Previous article in this series: March 1, 2017, p. 253.
The Reformed response to the premillennial appeal to the vision of the seventy weeks in Daniel 9 on behalf of a future earthly millennium of carnal power and glory for national Israel is, first, to insist on the symbolical meaning of the number seventy. Seventy is the number of the fulfillment of the covenant of God with His people in the Messiah, who is Jesus.
The seventy weeks of Daniel 9 represent the time from the release of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity to the coming of the Messiah. It is the time of the fulfillment of the covenant of God in the coming and saving work of God’s Messiah.
That saving work of the Messiah, according to Daniel 9:24 will be intensely spiritual: finishing the transgression; making an end of sins; making reconciliation for iniquity; bringing in everlasting righteousness; sealing up the vision and prophecy; and anointing the most Holy.
Establishing an earthly kingdom of national Israel so that especially the Jews but also the Gentiles will enjoy earthly peace, earthly prosperity, and earthly power is not one of the works of the coming Messiah, according to the vision of Daniel 9.
The entire unit of seventy weeks will terminate, and culminate, in the first coming of Jesus the Messiah. At His first coming, the Messiah will confirm the covenant of God with Himself and with those who are His by a true and living faith (see Gal. 3:16, 17, 29). By His redemptive work at His coming, Messiah will fulfill the covenant (10 x 7 = 70).
The Breakdown of the Seventy Weeks in Detail
The period of the seventy weeks of Daniel 9 begins with the going forth of a command to build Jerusalem (v. 25). This is the decree of Cyrus in AD 537 that Judah may return to Canaan. Long before Cyrus made the decree, Isaiah prophesied it: “Cyrus…is my [ Jehovah’s] shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid” (Is. 44:28; see also Is. 45:1-13). The historical fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy is recorded in II Chronicles 36:22, 23.
The decree of Cyrus freeing the captive Israelites of Judah and permitting the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its temple was a crucial juncture in Israel’s history and a wonderful revelation of God’s covenant faithfulness. Judah was in bondage, desolate, and apparently doomed. This condition was its just judgment on account of its unfaithfulness in the covenant. Amazingly, God then ordered the deliverance of Judah, her return to the land of promise, and the restoration of the nation’s covenant life with Him.
The sixty-nine weeks of Daniel 9 represent the time from Cyrus’ decree liberating Judah from her bondage to the coming of Jesus Christ: “…unto the Messiah the Prince” (v. 25). This period is divided into two parts: seven weeks and sixty-two weeks. The seven weeks are the period of the “troublous times” of the building of Jerusalem under Zerubbabal, Ezra, and Nehemiah. This period of seven weeks extends to approximately the end of the Old Testament revelation in the book of Malachi.
The sixty-two weeks are the period of 400 years between the time of the Old Testament and the time of the New Testament.
The sixty-nine weeks—seven plus sixty-two—terminate in the coming of Messiah: “unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks” (v. 25).
Premillennialists argue over the question, which stage or event in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ is the end-point of the sixty-nine weeks: “unto the Messiah the Prince” (v. 25)? The obvious answer is the birth of the Messiah. When Jesus was born, “Messiah the Prince” appeared. “Where is he that is born King [Messiah] of the Jews?” the wise men asked on the occasion of the birth of Jesus (Matt. 2:2).
The sixty-nine weeks of Daniel’s prophecy, therefore, extend from Cyrus’ decree to the birth of Jesus.
Then followed the seventieth week, the “one week” of Daniel 9:27. The seventieth week was the entire period of the life and work of Jesus Christ that belonged to His first advent, inclusive of His atoning death, His resurrection, His ascension, and His outpouring of the Holy Ghost. That week, the culmination of God’s covenant dealings with Judah during the preceding sixty-nine weeks, saw the fulfillment of God’s covenant of grace with His people (10 x 7 = 70). In this seventieth week, Messiah the prince, who is Jesus, accomplished the wonderful, spiritual, sixfold salvation of the covenant people of God described in Daniel 9:24: finishing the transgression; making an end of sins; making reconciliation for iniquity; bringing in everlasting righteousness; sealing up the vision and prophecy; and anointing the most Holy.
Objections by the Premillennialists
Against this interpretation of the seventy weeks of Daniel’s vision, and particularly against this explanation of the seventieth week, premillennialists object. There are basically two objections. Both concern verses 26 and 27 of Daniel 9. First, the premillennialist argues that Messiah is cut off after the sixty-ninth week (v. 26) and before the seventieth week (v. 27). The same is true, he contends, regarding the destruction of the city by the people of the prince. All agree that the destruction of the city refers to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70 under the general, Titus. The premillennialist argues that both the death of Jesus and the destruction of Jerusalem happened before the seventieth week, not in it.
