Daniel 9 gives us a very strong picture of what the Christ was going to do when he comes. This chapter presents the future of God’s working in the nations and in the world to accomplish his purposes to save the world from sins.
Daniel 9 opens by telling us that it is the first year of the new Medo-Persian Empire. The setting is the year after the handwriting on the wall that we read about in Daniel 5 and would be at the same time as the events of chapter 6. Now that Babylon has fallen, Daniel recognizes that Jeremiah’s prophecy is coming to fulfillment. Jeremiah prophesied that it would be 70 years until the end of Jerusalem’s desolations. Approximately 68 years have passed since the Babylonians first invaded Judah. This is the occasion by which Daniel goes to the Lord God in prayer.
Daniel’s Prayer (9:3-19)
Verse 3 shows the great intensity and earnestness of Daniel’s prayer. He prays for mercy with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes. Then Daniel confesses the greatness of God. Our awesome God who keeps his covenant and shows steadfast love to those who love him and keep his commandments. But then Daniel uses this to observe their problem. We have sinned, done wrong, acted wickedly, rebelled, and turned aside from your commandments (9:5). We have not upheld our end of the covenant. We did not listen to your prophets (9:6). We deserve all that has happened to us for God is righteous. We deserve open shame because we have sinned against you (9:7-8). You will notice that every sentence is continuing to lay out before God all the different ways we (notice Daniel includes himself) have sinned before God. Mercy and forgiveness belong to God because we have rebelled and have no obeyed his voice. All Israel has transgressed, turned aside, and refused to obey your voice (9:11). The curses of the covenant have rightly fallen upon us because of our sins and God faithfully kept his word (9:12-13). But even in this disaster we still have not entreated God’s favor by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth. God was righteous in all his works against us because we have sinned, done wickedly, and have not obeyed his voice (9:14-15).
Before we move forward in Daniel’s prayer, I want us to consider that this is the attitude toward our sins that God wants to see. This is what a broken, confessing, contrite heart looks like. This is an excellent example of true, godly confession of sin. This is not a simple “I’m sorry” response to God. We see an attitude that declares that we deserve every judgment and every disaster to come upon us because of our sins. Please see how many times and how many different ways Daniel confesses that they have sinned grievously against God! This kind of true confession only comes from a heart that truly despises sin and understands the gravity of sins against our holy and righteous God. Confession must come from the heart and willingly and openly declare our terrible sinfulness.
Now listen to the basis by which Daniel asks God for forgiveness and restoration in verses 16-19. Daniel begins by noting to God that because of their own sins the city and the people have become a byword among the people around them. So, Daniel pleads for God to act for his own sake (9:17). Daniel pleads that for God’s own glory and reputation that he would forgive and restore the people to the land. Second, Daniel does not plead based on their own righteousness (9:18). Daniel says that he cannot make his petition because of our righteousness. We have no righteousness. He does not try to justify themselves. He does not try to make the point that they are not as sinful as Persia or some other group of people. We present our pleas because of God’s great mercy, not on the basis of our righteousness (9:18). After making a strong confession of sins like Daniel did we would never want to pray for God to do anything based on our righteousness. It is only by God’s mercy that we can petition anything from God (9:18)! Then in verse 19 Daniel again declares for God to hear, act, and forgive for his own sake. What an understanding of who God is and who we are before him! We ask God to act for his glory and goodness not for our glory and goodness. We are nothing and God is everything. All we do is stain the glory of his name and Daniel is sorrowful that this has happened through their sinfulness.
God Answers (9:20-23)
While Daniel is praying and confessing his own sin and the sins of the people, Gabriel comes to give Daniel understanding about what will happen. But before this angel reveals what will happen in the future, he says some great things to give Daniel and God’s people hope. Notice verse 23. “At 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.” There are three great things that we grasp from this declaration from the angel. First, God hears prayer. God hears when we call out to him. Second, God can choose to answer prayer quickly. For whatever reason, God immediately sends an answer for Daniel to understand. Third, Daniel is greatly loved by God. This heart that Daniel exposes by loving God and confessing sin is the heart that God loves. God is not looking for perfect people. God is looking for confessing people. God is looking for people who care about the glory of God and understand their spiritual deficiency. God loves those who are truly sorrowful and confessing over their sins. How the scriptures tell us that God’s face is toward the righteous and that the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. How God loves his people and hears their prayers! What hope it is for us to know that we are loved by God and he who is sovereign over heaven and earth listens to our cries and pleadings!
