Daniel 9 (ESV)
24 “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. 25 Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. 26 And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. 27 And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.”
Daniel 9 (NKJV)
24 “Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy. 25 “ Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublesome times. 26 “ And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it shall be with a flood, and till the end of the war desolations are determined. 27 Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; but in the middle of the week he shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, even until the consummation, which is determined, is poured out on the desolate.”
In chapter 9, Daniel is reading the letter from Jeremiah predicting that the Jews would be in captivity for seventy years (Jer 29). Daniel realises that the time is nearly up. He has lived to see Babylon captured by the Persians and so he must have realised that the time was nearly up and soon the captivies would return. So he prays, as Jeremiah predicted they would. Daniel confesses the sins of the people and asks God to be merciful to his people. In response to his prayers Daniel is visited by an angel (Dan 9:20-23) but instead of predicting the end of the captivity in Babylon (which did come to an end just as Jeremiah predicted), the angel talks to Daniel about a different sort of captivity – captivity to sin. Instead of seventy years, there are to seventy weeks (literally seventy “sevens”) between the restoration of Jerusalem and its ultimate desolation. At towards the end of that period the Messiah will be anointed (v25), will be “cut off, but not for himself” (v26) and so “make reconcilation for iniquity” (V24). This should remind us of Jesus.
The text of Daniel, particularly these last verses, is difficult and so translations do vary regarding the wording (compare ESV and NKJV). However we can work break down the time periods. The period begins with the “command to restore Jerusalem”. There were several edicts about the Jews returning to Jerusalem but the relevant one is the command Artaxerxes that allowed Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls (Neh 2:5-9; cf. “the wall” Dan 9:25). This occured around 447 BC. There are two periods until the anointing of the Messiah, seven “sevens” and sixty-two “sevens”. that is 483 years in total. Now we have to do a little bit of recalculating. This prophecy refers to 483 years of 360 days, whereas our calenders use years of 365 days. If we do the calculation (483 x 360 / 365), we arrive at a total of 476 years. And if we count forward from 447 BC, remembering there is no year 0, we arrive at around 30 AD, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Around three years later Jesus was crucified, or “cut off”, in the middle of the “week” to “bring an end to sacrifice and offering” (v27).
We should note that there are slight disagreements about the dating of these events, by a year or two. But in any case it is a remarkable “coincidence” that this period fits. In this Daniel 9 confirms that Jesus was the Messiah.
NOTE: Some scholars would disagree with this interpretation, because they do not believe this is a prophecy but history written after the fact. They identify the “anointed one” with Onias III, a priest who was murdered “cut off”. I would object to this proposal on three counts. 1) The book of Daniel was written significantly before Onias III; 2) Onias III probably wasn’t murdered at all but is likely to have lived out his years in Egypt; 3) it is impossible to make the seventy “sevens” fit into this period. In sum, this proposal by scholars feels like an attempt to deny the truly prophetic nature of this chapter. (For more information on the scholarly interpretation see T. E. Gaston, Historical Issues in the Book of Daniel, 134-143).