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The Seventy Weeks 8
In his visions Daniel, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, predicted and interpreted events in historical perspective. Particularly is this true in the visions of the great image (Daniel 2); the four great beasts, the horns, the 1260 years, and the judgment, of Daniel 7; the ram and he-goat, the little horn, the 2300 days, and the seventy weeks, of Daniel 8 and 9. The whole future lay open before him as portrayed by divine emissaries. These visions were blended together into a single whole just as one beholds the various peaks in a mountain range. In this way the prophet beheld salvation history, the development of the great struggle between Christ and the forces of evil. These visions contain a definite sequence throughout, leading up to the "time of the end," which Daniel emphasizes as essential to the eschatological picture. His purpose was to stress the ultimate triumph of God by means of God's salvation and judgment.
It is important to notice that these visions parallel many of those found in the book of Revelation, also predicting events that are to precede the return of Christ. Both Daniel and Revelation are at one in recording visions that cover salvation history. They are intended largely for the people of God in all ages, with a view to inspiring and encouraging them as they are called upon to endure opposition, persecution, and death. Both Daniel and John wrote of the passing of great empiresBabylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome, and the succeeding nations of the world down to modern times. They saw events and nations as they were related to the kingdom of God, which was to triumph over every opposing force that set itself against the divine government. The basic powers of the world and their place in history, expressed through figurative language and symbols, all anticipate the consummation of salvation history to be realized "at the time of the end" (see Dan. 8:17, 19; 11:35; 12:4), when "in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever" (chap. 2:44).
A National Probation
In chapters eight to twelve of the book of Daniel much of the attention and the action revolves around the sanctuary. The great controversy is seen largely from the point of view of heaven and not from that of earth. In Daniel eight and nine the work of Christ our High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary is pictured in two aspectsthe one beginning at the end of the 70 weeks, the other at the end of the 2300 days. The first is climaxed with the words "to anoint the most Holy" (chap. 9:24). The second is climaxed with the words "then shall the sanctuary be cleansed" (chap. 8:14) or "'then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state'" (in the R.S.V.).
Daniel's concern throughout chapter 9 is largely with the return of the Jews to the land of Judah and with the restoration of the sanctuary and the city of Jerusalem that had remained desolate for nearly seventy years. The people of Israel had been in exile for almost this period of time when Daniel wrote this chapter. Jeremiah had prophesied many years earlier concerning this restoration.
The reason for Daniel's prayer, in Daniel 9, verses 3 to 19, is found in this prophecy of Jeremiah, as he indicated in verse 2: "I Daniel understood by books the number of years, whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem." All the events stated in this prophecy were to take place within the Jewish race and history. For this reason the angel Gabriel declares to Daniel: "'Seventy weeks of years are decreed concerning your people and your holy city'" (verse 24, R.S.V.). In response to one of the most profound and meaningful prayers in the Bible, God sends the angel Gabriel to disclose to Daniel the destiny of his people. "Seventy weeks of years" was all the time left to the Jews as a nation to fulfill God's original purpose in making them His people.
The phrase "seventy weeks of years" actually means seventy periods of seven years each, or 490 years. We are thus concerned with the long period that reaches from the restoration of the Jews to the time of Christ. The seventy years of captivity were a judgment of God upon an idolatrous nation. The seventy weeks of years promised deliverance and an opportunity to fulfill their God-given destiny. The message of the seventy weeks of years was a message of hope for Israel. The historical perspective included not only Israel's return from captivity but also the realization of the Messianic hope during the seventieth week.
This prophecy proclaimed God's mercy and determination to fulfill His purpose for Israelto send the promised Redeemer and establish the kingdom of God. God still loved Israel. His plan for them was still in operation. The prophet's purpose in this chapter was to give hope and direction to Israel, to those scattered abroad. He called upon Israel to return, not only to their own land but to God, and fulfill the divine purpose for which they originally had been chosen. God still planned to fulfill to them all the Messianic prophecies. Within this period God had fixed the time for the first advent of Christ and His redemptive work on the earth.
The seventy weeks were divided into three periods of seven, sixty-two, and one week, respectively. The "seven weeks" and "threescore and two weeks" reached "unto Messiah the Prince." The third period of one week of years included events that involved the supreme act of God for the redemption of man. "After threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself. . . . And in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and oblation to cease" (Dan. 9:26, 27; see also verse 24). That is, Christ was to die sometime during the seventieth week.
The children of Judah were carried into Babylonian captivity as a just retribution for their continual apostasy and falling into idolatry. The country became subject to foreign powers. Their national independence was a thing of the past. The shock of the exile was sufficient to bring many to repentance and to turn them to such prophets as Jeremiah who had proclaimed a return to their own land after seventy years. Consequently there continued to exist in the hearts of the people of Israel a looking forward to a return and a rebuilding of their city and sanctuary.
Historically, the facts are well documented. First Cyrus, king of Persia, after his conquest of Babylon authorized the Jews to return under the leadership of Zerubbabel (see Ezra 1). Only a minority took advantage of the decree. The majority of the Jews chose to remain where they were.
