Daniel’s Prophecy of the Seventy Sevens (Daniel 9:24-27)
Note: This essay is a slightly modified excerpt from my book on eschatology, called The High King of Heaven: Discovering the Master Keys to the Great End Time Debate. It is drawn from a chapter dealing with the proper interpretation of Old Testament Kingdom Prophecy (OTKP). There are many such prophecies, and Daniel 9:24-27 is among the most difficult and controversial. As a you will see if you read on (and I hope you will!), I have studied the different views with some care, and settled upon an interpretation that I believe is not only sound, but inspiring and timely. In this essay you will run across the acronym NCH, which stands for New Covenant Hermeneutic. The NCH is the method the apostles used to interpret the OT in general, and OT Kingdom prophecy in particular. In order to understand the NCH better, you may want to read this short article first. Also, the acronym DNT stands for Didactic New Testament, and references the distinctively teaching portions of the NT (as opposed, say, to historical narratives in the gospels and the book of Acts, or to the Revelation as a whole). My hope and prayer is that in this essay you will catch a fresh, exhilarating glimpse of the High King of heaven, his awesome plan for the ages, and the glorious inheritance that he has prepared for his beloved Bride.
The year is 539 B.C. Daniel, still in captivity under Darius the Mede, has been reading the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:11-12, 29:10). He realizes that the 70 years of Jerusalem’s desolation are nearing an end, but also that many captive Jews remain unbroken and impenitent (9:13). They are not spiritually qualified for the great restoration promised decades earlier.
So Daniel prays (9:3-23). First, he rehearses and confesses the sin of God’s covenant-breaking people (9:3-10). Then he acknowledges God’s justice in sending them into captivity (9:11-15). Finally, he makes his petition. Appealing solely to God’s mercy, grace, and zeal for the honor of his Name, he pleads with the LORD to fulfill his promise given through Jeremiah: to restore his City, his Sanctuary, and his Holy Mountain (9:16-19).
His words are not in vain. Even as he is praying, the angel Gabriel arrives and stands before him, declaring to Daniel that God has indeed heard his prayer and answered it. He (Gabriel) has been sent to give Daniel “insight and understanding” about the coming Restoration (9:20-23). In the four long verses that follow, he does (9:24-27)
Are you familiar with this famous OTKP, often referred to as the prophecy of Daniel’s Seventy Sevens (or Weeks)? If so, you know at least one thing for sure: A whole host of commentators have been seeking insight and understanding ever since! In the paragraphs ahead, we will see why.
The Three Main Views of Daniel 9
Close students of this short but complex OTKP know that interpreters differ widely on the exact meaning of dozens of the details found herein. To give but one illustration, Biederwolf cites at least eleven different opinions as to when, historically, the seventy sevens start.1 This is hardly an auspicious beginning! And yet, when we stand back and look at the history of interpretation surrounding this prophecy, we discover something both interesting and encouraging: In the end, the vast majority of conservative commentators espouse one of three main views. My purpose in this section is briefly to introduce them, and to explain why I believe that the Lord is now putting his finger on the one that is true.
1. The Traditional First Advent View (TFAV)
First, we have what I will call the Traditional First Advent View. It has been around from the beginning, and is still popular today. The basic idea here is that the terminus ad quem—the goal or end point—of the seventy weeks is the first advent of Christ.
Regarding the seventy sevens, there are differences of opinion. Some say they are 490 consecutive years, a commitment that forces them to look for a viable historical starting point. Others argue that they are symbolic, a commitment that delivers them from unwelcome computations and manipulations. But all agree that the great burden of the prophecy is to unveil the redemptive instrument—the New Covenant, and the Christ of the New Covenant—by which God will make an end of sins, bring in everlasting righteousness, and so create, once and for all, his eschatological City, Sanctuary, and Mountain (24).
How will God do this? Turning to the text itself, proponents of the TFAV reply: He will send a Messiah: an Anointed One, a holy Priest and Sacrifice, who, by God’s fore-ordination, will be cut off for the sins of his people (25, 26). Because of this, he will be able to make a firm covenant with his people—a New Covenant—, and in so doing will bring the Old Covenant sacrifices and burnt offerings to an end (27).
