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21; Hebrews 1:3, 9:12-14, 10:12).
…to atone for wickedness: Before Christ’s death on the cross, we were enemies of God; now we have been reconciled to him (Romans 5:8-11).
…to bring in everlasting righteousness: The everlasting new covenant provides righteousness apart from the Law of the old covenant, by which no one was made righteous (Romans 3:19-26).
…to seal up vision and prophecy: This was part of the punishment upon the people of Israel, that both vision and prophet—eye and ear—were closed up so that “seeing they would not see, and hearing they would not hear” (Isaiah 6:10, Acts 28:17-28, Micah 3:1-7).
…to anoint the Most Holy Place: This is the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the Church at Pentecost, anointing the temple of the living God, the Most Holy Place (2 Corinthians 6:16).
All six of these prophesies were fulfilled in Jesus during his first coming. Every event described in Daniel 9:24-27 has already happened. Daniel heard the prophecy of 490 years of mercy, he heard that it would start when the edict to rebuild Jerusalem went forth, the city was rebuilt, 483 years went by, the Messiah appeared, which happened in AD 27 when Jesus began his ministry. Then, halfway through the last seven years of the 490 years of mercy, Jesus ended animal sacrifice, and was put to death in AD 30. That leaves three and a half years left on the clock to reach 490 years.
Approximately three and a half years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, when the end of the 490 years was reached, three events happened that signified the end of mercy for the old covenant. First, the Jews began killing Christians. Starting with Stephen, his murder was approved and instigated by the chief ruler of the Jewish synagogue (Acts 7:1, 54-60). Second, not long after, God gave Peter a vision explaining that he needed to start bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10:34-35, 44-45). Third, Jesus appeared to Paul and sent him to be a missionary to the Gentiles (Acts 9:1-5). All three of these events signified the end of the 490 years of mercy that God had extended to the old Israel. Now, the Temple, the City, the Land, and the People were no longer confined to one location or ethnicity.
Proof of Biblical Authority
Daniel 9 contains powerful prophesies that detail the exact dates of the Messiah’s arrival, the Messiah’s death, the end of the old covenant, the confirmation of a new covenant, the end of the Temple system, and the coming destruction of Jerusalem. It is incredible. Unfortunately, Dispensational theology replaces half of these fulfilled prophesies with fanciful nonsense about a future world ruler who has to rebuild the temple only so he can destroy it again. Dispensational theology confuses Jesus for “the Anti-Christ.” How ironic.
There isn’t a future tribulation we need to worry about. The tribulation is a well-documented historical event and it is imperative that the modern Church teaches Christ-followers that it was the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem—because it is literally a predicted part of the Messianic prophesy of Jesus Christ. Yes, we will have trials, but because of Christ’s victory on the cross, the world will continue to get better as the Kingdom of God overtakes the earth.
The proof that Daniel 9 has already completely taken place represents both an incredible confidence that God spoke truth through the book of Daniel, and hope because Jesus promised that the world will never be as terrible as it was during the tribulation (Matthew 24:21).
- There is some disagreement as to which decree for the rebuilding of Jerusalem is being referenced. King Artaxerxes gave a decree allowing Nehemiah to go and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in 445 BC. King Artaxerxes gave another decree in 457 BC. King Cyrus gave a decree for the Jews to return and build the temple in 539 BC. These three decrees, after 483 years, land either at the birth of Jesus, the triumphal entry of Jesus on Palm Sunday, or the crucifixion of Jesus, or the stoning of Stephen. Which one is not as important as the fact that they all land during the time of Jesus.
- “The idea of separation and the placement of an indeterminable gap between the two sets of weeks is one of the most unnatural and nonliteral interpretations of Scripture found in any eschatology system. This interpretation is taught by those who insist on a literal hermeneutic, if dispensationalists were consistent in their literalism, they would never manipulate Scripture to fit an already established prophetic system.” DeMar, Gary. Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church, Wolgemuth & Hyatt Pub, 1999. p 95.
