To fully comprehend what will happen to Israel at the end of the age, it is critically important to read and interpret an amazing prophecy from the book of Daniel. Without this one prophecy, God’s dealings with Israel as explained in the Bible could not be completely understood. In fact, if this prophecy was overlooked or ignored, many of the other prophecies dealing with the end times would become obscure or impossible to interpret. Although it is brief and pertinent, Daniel’s prophecy of the Seventy Weeks contains a tremendous amount of important information that actually helps make many other prophecies fit together to create a coherent picture of the last days. In just a few short verses found within the ninth chapter of Daniel’s book, the Lord gives us what is possibly the most significant prediction concerning Israel within the entire Bible. Not only does this prophecy give us an understanding of where Israel is headed in our day, but it also provides a framework into which the whole of end times prophecy can be placed.
In the opening verses of Daniel chapter 9, the prophet is portrayed as having read from the writings of his earlier but still contemporaneous prophet, Jeremiah (see Daniel 9:2 and Jeremiah 25:8-11). Daniel clearly knew of the importance of being aware of the other writings of the prophets. He also wanted to understand God’s plan for Israel, but he realized that he couldn’t possibly know everything on his own. For instance, even though Daniel lived through Israel’s destruction and scattering as the result of the Babylonian attacks, he didn’t realize until after he had read Jeremiah’s words that the Lord had promised that a remnant of believers would be allowed to return to Israel at the end of 70 years.
So fascinated was Daniel at discovering this information that he sought the Lord with great prayer and supplication in hope that God would reveal additional details of this prophecy. After Daniel had prayed and confessed his own sin and the sin of his people, the angel Gabriel came to him with a message directly from the Lord. This is what Gabriel said:
“Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.
“Know, therefore, and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah, the Prince, shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks; the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.
“And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself; and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary, and the end of it shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.
“And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week; and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolator.”
This is an incredible prophecy with wide-ranging implications for the future of Israel and the world. It turns out that Gabriel revealed to Daniel much more than what he had ever dreamed of asking from God. Ironically, the angel didn’t tell him any more details about the 70 year period governing the scattering and captivity of Israel by Babylon, but he did reveal an exciting new prophecy involving the number 70. Gabriel talked to Daniel in this prophecy about a broader period of “Seventy Weeks”, which God has set aside for all his remaining dealings with the Jews.
The proper interpretation of Gabriel’s entire message hinges on an understanding of what that one distinctive phrase in this prophecy really means: Seventy Weeks. The most crucial fact to understand is that the word translated as “week” in the English translations of the Bible is in reality the Hebrew word for “seven”. In other words, Gabriel was not just describing a period of 70 weeks as some translations from the Hebrew would lead us to believe, but something much different. Daniel literally was told that 70 sevens would be the length of time given for all of Israel’s future destiny to be fulfilled.
In reality then, this prophecy involves a time period totaling not just 70 weeks, which would translate into only about 1.3 years of linear time, but a period representing seventy sets of seven. The important question now becomes, What does the number seven refer to? Most people believe—and rightly so—that this term indicates a period of seven years, which is a length of time often used in the Bible to divide important periods in Israel’s life or an individual’s life within Judaism. For instance, the Sabbath years or Shemitah years that occur every 7 years and the Year of Jubilee that occurs every 49 years, which is equal to 7 x 7 Shemitah years, marked Israel’s long-term calendar. Using this representation, the prophecy would deal with a total time period of seventy times seven years, which is certainly far different than the Seventy Weeks indicated in most English Bible translations.
If this interpretation is used to analyze the entire prophecy, then the angel’s words actually describe Israel’s future over the course of a 490 year period (70 × 7 years = 490 years). Thus, to paraphrase the words of Gabriel in this prophecy, Israel has been given precisely 490 years to bring an end to their transgressions, stop the cycle of sinning, make reconciliation for their transgressions, inaugurate righteousness in the land, fulfill all the prophecies dealing with the Jewish people, and anoint the Most Holy.
Note: It is also important to realize that the reason given in the Bible for the Babylonian captivity lasting 70 years is that Israel failed to observe the Shemitah Sabbaths for the previous 70 times they were supposed to have occurred (2 Chron. 36:21; Jeremiah 25:11). The Shemitah was commanded by God to be observed every 7 years, and it consisted of one full year in which the land would be allowed to rest from planting crops. It was a Sabbath for the land. Thus, prior to the Babylonian captivity there was a period of time equal to 70 x 7 years, for a total of 490 years, that Israel refused to perform the Shemitah as required by the Law of Moses (Lev. 25:4). To make up for this deficiency, God said that their exile from the land would last 70 years to allow the land to rest for the 70 times that the Jews did not follow this law. Thus amazingly, there was a 490 year period prior to the captivity that was calculated by 70 x 7 Shemitah years; which was followed by a 70 year rest of the land during the Babylonian captivity; and then there is predicted in Daniel’s prophecy to be a final 70 x 7 = 490 year period as revealed by the angel Gabriel that would occur after the captivity. This is such amazing time symmetry within an incredible God-inspired book!
The fact that there is a time limit at all placed upon Israel’s chances to be reconciled brings to mind how God had said through Moses that his Spirit would not always strive with man (Gen. 6:3). According to the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks, there is a definite time period set aside by the Lord to end this current period of sinfulness and to bring everything to an end. This time limit and final day of reckoning will first and foremost apply to the nation of Israel, but as we will see, it will also correspond to the final judgment of the world. Thus, Daniel’s prophecy of the Seventy Weeks says that not only are the Jews under a mandate to repent and turn back to God—a mandate that will not last forever—but they are actually given a specific number of years in order to accomplish it. At the same time, the world is given the same number of years to turn from sin and be saved before the last day arrives.
It is also interesting to note that in order to come back to God, the final act that Israel must fulfill before this period ends is to “anoint the Most Holy”. When Jesus came the first time, Israel rejected their Savior and condemned Him to death. During the last week of Christ’s life, He walked out of the temple buildings in Jerusalem and warned all of Israel:
“Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”
To get right with God, the Jews must first receive the Messiah that they rejected almost 2,000 years ago. Everything that is happening to the State of Israel and the Jewish people today is meant to lead them to this day of destiny and redemption. The Bible predicts that Israel will in fact receive their Savior in the last days. According to the Book of Revelation, they will finally turn to Christ in faith just before the darkest days of The Great Tribulation (also known as The Time of Jacob’s Trouble), and they will be rescued from the attacking evil armies of Armageddon by their Conquering King, Jesus, at the moment of the Second Coming.
However, this brings up an important question with regard to Daniel’s prophecy of the Seventy Weeks: It has been almost 2,000 years since Jesus was crucified and over 2,500 years since Daniel first wrote down this prophecy, so how does a time period of only 490 years fit into this equation? Let’s find out by looking at the prophecy in more detail.