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God’s precise plan for Israel–Daniel 9:20-27
What’s it like to battle with pirates? Arrrgggghh! Ahoy! We’ve romanticized them with books and movies but, modern day pirates do exist, and they are not romantic–they are lethal. They are violent drug addicts who sail around with deadly weapons bent on robbery, torture, rape and murder.
Just ask Captain Richard Phillips of the Maersk Alabama. You remember him–right before Easter of this year, 2009, this American skipper on an American-registered freighter was attacked and boarded by heavily armed Somali pirates traveling on two speed boats. As the conflict progressed, the crew regained control of their freighter, but the skipper remained captive on one of the ship’s lifeboats, which led to a standoff with the four remaining pirates. Captain Phillips almost swam to freedom once, but was forced back onto the lifeboat when machinegun fire sprayed all around him.
Eventually the lifeboat was brought under tow by the destroyer USS Bainbridge, but because all the pirates were hopped up on drugs, abusive, violent and extremely erratic, the rescue of Captain Philips was not an easy task. Finally, when one pirate came on board to get medical attention from a wound he suffered in the raid, the three remaining pirates, two in the open and one barely visible behind a small plexi-glass window on the lifeboat, began to get impatient and started shooting their weapons in the air, making demands for their comrade to return to the lifeboat with them.
It was at this point that three Navy seals, who had secretly boarded the Navy destroyer, carefully crawled to the fantail of the ship overlooking the towed lifeboat with the (now) three pirates holding Captain Philips prisoner. What they did was so precise, it borders on impossible. In order to guarantee the captain’s safety, all three pirates would have to be taken out at the exact same moment, or any remaining would certainly kill the captain (as had happened in similar situations in the past).
Two pirates are in the back of the boat, barely in the open, and the third was hidden underneath the lifeboat cover, and only visible in brief flashes through the plexi-glass window. Both ship and lifeboat are on the open sea in constant motion–not only up and down with the swells, but also side-to-side, fluctuating in an 8-second uneven cycle, leaving the shooters only a fraction of a moment to fire in their attempt to free the captain.
But with an accuracy bordering on perfection, timing the swells and movement of both boats precisely–trained to fire with a countdown of three, two, one, and only firing when they actually hear the letter “N” from the word one, on oNe they fired . . . and at that moment Captain Philips was freed and rescued on Easter Sunday 2009.
Not only do I honor the men who serve in our military, and view Navy seals as modern day David’s mighty men, but I love the exactness, the detail, justice, specifics, and especially the precision involved in this act–that’s a man story.
But even more exact than that, even more meticulous is the precision of God’s Word found in the prophecy of Daniel 9. Open your Bibles to the very precise and detailed prophecy of Daniel 9 and the prophecy of the seventy weeks. This prophecy details Israel’s future, the first coming of Christ, the work of the antichrist and more. It’s so misunderstood, most churches avoid it, but since we try to teach through the Scripture as it’s written, we’ll dive into this text regardless of the sharks and poisonous fish.
This vision is a part of the letter to Daniel, his third vision, and I will do my best to approach it like every other passage in this letter, in a normal, historical, literal and grammatical manner. I am not up to the task, but I will do my best–see if you can stay with me.
#1 The setting to explain God’s precise plan
Look at verse 20, “Now while I was speaking and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God in behalf of the holy mountain of my God.” Last time we were in Daniel, we studied verses 1 to 19, which contains a prayer offered by the prophet Daniel, and verse 1 began, “in the first year of Darius,” which was around 538 BC.
Sometime during that year, Daniel was reading the Old Testament Scripture, and he observed in the writings of the prophet Jeremiah that God had promised the nation that their Babylonian, now Medo-Persian captivity would last only seventy years. Having lived through this entire time of captivity himself, Daniel knows their exile as a nation was nearing its completion.
So verses 1 to 19 describe Daniel going before God in prayer. What made his prayer so answerable was praying in response to God’s Word, according to God’s will, fervent, focused upon others, filled with confession, with a heart of dependence to glorify God. With that kind of heart, Daniel asked the Lord to allow them as a nation to return to their native land and rebuild Jerusalem.
