Anyone who has spent time fossicking around in the Bible will agree, it really is living and active. Often a verse, a saying, a paragraph, a concept, a principle will seemingly jump out at you. It’s as if you have not seen or heard it before. Even in the middle of a well read passage. For me, 70 ‘sevens’ or 70 ‘weeks’ is one such expression.
Note:- because the content of this post “walks through” the bulk of two chapters of Scripture you may find it helpful to have a copy of the NIV translation at hand for reference.
Daniel Chapter 9
There it was, nestled quietly toward the back end of Daniel’s notes (Daniel chapter 9). This particular note was about an experience he had during his daily “quiet times”.
Daniel 9:1 – His record dates the time to be in the 68th year of the exile in Babylon.
[Babylonians besieged Jerusalem 606BC and the Persians defeated Babylonians and took over control of Jerusalem in 539BC]
Daniel 9:2 – He wrote “I … understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years”. See Jeremiah 25, in particular, Jeremiah 25:11-12 and Jeremiah 29:10
Some trivia: Jeremiah was a contemporary of Daniel and his prophecies were already considered as Scripture – ‘the word of the Lord’, at least by Daniel.
Then, in Daniel 9:3-20 – we read that Daniel moved into a time of confession. Followed by a time of praying, “making my request to the Lord my God for his holy hill [Jerusalem]” (vs 20).
Daniel 9:21 – While Daniel was still praying, the angel Gabriel turned up. He was the angel who would later tell Zechariah about his wife’s pregnancy. He would also tell Mary about her miraculous child to be, Jesus.
Gabriel explained that he had come to give Daniel “insight and understanding” (vs 22). He also assured Daniel that he (Daniel) was “highly esteemed [by God]” (vs 23).
Then in Daniel 9:24 – Gabriel declared “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city……”
70 ‘Sevens’ or 70 ‘Weeks’
What a strange expression, “Seventy ‘sevens’”. Of course I checked out the verse in many English versions of the Bible – almost all used “Seventy ‘weeks’ ”. It was only the NIV, NLT and a couple of others that used 70 ‘sevens’. Common sense told me that what followed could not possibly occur in 70 weeks so there must be another meaning …… grab the Hebrew Concordance again as explained back in a much earlier article “what’s the Bible mean by ‘praise’?”
Interestingly, the Hebrew word for ‘week’ in this context literally means ‘sevened’ – a week of years (7 years). I can’t recall hearing anything about this nor having read it before. But I’m sure it has always been in there!!!
Consequently, one ‘week’ = 7 years, two ‘weeks’ = 14 yrs and so on. Thus, 70 ‘weeks’ or 70 ‘sevens’ = 70 lots of 7 years, ie 490 years. In other words, 1 ‘day’ = 1yr. This turns out to be a not so foreign concept. In Ezekiel 4:4-6 Ezekiel enacted a siege against both Israel and then Judah as we saw in the earlier article ‘what’s the go with the prophets?’. In each case his assignment was the same number of days as the years of their sin. i.e. 1 day for 1 year.
Back to Daniel ….
In Daniel 9:24 – Gabriel declared that 70 ‘sevens’ (490 years) had been set for the Israelites and the city of Jerusalem to get their act together. They were to:-
- finish transgression
- put an end to sin
- atone for wickedness
- bring in everlasting righteousness
- seal up vision and prophecy and
- anoint the Most Holy
In other words, they had 490 years to totally eradicate sin and establish righteousness in their midst. 2½ thousand years later, we know that Jesus was the only possible way these could happen. He came and accomplished point three (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17) and paved the way for the first and second point. Also see the previous article … “the work of Jesus part ii – atonement”. The last three points are yet to be achieved.
The Events of the 70 ‘Sevens’
Daniel 9:25-27 – Gabriel laid out God’s plan …… a time-frame for nine events, saying “Know and understand this” …
- There will be an order given to restore and rebuild Jerusalem
- The time from that command until the Messiah comes, will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens’ i.e.
49 years (7 ‘sevens”) then another 434 years (62 ‘sevens’), a total of 483yrs
- Jerusalem will be wholly rebuilt, the wall, the streets, the trench (moat) in times of trouble
- After the 434 yrs (62 ‘sevens’) the Messiah will be put to death
- The people of the ruler who will come (in the future) will destroy the city and the sanctuary
- War will continue until the end and desolations (miseries and anguishes) are part of it
- The ruler who is to come (when he comes) will confirm a covenant with many for 7 yrs (one ‘seven’)
- In the middle of the ‘seven’ [after 3½ yrs] he will put an end to sacrifice and offering
- At the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed falls on him
Backed By Jesus
“Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3). The disciples wanted to know three things. When the temple buildings would be destroyed, what would be the sign of Jesus’ return and this age ending.
Firstly, Jesus warned them of false messiahs and of what he called the beginning of birth pains. The list included wars, rumours of wars, nations against nation, famines and earthquakes. Then there will be persecution and hatred so bad that many will turn away. There will be lots of deception from false prophets (Matthew 24:4-14).
