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Seventy Weeks of Human History

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Daniel 9–10

Daniel was greatly concerned about his people—both in the short-term and the long-term. His prayers for them reflect the heart of our compassionate God and remind us to pray diligently for our families, friends, and neighbors, both those present and those who will follow us.


Seventy Weeks of Human History

Daniel 9–10


The prophet Daniel has been doing a little Bible study on his own—digging around for some answers. And what he comes up with is nothing less than a crucial prophecy that relates to the Messiah. Daniel writes in chapter 9 and verse 2:

I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.

Daniel has been having his devotions in the book of Jeremiah. He evidently had a copy of Jeremiah’s scroll, and he has discovered where Jeremiah prophesied that the people of Judah will serve the king of Babylon for seventy years (see Jeremiah 25:11-12).

Now that Babylon has fallen to the Medes and the Persians, Daniel understands that those seventy years are coming to an end; but rather than start packing his bags, he writes in verse 3, “I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.”

Daniel knows that restoration to the land is not going to happen without repentance and supplication—and Daniel is going to lead the way.

He prays in verse 16, “Let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem.” Daniel even makes an appeal based on the Lord’s reputation as the God of Israel, as he prays in verse 19:

“O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.”

The prophet’s prayer is about the restoration of Jerusalem after the seventy-year exile in Babylon. And an answer to Daniel’s prayer arrives even before he finishes praying. That’s the way I would like God to answer all my prayers! Frankly, all my prayers are not as critical to human history as Daniel’s was, but even still, God hears every prayer from the heart of His children.

Now the angel Gabriel arrives before Daniel can say “Amen” and says to him in verse 22, “I have now come out to give you insight and understanding.” He then gives Daniel an amazing prophecy of things to come.

Israel will indeed be restored following their exile. Daniel had understood Jeremiah correctly. God had not changed His mind somewhere between Jeremiah and Daniel; God is “unswerving [in His] purpose to fulfill all His commitments to Israel, including their ultimate restoration.”[1]

Gabriel’s answer, in fact, goes well beyond the seventy years of captivity in Babylon. He introduces “a new period of God’s dealing with [His] People.”[2] Gabriel says here in verse 24:

“Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place.”

When we allow the Bible to interpret itself, these terms make sense. This term here for “seventy weeks” refers to units of sevens—each week represents a unit of seven years. “Seventy weeks,” then, is seventy times seven years, and that equals 490 years.

So, Gabriel says, in the course 490 years, look at what is going to be accomplished. Verse 24 says “transgression” will be finished; that is, Israel’s rebellion will come to an end. Sin will be ended, or, literally, “sealed”; that is, Israel’s sin will be brought under restraint. Atonement for “iniquity” will be fully realized by Israel when, at Christ’s return to set up His kingdom following the tribulation period, Israel will turn in faith to their Messiah who died for them.

Then Gabriel says, a “most holy place” will be anointed—that means a new temple will be built in Jerusalem.

All this clearly looks far into the future to Christ’s return and kingdom rule. How does it relate, then, to the 490 years?

Well, according to verse 25, this time period begins with a decree to “restore and build Jerusalem.” That decree will be given to Nehemiah in 445 BC (see Nehemiah 2:4-8).

From this date we can trace the prophetic calendar given here. The city of Jerusalem, under Nehemiah, will be rebuilt, and after 69 “weeks” of seven years—a total of 483 years—Daniel says in verse 26, the “anointed one” will appear and then be “cut off.” This refers to the arrival of the Messiah and his cutting off—that is, His crucifixion. 

And here is the amazing thing: if you crunch these numbers as Gabriel gave them, what actually happened 483 years after Nehemiah received permission to rebuild Jerusalem? Well, the year would be right around AD 33, when Jesus died on the cross.

Let me tell you beloved, this is an amazingly precise prophecy, given to Daniel hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus Christ.

But what about that seventieth week—that last unit of seven years? Those seven years are uniquely separated from the previous sixty-nine weeks of prophecy, and that is because those events have not yet been fulfilled.

What are those events? Gabriel tells Daniel about a coming prince, who will make a covenant with Israel for seven years. Halfway through that seventieth week—that seven-year period of time, he will break that peace agreement and defile the temple in Jerusalem. Gabriel says in verse 27 that he will “put an end to sacrifice and offering.”

This seven-year period is obviously the tribulation; and this prince who makes—and then breaks—his peace treaty with Israel is none other than the Antichrist. As 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 tells us, the Antichrist will enter the temple in Jerusalem and declare himself to be God.

Daniel was not expecting all this information. He just wanted to know about the restoration of Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. Now he is told that it will be restored, but it will not be the final restoration at all. That is still future, and there is a lot of struggle and hardship ahead for Israel as God works out His master plan for the world.

Chapter 10 then picks up the next events, and by this time, the Jews have been allowed to return to their homeland, and some have done so. Their rebuilding of the temple, however, has come to a halt due to opposition and discouragement (see Ezra 4:1-5); and apparently, this is what causes Daniel, still in Babylon, to pray diligently for three weeks, according to Daniel 10:2.

Once again, an angel, arrives with an answer to Daniel’s prayer. He tells Daniel that he would have arrived earlier, but explains in verse 13, “The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me.” Michael, of course, is an angel. The “prince of the kingdom of Persia” refers to a demon, no doubt one of many demons in high places of authority over kingdoms and regions.

That makes your imagination start to run wild, doesn’t it? Well, don’t let it run too wild; just remember, God’s angels always win. God’s program always stays on course.

Then the angel who has come to Daniel says here in verse 14, “[I] came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days.”

Let this remind us that God not only cares for us; He also cares about our children, grandchildren, and the generations to come.

We tend to think that if God is going to do something, He has to do it now, or soon. Oh no. His plans extend all the way to the end of human history; and He is placing every puzzle piece into place, as He guides and directs the nations of this world and His plans for all of human history—including His plans, down to the last detail, for your life and mine. And it will all arrive at just the right time.

[1] John F. Walvoord, Daniel: The Key to Prophetic Revelation (Moody, 1971), 215.

[2] Robert Duncan Culver, The Histories and Prophecies of Daniel (BMH Books, 1980), 150.

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