God answers in verse 21, “While I was still speaking in prayer, then the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision previously, came to me in my extreme weariness about the time of the evening offering.” If the temple had still been standing, during that time of day when a lamb would symbolically bear sins, then be slain, Daniel confessed sins. And while Daniel was praying, Gabriel arrived–which reminds us of two things. God is faithful to answer prayer, and angels are really fast.
He’s called the man Gabriel, but the Hebrew word ish, or man, can also be translated servant. Plus, he’s identified as the same one who came to Daniel in chapter 8, which was the angel Gabriel. He comes in human form so Daniel would recognize him. Gabriel is the supreme messenger angel, sent only with messages of importance, like 500 years later telling Zacharias the priest of the birth of John the Baptist, and six months after that announcing to Mary the birth of the God/man, Jesus Christ. Gabriel had an announcing role.
Gabriel’s name means the strong one, which Daniel needed because he was extremely weary in the midst of praying so intensely. One of the main reasons Christians struggle to pray is because prayer is very hard work. What did Gabriel do? Look at verse 22, “And he gave me instruction and talked with me, and said, ‘O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you insight with understanding.’”
Daniel was not praying for understanding or insight into the future, but God gave that to him anyway. Daniel prays about the seventy years, and God answers Him describing seventy sevens of years. Daniel asks about the restoration of the Jews to their land, but the answer reveals the ultimate restoration in the coming of the Messiah. Daniel prays right before his people are to return to the land, but God’s answer extends all the way to the Kingdom of Christ. God reminds us that one of the purposes of prayer is to bring us back into alignment with God’s plan, God’s work, God’s heart, God’s passions, God’s Word, God’s priorities and God’s purposes.
You ask, “God take this trial from me,” but God is saying, “Glorify me in the trial, and watch how I bless.”
You ask, “God stop this guy from being so mean,” and God says, “Love him sacrificially and watch what I do.”
It’s so encouraging to see just how fast God answers prayer, and how He feels about you praying in verse 23, “At the beginning of your supplications the command was issued, and I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed; so give heed to the message and gain understanding of the vision.” Just as Daniel begins supplication (the Hebrew is literally) his pleas for mercy, the order from God was given for Gabriel to come, explain God’s plan–not only for their return, but their future as a nation.
And don’t you love that phrase, “for you are highly esteemed.” The Hebrew esteemed, chamad, means loved, delighted in, and precious. Gabriel says, “Daniel, you are loved, delighted in, and precious to God.” Christian, you are loved, delighted in, and precious to God.” And so are those other genuine Christians who really bug you.
Just like I love my wife more than my neighbor next door, God loves His children more than He loves everyone else in the world. And God loves all His true children deeply, but it is those who walk in dependent obedience who can experience God’s love more fully than others–those who walk with Him experience His love more deeply. Even though God didn’t love Daniel more than others, Daniel’s obedience to the will of God put him in a greater position to experience God’s love. That’s why Jude 21 says, “Keep yourselves in the love of God.”
So Gabriel was sent by God with the answer to Daniel’s prayer, but God’s answer transcends far beyond Daniel’s request to give us God’s precise plan for Israel–beyond returning to the land, beyond rebuilding Jerusalem, God gives us . . .
#2 The seventy weeks, the title for God’s precise plan
Daniel 9:24 to 27 records God’s response to Daniel’s prayer. As you read along with me, look for three things:
1 What period of time is God speaking about?
2 Who is this period of time directed to?
3 How is this period of time divided up?
Start in verse 24, “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy place. 25 So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. 26 Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. 27 And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.” Now stay with me–don’t miss some basic observations:
First–the text informs us that a specific period of time has been marked out by God, namely seventy weeks
Second–we are told the events prophesied that will occur during this seventy-week period have been divided into three segments. The first division is seven weeks long, the second division is sixty-two weeks long, and the third division is one week long–it seems the total time period begins with the command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, and will end when the Messiah the Prince comes to establish His eternal Kingdom.
Third–we learn this prophecy is directly related to Israel, the Jews and Jerusalem. Notice verse 16, he speaks of Thy city Jerusalem, and the end of verse 19, “because Thy city and Thy people are called by Thy name.” And look at verse 24, “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city.” These predictions are directed at Israel, not the Church.
Fourth–there are two princes mentioned in these verses. In verse 25, it speaks of the Messiah, the Christ. But in verse 26, it describes another prince who will come, the antichrist.
