Daniel’s Seventy Sevens and the Coming of the Messiah

(DANIEL 9:24-27)

Daniel had studied the prophecies of Jeremiah and saw that the seventy years of the exile were about to be completed (Dan. 9:1-2). Daniel’s response was to pray a prayer of confession and repentance for Israel (Dan. 9:3-15) and to ask God to restore Jerusalem (Dan. 9:16-19). While Daniel was praying, the angel Gabriel was sent to give Daniel an understanding of the future and period of time until the coming of the Messiah (9:20-27). Edward J. Young states the main idea of this messianic revelation:

“A definite time has been decreed by God for the accomplishment of all that which is necessary for the true restoration of God’s people from bondage.”38

This messianic prophecy is one of the few places in the prophets where the term “Messiah” is used.

To understand this prophecy properly, it is crucial to place it in its immediate context and its larger biblical-theological context. Within the context of the book of Daniel, this passage parallels the prophetic message concerning the successive kingdoms of Daniel 2 and 7 which culminate with the coming of the Messiah. Daniel 2 prophetically sets forth the successive empires which lead to the Messiah: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Daniel 2 climaxes with the “stone made without hands” establishing a worldwide and eternal kingdom. Daniel 7 parallels Daniel 2 and climaxes with the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds. The Son of Man, the Messiah, establishes an eternal worldwide kingdom. Similarly, the “seventy-sevens” of Daniel 9 cover the time period from the Medo-Persian empire to the coming of the Messiah. Therefore, the prophetic messages of Daniel 2, 7, and 9 span the same time period and culminate with the coming of the Messiah and the establishment of his eternal kingdom.

The immediate context in Daniel 9 is Daniel’s prayer for the restoration of Jerusalem and the temple. Daniel 9:2 states that Daniel had been reading the prophet Jeremiah and came to an understanding that the seventy years of exile Jeremiah predicted were about to be completed. This opening reference to “seventy years” (v. 2) is connected to the “seventy-sevens” that anticipate the future (v. 24). A covenantal theme is obvious in this context. Daniel’s prayer begins with a statement concerning God’s covenant mercy:

And I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed and said, “Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Dan. 9:4 NASB).

Gabriel’s answer also contains a covenantal theme. His answer looks forward to a time when God would restore his people and consummate the goal of his covenant of grace in the coming of the Messiah. Meredith Kline observes that Daniel’s prayer (vv. 4-19) has a repeated use of the covenant name of God (Yahweh) along with the repeated use of adonay, the “characteristic designation of the dominant party in the covenant.”39 It is also important to note that Daniel repeatedly mentions that Israel had broken God’s covenant and the covenant must be renewed.

The larger biblical-theological context is also important for the interpretation of the “seventy-sevens.” The seventy years of Israel’s captivity was determined because Israel neglected the sabbatical-year principle. 2 Chronicles 36:20-21 states:

20. And those who had escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon; and they were servants to him and to his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia. 21. to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths. All the days of its desolation it kept sabbath until seventy years were complete (NASB).

This concept of the people being exiled until the land enjoyed its Sabbaths goes back to the covenantal curse given in Leviticus 26. Leviticus 25 set forth the pattern of the Sabbatic year and the year of the Jubilee. Every seventh year the land was to have a Sabbath rest. After seven cycles of this pattern, the fiftieth year was to be a jubilee year. In Leviticus 26, God warned that if the people neglected this sabbatical-year principle, then they would be exiled from the land until the land enjoyed the neglected Sabbaths. Leviticus 26:34-35 states:

34. “Then the land will enjoy its sabbaths all the days of the desolation, while you are in your enemies land; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths. 35. All the days of its desolation it will observe the rest which it did not observe on your sabbaths, while you were living on it (NASB).

Leviticus 26:40-42 states that if the people confess their sins and humble their hearts, then the Lord will remember his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Verses 44-45 mention that God will not reject them, but will remember his covenant with their ancestors when he brought them out of Egypt. Daniel’s prayer of confession in Daniel 9:4-19 corresponds to the covenantal administration pattern and confession of Leviticus 26:40-42. The prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27 corresponds to the covenant restoration of Leviticus 26:44-45.40 This biblical-theological context provides the larger context for understanding the terminology of the seventy sevens in Daniel 9.

In light of the larger Sabbath concept associated with the seventy sevens of Daniel 9, the terminology might be considered to be purely symbolic language. O. Palmer Robertson comments on this:

Indeed, the symbolic character of the number seven as an aspect of the Sabbath concept must not be ignored. The perfection of sevens as embodied in the “seventy sevens” speak of the movement toward the final climax of the Covenant Lord’s redemptive work in the world. The Sabbath rest that remains for the people of God must be seen as the ultimate goal of the seventy sevens (Heb. 4:9).