And that is not all that will be brought to an end. For another prince will come—the Roman general Titus—to destroy the former city (Herod’s Jerusalem) and the former sanctuary (Herod’s Temple) (26). This is indeed a divine judgment against the Jews, who rejected their Messiah. But it is also a message from God: Christ’s death has rendered the temple (and it sacrifices) abominable in his sight; therefore, he has decreed its perpetual desolation, a desolation that began with Titus’ assault (27).
There is, however, great good news: When the Messiah comes, and when he makes a New Covenant with his own, then a new City and a new Temple will arise: the Church. As the NT teaches, it is in the Church—and all throughout the Messianic Church Era—that God will accomplish the great eschatological Restoration that he promised through Jeremiah, and for which the prophet Daniel so fervently prayed (24).
Modern proponents of the TFAV include E. Hengstenberg, E. Pusey, E. J. Young, K. Riddlebarger, and I. Duguid.
A Critique of the TFAV
Because of the fluidity—indeed, the ambiguity—of the language of this prophecy, the TFAV seems, at first glance, to open it up quite well. However, upon closer inspection, we encounter some serious problems.
If, for example, the great Restoration envisioned in verse 24 is fulfilled under the New Covenant, why should the terminus ad quem of the prophecy be the first advent of Christ, rather than the second, when that restoration will be complete?
What of the sixty-two sevens of verses 25 and 26: Why do the proponents of the TFAV simply add them to the first seven, rather than pause and probe a little deeper for their significance?
Why do they assert that the “he” of verse 27—the one who will confirm a covenant with many—is Christ, when the person most recently spoken of in the preceding verse (26) is the prince (allegedly Titus) who will destroy the city and the sanctuary?
Why, if the “he” of verse 27 is Christ, does the angel again point to his death here (“He will bring an end to sacrifice and offering”), when, in verse 26, he has already spoken of the (alleged) destruction of Herod’s city and sanctuary?
Why, if this is Christ, will he establish a covenant with many only for one week, rather than forever (27)?
Why is the prophecy silent as to what occurs in the last half of the seventieth seven, after Christ brings an end to sacrifice and offering (27)?
And why does it conclude with such a great emphasis upon the destruction of the temple? Is this not an odd way of wrapping up a divine revelation meant to unveil the Messianic restoration of all things!
Perhaps, then, in light of all these questions, there is a more satisfying interpretation than the one offered in the TFAV.
2. The Dispensational Two-Advent View (DTAV)
The second view is the Dispensational Two-Advent View. Unlike the TFAV, it holds that here Daniel refers not only to Christ’s first advent, but also to his second, when he comes again at the end of a seven year season of tribulation for ethnic Israel. This view has little historic precedent, having arisen in mid-19th century England among the Plymouth Brethren. And yet, for reasons discussed earlier, it has become widely popular in evangelical circles. It is the most complex and controversial of the three interpretations. If, however, we confine ourselves to the basics, it is fairly easy to describe and understand. Let us briefly survey it, verse by verse.
Dispensationalists reckon the seventy sevens of verse 24 as seventy weeks of years; as 490 calendar years. They acknowledge that the six blessings here promised to Daniel’s people are achieved by the earthly work of Christ, and that they will reach their full fruition in the New Heavens and the New Earth. Nevertheless, in a major departure from the TFAV, they do not agree that Daniel’s people and city appear here primarily as OT types of the eschatological People and City of God: the Church. Instead, Dispensationalists insist that Gabriel is speaking primarily of spiritual blessings that God will bestow upon ethnic Israel in the Millennium; in the dispensation of the (earthly, Jewish, and Messianic) Kingdom that is (allegedly) the true theme of all OTKP.
