When numbers are used in the prophetic books of the Bible, they are used in their normal quantitative way. Contrary to the view of too many theologians, numbers are not used in a symbolic way, which leads to “number mysticism” in interpretation. About 94% of the time in prophetic literature, numbers are used in the way we normally use numbers. They tell us of a certain quantity (9 plus 4 equals 13) and the numbers don’t represent some mystical entity. So for example, when Revelation speaks of the 144,000, it is telling us that God will select and protect 144,000 Israelites in the tribulation period and then tells us that there are 12,000 from each of 12 tribes in Israel. There is nothing in the context to suggest that the number 144,000 is symbolic of something. So it is with the passage that we are looking at in Daniel 9. The numbers are to be taken in their usual quantitative sense and there is nothing in the context to indicate that 7 times 70 does not mean 490 (in context, actual years).
The Starting Point of the 490 Years. Daniel would probably have assumed that the beginning of the 490 years would be at that moment when Gabriel was giving him the information he desired. Gabriel appeared to Daniel in 538 B.C. But that was not to be the starting point of this prophecy. Rather, it would be the issuing of a formal decree to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. That decree would actually be given almost 100 years later by the Persian king Artaxerxes (444 BC). So the prophetic clock for the 490 years would begin ticking around 444 B.C.
The Seventy Units of Seven. In our first study, we noted that Daniel was informed by Gabriel that God was going to have 490 years of special dealings with Israel, at the end of which, He would accomplish His six goals (9:24). (We dealt with those 6 goals in Part 2 of this study). The 70 units of seven, however, would be in three unequal parts; of 7 units, 62 units and 1 unit.
The Start to Messiah. From the issuing of the rebuilding decree to the time when Messiah would be present would be 483 years (7 + 62 or 69 of the weeks). This seems a strange way to phrase it. But the first unit of 7 (49 years) was the time frame for the complete rebuilding and restoring of the city of Jerusalem to a fully functioning city once again. (Nehemiah gave this a good start when he got the walls erected just enough to give the destroyed city protection). Then the next 434 years (62 weeks) would be from that point of a completed Jerusalem to the time of Messiah.
The Time Gap Between Week 69 and Week 70. Each week immediately followed the week that preceded it without any gaps. However, Gabriel clearly stated that “after” the 69th week (7 + 62), two events would take place. These events were the cutting off/killing of Messiah, and second, the destruction of the city of Jerusalem. The normal reading of the text leads one to observe that these two events will take place after week #69, but before week #70. We now know historically that these events took place in AD 33 and 70.
Some have objected to this idea of a time gap as an artificial intrusion into the prophecy. However, this idea of a gap is not unusual in the prophets who did not, for example, see two comings of Messiah with a rather lengthy gap of time in between. For example, all Christians believe that “for unto us a child is born” (Isa. 9:6a) took place in Bethlehem millennia ago. But the statements given in Isa. 9:3-5, 6b-7, concerning the future kingdom, the destruction of Israel’s enemies and the ruling of this Son have yet to be fulfilled. The same holds true with Isaiah 61:1-2, Zechariah 9:9-10 and numerous other passages.
The Final Week—the 70th. With the 70th week not coming immediately after the 69th, the natural question is, when does the 70th/final week begin? The text declares that the starting point of the final seven years (the 70th week) is when the leaders of Israel (who are in unbelief) sign a covenant agreement with “he” (9:27), identified in 9:26 as “the prince who is to come”. This “prince” or leader will be a descendant of the people who would destroy Jerusalem in the same time period as the killing of Messiah. Historically, this was done by the Romans. So the statement here goes along well with Daniel’s previous prophecy (in Daniel 7) that this covenant-making leader will arise out of the old Romans Empire (or western culture). When this covenant is made between this leader (who is usually identified as the Antichrist) and unbelieving Israel, the last seven years of this prophecy starts.
Events in the Final Week. Gabriel’s revelation in 9:27 contain six key points. First, the 70th week begins when the covenant is signed. Second, the covenant that is made is for 7 years. Apparently the time period is part of the agreement. Third, this leader (Antichrist) will purposely break the agreement half way through the seven years. This prophecy does not give us information as to what the cause might be for him doing this. (Revelation does shed light on the matter). Fourth, at the time of the breaking of the covenant agreement, the nation of Israel will have a temple and will be involved in a full Levitical worship system. The text does not tell us how long this has been going on. But it would seem likely that it has been going on for a relatively short period of time; perhaps just a two or three years. It would seem that the ability to rebuild the temple on the temple mount would have been part of the covenant agreement. Fifth, when the covenant is broken there is a cessation of this Levitical worship system. The Antichrist (in looking at Revelation 13 and 2 Thessalonians 2) will take his place in the Jerusalem temple claiming to be God. At that time, the entire world is said to worship the Antichrist as well as Satan. Sixth, all of this will be brought to an end. It will not be allowed to go on and on. It is, of course, N.T. revelation that builds upon these statements and gives us some idea what this is going to look like in the last days of the tribulation period and that it is none other than King Jesus who will bring this one to his end.
Final Thoughts. As stated at the beginning of this brief study, this short prophecy of four verses, found in Daniel 9, is really quite important for us to understand. So much of the later prophecies given in the New Testament are based on the chronological indicators found in these verses. So much of our understanding of the sequence of coming events rest on Daniel 9:24-27.
There is far more to this prophecy than we have looked at here, but the point was to remind us of the importance of this particular prophecy. But it was also to remind us that the Lord God is very precise about His plans and purposes. He does not randomly do things or “go with the flow”. His prophetic word is very detailed and He will fulfill in precise detail all of it just as He declared He would.