At the same time, the context in which Daniel’s prophecy is found inevitably points to an actual chronological ordering in the purposes of God. Jeremiah did not predict Israel’s banishment from the land to be, for example, twenty-three years or forty-one years in length – he predicted seventy years.41

Therefore, while there can be symbolical significance to the seventy sevens, the seventy years of captivity Jeremiah predicted which were reiterated in Daniel 9:2 indicates that the seventy sevens have some chronological meaning. A chronological interpretation also gives meaning for the structural pattern of the seventy sevens given in Daniel 9. The seventy sevens are structured in three periods consisting of seven sevens, sixty-two sevens, and one seven. A purely symbolic interpretation cannot explain this pattern that obviously has meaning in the Daniel 9 prophecy. The sevens are best understood through an inclusion of the symbolic with the chronological.42

Since the pattern of the seventy years of captivity represent the seventy neglected Sabbath years, then the seventy weeks should be understood as years, thus equaling 490 years. This raises the question of where to begin the chronological count of the seventy sevens. The decree of Cyrus allowing the return of the Jews, which had a specific focus toward rebuilding the temple, occurred in 536 B.C. (Ezra 1:1-4). The specific language of the decree of Cyrus on the Cyrus Cylinder confirms the specific decree to rebuild the temple:

“I returned to (these) sacred cities on the other side of the Tigris, the sanctuaries of which have been ruins for a long time, the images which (used) to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I (also) gathered all their (former) inhabitants and returned (to them) their habitations.”43

If 536 B.C. is the initiation point of the 490 years, then they only reach to 47 B.C., a date that has no significance. O. Palmer Robertson points out that Daniel 9:25 states that the decree is not just to return and rebuild the temple, but “to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.” It was the decree of Artaxerxes in approximately 445 B.C. which allowed the rebuilding of Jerusalem (Neh. 1:1-3; 2:3-8, 17). He contends that 445 B.C. should be the chronological starting point of the seventy weeks. Using this date as the starting point, the first seven week period, or 49 years, ends at approximately 400 B.C. This date corresponds to the time when old covenant revelation concluded. The next period of sixty-two weeks, corresponds to the approximate time of the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah.44 If a regular 365 day year is used, the starting date of 445 B.C. makes the 69 weeks end at A.D. 39 (one year is subtracted since there is no year 0). However, some interpreters hold that a “year” in this prophecy should be based on a 360 day year. 483 years based on a 360 day year comes to approximately A. D. 32 or 33 if the starting date is 445 or 444 B. C. This would correspond to the later date for the date of the crucifixion. This use of a 360 day year is supported by the use of 1,260 days being used to equal three and a half years in Revelation 11:2 and 12:6.

Another possibility which has been proposed is that the starting date is associated with the coming of Ezra in 458 B.C. (Ezra 7:1-28). This decree makes provisions for “magistrates and judges” (Ezra 7:25) and, therefore, implies that the city will be restored.

This perspective would use a regular 365 day year and the 69 weeks would end in A.D. 26. If half the seventieth week is added to that, then the weeks predict the time of the crucifixion (taking the early and traditional date for the crucifixion). This also fits with Daniel 9:27 that in the middle of the seventieth week, the Messiah will bring an end to sacrifice and offering. Through his work of atonement, all sacrifice was ended. The starting date of 458 B.C. also fits the same pattern of the first 49 years ending at approximately the time Old Covenant revelation concluded. It also fits the general time period in which the restoration of Jerusalem as well as the temple occurred. While there are still some elements of approximation in both dates, based on how a year is understood, both dates point to the crucifixion of Christ. Since Revelation 11:2 and 12:6 both use a 360 day year to indicate the three and a half years the date of 445 B. C. seems to have the greater support. The seventieth week is examined more fully below. Therefore, this is a remarkable and specific prophecy predicting the time of the coming of the Messiah. O. Palmer Robertson writes:

Obviously this kind of detailed anticipation of the course of human history cannot be entertained for one instant by modern negative criticism. In the contemporary context in which the idea that God has a plan for this world is totally denied, the inevitable conclusion must be that to the degree that this material describes the actual course of human history, it must have been composed after the event. But taken in the form in which it actually appears as a detailed, long-term prediction of the course of human events as they relate to God’s purposes of redemption, the prophecy of Daniel concerning the seventy sevens is indeed remarkable. It by no means stands alone among biblical anticipations regarding the work of the coming Messiah. But it should call forth a firm, well-grounded faith in the God who orders the course of history so that it serves his greater redemptive purposes.46

