What will the “seventy sevens” of Daniel 9:24-27 achieve? When did this period begin, and when will the 70th seven end? What does this prophecy have to do with Christ’s first and second coming?
Background and Context
God entered the Mosaic covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai (Ex 19-23). One of the laws of this covenant is that Israel should, every seventh year, observe a Sabbath year (Lev 25:3-5). Israel obeyed this command initially, but eventually a time came when Israel ignored this command for 490 years. God said in Leviticus 26:33-35 that if this command is disobeyed, Israel would be scattered among the nations. Israel therefore owed God 70 Sabbath years. Jeremiah prophesied about these 70 years in the first year of Nebuchadnezzar (Jer 25:1-12; cf. 2 Chron 36:21). But in Jeremiah 29:11, God also emphasised that He has thoughts of peace towards Israel, to give Israel hope and a future.
The Prayer of Daniel
Daniel “understood by the books” that Israel would be in exile in Babylon for 70 years (Dan 9:2). Daniel’s Bible study undoubtedly took him to Jeremiah 25:11-12, but in Jeremiah 29:10-12 the LORD also said [my additions in brackets]:
For thus says the LORD: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you [Israel] and perform My good word toward you, and cause you [Israel] to return to this place [Jerusalem/Israel]. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you [Israel], says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you [Israel] will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.
God’s plan in Christ will undoubtedly come to pass; God will certainly fulfil all unconditional prophecies and promises that He has made. But this does not mean one should not pray about it. Rosscup (1992:50) states it well: “As events advance toward His appointed fulfillment, He appeals to mankind to be prayerfully involved in his work, and these prayers do make a difference to God.” Daniel noticed the injunction to pray in Jeremiah 29:12 and so he prayed for the fulfilment of God’s program.
Daniel’s prayer contains an adoration of God (Dan 9:4), confession (vv. 5-15) and a petition for Israel’s restoration (vv. 16-19). Daniel emphasised the greatness, faithfulness and mercy of God (v. 4). Daniel prayed a genuine prayer of repentance, confessing Israel’s sins. Even though Israel has been given a great position as head of the nations, it acted shamefully (vv. 5-8), unfaithfully, and disobeyed the Law of Moses (vv. 10-11). God acted righteously by doing what He said He would do if Israel disobeyed Him (vv. 12-14).
God had already demonstrated his power by rescuing Israel from Egypt. Daniel asked God to be merciful and to save Israel again, for the sake of God’s Name (Dan 9:15-19). Daniel did not ask the Lord to hear his prayer based on Israel’s righteousness, “but because of Your great mercies” (Dan 9:18b). Notice what Daniel asked God to restore:
- “Your city Jerusalem” (vv. 16 and 19); and
- “Your holy mountain” (v. 16), which refers to the temple in Jerusalem; and
- “Your people”, which refers to the Jews/Israel (vv. 16 and 19).
God immediately answered Daniel (vv. 20a, 23a). The prophecy of the seventy sevens of Daniel 9:24-27 is God’s answer to Daniel’s prayer request concerning “the holy mountain of my God” (v. 20; cf. vv. 16, 19), the Jewish nation (v. 24a) and “your holy city” (v. 24a). God sent the angel Gabriel to give Daniel insight so that he will understand the prophecy (Dan 9:22-23). Daniel learnt that Israel had to undergo 70 years of exile in Babylon because they failed to keep 70 Sabbath years. But God’s new prophecy is that Israel must also experience “seventy sevens”, or 70 times seven years – 490 years – before the Messianic kingdom will be established (cf. Rydelnik 2014:1304-1305).
Referring to “seventy sevens” is like referring to a dozen … but a dozen of what, or seventy-sevens of what? The context makes it clear: the seventy sevens refer to years (cf. Dan 9:1-2), that is, to 490 years (70 times 7 years). However, these 490 years will not run consecutively.
According to Daniel 9:25-26, there will be seven sevens (that is, 49 years) and then directly thereafter will follow 62 sevens (434 years) and then “after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself” (Dan 9:26a). The seven sevens, or 49 years, is the time it took to restore and rebuild Jerusalem (Dan 9:25). Then immediately followed another 62 sevens, or 434 years, until Christ’s first coming. Stated differently, 69 sevens or 483 years elapsed from the beginning of these “seventy sevens” until Christ’s first coming. Jesus is the Messiah who was “cut off”, who died a violent death on the cross for sinners but who did not begin to reign in the Messianic kingdom. Furthermore, just as Daniel 9:26b prophesied, “the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary”. This prophecy was tragically fulfilled in 70 AD when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed.