The subject matter of verse 25 is the (events of the) first 69 weeks. These total 483 calendar years. According to (most) dispensationalists, they began in 445 B.C., when king Artaxerxes issued a decree authorizing the restoration of Jerusalem, which was indeed rebuilt in stressful times under the leadership of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:1f). They ended either at the birth of Messiah the Prince or at his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Notably, dispensationalists cannot quite make this scheme chronologically viable, and so resort to massaging the numbers involved. Some suggest that Artaxerxes actually issued his decree in 455 BC, while others say that here the Spirit reckons a year as 360 days.2
Along with the proponents of the TFAV, dispensationalists hold that verse 26 speaks of: 1) the rejection and death of Christ, who thereby “has nothing” of his royal prerogatives; 2) the coming of the Roman “prince” Titus; and, 3) the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD by Titus’ legions.
However, upon reaching verse 27, dispensationalists diverge sharply from their traditional brethren. Here, they say, the Spirit suddenly lifts us up and carries us ahead to certain dramatic events that must befall ethnic Israel at the close of the present evil age. Obviously, this raises an important question: What in the world happens during the intervening years?
With scant help from the text itself, dispensationalists respond by asserting that throughout this time God is pursuing a different plan for a different people. The plan is the “mystery” of the Dispensation (or Era) of the Church. The people is the Church itself, the Bride of Christ. According to dispensationalists, the OT prophets—including Daniel—did not foresee or speak of either, since their sole concern was to encourage the OT saints with promises of Christ’s millennial Kingdom.
Moreover, they did not foresee still another mystery, one that will bring the Church Era to a close: the Rapture. At the Rapture, God will send the glorified Christ secretly to lift his Bride into the skies above the earth and then carry her to heaven, where she will be safe and secure from the vicissitudes of the seven terrible years now to begin: The Tribulation (Matthew 24:6, 15; 1 Thessalonians 4, 4:13ff; Revelation 7:14).
In sum, dispensationalists hold that God has placed a great “parenthesis”—a huge temporal gulf, now some two millennia long—between the end of verse 26 and the beginning of verse 27. Again, they call this gulf the mystery of the Church Era. When it began, God’s prophetic time clock—his stated plans for ethnic Israel—stopped (26). But as soon the Rapture occurs, it will start to tick again (27)!
What will the seventieth week—the Tribulation era—look like? In reply, dispensationalists take us to verse 27. The “he” with which it begins is not, they say, the prince of verse 26 (i.e., Titus). No, it is the “little horn” of Daniel 7, the Antichrist. This wicked Roman prince will enter into a seven-year covenant with “many” Jews, presumably guaranteeing them certain political and religious prerogatives. However, mid-way into the final week, he will break the covenant by suppressing Jewish ritual worship, “desolating” the (restored) temple with his abominable idolatries, and launching a fierce persecution against Israel. In other words, for three and a half years Israel (along with the persecuting world, as well) will endure what dispensationalists call “the Great Tribulation.” However, Christ himself—at his visible coming again in power and glory—will bring all hostilities to an end. When he appears, he will pour out complete destruction upon the Antichrist (and his followers), after which he will introduce the manifold blessings of the thousand-year Messianic reign upon the earth (v. 24).3
Daniel 9: The Rock of Dispensationalism
Before commenting further, I want very much to emphasize that this text—or rather their interpretation of it—is foundational to the entire dispensational system; that it grounds the dispensational picture of all Salvation History. We can best understand why by considering once again some of the key propositions it involves, propositions that at any number of points put dispensationalism and orthodox Protestantism in opposite corners of the theological ring.
There are at least seven of them: 1) God does not have one eschatological blessing for one new people (i.e., eternal life for Jews and Gentiles, members together of the Body of Christ), but two different blessings for two different peoples (earthly blessings for Israel and heavenly blessings for the Church); 2) the people of God spoken of in OTKP are not spiritual Israel (i.e., the Church), but ethnic Israel; 3) the sphere of fulfillment of OTKP is not a two-staged spiritual kingdom introduced by Christ under the New Covenant, but a future millennial kingdom introduced by Christ under the Davidic Covenant; 4) there will not be one, but (at least) two eschatological comings of Christ: the first for his Church (the Rapture), and the second for ethnic Israel (the Parousia); 5) God has been pleased to use a single OT text (Daniel 9:24-27), rather than a multitude of NT texts, to reveal the true structure of Salvation History; 6) God has been pleased to use a single OT text (Daniel 9:24-27), rather than a multitude of NT texts, to give us the key to the Olivet Discourse, the Revelation, and other major NT prophetic passages; and, 7) God’s Church—both Catholic and Protestant—has more or less completely misunderstood this crucial OT passage, and has therefore misunderstood his Plan of Salvation for some 1850 years!
