25 Jun 2024

In the previous post, we saw how a section of the book of Isaiah has been understood in a few different ways depending on how the Scriptures describing the millennium are interpreted. Some see Isaiah 65-66 as describing a literal earthly kingdom in the millennium. Others see it as describing heaven. This kind of “dissent” is not unique to the study of the end times, but it does seem to be more prevalent lately. Why is this so? Throughout this series, we have seen that a study of the end times is not easy, and to add to the confusion, we humans are prone to anxiety which leads to seeing prophecy through the lens of conspiracy, mistrust, mystery, and when taken to extremes, a sort of gnostic idea that there are deep secrets which only few know and those who do have unlocked the door and only they can interpret it.

One thing we tend to miss is that it is incredibly rewarding to see that prophecy like this is hopeful at its core and is meant to give us peace and joy in seeing God’s provision for His people and God’s preserving of His people – even over millennia!

One thing to keep in mind as we read these passages is the lesson the Jews have given us. The Old Testament prophesied a coming redeemer. The Jews were waiting for and preparing for this redeemer to rescue them from their various plights. In fact, they wanted to be rescued so badly that they began to expect a king to come and lead them to victory over their earthly enemies and forgot about their biggest enemies, namely sin, Satan, and death. It seems that they “overlooked” passages like:

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. 8By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? 9And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. 11Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:1–12 ESV)

Nothing about that passage indicates that Messiah will be what the Jews wanted Him to be. And because of their misunderstood expectations millennia ago, they are still waiting for His arrival today when they actually missed him by 2000 years. We should learn from this and not make ourselves susceptible to a similar fate – Messiah has come, but let’s not be unprepared when Messiah comes again.

Since we are talking about the Old Testament, which Old Testament book is the first one you think of when you think of the “end times?” Probably not Leviticus or Kings or Chronicles, right?

How about Job? Not likely.

Ezekiel…warmer perhaps?

Daniel?

Likely. Very likely.

So what then is the book of Daniel about?

The book of Daniel is made up of two halves, each of which has its own literary style. The first half (chs. 1–6) contains stories from the lives of Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They show how God’s people should live in a world that is not their home (compare Jer. 29:5–7; Heb. 13:14). The second half of the book (Daniel 7–12) contains apocalyptic visions. They are designed to reassure God’s people that, in spite of their present persecution and suffering, God is in control and will ultimately be victorious.1Introduction to Daniel, ESV Study Bible, 2008–2010 Crossway Bibles

Like Revelation, The Olivet Discourse, and other biblical end times prophecy, the purpose of Daniel is to give reassurance and hope to God’s people, not to cause confusion and anxiety.

Some examples of the imagery in prophecy are seen in the following passages…

“You saw, O king, and behold, a great image. This image, mighty and of exceeding brightness, stood before you, and its appearance was frightening. 32The head of this image was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its middle and thighs of bronze, 33its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. 34As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. 35Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. (Daniel 2:31–35 ESV)

The visions of my head as I lay in bed were these: I saw, and behold, a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great. 11The tree grew and became strong, and its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth. 12Its leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, and the birds of the heavens lived in its branches, and all flesh was fed from it. 13“I saw in the visions of my head as I lay in bed, and behold, a watcher, a holy one, came down from heaven. 14He proclaimed aloud and said thus: ‘Chop down the tree and lop off its branches, strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the beasts flee from under it and the birds from its branches. 15But leave the stump of its roots in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze, amid the tender grass of the field. Let him be wet with the dew of heaven. Let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth. 16Let his mind be changed from a man’s, and let a beast’s mind be given to him; and let seven periods of time pass over him. 17The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, the decision by the word of the holy ones, to the end that the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men.’ (Daniel 4:10–17 ESV)

If it weren’t for the Holy Spirit illuminating these passages and sometimes even giving us the direct interpretation, we’d be hard-pressed to interpret them correctly. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit didn’t stop giving interpretation then and He hasn’t stopped giving interpretation now!

By the power of the same Holy Spirit, Daniel interpreted the dreams of King Nebuchadnezzar and his son King Belshazzar. When Darius became king after Belshazzar, Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den (much to the dismay of Darius). After being preserved and rescued by God from that den, Darius made a decree that all the people were to fear and bow to God…

Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: “Peace be multiplied to you. 26I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end. 27He delivers and rescues; he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, he who has saved Daniel from the power of the lions.” (Daniel 6:25–27 ESV)

Daniel impacted the country he was exiled to because he listened to and obeyed God, and was out for God’s glory and not his own. When given the opportunity, he could have easily claimed credit for his ability, but instead, this is what he told the king…