It took more than twenty years to rebuild the Temple, owing both to opposition from without and to indifference among the Jews themselves, and the complete restoration was delayed for many more years. The decree that led to the success of the prediction came from Artaxerxes I, in the seventh year of his reign, 457 B.C. Under the leadership of Ezra a number of the exiled Jews returned to Jerusalem and restored the judicial system under Jewish law (see Ezra 7 and 8). Ezra included this decree in his summary of authorizing orders for the complete restoration of the Jews in Palestine: "They builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia" (Ezra 6:14). Years later Artaxerxes sent Nehemiah to Judah to speed up the rebuilding of the city (see Nehemiah 2). Finally the restoration was completed. The Jews remained under Persian rule and the subsequent powers of the Greco-Macedonian and Roman empires.
Both Ezra and Nehemiah called the people of Israel back to the worship of the true God, to obedience to His law, to their God-given destiny in the world. The divine covenant that God had made with Abraham and with Israel at Sinai was renewed. A great spiritual revival took place. The people solemnly pledged themselves to keep the divine covenant (see Nehemiah 8 to 10). The work accomplished under Ezra and Nehemiah was so successful that from that day forward, Israel remained a distinct and separate people, avoiding a lapse into idolatry with the surrounding nations. Ezra came to be regarded by the Jews in the succeeding centuries as a second Moses. All this was intended to prepare Israel for the coming of the Messiah within this time of 490 years divinely marked out for them.
From the time of Abraham the people of Israel were part of God's great design in the world; through them the revelation of God was to be disclosed. The existence of the Jews was an act of God. They were deliberately chosen and guided wherever divine revelation was welcomed and followed. To this end, God had brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand; and again He returned them from their Babylonian captivity through the divine guidance given to several of the Persian kings.
Thus God chose and sought to fashion the Jews to be His supreme instrument in proclaiming the law and the gospel and to prepare the world for the coming Messiah. Through Israel, God intended to teach the world about Himself. Above and beyond all the philosophies of men and the creations of man's thinking came the divine revelations through the medium of the Jewish people. God selected one nation in order to make that people the very instrument of His purpose to reveal Himself to all men and to save mankind through the advent of the Son of God, born a Jew. Yet throughout their history, the people of Israel showed themselves disobedient to the divine voice, refusing to keep His commandments. Moses, speaking of Israel's unfaithfulness, said:
Ye have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you (chap. 9:24).
Stephen at his martyrdom voiced the same conviction:
Throughout all their history of rebellions and frequent repentances, God's purpose remained constant unto the coming of Christ. Jewish history was the core of salvation history with the coming of the Messiah in view. But the Jews thwarted God's purpose. They opposed the divine will. They disobeyed the divine voice. Yet in spite of all this, through fifteen hundred years God sought to realize His purpose by law, by gospel, by covenant, and by judgment.
The prophecy of the seventy weeks of years proclaimed God's final effort to fulfill His purpose with and through the Jews. The seventieth week was the climax. What did God determine to accomplish in His Son during this final week of the prophecy? The events that were to occur during this week of years, or from A.D. 27 to 34, are:
The first three involve Christ's work of atonement; the fourth, the gift of righteousness in the perfect life of Jesus Christ; the fifth, to seal both vision and prophetthat is, to confirm the 70-week prophecy in particular, attesting it as true and genuine. The last was "to anoint the most Holy." All these events belonged to the Messianic hope and were realized in the redemptive work of Christ on earth. Obviously, the return of the Jews from exile only began the fulfillment of the prophecy. The seventieth week was the climax of Jewish history as a nation. This was the day of their visitation.
The supreme tragedy of the Jews was their rejection of Christ and their refusal to be the ministers of God for the light and salvation of men. The Saviour of the world was born a Jew. Jesus said to the woman of Samaria: "Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22). The Jewish people had looked for this day and for a King and Saviour. When He came, the leaders willfully blinded themselves because He was not the Messiah and King they wanted. So they crucified Him. Apart from Christ, the Jews can have no future in the divine plan. For Christ was the central truth to which the 490 years pointed. Apart from Him they are no longer the instrument of God for the communication of the knowledge of God and the salvation of the world. Apart from Christ the earthly sanctuary at Jerusalem with its elaborate religious ritual and carefully constructed ceremonies had no purpose. This does not deny salvation to the Jews. Paul affirmed this when he said, "God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. . . . . There is a remnant according to the election of grace" (Rom. 11:2-5). the Jew has a witness to bear provided he returns to acknowledge Christ as Lord and Saviour.
What finally happened? The end of the seventy weeks of years proclaimed the judgment of God, not only on Israel as a nation but also on their earthly sanctuary.
Our Lord Himself warned His disciples of the coming destruction of Jerusalem, of that approaching catastrophe thirty-six years hence. They were to flee the city. They would know the time of divine judgment:
Following their rejection of Jesus Christ as the Messiah and their refusal to accept the gospel proclaimed by His disciples, the Jews were subjected to a final judgment under the Romans. In A.D. 66 they rose in revolt against their Roman rulers. Jerusalem fell in A.D. 70. The Temple was totally destroyed; the services of the earthly sanctuary were no more. Rising again in A.D. 132, they were put down with savage brutality and almost wiped out. All Jews were banished from Jerusalem, and many thousands were sold as slaves throughout the empire. These revolts led to their end as a nation.
