Previous article in this series: September 1, 2016, p. 469.
Of equal importance to dispensational premillennialism with, if not more importance, is Daniel 9. is the prophet’s “vision” of seventy weeks. To the prophet in Babylon with the nation of Judah, in answer to his prayer confessing the sins of the people and making supplication that Jehovah God would remember and fulfill His promise through Jeremiah that God “would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem” (vv. 2, 20), was given confirmation that God would fulfill His promise to deliver His covenant people. The angel Gabriel renewed the promise and explained the fulfillment of it in the form of the prophecy of seventy weeks.
“The interpretation of Daniel 9:24-27 is of major importance to premillennialism.”1
Dispensational premillennialism forces this prophecy to serve its doctrine of the last things. It does this especially by means of four gross errors of interpretation of the Old Testament prophecy. First, in alleged keeping with its law of the literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecy, it explains the seventy weeks as a definite period of time. This period of time is supposed to be 490 years. Premillennialism arrives at this period of time by explaining the seventy weeks as seventy weeks of years. That this is obvious violation of premillennialism’s own iron-clad law that prophecy must be interpreted literally seemingly escapes these literalistic exegetes of the Old Testament. The literal interpretation of the seventy weeks is bound to understand the period of time as 490 days, not as 490 years.
The second error is the application of the prophecy strictly to the nation of Judah (Israel). The church may not be in view in the prophecy in accordance with premillennialism’s absolutely fatal and inexcusable error, that the church is an (unknown) “mystery” in the Old Testament. The vision of the seventy weeks, therefore, is all and only about the earthly nation of Judah (Israel). It has nothing to do with the church.
Thus, premillennial strips one of the most full and glorious prophecies of the redemptive work of the Messiah on behalf of the church of all its spiritual riches and comfort. At the same time, it strips the church of all the Messianic comfort of the passage. The only other passage in the Old Testament that rivals Daniel 9 as gospel of the saving work of the coming Messiah is.
Third, in what can only be described as one of the most astonishing pieces of exegetical tour de force in all the sorry history of forcing Scripture to conform to one’s religious presuppositions, premillennialism separates the seventieth week of Daniel’s prophecy from the preceding sixty nine by the entire span of the present, New Testament age—some two thousand years. The seventieth week of the prophecy is still future, according to premillennialism. This wresting of Scripture may well serve as the monument to premillennialism’s vaunted faithfulness of biblical exposition.
Then, fourth, disregarding a basic law of interpretation of Scripture, to say nothing of the laws of literature, which require that a pronoun shall be referred to the immediately preceding, suitable subject of the passage, premillennialism explains the “he” of verse 27, who confirms the covenant, as the ungodly “prince” of verse 26, rather than the “Messiah” of verse 26, who is also the dominate subject of the entire prophecy. This explanation of verse 27 ignores that the “prince” of verse 26 is not even the subject of the sentence and action of the verse. The “people” of the prince is the subject of the action in verse 26: “The people of the prince…shall destroy,” etc.
The Premillennial Explanation of Daniel 9
The premillennial explanation of the prophecy of the seventy weeks assumes that the entire prophecy is exclusively about and for national Israel, the Jews. There is nothing in the prophecy about the church. This is a basic assumption of premillennialism with regard to all of Old Testament prophecy concerning Israel. The church is not the fulfillment and reality of Old Testament Israel. The church is not in view in Old Testament prophecy. Old Testament prophecy concerns Israel.
The seventy weeks are explained as a definite period of time. But this period is not literally seventy weeks, or a little more than one year. This period is too short to serve the purposes of premillennialism. Each of the seventy weeks must be understood as a week of years. The seventy weeks of Daniel’s vision are, therefore, the definite period of 490 years.