Closely related to this first objection is the second. The premillennialist explains verse 27 as referring to the Antichrist and to a secular covenant that he will make with national Israel in the future, when the seventieth week finally comes. The “he” of verse 27, who will confirm the covenant, is Antichrist, not “the Messiah the Prince” of verses 25 and 26.
The response of the Reformed amillennialist to these objections is as follows. First, although it is true that the death of the Messiah occurs after the sixty-ninth week, the Daniel 9 passage does not say, or even suggest, that His death occurs before the seventieth week.
Second, the one who confirms the covenant, according to verse 27, is not Antichrist, but the Christ of God. The covenant in view is not some secular treaty with the nation of Israel, but the one, spiritual covenant of grace of God with His “many” chosen people out of all nations. The confirmation of this covenant by God’s Messiah is not still future, in AD 2017, but has taken place in the past, by the work of the Messiah at His first coming.
The Truth of Daniel 9:26, 27
The cutting off of Messiah and His having nothing (as is the original Hebrew of Daniel 9:26) were the crucifixion and death of Jesus.
This cutting off of Messiah occurred in the seventieth week, the “one week” of verse 27. This seventieth week immediately followed the sixty-ninth week, as one week naturally follows another in history; as every reader would be led by the passage itself to conclude, were it not for the recent imposition on the text of the dogmatical theory of dispensational premillennialism; and as there is nothing in the text itself leading one to suppose otherwise. It is exactly the death of Messiah that makes this week the seventieth week, that is, the week of the fulfillment of God’s covenant.
The first part of verse 27 refers to the Messiah, Jesus. The meaning of verse 27 becomes clearer from a more literal translation than that given by the King James version. Literally, verse 27 reads: “And he shall confirm the covenant with many, one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and upon the wing of abominations [is] the one making desolate and unto completion and it is determined it shall be poured out on the desolate.”
It is Jesus the Messiah who confirms God’s covenant, “one week,” that is, in the seventieth week.
It is Jesus the Messiah who puts an end to all Old Testament sacrifices and oblations by His one sacrifice of Himself on the cross in the midst of the seventieth week (see Heb. 10). By His sacrifice of Himself, Jesus caused “the sacrifice and the oblation to cease” (Dan. 9:27). His sacrifice was the reality that the Old Testament sacrifices typified. The reality did away with the types. This is something that premillennialism very much needs to hear and take to heart, for premillennialism allows for the restoration of earthly, bloody Old Testamental sacrifices in a coming millennium. This wicked teaching is a denial of the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
All by itself, this one gross heresy of the premillennial explanation of Daniel 9:27 exposes the error of premillennialism’s interpretation both of the text and of the entire passage: the premillennial explanation of verse 27 is based on premillennialism’s teaching that God will permit the resumption by the Jews of the bloody sacrifices of the Old Testament.
If one asks concerning the remainder of the seventieth week, it is everything that belongs to the first advent of Jesus following His death, namely, the period of His resurrection, His ascension, His sitting at the right hand of God, and His outpouring of the Holy Ghost. On the basis of verses 26 and 27, which speak of the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and of the sanctuary, one could make a good case for the explanation of the end of the seventieth week as the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. At that time and by that significant event, God made known that the new covenant had fulfilled the old, that by being fulfilled the earlier covenant had become old and had “vanished away” (Heb. 8:13; a truth that premillennialism denies), and that now this new covenant extends to all who are “called” by the gospel out of all nations, so that they might receive, not a temporal inheritance consisting of an earthly land of Canaan, but an “eternal inheritance” (Heb. 9:15; something that premillennialism also denies).
Proof of this Interpretation of Daniel 9:26, 27 (in Opposition to that of Premillennialism)
It is exegetically mistaken to make “he” in verse 27a refer back to “prince” in verse 26 and, thus, to conclude that the reference in verse 27a is to the Antichrist. “Prince” in verse 26 is not the subject of the phrase in which the word occurs in verse 26: “people of the prince…shall destroy the city,” etc. It is the people who shall destroy Jerusalem, that is, the people and armies of Rome.
In addition, the subject of the entire passage and prophecy, the dominant subject, is Messiah the Prince, Jesus the Christ. To Him, the word “he” in verse 27 refers. The Messiah will confirm the covenant with many, not the Antichrist.
