Perhaps you already understand why many Pastors shy away from preaching on prophetic texts. Matt Chandler in his book, “the Explicit Gospel” summarizes well.
…people get really weird when it comes to eschatology (study of the end times). The subject arouses a whole lot of passion built around conjecture…it seems like a magnet for misfocused energy and unhinged passion. . .The Bible would have us look forward to our destination and think about the wonders of that city to come, but so many evangelical prognosticators have us caught up pondering the species of grass off the exit ramp. (Misc. quotes from chapter 8)
Daniel 9 is a passage that is a favorite of prophecy buffs but is also one that comes with a great deal of debate. However, many people in their enthusiasm to get to the last several verses of the chapter miss the fact that the first part of the chapter is an incredibly passionate and powerful prayer. We are given the context of the chapter in the first verses,
In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes, who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom— 2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.3 So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.
Darius (or Cyrus) had just conquered Babylon. Daniel said he had been reading the Scriptures (there is a lesson there for all of us) from the book of Jeremiah. This is significant because the lives of Daniel and Jeremiah overlapped. Jeremiah remained in Jerusalem and Daniel was taken to Babylon. Many of Jeremiah’s words were written to the exiles (like Daniel) that were in Babylon. Notice that Jeremiah’s words were recognized by Daniel as from God even at this early stage.
The passage Daniel was reading was probably this one.
This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.” (Jeremiah 29:10–14)
Daniel, now around 80, knew that the 70 years of exile were almost completed (because he has lived them). He understood God was promising that after the 70 years the Jews would return to their land. He knows at his age he will not be making the journey back to Jerusalem but his heart is with his people and his homeland. He passionately asked God to fulfill His promise.
There are several things to observe in this prayer. First, Daniel believed in the power of prayer. I wish the same could be said of us. When times are tough, when things are confusing, when we have been richly blessed, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we followed this example and turned to prayer instead of our usual course
- Work frantically
We tend to see prayer as a last resort; Daniel had a habit of prayer. His prayer was intense. Note the words used: pleaded, fasting, sackcloth and ashes. This is not a quickie prayer like we might shoot up in a time of need. This is concentrated and heartfelt prayer. It’s the kind of prayer that most of us have never known but all of us desperately need.
Second, Daniel prayed the Scriptures. The Bible tells us that when we ask anything according to His will He hears us and we have what we have asked for. The question we struggle with is this: how do I pray according to His will? The answer is to pray for the things that God says He wants us to have or be that we find in the Bible. In other words when we pray
- To be holy as God is holy
- To have wisdom
- To be content
- To honor Him in all things
- To have our basic needs met
- To know the power of the Holy Spirit
- To understand His Word
- That God would help us to forgive
We are praying according to God’s will and God will be pleased to give us these things when and as He sees most appropriate.
Third, He anchored his prayer to God’s character rather than his merit. As Daniel got to the actual petition part of the prayer he asked God to act for God’s sake. He says, “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.” Prayer must be anchored in humility. We can’t con God. God is never in our debt so that we obligate Him. He does not serve us; we serve Him. Daniel’s prayer was anchored to a desire to honor the nature and character of God.
Fourth, Daniel recognized that healing can’t happen until the disease is identified. Daniel knew that blessing couldn’t come to Israel until they truly repented. Daniel was painfully honest in his prayer. In verses 5-6 he confessed not only Israel’s sin but recognizes it as his sin as well. He used words like: sinned, done wrong, been wicked, rebelled, turned away and not listened. Daniel does not plead extenuating circumstances; he does not claim ignorance; he does not make any excuses. He admitted the wrong that was done.
Daniel acknowledged the justice of God. He didn’t whine (I feel like I often whine to God about the burdens of life). Instead, Daniel acknowledged that Israel suffered justly because they did not respond to the warnings of God. In other words, he recognized that Israel did not deserve better than what they had received. And neither do we. Every day we have is a gift of grace; even the most difficult of days is better than what we truly deserve.
In 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 we read what are familiar words to many,
“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
Before there can be healing there must first be repentance. We must acknowledge and turn from sin before we can ever hope to receive the mercy of God. This isn’t hard to grasp. Think about your own child. You are happy to show mercy to them when they show they are truly sorry for something they have done. However, the more they feel “entitled” to your mercy and grace, the more they “demand”, the less likely they are to receive anything from you!
Lots of people debate what our country needs most. It is not some policy or law. What our country needs is Christian people who will pray for our land with this kind of passion and insight. We need to yearn for God’s glory to manifest in our lives and in the lives of those around us. We need to confess our sin and return to the Lord.
Daniel wasn’t even finished making his request and the angel Gabriel came to him. The angel said,
“Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. 23 As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. (22-23)
Be encouraged by these words! The Lord wants to answer our prayers! He is eager to do so. Just like we are more than willing to help our children if they would only ask, God delights to respond to the prayers of His children.
What comes next is the prophecy of the seventy sevens or “seventy weeks”. As we move into this prophecy it is important to remember the context. Daniel was praying about the restoration of Israel. The angel came to answer His prayer and to “give him understanding”. The interpretation must have something to do with the future of Israel.
There is great debate as to the full meaning of this prophecy. You could pick up a couple of different study Bibles and very likely find different viewpoints reflected in the notes at the bottom of the page. People I respect deeply disagree on how best to understand the prophecy.
I am not going to give you all the possible interpretations because that is more confusing than helpful. I simply ask that you remain “open” with the understanding that sincere believers disagree on the interpretation of this text.