"To Anoint the Most Holy"
What has this prophecy to tell us, as a consequence of the events of the 490 years, relative to the divine sanctuary? So far as the Jewish earthly sanctuary is concerned, "in the midst of the week he [Christ] shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease" (Dan. 9:27). At the same time the text declares that the last phase of Christ's work during the seventieth week was "to anoint the most Holy" (verse 24).
The Hebrew expression used here for "most holy" is qodesh qodashim,the plural form meaning "holy places." Throughout the Old Testament the expression refers to various aspects of the holy and most holy apartments of the sanctuary. (See Ex. 29:30, 36; 30:25-38; 40:9-15; Lev. 8:10-12; Eze. 43:12.) Undoubtedly it has reference to the inner shrine of the sanctuary. Ezekiel speaking of the divine temple, calls it a holy of holies (chap. 43:12; 45: 3; 48:12). The phrase occurs forty-four times in the Old Testament and refers everywhere to the place of the sanctuary, and not to a person or persons. 1 Chronicles 23:13 is regarded as the one exception. But it is poor exegesis to adopt the one doubtful use that differs from the other forty-three uses as a basis to say this phrase in Daniel refers to the person of Christ.
The word anoint can signify a material anointing with sacred oil; or better, a spiritual anointing with the idea of consecration or dedication of the sanctuary to the services of God. The anointing of the earthly sanctuary was a ritual that took place with a view to beginning the priestly ministration in the sanctuary. No services or ministration could begin until the sanctuary in all its parts and priests had been anointedthat is , set apart in a specific act of consecration to God's service.
After the details for the construction of the sanctuary were given, and before services were to begin, the anointing was described:
Daniel declared that within the seventieth week Christ was to anoint the holy places. The earthly sanctuary at Jerusalem was about to come to an end. The sanctuary to be anointed or dedicated prior to Christ's beginning His priestly ministry was none other than the sanctuary in heaven.
This vision, then, takes the reader through 490 years of Jewish history to the climactic seventieth week and the atoning work of Christ for the salvation of man. This great Messianic event constituted the heart of God's revelation and purpose for the Jews. Their failure to keep the covenant God made with their fathers, and to receive the Christ to whom all their sacrifices pointed, did not make of none effect the everlasting covenant of God. God's purpose continued to prevail. Christ "must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet" (1 Cor. 15:25).
The key to the unfolding of God's continuing purpose in the heavenly sanctuary is introduced here in the Old Testament for the first time by the phrase "to anoint the holy places." It is introduced very quietly, as if to subordinate it to the supreme work of Christ on the cross. Nevertheless, the 490-year prophecy brings us to the open door of the heavenly sanctuary through which Christ, at the conclusion of His work on earth, entered to continue His priestly ministry, "a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec" (Heb. 5:6).
The transition from the earthly to the heavenly sanctuary is specially noteworthy. It is not accidental and trivial, but intended and significant. The events of the seventieth week wrought by Christ combine the past with the future, the earthly with the heavenly, the temporal with the eternal. Thus viewed, the atoning mediatorial work of Christ is no single event in Jewish history; it is an essential part of Christ, the High Priest forever.
It is remarkable that reference is made in the prophecy of the seventy weeks of years to the anointing of the heavenly sanctuary. Its effect is to tell us that Christ became the author of eternal salvationfirst, by virtue of His atoning sacrifice, and second, because His priesthood was forever, after the Melchizedek order.
When Christ returned to heaven He was saluted High Priest in recognition of His work on earth, and now "him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins" (Acts 5:31). The center of God's purpose passes from the earthly sanctuary to the heavenly. Christ has been made High Priest by divine proclamation.
The anointing of the heavenly sanctuary took place following Christ's ascension with a view to the beginning of Christ's priestly work.
The book of Hebrews affirms time and again that Christ was "made" an high priest, efficient in the highest degree, acknowledged as such by His Father. (See Heb. 5:5; 6:20; 7:15, 16; 9:11.)
In the Levitical system, in addition to the offering of the sacrifice on the altar, was the presentation of its blood before God in the sanctuary. So Christ, following His sacrifice on the cross, enters into the presence of the Father, henceforth man's representative and High Priest. His ministry before the Father in heaven corresponds to that of the Levitical priest, whose leading feature is stated thus:
Man's acknowledgment of Christ's priestly office and work is not something to be treated lightly. If one studies carefully the actions and the voice of God from both the earthly sanctuary in Jewish history and from the heavenly sanctuary in the Christian Era, he sees God pressing all those who believe in Him to an ultimate decision, and a surrender to His inevitable purpose for all those who believe in Him. Since God kept His covenant with the Jews in spite of their long years of rebellion and apostasy, God will not depart from His purpose that now proceeds from His sanctuary in heaven.
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