Fifth–verse 24 says, “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people.” The Hebrew word decreed or determined tells us God is in control of all of history, and has predetermined its events. The Hebrew decreed literally means to cut off–God has cut off a segment of time and assigned it for the deliverance of His people Israel and the city of Jerusalem. What does this mean?
#3 The scheduling of God’s precise plan, 490 years
The word weeks has confused a lot of people. Throughout this prophecy, the Hebrew term translated weeks literally means “units of seven.” Of course the question is, to what do the units of seven refer? The overwhelming consensus among Bible scholars is that the units of seven designate years, not days nor weeks. In this case, the seventy units of seven would equal 490 years.
There are several good reasons for adopting this understanding. You say, “Tell me Chris.” Okay, I will.
First Since Daniel had been praying in reference to the seventy years of Jewish captivity brought about by divine judgment, it would have been natural for him to have understood these seventy sevens as years. J. Dwight Pentecost comments, “Whereas people today think in units of ten (e.g., decades), Daniel’s people thought in terms of sevens…. Seven days are in one week. Every seventh year was a sabbath rest year (Lev. 25:1-7). And seven ‘sevens’ brought them to the Year of Jubilee (Lev. 25:8-12).”3
Second Part of the reason the Jews served seventy years in exile was that they willfully failed to observe the sabbatical years over a 490-year period (2 Chron. 36:20-21; cf. Lev. 26:32-35, 40-45). The Mosaic Law clearly specified that the Jews were to leave the land in Israel uncultivated every seventh year (Leviticus 25:1-7). Because the Jews had violated this command, they spent one year in captivity for every Sabbath year they had not kept, thus seventy years.
With this in mind, we can be fairly certain Daniel understood the seventy units of seven decreed for Israel’s future, in light of the 490 years of exile that had been the result of Israel’s past disobedience. Pentecost further explains, the seventy sevens in Daniel’s prophecy “could not designate days (it would result in about 1 1/3 years) for that would not be enough time for the events in Daniel 9:24-27 to occur. The same is true of 490 weeks of seven days each (which is about 3,430 days, or a total of about 9 ‘/2 years).” Nothing historical in the following nine years comes close to fulfilling, or even describing these verses literally.
Third If days were intended, one would expect Daniel to have added ‘of days’ after ‘70 sevens’ as he did only six verses later in Daniel 10:2-3, where Daniel literally wrote, ‘three sevens of days’ “‘–that is, three weeks. Therefore, it seems clear that the “seventy weeks” in Daniel 9 should be understood as seventy seven-year periods, which collectively equals a total of 490 years. What is God going to do during that 490 years?
#4 The six purposes of God’s precise plan
During this 490-year time span, six purposes are to be achieved. Look at the rest of verse 24, “to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy place.” What is God going to accomplish through His precise plan?
First To finish the transgression
That literally means to restrain firmly the transgression–today sin expresses itself freely, but a day will come when that will not be true. In the future, Jesus will rule with a rod of iron and every expression of evil, or transgression, will be immediately restrained by His divine power.
Second To make an end of sins
That means sin will be done away with in general and individually. The plural usage of sin(s) is highlighting individual sins will be dealt with. The Hebrew phrase to make an end is better translated “to seal up.” It’s a word always associated with divine judgment. The idea here is at the end of the 490 prophetic years, God will wipe out sin.
Third To make reconciliation for iniquity
The Hebrew word for reconciliation means to cover, and speaks of atonement. This tells us how God will put an end to transgression and sin, by atoning for it–God will take care of it. God Himself will provide a way to deal with sin–God will pay the price. This was good news to Daniel, because it was sin that caused Israel to be taken into captivity.
And though Daniel may not have understood that God would become a man in the person of Jesus Christ, and die in His people’s place on a cross, bearing all the punishment for sin upon Himself–that is how God would take care of the sins of His people. But as it relates to the nation of Israel, these objectives as a people will not occur right away. It will be at the end of those 490 years when you see the nation responding.
As Paul says in Romans 11:25 to 27, “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and thus all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.’ 27 And this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.”
Israel’s sin will not be totally removed from her until the Lord returns to earth and establishes His thousand year Kingdom. And the actual application of Christ’s death to Israel is associated with His second coming, which leads us to . . .
