There are many different interpretations trying to tell what the ninth chapter of Daniel mean. In Hebrew the word “seven,” means “a group of seven” something. It could mean a week because a week is a group of seven days, but it does not actually mean week. And in this case, it is a group of seven years. If literal weeks are involved, the prophecy is meaningless. If weeks of years are involved, then the time period embraces the years from the giving out of the decree to rebuild Jerusalem to the days of Jesus Christ.
Seventy weeks of years is 490 years, which Gabriel divided into three subperiods: seven weeks of years (that is, 49 years), sixty-two weeks of years (that is, 433 years), and a final period of one week of years (that is, 7 years). In one way or another, six things are to be fitted into this period, according to verse 24:
1. The transgression is to be finished.
2. An end is to be made of sin.
3. An atonement for iniquity is to be made.
4. Everlasting righteousness is to be brought in.
5. The vision and prophet are to be sealed up.
6. The most holy place is to be anointed.
There were a number of decrees having to do with the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Most people recognize that between one of these decrees and the appearance of “the Anointed One” (that is, the Messiah) there should be 483 years, that is, seven plus sixty-two (or sixty-nine) times seven. But because there are different points from which to begin, there are also different ways of arriving at an appropriate year connected to the lifetime of Jesus Christ. There are three main possibilities.
The most obvious one from which these 483 years could start is the decree issued by Cyrus recorded in 2 Chronicles 36:23 (at the very end of the book) and in Ezekiel 1:2-4, but this is a number of years too early.
The second possibility is the decree issued by Artaxerxes in the seventh year of his reign recorded in Ezekiel 7:12-26. This decree was issued in 457 B.C. If we move forward forty-nine years from that point, we come to 408 B.C. by which time the walls, streets, and moat around the city were completed. Then moving on 433 more years we come to A.D. 27. So, this would give us a date for Jesus’ death of A.D.30, which is exactly right by other calculations.
The third possibility is the decree recorded by Nehemiah in 2.5-8. This occurred in the twentieth year of the reign of Artaxerxes I, which is thirteen years after the earlier decree in Ezra. Calculating from this point brings us to the year A.D.39 or 40. This seems too late. But it was a popular identification of the time frame years ago, and it was defended by adjusting the years on the basis of a so-called “prophetic year” of 360 days.
By whatever set of calculations one makes, the point is that by the end of the sixty-nine weeks of years the great work of the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ for sin should be completed.
What about the last week, the final seven years of the 490-year series? This is a puzzle for almost everyone due to the fact that if we simply add seven years to what we have already calculated, we come to the year A.D. 38 (or 46), and nothing of any particular importance happened in that year. At this point Calvin, who has his own system of calculating the earlier years in order to come up to the days of Jesus Christ, departs from strict chronology and regards the final seven years as symbolic of the work of Jesus generally. He regards putting an end to sacrifice in the middle of the “seven” as a way of talking about the resurrection.
According to those who see a break in the fulfillment of prophecy, the prophecy is suspended while the Gospel is preached to the Gentiles and the full number of the Church is brought in, a Church encompassing people from all walks of life, all races, and all nations. Then after the members of the Church are fully gathered, the prophecy will begin to unfold once more with a final week of acute suffering and persecution for the Jewish nation. In this view the last week of Daniel would coincide with a seven-year period of great tribulation mentioned elsewhere. I think there is support for this in Jesus’ reference to “the abomination that causes desolation” mentioned in this passage as something not to happen immediately, but to be experienced at the very end of the age (Mathew 24:15).
God has a timetable in world history, and He is working carefully according to that plan. Today is a day of God’s mercy. But it is not an endless day. The time for turning to Jesus in faith and obedience is limited. Although God works according to His own timetable without deviation, He nevertheless also works through people. That is what we saw in Daniel’s prayer of confession, which he prayed in light of God’s word that the captivity of the people would last for only three more years. This is another way of saying that what we do for God and in obedience to God counts. We may not see how it counts. When we witness to someone and that person believes in Jesus, we may never see that person again. Or even if we do, we can never know the full extent of what God is accomplishing through our obedience. But we can know that God is doing what He wants to do.
Who knows but that the person we lead to Christ may become the D. L. Moody or the Billy Graham of a future generation?