The Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks (1): Introduction

Four verses present the prophecy we are accustomed to calling the SEVENTY WEEKS PROPHECY. Yet, despite their brevity, the highly respected 19th century prophetic student and commentator Sir Edward Denny (1796-1889) called these verses the “backbone of scriptural prophecy.” Three reasons ensure that they do fill a key role in the study of prophecy: (a) this is the only Biblical prophecy that gives a date for the presentation of the Messiah to the nation of Israel; (b) since the first three of the four verses (vv24-26) have already been fulfilled in history – 570 years after the prophecy was given to Daniel – their literal fulfilment gives a clear indication as to how the last verse (v27), where fulfilment is still future, must be interpreted; (c) based on the date given in these verses and the divine timetable thus established, all subsequent prophecies fall into place in the divine timetable. It is for this timetable of prophetic events that these verses have been chosen for this first article in this series on prophecy.

The prophecy was given in answer to the deep concern of a trusted servant of God in the world capital of that day – Babylon. World shaking in its implications, this great city had fallen to the tactical skill and military genius of Cyrus the Persian king. In his sweep to world dominion he had already brought all the Median Empire under his control, subdued the Lydian Kingdom, and on the night of 13th October 539 BC Babylon had fallen. It was judged impregnable by military experts of the day. However, by the stratagem of diverting the Euphrates River, Cyrus had taken this city – to use an anachronism – “almost without a shot being fired.” There had been little destruction and very few deaths except that of King Belshazzar and his lords (Dan 5:31). The administration of the city, having been taken over almost intact, had been placed, in keeping with the usual policy of Cyrus, under the control of King Darius the Mede. Under this man God had permitted His servant Daniel to be put to the test for the last time (See Dan 6). Now this trusted servant of God is deeply concerned as to what this change of World Empire will mean for the captive people of Israel now under the Medo-Persian Empire.

As well as the change of the World Empire, two further matters must have deepened Daniel’s spiritual exercise at this time. Indeed, deliberately leaving to one side the administration of Babylon put in his charge by King Darius, Daniel says, “I set my face unto the Lord God to seek (Him) by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth and ashes” (Dan 9:3). First, Daniel knew that the desolation of Jerusalem and its temple and the deportation of the people of Israel was direct divine judgment because of their disobedience to Scripture and their defiance of His servants the prophets. The question Daniel had to face was simple: Had God a future for Israel or had He finished with them? The second matter that clearly burdened his heart was the consciousness that God had announced through Jeremiah (Jer 25:11-14) that the captivity would last for 70 years. Since he had been deported to Babylon in the first company of captives in 606 BC as a youth of about eighteen years, he knew that in this year 538 BC, when he was now 85, there were only two years left of this period. Daniel would ask, “What happens now?” very particularly in light of the decree already issued by King Cyrus (2Chron 36:22-23). In any recovery of the nation what troubled him was the condition of the people of Israel – there was little sign of any consciousness of national sin or any desire for confession that would indicate true repentance in the nation. This drove him to his knees before God.

The exercise of Daniel in the first 23 verses of this chapter may be summarized thus:

(a) Confession of Sin (vv3-16). Note the repetition, “we have sinned” (vv 5, 8, 11, 15) as Daniel identified with his people.

(b) Cry of the Saint (vv17-19). “Thy righteousness” demanded discipline (v16); “Thy great mercies” (v18) designed deliverance. Daniel cried on behalf of “Thy people” (v15), Thy city Jerusalem (v16), Thy sanctuary (v17).

(c) Commitment to the Servant (vv20-23). Gabriel is to “shew” Daniel the “Seventy Weeks Prophecy” (vv24-27). He is to make Daniel “understand the matter” and “consider the vision.”

Gabriel explains to Daniel that God, far from having finished with disobedient Israel, is going to fulfill divine promises to them through a divine Person – identified in these verses as Messiah the Prince. Amongst the promises God gave to Abraham as progenitor of Israel was a promise concerning a people (Gen 12:1-3), a promise concerning a land (Gen 15:18-21), but the comprehensive promise was, “In thy seed shall all nations of the earth be blest” (Gen 22:5-18). The Scriptural interpretation of the promise is given in Galatians 3:16: “And to thy seed which is Christ.” The Messiah would come through the nation and through Him all the other blessings would be realized. Is it any wonder that the date of His coming to that nation is the key to the prophetic program? This is the date given in this prophecy.

It must be kept clearly in mind that the subject of this prophecy is confined strictly to a people called “thy People” which is, of course, the nation of Israel; no other nations are in the picture; likewise only one place is mentioned called “thy Holy City,” which is, of course, Jerusalem. With this focus in mind the following outline will be expanded in the articles to follow:

The Prophetic Timetable set out in the Seventy Weeks:

7 Weeks + 62 Weeks + 1 Week = 70 Weeks

Period Determined and the Purpose; Sin removed the Sovereign reigns (v24)

Person Designated and His Presentation; Savior revealed and Subjects refuse Him (v25)

Problem Defined and the Penalty; Sentence upon Sinners (v26)

Prophetic clock Stopped!

Program as Designed; Prophetic clock Re-started! (v27)

Period – Complete; Purpose – Consummated; Person – Crowned.