Daniel 9:24 sets forth six works of redemption which will occur within the seventy sevens: “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy place” (NASB). Six infinitives are used to express the purpose or goal of these works. The first three of these redemptive works address the removal or atonement of sin. Daniel’s prayer of confession in Daniel 9 acknowledged sin ten times (9:5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 14, 15, 16). This threefold description of God’s redemptive purposes and work anticipate the substitutionary atonement of the Messiah (cf. Isa. 53). Christ’s passive or penal obedience finished transgressions in that he broke the power and slavery of sin over his people (Rom. 6); his work of atonement on the cross removed sin’s condemnation (Rom. 3:25; 5:12-19; 8:1, 34). Christ’s perfect and complete work met all the exigencies of the sins of his elect.47 The complete removal of all iniquity will take place at the consummation of God’s redemptive purposes in the second coming of the Messiah.

The second three items describe the establishment of righteousness: “to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy place” (9:24b). This anticipates the Messiah fulfilling the offices of priest and prophet. As the great high priest, the Messiah brought “everlasting righteousness” through his perfect obedience (Rom. 5:12-19) and his work of atonement. The sinner who is justified by faith in Christ alone (Rom. 3:21-28; 4:1-8; 5:1) has the righteousness of Christ imputed to him. The Messiah accomplished a perfect work of atonement (Heb. 10:10-18), anointed the holy place with his blood (Heb. 9:11-12) (this is best understood as being accomplished in his work of atonement), rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven where he makes intercession for his saints (Heb. 7:25; Rom. 8:34). The Messiah is also the final prophet. He spoke the final and definitive word from God to men (Heb. 1:1-2). Therefore, after his apostles and prophets transcribed and interpreted his word, no further need for additional vision and prophecy remained. The Scriptures are God-breathed, complete, and sufficient for faith and practice. Edward J. Young states that these things “are all messianic. . . . The termination of the 70 sevens coincides then, not with the time of Antiochus, nor with the end of the present age, the second Advent of our Lord, but with his first Advent.”48 The six items mentioned in Daniel 9:24 depict the redemptive work of the Messiah. This is perfectly consistent with the previous visions in Daniel 2 and 7, each of which culminated with the Messiah’s coming and the establishment of his worldwide kingdom.

The last week is set apart from the previous sixty-nine weeks. This implies a unique quality to the seventieth week. This last week must be understood within the context of a broader biblical-theological perspective. Dispensational theology contends that the seventieth week is chronologically separated from the previous sixty-nine weeks. This temporal separation consists of the period between Christ’s first coming and the last seven years before his second coming. This gap or separation between the previous weeks and the last week will last until the end of the church age. Dispensational theology points to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple almost forty years after the death of Jesus and argues that this is too long of a time period for the last week.49 However, Daniel 9:24-27 does not indicate any gap between the sixty-ninth and seventieth week. The language of this passage supports the idea a regular succession of the weeks with the seventieth week following the sixty-ninth.50 James E. Smith writes: “The existence of a gap of two thousand years is a strange intrusion into the text.”51

It is exegetically better to view the seventieth week as normally following the sixty-ninth week. However, the last week is divided into two halves. Daniel 9:27 states that in the seventieth week “he will make a firm covenant with the many.” What is the identity of the individual who will make this covenant with many? Dispensational theology argues that this individual is the antichrist who will make a covenant with national Israel. Meredith Kline comments: “The whole context speaks against the supposition that an altogether different covenant from the divine covenant which is the central theme throughout Daniel 9 is abruptly introduced here at the climax of it all.”52 The hermeneutical presuppositions of dispensationalism cause dispensationalists to insert a gap between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks and find a completely different covenant in verse 27.

An approach that is more consistent with the context of Daniel and the passage is to view the identity of the one making the covenant in verse 27 as the Messiah who was mentioned earlier in the passage. Verse 24 mentions a series of redemptive acts the Messiah will accomplish. Verse 26 states that the Messiah will be “cut off.” The verb used to describe the Messiah being cut off is karat, which is the term used to describe the “cutting of a covenant” in the ritual associated with the ratification of covenants. This covenant language of “cutting off” connects the Messiah of verse 26 with the one making or confirming a covenant in verse 27. The term, karat, in verse 26 is the usual term associated with the making of a covenant. However, in verse 27, the verb, higebir (hiph. pf.), which means “to make strong, cause to prevail” is used. This indicates that the covenant of verse 27 is not a different covenant from the one implied in verse 26, but is a confirmation of a previously existing covenant.53 Therefore, the Messiah, in his work of redemption (v. 24-26) will confirm the covenant of grace established after man’s fall into sin. In fact, he will fulfill the old covenant shadows and types of the covenant of grace and establish the new covenant realities of the same covenant of grace. O. Palmer Robertson writes, “‘Making [a covenant] to prevail’ with ‘many’ in one seven by an ‘anointed one’ (9:27a) does not introduce a different ‘anointed one’ in addition to the one mentioned in the previous verse. Instead, the same anointed one strengthens his covenant with his people.”54 This also speaks against the dispensational interpretation of verse 27 that it is the future antichrist that makes an entirely new covenant verse 27. E. J. Young writes:

