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 [literally holy of holies]. 25 Know 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 [or there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks. It shall be built again] with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. 26 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. 27 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 [or at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation] until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.
Daniel 9:24-27 (ESV)
As I tell my students, Daniel’s Seventy Weeks just might be the most complicated, confusing, and controversial prophecy in the entire Old Testament. These four short verses have provoked countless debates, which show no signs of abating anytime soon. But at the very least, we can work toward understanding what all the major options are.
The first step is to identify the key interpretive questions, which are listed here:
- How long are the “weeks”? Are they exact seven-year periods, are they symbolic, or are they approximations?
- When do the seventy weeks begin (i.e., what is their terminus a quo)?
- What (or who) is the “most holy place”/”holy of holies” (v. 24)?
- Who issued the word to restore and build Jerusalem, and when (v. 25)?
- Who is the “anointed prince” (v. 25)?
- Does the “anointed prince” come after seven weeks, or after seven-plus-sixty-two weeks (v. 25)? (The original Hebrew is somewhat vague; see options A and B in the second chart below.)
- Who is the “anointed one” who is “cut off, having nothing” (v. 26)? Is it the same as the anointed prince of v. 25, or someone else?
- Who is the “prince to come” whose people destroy the city and sanctuary (v. 26)?
- Is there a chronological “gap” between the sixty-ninth and seventieth week?
- Who is the “he” who makes the “strong covenant” (v. 27)? Is it referring back to the anointed one, or to the coming prince?
- What is the abomination of desolation (v. 27)?
- When do the seventy weeks end (i.e., what is their terminus ad quem)?
For all you visual learners, I’ve created these timelines. The first one lays out the sequence of events as described in the text of Daniel, and the second one displays some of the main options for identifying each character/event:
While the details vary from interpreter to interpreter, the options can generally be boiled down to four major views: 1) Preterist, 2) Dispensationalist, 3) Covenantal–Futurist, and 4) Maccabean–Typological.
The preterist view considers the prophecy to have been fulfilled by AD 70. By interpreting the “weeks” symbolically, preterists have more flexibility in determining the dates of the events predicted. They understand the “word to rebuild Jerusalem” as the decree of Persian king Cyrus in 538 BC. The “anointed one” in both v. 25 and v. 26 is Jesus, who is also regarded as the one who confirms the “strong covenant” of v. 27, and whose atoning work rendered the Jewish sacrifices obsolete and even abominable to God. Titus is the “prince to come,” whose armies destroyed the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Here’s what it looks like:
The dispensationalist view distinguishes between those prophecies pertaining to the nation of Israel (including Daniel 9:24-27) and those pertaining to the Christian church. It interprets the weeks the most literally, as exact seven-year periods. By starting with one of the decrees of the Persian king Artaxerxes—either in 458 BC (Ezra 7:11-26) if one uses a 365-day calendar, or in 445 BC (Neh. 2:1-8) if one uses a 360-day calendar—one can arrive at the Crucifixion of Christ in 33 AD for the end of the sixty-ninth week. However, the events of the seventieth week clearly did not take place in the seven years following Christ’s death, which is why dispensationalists posit a “gap” between the sixty-ninth and seventieth week. They often call this the “Great Parenthesis,” which corresponds to the current church age. The Parenthesis (unforeseen by Daniel) will come to an end with the Rapture (also unforeseen by Daniel), which will then lead into the seven-year Great Tribulation, during which time the Antichrist will make a pact with the nation of Israel, only to break it after 3 1/2 years and desecrate the rebuilt Temple. Here’s what it looks like:
The covenantal-futurist view is sort of a blend of the preterist and dispensationalist views. Like the preterists, covenantal futurists take a more symbolic reading of the weeks, but like the dispensationalists, they see some aspects of the prophecy as still awaiting fulfillment. They consider the events of AD 70 to have fulfilled the first half of the seventieth week, but the second half of the seventieth week is believed to represent the entire church age up to the present. They still anticipate a future Antichrist who will persecute the church. Unlike dispensationalists, covenantal futurists do not see a continuing role for the nation of Israel in this prophecy, since the NT church is understood to be the heir of Israel’s promises. This approach is adopted by Kim Riddlebarger, Sam Storms, and several other modern Reformed scholars. Here’s what it looks like:
The Maccabean-typological view considers the events of Daniel’s prophecy to have been (partially) fulfilled in the second century BC, with the rise and fall of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who is also mentioned in Daniel 7:24-26; 8:22-26; and 11:20-39. The weeks as a whole are considered symbolic, although the first seven weeks turn out to be very close to 49 years, and the final week is also quite close to seven years. The beginning of the weeks is not a royal decree, but rather Jeremiah’s prophecy of Israel’s restoration, pronounced around 587 BC (Jer. 31). Cyrus is the “anointed one” who arrives after seven weeks, in 539 BC (it is also noteworthy that Cyrus is called the “anointed one” in Isa. 45:1). The second “anointed one,” who is cut off after sixty-two weeks, is the Jewish high priest Onias III, who was murdered in 171 BC. This marks the beginning of the final week, during which time Antiochus makes an alliance with the Hellenized Jews against the traditionalist Jews, destroys the city of Jerusalem, outlaws the Jewish sacrifices, commands the worship of Zeus, and sacrifices a pig in the Temple. The seventieth week ends with the rededication of the Temple and the death of Antiochus in 164 BC. Of course, these events didn’t exactly put an end to sin or usher in everlasting righteousness, but typology allows us to find a greater fulfillment in Christ’s first coming and ultimately second coming. Here’s what it looks like:
We can summarize all four approaches in this way:
If you’re wondering where I land personally, I started out leaning toward the covenantal-futurist view, but now I think I favor the Maccabean-typological reading, mostly because the prophecy fits so well with events surrounding the reign of Antiochus IV. Also, typology allows us to combine the strengths of the other views through multiple levels of fulfillment, without tying us to an awkward or contrived chronological scheme. Robert Chisolm makes a persuasive case for this view.
The biggest weakness I see here is the sixty-two weeks: it turns out to be 367 years, not 434 years. On the other hand, none of the views is completely free of chronological difficulties. There’s nothing in the text to suggest a gap between the sixty-ninth and seventieth week (contra dispensationalists), nor does there seem to be any compelling reason to think that we’re still in the second half of the seventieth week (contra covenantal-futurists). I think preterists get us a bit closer to the mark, but even they have to stretch the seventieth week from Christ’s death (AD 33) to the destruction of the Temple (AD 70). So all things considered, I think that the Maccabean reading makes the most sense.
Lastly, if you’re wondering how the early church fathers handled this prophecy, I’ve compiled this chart based on a helpful article by J. Paul Tanner in Bibliotheca Sacra (available online here):