- The reference in the previous verse is to “the people of the ruler,” not the “ruler” himself. Therefore, grammatically the next “he” should apply to the “Messiah” that is referenced several times previously.
- “The confirmation of the covenant is assigned to Him also elsewhere. Is 42:6, “I will give thee for a covenant of the people” (that is, He in whom the covenant between Israel and God is personally expressed); compare Lu 22:20, “The new testament in My blood”; Mal 3:1, “the angel of the covenant”; Je 31:31–34, describes the Messianic covenant in full.” Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, vol. 1 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 641.
- “He shall confirm the covenant—Christ. The confirmation of the covenant is assigned to Him.” Rev. Robert Jamieson, Rev. A.R. Fausset, and Rev. David Brown, A Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, Complete Edition, (Hartford, CT: S.S. Scranton Company: 1871) 641, notes on Daniel 9:27. Another famous commentary written by British Methodist Adam Clarke says that during Daniel 9:27’s “term of seven years,” Jesus himself would “confirm or ratify the new covenant with mankind.”The Holy Bible with a Commentary and Critical Notes by Adam Clarke, Vol. IV—Isaiah to Malachi, (New York, NY: Abingdon-Cokesbury, written about 1825) 602, notes on Daniel 9:27.
- The world-famous Bible commentary written by Matthew Henry says about Daniel 9:27: “By offering himself a sacrifice once and for all he [Jesus] shall put an end to all the Levitical sacrifices.” Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. IV—Isaiah to Malachi, Complete Edition, (New York, NY: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1712) 1094-1095, notes on Daniel 9:27.
- “And indeed it so came to pass, that our nation suffered these things under Antiochus Epiphanes, according to Daniel’s vision, and what he wrote many years before they came to pass. In the very same manner Daniel also wrote concerning the Roman government, and that our country should be made desolate by them.” Flavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), 276, p285.
- “The seventy weeks extend to A.D. 33. Israel was not actually destroyed till A.D. 79, but it was so virtually, A.D. 33, about three or four years after Christ’s death, during which the Gospel was preached exclusively to the Jews. When the Jews persecuted the Church and stoned Stephen (Ac 7:54–60), the respite of grace granted to them was at an end (Lu 13:7–9). Israel, having rejected Christ, was rejected by Christ, and henceforth is counted dead (compare Ge 2:17 with Ge 5:5; Ho 13:1, 2), its actual destruction by Titus being the consummation of the removal of the kingdom of God from Israel to the Gentiles (Mt 21:43)” Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, vol. 1 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 641.
- David J. A. Clines, ed., The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press; Sheffield Phoenix Press, 1993–2011), 438. Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 489.
- “Certainly this end of the Jews will be by no means similar to their transmigration to Egypt or Babylon; in fact they were dismissed from there after four hundred years, and from here after seventy. This ruin fixed by the decree of God the judge will remain immutable to the end. He shall make a strong covenant with many: Christ will make the Testament holy and firm through one week and half a week, until he removes the victim and the sacrifice. He is the one who set the victim and the sacrifice but who also abolishes them. In their place shall be an abomination that desolates: the Romans, after submitting Judea to their power, placed the eagle, symbol of their emperor, in the temple. And this is what we read: “So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken by the prophet Daniel.” Until the decreed end is poured out on desolation, that is, until the full execution of the divine decrees, the city will be given to oblivion and will lie destroyed and abandoned.” —Ephrem the Syrian (b. c. 306; fl. 363–373) Kenneth Stevenson and Michael Gluerup, eds., Ezekiel, Daniel, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 269.
- Determined to stamp out the Jews’ religion, he erected a statue to Zeus in the temple, turned the temple into a brothel, and sacrificed a pig on the altar.
- Finally, the word ‘wing’ could be in reference to the golden eagles that would adorn the military standards for Roman Legions that marched towards Jerusalem and destroyed it. About the siege, Luke reads, “Two men will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left.” And they answered and said to Him, “Where, Lord?” So He said to them, “Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.”” (Luke 17:36-37 NKJV).