The angel told Daniel there would be Seventy “sevens” (which is what is literally says). . Most people believe we are talking about years. Each “seven” represents a year so the angel is talking about 490 years. Most likely these are round numbers.
In verse 24 we are told what will happen in this 490 year period,
- The Jews and the city will finish transgression
- Put an end to sin
- Atone for wickedness
- Bring everlasting righteousness
- To seal up vision and prophecy
- And anoint the most holy
The question is how to interpret these words. Some believe the text pointed to the ending of the terror of Antiochus IV, the mad Greek Ruler but I think these words most naturally apply to Christ. He alone puts an end to the power of sin by paying for our wickedness, giving us a new standing before God, and becoming the King and Ruler in our lives.
This prophecy of 490 years is divided into three sections.
- 7 sevens or 49 years
- 62 sevens or 434 years (483 years together)
- 1 seven or 7 years
We are told the clock begins “from the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. There are several different possibilities for a precise date but all we need to know is that 49 years from these dates bring us to around the time the city of Jerusalem and the temple were rebuilt in Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah.
The next sixty two sevens bring us to the time when “the Anointed One, the ruler comes.” The word for “Anointed One” is “Messiah”. If you do the math, (and keep in mind that these are probably round numbers) 483 years takes right up to the time of Jesus!!
Stop for a minute and let this sink in! Daniel is not only being told how long it will be before Jerusalem and the temple will be rebuilt, He is told precisely when the Messiah (Jesus) was coming! This is a remarkable and specific prophecy that was written and known long before Jesus ever came on the scene! This prophecy should excite our faith and deepen our trust in the promises of God. He knows the future. His ways are sure.
Next we are told “26 After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing.” (24-26) It seems most natural to see this as the death of Christ and the fact that He would be deserted in His death.
From here on the prophecy faces great debate.
The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. 27 He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.” (26-27)
The last “seven” is the one that garners the most debate. We can see why some people look at this as referring to Antiochus IV Epiphanes. I find it hard to understand the first part of the prophecy if it refers to him.
There are two primary views. The traditional view sees this as a reference to the destruction of the city of Jerusalem by the Roman army in AD 70 during the reign of Roman Emperor Titus. Titus swept into Jerusalem, destroyed the city, flattened the temple, and erected a statue of Jupiter on the site. Repeating the sin of Antiochus IV.
The second view, made popular by a theology called dispensationalism (originating around 1830 and made popular by the Scoffield Reference Bible) says these verses 26-28 refer to the Antichrist who will come in the end times. This view sees the seven years as the Great Tribulation mentioned in the book of Revelation. They contend the Antichrist will win the people’s affection during the first 3 ½ years and then will unleash a furious attack during the last 3 ½ years. On the basis of this text they contend that the physical temple will be rebuilt in Israel before this time. The popular endtime novels (by The Left Behind books and Joel Rosenberg’s books) embrace this viewpoint.
I see both arguments but I find the idea of a gap of a few thousand years between the 69th and 70th “seven” to be strange (since there is no gap suggested between the 7 sevens and the 62 “sevens”). The book of Revelation does talk about the temple of God but I believe it is a heavenly temple rather than an earthly temple.
It is, entirely possible that the prophecy was initially fulfilled by Titus but foreshadows what the Antichrist will do in the future. Like most prophecy that relies on symbols, we must be flexible and gracious toward those who disagree. I think these are not issues that should divide Christians. The takeaway point is: God knows and controls the future.
Don’t forget the context. Daniel was asking God to restore Israel to its homeland and to forgive their sin. The prophecy of the 70 Sevens was response to the prayer. What was it that Daniel took away from the vision? I think He learned that God would keep His Word not only to bring Israel back to its homeland but also to deliver Israel from its sin through the long-awaited Messiah.
My guess is that Daniel did not get sidetracked by the possible interpretations. He focused on the big picture. He knew that that which was unclear would one day be clear and God would be praised.
Let’s try to do the same thing. What should we take away from this chapter? First, we see the importance of prayer. When we come to God with the right attitude and with an open and contrite heart, the Lord is eager to answer our requests. God is waiting for us to talk to Him.
Let’s be honest with ourselves, most of us struggle with prayer. So here are some suggestions from our text,
- Find a quiet place and be still before the Lord of life.
- Study and listen to the prayers and promises of Scripture and pray those back to the Lord.
- Pray with passion and persistence
- Focus on God’s character, goodness, and attributes
- Be honest with God about your sin and confess your rebellious thoughts and evil actions. Stop making excuses and be honest with God about our need and our need as a nation. God longs to help us. Lord, teach us to pray!
Second, we are reminded of the importance of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The reason that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life . . . the reason that no one can come to God except through Him is because He is the only One who can break the power of sin, atone for guilt, and make us right before God. His life and death is where the spotlight of history belongs. His work on the cross changed EVERYTHING. What really matters is not the details of how the future is going to play out. . . What matters is who you follow into that future.
Rather than be overwhelmed by the theories for understanding the prophecy of the seventy weeks, I would encourage you to make sure of who it is that you trust for forgiveness and new life. Have you ever made the decision to be a true follower of Christ? Have you recognized that you have a serious “sin problem” that can only be cured by Him? We cannot save ourselves. Apart from Him our future is very bleak. We need Christ to make us new and lead us in a new direction.
Have you ever embraced Jesus as your Rescuer and agreed to follow Him as your King? If not, I invite you to do so today. God has promised that anyone who sincerely comes to Him will be welcomed and made new. And if there is one thing we have learned for certain today it is this: God keeps His promises.