The king declared to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, “Are you able to make known to me the dream that I have seen and its interpretation?” 27Daniel answered the king and said, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, 28but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days. Your dream and the visions of your head as you lay in bed are these: 29To you, O king, as you lay in bed came thoughts of what would be after this, and he who reveals mysteries made known to you what is to be. 30But as for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because of any wisdom that I have more than all the living, but in order that the interpretation may be made known to the king, and that you may know the thoughts of your mind. (Daniel 2:26–30 ESV)

The dream and the interpretation had been revealed to Daniel. And he recognized and admitted it – “it has been revealed to me.” And note his humility…”not because of any wisdom that I have more than all the living,” Daniel’s answer proclaims much:

  1. truth is revealed
  2. truth is revealed by God
  3. truth is revealed by God despite our wisdom
  4. truth is revealed by God despite our wisdom and no living human can do this apart from God

In fact, much truth had been revealed to Daniel. When Belshazzar was king, Daniel had visions of four beasts (Daniel 7) and a ram, a goat, and a little horn (Daniel 8.) These are interpreted for us as four kingdoms that will persecute the saints (Daniel 7:15-27) and, unlike the vision in chapter 7, the vision in chapter 8 is explicitly interpreted by the angel Gabriel as being about Media and Persia (the ram) and Greece (the goat). Though we are not told who the “little horn” is, the things we are told make him most likely Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

And remember that thing we called a chiastic structure? There’s another one here.2https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Daniel

  • A (2:4b-49) – A dream of four kingdoms replaced by a fifth
  • B (3:1–30) – Daniel’s three friends in the fiery furnace
  • C (4:1–37) – Daniel interprets a dream for Nebuchadnezzar
  • C’ (5:1–31) – Daniel interprets the handwriting on the wall for Belshazzar
  • B’ (6:1–28) – Daniel in the lions’ den
  • A’ (7:1–28) – A vision of four world kingdoms replaced by a fifth

But after these visions and after a new king, Daniel sees something interesting as he meditates on scripture…

In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans— 2in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. (Daniel 9:1–2 ESV)

…and prays that he might understand what he is reading…

Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. 4I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 5we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. 6We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. 7To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. (Daniel 9:3–7 ESV)

Notice Daniel’s attitude of repentance and humility. And God, true to His word, gives Daniel the understanding he seeks…

While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the Lord my God for the holy hill of my God, 21while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. 22He made me understand, speaking with me and saying, “O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding. 23At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision. 24“Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. 25Know 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. 26And 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. 27And 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.” (Daniel 9:20–27 ESV)

Of this passage, Albert Barnes in his “Notes on the Bible” writes:

Professor Stuart (“Hints on the Interpretation of Prophecy,” p. 104) remarks, “It would require a volume of considerable magnitude even to give a history of the ever-varying and contradictory opinions of critics respecting this “locus vexatissimus; “and perhaps a still larger one to establish an exegesis which would stand. I am fully of opinion, that no interpretation as yet published will stand the test of thorough grammatico-historical criticism; and that a candid, and searching, and thorough “critique” here is still a “desideratum.” May some expositor, fully adequate to the task, speedily appear!” After these remarks of this eminent Biblical scholar, it is with no great confidence of success that I enter on the exposition of the passage.3“Notes on the Bible”, Albert Barnes, pages 148-149

While we have more insight today than Mr. Barnes did in 1853 when he wrote his commentary, we should heed his warning and be careful not to become overconfident in our understanding. Most of the confusion comes from the expressed time period – it says 70 weeks, but is it really 70 weeks? Years of weeks? Weeks of years? Weeks of days? What is it?!?!?

No matter how literally you want to read this passage, these 70 weeks pose some issues. First, it cannot be 70 “normal” weeks because 490 days are not enough to see everything in that vision unfold. Contrary to popular dispensational belief, we are already entering into the realm of “spiritualizing” the text – to interpret this correctly we must.

Second, the various viewpoints see this time period differently. The following chart illustrates the differences well. 4The 70 Weeks of Daniel, ESV Study Bible, 2008–2010 Crossway Bibles

 

 

Even the Dispensational view, which claims to be the only view that consistently applies the “literal” understanding, must do something “spiritual” with the 70 weeks to make the rest of that system work. But it is not simply the 70 weeks that are contentious. That passage also contains these verses:

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. 27And 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.” (Daniel 9:26–27 ESV)

Verse 26 is pretty straightforward – Messiah is “cut off” and Jerusalem and the temple will be destroyed. But what about verse 27? Who is the “he” that makes a strong covenant? Who is the one who makes desolate?