. . . this entire passage is Messianic in nature, and the Messiah is the leading character. The general theme of the passage, introduced in vs. 24, is surely Messianic. The blessings therein depicted were brought about by the Messiah and they form their climax in the “anointing” of a holy of holies. Furthermore, in vs. 25 the appearance of the Messiah is the great terminus ad quem of the 69 sevens. They lead up to Him, who is their goal. . . . In vs. 26 two principle themes are introduced: 1) the death of the Messiah and 2) the consequent destruction of the city and sanctuary by a people of a prince (not the prince) who will come. In this vs. therefore, the principle characters are the Messiah and the people – not the prince. As the exposition will endeavor to bring out, what is related in vs. 27 also has reference to the Messiah.55

Daniel 9:27 also states that the Messiah will “put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering” in the middle of the seventieth week. This corresponds to the accomplished work of the Messiah. He makes atonement for iniquity and brings everlasting righteousness (v. 24). The Messiah’s work of atonement was accomplished and complete and, therefore, once for all time. Because his work is perfect, all symbolic sacrifice of the old covenant became improper and ended (Heb. 9:23-28; 10:10-18). E. J. Young writes:

In what sense, however, may it be said that the Messiah causes a covenant to prevail for many? The answer to this question, it would seem, is to be found in the fact that the Messiah during His earthly ministry and by means of His active and passive obedience to the Law of God, did fulfill the terms of that covenant which was in olden times made with Abraham and his seed. Romans 15:8 speaks of this covenant as “the promises made unto the fathers.”56

This action of the Messiah occurs half way through the seventieth week, or 3.5 years into that last week. This leaves a final period of 3.5 years to complete the seventy weeks.

This figure is used elsewhere in an eschatological context as a symbolic figure. O. Palmer Robertson writes of this use:

The figure of 3.5 years receives further development in the final chapter of the book of Daniel and even more extensively in the book of Revelation. In his final interview with the revealing person, Daniel overhears the question, “How long will it be before these astonishing things are fulfilled?” (Dan. 12:6 NIV). The man clothed in linen takes a solemn oath that the period will be “for a time, times, and half a time,” reflecting the same earlier measurement of the time that the saints will suffer at the hands of the little horn of the fourth beast of Daniel 7 (12:7; see also 7:25). This same measurement recurs in the form of 1,290 (or 1,335) days that are to expire between the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination that causes desolation is set up (12:11-12).

The various ways in which this last half of the final week is designated suggest that the time measurement has been modified from the chronological/symbolical to the purely symbolical. The book of Revelation reflects the same diversity in referring to an identical period as a symbolical device: 1,260 days, 42 months, and “time, times, and half a time” (Rev. 11:2-3; 12:6, 14; 13:5). The last half of the seventieth week of Daniel may thus be regarded as a different form of time measurement.57

Therefore, the last 3.5 years of the last week should be interpreted in a symbolical sense as representing an indefinite period. This period would extend from the Messiah’s work in ending sacrifice through his work of atonement until the end of the present age. Kim Riddlebarger writes:

. . . the forty-two months [of Revelation 13:5] are most likely a reference to the inter-advental age. Taken from Daniel 7:25 (“a time, times, and half a time,” see also Dan. 12:7), this same period of time appears in the preceding chapters of the Book of Revelation. In Revelation 11:2-3, the Gentiles are said to “trample the holy city” (the church – i.e., the dwelling place of God in the new covenant) for forty-two months or 1,260 days. This is the same time period in which the two witnesses proclaim the gospel (Rev. 11:3). In Revelation 12:6, John refers to the time of the protection of the woman in the wilderness (the church) as spanning 1,260 days and then again later as “a time, times, and half a time” (Rev. 12:14).58