Then, in Matthew 24:15 Jesus referenced Daniel 9:27 regarding a very obvious, unique and incredibly important sign. “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation’, spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand …” it’s time. Time for “… those who are in Judea [to] flee to the mountains” (Matthew 24:16).
In Matthew 24:17-25 Jesus described “the great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equalled again”. [Almost ½ the English translations used the phrase ‘the great tribulation’]. He once more warned of many false prophets and messiahs, “See, I have told you ahead of time”.
In Matthew 24:29-31 Jesus quoted a prophecy from Isaiah 13:10; 34:4 about the sun going dark etc and said “ ‘Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. ….And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.’ ”
The Fig Tree –
Jesus then told them to “… learn this lesson from the fig tree: …” (Matthew 24:32-33). Anyone can tell the season by watching for the signs – twigs get tender, leaves come out … summer is near. It’s the same for the end of the age, Christ’s return. We must eagerly watch for the signs so we can tell when the season is near.
History witnessed 69 of the 70 ‘sevens’
The first 69 ‘sevens’ ie 483 years of the prophecy have already been fulfilled.
- the timer started in 444BC when King Artaxerxes authorized Nehemiah to return from Babylon to restore and rebuild Jerusalem starting with the wall ( see the ‘biography of Nehemiah’ in the Britannica ).
- From that date it took ~49yrs to complete the rebuild of Jerusalem “with streets and a trench” (Daniel 9:25). As Nehemiah tells us, they started with the wall.
- Then, in another 434yrs*, Jesus entered Jerusalem as the Messiah.
- The Gospels tell us Jesus’ death occurred later that week.
- In 70AD the Romans destroyed the city and the sanctuary. The reference to “the ruler who will come” is generally accepted to mean the Antichrist, coming much later. But the Romans are here interpreted as being his agents.
- Wars and desolations have certainly continued for the Israelites and it is no stretch of the imagination that they will indeed continue until the end of the age.
* NB the Israelites used a lunar calendar – 360 days in a year. Genesis 8:3-4 declares 150days to be exactly 5months. So the 483yrs (69 ‘sevens’) convert to 476yrs in our Gregorian (solar) calendar. Also realise that there is no 0th year. So that means, 1BC ran straight into 1AD. Then, adding 476yrs onto 444BC takes us to 33AD – the year Christ was crucified according to most scholars (see Jesus: Messiah, Redeemer and Healer)
The last three Events 7 – 9 are all listed as occurring in the last one of the 70 ‘sevens’, not yet taken place.
What Happened to the 70 ‘sevens’ ?
So history has recorded the events of 483 of the years foretold by Gabriel. Leaving 7yrs (1 more ‘sevens’ – 1 more ‘weeks’) still not fulfilled. Scholars speak of a “gap” in the timeline declared by Gabriel. A time in which God paused His 490yr timer (70 ‘sevens’) for the Israelites to eradicate sin and establish righteousness. It’s been on hold as it were, since the 483rd year, the year of the death and resurrection of the Messiah in 33AD. As Gabriel predicted, “when the Anointed One [was] put to death”.
Something really different happened after the death and resurrection of the Messiah. Before Jesus ascended He instructed His disciples to take the Word of God beyond Israel into all the nations (Matthew 28:19). Not because God changed His mind!! It was simply the time that God had planned to start drawing in Gentiles (non-Israelites) just as He had the prophets foretell. Paul addressed this in Romans 10:11-20 wherein he embedded some of the prophetic statements of God’s plan for more than the Israelites. They speak of a time, necessarily before the complete 70 ‘sevens’, when …
- “I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.”
(Moses: Deuteronomy 32:21) …. the Gentiles are not a nation.
- “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame” (Isaiah 28:16) …. “anyone” is inclusive of the Gentiles
- “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me” (Isaiah 65:1)
- “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Joel 2:32)
So The Clock Paused For Israel while the Gentiles hear the Good News
In Romans 11 Paul explained that, although the Israelites had stumbled they had not fallen beyond recovery. “Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious” (Romans 11:11b). Moreover, “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in and in this way all Israel will be saved”(Romans 11:25-26a). Paul referred to this mystery in several letters. But in Ephesians 3:6 he spelled it out, “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus”.
As Matthew Henry comments, the coalition of Jews and Gentiles in the gospel church was a mystery, a great mystery, designed by God before He created the world. He reflects, who would have imagined that those who had been in the dark for so long, and lived so far from God, would be enlightened with the marvellous light, and be drawn near?
Paul says to the Romans (they’re Gentiles) “Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” (Romans 11:30-32).
Many scholars believe we are living in the era of the gap between the 69th ‘seven’ and the 70th ‘seven’. It is referred to as the Church Age. The Israelites are experiencing a partial hardening of heart for a season. Meanwhile, God has birthed and is building His Church among the Gentiles.
Gabriel hinted of such a season/gap. He described the events of the last of the 70‘sevens’ separate from the other 69. In
Daniel 9:25 Gabriel spoke of two timeframes back-to-back:- “there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens’ ”.