A Critique of the DTAV
Yes, for dispensationalists like C. I. Scofield, J. Walvoord, L. S. Chafer, D. Pentecost, C. Ryrie, J. McArthur, C. Smith, T. Ice, T. LaHaye, and many more, a very great deal rides upon this distinctive interpretation of Daniel 9:24-27. But is it viable? Our previous study of NT eschatology strongly suggests it is not. Moreover, when we closely examine the text itself, we find a good deal to awaken serious doubts about the soundness of the DTAV. Let us pause again to consider some of the major problems involved.
Is it really the case that the seventy weeks are seventy weeks of years? Do not the particular numbers employed at least hint at a symbolic meaning?
Considering the character, reach, and ultimacy of the blessings promised in verse 24, is it likely that they are reserved more or less exclusively for ethnic Israel and the (physical) Jerusalem below (Galations 4:25-26)?
Is it exegetically certain that Messiah the Prince appears at the end of the 69 weeks? Could it be that he appears instead at the end of the first seven (25)?
Is it really the case that the people of the prince to come are the soldiers of Titus (26)? Could it be that they are actually the followers of the Antichrist, and that their assault is not against Herod’s (physical) city and temple, but against Christ’s (spiritual) City and Sanctuary: the Church?
By what possible biblical justification can we insert over 2000 years of Church history between verses 26 and 27, especially since the “he” of verse 27 clearly refers either to the Messiah or “the prince to come” of verse 26?
And again, seeing that the Spirit’s central concern in Daniel is to disclose the stages and grand finale of Salvation History, how is it that in verse 27 he takes us, not to the Consummation, but merely to the beginning of the Millennium, during which—and at the end of which—so much more of eschatological interest is (supposed) to occur?
Questions like these cast long shadows of doubt over the DTAV, even as they hint at a far more satisfying interpretation. We will consider it now.
3. The Reformed Two-Advent View (RTAV)
Our third and final interpretation I have called the Reformed Two-Advent View. It is Reformed because it is rooted in the amillennial eschatology of the leaders and creeds of the classic Reformation. It is two-advent because it finds Daniel referring both to the first and second advents of Christ. Like the DTAV, the RTAV is a recent historical development, having arisen in the late 19th century, though in hermeneutical approach it is much like the TFAV. Leading proponents include T. Kliefoth, C. F. Keil, and, in our day, C. H. Leupold. My indebtedness to Leupold’s fine Exposition of Daniel will soon become clear.4
By my lights, the RTAV is easily the most satisfying interpretation of Daniel 9. Unlike the other two schemes, it harmonizes perfectly with the details of the text itself, and also with the majestic purpose and contents of Daniel’s other prophecies. More than this, it abundantly confirms, and is illumined by, NT eschatology. As a result, it not only fills us with confidence as to its truth, but also gives us, as Leupold declares, “ . . . one of the grandest revelations of the course and climax of Salvation History to be found in the prophetic Word.”5
Let us take a moment to examine this view in some detail. My approach will be to go through our text verse by verse, offering interpretations guided by the RTAV. The translation, with slight (and significant) modifications imported from other versions, is that of the very literal New American Standard Bible.
The Seventy Sevens (9:24)
Seventy sevens have been decreed over your people and over your holy city, to finish (the) transgression, to make an end of sins, and to make atonement for iniquity; to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy.
In this verse Daniel gives us the theme of the entire prophecy. It is, as it were, both a heading and a summary, of which all that follows is the detailed elaboration.