Fourth To bring in everlasting righteousness
Righteousness is plural and is pointing to the everlasting era of righteousness. The Jewish people didn’t distinguish in the Old Testament between the Messiah’s first and His second coming, nor did they understand the gap that exists between them–the Church age. The New Testament calls this gap between the two comings of Christ a mystery (as we just read in Romans 11).
There is a hint of a time gap between the first three purposes and the last three. The first three purposes deal with the work of Christ on the cross at the end of Daniel’s sixty-ninth week. But this fourth purpose and the next two represent Christ’s establishing of His eternal kingdom of righteousness at the end of the seventieth week. This is seen in the . . .
Fifth To seal up vision and prophecy
When Christ establishes His earthly Kingdom where He reigns on earth for a thousand years, there will be no need for vision or prophecy. John C. Whitcomb explains it well: “In the post-apostolic phase of church history, we have no further need of such ministries, possessing as we do the completed revelation of God in Holy Scripture. [However] during the first half of the seventieth week of Daniel two witnesses will prophesy to Israel in order to launch the 144,000 [saved Jews] and others into a global witness for Christ after the rapture of the church (Rev. 11:3-12). But all such prophetic ministries will end forever at our Lord’s return to earth.” And the last purpose . . .
Sixth To anoint the most holy place
“Holy Place” occurs thirty-nine times in the Old Testament and always refers to the Holy of Holies. So this phrase is probably referring to the dedication of the Holy of Holies in the millennial temple, as described in Ezekiel 41 to 46. Or it could be describing the enthronement of Christ as the King of Kings in the millennium–what a sight that will be. So what does this precise prophecy actually predict?
#5 The three sections of God’s precise plan
Remember, the seventy sets of seven years are divided into three distinct periods
1 The first section of seven weeks or forty-nine years
Read verse 25, “So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.” See that verse 25 says, the beginning of this period was to be marked by the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. The text adds at the end of verse 25 that the city would be rebuilt with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.
Various suggestions have been made regarding which decree in history fulfilled this part of the prophecy. However, only one decree granting permission and supplies for the rebuilding of Jerusalem was ever made to the Jews, and that was the one given by the Persian king Artaxerxes I to Nehemiah in March or April of 445/444 BC described in Nehemiah 2. He even records that the restoration of Jerusalem’s walls was carried out under trying conditions just as Daniel had predicted at the end of verse 25 when he says Jerusalem would be rebuilt even in times of distress.
And friends, don’t be surprised and don’t be shocked–Daniel 9 is God’s precise word. God’s Word is never wrong, it is always right, it is always perfect, and it is precise. We know for a fact that the rebuilding of the entire city was not completed until 396 BC, which is precisely forty-nine years after Artaxerxes I issued his decree.
2 The second section of forty-two weeks or 434 years
Read verse 26, “Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing.” Now don’t be afraid, because the second major division is to last 434 years, but that puts it ending in AD 37 or 38, approximately five years after Christ’s crucifixion. Oh no, the math doesn’t work? Is the Bible wrong? Could it be wrong? No.
The problem is solved by understanding that in Daniel’s day, the Jewish calendar measured time by a 360-day or lunar year, rather than by 365-day or solar year, the standard measurement in most contemporary cultures. Using lunar years as the standard for computation, we find that a 483-year period is 173,880 days. After making some minor adjustments due to the Jewish practice of occasionally adding a month to correct the calendar, we arrive at March or April of AD 32/33.
New Testament scholar Harold Hoehner calculates that the end of the 483 years occurred on March 30 in AD 33–the same date he concludes Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem as the King of the Jews. In his triumphal entry described in John 12:12 to 13, “On the next day the great multitude who had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 13 took the branches of the palm trees, and went out to meet Him, and began to cry out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.’”
If Hoehner’s calculations are correct, Christ was crucified, or “cut off,” four days later just after the end of the sixty-ninth week and precisely as Gabriel predicted in Daniel 9:26. Now between the completion of the first 483 years of Daniel’s prophecy and the last seven years, some other events are predicted. Verse 26 says one important “after crucifixion event” will occur when (look at verse 26) “and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined.”