G. K. Beale, in commenting on Revelation 13:5 states:

That the “forty-two months” is based on Daniel 7:25b (and 12:7) is evident from its close association with other allusions to Daniel and the clear allusions to the Danielic time period in Rev. 12:6, 14b and earlier 11:2-3. These three earlier references to the period show that the duration of the period spans the time from Christ’s death and resurrection to the culmination of history. Likewise, the analysis of 12:12 and 13:3 above shows that the period in 13:5 covers the same time. 13:3 identifies the beginning of the figurative period as Christ’s death and resurrection, which caused the beast to be “slain unto death.” Our study of [Revelation] 12:7-12 confirms that it is Christ’s redemptive work that dealt the fatal blow to the devil and his agents. Therefore, the events of 11:2-3; 12:6, 14b; and 13:5 are parallel in time.59

Further support of this position is found in the previous noted Sabbatical-year principle present in this passage. The seventy-sevens of Daniel 9:24-27 equal ten jubilee eras. An emphasis is placed on the ultimate jubilee after the 490 years were completed. This ultimate jubilee depicts the consummation of the messianic age.60 Meredith Kline writes:

The last week is the age of the church in the wilderness of the nations for a time, a times, and half a time (Rev. 12:14). Since the seventy weeks are ten jubilee eras that issue in the last jubilee, the seventieth week closes with angelic trumpeting of the earth’s redemption and the glorious liberty of the children of God. The acceptable year of the Lord which came with Christ will then have fully come. Then the new Jerusalem whose temple is the Lord and the Lamb will descend from heaven (Rev. 21:10, 22) and the ark of the covenant will be seen (Rev. 11:19), the covenant the Lamb has made to prevail and the Lord has remembered.61

This prophecy in Daniel 9:24-27 explicitly predicts the time of the coming of the Messiah and his kingdom into the world. It also predicts the atoning work of the Messiah which will put an end to sin, bring everlasting righteousness, end prophecy and vision, and anoint the heavenly most holy place with his blood (Heb. 9:12). It also anticipates the spread of his kingdom throughout the earth through all the ages until his return and the consummation of his kingdom and redemptive purposes. Finally, this passage demonstrates the supernatural quality of the inspired Scriptures in that it accurately predicts the exact time of the coming of the Messiah.


Works Cited

38 Young, The Prophecy of Daniel: A Commentary, 194.
39 Meredith G. Kline, “The Covenant of the Seventieth Week,” The Law and the Prophets: Old Testament Studies Prepared in Honor of Oswald Thompson Allis, ed. John H. Skilton (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1974), 456-457.
40 Kline, “The Covenant of the Seventieth Week,” in The Law and the Prophets: Old Testament Studies Prepared in Honor of Oswald Thompson Allis, 461.
41 Robertson, The Christ of the Prophets, 339.
42 Robertson, The Christ of the Prophets, 340-341.
43 James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Related to the Old Testament, 3d ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 316.
44 Robertson, The Christ of the Prophets, 341-342.
45 For a defense of the early traditional date of the ministry and crucifixion of Jesus, see Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke,194-199.
46 Robertson, The Christ of the Prophets, 342.
47 Young, The Prophecy of Daniel: A Commentary, 199.
48 Young, The Prophecy of Daniel: A Commentary, 201.
49 John F. Walvoord, Daniel, The Key to Prophetic Revelation: A Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1971), 230.
50 Robertson, The Christ of the Prophets, 344-345.
51 Smith, What The Bible Teaches About the Promised Messiah, 393.
52 Kline, “The Covenant of the Seventieth Week,” The Law and the Prophets: Old Testament Studies Prepared in Honor of Oswald Thompson Allis, 463.
53 Kline, “The Covenant of the Seventieth Week,” The Law and the Prophets: Old Testament Studies Prepared in Honor of Oswald Thompson Allis, 465. See also Young, The Prophecy of Daniel: A Commentary, 209.
54 Robertson, The Christ of the Prophets, 346, n. 30.
55 Young, The Prophecy of Daniel: A Commentary, 209.
56 Young, The Prophecy of Daniel: A Commentary, 212.
57 Robertson, The Christ of the Prophets, 345.
58 Kim Riddlebarger, The Man of Sin: Uncovering the Truth About The Antichrist (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006), 97.
59 Beale, The Book of Revelation in The New International Greek Testament Commentary, 695.
60 Kline, “The Covenant of the Seventieth Week,” The Law and the Prophets: Old Testament Studies Prepared in Honor of Oswald Thompson Allis, 459.
61 Kline, “The Covenant of the Seventieth Week,” The Law and the Prophets: Old Testament Studies Prepared in Honor of Oswald Thompson Allis, 469.

About the author

Dr. Van Lees

Dr. Van Lees is the pastor/teacher of Covenant of Grace Church. He has been the pastor of the church since 1985 when it started. Dr. Lees has a M. Div. from Covenant Theological Seminary, a D. Min. from Reformed Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from Whitefield Theological Seminary.