God’s Message (9:24-27)
The message of the 70 weeks has been interpreted so many different ways, it is disheartening for many to approach this text and try to understand it. But let us keep ourselves in context and this should help us understand what we are reading. Daniel’s concern is the restoration of Jerusalem and his people. His prayer is for mercy from God in spite of their sins. The seventy years are about to expire. What is going to happen to the holy city, Jerusalem, and to the people? This message of 70 weeks is an answer to this prayer of Daniel.
As we read this message of 70 weeks we will notice that it is a glorious message of hope. In these 70 weeks we see that six things are going to happen: finish transgression, put an end to sin, atone for iniquity, bring in everlasting righteousness, seal vision and prophet, and anoint the most holy (9:24). This is an overview of this message. While the translation reads “seventy weeks” it is literally “seventy sevens.” Most understand this to mean a period of years, thus, 490 years. The problem is that as much as so many have tried to make these numbers work to a literal fulfillment, all attempts to do so fail at fitting a literal use of these numbers. The failure comes either by not using the right date to begin the prophecy which is at the declaration to build Jerusalem (536 BC), a failure at marking the right date for the death of Jesus (Jesus must have died before 30 AD because he was born during the reign of Herod the Great who died in 5 BC), or there must be a gap of over 2000 years added between the 69th and 70th week. You can go online and see all the charts that make it look like they have come up with a literal using of the 70 weeks. But all of them have one or more of the problems listed above. Some try to use the start date for Ezra’s return to Jerusalem (458 BC), but he was a priest and did not come back to build Jerusalem. Further, starting with this date makes the death of Christ too late (458 BC minus 483 years equal 26 AD, because there was not a 0 year). This works as a possible time when Christ came but 458 BC is not when the command to rebuild Jerusalem was given. Ezra was preaching to the people, not building the temple or the city. Some try to use Nehemiah’s return to build the walls of Jerusalem (445 BC) makes the death of Christ too late (445 BC minus 483 years equals 38 AD). The point is that as much as I desire to be able to mark specific years and dates from this message of 70 weeks, it simply does not work. But the issue is worse than these because we are told a strong covenant being made in one week (7 years) and and end of sacrifices and offerings made in half a week (3 1/2 years). This is where all the charts at a gap between the 69th and 70th week, but the text does not give us this. This is our insertion of a solution, mangling the scriptures, as if we need to help God get this prophecy correct.
We are forced to understand this message as using the numbers symbolically. One scholar makes the point appropriately: “One wonders why so many commentators use such literalistic interpretations and are at such pains to make the dates exactly fit the known history. That’s not the nature of prophecy, let alone the nature of apocalyptic literature. One of the characteristics of apocalyptic literature is that it frequently uses numbers as symbols” (Greidanus, 297). Seven is a complete, perfect number and 70 is also. This symbolism goes all the way back to creation with God creating the world in 7 days and it was very good (Genesis 1:31). So we must read this message as an answer to Daniel’s prayer, indicating all that was going to happen in its order. We should not be disturbed by this because every prophecy in Daniel we have read thus far has done the same thing. Specific dates and years were not given, but a timeline of events were given (see chapters 2, 7, 8).
So let us read verses 25-27 as a timeline of events that were going to happen in their due time. As we look at verse 25 I need to make a note about the ESV translation. I do not know why (perhaps it is trying to follow the Masoretic Text), but for some reason they put a period in the middle of the numbers, between seven weeks and 62 weeks. No other translation does this. The NASB, NIV, NRSV, NKJV, HCSB, NET, and NLT all read “seven weeks and 62 weeks.” The ESV rendering does not make sense. Verse 25 cannot read that from the decree to build Jerusalem to the coming of the anointed one there will be 7 weeks and then it will take 62 weeks to rebuild the city of Jerusalem in troubled times. The ESV makes it sound like the Christ will come after the 7 weeks pass and then 62 more weeks will happen in which Jerusalem will be completed after he comes. No other translation does this and what the ESV has done makes no sense. So we will go with all the other translations. I will follow the NRSV in the rest of these verses.