What exactly is that theme? Advocates of the RTAV would sum it up as follows: God has decreed a set period of time in which he will fully fulfill his redemptive purpose and plan, a time in which he will bestow all his redemptive promises upon all his redeemed people. In other words, here Gabriel is saying that the prophecy to follow will give us the remainder of all Salvation History, from Daniel’s day to the Parousia of Christ at the end of the present evil age. It will survey all that the LORD will do between now (539 BC) and the Consummation in order to bring his people and their world into the completed Kingdom of God.
This soul-stirring interpretation is confirmed at the very outset. Gabriel declares that seventy sevens are decreed over the people of God and their Holy City. He says nothing of years or weeks of years. Manifestly, the numbers are symbolic. But why were they chosen and what do they mean? Doubtless they allude to the seventy years of Israel’s exile and captivity, and therefore appear here as a way of promising that in the seventy sevens ahead God will fully deliver his people from every form of captivity, and fully restore them to all his covenant promises.
The key word here is “fully.” In the Bible the numbers seven and ten symbolize fullness, perfection, and completeness. Seventy sevens, being 7x7x10, mystically expresses perfect completeness (cf. Matt. 18:22). Speaking as he did, Gabriel was therefore saying, “God has decreed a set amount of time within which he will fulfill, perfect, and complete his redemptive purposes. I am about to tell you what will happen in that time.”
Leupold expresses this idea as follows: “The seventy heptads is the period in which the divine work of greatest moment is brought to perfection.”6 If he is correct, it means that the terminus ad quem of the prophecy is indeed the Parousia of Christ at the end of the age. This in turn implies that the seventy sevens are not calendar years (as the other views posit), and that henceforth no calculations (or 360-day years, as some dispensationalists posit) are possible or needed. What a relief!
God’s decree concerns Daniel’s people and his Holy City. Who and what are they? Here we must take care. The Jerusalem of verse 25a is indeed the earthly Jerusalem, and the people who rebuilt it were indeed ethnic Jews. But the City of verse 25b, which is identical with the City and Sanctuary of verses 26-27, is different. It appears after the coming of Messiah the Prince (v. 25b). It arises in NT times under the New Covenant. Therefore, according to the NCH, it represents Christ’s Church. Happily, we know from the DNT that Daniel and all his godly OT compatriots are members thereof in excellent standing (John 10:16; Heb. 11:40).
Gabriel now unveils six redemptive blessings that God will bestow upon his “Israel” over the course of the seventy sevens (Gal. 6:16). They appear in two triads: The first three pertain to redemptive rescue from sin, the second three to redemptive restoration to eternal life. While textual peculiarities make the exact translation of some of these words difficult, the NCH enables us to uncover the essential meanings involved.
My take is as follows: By the end of the seventy sevens—and because of the total redemptive work of Christ, both in his humiliation and exaltation—God will have completely: (1) finished the transgression of his people (i.e., stopped their transgressing, as well as the power of their transgressions to condemn them); (2) made an end of (or sealed up) their sins (i.e., stopped their sinning, as well as the power of their sins to condemn them); (3) made atonement for their iniquity (i.e., secured forgiveness of their sins through the substitutionary death of Christ); (4) brought in everlasting righteousness (i.e., imputed and imparted Christ’s perfect righteousness to his people so that they can forever dwell with him in a perfectly righteous world; see 2 Peter 3:13); (5) sealed up vision and prophecy (i.e., caused both visions and prophecies to cease, owing to the fulfillment of all his redemptive purposes and all previous visions and prophecies); and, (6) anointed the Most Holy (i.e., bestowed divine glory and perfect holiness upon his eschatological Sanctuary: the Body and Bride of his Son, the Church; see Eph. 3:21; Rev. 21:1-11).