In this short passage, Dispensationalists see the entire framework of the 7-year tribulation, the church age, a 3.5-year peace treaty between the antichrist and Israel. Amillennial believers see a Messianic prophecy whereby Messiah will ratify the covenant of redemption and put an end to sacrifice. Preterists see this passage as being fulfilled completely in the destruction of the temple in 70a.d. Indeed, how one interprets this passage has a great impact on how the millennial age is understood and ultimately, how the future return of Christ will look.

What then is the most straightforward way to read this passage? If we look at the context in verses 1-19, we see Daniel praying for God to restore Jerusalem and the temple. Recall this passage from Jeremiah:

This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. 12Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the Lord, making the land an everlasting waste. 13I will bring upon that land all the words that I have uttered against it, everything written in this book, which Jeremiah prophesied against all the nations. 14For many nations and great kings shall make slaves even of them, and I will recompense them according to their deeds and the work of their hands.” (Jeremiah 25:11–14 ESV)

Daniel remembered that passage. His entire prayer and Gabriel’s eventual response reflect the covenant language God used when He promised to restore Israel and bring everything to pass that He had promised. In fact, Daniel calls this out when he begins his prayer:

I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 5we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. (Daniel 9:4–5 ESV)

But why does Gabriel respond to Daniel’s prayer by talking about 70 weeks? And where do we get the idea that each week is a “week of years”, not a “week of days?”

The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, 2“Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall keep a Sabbath to the Lord. 3For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, 4but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. (Leviticus 25:1–4 ESV)

“You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years. 9Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. 10And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. 11That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of itself nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines. 12For it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you. You may eat the produce of the field. (Leviticus 25:8–12 ESV)

Since the theme of this entire passage is God’s covenant promise and its fulfillment, it makes sense to look to the law to determine what these weeks are. If we do that, each week represents a sabbath period, and these weeks are grouped as seven weeks of years as Leviticus 25:8 indicates. Daniel’s 70 weeks then would represent 10 jubilee eras, culminating in the ultimate jubilee – Messiah. Did you ever think that Leviticus 25 and 26 would be important in understanding this section of Daniel? The chronicler wrote about this when he wrote:

And all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king and of his princes, all these he brought to Babylon. 19And they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem and burned all its palaces with fire and destroyed all its precious vessels. 20He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, 21to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years. (2 Chronicles 36:18–21 ESV)

And he gave us the time period as well:

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: 23“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him. Let him go up.’ ” (2 Chronicles 36:22–23 ESV)

Gabriel came to Daniel in the same year that Cyrus issued the decree to rebuild Jerusalem. This act ended Jeremiah’s 70 years and began Daniel’s 70 weeks. When Daniel heard the words of the angel Gabriel, he heard the covenant promise fulfilled. And we do read of a covenant in Gabriel’s response…

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.” (Daniel 9:27 ESV)

Continuing the covenant language and themes that exist in Daniel 9, Gabriel refers to a “strong covenant” that lasts for a week. This is the final week of the 70 – the final jubilee era. Could the “he” who makes (some translations read “confirm”) the covenant with Israel be the Anointed One who is cut off? The language used to describe this covenant is one of confirmation, something that has already existed is made strong. The words used even reflect the covenant language – verse 26 uses “karat” which is used in other covenantal passages for the cutting ritual to ratify the covenant. But the word used in verse 27 is “higbir” which means to “make strong” or “cause to prevail.” It seems that the covenant referred to in verse 27 is a covenant that already exists, and given the language of fulfillment, would make the “he” in verse 27 Jesus, not antichrist! And it would then be Jesus, not Antichrist who will put an end to sacrifice.

Which sounds familiar…

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:8–14 ESV)

If this is true, the 490 years end with Jesus’ first coming and death on the cross, not the end of the age after some multi-thousand-year “pause” of the stopwatch. There is still the issue of the final half of the final week, but tying this with Revelation shows us a possible answer

But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. (Revelation 12:14 ESV)

The final 3.5 years (a time, times, and half a time) are not only symbolic of the church on earth awaiting the final consummation of the covenant promises but also symbolic of the tribulation that we see in Daniel. And it paints a picture of God’s people in the wilderness.

Again.

And once again, prophecy points us to the sovereignty of God in working history to accomplish His goals – this time, in the fulfillment of His covenant promise with His people. After prepping for these posts, I have a greater appreciation of the “simplicity” of interpreting sometimes hard-to-understand passages of Scripture. If we take the time and effort to work through these passages, sometimes we find a simple answer.

I guess that would make figuring out if that simple answer is the right one the hard part!

  • 1
    Introduction to Daniel, ESV Study Bible, 2008–2010 Crossway Bibles
  • 2
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Daniel
  • 3
    “Notes on the Bible”, Albert Barnes, pages 148-149
  • 4
    The 70 Weeks of Daniel, ESV Study Bible, 2008–2010 Crossway Bibles

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