Once we see these words as a timeline of events like the other Daniel prophecies we will see that the message is fairly simple. First, Jerusalem is going to be rebuilt, but it is going to be through times of difficulty (9:25). We read about this happening historically. When the first group of exiles return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, there is such a great local opposition that they are able to petition to have the worked stopped. Not only this, when Nehemiah comes to rebuild the walls to the city of Jerusalem, he and those who build the wall have such opposition that they had to hold a sword in one hand and a brick in another. The works will be done but it will take some time to complete because it will be a troubled time.
Second, the anointed one (Messiah, Christ) is coming. The prophecies concerning the Christ are not over or dead. God is faithful to his covenant promises and still shows steadfast love. The anointed one is coming (9:25) but he will be cut off and have nothing (9:26). To be cut off means a violent death is prophesied. This is not new because this is also declared in Isaiah’s prophecy.
Third, the people of the prince (“troops of the prince” NRSV) will come and destroy the city and the sanctuary (9:26). So Daniel prayed about the restoration of the city and God declares that it would be destroyed again around the time of the coming of the Christ. The fall of Jerusalem and the temple will come during a time of war and desolations. The details of this destruction are given to us in Matthew 24.
Fourth, he is going to make a strong covenant and put an end to sacrifice and offering. The big question is, “Who is the he?” Is he referring to the Anointed One in verse 26 or the prince of the people in verse 26? I believe the ambiguity is useful because the answer is yes. The Christ would enforce a strong covenant and put an end to the sacrifice system by his death on the cross. Yet the way the Christ did this was through the prince of the people (the Roman Empire) destroying Jerusalem and temple. The writer of Hebrews confirms this in Hebrews 8:6-13, Hebrews 10:5-10, and Hebrews 12:18-29. These passages speak about the new covenant that came with Christ. However, these text also speak of the old covenant growing old and being ready to pass away. The book of Hebrews was written after the death and resurrection of Christ. How could the author say that the old covenant was ready to pass away? The answer is because the Romans had not destroyed the temple in Jerusalem yet. When that was accomplished, it was clear that the way to God was through the covenant made by Christ (cf. Hebrews 12:27).
Finally, the decreed end must be poured out on the desolator (9:27). This is an important end to the prophecy. The nation that destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD will also have judgment poured out on it. The Roman Empire would also fall, just as Daniel 7 and Daniel 2 pictured. This is the timeline of events as God answers Daniel’s prayer. God is going to restore his city and his people! This is the message to Daniel! The Messiah will come. But there is more destruction ahead.
Let us end the lesson by looking at Jesus from this prophecy. Return to Daniel 9:24. Jesus would come to finish with transgressions, put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity. Jesus is victorious over sin. He finishes the battle with the problem of sin so that we can be set free. When Jesus says from the cross, “It is finished,” we hear him declaring that he has accomplished what he came to do: put an end to the sin problem that afflicts us. His death makes atonement for our sins. Second, Jesus established his everlasting kingdom of righteousness and peace. His work makes belonging to our Lord and dwelling in his kingdom possible. This is the hope we have that though the flesh dies, we live with him in eternity. Third, the work of Jesus fulfills all the prophecies given. Peter preached, “And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days.” (Acts 3:24 ESV) The apostle Paul declared, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” (2 Corinthians 1:20 ESV) All the visions and prophecies were pointing toward Christ who would fulfill all things. Jesus is the last word from God (Hebrews 1:1) and in him all the promises of God find their yes. Finally, Jesus came to consecrate his temple (cf. Ezekiel 40-48; 1 Peter 2:4-10; Ephesians 2:19-21). We are the temple of the Lord with Jesus as the foundation and we are built in this temple that brings the light of God to the world and draws the world to him. We must not forget what God has done and what our purpose is in Christ.