Fun, people of the prince who is to come—antichrist? Roman? European? (People to come are Romans) This part of the prophecy was literally fulfilled in AD 70, when a Roman general named Titus forced his way into Jerusalem. General Titus actually told the soldiers to leave the temple alone, but someone threw a torch inside the temple area and the entire temple complex began to burn. As Herod’s temple began to burn, the gold inlay used for decoration began to melt and drip between the cracks of the massive marble stones and building stones that made up the temple. So in order to get to the gold, the Roman soldiers literally tore every structure down and took every stone apart to get all the gold, which is exactly what Jesus predicted four times in the New Testament.
Mark 13:2, “And Jesus said to him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another which will not be torn down.’” On August 6 of AD 70, Titus’s troops burned the temple and leveled it. They also destroyed the city and its fortifications, just as both Daniel and Christ had predicted. Following this terrible destruction, Daniel 9:26c says that even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. Of course history has amply verified the fulfillment of this prediction–to this day, Israel is a hot spot of conflict.
3 The third section of one week or seven years
After an undetermined length of time, the third major division of Daniel’s prophecy will begin, namely the one unit of seven, or the final seven years. This is the seven-year tribulation. Toward the beginning of this period verse 27 says, “And he [the antichrist] will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate.”
Apparently the antichrist will make a covenant with Israel, permitting her to offer sacrifices in a restored temple of Jerusalem. However in the middle of this seven-year period, the antichrist will break the covenant and stop all temple sacrifices to the God of Israel. At that time, this wicked ruler will establish his own religion and command the world to worship him. Read 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, “The man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.”
Revelation 13:7 and 8, “It was given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them; and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. 8 And all who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.” Jesus told Israel to flee to the mountains when this occurs–and the second half of the tribulation will be so bad, Jesus called this period, just like Daniel does in verse 27, an abomination in Matthew 24:15 and 16. “When you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.”
Yet as awful as this period of abominations of desolation will be, it will not extend past the seven-year period specified in the Book of Daniel. The antichrist, who will seek to destroy the Lord and His people, will fall under the wrath of God. Notice the end of verse 27, “even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.” This means the antichrist is going to be condemned, and Revelation 19:20 says he will be thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone.
This will both mark the end of the events detailed in the 490 years of Daniel 9:25 to 27, and lead to the beginning of the millennial kingdom briefly described in 9:24b. So what difference does this make?
#6 The so whats to God’s precise plan
Would you agree that what Gabriel revealed to Daniel is precise? Much of it has already come to pass, accurate to the last detail. This assures us that what remains to be fulfilled will be brought about according to God’s perfect timetable, and just as precise. So don’t merely be a hearer, be a doer. How?
First Make your prayers specific, God is precise
When Daniel made a specific request in prayer, the Lord answered with particulars, not generalities. This should encourage us to pray at all times, and make our requests as specific as possible. Psalm 62:8, “Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” Proverbs 3:5 and 6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 16:3, “Commit your works to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” Pray specifically and see what God will do.
Second Be comforted and convicted, God knows your particulars
Stop thinking God is only concerned whether you came today, sang today, gave generously today, loved others, and served in ministry. Our Lord is also involved in the everyday particulars of your life. What do Psalm 139:17 and 18 say? “How precious also are Thy thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! 18 If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand. When I awake, I am still with Thee.” Or Matthew 10:30, “the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” For a few of you men, that is not a very difficult venture but the point is this: our Lord is involved in the tiny particulars of your life.
This means, stop living in fear–it is sin, it is wrong, and not only ruins your health, your marriage and your children, it is a horrible witness to the watching world. God knows what He is doing with the big stuff and the little stuff of your life. Plus there are a few here who need to be reminded that you are not hiding anything from God. You can fake me out, fool your friends and family, but God knows every single detail. I don’t know what it is, but you do, and the Spirit is pointing it out right now. Repent.
Third Depend on God’s Word, since God keeps His promises
The events predicted in the seventy weeks that have occurred thus far have happened precisely as God said they would. This should give you confidence the Lord will keep all the promises He’s given in His Word.
Fourth Trust in His control, the future is planned
Everything that is happening in your family, friends, our church, your school, your team, your group, our nation and world is going exactly as God has planned. God never says, “Oops,” never says, “Oh no,” God never thinks, “I could have done that better.” God does as He pleases, only as He pleases and always as He pleases.” Satan is not sovereign–our Lord alone is sovereign. The future is planned by your loving Heavenly Father–trust Him.
Fifth Turn to Jesus Christ, He is the only path for salvation
Please bow your heads and close your eyes and remember Christ