These are all Kingdom blessings, introduced by the New Covenant that creates the Kingdom. Therefore, since the one Kingdom enters history in two stages, there is a sense in which Christians already enjoy them; there is a sense (largely forensic) in which they have already taken possession of them. Nevertheless, the accent here clearly falls upon the eschaton. Commenting on the blessings of the completed Kingdom, and indicating Gabriel’s purpose in declaring them to Daniel, Leupold well observes:
In these six statements we have the sum of all the good things that God promised to men, perfectly realized. With this verse we stand at the ultimate goal of the history of the Kingdom of God. What follows will unfold the successive stages by which this goal is realized, and will present the main features to be looked for and borne in mind by the people of God. We have just seen the essentials of God’s program for the ages.7
The Sixty-Nine Sevens (9:25)
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 sevens; and for sixty-two sevens it will be built again with open square and moat [or wall], even in troubled times.
This verse spans the bulk of the remainder of Salvation History: sixty-nine of the seventy sevens. According to the English Standard Version (ESV), the marginal reading of the American Standard Version (ASV), and the advocates of the RTAV, it is properly divided into two distinct parts: the first seven sevens, and the sixty-two sevens that follow. The first seven sevens begin with a decree to restore and rebuild earthly Jerusalem. Most likely this was the decree issued by Cyrus in 538 BC, though the precise date is of little importance since the first seven sevens are not weeks of years, but the fulsome season of Salvation History that ends with the coming of Messiah the Prince. This is, of course, the first advent of Christ, through whose earthly work (i.e., his humiliation) all the blessings of v. 24 were purchased and will thereafter be bestowed.
Now the sixty-two sevens begin. These too symbolize an era, the era in which Christ builds his Church (Matt. 16:18). Here, however, Gabriel uses OT typological language to speak of NT realities, casting the growth of the Church in terms of the growth of the City of God. The reference to its open square (or streets) suggests expansive growth outwards. The reference to a moat or wall suggests divine protection. Pointing to the real but limited success of world evangelization during this time, Leupold therefore paraphrases, “She shall again be built extensively, yet within fixed limits.”8 The growth shall occur “in troubled times,” a phrase echoed in the Revelation, where the Spirit refers to the Era of Proclamation (and indeed to all Salvation History) as “the Great Tribulation.” Yes, God has decreed the rearing up of Christ’s Church, but he has also decreed considerable trouble for the saints who will build it (Acts 14:22; Rom. 5:3; 2 Cor. 1:4; 1 Thess. 3:4; Rev. 7:14). They must prepare themselves.
This division of the sixty-nine sevens into two distinct eras (an OT and a NT) is the distinguishing characteristic of the RTAV, since it places Christ’s first advent at the end of the first seven sevens, and not at the end of the sixty-nine sevens, as in the other two views. The superiority of this approach is so evident that one wonders how we could have missed it for so long. Above all, it immediately helps us to understand why Gabriel did not simply refer to sixty-nine sevens, but instead divided them into two distinct parts. Moreover, as we are about to see, once we accept this framework, it sheds an abundance of fascinating—and eschatologically vital—light on the seventieth seven, spoken of in verses 26-27. We turn to them now.
The Seventieth Seven: Desolations are Decreed (9:26)
Then after the sixty-two sevens 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 [or his] end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are decreed.
This is the first of two verses dealing with the seventieth seven: that is, with the third and final stage of Daniel’s revelation of Salvation History. Again, it is not a season of seven literal years, as repeated exposure to dispensational claims may incline us to believe. No, it is an era of brief but uncertain duration, the era in which God will bring Salvation History to a close in final conflict, final judgment, and final redemption. This interpretation buttresses the RTAV, since it finds Daniel doing here exactly what we would expect, what he has previously done, and what he is about to do once again: give us nothing less than the Consummation of all things, the dramatic closing scenes of God’s plan for the ages.