When did the seventy sevens start? According to Daniel 9:25a, the seventy sevens started “from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem”. The most likely starting point for the 70 sevens is when Artaxerxes gave Nehemiah authority to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (Neh 2:1-8; Rydelnik 2014:1306). This decree was granted about 445-444 BC.
Between the 69th and 70th Seven
There is undoubtedly an undefined period between the 69th and 70th sevens, as can be deduced from Daniel 9:26-27 (see also Price 1994:133-146). With Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, the clock stopped (cf. Luk 19:42; Woods 2016:359). It is like injury time in a game. The time between the 69th and 70th seven basically covers the time between Christ’s first and second coming. During most of this time, Christ is building his Church. But the clock will tick again as soon as something happens. The 70th seven will begin when the Antichrist will make a covenant with many (Dan 9:27), with the leaders of Israel, at some point in the future.
Daniel’s 70th Seven
From the perspective of Israel, the Tribulation Period is known as “the time of Jacob’s trouble” or as Daniel’s “70th week”. The Tribulation Period is a seven-year period during which God will judge the earth. Christ will return to the earth immediately after the Tribulation Period (Mat 24:29-30).
What will God achieve with this prophecy of the “seventy sevens” which are determined for “your people”, which is Israel, and for “your holy city”, which is Jerusalem? Daniel 9:24 mentions six purposes of God:
- “…to finish the transgression”, that is to put an end to Israel’s rebellion and sin against God. Eventually the nation of Israel will believe in the Messiah;
- “…to make an end of sins”, that is, Israel will stop sinning. Particularly, Israel will stop rejecting its Messiah (Fruchtenbaum 2004:190);
- “…to make reconciliation for iniquity”, that is, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross will make atonement to achieve the first two purposes mentioned above;
- “…to bring in everlasting righteousness” at the time of Christ’s return to the earth when He will rule in righteousness in the millennium, and thereafter in the eternal order;
- “… to seal up vision and prophecy” so that all unconditional prophecies and covenantal promises will be fulfilled; and
- “…to anoint the Most Holy”, a reference to the millennial temple (Ezek 40-48; Fruchtenbaum 2004:192; Rydelnik 2014:1305).
The 70th seven will thus complete the set period of Israel’s hardening as just punishment for their rejection of the Messiah and the Messianic program (cf. Isa 6:9-13; 24:1-6; Jn 12:37-41; Rom 11:7-10). According to Price (1996:415), Daniel’s 70th seven will create a Messianic revival among Jews, regardless of where they may be scattered in the world: the Jewish people will be convinced that they need the Messiah and a national rebirth will take place (Isa 59:20-21: Jer 31:31-34, Ezek 20:34-38, Dan 12:5-7; Zech 12:9-13:2). When “all Israel” is saved, Christ will return to the earth and the Times of the Gentiles will cease (Isa 24:21-23; 59:16-21; Dan 2:44-45; cf. Mat 24:29-31; Rom 11:25). The Tribulation Period will purify the earth of evil so that the Messianic kingdom will be established in righteousness. Jesus’ first and second coming is therefore necessary to attain all the goals of the seventy sevens of Daniel 9:24-27 (cf. Vlach 2017:216-218).
The prophecy of the seventy sevens, or 490 years, is very important. This prophecy not only covers the time to Christ’s first coming, but it also covers the 70th seven – and immediately after this 7-year Tribulation Period, Christ will return to the earth. This time He will come as the king to establish the Messianic kingdom.
Fruchtenbaum, A.G., 2004, The Footsteps of the Messiah, Ariel Ministries, Tustin.
Price, J.R., 1994, ‘Prophetic Postponement in Daniel 9 and Other Texts’, in W.R. Willis & J.R. Masters (eds.), Issues in Dispensationalism, pp. 133-165, Moody Press, Chicago.
Price, J.R., 1996, ‘Daniel’s Seventy Weeks, Dispensational Interpretation’, in M. Couch (ed.), Dictionary of Premillennial Theology, pp. 76-78, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids.
Rosscup, J.E., 1992, ‘Prayer Relating to Prophecy in Daniel 9’, The Master’ Seminary Journal 3(1):47-71. Beskikbaar by: www.tms.edu/msj/msj3.1.3/
Rydelnik, M., 2014, ‘Daniel’, in M. Rydelnik & M. Vanlaningham (eds.), The Moody Bible Commentary, pp. 1279-1314, Moody Publishers, Chicago.
Vlach, M.J., 2017, He Will Reign Forever: A Biblical Theology of the Kingdom of God, Lampion, Silverton.
Woods, A.M., 2016, The Coming Kingdom: What is the Kingdom and How is Kingdom Now Theology Changing the Focus of the Church?, Grace Gospel Press, Duluth.
Thanks to photographer Ocean Ng for sharing their work on Unsplash.