“Seventy weeks have been decreed upon your people and upon your holy city to end the transgression, and to complete iniquity, and to expiate sin, and to bring everlasting righteousness, and to seal vision and prophet, and to anoint holy of holies. And you will know and understand from the going forth of the word to restore and build Jerusalem until anointed (a) leader, (is) seven weeks, and sixty-two weeks it will return and be built square and moat and in the travails of times. And following the sixty-two weeks (an) anointed (one) will be cut off and he has not, and the city and the sanctuary will be destroyed by the nation of the leader that comes, and his end will be with a torrent, and until the end wars it is decreed desolation. He will strengthen (a) covenant with many (for) one week, and (for) a half week he will abolish sacrifice and meal offering and upon the wing (of) abominations desolation and until extermination as decreed will be poured out upon (the) desolation.”
Before we begin with the various interpretations of this passage, it would be in order to clarify a few points. Both Christians and Jews understand that the seventy weeks of this passage, refer to sets of seven years. Scripture uses this term of reference in relation to the Sabbatical year mentioned in Leviticus 25:8. Christians and Jews likewise agree that the time period of the seventy weeks, generally parallels the Second Temple era. There are several Christian variations of the interpretation of these ambiguous verses, as well as several Jewish interpretations. We will try to provide a synopsis of both the Jewish and Christian interpretations. (Some Christian scholars agree to the Jewish understanding of the passage, we will be presenting a synopsis of those Christian interpretations that see this passage as a reference to Jesus.)
According to the missionaries, the seventy weeks began towards the beginning of the Second Temple era. The missionaries understand the verse that speaks of the coming of an anointed leader is to be read as follows – from the going forth of the word … until anointed leader is seven and sixty-two weeks. In other words, the anointed leader comes after sixty-nine weeks. For the missionary the rest of the verse is disconnected from the beginning. Thus the phrase “it will return and be built …” stands alone. The anointed one to be cut off after the sixty-two weeks is the same one who came after the sixty-nine weeks. Thus the anointed one is Jesus, and these verses refer to his arrival and death. The introductory verse to this passage, describing the ending of sin and the completion of iniquity is understood to be a description of Jesus’ purpose and mission.
The closing verse in this passage is understood by missionaries to be a reference to the seventieth week. There is disagreement amongst missionaries concerning this seventieth week. All of the missionaries understand that it is disconnected from the sixty-nine weeks. The question is, when will it, or was it, fulfilled. One group understands that the seventieth week was fulfilled with the destruction of the Temple, forty years after Jesus’ death. Others understand that the seventieth week will be fulfilled immediately before Jesus’ anticipated second coming.
This interpretation (or these interpretations) fails for several reasons. Most obvious, is the fact that the verse clearly implies that the cutting off of the anointed one is to occur together with the destruction of the city and the sanctuary, after sixty-two weeks. Jesus died several decades before the Romans sacked Jerusalem.
Another problem with the missionary interpretation of this passage is the fact that the passage speaks of two separate anointed ones. The first “anointed leader” is to come after seven weeks, with the second anointed to be cut off after sixty-two weeks. The missionary interpretation ignores this clear implication of the verse, and provides no reason why the sixty-nine week period should be subdivided into seven and sixty-two.
Furthermore, the missionary interpretation does not explain the main point of the passage. By inserting a space into the seventy weeks (either several decades or several thousand years), there is nothing special about these seventy weeks. They do not measure any particular time, nor do they accomplish anything unique. The missionary understanding of this passage can be compared to someone who tells his friend, “it is 50 miles from New York to Los Angeles.” When questioned by his friend about the accuracy of his statement, the fellow responds, “- well I’m sure you realize that there is a large gap between the forty-ninth and fiftieth miles.” In other words the original statement was meaningless.
According to the Jewish commentators, the seventy weeks are contiguous. They end with the destruction of the Temple and the sacking of Jerusalem. The seventy weeks are divided into two periods, the first consisting of seven weeks, with the second consisting of sixty-two. The seventieth week is split between these two periods. The understanding of this interpretation can be compared to the following situation. We are told that the distance between point A and point C is fifty miles. Then we are told that the distance between point A and point B is four miles, while the distance between B and C is forty-five miles. In reality, point B is four and a half miles from point A, and forty-five and a half miles from point C, but we understand that the fractions are being rounded off. The closing verse that speaks of the one week, refers to the last of the sixty-two weeks, and describes the events of that seven-year period.
