The Prophecy of the Messiah

 
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Daniel chapter 9 contains what many consider to be the most sublime prophecy of the Old Testament—a prophecy of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Amazingly, not only did this prophecy reveal the purpose of His incarnation as a child, but it also specified when His ministry would begin and when He would die.

The prophecy contained in Daniel 9 differs significantly from those of previous chapters in that it contains no symbols. The language, while cryptic, is obviously literal and a continuation of explanation of the symbolism of chapter 8.

Verses 13 and 14 of Daniel 8 contained the climax of that chapter’s symbolic vision. Those verses also contain the central point of Daniel’s book. Daniel wrote that when this symbolic vision ended, Gabriel was commissioned to “tell this man the meaning of the vision” (chapter 8:16).

Gabriel told Daniel about the “beasts” and “horns,” but when he tried to explain 2300 “evenings and mornings,” Daniel became upset. He ends chapter 8 by saying that the vision “was beyond understanding.” So, clearly, Gabriel hadn’t completely fulfilled his commission of explaining the vision to Daniel.

Jeremiah’s 70 Years

By the time of Gabriel’s visit (recorded in chapter 9), Daniel was feeling distressed. He understood from the book of Jeremiah that the “desolations of Jerusalem” were to last 70 years.1 But that span was nearly up, with no indication that any restoration of that sacred place was imminent.

In fact, the last vision Daniel had seen indicated that “‘2300 evenings and mornings‘” would pass till the “sanctuary” (the temple) would be restored (chapter 8:14). Daniel probably knew that in symbolic prophecy, days represent years, so he might have been wondering if Jerusalem and the temple would lie desolate for nearly 23 more centuries! This is the context of Daniel’s prayer of repentance that comprises most of chapter 9.

God responded to Daniel’s prayer quickly—“While I was still in prayer”—he says, and Gabriel, the man he “had seen in the earlier vision [chapter 8], came to me” (chapter 9:21). Gabriel told Daniel that he had again been commissioned to help him “‘understand the vision’” (verses 22, 23). It was then Gabriel began his explanation of the time element of that vision that Daniel fainted, and it’s the matter of that time that makes up a great part of the explanation we find in chapter 9.
These two chapters are linked, particularly in the time elements involved.

Gabriel’s Explanation

Gabriel’s explanation is in chapter 9:24-27, with verse 24 an introduction to the ideas contained in the next three. It specifies the time involved and what God planned to achieve during that time.

Gabriel said that during a period of “seventy sevens,’” the city, its wall and its sanctuary would be rebuilt and the Messiah would come. The rebuilding of the temple took about four years (see Ezra 4:24–5:2; 6:15), which would be 208 weeks, so it’s obvious that something more than 70 literal weeks is involved here. Sure enough, the Hebrew in which Daniel wrote this phrase implies what the Revised Standard Version translates as “seventy weeks of years” (emphasis added). Daniel had been concerned about Jeremiah’s 70 years, but Gabriel turned his attention to a period seven times longer—70 weeks of years, or 490 years.

The rest of verse 24 tells what was to happen during that 490 years. First, that time was to be a probationary period for Daniel’s people—one more opportunity to fulfil the role God had planned for them. Second, something special was to be done “to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness.” This pictures the work of Jesus, in particular His death and His ministry as the ultimate High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary.

Third, the accurate fulfilment of this part of Gabriel’s prophecy was to “seal up vision and prophecy,” substantiating our faith in the rest of what Daniel wrote—particularly, the prophecy of chapter 8. And, fourth, this period was to see the anointing of the “most Holy.” (This latter term refers to the heavenly sanctuary, where Jesus began ministering for us after His ascension. Hebrews 9 indicates that He began His ministry by inaugurating, or “anointing,” that sanctuary.)

Christ and Antichrist

Each of verses 25 to 27 is divided neatly into two parts. The first half of each verse deals with the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry and death, and the second half deals with the city, the sanctuary, and the antichrist or desolater of chapters 7 and 8.

Verse 25 specifies the starting point for the time period involved—“the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.” This decree is the one Artaxerxes issued in 457 BC.

Verse 25 goes on to say that from this starting point “until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens‘”—a total of 69 weeks. The New Testament clearly and repeatedly says that Jesus is the Messiah—literally, the “Anointed One.” And Luke tells us specifically when He was anointed. It was at His baptism, when God Himself announced Jesus’ role and the Holy Spirit “anointed” Him by descending on Him in the form of a dove.2

Luke not only tells us how Jesus was anointed, but he also tells us exactly when. John the Baptist began his ministry “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea.”3 John baptised Jesus right then. So, Jesus’ baptism was on the prophetic schedule, in 27 AD, 483 years (69 “weeks of years”) after 457 BC.

Gabriel’s explanation continues: “After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off” (Daniel 9:26). In other words, sometime after 27 AD, Jesus would be killed. Verse 27 says the same things in another way: “In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering.” Jesus’ earthly ministry ended with His crucifixion in 31 AD—three-and-a-half years after it began at His baptism. He died in the middle of the 70th “seven” of Daniel’s prophecy. And just as Gabriel told Daniel, Jesus’ death brought an end of “sacrifice and offering.”4

Stoning Of Stephen

Gabriel’s explanation doesn’t specify the event that marks the end of the 490 years, but verse 24 indicates that those years were a probationary period for the Jewish nation as God’s special people. For three-and-a-half years after Jesus’ death, His disciples continued to preach mainly to the Jews.

But then the official council of the Jewish nation, the Sanhedrin, began a persecution of the Christians who lived in Jerusalem, initiating this persecution by stoning to death the deacon Stephen. Consequently, the Christians scattered—and promptly began telling Gentiles the good news of salvation through Jesus. The execution of Stephen, then, which occurred about 34 AD, marks the end of the 490 years. From that point on the gospel was preached to the Gentiles as well as the Jews, and people became God’s “nation” because of their relationship with Jesus rather than because of their ethnicity.

And what of the city of Jerusalem and the antichrist-desolater? Verse 25 says that the city would be rebuilt, but “in times of trouble”—which it was (see the books of Ezra and Nehemiah). But then “the people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary” (verse 26). Jesus warned His disciples of the “abomination that causes desolation” (verse 27) of Daniel’s prophecy and said, “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near.”5 Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed by a Roman army in 70 AD, less than 40 years after the ending date of this prophecy.

Like Daniel 7 and 8, however, chapter 9 ends on a note more satisfying than the triumph of the antichrist-desolater. The conclusion of Daniel 9 says that God’s purpose will eventually prevail, and the “decreed end” will ultimately be “poured out on the desolater” (verse 27, RSV). God will rescue those who have trusted in Him, and He will establish a new Jerusalem that will never be destroyed.

1. See Daniel 9:2; Jeremiah 29:10.
2. See Luke 3:21, 22.
3. Luke 3:1.
4. See, for example, Hebrews 10:4-9.
5. See Matthew 24:15; Luke 21:20.