Having arbitrarily established the time, premillennialism must then exercise its exegetical skills upon the passage in order to accommodate it to the facts of history. The starting-point of the seventy weeks regarding the covenant people’s salvation, according to verse 25, is the “going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem.” The obvious reference would be to the decree of Cyrus, king of Persia, that all the Jews were permitted to return to Canaan and that they should rebuild the temple (; ). Ezra 1:1 states that this decree by the Persian king fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah that the captivity of Judah would last seventy years ( ; ). Since Cyrus decreed the freeing of the Jews to return to Jerusalem in 537 BC, sixty-nine weeks of years, that is, 483 years, are too few to reach to “Messiah the Prince,” on the literal reckoning of premillennialism. prophesies sixty-nine weeks between the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem and Messiah the Prince. Therefore, premillennial theologians propose other starting-points for the period of the seventy weeks.
Some suggest the time of the letter of King Artaxerxes, authorizing Nehemiah to undertake the rebuilding of Jerusalem (). This time was about 445 BC. But neither is this date entirely satisfactory. Sixty-nine weeks of years, or 483 years, would not reach to the birth of Messiah the Prince but would extend to sometime after His death. Therefore, other fanciful theories about the starting-point of the seventy years are put forward by the premillennial scholars.
Verse 25 of Daniel 9 divides the time of the sixty-nine weeks between the decree to rebuild Jerusalem and the appearing of Messiah the Prince into two parts: seven weeks, and sixty-two weeks. The seven-week period, which premillennialism explains as forty-nine years, is the time of the actual rebuilding of Jerusalem. This period ended approximately at the time of the conclusion of the Old Testament Bible. The period of sixty-two weeks, which premillennialism explains as 434 years, is the long period between the testaments, up to some point in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. What this point is proves controversial. Some premillennialists refer to Christ’s baptism; others, to His triumphal entry into Jerusalem at the end of His earthly ministry.
The Seventieth Week
It is dispensational premillennialism’s explanation of the seventieth week of Daniel’s vision, however, that is the most important aspect of the premillennial interpretation of Daniel 9. This explanation lies at the very heart of the premillennial doctrine of the last days.
The last week of the seventy, which for premillennialism is a definite period of seven years (on their notion that the weeks of the vision are weeks of years), is still future in church history. The seventieth week does not immediately follow the sixty-ninth week. Between the sixty-ninth week and the seventieth week lie the two thousand years of our present age, roughly the time from the birth and ministry of Jesus the Messiah to the present day, and into the indefinite future.
Sometime in the future (from our standpoint in A.D. 2016), the seventieth week of verse 27 of Daniel 9 will come to pass. Tremendous events will occur in this week, which for premillennialism is seven years. At the juncture of the present (church) age, which is not at all in view in Daniel 9, and the beginning of the seventieth week, the church will be raptured out of the world into the air. At that time, Antichrist will appear. Antichrist is the “prince” of(“the people of the prince that shall come”). Antichrist is supposed to be the “he” of , who shall confirm the covenant with many.
Reformed believers should notice that this explanation of Daniel 9 removes the church from the world before Antichrist comes to power and thus exempts the church from persecution under the personal Antichrist. This fictitious deliverance of the church from the persecution by Antichrist is of the greatest importance to the premillennial throngs. Premillennialists regard escape from persecution under the Antichrist as one of the most attractive features of their theology.
For three and a half years, or the first half of the seventieth week (regarded as a week of years, that is, seven years), Antichrist makes and keeps a covenant with Israel, which has been restored to the “holy land” of Palestine. The borders of the land will have been extended to their farthest limits, according to the promises of God in the Old Testament. This is the premillennial explanation of the first part of Daniel 9:27: “He shall confirm the covenant with many for one week.”
Suddenly, however, in the “midst of the week” (Dan. 9:27), that is, on premillennial reckoning, after three and a half years, Antichrist will turn on the Jews in Palestine and begin persecuting them, with a view to destroying them utterly. For three and a half years, national Israel will be persecuted. This persecution of the Jews by Antichrist—a Hitler in spades—is supposed to be the “great tribulation” ofand the war against the saints of Revelation 13, as well as most of the affliction of the people of God foretold in the New Testament.
At the end of the seventieth week, Jesus will return to earth in order to destroy Antichrist, save Israel, and set up the millennial, earthly kingdom for one thousand years. During this millennium, Jesus will reign as king from earthly Jerusalem with national Israel as His glorious kingdom.
…to be continued.
1 John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), 25.