In order to understand the purpose of the seventy-week period, we must focus on the context of this passage and on the only other passage in scripture that uses the term of weeks to describe sets of seven years. The chapter opens with Daniel contemplating the prophecy of Jeremiah. The Temple was destroyed, the city of Jerusalem was in ruins, and Jeremiah had prophesied that after a seventy-year period Jerusalem would be restored. According to Daniel’s calculations Jeremiah’s seventy years had passed, and the city was still in ruins. Daniel prayed that God have compassion upon His people, and restore the city and the Temple.
In response to Daniel’s prayer God dispatches the angel Gabriel. The passage quoted above, was Gabriel’s response to the prayer of Daniel. Gabriel was telling Daniel that he had misunderstood two separate points. Firstly he had miscalculated the seventy years predicted by Jeremiah. This is the meaning of the phrase “you will know and understand from the going forth of the word to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.” In other words, Daniel had not understood when it is that the word to rebuild Jerusalem actually went forth, and now he should reevaluate his calculations. Daniel had assumed that the seventy years predicted by Jeremiah began with the first Babylonian invasion, in which the Jews lost their independence to Nebuchadnezzar. In reality he was to count from the third and final Babylonian invasion, when the city and Temple were actually destroyed. Thus the angel tells him that the “word” (of God through Jeremiah) was related to the rebuilding of the city, therefore it was to begin with the destruction of the same.
The second point that the angel clarified to Daniel, was that the rebuilding of the Temple was not going to be final, the Temple was going to be destroyed again. Daniel had been hoping that the prophecies of all the prophets were going to be fulfilled in their entirety, and God will come to dwell amongst His people as in the days of Moses and Solomon. This was not to be. Gabriel told Daniel, that his nation must undergo a purging process of seventy weeks, and only then can the sin begin to be expiated as well as the process of ushering in eternal righteousness. First the nation and the land must make expiation for the particular sin of neglecting the Sabbath of the land. It is for this reason that angel speaks of groups of seven years as “weeks.” This serves as a pointer to the passage in Leviticus in which we are told that the land must undergo a purging period for the expiation of this particular sin. Only after this process is complete, can the national purging process begin, the process that will refine the nation and bring them to the anointing of holy of holies, and everlasting righteousness – according to the visions of the prophets.
The two “anointed ones” that Gabriel makes reference to, are Cyrus – the Persian monarch, and the last high priest to serve in the Second Temple. From the going forth of the word until Cyrus, whom Isaiah (45:1) had already identified as the anointed one who will restore the city, will be seven full weeks. This will be followed by sixty-two weeks of the city being rebuilt, but in troubled times (not as Daniel had hoped.) After the sixty-two weeks the high priest would be cut off without any continuity and the city will be destroyed. When Ezekiel prophecies about the restored high-priesthood in the Third Temple, he tells us that it will not be a continuation of the corrupt Sadducee high-priesthood. Rather, the priests who did not stray from God will serve in the Third Temple, and they will teach the people the Laws of God.
According to the Jewish interpretation, Gabriel’s words are a direct answer to Daniel’s prayer. Daniel had assumed that with the completion of Jeremiah’s seventy years, all of the Messianic prophecies will come to fruition. The main point of Gabriel’s words are that seventy weeks of years were decreed upon Daniel’s people and upon his city, before the Messianic prophecies can begin to be fulfilled. The seventy-week period is the thrust of Gabriel’s message, as the passage clearly implies.
One final point about this prophecy; According to the missionary, the seventy weeks were not decreed “upon your people and upon your holy city.” The seventy weeks are particular components in time that have no direct bearing upon the Jewish people or Jerusalem. In fact the entire Christian vision of the Messiah, negates the people whom Daniel considered his own, as well as the city that Daniel considered holy. An unbiased reading of the Jewish scriptures will reveal that the entire focus of the Messianic vision is upon the Jews whom Daniel considered his own, and upon the city that Daniel considered holy.