It was later in vs 27 when speaking about the end of the age, Gabriel described the events of one more ‘seven’.
The Final ‘Week’ of the 70 ‘Sevens’
The last of the 70 ‘sevens’ from Daniel 9 contains the Great Tribulation period and the end of the age.
Gabriel’s prophecy reveals some of the details of that seven year period, the last ‘seven’. Daniel 9:27 says, “He [the Antichrist] will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven’ ”. However, “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”.
It is worth noting. So the Antichrist can put an end to sacrifices and offerings; so he can set up the abomination in the Holy Place:-
- sacrifices and offerings will have resumed for the first time since 70AD.
- a special peace must be restored in Jerusalem that would facilitate the re-building of the Temple, again, for the first time since 70AD. Why must there be a new Temple? To house the sacrifices and the Holy Place for the abomination.
Like Jesus said, we can tell the seasons from the Fig Tree. Then, in like manner we can recognise the season of the end from these rather clear/noticeable signs. Jesus referenced these in Daniel’s note of what he received from Gabriel …
- Peace in Jerusalem (implied by there being a new Temple)
- Sacrifices and Offerings in the Temple
- A violation of the covenant of peace after 3½ yrs indicated by …
- Ending sacrifice and offering in the Temple
- An abomination that causes desolation desecrates the Temple
Jesus said, “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation, …’ ” and also … “For then there will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equalled again.” (Matthew 24:15, 21). Jesus completes the picture (his answer) by adding a description of His return. “Immediately after the distress of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. …. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from … one end of the heavens to the other” (Matthew 24:29-31).
A slight digression
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there are numerous references to this 3½ year period of unequalled distress, particularly in the Revelation of John. For example, Revelation:-
11:2 informs us that during this time the Gentiles “will trample the holy city for 42 months”
11:3 tells of two witnesses prophesying throughout the 1260 days (remember, 30 days/mth in Jewish calendar)
13:5, 7 says the beast will blaspheme and exercise its authority over every tribe, people, language and nation for 42 months
12:14 even the NIV and NLT use an old school phrase of ‘a time, times and half a time’ for 3½yrs [1yr, 2yrs, half a yr]
Also, there are three common expressions related to the final ‘seven’. They are: the “Great Tribulation”; the “Time of Jacob’s Trouble”; and the “Day of The Lord”. I researched 60 English translations for Matthew 24:21 where the NIV translates Jesus saying “there will be great distress …”. Instead of ‘great distress’, 29 of them used the expression ‘great tribulation’ and one put it as ‘unparalleled tribulation’. In referring to the same horrible time, the prophet Jeremiah coined the phrase the ‘Time of Jacob’s Trouble’ in Jeremiah 30:7 (see AMP, ASV, NKJV for example). Remember that Jacob = Israel and vice versa since Genesis 32:28. Finally, at the close of the final ‘seven’, the Lord returns, the “Day of The Lord” (Matthew 24:30). Maybe the ‘Time of Jacob’s Trouble’ is a topic for another day.
Gabriel opened the window to the future of Israel for Daniel, right through until the end of this age. In Matthew 24, while answering the disciples’ questions, Jesus referred them back to Daniel’s record and possibly Matthew realised the importance adding “—let the reader understand—”. Jesus gave the disciples (and us) more detail and said, “Don’t let anyone mislead you” (vs 4) as He spoke of things to watch for.
In terms of His return, Jesus confirmed that the day and the hour are definitely unknown! … “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36). However, He did identify several signs to watch for. Signs that Gabriel gave to Daniel adding emphasis and some extra detail concerning His return. All of these significant signs start the last seven years of this age or mark the midpoint launching the Great Tribulation until the end when the Lord returns.
Our response? What should we do? “Therefore keep watch,…” “So you also must be ready …” (Matthew 24:42,44). Commentator, Matthew Henry wrote …. “We should be under the influence of a constant and general expectation”.
Equally, our love of the Lord should build a yearning for His return that we can proclaim “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!” as did John at the end of his revelation (Revelation 22:20b.
NOTE: When the disciples asked Jesus “… what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus referenced Daniel as a foundational part of His response. That persuaded me that this more “orthodox” interpretation of the 70 ‘sevens’ makes more sense than the alternative centred around Antiochus Epiphanes (Antiochus IV). That school of thought sees the vision from Gabriel completely fulfilled in history BC. If that was the case, there is no obvious reason then why Jesus would use it as part of His answer regarding His return and the end of the age…..
- The Holy Bible, New International Version®. Pradis CD-ROM Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, © 1973, 1978, 1984. [each emphasis has been added by the writer]
- The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Together with Dictionaries of the Hebrew and Greek Words with references to the English words by James Strong. Riverside Book and Bible House 93429837–8, Iowa Falls
- Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary – 1708-10 (Public Domain)
- Book: “The Day is Approaching”, Amir Tsarfati, Harvest House Publishers, 2020
- Article: “The year Jesus was crucified” in “Jesus: Messiah, Redeemer and Healer”, Rick Kennedy, 2020