The theme of verse 26 is the end-time agony of the true spiritual Church of Christ. The close of the present evil age is near. The Great Commission is nearly accomplished. Lawlessness abounds and deep darkness covers the earth. At this point, says the angel, the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing. Obviously this cannot refer to his atoning death, as many interpreters argue. What, then, does it mean? Leupold suggests that the “cutting off” is best illumined by the “having nothing”:
[The having nothing] implies that he shall not have that which normally might be expected to fall to his lot, such as followers, influence, and the like. If that is the case, then the preceding statement must have involved his being “cut off,” in the sense of losing all the influence and prestige that he ever had before men. The season of the successful building of the City and the Sanctuary is at an end. As far as the world is concerned, Messiah shall be a dead issue. His cause will seem to have failed.9
At that time—amidst such widespread apostasy from the Law and Gospel of God—the world-system will act. The people of the prince who is to come will destroy the City and the Sanctuary (2 Thess. 2:1-12). This prince is not Titus, as many assert, but the Antichrist: the very Antichrist whom we meet over and again in Daniel’s visions (Dan. 7:8, 11, 21-22, 24-26; 11:36-45). His people are the eschatological seed of the serpent (Gen. 3:15), the “sons of the evil one” (Matt. 13:38), and the followers of the Beast (Rev. 13:1-4). Concerning the City and the Sanctuary, Leupold opines: “These represent the visible institution called the Church. These shall be destroyed, and with them the influence of the Christ that we now still know and feel to be abroad in the earth.”10 Doubtless this destruction will involve a fresh measure of Christian martyrdom. Nevertheless, the primary meaning here is that religious freedom for Christians will be universally denied, and the institutional Church will be driven underground. Daniel has already seen this coming (Dan. 7:21, 25). It is explicitly predicted in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4. It also appears in Revelation 11:7-10, where the Spirit represents the end-time Church under the image of two OT witnesses: witnesses whom the Beast kills and leaves for dead on the bloody streets of the City of Man, just as he did their Lord.
Regarding the final sentence of this verse, Leupold contends that it is the Antichrist whose end will come with a flood of divine judgment at Christ’s Parousia: Like Pharaoh and his subservient armies, he will be utterly swept away (2 Thess. 2:8; Rev. 15:1-4). This could be. However, the context seems to favor the idea that the outward, institutional Church is again in view: Her (outward, physical) end will come with a flood of opposition and persecution (Ps. 18:4; Is. 59:19). To the very end of the seventieth seven there will be war against the saints (Rev. 12:15, 17). Desolations—of both the institutional Church and her persecutors—are determined (Rev. 11:1-2).
The Seventieth Seven: The Desolator Destroyed (9:27)
And he will make a firm covenant with many for one seven, but in the middle of the seven he will put a stop to sacrifice and 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 desolator.
Here Gabriel further instructs Daniel about key events of the seventieth seven, this time with a concluding emphasis on the destruction of the destroyer: the Antichrist. As this long verse opens we learn that throughout the final seven he (the Antichrist) will cause a strong covenant to prevail over “the many.” Leupold explains as follows:
The idea is that as he seeks to take the place of the Christ, so he shall imitate Him in some way. As the Lord made a covenant with his own to give them strong assurances as to what he would do, so Antichrist will inaugurate a covenant that will prevail; which is to say, compel the masses to accept it and abide by it. It shall not, therefore, be a gracious covenant of love, as are the Lord’s covenants, but a covenant of terror, compulsion, and violence.11
C. F. Keil, an early proponent of the RTAV, concurs. Highlighting the religious dimension of the Antichrist’s “agreement” with the world, he writes, “The ungodly prince shall impose upon the mass of the people a strong covenant that they should follow him and give themselves to him as their God” (Rev. 13:4).12 The interpretation offered by these two outstanding commentators is compelling, seeing that 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 supplies a more or less identical picture of the purpose, character, and career of the Man of Lawlessness. We will examine it closely in the pages ahead.
How will the global rule of the Antichrist affect the Church? In a reprise of the message of verse 26, Gabriel answers by declaring that in the middle of the last seven he will put a stop to sacrifice and offering. This means that (roughly) halfway through his hegemony the Antichrist will suddenly turn against the Church and suppress her public worship. At this point he will become “one who makes desolate”: a destroyer. With destructive intent he will now come against the Church “upon the wing of abominations.” That is, he will fly into global power and influence—and so to apparent victory over Christ’s little flock—riding upon the persuasive force of detestable idols: a counterfeit gospel (i.e., religion, ideology) and counterfeit signs and wonders that seem to validate it (Matt. 24:23-24; 2 Thess. 2:8-12).