Also against the premillennial interpretation of the passage is the fact that verse 27 speaks of a confirming of the covenant. Premillennialism explains this as meaning that Antichrist will, in the future, make a covenant with national Israel. But as the AV rightly translates, verse 27 does not use the Hebrew verb that means “make,” but the word that means “confirm.” The reference is not to the making of a new covenant, but to the confirming of an already existing covenant (the Hebrew verb is gbr, not krt, or ntn).
Jesus, “the Messiah the Prince,” did exactly this at His first coming: He confirmed the covenant of God, established already with the woman and her Seed in Genesis 3:15 and continued with Noah, with Abraham and his Seed, with Israel, and with David.
The covenant that Messiah confirmed is God’s covenant with Abraham and his Seed (cf. Genesis 17:7; Gal. 3:16, 17, 29), the covenant that Israel violated, as Daniel lamented bitterly in his prayer in Daniel 9, and the covenant that Daniel, nevertheless, besought God to keep.
By the death of Jesus, God did keep and confirm His covenant. In the confirmation, He revealed it in its full reality as being spiritual in every respect, obtaining the blessings mentioned in Daniel 9:24, acquiring for the members of the covenant an eternal, heavenly inheritance, and extending, not only to elect, spiritual, genuine children of Abraham among the Jews, but also to elect Gentiles, who have the faith of father Abraham by the circumcision of the heart (cf. Rom. 2:28, 29; Rom. 4).
The seventy weeks were fulfilled in the first advent of Jesus the Messiah.
The seventieth week of Daniel’s vision in Daniel 9 is past history—grand, past, covenantal history.
The one covenant of God with His people, the elect and exceedingly precious church, the one bride and body of God in the Messiah, in all ages and of all nations has been confirmed.
All of the blessings of the covenant, which are mentioned in Daniel 9:24, have been earned and obtained by the Messiah. They are now freely bestowed upon the chosen people of God.
Jewish and Gentile believers now and forever live in the enjoyment of the confirmed covenant of grace and of its spiritual blessings.
The vision of Daniel 9, with Isaiah 53 one of the most clear, full, and glorious prophecies of the Old Testament concerning the saving, covenantal work of God in the Messiah, gives absolutely no support to premillennialism. On the contrary, it exposes that theology and hope as utterly false. Premillennialism corrupts this grand prophecy of the Messiah and His work.
Another interpretation of the seventy weeks given by some Reformed amillennialists is the following. The seventy weeks are the entire period from the command to build Jerusalem to the second advent of Christ, including the present age of already some two thousand years. From Cyrus’ decree to the first advent is seven weeks. From the first advent to the appearance of Antichrist in the future are sixty-two weeks. The seventieth week, according to this interpretation, will be the brief period in the future during which Antichrist will reign and which will end with the second coming of Jesus Christ. This interpretation is possible because of another possible reading of the last part of verse 25. It is possible to translate the last part of verse 25 as follows: “…unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks; and threescore and two weeks the street shall be built again,” etc. According to this translation, the building of the street and the wall lasting sixty-two weeks is symbolic of the gathering of the church throughout the new dispensation, until the appearance of Antichrist. This is the interpretation of Daniel 9 by Herman Hoeksema.1
This interpretation is wrong for the following reasons.
First, like the view of the premillennialists this interpretation supposes that verse 27a (“he shall confirm the covenant”) refers to the Antichrist. Everything said above against the premillennial explanation of verse 27a holds against this interpretation. “He,” in verse 27, is the Messiah Himself.
Second, this interpretation does injustice to the plain meaning of the last part of verse 25. By the building of the street and the wall of Jerusalem in troublous times, Gabriel does not refer, symbolically, to the gathering of the church, but to the literal rebuilding of Jerusalem after the return of Judah from captivity in Babylon.
Third, the most serious, and obvious, error of this interpretation is its distortion of the statement in verse 26, that Messiah shall be cut off and have nothing. According to this interpretation, this has to be the destruction of the church by Antichrist at the end of the world. In fact, the text is speaking of the cutting off of the Messiah personally, that is, Jesus’ death on the cross.
Fourth, the translation of verse 25 is correct as we have it in the King James version of the Bible: From the command of Cyrus unto the Messiah the Prince (at His first coming) are seven weeks and sixty-two weeks. That is, sixty-nine weeks extend from Cyrus’ decree to the first coming of Christ Jesus, not to the end of the world.
1 Herman Hoeksema, Behold, He Cometh! An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1969), 396.