This will indeed be the Church’s darkest hour (Matt. 24:21; Rev. 13:7). It is, however, only an hour, and an hour that her Redeemer himself has triumphantly passed through (John 13:1; 17:1; Rev. 11:8). Accordingly, it is actually an hour of great hope, for just as the Redeemer swiftly overcame and rose to newness of life, so too shall his Church. For no sooner will the counterfeit prince launch his great war against the saints, than the glorified Christ will appear in the skies above the earth to rescue them. Then, in the Judgment that follows, he will pour out complete destruction on all who thought to destroy his own: Apollyon, the Antichrist, and “the many” who so foolishly followed them into the Last Battle (Matt. 24:29-31; 25:31-46; 1 Thess. 4:13-17; 2 Thess. 1:3-10; 2:8, 11-12; Rev. 19:20; 20:10).13
The prophecy of Daniel’s Seventy Sevens—possibly the most difficult in the entire prophetic canon—is a case study in the indispensability of the NCH. Without it, the vision is a maze; a labyrinth from which there is no escape. With it, the way into the open field of truth becomes clear at last.
Our survey of the three main interpretations has made this evident. Because the advocates of the TFAV have indeed grasped the true structure of NT eschatology, as well as the importance of the NCH, they have produced a fairly viable interpretation, one that has understandably remained popular over the years. However, we have seen that upon closer inspection it fails to do justice to the nuances of the text itself, and also to the grand theme and substance of the book as a whole.
Meanwhile, advocates of the DTAV, having largely misunderstood NT eschatology and imposed an alien OT hermeneutic upon it, have given us an exotic interpretation that is exegetically untenable and theologically flawed. The popularity of this view in our day suggests a serious failure on the part of the modern Church to grasp the true structure of NT theology, and the NCH that naturally flows from it. However, dispensationalism in general—and its view of this prophecy in particular—are on the wane. I do not think it can be otherwise, seeing that in the end the Spirit of Truth must (and will) draw Christ’s Church back to the NT, where alone she will receive the keys to OTKP, Daniel 9, and all the eschatological truth she will need to stand strong amidst the rigors of the Consummation.
The NT itself promises this very thing. It tells us that the Lord loves his Bride (John 13:1); that he would prepare her for the Last Battle (John 16:13); and indeed, that one day he will cause her to attain to the unity of the faith, right down to eschatological faith (Ephesians 4:11f). When he does, I believe he will draw her to the RTAV of Daniel 9.
The reasons are many. Again, this interpretation includes all the strengths of the other two, while avoiding their weaknesses. It is true to the text, and true to the context: the Book of Daniel as a whole. It harmonizes perfectly with NT eschatology, and draws upon it richly, as it must, for a right understanding.
But best of all—to my mind, at least—is the intriguing fact that the RTAV seems to come to us at just the right time. Somehow, it suits the dark, difficult, and dangerous days into which we are now entering, fittingly reminding us of the sufferings of Christ’s Church and the glories to follow (2 Timothy 3:1f; 1 Peter 1:11).
In short, I think it likely that this interpretation of Daniel’s Seventy Sevens is an eschatological gift from the exalted Lord himself, by which, even now, he is supplying his beloved Bride with just the right mix of tough realism, steadfast hope, and earnest expectation of the soon return of the High King of Heaven.
- Wm. Biederwolf, The Millennium Bible (Glad Tidings, 1924), p. 218.
- C. I. Scofield, ed., The Scofield Reference Bible (SRB, Oxford, 1967), p. 913.
- SRB, p. 913.
- H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Daniel (Baker, 1969)
- Ibid., p. 405.
- Ibid., p. 409
- Ibid., p. 416.
- Ibid., p. 417.
- Ibid., p. 427.
- Ibid., p. 428
- Ibid., p. 432
- Cited in Biederwolf, p. 224.
- For a close, thought-provoking examination of the many parallels between the character and career of Antiochus Epiphanes (the OT Antichrist), and the NT Antichrist of Daniel 9:26-27, see Leupold, pp. 437-440.